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This Week's Film Reviews (Jul 15, 2015)

15 Jul 2016

Which film you gonna see?  GHOSTBUSTERS?  The GHOSTBUSTERS remake finally makes is debut.  Other films openng include CAPTAIN FANTASTIC and French film LES INNOCENTES.

FILM REVIEW:

CAPTAIN FANTASTIC (USA 2016) **
Directed b Matt Ross

This new family drama tells the story of an eccentric father, Ben (Viggo Mortensen) who becomes the CAPTAIN FANTASTIC of his 6 children, forcing and training them deep in the forests of the Pacific Northwest (though shot in New Mexico), totally isolated from society.

If the plot sounds familiar, Harrison Ford played such a father who did the same in the 1984 Peter Weir film THE MOSQUITO COAST based on the Paul Theroux novel.  The novel was much better than the film.  But the film did not have as dramatic an impact as this new one - though CAPTAIN FANTASTIC totally bombs in its last 20 minutes.  Remove the last 20 minutes and the film would have stood much better as a believable relevant and current family drama.

When the film opens, one of the sons, Bo (George MacKay) has just violently killed a deer.  He is now a man having completed his rites-of-age passage.  The father praises him.  The film goes on to reveal other aspects of the training, a combination of survival skills as well as worldly knowledge in all fields including philosophy and American History.  (Math skills seem to be left out in the equation.)  When the mother dies, the father is forced to take his family to civilization.  The challenges of the outside world are more than Ben and kids had envisioned

Worst of all, Ben intends to fulfill his wife’s wishes of being cremated while her father, Jack (Frank Langella) plans a religious funeral ceremony.

For a film with this serious a subject matter, the film both written and directed by Matt Ross (28 HOTEL ROOMS) achieves some good humour.  It is this humour, mainly derived from the smugness of the all-out-against civilization that hits the right notes.  But Ross is also quick to turn the tables.  By the mid-section of the film, the audience and the children (as River Phoenix turned against Harrison Ford in THE MOSQUITO COAST) turn against the father.

The dramatic set ups display a good combination of drama, conflict and humour.  The best of these is the dinner table scene where his family meets his brother's family.  The conflict between him and his sister-in-law, Harper (Kathryn Hahn), with his brother, Dave (Steve Zahn) trying to cool the fight is brilliantly staged.

The film also contains suspenseful segments (the attempted rescue of one of the sons from the grandfather’s house).

But the film almost succeeds in making both a statement on American consumerism and family values before it all goes bust in its last 20 minutes.  The father drives off alone only to discover later than his 6 children has somehow hidden in the bus.  How can this be possible if the father is so skilled in survival skills that he had not noticed this.  Where can 6 kids, most of them grown up hide in a bus?  The removal of the mother’s coffin from the graveyard and performing the cremation ritual is all a little too much, especially with the entire family bursting into song and dance.

Despite the film’s flaws, the performances, especially by the young cast portraying the six children are more than fantastic.  The film should be seen for this reason alone.

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

CLOSET MONSTER (Canada 2015) ***

Directed by Stephen Dunn

When the first queer films were made, coming out was a hot topic.  Now decades later when LGBTs are accepted and it is considered more incorrect to be prejudiced than to be LGBT, the issue of coming out is no longer than big an issue.  CLOSET MONSTER treats the issue as still relevant, made so because the subject coming out is till as stressed as the first gay doing so decades back and that he has a class A asshole father.

So, CLOSET MONSTER is a Newfie movie of an East Coast teenager and aspiring special-effects makeup artist, Oscar (Connor Jessup, BLACKBIRD) struggling with both his sexuality and his fear of his macho asshole father.  Oscar has a girlfriend, Gemma (Sofia Banzhaf) but pines for the new cute boy, Wilder (Aliocha Schneider) at his workplace.  Schneider is quite the looker.  But Wilder is straight but sympathetic.  The film teases all the way whether the relationship will happen, but the film takes a few turns.  The film uses the boy’s hamster (with a gender twist on it too) to provide insight to the story.  The hamster is voiced by Isabella Rossellini.  

The film ends up a welcome comedic twist on the coming-of-age genre.  The film is not without flaws but given the fact that this is a first-time feature, CLOSET MONSTER is an assured debut. 

CLOSET MONSTER has made the rounds already at Toronto’s TIFF and the INSIDE OUT LGBT Film Festival as well as various other festivals around the world.  It has won many awards including Best Canadian Feature at both TIFF and Inside Out and awards at other gay festivals around the world as in Melbourne and Miami.

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?t=1&v=VSLEI55SS5s

GHOSTBUSTERS (USA 2016) ***1/2

Directed by Paul Feig

It took tons of effort and luck before GHOSTBUSTERS could be get this fresh look on the screen.  The original 1984 hit version is best remembered as a classic that should not be tempered with.  The original 4 that made GHOSTBUSTERS in 1984 including the late Harold Ramis who died in 1984 made a pact that no more GHOSTBUSTERS movie could be made unless all agreed.  Bill Murray was the one who objected to all the previous scripts till this one written by Katie Dippold (THE HEAT) and championed by Paul Feig (BRIDESMAIDS).  Bill Murray has a cameo as a supernatural activity debunker.  And many loyal fans were upset that the film is given a female cast instead.

The film begins with an impressive opening sequence with a tour guide played by TV SILICON VALLEY’s Zach Woods explaining some paranormal behaviour before poltergeists appear.  The story then moves on to professor Erin Gilbert (Kristen Wiig) who reunites with friends (Melissa McCarthy, Kate Mckinnon) to rid NYC of a ghost invasion.  The film contains no boring romances, no life lessons or unnecessary drama - just plain silly fun with a female twist.

GHOSTBUSTERS runs out of steam at parts but the audience knows that another funny part will arrive just around the corner.  A lot of the humour is provided by the 4 main actresses, who for the most part work well together to  keep the laughs coming fast and furious.  McKinnon is the most manic of the four, playing the scientist inventor, whose technical gibberish can hardly be understood at times.  But who cares?  Though Wiig plays the most serious of the four, the professor who loses tenure and has to return to fighting ghosts, she provides a good number of laughs.   In fact, the film’s two funniest laugh-out jokes come from her, in the segment where she is manically runs to warn the mayor (Andy Garcia) having dinner of the ghost invasion.  McCarthy overdoes it as usual.  She does look funny in her oversized jumpsuit, showing that she is game in having a good time.  One can get too much of her, while one wishes there is more of Leslie Jones, the reluctant subway employee who joins the group.

The special effects work well.  A number of ghosts look like the ones from the original.  But the film might be too scary for younger children.

The new GHOSTBUSTERS at least learns from the original.  The script by Katie Dippold improves while it can.  The original theme song recorded by Ray Parker, Jr. back in the day that was the number 1 hit that stayed on on the billboard for 3 weeks is used at various points in the movie, obviously both reminding and reviving audience’s fond memories.   Improvements in the film include adding a human villain, the one that opens the portal for the ghosts.  Another is the addition of a new character, Kevin (THOR’s Chris Hemsworth) the male equivalent of the pretty dumb blonde secretary.  Kevin has major problems answering the telephone while carrying on normal duties, creating more problems when he becomes possessed.  Hemsworth displays a surprising flair for comedy and dance.

GHOSTBUSTERS definitely pleases as evident during the promo screening I attended.  It takes quite a lot to both getting the audience to applaud  as well as to stay for the closing credits.  

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=w3ugHP-yZXw

LES INNOCENTES (THE INNOCENTS) (France/Poland 2016) **
Directed by Anne Fontaine

The nuns in a convent during World War II are THE INNOCENTS referred to in this film, based on a true story. 

Anne Fontaine (her last film COCO AVANT CHANEL) is a director who has made her name in making films about women.  Her most notable film was DRY CLEANING, my favourite one of hers, in which she dished out a delicious dose of devilishness without being too serious.  THE INNOCENTS is her most serious film.

It is Warsaw in the December of 1945 when the second World War is finally over.  But the problems are not.  When the film opens, a young French female doctor, Mathilde (Lou De Laâge) is treating the last of the French survivors of the German camps.  When a panicked Benedictine nun appears at the clinic one night begging Mathilde to follow her back to the convent, what she finds there is shocking: a holy sister about to give birth and several more in advanced stages of pregnancy.   Russian soldiers have raped the nuns who are now facing both the shame of exposure and a crisis in their faith.  And they have deal with their pregnancies and their babies afterwards.  Being nuns, they are totally new to the concept of birth.  But worse of all, their strict Rev. Mother (Agata Kulesza) is not helping.

The film is beautifully shot by cinematographer Caroline Champetier.  The luscious white snow on the ground, the woods, the middle of winter contrasted are contrasted with the dark corridors of the convent.  The haunting music by Grégoire Hetzel is excellent and one wishes that the soundtrack be played a bit louder for it to be more appreciated.

But the narrative is not as strong as one might expect a story of this nature to be.  One reason is the lack of a clear point of view.  Though the majority of the film is told from Mathilde’s perspective, the film occasionally shifts to nun Maria’s and the Rev. Mother’s views.  But the script also fails to establish the strength of the nun’s faith.  The nuns and Rev. Mother appear not only helpless, but undetermined to have any self will to fight.   All they do is pray and say it is God’s Providence in the midst of all the troubles.  The fact that they are this helpless and unwilling to help themselves makes them more pitiless which undermines the power of the story.

The camaraderie between Mathilde and her co-worker, a French Jewish doctor (Vincent Macaigne) provides some needed distraction from the over-serious proceedings.  But Vincent claims (and he improbably correct) that he is too ‘ugly’ for  Mathilde.  His romantic advances are  not returned. 

Fontaine’s film also ends up over sentimentalizing as in the births of the new born with too many shots of smiling nun faces.  The message of Fontaine’s film comes out muddled.  It is a pity as Fontaine has put in a lot of effort into this piece of work.

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8yDHy6oA1_g

 

THE MISSING INGREDIENT: WHAT IS THE RECIPE FOR SUCCESS? (Canada 2016) ***
Directed by Mike Sparaga

THE MISSING INGREDIENT: WHAT IS THE RECIPE FOR SUCCESS? is the question posed throughout this new documentary of the same name.  The answer is given near the end of the film by one of the owners of Gino’s, the successful restaurant that became an institution in NYC.  However, one might argue if that is the correct answer- or that there are more ingredients to its success.

Whatever the point is, this Canadian documentary is strangely totally set in NYC.  One wonders of the reason the effort was not taken up by an American filmmaker.   Maybe it takes an outsider to be able to see the whole picture.

The film centres on two restaurants in NYC.  One is already a success as an institution, the Italian Gino’s and the other, another Italian restaurant, Pescatore that strives desperately to be one.  Director Sparaga interviews the owners of both restaurants, the clientele and workers.  It is difficult to define the success of Gino’s.  Gino’s is an unpretentious place, where the customers become family.  Gino’s does not accept credit cards, but allows credit as kept in the log of a handwritten book.  Gino’s has bright orangey red zebra wallpaper that became the restaurant’s icon.  A big part at the end of the film has Pescatore using, after Gino’s has closed, the identical wallpaper with zebras but in yellow - to disastrous results.

Sparaga’s film flows easily.  It is a very likeable documentary that never passes judgement on any one of his subjects.  Even when Charles, the owner of Pescatore steals Gino’s wallpaper, a definite no-no, as opinionated by everyone interviewed on this subject, Sparaga goes on to film Charle’s view on the topic, even as he he says at his restaurant that if anyone working there will not support the wallpaper would best be looking for a job someplace else.  Sparaga later allows Charles as he opens his new restaurant to be respected for his hard work and dedication despite a bad decision in the past.

This is where Sparaga’s film succeeds.  Despite having a restaurant’s success as the subject, his film is also a candid study of people’s behaviour - their loyalties; their dedication; their goals and their pleasures.  Restaurant come and go.  People don’t.  Gino’s though terribly successful had to finally close its doors.  It is what can be learnt from the people and not from the restaurant that is priceless.

By the time the last reel is played, the audience will remember the sad faces of the founders of Gino’s, the face of Charles who tried so hard to make Pescatore work as well as the words of the loyal customers of Gino’s.  But many will not recall the dishes at Gino’s that were displayed in the film.

THE MISSING INGREDIENT: WHAT IS THE RECIPE FOR SUCCESS? turns out to be a very likeable documentary that is easy to watch.  It dishes out life lessons as famously as Gino’s dished out great food.

Trailer: https://www.dropbox.com/sh/7ugwke7gaipdcux/AABlCgj6axtivBYMvtSbSmX3a/FILM/The%20Missing%20Ingredient/Trailer?dl=0&preview=TMI+Trailer+Victory+Man+LC+Stereo+mix.mp4

 

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