This Week's Film Reviews (May 19, 2017)

18 May 2017

Ridley Scott’s widely anticipated ALIEN: COVENANT makes its debut this week.  Also opening are the 4th WIMPY KID film called THE LONG HAUL and the utter charming romantic comedy about falling in love again with your spouse THE LOVERS.

Best Bets of the Week:

Best Film Opening: THE LOVERS



Best Foreign: THE COMMUNE

Best Documentary: RISK


To find a review for a past film, key in film title in the 'SEARCH' box.


ALIEN: COVENANT (USA 2017) ***1/2

Directed by Ridley Scott

ALIEN helmer Ridley Scott (he directed two of the series) proves that at the age of 80, he still has it.  The latest ALIEN called ALIEN: COVENANT the second of the prequel before the first ALIEN movie and the sequel to the last PROMETHEUS shows Scott in top form.  ALIEN COVENANT is far superior to copycat space horror films like the recent LIFE and PASSENGER.  ALIEN: COVENANT is the real thing - with real horrors in the abyss of space that will keep one at the edge of the seat watching face clingers and torso busters (called more mildly face huggers and chest bursters in the film).

The film begins with a short flashback showing Peter Weyland (Guy Pearce) while he is still alive; he addresses a synthetic android (Michael Fassbender) who would become part of the Prometheus expedition.  Weyland asks the android to select a name for himself and the android selects 'David' as his preferred name.

The film moves to the present which is 2104.  The crew of the colony ship Covenant is bound for a remote planet with two thousand colonists and a thousand embryos aboard. While en route to their destination, an energy surge damages the ship, killing its captain and waking the crew.  As they repair the ship, the crew intercept a radio transmission from a nearby planet and decide to investigate as the transmission is human in origin but the planet is supposedly lifeless.  This is when the horror begins.

The first ALIEN film was panned by the critics with the critic at Time Magazine calling it a bastard movie, a cross between STAR WARS and JAWS.  One can see why.  Like JAWS, the first sight of the alien occurs almost a third into the movie just as the first sight of the shark was never seen till half of the film elapsed  - a Hitchcock trait (best example: THE BIRDS).  But once the monsters starts bursting out of the victim’s bodies  - watch out !  Sound effects, special effects and all the horror instruments filmmakers use are perfectly combined to scare the hell out of audiences and for a fairly lengthy interval of time at that.  PASSENGER never achieved that level of effect while LIFE imitated a few of the scares.  The alien clinging on the outside of the spaceship as it strives to enter the ship, is seen in both LIFE and COVENANT.  There are more characters in COVENANT than in any of the past ALIEN Films or in LIFE and PASSENGER resulting in more grisly deaths as well.

COVENANT is neatly tied in to PROMETHEUS though the audience need not know much about the original film.  The film also contains an intricate enough plot, with a sufficient twist at the end, brilliant for the fact that the audience is supposed to guess it.

The only complaint is of the film being a bit confusing, though the confusion can be sorted out with a bit of reflection.  One is the use of actor Fassbender to play the two androids David and Walter.   The other is the flashback at the start of the film, which is not clearly conveyed to the audience as a flashback.  When Fassbender appears on the ship, one assumes he is David, but he is actually Walter.  Another disarray arises with the large number of crew suddenly descending on the planet as the film only showed a handful of humans awakened from their slumber.

Scott still uses the gimmicks of the past ALIEN films to ensure the film’s success.  Katherine Waterston as Daniels, a terraforming expert looks like a younger Sigourney Weaver, especially in her sweat-soaked undergarments.  The sight of the alien eggs before hatching still looks as eerie as before.  A few new additions are added like the bath scene (looking almost pornographic) which is comical in a way as the alien strikes like a snake-like creature.

ALIEN: COVENANT returns the franchise to its roots and to what works.  Fans and audiences would shriek in delight!

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=H0VW6sg50Pk

BAD RAP (USA 2017) ***

Directed by Salima Koroma

Asian hip-hop is what director Salima Koroma’s odd but occasionally insightful documentary is all about.  In this review, hip-hop music and rap music is considered to be the same, as is considered so by the majority.

Rap has got quite the bad rap so far.  Of all the music out there, Rap is known for its use of foul language, use of images of violence, sex and guns.  It is everything parents do not want their children to listen to.  And with reason.  Rappers talk shit half the time with the word shit coming out in almost every few sentences.  If the word shit or other vulgar four letter words are not heard, the word ‘like’ is used.  Poor grammar and mis-spelling is common.  The subjects in this film are not like the subjects of other documentaries like CITIZENFOUR where the subjects are often people (Edward Snowden in this case) who have changed the world for good.  So, one has to hand it to director Koroma for capturing the energy of these young  Asian rappers and creating a film that is an absorbing watch.

The film follows the origin of hip-hop.  Hip-hop culture has transcended many racial and cultural boundaries after its founding in the ’70s by African-American and Latino youth in the South Bronx.  Since then, rappers have emerged as legitimate pop culture stars around the world and hip-hop’s global movement has become increasingly more diverse. Yet the face of rap in America remains primarily black, brown, and white.  This film looks at Asian rappers.

BAD RAP follows the lives and careers of four Asian-American rappers trying to break into a world that often treats them as outsiders.  Energetic too, are the dynamic live performance footage and revealing interviews.

The four rappers on display are Dumbfounded, Awkwafina (a female), Rekstozzy and Lyricks.  

Koroma shows a side of the rapper seldom seen.  Lyricks is revealed as a filial son, helping out in his parents very hot steam cleaning factory.  He acknowledges his parents who work very hard for him.  And Rick goes to church.  His mother on interview, talking about her son forms the film’s most amusing segment.

The film’s dose of brilliance comes when the video of each of the 4 rappers are played to 4 different promoters to judge their reactions.  It is here that the audience sees more to rap - as the experts voice their opinions on each song and performer.

Also partly in view for a shooter span is the Chinese rapper Jin the MC.  Jin is the most charismatic of the Asian rappers on display and one wonders why Koroma did not give him more screen time.  His video “Learn Chinese”, a big hit is funny and unforgettable.

Koroma’s film concludes neatly with a look at the 4 rappers 2 years after their interviews - showing where each of them are, and with them talking about how they have grown.

Will BAD RAP will turn the most skeptical critics into believers?

BAD RAP is available on VOD on all major platforms May 23rd.  Warning:  Lots of could language and graphic content!

TRAILER: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7ROfSpDfa70


THE BLEEDER (former title: CHUCK) (USA 2016) ***
Directed by Philippe Falardeau

Quebec director Falardeau has made some excellent Quebec films like CONGORAMA, MONSIEUR LAZHAR (his most famous and critical acclaimed film) and MY INTERNSHIP IN CANADA.  THE BLEEDER with all its good points, however, is unable to reach the director’s high point, probably due to its depressing subject matter, though based on a true story.

The film is based on the life of Chuck Wepner (Liev Schreiber).  It traces the rise to fall to redemption of Chuck, the man concentrating on his personal life rather than his boxing.  It is tough to see a man from the Bronx, go down after gaining fame.  The life of fame and riches seduced the man, resulting in him leaving his wife, doing drugs like cocaine and flirting around.

The atmosphere of the 70’s where the story takes place is authentically created. There are 70’s period films that do not look as if they were made in the 70’s,  The BLEEDER looks as if it was made in the 70’s.  Everything from props, dialogue, hair, music and sets is perfect.

This is the life of Chuck Wepner, best known for his 1975 fight with the heavyweight champion, Muhammad Ali.  The film is called THE BLEEDER because Chuck is able to take punishment, which allowed him to stay that many rounds in the ring with Muhammad Ali.

Live Schreiber plays Chuck the loser that he is.  He is not too bright either.  When he learns that Stallone stole his life story, he calls United Artists and asks to speak to directly to Stallone.  When Chuck finally meets Stallone, he does not even ask him for royalties.  One problem with the film is that Chuck is not a likeable human being.  Worse, is that he is a loser with few redeeming qualities.  It is hard to feel sorry for a man who was married three times who keeps cheating on his wives.  His daughter is understandably upset with him.  Everyone would be, including the teacher at a PTA meeting who walks away disgusted.  Unlike the film ROCKY, which is based on Chuck’s life a film that became so popular because ROCKY was about a winner, THE BLEEDER is about a loser.

The boxing scenes are violent and necessarily so, as the film has to show the character living up to the name of Bleeder.  The main match, the one between Muhammad Ali and Chuck is convincing enough to look like the real thing.

Schreiber is excellent in his role as Elizabeth Moss is as his second wife.  The film does not really explain how Sylvester Stallone learned about Chuck’s life to portray him so accurately in his Oscar Winning film.  The actor, Morgan Spector playing Stallone is totally laughable in his look - looking like a skinny though toned version of the Stallion.

THE BLEEDER is not a bad film.  But a depressing film about a loser is going to be a tough sell to attract audiences.

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0AQXwOOqNNw

THE COMMUNE (Denmark/Sweden/Netherlands 2016) ***

Directed by Thomas Vinterberg

The latest from Thomas Vinterberg (CELEBRATION, THE HUNT) details what happens in a commune  Communes were popular in the 70’s in Denmark, also the time when the film is set.  Vintergberg does not judge the workability of a commune environment but shows both sides of its workings - both good and bad.  

Vinterberg’s film is a detailed study of the start (and end?) of a commune.  He begins with a couple’s rationale on starting their commune.  It all happens when Erik's father passes away.   The couple must decide what to do with the huge house that Erik grew up in, as it's too expensive for them to occupy on their own.  So, they decide to form a commune.  They believe a commune will solve the problem of money and being able to live at a large residence close to sailing and the sea while living with friends.  Anna, the wife also desires change.  The question then is whether the couple is ready with problems that may arise.  This is what the film examines.  It is a good observation, too, that people seldom look at the possible problems when they get too excited on a new venture.

The first 30 minute of the film is up-lifting.  The couple decide on the commune, interview the other co-communers.  They sign the papers, move in, and frolic naked, drink beer, drink and be merry.  All this is demonstrated through the downward spiral of a couple Anna (Trine Dyrholm, who won Best Actress at this year's Berlinale for her performance and is the best thing about the movie) and her husband, Erik (Ulrich Thomsen).  Though the problems that ensure are predictable - jealousies; some that do less work than others; dirty habits - the events that occur are still well conceived and well executed.  

The film also works on different levels.  It is also a family drama that concentrates on the couple as well as a psychological study on human behaviour. The  film gets interesting when members of the commune sit down for their annual meeting. Each member is asked “How are you?”  Mona is accused of too much traffic in and out of the house (she is seeing too many men) while Allon is crying after being accused of not paying his deposit.  

Every scene in the film is also ripe for analysis on behaviour.  One scene in which Erik interviews Allon as a possible candidate for living in the house illustrates the interaction of two different characters with intriguing results.  Another is Erik’s humiliation of Jesper, one of his students.  The reason of his doing so forms a good topic for discussion.  Yet another is when Erik’s daughter catches her father cheating on the mother.

Compared to other Vinterberg films like CELEBRATION, the images are crystal clear and there is much less hand held camera used.  When the actors are seated, the camera is mounted and when the actors are walking or on the move, it is hand held camera (fortunately held quite steady without noticeable jittery movements).

The main message of commune living would be that it works if one works at making it work.  An insightful and absorbing film!

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KsEXwrgKjQ0


Directed by Kelly Reichardt 

CERTAIN WOMEN tells three different stories about women, the common thread that the stories, among another things are set in Montana.  Unlike films with many stories, writer/director Kelly Reichardt (WENDY AND LUCY, OLDJOY, MEEK’S  CUTOFF) does not intercut the stories into one narrative but rather tells each story on its own, one after another.  The advantage of this strategy (and the one I prefer) is that the continuity of each story is un-compromised.

The first story involves a female lawyer, Laura (Laura Dern) defusing a hostage situation and calming her disgruntled client (Jared Harris).  The second has a married couple (Michelle Williams and James Le Gros) breaking ground on a new home but exposing marital fissures when they try to persuade an elderly man to sell his stockpile of sandstone.  The third and final story is of a ranch hand (Lily Gladstone) forming an attachment to a young lawyer (Kristen Stewart), who inadvertently finds herself teaching a twice-weekly adult education class, four hours from her home.  These are independent women whose lives finally intersect in a powerful way.  These stories are based on short stories from Maile Meloy's collection Both Ways is the Only Way I Want It.

Reichardt ’s films have a strong feminine content.  This is not a bad thing if done right.  Reichardt  demonstrates the feminine content in a clever subtle as evident in the first story.  The first story begins with the female lawyer, Laura after a lunch time love-making in a rented room.  The two are never shown together.  She is seen in the bedroom while he is the bathroom.  When he enters the bedroom, his  figure is shown in the mirror.  Never once do the male and female appear on he same side of the screen.  The male and female are distinct, they have different roles in each story and Reichardt  emphasizes the female roles.

Often in films with a strong female content by a female director, the male characters are depicted as silly or spineless.  Thankfully, this is not the case in CERTAIN WOMEN.  If the males have to answer to the female, there is a least a legitimate reason.  In the first story, the lawyer’s client (Jared Harris) has made an error and has suffered severe mental, physical and financial loss.  When he breaks down crying (a crying male is too often used in a female director’s film to show that they too have sensitivity), it illustrates at least, a credible state of affairs.

The female characters are all involved with the typical male roles in society.  Laura Dern is a lawyer, who ends up as a hostage negotiator.  Michelle Williams makes the family decisions especially on the construction of their new house to buy sandstones from an elderly gentleman.  The husband admits too, to the old gent in on scene that she is the boss.

Women films are strong this month with the release of both CERTAIN WOMEN at TIFF Bell Lightbox and the Hollywood comedy SNATCHED on Mother’s Day.

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1_Lznehy2-s


Directed by James Bowers

Few things that need to be known before watching the new Wimpy Kid film, the 4th instalment of the series! The new film is a family road comedy film based on the book (the 9th) of the same name by Jeff Kinney.  It is intended to be a sequel to 2012's Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Dog Days.   The original cast and crew members from the first three films will not be reprising their roles, making this the first film to feature an entirely new cast for the reason that the originators have all grown too old for their parts.

Jason Drucker is winning in his role of the wimpy kid, Greg Heffler, taking over from from Zachary Gordon.  Charlie Wright who plays his elder brother is even funnier than Devon Bostick.  Alicia Silverstone who plays mother is now grown up from her teen films like CLUELESS.

What is rarely seen in films with a loose narrative like this one are the many instances in which slight gags are not only tied into the story but re-appear again at different parts of the film.  The piglet that is won at the country fair, is seen again doing ‘poopie’ later in the car and re-appears once again at the reunion with the family.  The wronged ‘beardo’ (the wimpy kid’s term for the weirdo with the beard) appears half a dozen times in the film.  The mother’s favourite song is sung once again at the end of the film.  The diaper hands joke at the start of the film also has significance at the end of the film.

The incidents occurring in the film are not totally identical to the book by Jeff Kinney, but have been modified for the big screen.  The deviations work very well.

There is also much to appreciate in this apparently commercial family film.  The camera work in one segment is nothing short of amazing.  The 5-minute hilarious sequence shot in the cramped space of a car where the audience is treated to a piglet poop, a runaway piglet, a spit-out pacifier and other family antics is indicative that enormous talent is also necessary to make a comedy like this one.

Two hilarious sequences pay homage to Hitchcock films THE BIRDS and PSYCHO.  In the one scene, seagulls attack the family car with that segment ending with a seagull literally thrown at actor Drucker just as Hitchcock threw a bird at his star Tippi Hedren.  The PSYCHO shower scene is extremely well done complete with chocolate syrup running down the tub hole and the shower curtain ripped off the railing and even funnier than the similar scene in Mel Brooks’ HIGH ANXIETY.

This latest WIMPY KID outing proves that with a good script and direction, perfect comedic timing and winning performances, a film can be thoroughly entertaining and enjoyable for the target family audience and beyond.  It turns out that this film is 100 times funnier than the other Fox comedy, SNATCHED  released two weeks back.

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=r7PLDbPPL7w


Directed by Stella Meghie

EVERYTHING, EVERYTHING is the kind of film that teenagers in love would flock to see.  It falls in line with the most awful films of the 70’s like THE BLUE LAGOON, YOU LIGHT MY LIFE and S.W.A.L.K.   Young lovers fall in love despite all odds and love conquers all.  All logic should be thrown to the wind.

EVERYTHING, EVERYTHING based on the book by Nicola Yoon tells the story of Madeline Whittier (Amandla Stenberg) suffering from some immune deficiency.  It can hardly be believed that a book was actually written with this storyline.  Any Harlequin paperback would have sufficed and been more believable.   The deficiency (referred to as SID - severe immune deficiency in the film), as explained in Maddy’s voiceover prevents her from being exposed to the outside world.  She lives in a locked and sealed glass house, with only her mother (Anika Noni Rose) and angelic private nurse, Carla (Ariana Grande) (a latino for political correctness) being her only human contacts.

So what happens?  She falls in love with the new neighbour, Olly (Nick Robinson), gets the courage to leave the house and lives happily ever after with no more illness.  How does this state of affairs happen?  If you really need to know, it is best to read a review with the spoiler than watch this totally bore of a movie.  After the first 10 minutes, I was dying for the film to end.  No pun intended!

Worst of all, the audience is ‘treated’ to a trip to Hawaii.  Apparently Maddy is smart enough to use mother’s credit cards or hack the internet to buy plane tickets for Hawaii and her Olly.  They arrive in Hawaii.  Lo and behold, they are able to travel in a jeep (courtesy of credit cards) and stay in a stunning resort by the sea.  They go swimming and jump off cliffs.  

The story skips the details of Olly’s life.  The audience sees Olly beaten up by his father.  The mother finally separates and leaves with the family to NYC.  How can Olly’s family afford such a beautiful home next to Maddy with no solid income?

The attempted political inter-racial romance does not work either.  The kissing scenes look awkward.  At least the audience is spared from any graphic sex scenes.  Kissing is as far as the romance goes.  Of course, there is a lot of hugging and shots of smooth teenage skin.

It would have helped if the script by J. Mills Goodloe was at least a bit funny.  The only humour present is Ollie’s lame attempts to amuse Maddy through the window.  His antics of dropping of  cakes as a joke looks more silly than funny.   The use of the astronaut as a symbol for Maddy’s seclusiveness is odd.  Whenever the couple communicate by text, the film shows them in ridiculous settings, like in a library or in outer space.

One thing that one might do when watching the film is to take out paper and list all the loopholes in the story.  Bring lots of paper!

EVERYTHING, EVERYTHING has absolutely nothing to offer in terms of insight into young love, the sickness or family drama.  EVERYTHING, EVERYTHING is totally lame in all departments - acting, story, pacing, direction and writing.  

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=42KNwQ6u42U

THE LOVERS (USA 2017) ****

Directed by Azazel Jacobs

Filmmakers have alway been fascinated with ex-wives with the best romantic comedies (this reviewed film included) been made on this subject.  Immediately coming to mind are Paul Mazursky’s 1973 BLUME IN LOVE where George Segal spends the entire film wooing his ex-wife played by Susan Anspach and the 2001 French film MA FEMME EST UNE ACTRICE where actor/director Yvan Attal falls in love with his ex-wife played by his real life wife Charlotte Gainsbourg.

When I first saw the trailer for THE LOVERS which is advertised as a grown-up comedy about a married couple who cheat on their lovers - with each other, I had the least desire to watch the film.  But as fate turns out, THE LOVERS turns out to be a brilliantly executed piece of work that excels in all departments.

Jacob’s’s film is one of the most romantic films seen in a while, and filled with romantic touches.  Gestures like husband Michael placing his hand on wife, Mary’s shoulder or talking ‘duck’ takeout to her on the cell phone demonstrate a true and sincere love that many couple should follow.

Michael and Mary are a decades long married couple with a son coming home from college with his girlfriend.  Each is having an affair and both intend to end the marriage after the son’s visit.  

Mary is played by three time Oscar nominee Debra Winger (SHADOWLANDS, AN OFFICER AND A GENTLEMAN and TERMS OF ENDEARMENT).  Michael is played by the excellent Tracy Letts, who many might not know.  Letts is a Tony-Award winning actor from WHO’S AFRAID OF VIRGINIA WOOLF? and he was also remarkable in the supporting role of the Dean at the college in last year’s INDIGNANT).  Letts displays a kinder and more charming character than his other two previously mentioned roles.  Letts is a total charmer (to his wife, mistress and to the audience) able too, to elicit total sympathy despite cheating on his wife - quite the accomplishment.  In the scene where his son Joel (Tyler Ross) calls him a cheating piece of shit, and he walks away head lowered and mutters, “I am”.  One can immediately sense the presence of a great actor.

Composer Mandy Hoffman exceptional score has a retro feel for most of it is written in E-flat, reflecting the sensation of Mary and Michael’s off-kilter world.  Near the end, it switches to a sharp key, providing a new joyfulness.  A key scene of the film at the end has actor Letts playing the piano and singing the 1971 Labi Shiffre song “It Must be Love” while images of both Michael and Mary’s present and past loves flash across the screen.  The original pop song performed by the group Madness was tacky but Jacobs lifts this song to a whole new level for his film.  It is a scene that shows that the choice of a partner is not always an easy one and that it can be painful to be so much in love.  Jacob’s film also manages to elude the typical ending where Michael and Mary decide on staying or leaving.  It is a sort of fade-to-black but subtly done.  But mostly, THE LOVERS is a film about love that has survived because love that can never die.

Warning: Bring lots of Kleenex for the movie.  A totally charming and entertaining love story that is still an eye-opener for everyone who has been in a relationship.

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nk-T71VhP8I

TOMMY’S HONOUR (UK 2016) ***

Directed by Jason Connery

Where did golf originate?  Not too many people know that the game originated from Scotland.  TOMMY’S HONOUR celebrates both Scotland and golf, a film that is an eye-opener on golf as seen from the eyes of Tommy, a champion golfer with the humble beginnings of a

 greens-keeper’s son/caddy.

TOMMY’S HONOUR is a 2016 historical drama, a proudly Scottish film depicting the lives and careers of, and the complex relationship between, the pioneering Scottish golfing champions Old Tom Morris and his son Young Tom Morris.   The screenplay, written by Pamela Marin and Kevin Cook, is based on Cook's 2007 book, Tommy's Honour: The Story of Old Tom Morris and Young Tom Morris, Golf's Founding Father and Son  It is a well known book in golfing circles as it won the Herbert Warren Wind Book Award as the best golf book of 2007’  It  was also one of the five books that Sports Illustrated selected as the "Books of the Year" in 2007.  One can expect high hope for the film adaptation.

The period piece is set in St Andrews, Scotland in 1866.  Tommy Morris (Jack Lowden) is presented as an avid golfer like his legendary and pioneering father, Tom Morris (veteran actor/director Peter Mullan). "Old Tom" is greens-keeper for The Royal and Ancient Golf Club of St Andrews, as well as the town’s club- and ball-maker.  He is the two-time winner of the first major golf tournament, The Open Championship, which he founded in 1860. He also established golf's standard of 18 holes per round.  But Tommy is beginning to chafe at his father's dictates, especially in the rapidly changing world they live in. 

Father and son repeatedly clash over the unwritten rules of social class, and this culminates when Tommy marries his sweetheart Meg (Ophelia Lovibond), a woman of lower standing with a shameful secret in her past.   But there is more in the story with a big father and son relationship makeup.

The film includes a few competitive golf tournaments.  But TOMMY’S HONOUR is not specifically a sports film.  It also serves as a biography of the Morris’s.  The golf tournaments are well shot to capture the excitement of the game.  The beauty of the Scottish landscape is also celebrated.

With Pamela Marin co-writing the script, the film contains a strong feminine perspective, despite golf being  mostly a male sport.  Meg who is shunned by the church for having a bastard child in the past is offered a second chance for happiness in the film.  One of the film’s highlights  is the mother/wife confrontation.  Tommy’s resistance to the class structure is rendered more sympathetic with his true love for Meg.

The film has a good pace that builds dramatically towards its climax.  What initially seems like a commercial light comedy finally ends up tackling a  few solid social issues.   The film ended up opening the 2016 Edinburgh International Film Festival on 15 June 2016 as well as winning Best Feature Film at the 2016 British Academy Scotland Awards.
Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ur8_04V9_4E

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