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This Week's Film Reviews (Dec 16, 2016)

16 Dec 2016

Big Films opening are ROGUE ONE: A STAR WARS STORY and COLLATERAL BEAUTY.  The Creepy THE EYES OF MY MOTHER which is  really scary is worth a look too

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FILM REVIEWS:

 

COLLATERAL BEAUTY (USA 2016) **
Directed by David Frankel

The subject of coping with death has been dealt in dozens of ways in films.  In the recent ARRIVAL, the death of Amy Adam’s daughter is tied into the main plot of alien arrival.  This worked.  In another space film GRAVITY, the Sandra Bullock character is given the grief of a dead child to humanize her character.  The ploy did not work and the story looked totally fake.  In the recent praised MANCHESTER BY THE SEA, Casey Affleck’s character comes to terns with death in a gut-wrenching emotional tale of redemption.  In David Frankel’s COLLATERAL BEAUTY based on a script by Allan Roeb, Will Smith’s character finally accepts his daughter’s death with all the sugar coating of all the Christmas cakes in a pastry shop.  Despite attempts to make the story believable, COLLATERAL BEAUTY is plain horrid!

When the trailer for COLLATERAL BEAUTY first appeared on the internet, Guardian Magazine came out with an article heralding the arrival of the worst movie of 2016.  And understandably so!  The trailer showed Will Smith as a man grieving the death of his daughter by writing letters to Death, Time and Love.  Scenes that follow show the personifications of these abstractions with Smith speaking to each of them, played by Helen Mirren, Jacob Latimore and Keira Knightley respectively.  The music and mood are sloppy sweet sugary, especially catered for Christmas.  Who would want to watch such Hollywood bulls***?   There is one word for all this, in the spirit of Ebenezer Scrooge - HUMBUG!

But the film is not all that bad.  The reason that Death, Time and Love are in the story, actors playing the parts, is to fool Howard Inlet (Smith) so that he can be deemed mentally unfit to hold on to his shares and thus prevent his firm from being sold.  So three employees, who have worked with Howard since the incident of his daughter’s death, Whit (Edward Norton), Simon (Michael Pena) and Claire (Kate Winslet) plot the scheme.  But this not not mean that the film is all that good either.

Director Frankel who directed THE DEVIL WEARS PRADA knows how to set up scenes.  The first 10 minutes of PRADA when Meryl Streep, the no-nonsense head of the Prada office strides in - to the total disarray of all the other scattering employees is one unforgettable, beautifully executed scene.  There are a few of these in COLLATERAL BEAUTY, like the confrontation scene between Howard and Time on the subway train, but the individual set-ups do not work on the whole.  The metaphor of the falling dominoes is used to the maximum of a ridiculous three times.  The film eventually settles to boredom as it is hard to care for characters made so unbelievable.

It is a complete waste to see Oscar Winners Winslet and Mirren in this silly story.  Mirren does bring a bit of dignity into this nonsense but she must be laughing her head off, off screen.

The film partly works when it pokes fun at the credibly of the story.  When Howard looks shocked at the sudden appearance of Death, Time and Love, the shock looks genuine  - probably because of genuine disbelief.   The film is the worst when Howard pines over his dead daughter - the worst of the worst has him watching a video of him playing with her, when she was still alive in a park, and shouting… “Daddy, daddy!”  If this scene was not so obviously manipulative, it might have jerked a tear or two from a few of an innocent audience.

There is a twist in the plot at the end which makes no sense to the whole story of what Howard is going through.

Christmas brings along good films - Oscar contenders.  But it also brings the worst of Hollywood films - COLLATERAL BEAUTY being one of them.

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=isQ5Ycie73U

 

THE EYES OF MY MOTHER (USA 2016) ***1/2

Directed by Nicolas Pesce

It takes less than the first 10 minutes of watching THE EYES OF MY MOTHER to realize that this is going to be one creepy, scary little film.  Writer/director/editor Nicolas Pesce seems to have got the grip of the art of creepiness.

THE EYES OF MY MOTHER can best described as a gothic horror film.  It is shot in black and white with the set design set up as a gothic tale, though the setting of the story is the remote American countryside where the subjects live on an isolated farm.  The camera almost always tracks the characters from the back.  The characters from the mother to the daughter and father to the stranger all possess a weird look.  The music (by Ariel Loh) is haunting and the cinematography (by Zach Kuperstein) chillingly dark.  The dialogue is ripe for terror.  The boy is scolded by the mother at one point in the film: “I told you never to go in the barn.” or “You have done this before, haven’t you?” the girl questions the serial killer.  The story begins with a home invasion killing but the victim daughter indulges in more violent acts.  Pesce also ensures the audience feel the horror.  When Francisca ties a cloth around a victim’s neck, one can almost feel the tightening of the cloth as the moaning highlights the horror.

Francisca (Olivia Bond) and her mother (Diana Agnostini) live on a farm where they raise cows and other animals.  A trained surgeon, Francisca's mother teaches her how to remove eyeballs (another creepy scene) from farm animals, and is taught the legend of Francis of Assisi.  Suddenly, Charlie (Will Brill), a door to door salesman, appears and against her better judgment, Francisca's mother lets him use the bathroom.  After a struggle, Charlie kills Francisca's mother.  The father (Paul Nazak) arrives home and injures Charlie.  Francisca and her father bury Francisca's mother in the backyard while holding Charlie captive in the barn.  Francisca (Kika Magalhaes) is now grown up.  Charlie explains to her, the incomparable thrill of killing others.  Francisca then removes Charlie's eyes and vocal cords.  Francisca explains to Charlie that he was not killed because she has no other friends, and tortures Charlie with her mother's surgical tools.  

This is only the mild part of the film.  It gets really horrifying when Francisca steals the baby of a woman, Lucy (Flora Diaz) she hitches a ride from.   Lucy is given the same treatment as Charlie and kept in chains in the barn for years while the baby grows up to become a boy. Francisca is the name given to Francis of Assisi who is the patron saint of animals and the natural environment.  The character survives in her little world of animals and nature in her own distorted universe.

To watch an innocent mother deprived of her baby son, and blinde and dumbed, living in bondage is unbearable.  So, the film is definitely not for the faint hearted.  Pesce’s film, that premiered at Sundance to accolades is well constructed and executed achieving what it intended - to scare or horrify audiences.  But it is clearly not everyone’s film - so, the faint hearted had better stay away.

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WWLNn5kk0iU

 

HARRY BENSON: SHOOT FIRST (USA 2016) ***
Directed by Matthew Miele and Justin Bare

Directors Matthew Miele and Justin Bare are the co-founders of Quixotic Endeavors, a multimedia production company focusing on subjects with an iconic theme.   In their new documentary, their subject is Scottish photographer Harry Benson, now 86.  The documentary charts the illustrious career of the renowned photographer who initially rose to fame alongside The Beatles, having been assigned to cover their inaugural trip to the United States in 1964.  With unprecedented behind the scenes access, Benson captured some of the most vibrant and intimate portraits ever taken of the most popular band in history.   The two most famous of these is the pillow fight in their hotel and the one in a gym with Muhammed Ali.

Miele and Bare’s film is quite plain in terms of narrative and research.  They let the fame and photographs of Benson speak for themselves.  And this is a good thing.  It also helps that Benson is still alive and able to give a perspective of both his work and life as he is present from the start to end of the film.  Among the interviewed are his wife (behind every successful man is a woman), his assistant and various famous icons in the publishing and fashion world.

The film also charts his background back to Scotland.  There is a segment where Benson visits his old house and school.  The interviewed are asked what they thought was the secret of Benson’s success.  The answer is hard work.  Benson would leave everything at any moment if there is an opportunity for a good photograph.  He had to be at the right place at the right time.  Then comes the part of creating art out of his work.  Benson hated posing and wanted his subjects to be shot candidly.

The paparazzi side of Benson is also mentioned.  He captured a private shot of ageing star Greta Garbo to her chagrin.  Other private shots, however, he was given permission like to shoot the shaved head of Elizabeth Taylor right after her surgery.

The film is fascinating for all the celebrities Benson has shot during his career.  These included Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Bobby Kennedy, Charles De Gaulle, Michael Jackson in his private ranch and even Sir Winston Churchill.  

The question arises as to which of his photographs are the best.  The one on the cover of Vanity fair with Ronald and Nancy Reagan dancing is one of them.  The two with the Beatles are another two.  There is also a great one with Bill Clinton kissing his wife.  The photographs speak for themselves and illustrate Benson’s talent.  Directors Miele and Bare ensures that the audience see the talent as well.

HARRY BENSON: SHOOT FIRST is a very easy-going watchable film.  All one needs to do is sit back and enjoy Benson’s work, travelling through time and observing candid shots of celebrities through the years.  There is as a bonus, Benson’s work in areas of war and famine that show human suffering.

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8o-RC4YWkWg

ROGUE ONE: A STAR WARS STORY (USA 2016) ***1/2

Directed by Gareth Edwards

It is finally here and the world is waiting to hear how good (or bad) the $200 million production of the new Star Wars film is.  For one, the filmmakers are clear to emphasize that this is a standalone story.  By this, they mean that the story, set shortly before the events of the original Star Wars, is not part of the other STAR WARS films, though there are already two more films after ROGUE ONE in the making as ROGUE ONE is the first of three anthology films.

There is not much original in the story of ROGUE ONE.  But there is little to disappoint.  Again, the film begins with the title, “Long time ago in a galaxy far away..”, though the words  are differently laid out.  The scriptwriters Chris Weitz and Tony Gilroy, from a story by John Knoll and Gary Whitta ensure the successful formula is untampered with.  And there are lots of spectacle, new characters, explosions, exotic futuristic sets combined with exotic setting - space towers emerging from a tropical paradise.  At times, the film feels like a James Bond film, where the hero and troops storm the villain’s lair, take him out while blowing everything up.

It all starts with the escape of young Jyn Erso as a child as she witnesses her mother shot dead and her inventor father (Mads Mikkelsen) taken away to create a planet destroyer for the Empire.  With this weapon, the rebels would stand no chance of winning the battle for the galaxy.

So, the Rebel Alliance recruits the grown up Jyn Erso (Felicity Jones) after freeing her from prison, to work with a team including Cassian Andor (Diego Luna from Y TU MAMA TAMBIEN) to steal the design schematics of the Empire's new superweapon, the Death Star.  That is about it for the story, leaving the film plenty of time for action, spectacle and more action and more spectacle.  Music is by Michael Giacchino with pieces taken from the original score by John Williams.

The enmity between Cassia and Jyn inevitably turns into romance.  But the romance is executed in good taste without distraction from the action at hand.  The two are just shown holding hands in the key scene.

The choice of a female protagonist heroine as in the last STAR WARS film last year is a good one, given these politically correct times.  After all, Princess Lea, a key Star Wars character is female and key to the whole saga.

The main villain of the piece is played with sufficient relish by Ben Mendelsohn next to the odd appearances of Darth Vader.  But the new characters that steal the show are played by Donnie Yen and Jiang Wen.  Have the Chinese taken over?  The new droid K-2SO,(Alan Tudyk) a Rebel-owned Imperial enforcer also makes a new welcome non-human hero.

As in last year’s THE FORCE AWAKENS, reviewers were asked not to reveal plot points or twists.  In THE FORCE AWAKENS, these included the death of Hans Solo and the end appearance of Luke Skywalker.  In ROGUE ONE, there ares equal surprises to please the fans.

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=frdj1zb9sMY

BEST BETS OF THE WEEK:

Best Film Opening: L'AVENIR (THINGS TO COME)

Best Film: HACKSAW RIDGE

Best African/American Film: MOONLIGHT

Best Action: THE ACCOUNTANT

Best Animation: WAY FAR NORTH

Best Documentary: THE APOLOGY

Best Drama: AMERICAN HONEY

Best Foreign: L'AVENIR (THINGS TO COME)

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