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This Week's Film Reviews (Jan 17, 2020)

10 Jan 2020

My favourtie movie of the year LES MISERABLES opens this week.  See it!!!!  You will not be disappointed.  DOLITTLE andBAD BOYS also open this week.

 FILM REVIEWS:

BAD BOYS FOR LIFE (USA 2020) ***
Directed by Adil El Arbi and Bilall Fallah

The third in the trilogy of BAD BOYS movies deals with the pair’s decision to retire or go all out one last time to solve a crime.  After an assassination attempt on Detective Mike Lowrey (Will Smith), he and Marcus Burnett (Martin Lawrence) decide to work together one last time to bring down a mysterious assassin with a link to Mike's past.

The bad guys of the piece are mainly Mexicans.  The Mexicans are given a bad deal in the movie, but all this should be taken in good fun.  The main villain is the Bruja or La Bruja, the Mexican term for witch, which is Isabel Aretas (Kate del Casrillo) who in a hilarious twist has made love love with Detective Mike Lowrey in the past and parented a son who now becomes Mike’s assassin.

The film follows the age old adage that sequels should have more and be louder.  Michael Bay (the TRANSFORMER movies and who directed the first two BAD BOY films) was supposed to direct but could not due to conflict scheduling.  The direction went to Belgian directors El Arbi and Fallah known for their two films BLACK (2016 and PATSER(2018).  All things considered, transition from good indie films to Hollywood blockbusters is not easy task and the two have done commendable work.

The success of BAD BOYS FOR LIFE depends largely on the chemistry of its two leads, Will Smith and Martin Lawrence.  The first two BAD BOYS films have already proven that the chemistry works.  It is interesting to note that Will Smith plays the crazy one in the duo, opting for dangerous solutions to taking out the crooks while Martin Lawrence plays the straight man with straight solutions, but the one who creates all the jokes.  So, the straight man is the funny one while the crazy one aids in the humour.  But the formula works with Smith and Lawrence making a compatible pair. 

The films runs over two hours and could have been shortened and made tighter.  The car chases including the two detectives on a motorcycle are both hilarious and exciting.  All the actions sequences come with expensive pyrotechnics which should satisfy action fans.  Spending money appears to be a must for action film these days, especially to be competitive to films produced by the Disney Studios.  Smith does his super-cool flair while Lawrence does his goofy humour.  The BAD BOYS theme song is equally goofy.  As an additional bonus, the pair is force by their captain to work with another group of cops, which make up quite the eclectic group.

BAD BOYS FOR LIFE cost $95+ million to make and opens the same weekend with Universal’s $195 million DOLITTLE.  BAD BOYS FOR LIFE is the better movie and the amount of money spent shows in terms of special effects and action sequences. With the target audience of black Americans, it is my bet that BAD BOYS FOR LIFE that will make the big bucks while DOLITTLE struggles.

Trailer: https://www.imdb.com/video/vi813612825?playlistId=tt1502397&ref_=tt_ov_vi

CLEMENCY (USA 2019) ***

Directed by Chinonye Chukwu

 

A hit at Sundance 2019 and coming out of nowhere, the drama CLEMENCY has already garnished accolades wherever it is shown.  CLEMENCY benefits from both the sensitive delivery of a controversial topic and the bravura performance of its lead, Alfre Woodard who plays the female warden, Bernadine Williams of the prison that hold prisoners on death row.

From the first frame, director Chukwu establishes Williams as a no-nonsense warden who gets her job done by following the rules often without human sympathy.   She is effective but her job causes a rift in her marriage to Jonathan (Wendell Pierce) who has almost given up on her.

Among the film’s many moving moments is the one where the warden explains the execution process to Mr. Woods (Aldis Hodg).  Mr. Woods is sitting in his cell wearing white while the warden explains what each of the three injections that will be administered to him will do.  She then asks if he has any family members that might want to claim his body to which he remains silent and she continues to tell him that his remains will be the property of the state and then goes to ask him he wants to choose any of the witnesses.  The camera effectively stays on the face of Mr. Woods who remains silent throughout the dialogue, the camera then capturing streams of tears that roll down his cheeks.  At this point in the film, I recalled the time when our then Prime Minister, Brian Mulroney was asked whether to bring back the death penalty, to which his reply was that we (Canadians) will not go back to the times of the stone age.

Director Chukwu creates effectively the prison setting.  One scene has Woods going into the open, where the sky can be seen.  Many prisons in North America do not have this feature.

CLEMENCY bears the traits of a director’s first effort.  This means the film being single layered, which tends to follow a traditional path of past films, though not necessarily stereotyped.  The film contains a few cliches.  One can see right away that the warden is her own prisoner just as Woods is.  A characteristic of a layered film is one with more to show - a singled layered film is a film that would not surprise on a second viewing.  Once the story gets into gear, one can predict one incident after another right to the very climax.  To Chukwu’s credit, she creates her dramatic set-pieces with discipline and authority though one can tell that she is trying too hard with her various alternative camera placements.  She elicits superlative performances from her cast particularly Woodard and Aldis Hodg.  In contrast, if one is to watch a director with a dozen or more films under his resume, there is often more than one thing going on, on screen.  Director Chukwu should eventually get there, as this effort puts her up there as a first director to be reckoned with.

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=r-E8-yPtQcY

 

DOLITTLE (USA 2020) **
Directed by Stephen Gaghan

 

The third of the DOLITTLE films that I can recall, the first with Rex Harrison (Richard Fleischer’s 1967 musical, remember the song “Talk to the Animals”?) and the second with Eddie Murphy (the fantasy comedy 1998 version directed by Betty Thomas) in the titular role.  Both films were not very good, and this latest remake is not that good either.  The film had 21 days of re-shoots following poor responses from test screenings.  This one concerns a voyage and the original title was THE VOYAGE OF DOCTOR DOLITTLE before the title changed.

The film follows Doctor Dolittle (Robert Downey Jr.) 7 years after his beloved wife’s death.  The eccentric Dolittle, famed doctor and veterinarian in Victorian England, has become a hermit, hiding himself away behind the high walls of Dolittle Manor, with only his menagerie of animals for company.  But when Queen Victoria (Jessie Buckley) falls gravely ill, a reluctant Dolittle is forced to set sail on an epic adventure to a mythical island in search of a cure, regaining his wit and courage as he crosses old adversaries and encounters wondrous creatures.  If the queen dies, the property will be lost and so the queen must be saved.  So goes for the search of the magical fruit from the Tree of Eden. 

DOLITTLE is a kids’ film packaged as a family fantasy adventure.  There is nothing really exciting or funny in the movie, which explains the film’s re-shoot.  The lack of a villain shows.  Martin Sheen’s comical villain Dr. Blair Mudfly, does not provide many laughs either.  The introduction of a fire breathing dragon at the film’s climax fails as well.  A dragon is introduced and the filmmakers do not know what to do with it.  In the end, its wounds are healed by the good doctor in what is an absurd sequence.

Set in Victorian England, the film is a white man’s movie.  In one scene where the gorilla open the door of the manor to see two humans for there first time, the gorilla and the boy, Tommy Stubbins (Harry Collett) screams simultaneously.  This sequence is so obviously put in to show the strength of the female character, Lady Rose (Carmel Laniado) who does not utter a scream.  The screaming gorilla garnered laughs during the promo screening.  The gorilla screams again and faints a few minutes later, illustrating how desperate the filmmakers are in repeating a joke to get laughs

DOLITTLE is one tiring and boring voyage.  There is no explanation for animation at the film’s start turning into live action, not that it matters.

DOLITTLE arrives with hefty $175 million budget and this is quite a huge sum, even for a blockbuster.  The film’s release has already been postponed from last year due to clash with the RISE OF SKYWALKER Star Wars film.  To make a tidy profit, it must do spectacular business worldwide.  The film has already opened one week in advance in South Korea where it made number 1 at the box-office prompting star Downey Jr. to thank the Korean people.

Trailer: https://www.imdb.com/title/tt6673612/videoplayer/vi2198650649?ref_=tt_pv_vi_aiv_1

 

 

LES MISERABLES (France 2019) ***** Top 10

Directed by Ladj Ly

LES MISERABLES impressed critics when it premiered at last year’s Cannes that eventually led to the film deservedly being selected as the country’s nominee for Best International Film (the new name for the Best Foreign Language Film).  The film also marks the first a black director’s film has been selected for France, which is also his debut feature .  I loved the film when I first saw it at TIFF and it is my pick for the Oscar Winner.

LES MISERABLES the film is so called for a number of reasons, as explained as the film progresses.  The film opens on the day in Paris where France is playing the World Cup.  A black kid dons the French flag while he and his friends jump the metro gates to get to the heart of the celebrations.  They sing the French anthem “La Marseillaise” as patriotic as they can be.  (The opening scene touched me especially, as I was myself in Paris on that very day.)  But this is a different France as the camera shows more immigrants than white Gallic folk.  And the film reveals a different France with a different assortment of current problems.  It is an arousing beginning and director Ly keeps the momentum throughout.

What begins with the celebration of France’s World Cup eventually turns sour with the theft of a lion cub (that is the cutest and the real LION KING) from an East European Circus by an African kid.  Three Paris cops, a black, a white racist and a rookie attempt to calm the racial tensions in the Muslim neighbourhood where the thief resides. 

The story concentrates on the rookie, Corporal Ruiz (Damien Bonnard), a cop of provinces who moves Paris to join the Anti-Crime Brigade of Montfermeil, discovering an underworld where the tensions between the different groups mark the rhythm.  The racist cop is Chris (Alexis Manenti) also known as pink pig, a nickname he is actually proud of.  Chris actually believes he is doing good, and in an odd sort of a way - he is.  “Le loi, c’est moi!” he proudly decalres!  The segment where he harasses three teen girls at a bus stop (they are not that innocent either), is magnificently done, and shows the characters Chris is.  The third, the black (Djibril Zonga) is the one, ironically who accidentally causes the riots.  When the kid is flashed shot in the face, a riot on police brutality erupts. 

Director Ly exhibits brilliant writing (he co-wrote the script with Giordano Gederlini) and excellent camera work while eliciting superlative performances from all his actors.  His totally gripping film, a real roller coaster ride, will undoubtedly keep one on the edge of ones seat right to be very end where surprises and twists in the plot abound.  And wait for the Victor Hugo quote from his novel LES MISERABLES at the film’s end to conclude the events.  LES MISERABLES has a hard fight with PARASITE for the Best International Feature Oscar.

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=z5u-HKciyhM

 

WEATHERING WITH YOU (Tenki no Ko - Child of Weather) (Japan 2019) ***
Directed by Makoto Shinkai

Water, especially rain and flooding, is especially difficult to animate in the past, but many recent animated features have shown otherwise.  The new Japanese animated feature by Makato Shinkai (YOUR NAME) is yet another such film that seems eager to showoff lots animation of rain, lightning and other difficult effects to animate.  The result is a very beautifully orchestrated animated feature, though much of its often confusing narrative could be improved.

The title WEATHERING WITH YOU comes from weather tampering.  Hina, a girl has the ability to alter the weather.  Hodaka has fallen in love with her, besides setting up a business with her to make money out of changing the weather - hence the film’s title WEATHERING WITH YOU.

High-school freshman Hodaka Morishima has run away from his home moving to Tokyo. On the trip, he almost gets thrown off a ferry when a freak rainstorm hits it. However, he is saved by a man named Keisuke Suga, who hires him as an assistant to his small publishing company. At work, Hodaka meets Natsumi, Suga's niece. They investigate urban legends relating to the unusual weather in Tokyo; from a psychic, they hear the legend of a weather maiden who can control the weather.  It is when Hodaka meets Hina who can change the weather that the story begins falling into place.

The film is confusing for various reasons.  The characters are easily mistaken one from another as it is difficult to distinguish (and remember) one girl from another - from Natsumi (Suga’s niece) to Hina another girls in the story..  Altering the weather is a concept quite foreign to North America.  I have been to Tokyo and witnessed the torrential downpours and can understand the Japanese fixation on being able to change the weather for events like weddings.  There is a segment set in Shinjuku where I was put up in Tokyo.  The busy streets depicted in the film reminded me clearly of the same when I was visiting.  The film takes a while before getting a solid footing.  It is after all the characters have been introduced that one can start appreciating the story.  Writer/director Shinkai has induced two similar traits usually found in the Studio Ghibli films - the romantic true love of a young couple and the fantasy and mystical effect.  Here, the young couple is Hodaka and Hina.  Hina is also disappearing owing to the use of her powers to change the weather.

Besides having the theme of young love, the dangers of the adult world also creep into the story.  Tina has a job in the sex trade before Hodaka saves her.  Hodaka finds a gun and shoots her pimp.  Hodaka is an underaged runaway.  Social services threaten to take away Hina’s younger brother.  These are adult themes in what would seem to be in an animated feature more suited for adults.

WEATHERING WITH YOU has made quite a lot of money since opening.  The film was selected as the Japanese entry for Best International Feature Film at the 92nd Academy Awards.It also received four Annie Award nominations including Best Independent Animated Feature, which makes it the third anime film tying with Ghibli Studios’ SPIRITED AWAY and MILLENNIUM ACTRESS to have four nominations, which is the highest for an anime film at the Annies.  The film has at the time of writing already grossed $175 million worldwide.

Trailer: https://www.imdb.com/video/vi3415195417?playlistId=tt9426210&ref_=tt_ov_vi

WHAT SHE SAID: THE ART OF PAULINE KAEL (USA 2019) ***1/2

Directed by Rob Garber

 

Roger Ebert described his colleague film critic Pauline Kael as: “The most powerful, loved, and hated film critic of her time.”

Pauline Kael, (June 19, 1919 – September 3, 2001) was an American film critic who wrote for The New Yorker magazine from 1968 to 1991. Kael was known for her "witty, biting, highly opinionated and sharply focused” reviews, her opinions often contrary to those of her contemporaries.  She was one of the most influential American film critics of her era.

A doc is often as interesting as its subject and Garber’s doc has picked a controversial one.  Personally, I do not like Kael or any person who is downright mean or opinionated, as the doc will reveal.  I can also predict the kind of films she would detest or love, as her preferences are confined quite narrowly.

Director Garber chooses actress Sarah Jessica Parker to read from Kael’s reviews.  Filmmakers Quentin Tarantino, Paul Schrader, and Francis Ford Coppola and critics Camille Paglia, Molly Haskell, Greil Marcus, and David Edelstein speak of her enormous gifts and influence.  Garber also managed to get David Lean (whose LAWRENCE OF ARABIA Kael panned and who was downright rudely insulted by her) to say a few bits about the woman.  It is this portion that helped create an awful taste in my mouth for Kael.  (Writer Norman Mailer called Pauline Kael Lady Vinegar.)

Two elements can be attributed to Kael’s success as a critic.  One is her character and the second is her writing, the combination of which is deadly.  Her strong character could be attributed to her hardships she endured prior to her fame.  Kael was born to Polish Jewish parents.  She was a single mother who brought up her daughter in hard times were she had to survive and support  both of them by perfuming final chores.  She also started hanging out with a group of artists that likely inspired her to appreciate more experimental work.  As for her writing, she has shown that she is her own woman.  Kael has her own distinct voice, Kael says what she feels…. These are the traits that make Kael popular as well as unliked. 

In fact her first review reflects her strong traits.  The doc illustrates how in 1953, the editor of City Lights magazine overheard Kael arguing about films in a coffeeshop with a friend and asked her to review LIMELIGHT by Charlie Chaplin.  Kael dubbed the film "Slimelight" and soon began publishing film criticism regularly in magazines.  She also despised David Lean’s portrayal of LAWRENCE OF ARABIA.   Another film she disliked was Stanley Kubrick's 2001 A SPACE ODYSSEY which she considered empty and pretentious. 

On the other hand, Kael championed films that made her a voice to be reckoned  with.  Two of these, Martin Scorcese’s MEAN STREETS and Arthur Penn’s BONNIE AND CLYDE could attribute part of their successes her praises.  Director Garber’s doc includes clips from these films with voiceover detailing the reasons Kael loved these films.  Kael also praised Coppola’s GODFATHER films.

Besides learning about the woman, the clips of the classic films whether good or bad take the audience bring back nostalgic films of the past - films that made a difference.  This is enough a reason to view this film.

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EJ7MJcrazxE

 

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This Week's Film Reviews (Jan 10, 2020)

05 Jan 2020

The Best Film of the Year, according to me and the Golden Globes has a wide release beginning this week.  The film in 1917 directed by sam Mendes.

 

FILM REVIEWS: 

CLEMENCY (USA 2019) ***

Directed by Chinonye Chukwu

 

A hit at Sundance 2019 and coming out of nowhere, the drama CLEMENCY has already garnished accolades wherever it is shown.  CLEMENCY benefits from both the sensitive delivery of a controversial topic and the bravura performance of its lead, Alfre Woodard who plays the female warden, Bernadine Williams of the prison that hold prisoners on death row.

From the first frame, director Chukwu establishes Williams as a no-nonsense warden who gets her job done by following the rules often without human sympathy.   She is effective but her job causes a rift in her marriage to Jonathan (Wendell Pierce) who has almost given up on her.

Among the film’s many moving moments is the one where the warden explains the execution process to Mr. Woods (Aldis Hodg).  Mr. Woods is sitting in his cell wearing white while the warden explains what each of the three injections that will be administered to him will do.  She then asks if he has any family members that might want to claim his body to which he remains silent and she continues to tell him that his remains will be the property of the state and then goes to ask him he wants to choose any of the witnesses.  The camera effectively stays on the face of Mr. Woods who remains silent throughout the dialogue, the camera then capturing streams of tears that roll down his cheeks.  At this point in the film, I recalled the time when our then Prime Minister, Brian Mulroney was asked whether to bring back the death penalty, to which his reply was that we (Canadians) will not go back to the times of the stone age.

Director Chukwu creates effectively the prison setting.  One scene has Woods going into the open, where the sky can be seen.  Many prisons in North America do not have this feature.

CLEMENCY bears the traits of a director’s first effort.  This means the film being single layered, which tends to follow a traditional path of past films, though not necessarily stereotyped.  The film contains a few cliches.  One can see right away that the warden is her own prisoner just as Woods is.  A characteristic of a layered film is one with more to show - a singled layered film is a film that would not surprise on a second viewing.  Once the story gets into gear, one can predict one incident after another right to the very climax.  To Chukwu’s credit, she creates her dramatic set-pieces with discipline and authority though one can tell that she is trying too hard with her various alternative camera placements.  She elicits superlative performances from her cast particularly Woodard and Aldis Hodg.  In contrast, if one is to watch a director with a dozen or more films under his resume, there is often more than one thing going on, on screen.  Director Chukwu should eventually get there, as this effort puts her up there as a first director to be reckoned with.

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=r-E8-yPtQcY

CUNNINGHAM (USA 2019) ***1/2

Directed by Alla Kovgan

Every movement is possible for dancing - from nothing to the most expansive movement.  These are the words of Merce Cunningham, the meaning of which are demonstrated in this documentary homage entitled CUNNINGHAM, written, edited and directed by Russian born director, Alla Kovgan (who also directed the acclaimed NORA).  Alla’s voice can occasionally be heard during the film as she interviews subjects in the documentary.

Mercier Philip "Merce" Cunningham (April 16, 1919 – July 26, 2009) was an American dancer and choreographer who was at the forefront of American modern dance for more than 50 years.  Cunningham passed away at the ripe age of 90.  He is also notable for his frequent collaborations with artists of other disciplines, including musicians foremost of which is John Cage, his partner and lover.  As a choreographer, teacher and leader of the Merce Cunningham Dance Company, Cunningham had a profound influence on modern dance.  Many dancers who trained with Cunningham formed their own companies.  They include Paul Taylor, Remy Charlip, Viola Farber, Charles Moulton, Karole Armitage, Robert Kovich, Foofwa d'Imobilité, Kimberly Bartosik, Flo Ankah, Jan Van Dyke, Jonah Bokaer, and Alice Reyes.  In 2009, the Cunningham Dance Foundation announced the Legacy Plan, a precedent-setting plan for the continuation of Cunningham's work and the celebration and preservation of his artistic legacy.

Kovgan’s doc does justice to CUNNINGHAM’s legacy.  It respects his ideals and propels them.  When asked if he is a modern or avant-garde dancer, Cunningham, in the interview replies that he just wishes to be classified a dancer.  He emphasizes that it is movement he is interested in, and that his dance does not rely on music or a certain movement like ballet.  It is odd then, that he formed a solid alliance with musician John Cage.  The doc shows their collaboration as on their first performance in 1944.  Their love letters are also illustrated in the film.

The film includes lots of archival footage of the dances, when Cunningham was older as well as when he was young.  The film features 14 dances that were originally created by
Cunningham between 1942 and 1972 – including 1942’s “Totem Ancestor” (his first collaboration with composer/life partner John Cage), 1958’s “Summerspace” (where
Robert Rauschenberg’s pointillist costumes and decor create a camouflage effect) and 1968’s “Rainforest” (where Andy Warhol’s silver pillows wander around the stage). 

Foremost in the doc are Cunningham’s dances.  There is plenty of them, as expected and these form the film’s highlights.  Though this film reviewer is not an avid dancer, Kovgan’s film is captivating and engrossing as she effectively draws her audience to Cunningham’s work.

CUNNINGHAM is released in 3D and the publicist insists that the film be best watched in 3D.  This reviewer did not watch the doc in 3D owing to his busy Christmas schedule, and watched a streamed copy.  The publicist should be right.  It would be great to watch all the dance sequences with 3D effect.  This doc should be a feast for those working in dance and music.

Trailer: https://www.imdb.com/title/tt8574836/videoplayer/vi1368833817?ref_=tt_ov_vi

 

 

IL PLEUVAIT DES OISEAUX (AND THE BIRDS RAINED DOWN) (Canada 2019) ***1/2

Directed by Louise Archambault

Director Louise Archambault's elegiac and charming AND THE BIRDS RAINED DOWN based on the award winning novel by Jocelyne Saucier is a tale of lonely old people with a slow pace to match.  The film runs a little over two hours and requires some patience to watch though it comes wth a few rewards.  The film is shot in Quebec showcasing some magnificent landscapes and in French, thus its French title.  The film has been selected Canada’s Top 10 by the Toronto International Film Festival poll.

It takes a death to bring all the film’s characters together.  In fact two deaths, though it is a bit confusing at the start as it appears that the two deaths were the same person.  One death brings in the local hotelier Stephen (Éric Robidoux) with his aunt Gertrude (Andrée Lachapelle).

The other death is Ted, one of three hermits living in cabins in the Quebec countryside, miles from civilization. The hermits are Tom (Rémy Girard), Charlie (Gilbert Sicotte), and Ted (Kenneth Welsh) all of whom fled society years ago.  They grow pot and sell it to the closest locals with help from Stephen.

All four come together resulting in several interactions, one of these being a senior romance between Gertrude and Charlie.  Warning:  There are sex scenes that includes old people nudity.  To the director’s credit, these are taken slowly and executed in good taste.

The film is so called because of fires that often rage through the forested area.  One previous huge fire affected many of the characters including Tom who survived the fire but witnessed his entire family dying from it.  The heat and fumes were too much for the birds that just rained down, dropping on those below.

This is a lifestyle that is increasingly endangered by nature, infirmity, and age. Into the picture arrives photographer/ researcher Ange-Aimee (Eve Landry).  She threatens to disrupt their lives when she starts looking for survivors of this catastrophic blaze.

One thing noticeable about the film is the way more and more stories creep into the plot.  The final one involves yet another fire that once again threatens the existence of the hermits.  Cops arrive, clearing people from danger.

Each character has his or her own story, or baggage as better described.  Tom is the local guitarist/singer who appears stuck there perfuming his tunes, one of which belongs to Tom Waits’ famous collection - “Time” and another of which is Leonard Cohen’s “Bird on a Wire”.  Apparently, these two songs were performed live by Girard.  Charlie had been ill, near death but survived.  Gertrude had been institutionalized and had never found love, though have had no shortage of sex inner younger days.  All these stories make intriguing fodder, though they take their time to unfold.

As director Archambault’s film comes to a close, it becomes apparent that it is not the stories of the lives of the characters that make the movie but the surprises that these stories of life brings that makes the film worth watching.
Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7kj_Wq8FfI8

LIKE A BOSS (USA 2020) **
Directed by Miguel Arteta 

LIKE A BOSS is the story of two life-long friends who open their own cosmetics company.  Their friendship is put to the test when their M & M Compay is bought up by a major company led by a ferocious CEO played by Salma Hayek.

LIKE A BOSS is a story of female friendship and how females should stick together no matter what.  This is a genre of well tread territory.  Just last year, the story of two high school graduates BOOKSMART directed by Olivia Wilde also had the importance of friendship as its main theme.  BOOKSMART shocked both moviegoers and critics alike because the film was smart, original, current and brilliantly written.  LIKE A BOSS, on the other hand, directed by Miguel Arteta and written by Sam Pitman & Adam Cole-Kelly is clumsy, all-over-the-place and cliche-ridden.   The one good thing about it is that it lasts 83 minutes.  The film stars Tiffany Haddish and Rose Byrne as the two friends, Jennifer Coolidge, Natasha Rothwell, Billy Porter, and Salma Hayek.

Two female friends,  with very different personalities decide to start their own beauty company, Mel (Byrne) & Mia’s  (Haddish), despite not agreeing on how they should run it.  One is more practical, while the other wants to earn her fortune quickly and live a lavish lifestyle. Things take a turn for the worse when their company runs into debt, forcing them to turn to an unscrupulous benefactor, Claire Luna (Hayek) who intends to steal the business out from under them, and forcing the two to address their differences to save Mel & Mia’s.  Of course, friendship prevails and Luna gets her come-uppance.

One would have expected more from director Aeteta whose break out film was the CHUCK AND BUCK known for its originality.  LIKE A BOSS also condones drug use indirectly - and not only the relatively harmless weed, which is now legal in Canada but the heavier stuff like cocaine.  One scene has Mel and Mia smoking weed in a room with a infant sleeping in the cot.  Another segment implies the two friends doing blow in the past together.

Byrne is the less funny of the two leads while Haddish is unafraid to go all out crazy.  The result is Haddish getting more laughs.  Hayek reprises the role of an over-controlling boss she perfected in the serious THE HUMMINGBIRD PROJECT.  Of the supporting cast, Billy Porter steals the show as the flamboyant gay employee who gets canned after being treated to an expensive restaurant meal. 

To director Arteta’s credit, there are few funny thought-of comedic set-pieces, as in the one Mia partakes too many hot peppers and the one where Mel and Mia take Barrett out for dinner to fire him.

LIKE A BOSS illustrates that good comedy is hard to come by, even thug it might hold a good solid message for women.

Trailer: https://www.imdb.com/title/tt7545266/videoplayer/vi4010589977?ref_=tt_ov_vi

UNDERWATER (USA 2019) **
Directed by William Eubank

Initially filmed 3 years ago, UNDERWATER that cost between $60-$80 million to make finally opens January during the slow film period.  So, it might stand a chance to make a few bucks, considering how boring and awful this supposedly horror/thriller is.

UNDERWATER opens with the camera scanning  several written newspaper articles.  They report the perils of being underwater at great depths for too long periods of time (like boredom, as audience o this movie will also experiecne) as well as sightings of a strange creature.  This probes audience interest and is a good tactic to begin a horror movie.  The film also ends with more titles explaining that the survivors do not revealing interviews what had actually occurred.

A group of researchers are in an underwater lab at eleven thousand meters deep, when an earthquake causes the vehicle to be destroyed and exposes the team to the risk of death, they are forced to walk deep into the sea with insufficient oxygen to try survive. However, as they move across the sea floor, they discover the presence of a deadly creature(s).

The titles at the start of the film inform the audience that it is an oil drilling company that is the cause of the problem.  The oil company is called ‘Tian’ which in Chinese means sky.  Tian's Kepler Centre is supposedly housing 316 crew members though never more than half a dozen is ever seen.   The lazy script fails to identify the individual responsibilities of the group of researchers on board.  Only the captain (Vincent Cassell, barely recognizable with his helmet) has an assigned duty.  The main lead, Norah Price played by Kristen Stewart is shown in many segments scantily-clad, sweaty and sexy, reminiscent of Sigourney Weaver in the ALIEN movies.  When the snarling monster comes face come to Stewart, the coincidence with the ALIEN movies feels too close for comfort.  Stewart is not given much to do, and it shows.  The other researchers are forgettable and not given much to do but to be picked off, one by one, for one reason or another.  Nothing is mentioned of the background of the researchers either.

The film falls into the trap of other underwater films.  It is often difficult to figure out what is happening underwater or in the facilities, so that the characters have to verbalize to each other or speak aloud, so that the audience knows what is happening.  At one point, a character has to explain that a death has also occurred. Homage is paid to the classic Disney’s (1954) 20,000 LEAGUES UNDER THE SEA in a line of dialogue.

The director William Eubank was handed this blockbuster after two successful indie small budget sci-fi hits LOVE (2011) and THE SIGNAL (2014).  Like many indie directors given a big project for the first time, Eubank clearly discovers the difficultird of making a big budget film.  At best UNDERWATER can be described as an underwater-ALIEN, coupled with cheap scares, and uninteresting characters (though great sets) that ends up a total bore after the first 15 minutes. 

Trailer:  https://www.imdb.com/title/tt5774060/videoplayer/vi1414249497?ref_=tt_pv_vi_aiv_1

 

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

02 Jan 2020

Only one new documentary (and a pretty ood one) opens this week.  Still lots of Chrtsmas leftovers.

 

GOLDA (Israel/Germany 2019) ****

Directed by  Sagi Bornstein, Udi Nir and Shani Rozanes

A documentary is often as riveting as its subject.  GOLDA, the new documentary on former Israeli Prime Minister Mrs. Gold Meir is as riveting as a doc can be.

The world knows of Golda Meir, the first and only female Prime Minister of Israel as the Queen of the Jewish people.  She had made history during her years in power, especially from 1969 to 1974.  Myself, I only know what was generally printed in the newspaper headlines way back when, so this new documentary GOLDA serves to provide valuable insight on a notable historic figure. 

In 1978, Golda Meir was interviewed by Israeli Television.  After that, the cameras continued with her recording an intimate conversation.  This doc boasts that this conversation was never aired and is to be seen in this documentary for the first time…..as so the titles at the beginning of the doc informs.  It was not actually a nice or fair act for her, as she was fooled into speaking candidly.  The audience sees Golda immediately lighting up a cigarette and then talking candidly about politics.

The doc also follow the route of most biographies.  Some information (not too much ) is provided on Golda’s background as a child.  Gold was born in the Ukraine and her father left the family for the U.S.  Her mother and children, herself  included joined him later.  Her marriage is also briefly mentioned together with her two children before separation with her husband. “Men do not like smart girls.”   This was the advice she was given while growing up.

But the most fascinating fact about Golda is her dedication and hard work for the Jewish people.  This is what made the woman and also what helps makes the film memorable.  Though riddled with cancer and ill health, she still accepted her post the Prime Minister at the the age of 71.  Though she did not want the post of P.M. she eventually took it to finish a dream, as she says the film.  Golda’s words: There was never a moment of peace snd quiet, on the battle or political front.  She cam under criticism when she did not attend the mass funeral for the Israeli Olympic athletes.  But the reason was her attending her sister’s funeral at the same time.

The directors have assembled s solid cast of interviewees.  These include Uri Avneri, Zvi Zamir, the then Director of Mossad, a journalist, Professor Medin, Golda’s spokesman among others.  Golda’s advice to Medin: “Do not lie.”  The film is narrated by Udi Nir, a male that speaks aloud the thoughts of Golda.

The film crescendos into an exciting and movie climax (under the heading “Terrible Hours”) with Israel going into war with Syria and Egypt.   This segment shows Golda’s strength, courage and restraint in times of war.

In one segment, Golda Meir says to the American people on her visit as Israel’s Head of State: “I am deeply moved by your words.”   Her words can only be echoed by the audience of this documentary in the way the audience is moved by this great woman.  As one subject says at the end of the film: “It is a sad and miserable story of a great woman.”  GOLDA, the documentary makes its debut at the Ted Rogers Cinema on January the 3rd, right after the New Year.

Trailer: https://www.imdb.com/title/tt10974556/videoplayer/vi3029778201?ref_=tt_ov_vi

 

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This Week's Film Reviews (Jan 10, 2020)

31 Dec 2019

 

A slow week in January when Christmas movies still rule.

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FILM REVIEWS:

CUNNINGHAM (USA 2019) ***1/2

Directed by Alla Koygan

Every movement is possible for dancing - from nothing to the most expansive movement.  These are the words of Merce Cunningham, the meaning of which are demonstrated in this documentary homage entitled CUNNINGHAM, written, edited and directed by Russian born director, Alla Koygan (who also directed the acclaimed NORA).  Alla’s voice can occasionally be heard during the film as she interviews subjects in the documentary.

Mercier Philip "Merce" Cunningham (April 16, 1919 – July 26, 2009) was an American dancer and choreographer who was at the forefront of American modern dance for more than 50 years.  Cunningham passed away at the ripe age of 90.  He is also notable for his frequent collaborations with artists of other disciplines, including musicians foremost of which is John Cage, his partner and lover.  As a choreographer, teacher and leader of the Merce Cunningham Dance Company, Cunningham had a profound influence on modern dance.  Many dancers who trained with Cunningham formed their own companies.  They include Paul Taylor, Remy Charlip, Viola Farber, Charles Moulton, Karole Armitage, Robert Kovich, Foofwa d'Imobilité, Kimberly Bartosik, Flo Ankah, Jan Van Dyke, Jonah Bokaer, and Alice Reyes.  In 2009, the Cunningham Dance Foundation announced the Legacy Plan, a precedent-setting plan for the continuation of Cunningham's work and the celebration and preservation of his artistic legacy.

Koygan’s doc does justice to CUNNINGHAM’s legacy.  It respects his ideals and propels them.  When asked if he is a modern or avant-garde dancer, Cunningham, in the interview replies that he just wishes to be classified a dancer.  He emphasizes that it is movement he is interested in, and that his dance does not rely on music or a certain movement like ballet.  It is odd then, that he formed a solid alliance with musician John Cage.  The doc shows their collaboration as on their first performance in 1944.  Their love letters are also illustrated in the film.

The film includes lots of archival footage of the dances, when Cunningham was older as well as when he was young.  The film features 14 dances that were originally created by
Cunningham between 1942 and 1972 – including 1942’s “Totem Ancestor” (his first collaboration with composer/life partner John Cage), 1958’s “Summerspace” (where
Robert Rauschenberg’s pointillist costumes and decor create a camouflage effect) and 1968’s “Rainforest” (where Andy Warhol’s silver pillows wander around the stage). 

Foremost in the doc are Cunningham’s dances.  There is plenty of them, as expected and these form the film’s highlights.  Though this film reviewer is not an avid dancer, Koygan’s film is captivating and engrossing as she effectively draws her audience to Cunningham’s work.

CUNNINGHAM is released in 3D and the publicist insists that the film be best watched in 3D.  This reviewer did not watch the doc in 3D owing to his busy Christmas schedule, and watched a streamed copy.  The publicist should be right.  It would be great to watch all the dance sequences with 3D effect.  This doc should be a feast for those working in dance and music.

Trailer: https://www.imdb.com/title/tt8574836/videoplayer/vi1368833817?ref_=tt_ov_vi

 

LIKE A BOSS (to be posted after embargo lifted Jan 8th Wed)

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Top 10 Films 2019

26 Dec 2019

BEST 10 FILMS of 2019 by Gilbert Seah

Of the 400 or so films I have watched in 2019, these are the 10 best of the year.  The list has been made from films that have been released commercially from January 2019 to February  of 2020.  Reason is that a film released in Jan of 2020 would have lost lost its appeal by the next year. 

Of the list, there are a few that many would have missed or not heard of, the ones I called hidden gems.  Two of these are in the list as marked by asterisks.

The list of films are in order of preference, with short descriptions.  Full reviews of the films can be found at the site;

afrotoronto.com

with the title of the film in the ‘SEARCH’ 

BEST FILMS OF 2019 

Best Picture (in order):


1917 (UK/USA 2019) ***** Top 10

Directed by Sam Mendes

Clearly the best film I have seen in 2019 - hands down - in terms of action, cinematography, direction, performances an art direction.  There is no greater pleasure than watching an almost perfect piece and 1917 is a minor masterpiece.  The story or film is based on, according  to the closing credits to stories told by Lance Corporal Alfred Mendes to director Sam Mendes as grandfather to grandson.  The situation is that Blake (Dean-Charles Chapman) and Schofield (George MacKay) are two Lance Corporals – and messengers.  They have to deliver an urgent message that if not delivered would results in a catastrophe of thousands of deaths of British soldiers.  The most amazing achievement is the film’s cinematography by Richard Deakens which is stunning from start to finish. 

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

LES MISERABLES (France 2019) ***** Top 10

Directed by Ladj Ly

A most arousing contemporary film set in today’s troubled world with a bonus message to boot.  What begins with the celebration of France’s World Cup eventually turns sour with the theft of a lion cub (that is the cutest and the real LION KING) from an East European circus by an African kid.  Three Paris cops, a black, a white racist and a rookie attempt to calm the racial tensions in the Muslim neighbourhood where the thief resides.  When the kid is flashed shot in the face, a riot on police brutality erupts.  Director Ly exhibits brilliant writing (he co-wrote the script) and excellent camera word while steering superlative performances from all his actors.  His totally gripping film will undoubtedly keep one on the edge of one seat right to be very end where surprises and twists in the plot abound.  France’s entry for the Best Foreign Language Film Oscar.

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=z5u-HKciyhM

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

Directed by Corneliu Porumboiu

The foreign title of the film is the name of the island - LA GOMERA.  The English title THE WHISTLERS refer to the people that speak the land’s native tongue, a language totally formed out of whistling - a whistling langauge 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.  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.  And the greatest marvel it all?  When Gilda whistles at the end of the movie, the audience understands what she is saying. 

THE IRISHMAN (USA 2019) ****

Directed by Martin Scorsese

The Irishman is an epic saga of organized crime in postwar America told through the eyes of World War II veteran Frank Sheeran (Robert De Niro), a hitman who worked alongside some of the most notorious underworld figures of the 20th century.  Spanning decades, the film chronicles the disappearance of legendary union boss Jimmy Hoffa (Al Pacino) — which remains unsolved to this day — and journeys through the hidden corridors of organized crime: its inner workings, rivalries, and connections to mainstream politics.  The film uses CGI to ‘youthify’ De Niro, Pesci and Pacino for their character in their younger days.  This de-ageing process looks effective enough to enable the 75 year-old actors to play their younger years.  THE IRISHMAN is a must-see crime drama, not because it is true or could be true, but for Scorcese’s craft with the Master is still at his peak.

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

BOOKSMART (USA 2019) ***** Top 10

Directed by Olivia Wilde

BOOKSMART is a high school teen comedy centring on two female best friends Amy (Kaitlyn Dever) and Molly (Beanie Feldstein) who have both studied hard and managed to get into the best college.  When they discover that their classmates also enter colleges like Stanford and Harvard but have spent their time partying instead of studying like them, they freak out and decide to do one big unforgettable party before they graduate the next day.  The big task to find that big party.  While they venture the night, the unexpected happens.  The film benefits from the skilful comedic writing team of Emily Halpern, Sarah Hskins, Susanna Fogel and Katie Silberman.  Besides being hilariously funny with laugh out loud moments throughout the entire film, the film covers current key issues like coming out in high school, bullying, coming-of-age, stereotypes, doing good in third world countries like Africa and high school education.  The film proudly demonstrates how cool it is to be gay - a positive image that teens who go see this film will appreciate.  The comedic set-ups are inventive working well in line with the main plot.  Olivia Wilde’s BOOKSMART is nothing short of brilliant and the first film on my Top 10 list of 2019.

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=S0Mb6BgnhS0

RICHARD JEWELL (USA 2019) ****
Directed by Clint Eastwood

The film’s pleasure lies not in the story, that many are already aware of, from the news articles, but in the way the events are re-created on film, courtesy of veteran director Clint Eastwood (UNFORGIVEN, MILLION DOLLAR BABY), screenwriter Billy Ray and a stellar cast delivering winning performances including relative newcomer Paul Walter Hauser as the titular Richard Jewell.  The film chronicles the life of Richard Jewell during the events that led to a bomb attack at the 1996 Summer Olympics in Atlanta, Georgia.  Jewell then heroically saves lives after a bomb was detonated during the 1996 Summer Olympics. However, the FBI identifies him as one of many suspects and this leads to his unjust vilification by journalists and the press.  The FBI cleared  him after 88 days.  RICHARD JEWELL is the story of a hero, not a fictitious one found in perhaps the Marvel alternative universe but one that lives, suffers and experiences life as a human being does on the Planet Earth. 

Trailer: https://www.imdb.com/title/tt3513548/videoplayer/vi1837612825?ref_=tt_ov_vi

MARRIAGE STORY (USA 2019) ****
Directed by Noah Baumbach

The master of dysfunctional dramas, Noah Baumbach’s (THE SQUID AND THE WHALE, THE MEYEROWITZ STORIES) latest outing is a break-up story of two people still very much in love.  MARRIAGE STORY tells both points of view of the love an break up of Nicole (Scarlett Johansson) and Charlie (Adam Driver).  The story takes most often Charlie’s side.  They wish to separate on friendly times but things get ugly when they hire lawyers (Ray Liotta and Laura Dern) to what they think might easy the breakup process.  It is Driver who steals the show especially in the confrontation seen that might just win him the Best Actor Oscar.  An additional bonus is the excellent written and executed court scene where their two lawyers battle it out.

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-y1HhAlAOTs

PARASITE (South Korea 2019) ****

Directed bu Bong Joon-ho

PARASITE tells the story of two families, one rich and one poor.  The poor one slowly but surely takes over the rich none just as a parasite, hence the film’s title.  This is a vertical story of class struggle — punctuated by staircase scenes going from mouldy basements to top floors, from darkness to breezy spaces designed by star architects. — Parasite observes and dissects with surgical precision the life of two families of different social backgrounds. The story takes a wild totally unpredictable twist where the class struggle story turns into a wicked farce.  All the events take place amidst a huge flood take wreck the poor family’s dwelling.  The ending is  a little marred by slow preaching but Bong's film has at this point already accomplished what he had intended in what is supposed to be an ‘unplanned’ film.

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=isOGD_7hNIY

ONCE UPON A TIME IN … HOLLYWOOD (USA 2009) ****
Directed by Quentin Tarantino

Quentin Tarantino’s 9th and last film, ONCE UPON A TIME IN … HOLLYWOOD follows the misadventures of has-been star Rick Danton (Leonardo DiCaprio) and his stunt double and best friend Cliff Booth (Brad Pitt) set in 1969 Hollywood.  The action takes place in three separate days on February the 8th and 9th and August the 8th, the night of the Charles Manson murders.  There are just so many impressive plusses in the film.  DiCaprio exhibits the paranoia and childishness of a spoilt star while in perfect contrast Pitt plays the super-cool macho stuntman that supports Dalton but at  the same time needs him for employment - a excellent irony of a relationship.  Their relationship unfolds in the background of the infamous Charles Manson murders which included the death of Roman Polanski’s wife, Sharon Tate.  Or so it seems.  The film contains lots of references to the late 60’s films (as the film is set in 1969) that those growing up during those times will find particularly nostalgic.  No Tarantino film has failed to surprise and this film is no exception. 

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Scf8nIJCvs4

JOJO RABBIT (USA 2019) ***1/2

Directed by Taika Waititi 

JOJO RABBIT follows the protagonist, a German boy, a Nazi fanatic given the nickname of JoJo Rabbit (Roman Griffin Davis) during a Nazi training camp for failure to kill a rabbit in order to prove his loyalty to the Führer.  It is not an easy task to make a tasteful film with Nazi Germany in the setting and a fanatic Führer young boy as the lead.  But director Waititi’s film succeeds due to is clever brand of humour.  The film contains many laugh-out loud moments demonstrating director Waititi’s keen sense of humour.  Roman Griffin Davis is a real find as the 10-year old boy while Australian comedienne Rebel Wilson keeps popping up multiple points in the film as different characters ranging from Nazi trainer to Nazi secretary to Nazi masseuse providing additional laughs.  All the actors appear to speak english with the perfect German accent.  JOJO RABBIT turns out to be a harmless really funny comedy with a message to boot.

Trailer: https://www.imdb.com/title/tt2584384/videoplayer/vi2663366425?ref_=tt_ov_vi

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The Christmas Movies

19 Dec 2019

With Christmas comes the Christmas movies.  These film opne this week as well as on Christmas Day.  Recommned is 1917, my favourite BEST film of 2019.

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FILM REVIEWS:

1917 (UK/USA 2019) ***** Top 10

Directed by Sam Mendes

Clearly the best film I have seen in 2019 - hands down - in terms of action, cinematography, direction, performances an art direction.  There is no greater pleasure than watching an almost perfect piece and 1917 is a minor masterpiece.

The story or film is based on, according  to the closing credits to stories told by Lance Corporal Alfred Mendes.  It is assumed that these stories were told to director Sam Mendes (SKYFALL, ROAD TO PERDITION, Oscar for Best Picture: AMERICAN BEAUTY) as grandfather to grandson.  The situation is that Blake (Dean-Charles Chapman) and Schofield (George MacKay) are two Lance Corporals – and messengers.  At the height of the First World War during Spring 1917 in northern France, the two young British soldiers (looking very much like boys enlisted before age, as seen in last year’s riveting documentary THEY SHALL NOT GROW OLD by Peter Jackson, an excellent companion piece to this film) are given a seemingly impossible mission to deliver a message from a general (Colin Firth) which will warn of an ambush during one of the skirmishes soon after the German retreat to the Hindenburg Line during Operation Alberich.  They race against time, crossing enemy territory to deliver the warning and keep a British battalion of 1,600 men, which includes Blake's own brother, from walking into a deadly trap. The pair must give their all to accomplish their mission by surviving the war to end all wars.

Director Mendes and writer Krysty Wilson-Cairns up the angst with Schofiled damaging his hand wth barbed wire at the start of their mission.  In less than 15 minutes, an unexpected explosion (one that will surely cause many an audience to literally jump out of their seats) almost leaves him dead buried under a huge pile of rubble while the shaft they are in begin to collapse under more explosions.  The element of surprise (or shock) is ever present, so do not expect any periods of calm.

The most amazing achievement is the film’s cinematography by Richard Deakens.  The beginning sequence where the two make their way along the trenches is done in seems to be one long take, marvellously and miraculously executed in what is cinematic wonder and grace.  Apparently the effect of the one continuously long take was achieved by both elaborate long shots and choreographed camera movements. The camera is always in front of the two running men, showing their expressions of fear and anxiety where the background reveal the horrid conditions of the trenches and the other soldiers.  Another great feat is the crashing of a German bomber plane almost on top of the lance corporals.  That segment marks not only the film’s best segment but the one that changes the whole course (the spoiler will not be disclosed in this review) of the story.

The horror of WWI is revealed in all its goriness from the dead bodies, the rats, mud, crows and bleak skies.  It is a dystopian landscape that depicts the end of the world as seen by anyone on 1917 Northern France.  The music by Thomas Newman is appropriately scored.

The film’s comes with a message as delivered by Colonel Mackenzie (Benedict Cumberbatch) that hope can be a very dangerous thing.  Ironically, the opposite of this message is delivered in another Christmas film, JUST MERCY.

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

63 UP (UK 2019) ****
Directed by Michael Apted

 

The UP series is a series of 9 documentaries that record the interviews of 14 different Brits from all walks of life starting at the age of 7 with 7 UP.  Now, 55 years or so later, each has reached the ripe age of  63, hence the film title 63 UP. 

For those who have not seen every one of the series, director Michael Apted (COAL MINER’S DAUGHTER, GORKY PARK), who directed almost the entire series provide flashbacks so that the audience can see what these subjects have said in the past.  This series of documentaries is indeed an excellent thought experiment that showcases life - both for better or worse, as the subjects discuss they ambitions, achieved or not.  The all important premise is the organizing statement of the series is “Give me a child until he is 7, and I will give you the man." 

All except for one, who passed away from a born illness, all are living to this present day.  And all but one refused to participate in 63 UP.

Apted’s doc (because of the flashbacks) run almost 2 and a half hours, but the viewing is well worth it.

The format of questions posed to each subject is similar and consists of questions like:

“How has marriage affected you in the past years?”

“Have you changed much?”
“What’s your opinion on Brexit?”

“What do you see in the future for now?

“What is your pressing concern?”

One can soon clearly see that the film’s wonder comes from the pleasure of surprises that come from each subject.  Good to say, that each subject has fortunately been good people, and most are ordinary folk expect for one born into the higher class and one achieving his aim of being a solicitor.  Yet, these two most fortunate believe in doing good.  The solicitor aids the poorer countries like Bavaria while the higher class subject also believes in doing his share for charity.  These two brings good feeling of warmth into the film. 

The most emotional of the segments involve a girl called Lynn.  She grew up in East London and has spent her life doing good- helping children beginning with the mobile children’s library.  Despite her diligence, she keeps getting her funding cut off.  In the film’s most emotional moment when director Apted asked her if it is all worth the trouble, she tearfully says:”It is all worth it!”  When questioned about death, she displays a plaque saying” “Death is nothing at all.”  Lynn also talks about loving her husband, first as a friend before getting married.  Lynn is the one dead has passed away from a born illness.  Another, Nick was diagnosed with cancer just before appearing on Apted’s camera.

Apted’s 35 UP passes like a breeze.  The powerful film connects with the audience despite the subjects all being British.

The doc ends with the words: “These are Britain’s future.”  A moving and effective documentary! My best bet is that there will be a 70 UP.

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ugw7hUoJ0C0

BOMBSHELL (USA 2019) ***1/2

Directed by Jay Roach

The film’s premise is simple enough that it can be stated in one line.  Women previously sexually harassed by Fox News CEO Roger Ailes  stand up and expose Ailes for his crime.

BOMBSHELL is a no-nonsense drama.  It gets right to the crux the matter with little humour and with no side-stories.  The film therefore turns out an uncomfortable and occasionally   gut-wrenching watch (even if one is a male) but this is a story that needs to be told - for the women and others to stand up and make a difference so that what has happened in the past will never happen again.

The script by Charles Randolph details the pure hell the abused women have to go through to attack Ailes.  “You must be prepared when Ailes summons everything and goes all out to destroy you,’ warn the lawyers taking up the case.  The truth can be seen in how the career, family and personal life have been made a living hell.

While most of the characters in the film are real-life characters, the film clearly states at the start that a few fictional ones have been added to dramatize the events.  One such character is a Fox worker, Kayla played by Margot Robbie, a victim who comes out to tell the story and cries why others have not done ether duty.

The single best performance belongs to Charlize Theron as Megyn Kelly.  Besides looking like a dead ringer for Megan Kelly, she totally inhabits the role.  Those who have followed the news on the subject will likely find it difficult to distinguish between Theron and Kelly.  This is how good Theron is and her performance has been praised widely by critics everywhere.  The other best performance belongs to John Lithgow who is daring enough to put on prosthetics to look even  more disgusting and older that Roger Ailes.  Ailes has passed away sine the movie had been completed.

Director Jay Roach known especially for his Austin Powers movies tackles BOMBSHELL with dead seriousness and little humour.  The one funniest punchline in the film is uttered by Roger Ailes when accused of sexually harassment of the women: “I never used to be this ugly.”  Roach has made political films before, as in TRUMBO (blacklisted screenwriter Dalton Trumbo)and the TV dramas such as GAME CHANGE and RECOUNT.

The success of BOMBSHELL might see the emergence of the similar sexual harassment case of Harvey Weinstein, which would likely have juicier bits. 

The film ends with titles informing certain events that have happened since the making of the film.  The titles mention the settlement amounts the sexually harassed victims obtained which is just as much as Ailes’ severance pay after his resignation.  The second statement is meant to anger the audience so that more can do their part to ensure sexual harassment and bullying stops, once and for all.  BOMBSHELL is a film about real life events that needs to be told.  The heroes in this movie are the victims who risk all to do all that needs to be done.

Trailer: https://www.imdb.com/title/tt6394270/videoplayer/vi2331492121?ref_=tt_ov_vi

CATS (UK/USA 209) ***
Directed by Tom Hooper

At the promo screening before the start of CATS, the film adaptation of the Andrew Lloyd Webster’s stage musical, I told a fellow film critic colleague: “I am not really a cat person.” to which he replied; “they are not real cats…”.  When the film finally begins, it is clear that my colleague is right, what appears on screen are humanoid cats, with CGI cat ears and tails that move like sexual organs.

CATS is a most-unexpected film adaptation of Andrew Lloyd Webber's beloved smash musical "Cats" and the poems from "Old Possum's Book of Practical Cats," by T.S. Eliot.  Oscar winning Tom Hooper (The King's Speech, Les Misérables, The Danish Girl) directs with new technology to transform his cast members.  The story concerns a tribe of cats called the Jellicles must decide yearly which one will ascend to the Heaviside Layer and come back to a new Jellicle life. 

Ever since the film’s trailer appeared in November, critics have had a field day panning the film, comparing it to a horrid fur ball with awful fur ball technology.  Already, at the time of the film’s writing, the film has had 18% approval rating (by critics) on Rotten Tomatoes.  Even if I loved the film, I would be hesitant to give it a glowing review.  But I have to confess that I loved certain sections of the film.

There are several segments in the film that are imply magical and celebrates the Award Winning stage musical.  One is the tap dancing number by the railroad cats.  Another is the magical moment with the clever song the Magical Mister Mistoffelees (Laurie Davidson).  The latter segment is a magical segment that demands the audience to throw all logic to the wind and accept magic as it is for goodness to win and evil to be doomed. 

The cat jokes (Cat got your tongue? and other cat jokes too embarrassing to mention) are too corny for a $90 million production.  The film has a stellar cast with many British stars and talented dancers doing cameos.  Judi Dench has quite the major role playing Deuteronomy while others like Ian McKellan, James Corden, Taylor Swift, Idris Elba, Rebel Wilson and others land a hand to make the magic happen.  Swift and Webber collaborated with a new song “Beautiful Ghosts”, that has been nominated for a Golden Globe.

The plot is as nonsensical as the subplots that follow.  These inefficiencies will give critics a field day.  Deuteronomy is the old cat (Judi Dench) that has the difficult task of picking the chosen Jellicle with the villain of the piece, Macavity (Idris Elba) destroying all the competition so that he is the only one left, and hence the natural cat to be selected among the performing contestants.

Despite the low critics approval rating, the film received a loud applause at the end.  It is doubtful if CATS will be a flop.  It will make money just as Hooper’s LES MISERABLES did, and that was a much worse movie.

Trailer: https://www.imdb.com/title/tt5697572/videoplayer/vi1931263769?ref_=tt_pv_vi_aiv_1

GOLDA (Israel/Germany 2019) ****

Directed by  Sagi Bornstein, Udi Nir and Shani Rozanes

A documentary is often as riveting as its subject.  GOLDA, the new documentary on former Israeli Prime Minister Mrs. Gold Meir is as riveting as a doc can be.

The world knows of Golda Meir, the first and only female Prime Minister of Israel as the Queen of the Jewish people.  She had made history during her years in power, especially from 1969 to 1974.  Myself, I only know what was generally printed in the newspaper headlines way back when, so this new documentary GOLDA serves to provide valuable insight on a notable historic figure. 

In 1978, Golda Meir was interviewed by Israeli Television.  After that, the cameras continued with her recording an intimate conversation.  This doc boasts that this conversation was never aired and is to be seen in this documentary for the first time…..as so the titles at the beginning of the doc informs.  It was not actually a nice or fair act for her, as she was fooled into speaking candidly.  The audience sees Golda immediately lighting up a cigarette and then talking candidly about politics.

The doc also follow the route of most biographies.  Some information (not too much ) is provided on Golda’s background as a child.  Gold was born in the Ukraine and her father left the family for the U.S.  Her mother and children, herself  included joined him later.  Her marriage is also briefly mentioned together with her two children before separation with her husband. “Men do not like smart girls.”   This was the advice she was given while growing up.

But the most fascinating fact about Golda is her dedication and hard work for the Jewish people.  This is what made the woman and also what helps makes the film memorable.  Though riddled with cancer and ill health, she still accepted her post the Prime Minister at the the age of 71.  Though she did not want the post of P.M. she eventually took it to finish a dream, as she says the film.  Golda’s words: There was never a moment of peace snd quiet, on the battle or political front.  She cam under criticism when she did not attend the mass funeral for the Israeli Olympic athletes.  But the reason was her attending her sister’s funeral at the same time.

The directors have assembled s solid cast of interviewees.  These include Uri Avneri, Zvi Zamir, the then Director of Mossad, a journalist, Professor Medin, Golda’s spokesman among others.  Golda’s advice to Medin: “Do not lie.”  The film is narrated by Udi Nir, a male that speaks aloud the thoughts of Golda.

The film crescendos into an exciting and movie climax (under the heading “Terrible Hours”) with Israel going into war with Syria and Egypt.   This segment shows Golda’s strength, courage and restraint in times of war.

In one segment, Golda Meir says to the American people on her visit as Israel’s Head of State: “I am deeply moved by your words.”   Her words can only be echoed by the audience of this documentary in the way the audience is moved by this great woman.  As one subject says at the end of the film: “It is a sad and miserable story of a great woman.”  GOLDA, the documentary makes its debut at the Ted Rogers Cinema on January the 3rd, right after the New Year.

Trailer: https://www.imdb.com/title/tt10974556/videoplayer/vi3029778201?ref_=tt_ov_vi

A HIDDEN LIFE (USA/Germany 2019) ***1/2

Directed by Terrence Malick

Writer/director Terrence Malick wowed the film world, particularly film critics with his first two art features BADLANDS (1973) and DAYS OF HEAVEN (1978) made 5 years apart.  Two decades later, he made the war movie THE THIN RED LINE (1998) but it was The Cannes Palme d’Or Winner THE TREE OF LIFE (2011) than also win the TFCA (Toronto Film critics Association) Best Picture Award that made him the star director to be reckoned with.  A HIDDEN LIFE based on true events is his new film described in the press notes as a historical drama.  The film, which would be better described as a cinematic ode to peace depicts the life of Franz Jägerstätter (August Diehl), an Austrian farmer and devout Catholic who refused to fight for the Nazis in World War II.

Running close to 3 hours, nothing much happens in the film.  This is the beauty and the characteristic of a Terrence Malick film which is a pleasure for critics and a major annoyance for commercial film goers.  Malick’s best poetic film THE TREE OF LIFE was praised by critics everywhere but generally dismissed by the public.

The setting of A HIDDEN LIFE is 1939.  Peasant farmer Franz Jägerstätter, born and bred in the small village of St. Radegund, is working his land when war (WWII) breaks out.  Married to Franziska (Fani) (Valerie Pachner), the couple are important members of a tight-knit rural community.  They live a simple life with the passing years marked by the arrival of the couple's three girls. Franz is called up to basic training and is away from his beloved wife and children for months. Eventually, when France surrenders and it seems the war might end soon, he is sent back from training. With his mother and sister-in-law Resie (Maria Simon), he and his wife farm the land and raise their children amid the mountains and valleys of upper Austria.

Malick devotes the first hours showing the idyllic life of the farming lifestyle in the countryside of Austria.  The cinematography by Jörg Widmer displays the stunning landscape, something reminiscent from THE SOUND OF MUSIC.  It is of no wonder that anyone would give up everything to live in a lace as serene as this.  Malick, who has a degree in philosophy also loves nature.  In THE THIN RED LINE, his love of nature is witnessed in a battle scene where one soldier lies in prone position aiming his rifle at the enemy.  The soldier notices some vegetation on the ground and touches its leaf that closes.  It is the touch-me-not-plant, its leaves that closes when being touched.  There is much more of nature to be admired in A HIDDEN LIFE which is also what makes this movie.

The film takes a turn when Franz refuses to pledge allegiance to Hitler.  His family is shunned by the local villagers and he ends up imprisoned.  The last two hours depict the sufferings of Franz in prison and Fani at the farm. The film indeed becomes a hard watch.

A HIDDEN LIFE should be noted that it is a cinematic poem to be appreciated as an object of beauty despite its depiction of  the harsh worldly conditions.

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qJXmdY4lVR0

 

JUST MERCY (USA 2019) ***

Directed by Destin Daniel Cretton

 

Based on a true story - the titles proclaim at the start of the legal drama JUST MERCY.  The film opens on Christmas Day so that it qualifies for the 2019 Academy Awards.

It tells the true story of Walter McMillian (Jamie Foxx), who with the help of young defense attorney Bryan Stevenson (Michael B.Jordan) appeals his murder conviction. The film is based on the memoir of the same name, written by Bryan Stevenson.

As expected, courtroom dramas about civil rights come with a whole lot of manipulation.  Manipulation is recognizably present in JUST MERCY, though director Cretton’s credit, the manipulation is done with some restraint.

The audience needs to feel the horror of death by the electric chair in order to appreciate the trauma prisoners on death row are experiencing.  Director Cretton denotes almost 15 minutes in this manipulative process.  Bryan travels all the way down to witness the election by electrocution of one of his clients, Herbert Richardson (Rob Morgan).  The camera follows the prisoner as he is walked through the corridors, together with the soundtrack of the church hymn “The Old Rugged Cross.”  The other prisoners in the jail clank their tin cups during the ‘ceremony’.    The camera focuses on several witnesses like one of the guards, Bryan, and others.  At least the audience is spared from the gory details of the execution.  The audience only sees the reactions of the witnesses.  But that is enough manipulation for 15 minutes.   The other noticeable manipulative segment is the one whee the D.A. watches the proceedings of the case on TV with his family.  The D.A. insists he is right, despite the McMillian’s innocence.  The camera pans to the D.A.’s wife to show her disapproval of her husband’s actions and behaviour.

Courtroom dramas almost always require elaborate speeches and JUST MERCY delivers the speech during the McMillian’s crucial trial delivered by lawyer Bryan Stevenson.  The speech will undoubtedly make many a critic shrug “humbug” under their breaths while audiences will likely lap it up.  The message of justice and hope appears to come contradictory to the message i another Christmas film 1017 were hope is declared as a dangerous thing.  In JUST MERCY, hope is declared as important as justice.  Both films are correct and the concept of hope  needs be taken in an appropriate context.

Of all the performances combined, that of Tim Blake Nelson as the convicted felon, Ralph Myers whose false testimony resulted in McMillian’s arrest and death sentence deserves mention.  The photograph of Myers looks exactly as that portrayed by Nelson complete with the mouth twitches.  Nelson gets my one or this year’s Best Supporting Actor.

JUST MERCY over dramatizes a real true life event in the typical Hollywood style.  Those looking for a feel-good history lesson might enjoy this, but this film is no TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD.  The film’s most amusing segment is the townfolk insisting that the visiting lawyer, Bryan visit the Mockingbird museum when he is in the town, right where the proud citizen believe that are innocent of their bigoted ways.

Opens Christmas Day!

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GVQbeG5yW78

LITTLE WOMEN (USA 2019) ***1/2
Directed by Greta Gerwig

The latest adaptation of Luisa May Alcott’s 1968 novel of the same name. LITTLE WOMEN gets a different adaptation by Hollywood heavyweight female director Greta Gerwig.  The film opens with the famous quote by author Alcott: “I had lots of troubles, so I write jolly tales.”  Director Gerwig (FRANCES HA, LADY BIRD) who also penned the script, has taken the advice to heart in what might be her ‘happiest’ film.  But her recurring theme of women in a dysfunctional relationships is still ever present.

LITTLE WOMEN explores the lives of the March sisters in 1860s New England, in the aftermath of the American Civil War.   According to one of its producers, the new adaptation focuses more on the sisters' young adult lives, particularly after Meg, Jo, and Amy leave their family home.  The story unfolds in a non-linear timeframe,  jumping  back and forth in time and focuses more on themes rather than narrative.

But the main difference to the story has Jo March (Saoirse Ronan) visiting the publisher at the beginning and end of the film.  At first, she is trying to get any of her work published (miral tales do not sell, she is told) and at the end, she has more bargaining power with her characters in LITTLE WOMEN.  This added bit to this adaptation stresses the difficulty in getting any work published, regardless of quality.  And the publisher stresses that it has to have all the females married at the end.  Yes, everyone loves a happy ending.

This is a rarer happier Gerwig film, which is perfect for the Christmas season.  LITTLE WOMEN celebrates the independence, spirit and struggles of womenfolk, showing the timeliness of the female movement - then and now.  The males in the story, no fault of Gerwig, turn out mainly hopeless relying on the women to set them straight.

The film benefits from a stellar cast, many of whom have earned Oscar nominations in the acting category, Ronan being one of them and Timothée Chalamet, delivering an even better performance than his nominated CALL ME BY YOUR NAME.  Other talents include multiple Oscar Winner Meryl Streep as wealthy Aunt March with the attitude, Laura Dern as the mother and French actor/filmmaker Louis Garrel as Friedrich Bhaer, Jo’s handsome suitor.

Director Gerwig has mounted a handsome period piece enhanced by the music of Oscar winning French composer Alexandre Desplat.

The timeless story stresses the strength of true love as in the case of Meg (Emma Watson) and John (James Norton).  Love conquers all.  The sibling rivalry and bonding are best illustrated with the relationship between Jo (Ronan) and Amy (Florence Pugh).  They both share the love for the same man, Laurie (Chalamet).

The story is also not without humour.  The humour is related to the story.  “I want to write a story of my life,” Jo tells the publisher who responds: “Make the story short and spicy.”  Gerwig’s film is occasionally spicy not feeling long at all.

As LITTLE WOMEN is a festive film, it seems only reasonable that Sony Pictures is opening the film on Christmas Day.  LITTLE WOMEN makes an excellent choice for a Christmas movie.

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2kUTUCg6_R0

THE SONG OF NAMES (Canada/Hungary/UK 2019) **
Directed by Francois Girard

French-Canadian director Francois Girard has got two box-office successes to his name, 32 FILMS ABOUT GLENN GOULD and THE RED VIOLIN.  Girard is known to work well where his film includes the art of music. In THE SONG OF NAMES, the violin is once again the musical instrument in concern.  Those two films aren’t half bad but they tend to be laborious at times.  THE SONG OF NAMES is about an equally laborious journey of discovery - for the reason Dovidl, a violin prodigy has disappeared from the face of the planet.

The film is based on the Award Winning novel of the same name by Norman Lebrecht.  The period piece is the type of film producer Robert Lantos loves to make and it is no surprise he came on board as a producer.  The Song of Names of the film title refers to an actual song sung by the Jews - as one that is comprised of all the Jews that have perished at a concentration camp during the holocaust.  This way, all the names can be remembered if committed to song.  One of these is actually sung in the film.

The film begins with a 1951 London setting where a concert involving Dovidl is about to take place.  The whole story unfolds from this concert incident in which Doidl is a no-show.

For reason of the story lasting almost a lifetime, it requires the two lead characters Dovidl Rapoport and Martin be played by 3 different sets of actors.  Gerran Howell plays Martin and Jonah Hauer-King plays Dovidl between the ages of 17 and 21 while Misha Handley and Luke Doyle represent the boys between 9 and 13.   As grown ups, the leads are Tim Roth and Clive Owen.  The transition is difficult at best.  After the audience has invested so much in the performances of the actors at one age, the audience is expected to feel the same emotions when the actors change.  It does not help that Girard unfolds his tale in non-chronological order.  The youngest actor Hardly and Doyle fare best.  The film is the most interesting when the characters are boys, playing around, each attempting to prove that one is better than the other, or who is the boss.  Tim Roth is passable as the adult Martin, able to suppress anger as well as to display it, when necessary.  Clive Owen is not given much to do for his scenes are few, when he finally re-appears as the adult prodigy.

The production values of the film have to be commended.  The air raid scenes at night in London are beautifully photographed offering the audience both the sense of beauty and danger. 

THE SONG OF NAMES opening on Christmas Day ends up a handsomely mounted but ultimately dull affair.  It feels like going for Christmas Service dressing up, meeting friends and enjoying the festive decorations but then having to listen to a boring Christmas sermon.

Trailer: https://www.imdb.com/title/tt1657517/videoplayer/vi653442841?ref_=tt_ov_vi

UNCUT GEMS (USA 2019) ***
Directed by Josh and Benny Safdie

UNCUT GEMS is a crime drama with Adam Sandler in serious dramatic mode displaying a totally frantic and unstable character.  Howard (Sandler) is a determined jewel dealer determined to prove himself a champion in his day-to-day life,.  He idolizes his client list of famous athletes procured for him by his middleman, Demany (LaKeith Stanfield).  Ever scheming with things always going awry, Howard intends to sell a mined chunk of rock full of embedded gems at auction — after it's shipped to him from Ethiopia inside a fish carcass.   Josh and Benny Safdie’s film is often as annoying as the protagonist who has very few redeeming qualities.  The main plot gets distracted.  Howard’s mistress subplot could very well be cut out from the film with little effect.  So can a few other things like his Jewish family gathering and a few other subplots all of which leads to the film’s over 2 hour running time.  Initially annoying and deserving of good beating-up which Howard gets a couple of times, the audience eventually grows to love this dirtbag by the last reel - which shows how good an actor Adam Sandler can be.

Trailer: (unavailable)

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This Week's Film Reviews (Dec 13, 2019)

11 Dec 2019

Clint Eastwood’s new movie RICHARD Jewell opens this week.  Watch for Kathy Bates as Richard’s mother.

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FILM REVIEWS:

THE BODY REMEMBERS WHEN THE WORLD BROKE OPEN (Canada/Norway 2019) ***

Directed by Kathleen Hepburn and Elle-Maija Tailfeathers

THE BODY REMEMBERS is a low budget 2-handler about two indigenous women.  It has a simple premise and directors Kathleen Hepburn and Elle-Maija Tailfeathers go to great lengths with details. 

The film opens with Rosie (Violet Nelson) riding a bus.  A woman with a child gets on, dropping a plush toy that Rosie picks up.  It is hinted that she likes children an it is soon revealed that Rosie is expecting.  Also seen boarding the bus in the background is Aila (the film’s co-director and writer, Elle-Maija Tailfeathers) who later encounters Rose crying not the street, but not before the audience is given some background of her.  Aila is 31 and wants a baby but has had problems having one despite hers trying.  Aila has had an abortion before.

Áila then encounters again Rosie, barefoot and crying in the rain on the side of a busy street.  She soon discovers that this young woman, Rosie, has just escaped a violent assault at the hands of her boyfriend. Áila decides to bring Rosie home with her and over the course of the evening, the two navigate the aftermath of this traumatic event.  Not much in terms of the story but Aila tries to convince Rosie to stay at a safe-house to protect herself and the baby.

This is one extremely slow moving film saddled with details.  If one loves details, then this film will be a pleasure to watch.  The directors ensure that one feels for each character down to every moment.  Every movement or action have repercussions.  Rosie at one point takes something from Aila’s handbag.  It does not register what it is till much later in the film that it is her wallet.  Rosie is particularly rude and ungrateful  despite Aila’s care.  Credibility comes into the picture. 

As far as Aila’s patience for Rosie despite her rudeness and swearing, one might attribute it to Aila’s not being able to have a baby.  Other than that, her patience is quite beyond belief.  Any normal person would have given up on Rosie.  The scenes in the taxi are overlong and demands a lot of patience.

Though one might sympathize with the pregnant and abused Rosie, Rosie is depicted to be an independent person who thinks she knows what she wants, regardless of  her being right or wrong.

THE BODY REMEMBERS is definitely a difficult watch, for its attention to detail, its slow pace and sombre and depressing story.  To the directors’ credit, this is an uncompromising tale that celebrates the the resilience of women, regardless whether the film works or not.

The TFCA has nominated this film as one of the three nominees for this years Best Canadian Feature that carries a big cash prize.   It has just been selected as Canada’s Top 10 for 2019.

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8l3WC4wl-SY

BOMBSHELL (USA 2019) ***1/2

Directed by Jay Roach

The film’s premise is simple enough that it can be stated in one line.  Women previously sexually harassed by Fox News CEO Roger Ailes  stand up and expose Ailes for his crime.

BOMBSHELL is a no-nonsense drama.  It gets right to the crux the matter with little humour and with no side-stories.  The film therefore turns out an uncomfortable and occasionally   gut-wrenching watch (even if one is a male) but this is a story that needs to be told - for the women and others to stand up and make a difference so that what has happened in the past will never happen again.

The script by Charles Randolph details the pure hell the abused women have to go through to attack Ailes.  “You must be prepared when Ailes summons everything and goes all out to destroy you,’ warn the lawyers taking up the case.  The truth can be seen in how the career, family and personal life have been made a living hell.

While most of the characters in the film are real-life characters, the film clearly states at the start that a few fictional ones have been added to dramatize the events.  One such character is a Fox worker, Kayla played by Margot Robbie, a victim who comes out to tell the story and cries why others have not done ether duty.

The single best performance belongs to Charlize Theron as Megyn Kelly.  Besides looking like a dead ringer for Megan Kelly, she totally inhabits the role.  Those who have followed the news on the subject will likely find it difficult to distinguish between Theron and Kelly.  This is how good Theron is and her performance has been praised widely by critics everywhere.  The other best performance belongs to John Lithgow who is daring enough to put on prosthetics to look even  more disgusting and older that Roger Ailes.  Ailes has passed away sine the movie had been completed.

Director Jay Roach known especially for his Austin Powers movies tackles BOMBSHELL with dead seriousness and little humour.  The one funniest punchline in the film is uttered by Roger Ailes when accused of sexually harassment of the women: “I never used to be this ugly.”  Roach has made political films before, as in TRUMBO (blacklisted screenwriter Dalton Trumbo)and the TV dramas such as GAME CHANGE and RECOUNT.

The success of BOMBSHELL might see the emergence of the similar sexual harassment case of Harvey Weinstein, which would likely have juicier bits. 

The film ends with titles informing certain events that have happened since the making of the film.  The titles mention the settlement amounts the sexually harassed victims obtained which is just as much as Ailes’ severance pay after his resignation.  The second statement is meant to anger the audience so that more can do their part to ensure sexual harassment and bullying stops, once and for all.  BOMBSHELL is a film about real life events that needs to be told.  The heroes in this movie are the victims who risk all to do all that needs to be done.

Trailer: https://www.imdb.com/title/tt6394270/videoplayer/vi2331492121?ref_=tt_ov_vi

(Video Review:  Video out this week……)

FREAKS (USA 2018) ***    

Directed by Adam Stein and Zach Lipovsky

FREAKS, which premiered last year at the Toronto International Film Festival features an impressive low budget dystopian apocalyptic scenario that though runs into familiar territory.  Still, it has a unique feel to it.  The film looks good in its production values.  Writer/directors Adam Stein and Zach Lipovsky craft a creepy tale that keeps the audience guessing what is happening especially in the first half.

Everyone loves a good thriller, especially when one knows literally nothing about the plot.  FREAKS is that thriller provided you have not read anything about it.

The film opens on the insides of a dilapidated house where a man (Emile Hirsch) and a daughter (Lexy Kolker) reside away from anyone else.  This immediately brings the recent dystopian father and daughter drama LIGHT OF MY LIFE which Casey Affleck starred and directed where the father and daughter live on their own away from strangers after some plaque has destroyed most of the females in the world.  But nothing is initially stated at the starting of FREAKS except of what one hears from the father.

Chloe's father (Hirsch) prevents her from leaving their dilapidated house or from even looking outside their board-up windows. It is not clear if there are actual dangers outside, as "Dad" believes, or if there is something psychologically wrong with him.  This is where the film works really well.  There is an image on the television with the words: “Drone targets house in Seattle”.  What does this all mean and why is dad warning Chloe of evil men outside.

It is right after the father returns from getting supplies that he gets wounded and passes out.  Chloe escapes through the front door to meet a strange Mr. Snowcone (Bruce Dern) who entices her with a chocolate ice-cream cone.

When the elderly Mr. Snowcone takes Chloe to the park, he scare hers by pushing her too high on the swing.  When a cop arrives, it turns out that she can make the cop go away by her sheer will.  Nothing is what it seems and the film takes a brilliantly chilling turn.

At this point, one can hope that the film gets better as the script also written by the two directors have put in many odd set pieces in the first 30 minutes that need to be explained.  For one, Chloe is locked up in the closet where she meets her apparent sister.  The people outside the house seem to know Chloe’s name and Chloe’s mother, though the audience have no knowledge  where or who Chloe mother is.  The neighbour appears to resemble the mother too.

It is right at the half way mark that everything is explained.  The film turns into action mode and this is where the film turns less interesting once the mystery is revealed. 

To the directors’ credit, they still keep a few surprises of the story for the second half, which though not as absorbing as the first half still makes not a bad sci-fi thriller.

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4Qdr8sbhz30

JUMANJI: THE NEXT LEVEL (USA 2019) ***
Directed by Jake Kasdan

The second sequel to the original 1995 JUMANJI based on a children’s book and the board game directed by Joe Johnston starring Robin Williams as a character stuck in the game, JUMANJI: THE NEXT LEVEL is almost totally different from the original.  And this is not necessarily a bad thing.  Improvements can be made.  The first sequel in 2017 entitled JUMANJI: WELCOME TO THE JUNGLE also directed by Kasdan and written by Chris McKenna already made some strong changes.  To make the film current with the times, the game has been updated from board to video game.  Both sequels have a different cast.  Both sequels improved with a stellar comic cast headed by Dwayne Johnson (who also produced), Kevin Hart and Jack Black.

Unknown to his friends, Spencer (Alex Wolff, already quite a star with credits like BAD EDUCATION and HEREDITARY behind him) kept the pieces of the Jumanji video game and one day repaired the system in the basement of his mother’s house.  When Spencer's friends Bethany (Madison Iseman), Fridge (Ser’Darius Blain), and Martha (Morgan Turner) arrive, they find Spencer missing and the game running and decide to re-enter Jumanji to save him. Spencer's grandfather Eddie (Danny DeVito) and his friend Milo Walker (Danny Glover) inadvertently get sucked into the game too before any of Spencer's friends can select their avatars. With a new quest offered to them by Nigel Billingsley (Rhys Darby) who claims that one of them will not make it out of this adventure alive, the teenaged friends must help Eddie and Milo get used to their in-game avatars, get them to help find Spencer, and escape Jumanji again, once and for all.

The film is catered more for older kids and younger teens.  For one, the plot is too complicated for the younger ones to follow especially when the real life characters becomes different avatars.  More confusing then when the avatars change.  There are a few scenes too violent for younger kids, like those featuring the flesh eating hyenas and attacking ostriches.

The cast old and new are a scream and they appear to have a good time.  Among the new actors, Awkwafina enters as Ming Fleetfoot (Spencer’s avatar) who later becomes the grandfather’s avatar.  At this point she appears to doing a Danny DeVito impression half the time.  Of the cast, kevin Hart and Jack Black win the most laughs, aided by the script’s dialogue catered to their avatar characters.  Black is a scream doing burpees as Hart is, quoting his zoologist knowledge at a very slow speed.

As a fantasy adventure, JUMANJI THE NEXT LEVEL works with occasional surprises such as Bethany appearing as a horse that eventually sprout wings while changing to Milo’s avatar.  The film is created in good fun and should be treated so, for full enjoyment.

THE NEXT LEVEL which cost $125 million to make has already grossed 50 plus million worldwide, primarily Asia where it first opened.  The first two JUMANJI’s were top 10 money grosses of the year and there is no doubt THE NEXT LEVEL will perform just as well.

Trailer: https://www.imdb.com/title/tt7975244/videoplayer/vi1173208857?ref_=tt_pv_vi_aiv_1

 

KINGSWAY (Canada 2018) ***
Directed by Bruce Sweeney

This dysfunctional comedy is done with much of the Bruce Sweeney wit that viewers of his previous films DIRTY, LAST WEDDING and EXCITED are used to.  And it is bitingly funny.  Take the first scene with Matt (Jeff Gladstone) in his psychiatrist office. “I am better.  I don’t need to be here and I can leave.”  So he gets up and leaves the office.  But Matt is not better but getting worse, even considering suicide.  It does not help that his wife, Lori is having and affair but worst of all, his dysfunctional family is butting in trying to do what they think is best for him - which is not.  The bossy sister, Jess (Camille Sullivan) and mother, Mary (Gabrielle Rose, who is always a pleasure to watch) will not leave Matt alone, even stooping so low as to confront Lori for him.  Director Sweeney knows how to tread the fine line between anxiety and crazy and often the line is blurred.  One wishes that there would be something deeper in the story or some message  for the audience but Sweeney’s film is so entertaining, no one really cares for anything deeper.  The fantastic cast do a great a job as well.

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=r2ILcjp-x44

MIDNIGHT FAMILY (Mexico 2019) ***1/2

Directed by Luke Lorentzen

MIDNIGHT  FAMILY can be described as guerrilla filmmaking.  Which makes it more current and exciting.` 

The film begins with the camera following (literally behind the heads of the paramedics) an ambulance as it races to the scene of various accidents as the paramedics hear of them on the radio.  They arrive and do their medical work, often saving lives and preventing further duress but often earning no reward, monetary-wise.  If lucky, they might get some grateful thank you, but often than not, many of the victims refuse to pay and threaten them ungratefully.  It turns out that the paramedics are the males of the Ochoas family, private paramedics, who run a crucial, unregistered and underground act of saving and helping lives suffered from an accident.

It is then revealed that in Mexico City, less than 45 government emergency ambulances operate for a population of 9 million people, resulting in a loose system of private ambulances taking care of the emergency healthcare.  The film follows the Ochoa family as they operate one of these vehicles.   But the job is riddled with police bribes and cutthroat competition as evident in one scene where their ambulance races against another to the scene of one accident, beating its competition only to have the victim claim that she has no insurance or money to pay for the service.  Worse of all, her apparently wealthy family refuses to pay either.

The main character of the film is the 16-year old handsome son, Juan who drives the ambulance.  MIDNIGHT FAMILY could be classified as documentary though it hardly feels like one as  the incidents occurring on screen seem so exciting that it looks like fiction.  The film also focuses on the Ochoa family which have problems of having ends meet.  They need proper licences plates for their vehicle so that they will not be harassed by the police and these cost money.

The film has a distinct sense of humour as depicted in the opening scene where a T-shirt can be read “It is not easy being cool, but I manage.” when the camera also reveals the wearer’s crack from his low rise jeans.  The film is playful as the family members, who kung-fu kick each other or argue about food.

MIDNIGHT FAMILY,  a well made little gem ends up a cinema vérité styled pretty cool take on the pressing realistic emergency health system in Mexico City.  Pity that there is no solution to the problem - but awareness of the film, provided by the film is a good start.  The film has already, at the time of writing won some 24 awards and various international film festivals around the world.  A solid piece of filmmaking that demands to be seen.  The film is filmed in Mexico City in Spanish.

Trailer: https://www.imdb.com/title/tt6010976/videoplayer/vi2632498969?ref_=tt_pv_vi_aiv_2

 

RICHARD JEWELL (USA 2019) Top 10 *****
Directed by Clint Eastwood

From the film’s trailer that’s been playing everywhere, it does not take a genius to guess the film’s entire story.  But the film’s pleasure lies not in the story, that many are already aware of, from the news articles, but in the way the events are re-created on film, courtesy of veteran director Clint Eastwood (UNFORGIVEN, MILLION DOLLAR BABY), screenwriter Billy Ray and a stellar cast delivering winning performances including relative newcomer Paul Walter Hauser as the titular Richard Jewell.

The film was based on an article “American Nightmare” published by Vanity Fair in 1997 and chronicles the life of Richard Jewell during the events that led to a bomb attack at the 1996 Summer Olympics in Atlanta, Georgia.  Jewell then heroically saves lives after a bomb was detonated during the 1996 Summer Olympics. However, the FBI identifies him as one of many suspects and this leads to his unjust vilification by journalists and the press.  The FBI cleared  him after 88 days.

Everyone loves an underdog.  When a film shows the underdog finally winning, it becomes a winning movie.  But this movie takes things one step further.   The underdog is persecuted.  Richard Jewell who discovers the bomb is suspect of bringing in the bomb and has to clear his name.  “Put eyes on him.”  the FBI is told. 

Eastwood’s talent for music and fondness for country music can be witnessed in the enlivened scene in the Park where singer Kenny Rogers delivers an arousing song.  Eastwood did deliver one of his best films of his career (sadly a flop at the box-office), directing and starring him and his son, Kyle way back when in HONKYTONK MAN.

Eastwood’s film probably contains what is arguably the funniest segment in a film this year.  This occurs when the entire spectator group at the Kenny Rogers concert doing the ‘macarena’ much to the chagrin of FBI agent Shaw (Joe Hamm).

The film also probably contains the best message in a film this year. “This is what you got.  Go do you job, son!” says mother to son, Richard Jewell.

It is just simply endearing when a director takes the advice given in a movie script to heart.  When Jewell is pulled in the office for a pep-talk by the campus Dean on taking his security duties too seriously, like stopping kids on the road for drugs testing, Jewel replies that he was told by him at a punch bowl during a party “I don’t want no Mickey-Mousing on these campus grounds.”  Director Eastwood has taken this advice to heart.  No Mickey-Mousing in this film with him taking the material in all serious earnestness, in creating on of his better movies in his career.

To director Eastwood’s credit, he has inserted into what can be considered to be a male oriented story strong female presence.  The first is the well written and performed character of Jewell’s mother played by Oscar Winner Kathy Bates (MISERY).  Bates delivers magnificently in what could be a small under-written role.  Her one scene where she delivers a plea to the President of the United States to clear person’s name is proof that she deserves another Oscar for Best Supporting Actress.  Having downloaded the screener from the Warner Bros. site, I watched this segment 3 times as it was that awesome.  I cried all three times from Bates’ performance.  In what could be described as a hero without a  (human)villain piece, the villain is  the media as embodied n Scruggs, a reporter played with gusto by Olivia Wilde.  Wilde’s character is one that changes from pure greedy evil to person with a conscience.

RICHARD JEWELL is the story of a hero, not a fictitious one found in perhaps the Marvel alternative universe but one that lives, suffers and experiences life as a human being does on the Planet Earth.  This is the reason RICHARD JEWELL should be seen, as perhaps a sign of redemption for the human race that there is still much good to be found in the human race, especially during the Christmas season.

Trailer: https://www.imdb.com/title/tt3513548/videoplayer/vi1837612825?ref_=tt_ov_vi

UNCUT GEMS (USA 2019) ***
Directed by Josh and Benny Safdie

UNCUT GEMS is a crime drama with Adam Sandler in serious dramatic mode displaying a totally frantic and unstable character.  Howard (Sandler) is a determined jewel dealer determined to prove himself a champion in his day-to-day life,.  He idolizes his client list of famous athletes procured for him by his middleman, Demany (LaKeith Stanfield).  Ever scheming with things always going awry, Howard intends to sell a mined chunk of rock full of embedded gems at auction — after it's shipped to him from Ethiopia inside a fish carcass.   Josh and Benny Safdie’s film is often as annoying as the protagonist who has very few redeeming qualities.  The main plot gets distracted.  Howard’s mistress subplot could very well be cut out from the film with little effect.  So can a few other things like his Jewish family gathering and a few other subplots all of which leads to the film’s over 2 hour running time.  Initially annoying and deserving of good beating-up which Howard gets a couple of times, the audience eventually grows to love this dirtbag by the last reel - which shows how good an actor Adam Sandler can be.

Trailer: (unavailable)

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This Week's Film Reviews (Dec 5, 2019)

05 Dec 2019

Quiet week - before the storm of Christmas movies descend upon us.

ANTIGONE and IN FABRIC open this week

.

FILM REVIEWS:

ANTIGONE (Canada 2019) ***1/2

Directed by Sophie Deraspe

Two French language films involving police brutality (in these films, police opening fire causing riots) make this year nomination entries for their country’s Best Foreign Language Film entries.  ANTIGONE is Canada’s entry for the Best Foreign Film.  LES MISERABLES is France’s entry.  Both films are quite different.  The short list has at the time of writing not yet been announced.

ANTIGONE is an ambitious film adapted from the classic Greek tragedy. 

ANTIGONE is the name of a Lebanese immigrant living in Montreal with her grandmother, sister and two brothers.  The film begins with a dinner scene where the audience is introduced to each family member.  Things look rosy for the new Canadian family.  Antigone has a romantic fling with a white Canadian boy whose father is running for politics office.

Things take a turn one day when cops show up unexpectedly at a playground.  One brother is shot and the other arrested.  Because the arrested brother has got a record, he likely will be deported.  Antigone having a clean record and not yet an adult figures she can pose as her brother and get him out of prison by pretending to be him.  This she does.  But nothing is what it seems.

By helping her brother escape from prison, Antigone confronts the authorities: the police, the judicial and penal system as well as the father of her friend Haemon. The brilliant teenage girl, on a spotless path so far, feels the noose tighten on her. But to man's law, she substitutes her own sense of justice, dictated by love and loyalty

Director Deraspe always has some new twist in the story, as the film progresses.  Antigone discovers that the brothers are not as innocent as they seem.  The arrested one is part of a local drug gang in which the shot brother held a high position.  Antigone is arced with a dilemma.  Family for citizenship?  The film stresses both the importance of family as well as the need to lookout for oneself and not be bogged down by family.  After all, it is one that is responsible for ones own life.  The decision Antigone takes is revealed in the film’s final shot.

ANTIGONE is a rough watch and is meant to be so.  It is a film that reveals the hardship of immigration in an extremely cruel world.  But director Deraspe shows that there is hope.  There is always good people out there.  The good people out there in this film turns out to be Antigone’s white boyfriend’s father who goes out of his way to do the right thing and earn back the respect of his son.

ANTIGONE is a film deserving of the distinguished honour of being selected as Canada’s entry for the Best Foreign Film Oscar.  But LES MISERABLES is the better picture as it is more spectacular and daring in its storytelling, taking more risk than ANTIGONE does.  Still ANTIGONE plays more with conflicting raw emotions.  ANTIGONE starts off slow, but it hits boiling level pretty fast.  Definitely worth a look, the film went on to win the prize of Best Canadian Feature at the last Toronto International Film Festival.

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Eo5os3XbZC4

IN FABRIC (UK 2019) ***1/2

Directed by Peter Strickland

IN FABRIC is a comedy horror about a killer red dress - literally.  The red dress has the ability to cause death wherever it is worn.

If all this sounds weird, it should - as the story makes no logical sense at all.  But this fact does not spoil the pleasure this odd and deliciously film of evil delivers.

The dress comes into possession of two people.

The first is Sheila Woodchapel (Marianne Jean-Baptiste from Mike Leigh’s SECRETS AND LIES), a recently divorced bank teller who lives with her son Vince.  She buys the dress from the  department store Dentley and Soper's after being convinced by a very weird store clerk Miss Luckmoore (Fatmah Mohamed). 

Luckmoore is strange for a number of reasons.  Luckmoore partakes in strange rituals with the store mannequins and often takes a dumbwaiter deep into the store.  At one point, she caresses a store mannequin which is revealed to have a bleeding vagina while the store worker Mr. Lundy (Richard Bremmer) watches and masturbates.

In the film’s second half, the dress comes into possession of washing machine repairman Reg Speaks (Leo Bill) who is made by his friends to wear it on a night out. He is engaged to Babs (Hayley Squires) and is also chastised by his boss for minor indiscretions.  He also makes people go into trances when reading out washing machine faults. Babs takes a liking to the dress and decides to wear it as well however she is concerned by how the dress is able to fit them both despite being different sizes and the appearance of a strange rash on their chests. The dress also breaks down their washing machine and Reg is fired from his job when he is reported on for repairing his washing machine off the books.

There are other kinky scenes such as the store looting scene that begins with two female customers having a go at it after quarrelling who should be served first.  Babs also gives birth to a demon baby while Reg does her delivery screaming on her behalf.

Other strange scenes include Reg’s firing scene.  It takes Strickland to show Reg’s boss chewing up Reg’s company card to imply his termination at the company.  Other’s include Sheila’s attempts at dating other men after her husband leaves her for a younger model.  At two of her dates, her date informs her that he has brought discount coupons.

Both Sheila and Reg are equally interesting victims of the dress.  Luckmoore provides the necessary excuse for director Strickland to indulge in his comic horror.  The film often fills with saturated colours, particular red, reminding one of the Italian gallo movies of the 60’ and 70’s that Italian directors like Mario Bava and Dario Argento used to make.

The film has a huge fire as its climax but it takes more than fire to burn the devil dress.  A sequel in the works, maybe?  But I think director Strickland would have other innovate ideas to scare or surprise his fans.

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=biHUTtV4K40

KINGSWAY (Canada 2018) ***
Directed by Bruce Sweeney

This dysfunctional comedy is done with much of the Bruce Sweeney wit that viewers of his previous films DIRTY, LAST WEDDING and EXCITED are used to.  And it is bitingly funny.  Take the first scene with Matt (Jeff Gladstone) in his psychiatrist office. “I am better.  I don’t need to be here and I can leave.”  So he gets up and leaves the office.  But Matt is not better but getting worse, even considering suicide.  It does not help that his wife, Lori is having and affair but worst of all, his dysfunctional family is butting in trying to do what they think is best for him - which is not.  The bossy sister, Jess (Camille Sullivan) and mother, Mary (Gabrielle Rose, who is always a pleasure to watch) will not leave Matt alone, even stooping so low as to confront Lori for him.  Director Sweeney knows how to tread the fine line between anxiety and crazy and often the line is blurred.  One wishes that there would be something deeper in the story or some message  for the audience but Sweeney’s film is so entertaining, no one really cares for anything deeper.  The fantastic cast do a great a job as well.

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=r2ILcjp-x44

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This Week's Film Reviews (Nov 29, 2019)

28 Nov 2019

If you liked VISAGES, VILLAGES by Agnes Varda in 2017, VARDA PAR AGNES, the director's swan song makes its debut this week.  The hilarious KNIVES OUT alos opens.

 

FILM REVIEWS:

KNIVES OUT (USA 2019) ***1/2

Directed by Rian Johnson

Director Rian Johnson (Star Wars: The Last Jedi, Looper) assembles an all-star cast (Toni Collette, Jamie Lee Curtis, Ana de Armas, Chris Evans, Don Johnson, Michael Shannon, and LaKeith Stanfield) in a brilliantly conceived whodunit Agatha Christie style that brings back good memories of films like CLUE, MURDER BY DEATH and THE LAST OF SHEILA.  A wealthy author, Harlan Thrombrey (Christopher Plummer) is apparently murdered and detective Benoit Blanc (Daniel Craig) is being paid a stack of cash by an unknown family member to solve the case.  Every member of the family household is suspect as each one has been denied the inheritance and has a motive for killing.  The maid/nurse is also suspect as she is the last one to see Harlan.  The film moves fast just as these kind of whodunits go and one can never figure out who did it, though good guesses could be made.  Craig is great speaking in what a family member calls a ridiculous southern Texan leghorn accent.  Johnson directs in good fun and his film is totally entertaining as a super whodunit with a few unexpected plot twists in the end.

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xi-1NchUqMA

STAND! (Canada 2019) ***

Directed by Robert Adetuyi

STAND! is a new film based on the stage musical of the same name.  I admit that I have not heard of the Canadian musical and neither have many of my friends.  So, the film arrives with a challenge to attract audiences to see this relatively unknown musical that is slotted in between 2 big musicals, the already box-office champ FROZEN 2 and the upcoming CATS at Christmas.  Director Robert Adetuyi (STOMP THE YARD and TROUBLE SLEEPING) has done a decent job.

STAND! is set 100 years ago against a backdrop of civil unrest and a violent general strike that changed Canada’s history.  The story follows an immigrant Romeo & Juliet in 1919 as they battle for love and a better life on the streets of Winnipeg, amid political and social turmoil.  Stefan (Marshall Williams from GLEE and HOW TO BUILD A BETTER BOY) and his father Mike (Gregg Henry) fled Ukraine for the New World, where they struggle to earn enough to reunite the family. Stefan is instantly smitten with the Jewish suffragette neighbour, Rebecca (Laura Wiggins), but Rebecca’s brother Moishe and Mike oppose the would-be couple. Meanwhile, soldiers returning from WWI are angry at the lack of jobs after the war and violently threaten the city’s immigrants, including Emma (Lisa Bell), a refugee from racial strife in Oklahoma.  When a movement develops for workers to leave their jobs in protest, a wealthy lawyer (the villain of the piece) pits all against each other in a dramatic and inspirational final stand.

Though set a century back many of the issues depicted in the film are still relevant today.  Racial tension and fear of losing jobs to foreigners are always relevant issues and so is the concept of evil and power.  The script by Juno-winner Danny Schur and Rick Chafe often falls into cliched territory but the actors perform their duties with such conviction that the flaws can often be overlooked.  For example, Stefan’s obstinate father Mike refuses to join in the strike and even works as a scab but on knows that he will eventually end up in the protest march, which he does in the end.  For a period piece, the art direction, wardrobe and atmosphere are impressive.

STAND! can stand (pardon the pun) very much as a drama on its own without being classified as a musical.  The actors do not breakout into song or dance that often, so that the film does not really feel like a musical.  A few of the songs are also pretty good, tune and lyrics as well.   Despite being small budget, the film looks grand.  The climatic march at the end of the film requires a march of ten thousand people.  This is quite hefty logistics. 

STAND! the Juno-award-winning musical hit set against the Winnipeg General Strike by composer Danny Schur & Rick Chafe’s hit musical opens across Canada on November the 29th.  A small but effective musical, STAND! is worth look.

Trailer: (unavailable)

 

THE TWO POPES (UK/USA/Italy/Argentina 2019) ***1/2

Directed by Fernando Meirelles

Films about popes have already been interesting, regardless if one is Roman Catholic or not.  The Roam Catholic institution has survived ages.  News and headlines about priest abuse and the selection process of a new pope have always fascinated the world.  In THE TWO POPES, director Fernando Meirelles’s (the director of the Academy Award Nominee for Best Foreign Language film, CITY OF GOD), THE TWO POPES tells the stories of not one but two popes as they interact with each other, both with different ideals for the church and basically two highly different people.  Yet, they are good people, as they should be, with great ambitions for the Catholic Church.  They are played by two of filmdom’s finest actors, Sir Anthony Hopkins and Jonathan Pryce, both now old enough to play the two pontiffs.

The film opens with Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio (Pryce) preaching in the streets in Argentina while also cheering his favourite soccer team.  The film quickly established Cardinal Jorge as  a decent man with ordinary pleasures like the love for soccer.  The film effectively closes with both popes watching the World cup final each cheering for their home teams, while making ‘human’ jokes while getting extremely excited.

Of the two popes, Bergoglio is the more interesting, only because director Meirelles devotes more time in him.  Bergoglio prefers walking or biking to limousines.  He likes to tango and watch soccer with ordinary people.  In an amusing early scene, we hear him whistling "Dancing Queen" in the Vatican men's room.  He is clearly shown to be against sexual abuse, believing that offenders should be defrocked.  He is also against homosexuality, which clearly will anger the majority of people, but that is his belief.  No reasons are given for this belief.

Director Meirelles spends time on the process of selecting Bergoglio that went behind closed doors in the Vatican when white smoke from the chimney would indicate the decision that a new pope has been selected.

In contrast is the opposite nature of Pope Benedict (Hopkins), who regards any change as a perilous compromise to the Church's integrity.  Nevertheless, Benedict realizes that momentum is building for Bergoglio to succeed him, so the two men meet, break bread, and engage in a debate that reveals much about their respective pasts and divergent visions for the future.  This is perhaps the most interesting part of the film, analogous to climatic confrontation in a film drama.  The only difference here is that there is no right or wrong but differences in opinion and beliefs.  Except for the fact that homosexuality should not be condemned in the Catholic Church, an issue neglected in the film.

THE TWO POPES should be seen primarily for the performances of its two leads, Hopkins and Pryce.  Director Meirelles has also achieved the formidable task of making a film on the Catholic Church more interesting that it should be.

THE TWO POPES premiered this year at the Toronto International Film Festival.  It has a limited screening engagement at the Bell Lightbox before being streamed on Netflix.

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TpUd9SoP-l8

 

VARDA PAR AGNES (France 2019) ****
Directed by Agnes Varda

 

Agnes Varda talks about film and about her films to an audience in a grand cinema auditorium.  This is the documentary -  a doc about film, life and inspirations.

Agnes Varda mentions the three words that are all-important to filming: inspiration, creation, and sharing.  Without inspiration, there is no film.  Varda, obviously gives examples from her past work, mentioning how she immediately wants to film her uncle Varda the second she met him.  She started visualizing colours, camera angles, shots and all.  The film the shows segments of that encounter.  Varda also mentions the difficult part of creation, getting the finance  needed to make a film.  She confesses that she often had to work with small budgets.  She came up with her film CLEO IN THE AFTERNOON filmed in real time of 90 minutes, to cut cost.  CLEO turns out to be one of her most successful ones.  The third element of sharing, she is currently doing, communicating to her audience in the auditorium.

Directors have their niche.  Some directors make action films, some comedies and some documentaries.  It is the latter category for Agnes Varda.  In her film, JANE B. PAR AGNES V., there is one exquisite scene she captures while Birkin is walking with her son on the beach.   A woman is lying flat on the beach with a Bible on her chest while two men stoop each by her side.  The boy questions the mother for the reason, and she replies that she does not know.  The film does not indicate any reason for the image either.  Varda sees images like these, captivating and occasionally without reason, but to Varda, this image needed to be captured.  It is these little intricacies that make Varda the artist that she is, as well as gives this doc its great pleasures.  Varda’s segment on her potato exhibition is nothing short of extraordinary.

Though at the age of 90 at the time of filming this doc, Varda still emanates her characteristic vibrant energy. She offers a wide-ranging journey through her world: her filming process, her feminism, her fine-art photography, her long-time relationship with director Jacques Demy.  There are signature flourishes of animation, and formal detours into the dreams that form the integral basis of her reality.

Varda died only a month after Varda by Agnès premiered at Berlin, and with this in mind, it's hard not to see it as a eulogy. Yet, like all of Varda's work, it brims with life. And its takeaway is not a past-tense legacy, but a sense of how Varda lived through her films, of what she brought to the art form, and — the greatest gift — of finding the extraordinary in the ordinary. "Nothing is banal if you film people with empathy and love," Varda once said. This is the inspiration she has left us with.  Many of her best films are on display here, from CLEO DE 5 A 7, SANS TOIT NI LOIT (English title VAGABOND), THE GLEANERS to VISAGES, VILLAGES, her last and BEST film in 2017.   Sandrine Bonnaire from SANS TOIT NI LOIT appears as a guest talking to Varda.

For those who grew up with Varda and her husband Jacques Demy, VARDA PAR AGNES is a pleasure. 

AGNES PAR VARDA is a true film on how life imitates art (in this case, film) and how art imitates life.  Varda passed away with this doc marking this film her swan song.  There are too many pleasures in the film to be mentioned, so best to see this film for oneself.

Trailer: http://www.filmswelike.com/films/varda-by-agnes

 

 

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This Week's Film Reviews (Nov 22, 2019)

19 Nov 2019

Heavyweight FROZEN 2 opens this week.  Two dramas WAVES and THE REPORT make their debut if drama is your cup of tea. 

And two films starring busy Adam Driver open this week.

Two festivals also start their run this week - CineFranco (a celebration of French film) and Blood in the Snow (BITS) film festival.

FILM REVIEWS:

ATLANTIQUE (ATLANTICS) (France/Senegal/Belgium 2019) ***
Directed by Mati Diop

Fleeing across the sea from Africa as refugees to Spain.  Things are hard for the young as director Diop tackles current problems like unemployment, abuse of local workers (unpaid wages by the exploiting rich) and arranged marriages. 

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