- Category: Movie Reviews
- Written by Gilbert Seah
A few Hollywood films open this week, including X-Men Wolverine’s LOGAN. The faith film THE SHACK, teen comedy/drama BEFORE I FALL and the indie comedy TABLE 19 written by the Duplass Brothers also make their duet.
BEST FILMS CURRENTLY PLAYING:
LAND OF MINE
MANCHESTER BY THE SEA
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BEST BETS OF THE WEEK:
Best Action: Rogue One
Best Animation: The Red Turtle
Best Comedy: Why Him?
Best Documentary: I am not your Negro
Best Drama: Paterson
Best Foreign: LAND OF MINE
Best Horror: GET OUT
Best Romance: La La Land
BEFORE I FALL (USA 2016) ***
Directed by Ry Russo-Young
The teen best-seller BEFORE I FALL by Lauren Oliver, as well as its film adaptation, asks these questions: What if you had only one day to live? What would you do? Who would you kiss? And how far would you go to save your own life?
BEFORE I FALL is a teen take of MEAN GIRLS and GROUNDHOG DAY. The plot centres on Samantha Kingston (Zoey Deutch), a high school senior who finds that she may be living the last day of her life over and over until she gets it right. She gets up early morning on Cupid’s Day (St. Valentine’s Day) and dies in a car accident in the early hours of the next day after a house party. She wake up the same Friday morning again and again, like living in hell. She tries everything different - to be especially bad and then good, to see if she will not wake up in the same hell. She finally untangles the mystery surrounding her death, and the story is actually quite a good and unpredictable one at that.
Being a teen groundhog day movie, there are pluses and minuses. The minuses can be observed at the film’s start when director Russo-Young sets up the stage for the plot. The audience follows 4 really spoilt, annoying teen girls as they scream, sing and bully others including mistreating their family members. This route is unfortunately repeated again and again just as Sam relives the same day in her life. But the annoyance is corrected as Sam tries to better herself and thus her group as well.
Though advertised as a comedy, BEFORE I FALL takes a quick turn towards a serious tone. In fact, Russo-Young makes this a message film at the end. But it works, thanks to her directing skills. Russo-Young has made two other unreleased films before this one, with the last one being voted as the best unreleased film of the year.
Zoey Deutch plays well the bad and the good girl, trying two different characters to see how to get out of her repeated day. Elena Kampouris stands out as Juliet, the blond long-hair bullied girl called a psychopath by Sam’s group. Jennifer Beals (FLASHDANCE) still looks very pretty as Sam’s mother.
The dance anthem played at the house party is one of the best mixes I have heard this year. The anthem is repeated as Sam repeats this incident.
There is one goof on Sam’s cell phone - the date at which she finishes the day with. It shows Feb 13th when it should show the 15th, in the early morning after Cupid’s Day. I was confused when I saw the date, which I assume is a goof on the filmmakers’ part. One minor goof should not spoil the film, though one one expects continuity in a ilm to be important.
BEFORE I FALL turns out a much better film than it appears from the ads and trailer. For a teen film, it surprisingly has enough adult characters (Sam’s parents) and material to keep adults from being annoyed the hell out by the teen characters.
DEPARTURE (DEPART) (UK/France 2015) **
Directed by Andrew Steggall
The reason for the bilingual title is that the film is shot in South France and in both French and English, though English is the main order of the day.
DEPARTURE tells the simple story that in reality could have layers making it more complex. Beatrice (Juliet Stevenson) is going through a marital crisis and she has brought her son – Elliot to help her pack up their idyllic summer home in the south of France. The two hardly do any packing but wander around the market in the village. Elliot is of the age of puberty. He sees a local lad swimming in the reservoir and smoking a cigarette and decides he has to get to know this boy better – nudge, nudge, wink, wink, know what I mean?
This lad is rural Clement (Phénix Brossard) all macho and a complete opposite in character and physique from Elliot. It is hard to believe that he has no clue the reason of Elliot’s fondness for him. What happens after makes the rest of the film. Whether the film succeeds depends on director Steggall whether he can invoke enough interest from the audience or maybe bring some twist to the plot.
Steggall does however, create a believable idyllic atmosphere of a rural French village - with English outsiders treated politely as income generating tourists for the French peasants. There is little hostility, at least, and none that needs to be built up or included into the story. Steggall tells his tale directly with few distractions.
Some films have little going on in appearance. DEPARTURE is one of those films. But to be fair to the writer and director of DEPARTURE, there could be more than meets the eye - if the audiences were to read between the lines (or see between the images). But there is quite a lot of inane dialogue - lines that make no sense being there. One sample occurs in the beginning of the film when Elliot asks his mother about a photograph he finds: “Who is this man in the boat with dad?” he asked. “I don’t know,” she replies. Another lengthy conversation takes place between the boy and a cafe owner about poetry, acting and plays - which has little impact on the plot, exempt to maybe establish (not very credibly) that the boy is a gifted writer.
Elliot, the boy is not the perfect model of a son. Elliot, the wannabe poet (his talent is questionable) is described as a cliche by Clement. Elliot acts like a spoiled little princess half the time, who wants his mother dead so that he can have a sex life. He is indifferent to his dad’s visit. He masturbates with a carrot from the fridge and dumps the soiled vegetable in the bin, which his mother discovers.
DEPARTURE is extremely slow moving. After 30 minutes of the film’s running time, nothing much happens - except the boy has seen another boy and the mother and son is still in the French village.
It is good to see Juliet Stevenson (famous after her role opposite the late Alan Rickman in TRULY, MADLY, DEEPLY) on the screen after a long absence, though she does not get to do that much. Alex Lawther who plays Elliot has played big roles in the past, like the young Alan Turing in THE IMITATION GAME and the math film X + Y.
DEPARTURE has gone on to win a few awards already at minor film festivals. But it is slow haul which will test the patience of many a viewer. The film is available DVD / VOD on March 7th in the U.S. and Canada via Wolfe Video.
LOGAN (USA 2017) ***
Directed by James Mangold
For those unfamiliar with the Marvel comic universe - LOGAN is the name of the Wolverine mutant in the X-MEN series. He has been played by actor Hugh Jackson in the past as well as in this latest edition, which is supposed to be his last. To put everyone in line with the Wolverine Universe, LOGAN is intended to be the tenth installment in the X-Men film series, as well as the third and final Wolverine solo film following X-Men Origins: Wolverine (2009) and The Wolverine (2013).
Director James Mangold has made a slew of movies, but I first noticed his film COP LAND which dealt with an ageing sheriff played by Sylvester Stallone, forced out of his complacency to do what is right. The premise of LOGAN is quite the same. Wolverine (Jackman) just wants to be left alone - drinking and driving his car for hire, until he encounters mutants running away from a government control experiment gone haywire.
The setting of the story is the near future with Wolverine. dealing with his age and ailment. His abilities are not what they once were”. So, a weary Logan cares for an ailing Professor X aka Charles Xavier (Patrick Stewart) with an albino mutant called Caliban (Steven Mercahnt) in a hideout on the Mexican border. (Caliban is named after Prospero’s slave, the ugly monster of the island he is shipwrecked in, in Shakespeare’s THE TEMPEST). His attempts to hide from the world and his legacy, however, are up-ended when a young mutant, Laura (Dane Keen) arrives, being pursued by dark force. The first fight arrives a late 45 minutes into the film.
As in the Marvel action films, the fight scenes have to be awesome. The ones here meet the standard, being violent enough with head rolling off and sharp blade slicing up bodies. The editing is quick, but the scenes held long enough for the audience to figure out what is happening.
The script, partly written by Mangold together with Scott Frank and Michael Green, shows occasional bouts of brilliance. At one point in the film, Logan discovers X-MEN comic books in Aurora’s bag. Reading them, he finds that the Eden place that they are going to is described in the comic book as well as certain past events. The film here takes an eerie look, with a chilly feel similar to what could be felt in David Lynch’s MULHOLLAND DRIVE. The story also pays a clever nod to the classic western SHANE that appears on the television. Logan, Charles and Laura on their journey to find Eden, encounter a family, just as the stranger SHANE does in the film, and their encounter affects the destiny of the family who like the movie SHANE, is being hustled out of the land by mercenary gunmen. The script does not shy away from senseless killings, which is a good thing. A lot of innocent people die in this movie.
LOGAN costs a whopping 127 million to make. It is a handsomely mounted production with impressive special effects and great fight choreography. It should make is money back based on the fact that the film is quite good. Only thing is that much publicity is required to let the world be aware that this is actually another X-MEN movie despite the words “X-MEN” missing from the innocently chosen title.
THE SHACK (USA 2017) *
Directed by Stuart Hazeldine
THE SHACK is a faith movie that loses the ‘Christianity’ label but whose theme would probably include the Christian faith. God appears in many forms, as male papa (Graham Greene), female papa (Octavia Spencer) or Jesus (Avivi Alush) or Sarayu Sumire Matsubara.
Though the Christian God’s name is absent, many of the teachings of Christ are present in one form or another. In the film, God appears in the film as a trinity, though the trinity is not in the form of God, the Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost but in the form of papa, Jesus and Sarayu. The preaching of forgiveness, very important in Christianity is also emphasized in the story.
The film opens with a young boy, MacKenzie as he witnesses his father abusing his mother and then giving him a beating after he tells on him at church. The abuse obviously flows into the boy’s adult life. The film forwards to the present where the boy is now a grown man, (Sam Worthington), married with two children. Christianity loves to test the faith of its believers and in this case, the patience of the audience as well.
After his young daughter is murdered during a family camping trip, Mack Phillips spirals into a deep depression causing him to question his innermost beliefs. Facing a crisis of faith, he receives a mysterious letter urging him to the shack where the crime occurred, deep in the Oregon wilderness. Despite his doubts, Mack goes there and encounters an enigmatic trio of strangers led by a woman named Papa. Through this meeting, Mack finds important truths that will transform his understanding of his tragedy and change his life forever.
Director Hazeldine’s straight forward storytelling technique leaves nothing to the imagination. Apart from a few dreamlike sequences, the story unfolds in chronological fashion with hardly a flashback The film is more interesting (though this is not saying much) in the first 15 minutes or so, because there are incidents happening. After, when redemption is the order of the day, the film just ponders along ponderously.
There are no special performances in the film. Worthington appears to be faith blindly walking though his role The same goes for the rather well-known name cast that includes Radha Mitchell, Octavia Spencer and Graham Greene. I have never seen Spencer in such a painful performance, forcing laughter too many times as in this film.
The film is suitable for a family audience. There is no foul language. Even the child beating scene is done without any violence and the reason for Missy’s appearance is mentioned in a ‘too polite’ manner.
An overlong faith movie running at 132 minutes which is as slow and tedious as it tests your faith and patience, see THE SHACK only if you absolutely MUST.
The film end with an equal tedious song “Keep Your Eyes on Me” by Faith Hill and actor Tim McGraw.
TABLE 19 (USA 2016) **1/2
Directed by Jeffrey Blitz
TABLE 19 is the low-budget small comedy typical of director Jeffrey Blitz and writer Jay and Mark Duplass. Blitz directed THE OFFICE episodes, the feature BOTTLE ROCKET and the documentary on the spelling bee SPELLBOUND. The Duplass brothers are famous for THE PUFFY CHAIR, JEFF, WHO NOW LIVES AT HOME and BAGHEAD. All these films are not masterpieces but sweet little films that are entertaining enough.
The protagonist of the new Duplass/Blitz film is Eloise McGarry (Anna Kendrick, MR. RIGHT, UP IN THE AIR the PITCH PERECT movies). Eloise has just been dumped by her boyfriend, Teddy (Wyatt Russell) who is the brother and best man of the wedding. Eliose does not want to attend but does. She ends up at TABLE 19, the wedding ‘table of losers’. There are 6 at a table. The others at TABLE 5 are:
Walter Thimple, just out of prison (Stephen Merchant)
Bina Kepp, unhappy wife out for a affair (Lisa Kudrow)
Jerry Kepp, her unhappy husband (Craig Robinson)
nanny of the family, Jo Flanagan (Judy Squib) and
Rezno Eckberg (Tony Revolorif from THE GRAND BUDAPEST HOTEL)
Half way through the film, it suddenly dawns that this film is not that funny. The jokes are mild at most, often a few off-coloured ones (to distinguish the film from a TV movie) with a few scenes with drug use. But TABLE 19 turns out to be a serious comedy.
Nothing is what it seems! Eloise also meets and sort of falls in love with a wedding crasher, a handsome guy called, Huck (Thomas Cocquerel) but again, Huck is not who he seems to be as revealed in the manipulative script.
Anna Kendrick is charming and helpless enough in her leading role. Oscar nominee Judy Squib plays the know-it-all ex-nanny but the most laughs come from Stephen Merchant.
The script turns each character of the table to be actually very nice people - even the ex-con had good intentions for embezzling the money. The big ‘turn’ happens during the confrontation between Eloise and Teddy. Teddy is somewhat sweet and hapless. But the problem is the script being too manipulative and eager to please.
The script centres on the TABLE 19 guests. As Eloise actually planned the seating arrangement of the wedding, there is a scene where she describes each table from Table 1 to Table 19 from the singles table to the parents table and so on. Fortunately, the script does not distract with the other guests. The appropriately lively bride and bridegroom are given just enough screen time to keep the subject of wedding on track.
TABLE 19 should please the less demanding audience. At the promo screening, I could overhear the comments of the audience. Most enjoyed the film, with adjectives like ‘sweet’, ‘romantic’ and ‘funny’. But the script should have been less manipulative and predicable. TABLE 19 turns out too sugary sweet for my liking and my guess for the liking of most critics.
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