3 big movies DESPICABLE ME 3, BABY DRIVER and THE BEGUILED open this week.

Best Bets of the Week:

Best Film Opening: THE BEGUILED



Best Foreign: GRADUATON

Best Documentary: RISK

Best Comedy: BABY DRIVER

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BABY DRIVER (USA 2017) *** 1/2

Directed by Edgar Wright

The most ambitious and most expensive of the Edgar Wright movies (SHAUN OF THE DEAD, HOT FUZZ) , BABY DRIVER sees the Brit director working in a big budget Hollywood movie for the first time.  The film is a car chase comedy crime caper with romance tied in for good measure.

The title derives from the name of the getaway car driver - Baby.  A young and talented getaway driver named Baby (Ansel Elgort) relies on the personal beat of his preferred soundtrack, to be the best in the world of crime, as music heightens his focus and reflexes to extreme levels.   A car accident as a child killed both his parents, and left him with permanent tinnitus, which he blocks out using music.   He is preferred as a getaway driver by Doc (Kevin Spacey), a mastermind organizer of bank robberies and other high-earning heists.

Baby’s love interest is Debora (Lily James).  Baby’s foster father is black and wheel chair ridden.  These two people in Baby’s life are targets when Baby refuses in any way to comply with Doc or his crime partners.  His main crime partners are Buddy (Jon Hamm), his girlfriend, Darling (Eiza Gonzalez) and Bats (Jamie Foxx).  Baby has no problem performing the heists unless a killing is involved.

The car chases have to be good in a film about a getaway car driver.  The audience is shown a sample of these in the opening scene.  There are a total of three main car chases and these are expertly edited by Jonathan Amos and Paul Machliss.  One of the most important components of a car chase on screen is its continuity.  This is what made Peter Yates’ BULLITT (with Steve McQueen) and William Friedkin’s THE FRENCH CONNECTION two films best remembered for their car chases.   Thankfully, Wright’s film falls into this category, him relying less on computer graphics than the real thing.

Ansel Elgort, young and looking fresh for this movie is good as the dancing driver.  Kevin Spacey delivers a straight-face performance reminiscent of his Oscar winning performance in AMERICAN BEAUTY.  Of the cast. Joe Hamm is also memorable, being cast against type as a hardened criminal ready to kill for revenge.

As Baby relies on listening to is preferred songs on his iPod, the film also requires a good soundtrack of equivalent songs that should drive the audience.  Surprisingly, Wright only offers the audience samples.  The audiences is for example, told of Baby’s song by Queen when driving for the final heist, but they never get to listen to the full song.  Similarly for the segments when Baby is dancing to music, the music is silent and baby is shown with his dance moves to no music.  It can be argued as a case of less leading the audience to wanting more.

I am not a true Edgar Wright fan.  Though I have enjoyed his films, I think SHAUN OF THE DEAD and HOT FUZZ, are over-rated and I did not like THE WORLD’S END that had sloppy writing with inaccuracy in details.  This makes BABY DRIVER Wright’s best movie.

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=z2z857RSfhk

THE BEGUILED (USA 2017) ***1/2

Directed by Sofia Coppola

THE BEGUILED is the new 2017 American period drama remake of the well-known 1971 Clint Eastwood Don Siegel collaboration.  Written and directed now by a woman Sofia Coppola (daughter of Francis Ford Coppola) famous for her strong female films like THE VIRGIN SUICIDES and LOST IN TRANSLATION, the film arrives with lots of accolades since winning her the Best Director Prize at Cannes this year, making her the second woman director ever to win the prestigious award.

Cineastes and film critics would definitely be very eager to watch this film.  Three main reasons for can be sited.  The first is that THE BEGUILED is a new film by Sofia Coppola who is a definite presence in current film.  Her new work is always something to look forward to.  As the Don Siegel directed original was very all received critically, it would be very interesting to compare the differences between the two films, differences attributed to one film made with a strong feminine value and the original directed by a top action director with his top actions star (Eastwood).  The new version also updates the political correctness.  Thirdly, the new film boasts an impressive cast that includes Elle Fanning, Nicole Kidman, Kirsten Dunst and Colin Farrell, the latter complete with full Irish accent in the Eastwood role.

THE BEGUILED is based on the novel The Beguiled (originally published as A Painted Devil) by Thomas P. Cullinan.  Coppola’s film holds the same story though it removes the character of Haille, present in the 1971 version.  Haille is a black slave that was taken to the soldier’s fascination.  Set during the middle of the American Civil War 1860’s, injured Union soldier John McBurney (Colin Farrell) is rescued from the verge of death by 12 year-old Amy (Oona Lawrence), a student at an all-girl boarding school in the south, the Miss Martha Farnsworth Seminary for Young Ladies.  Martha (Nicole Kidman) reluctantly agrees to take him in until he has built up his health, under the condition that he is locked in the music room and kept under watch. Both Edwina (Dunst), the schoolteacher, takes an immediate liking to John, as does Carol (Fanning), a teenage student.   Female jealousies are aroused leading to a terrible climax.

Siegel was an action director and his film is more violent than Coppola’s.  When McBurney’s leg is amputated, he is given wine in Siegel’s film while given chloroform in Coppola’s.  The former is almost brutally unwatachable.  Also in Siegel’s film, McBurney is hit by a candlestick before falling down the stairs while McBurney is pushed down the stairs in the latter.

In Coppola’s film, the soldier is not the main character trying to survive but now become the object of the females fantasies while the females become the main characters in the story.  The outcome of the soldier remains the same.

THE BEGUILED is rich in period atmosphere with an authentic feel of the confusion of the civil war.  Coppola’s updated version is absorbing, terrifying and well-directed piece of work deserving her of the Best Director’s prize at Cannes.

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iBoLK5z_FHo

THE BIG SICK (USA 2017) ***
Directed by Michael Showalter

When Kumail sees the girl he is dating, Emily in a coma in the hospital, he tells himself that if she ever gets out of this, he would marry her.  It would be difficult for one not to feel for this romantic affair, especially when the incident is true.  This is what differentiates THE BIG SICK from most romantic comedies.  THE BIG SICK is based on the real-life courtship between Kumail Nanjiani and his now-wife, Emily V. Gordon.  Nanjiani plays himself using the same first name in the film while Emily is played by Zoe Kazan.  Hi real wife co-wrote the screenplay with her husband for the film.

The film project began when producer Judd Apatow (KNOCKED UP) met Nanjiani after he did his stand-up comic routine.  So, there are a lot of stand-up routines in the film.  In fact, a lot of the dialogue spoken during the film would be typical of what comes out of the mouths of a stand-up comic.  This is here a good thing, as the film is pleasantly funny from start to end - dialogue-wise. 

Despite the film based on true events and a real life Kumail, the romantic comedy falls into the same trap that most fall into.  THE BIG STICK is a predictable Harlequin romance paperback type story complete with awkward first meeting, the necessary obstacles, in this case Emily finding out about Kumail’s other dates from the photographs in his box, not to mention her coma and his objecting parents.  These obstacles are conveniently overcome for the couple to live happily ever after.

The film’s story is simple enough.  While Kumail is performing stand-up comedy on stage, he is heckled (though she insists is a good heckle) by Emily, there as a spectator.  An affair slowly develops.  Meanwhile Kumail’s mother keeps setting him up for a Muslim bride.  Kumail keeps this from Emily, though she finds out.  Emily goes into a coma due to a rare decease and Kumail meets her parents forming a bond with them.  It does not take a genius to figure out what happens in the end.

The film’s funniest parts come from Kumail’s Muslim parents.  The mother is constantly trying to matchmake her son to marry a Muslim girl.  The father is more tolerant but no less funny.  Emil’s parents are funny too but they bring a more serious side to the film.  The unexpected bonding between Emily’s parents and Kumail add a nice unexpected twist to the story.

The film’s humour is also heightened by having several other standup comics deliver their stand-up acts during throughout the film.

The film ends with shots of the real couple Kumail and the real Emily during the closing credits.  THE BIG SICK is one of the better romantic comedies, credit to producer Apatow who seems to have the knack of discovering new comedy talent.

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jcD0Daqc3Yw

DESPICABLE ME 3 (USA 2017) ***
Directed by Pierre Coffin and Kyle Coffin

There are two attractive ingredients in the DESPICABLE ME animated features.  One is the super-villain Gru (Steve Carell) or now ex-super villain Gru now working for the AVL (Anti-Villain League).  The other are the adorable mumbling Minions.  If one is not entertaining one enough, the other strive to be.

The film opens not with the Minions or Gru but with the story of a new super villain named Balthazar Bratt (voiced by South Park’s co-creator Trey Parker).  Bratt was a former child actor who portrayed a young super villain in a popular television series before the show was cancelled as a result of his puberty and his waning popularity.  This led to him adopting his former persona to become an actual super villain (complete with 80’s eraser head haircut and fashion).  Bratt is out to steal the world’s most expensive diamond, in order to fuel his robot invention to destroy Hollywood as revenge, but along arrive Gru and wife (Kristen Wiig) to stop him.

It is obvious that DESPICABLE ME pays homage to the PINK PANTHER films.  For one, Inspector Clouseau was French as is director Coffin and the diamond is unashamedly   coloured pink.  When the diamond is in show, the music comes on, though not with the famous Henry Mancini tune, but with Michael Jackson’s  BAD in this case.  As Bratt steals the diamond, he moonwalks Michael Jackson style to the diamond.

The main story of DESPICABLE ME 3 involves Gru and Lucy fired from the AVL owing to their failure in capturing Bratt.  The others are subplots - quite a number of them - ties in with this event.  One of these are the minions who want Gry to go back being a villain.  The Minions also have the talent of showing up anywhere and everywhere during the movie.  Kids love this, as observed during the film’s promo screening.  The kids would scream out every time (adults beware!) the little darlings appear.  The subplots involve Lucy bonding with her three adoptive children.  The main one involves Gru meeting up with his newly found brother (also voiced by Carell), a more flamboyant character, thanks to his mother (voiced by no less than Julie Andrews).

But with all the subplots including the main story, the film  strugglers to create very funny moments or high points that would make this sequel memorable over the others (including THE MINIONS) or even over the other Illumination Entertainment animation like THE SECRET LIFE OF PETS. 

The film appropriate premiered at the Annecy International International Film Festival, director Pierre Coffin being French as such. The film opens this weekend alongside two other comedies THE HOUSE and BABY DRIVER and though will face stiff competition should do well at the box-office this weekend coming off at number 1.  It also helps that  there are countless Minion fans, both adult and kids around the world that will forgive an average DESPICABLE ME sequel, which is very much what this one is.  DESPICABLE 3 is good, predictable, harmless family fun.

Trailer: http://universalpictures.ca/detail.aspx?title=DESPICABLE+ME+3&lang=en

MANIFESTO (Australia/Germany 2016) ***

Directed by Julian Rosefeldt

It is best to know the definition of the term MANIFESTO before seeing this movie.  According to Wikipedia, a manifesto is a published verbal declaration of the intentions, motives, or views of the issuer, be it an individual, group, political party or government.  A manifesto usually accepts a previously published opinion or public consensus or promotes a new idea with prescriptive notions for carrying out changes the author believes should be made.  It often is political or artistic in nature, but may present an individual's life stance.   Manifestos relating to religious belief are generally referred to as creeds.

The film integrates various types of artist manifestos from different time periods with contemporary scenarios.  Manifestos are depicted by 13 different characters, among them a school teacher, factory worker, choreographer, punk, newsreader, scientist, puppeteer, widow, and a homeless man.  All the characters are performed by 2-time Oscar Winner Cate Blanchett, as was envisioned to be performed by a female performer by German writer/director Julian Rosefeldt.

Visual artist Julian Rosefeldt crafts 13 distinct, vignettes that incorporate timeless manifestos from 20th century art movements weaving together history’s most impassioned artistic statements in this stunning and contemporary call to action.

  From the press notes:  “Art history is a derivation of history and we learn from history,” says Rosefeldt. “And in a time where neo-nationalist, racist and populist tendencies in politics and media threaten again democracies all over the world and challenge us to defend our allegedly achieved values of tolerance and respect, Manifesto becomes a clarion call for action.

There are a few scenes that though watchable, are difficult to make sense of.  One best example is the one occurring right in the middle of the film where Blanchett plays a Russian diva choreographer.  The segment begins with the tracking camera revealing several unconnected images including one with a man in a bear costume sitting on a bench with the head off.  The camera then moves backstage and finally rests on the choreographer and assistant as she blurts out manifesto prose (while smoking a cigarette on a long cigarette holder, often flicking her ashes on her assistant’s clip board).  The troupe she is choreographing perform magnificently, but she keeps screaming, in her Russian accent, words that often mean nothing in context.

Watching MANIFESTO is an art experience unless you enjoy sitting for days watching Cate Blanchett.  Is this an intellectual experience?  Maybe, if you have the patience to decipher what is happening on screen.  But the film has been very well put together in all departments from sound to set design to writing and execution.

One has to pay careful attention and follow the logic and flow of the dialogue.  Often too, after concentrating for a few minutes, listening to the poetry of words, the dialogue mean nothing - like the quips on dreams, children and worry.  This is that rare film that one has to work to earn the pleasure, but it will be one definitely unforgotten.

Though made in 2015, the film originally premiered as a 13-channel film installation at the Australian Centre of the Moving Image.  The 90-minute feature version premiered at the Sundance Film Festival in January 2017.

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Bk1HosLWM0o

NOWHERE TO HIDE (Sweden/Norway/Iraq 2016) ***
Directed by Zaradast Ahmed


At the start of the film the director films Nori Sharif, a 13-year veteran male nurse working at the Central Iraqi hospital.  Nori is offered a camera to shoot what life among his people are like after the Americans have left Iraq (in 2011), and the people left to rule themselves.

Despite Nori Sharif’s first time behind the camera, what unfolds is a very disturbing yet true picture of the sufferings of his people.

NOWHERE TO HIDE follows the medic and father Nori Sharif - through 5 years of dramatic change in the war-torn Diyala-province; one of the most dangerous provinces in the middle of Iraq.   From the time of the American retreat to the fall of Nori's home town, the audience  learn  stories of survivors.  In a world trapped between ISIS and the different Iraqi Militias, his integrity and humanitarian vision is the only thing that drives him to continue against all odds. All this occur in one of the worlds most dangerous and inaccessible areas - the "triangle of death" in Central Iraq.  The triangle of death was made famous in the Jonah Hill film WAR DOGS.

The Americans have invaded Iraq.  The Americans have left Iraq.  Yet there is always a war going on and people blown up and injured.  The big question being asked as the film rolls on is what the war or wars are all about - who is fighting whom and how did it all get started.  It is obvious from the film that the people, especially the ones featured here in Central Iraq suffer much more since the Americans have left.  The question is finally posed one third through the film with Nori and a white medic talking about it.  The answer is clearly that no one knows.  All they can say is that it is always one tribe fighting another and the fighting tribes change very year or so.  Without finding the source of the fighting, no solution can be easily sought.

One disturbing scene is the aftermath of a car bomb.  The car is burnt to bits with the camera showing every burnt section it.  This is done by a sticky bomb, the audience learns, the size of a cell phone that was placed behind the driver’s seat.  Fortunately the driver saw it thus saving his own and children’s lives.  Another scene has a surviving suicide bomber brought to the hospital without limbs, after blown away by the bomb.

NOWHERE TO HIDE is as the title implies, the dilemma of the Iraqis as they have nowhere to go.  It only underlines the fact of how fortunate most of are to be living in a peaceful country like Canada, while making us wonder what we can do to help the situation of these people.

The film has so far a good number of awards around the world like the –  Best Feature Documentary at IDFA and the Best Documentary at One World Human Rights Film Festival.

Trailer: https://vimeo.com/190076830

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