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This Week's Film Reviews (Oct 13, 2017)

12 Oct 2017

Opening this week are HAPPY DEATH DAY and the excellent BPM fresh out of TIFF.

FILM REVIEWS:

78/52 (USA 2017) ****
Directed by  Alexandre O. Philippe

  There has been countless film homages dedicated to the Master of Suspense, Alfred Hitchcock, the most recent being the documentary Kent Jones’ HITCHCOCK/TRUFFAUT made in 2015.  But 78/52 is the first on that concentrates on just one little aspect of Hitchcock’s career - the iconic shower scene in PSYCHO.  The film is so called because PSYCHO’s famous shower scene is made up of 78 set ups (or shots) and 52 cuts.

This is a documentary that film cineastes MUST see as well as anyone interested in the art of the cinema.

This is the “man behind the curtain”  (or shower curtain) and the screen murder that profoundly changed the course of world cinema.  This famous shower scene – that comprised the opening of the bathroom door; the water streaming from the shower; the curtain slowly pulling apart; the repeated stabbing; the image of the blurred woman’s face, the blood flowing down the bath; the slump of the body on the tub.  Sound plays a major part as well - the screeching sounds, the sound of the big thud as the body slumps down the tub; the curtain ripping apart; the blood draining down the hole.  The contribution of both Edward Hermann to the music and George Tomasini to the sound effects are detailed in the film, providing more insight and pleasure to the cineaste.

O. Philippe recognizes Hitchcock’s use of ‘the eye’ in PSYCHO.  The eye is emphasized from the look on the cop stopping Marion as well as the eyes of Norman Bates, Marion herself, the hollows of mother’s skull etc.  Voyeurism is also examined.  Bates removes an old picture of voyeurism to become the voyeur himself, peeping through the hole in the wall watching Marion undressing. 

The entire scene’s storyboard with the script is read aloud (and also the pages of the novel of the same name by Robert Block, illustrating the differences) to the audience as the scene, unfolds one step at a time, offering a fresh insight.

Director Alexandre O. Philippe’s film is exhaustive in its treatment of the subject.  I cannot think of anything else that could have been added.  O. Philippe also puts the film into perspective - of the political unrest (the atom bomb; the cold war) and other films that came out during that time, and pretty good ones too (ANATOMY OF A MURDER, SOME LIKE IT HOT, SUDDENLY LAST SUMMER).  Clips of other older horror flicks with women murdered are also shown.  A few clips of other Hitchcock mystery classics (SABOTEUR, FOREIGN CORRESPONDENT,  THE 39 STEPS, LIFEBOAT, STRANGERS ON A TRAIN, THE BIRDS, NORTH BY NORTHWEST) are added for good measure.

Interviewees on display include directors Peter Bogdanovich and other directors of horror films like SAW and HOSTEL, Jamie Lee Curtis (daughter of Janet Leigh), Osgood Perkins (son of Anthony Perkins) as well as the model who did the body double for Janet Leigh.

The result is one of the best, pleasurable and most insightful documentaries on the techniques of the Master of Suspense.

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=f9Ox3rB4cIQ

BPM (120 BATTEMENTS PAR MINUTE) (France 2017) ****
Directed by Robin Campillo

Best known for being Laurent Cantet’s (ENTRE LES MURS, VERS LE SUD) scriptwriter, Robin Campillo is also responsible for EASTERN BOYS, never released in Toronto but clearly the best gay film of 2003, along with STRANGER BY THE LAKE in close second that year.  His shooting techniques (example overhead shots of a crowd) of his films are familiar and are put to good use as in his new film.

While EASTERN BOYS dealt with East European call boys invading Paris, BPM covers another controversial if not more non-fiction topic.  120 battements par minute (beats per minute) centres on the French chapter of the protest organization ACT UP, and the dynamics, personal and public, amongst this disparate group of men and women affected by AIDS.  The film begins with one of its protests followed by a meeting that analyzes its effectiveness.  In it, Campillo introduces his characters, its two leaders before concentrating on HIV positive Sean (Nahuel Pérez Biscayart).  Sean (pronounced ‘shirn’ en Francais) is a charismatic and very oratorical young militant who wades fearlessly into action, bolstered by the courage of his convictions.   To make his film more personal as well as effective, Campillo puts faces into the organization of ACT UP.  Sean meets (at a rally) Nathan and has sex, beginning a relationship.

The film comes complete with uninhibited sex scenes.  The one with Nathan and Sean in bed is extremely erotic with full nudity and celebration of hot bodies.  The other one in  contrast, in the hospital is extremely grim.  Campillo love of contrast, is also observable with one seen in the dark and another immediately following in bright light.

In terms of history and non-fictional events, the film logs the fight of ACT UP against Melton Pharm, the pharmaceutical company that refuses to release their lab results.  The film, in its most powerful moments re-enacts the debate between the ACT UP members and the organizers.  “I am dying, my count is 87, I cannot wait,” are the desperate words of the protestors.

The film’s best moment is the Thibault’s visitation of dying Sean in the hospital.  Thiboult the ACT UP leader is always fighting with Sean, a founding member. They always argue on key points with Sean often embarrassing Thibault in public.  “We don’t like each other, but we are friends,” are very meaningful words uttered by Thibault that hit home.

The film also documents different reactions to the ACT UP activities.  When they break into a school to pass on information about safe sex, one teacher is angry and adamant while another tells the class to listen to the important information.

BPM, one of the best films of TIFF is definitely also its most powerful one.  Those who are HIV positive have the member of ACT UP and other activist groups to thank for the progress made a of today.  The film is a tribute to these people.

For a film that deals with the topic of death, BPM is full of life.  A film that deserves to be angry for the fact that the privilege of living for many has almost been taken completely away.

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2fhO2A4SL24

GOODBYE CHRISTOPHER ROBIN (UK 2017) **

Directed by Simon Curtis

There is one scene that sums up Simon Curtis’ film on the life of author A.A. Milne and the creation of the Winnie the Pooh stories inspired by his son C.R. Milne.  It is the one where father, A.A.  fondly called Blue (Domhnall Gleeson) serves his son fondly called Billie (Will Tilston) porridge he had made as the nanny has the day off.  Billie lifts his spoon to reveal a real lumpy porridge.  That is exactly the way director Simon Curtis (MY WEEK WITH MARILYN) has served his film and it is going to go down lumpy down the audience’s throats.

The film, however, does open impressively with shots (cinematography by Ben Smithard) of the beautiful English woods with sunlight beaming down the trees and spreading among the flowers, pretty much like the pictures of a Winnie the Pooh children’s book.  Blue receives a letter from the postman, the wife, Daphne (Margot Robbie) looking on, obvious that the letter brings bad news of the death of their son who has gone off to fight in the War.

The film tells the story of Blue’s creation of Winnie the Pooh and how the fame aversely affected the family especially the impressionable child Billie.  Blue goes to war and comes back with shell shock.  His evil wife Dafne, insists he keeps writing and he eventually lies it and takes the whole family to live in the country.  Evil wife gets upset ,leaves and threatens never to return unless the husband writes again.  Father and son bond in the woods and father creates Winnie the Pooh (the name Winnie coming from the rescued bear from Winnipeg, Canada).   The boy, Billie also appears in the Pooh books and known as Christopher Robin.  Fame and publicity prevents the boy from playing and having a normal childhood.  Confrontation results between husband and son (now played by Alex Lawther).  Amidst all this is the cheerful nanny, Olive (the wonderful Kelly Macdonald) who can never do any wrong.  She gets to tell the parents off and to calls the evil mother a horse in her face.

As the film is not based on a book, one wonders where all the material for the story comes from.  One can surmise that a lot has been imagined by the scriptwriters Frank Cottrell-Boyce Simon Vaughan.  The film turns into sentimental mush at the end with the news of the son’s death.  Dad, mum and Olive are grieving and more lumpy mush again when it turns out when Billie shows up.  The father son reunion is neither credible as well.

Robbie and Gleeson sport silly English accents.  At least Macdonald, the only one worth watching in this silly enterprise gets to keep her Scots accent.

The film has one believe that Winnie the Pooh did wonders for world peace just because one soldier fighting in the trenches hummed a Pooh tune.

The film ends with old photographs of the real characters in the film followed yes, by old photos of the real toys of the bear tiger, piglet and all.  As if the film is not sentimental enough.

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rX1oe9JmtUw

HAPPY DEATH DAY (USA 2017) ***
Directed by Christopher Langdon

HAPPY DEATH DAY is a teen horror sci-fi comedy in which a college student Tree Gelbman (Jessica Rothe) must relive the same day over and over again until she figures out who is trying to kill her and why.  The day is special because it is also the day of her murder, with both its unexceptional details and terrifying end, until she discovers her killer's identity.  Why will this day stop repeating if she stops herself from being killed?  That theory is proposed by the script and other time loop movies like the recent BEFORE I FALL, and one should not argue with these rules established in film genres.  No one argues about garlic warding off vampires or sunlight destroying them.  As soon as Tree is killed by the man in a chuckling pig faced mask, she wakes up in the morning in the male dorm room of Carter (Israel Broussard) who took her home after she got sick at the party the night before.

Time loop films have became a genre on itself after the most famous of all, Ivan Reitman’s GROUNDHOG day with Bill Murray waking up everyday to the tune of  “I got you Babe”  by Sonny and Cher.  Another new rule is that the time loop always occur right after the death of the subject.  And it is assumed that if this death is prevented, the time loop will stop and life continues.  Oddly enough no film in this genre bothers to explain the origin of the time loop.  As in BEFORE I FALL, the lead character undergoing the time loop aims to be a better person as her are days repeated.  With this time loop concept, it is wise that the comedy element is added, as one can hardly take this incredible notion as a possible reality.

That said, Tree wakes up in the Carter’s room.  She leaves meets an assortment of characters as she walks across campus to her own girl dorm where she greets her roommate Lori (Ruby Modine) and Danielle (Rachel Matthews) the chief of her dorm.  While going to her surprise birthday party later in the evening, she is killed by the slasher in mask and awakes in Carter’s room again.  The process is repeated.

The good thing about time loop films is that for some unknown reason, no one cannot remember the exact plot of each film.  The most recent of these is BEFORE I FALL which is also about a teen girl undergoing the same demise.  The two films are very similar - both die and wake up the next morning; both are mean girls; both make the identical decision to become a better person.  While BEFORE I FALL is the film with a tighter narrative and arguably better film, this script by  Scott Lobdell is all over the place and contains a significant flaw in the identity of Tres’ killer being totally laughable.

However, as in all time loop films, HAPPY DEATH DAY is not meant to be taken seriously, credible plot or otherwise.  It serves its purpose to occasionally surprise and entertain and this is what these films are only good for.

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1NTaDm3atkc

THE LIMEHOUSE GOLEM (UK 2016) ***

Directed by Juan Carlos Medina

THE LIMEHOUSE GOLEM is a British period mystery based on a screenplay by Jane Goldman, an adaptation of Peter Ackroyd's 1994 murder mystery novel “Dan Leno and the Limehouse Golem”.

THE LIMEHOUSE GOLEM begins impressively with a man (Daniel Booth) on stage introducing the story.  The film cuts to a possible murder committed in which a wife (Olivia Cooke) could have poisoned her husband (Sam Reid), as accused by the maid.  The reason the maid is hostile to her mistress is revealed later in the story.  From the sets, costumes, props and hair, this is a handsomely mounted period production (19th Century London shot by cinematographer Simon Dennis) and one wishes the film to unfold as such.  Better still, Inspector Kildare (the excellent Bill Nighy) comes into the picture, assisted by Constable Flood (the little seen Daniel Mays, in a thankfully larger role in this film).  It feels and the film very well could be another Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson type whodunit mystery.  It is time the cinema had a good whodunit Sherlock Holmes mystery after Guy Ritchie has butchered the series.

At the same time, a serial murderer, whose horrendous acts soon have the city in a panic, is on the loose. Inscriptions in Latin are streaked across walls in the blood of victims. The crimes are so disturbing that many attribute them to the shadowy golem of Jewish legend.  The Limehouse is the London district where the murders take place.

For a period piece, the material feels very current in the light of the Harvey Weinstein sex scandal.  When Lizzie was little (played by Armanda Crouch), she was mutilated by her mother so that she cannot be once again be touched by another man in her private parts - in one very disturbing scene involving a hot poker.  Lizzie, as a grown up also speaks of the rights of women to Inspector Kildare.

Having found a diary of the Golem's crimes, written by the Golem himself in a book on the art of murder, kept in the reading room of the library, Kildare determines that the Golem must be one of the four men in the library on the date of the last entry; Dan Leno, Karl Marx, George Gissing and John Cree.  This is how Kildare solves the mystery (by getting and comparing handwritings of the 4 men), which is not revealed (and not in this review) till the end of the film.

The film contains varied pleasurable segments like, Dan Reno’s drag performance at the Radio Hall to the reading of a verse by English poet, Alexander Pope, best known for his satirical verse and for his translation of Homer.

Good performances all around, notably from Nighy and Booth though one wishes to see more of Eddie Marsen who plays sex crazed ‘uncle’.

Without revealing any spoilers an having seen the film twice, the first at TIFF, it is worthwhile to watch THE LIMEHOUSE GOLEM a second time, after knowing the identity of the killer to see how director Median has constructed his film.

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1PekVYYRkU8

 

THE MEYEROWITZ STORIES (NEW AND SELECTED) (USA 2017) ****

Directed by Noam Bambauch

The one of two Netflix originals that premiered at Cannes this year (with OKJA), THE MEYEROWITZ STORIES took critics by surprise (despite being booed at the screenings for being a NETFLIX film) with many hailing it as one of their favourite Top 10 at Cannes.

The film is so-called THE MEYEROWITZ STORIES as it revolves around multiple stories among the different members of the Meyerowitz family.  It starts off with Danny driving around the city with his daughter cussing while trying to find parking.  “Garage it,” the daughter says.  The family patriarch is Harold (Oscar Winner Dustin Hoffman sporting a full beard).  He is old, hospitalized at one point and is more interested in his art and coming-up museum showcase opening than in his family.  His new wife is alcoholic recovered, Maureen (Emma Thompson) wanting to seek the family house.  Their sons include Danny (Adam Sadler) who is recently separated and moving ingot he parents house and who has never worked a day in his life.  The successful son, making the money is Matt (Ben Stiller) who the family resents because of jealousy that he is capable to making the most money.  The daughter is Jenny (Elizabeth Marvel) into into making movies.  Everyone comes together in this dysfunctional family with drastic and comedic results.  Bambauch has mastered this genre with his film flowing smoothly.

Director Bambauch (THE SQUID AND THE WHALE, MISTRESS AMERICA, FRANCES HA) allow each actor their freedom to do their own thing and inhabit the characters they portray.  Adam Sandler and Ben Stiller in their rare serious roles shine in their performances.  They show both angst and desperation as men that been betrayed by the artistic father (Dustin Hoffman sporting a full white beard.)  Emma Thompson sporting elderly age makeup plays the step-mother reminiscent of a similar motherly role in the British film THE LEGEND OF BARNEY THOMSON. 

The film has a Jewish cast and crew, led by its director Bambauch.  The film has definitely a Jewish impression that leaves a fine imprint and is not overpowering.  It runs a bit long at 2 hours, but the free flowing characteristic of the film allows it to keep going, without it getting monotonous or boring.  One can always count on Bamnauch to add another story to his list.

The film’s best moments are in the script’s sharp dialogue.  The best line comes from Dr. Soni after the children abruptly questions her saying it isn’t fair for on her leaving for vacation in China while leaving their father in an induced coma.  (This current state of affairs is already really funny in itself)  Her reply: “yes, it isn’t!”  The response sums up what each of the siblings have gone through being a member of the Meyerowitz family.

THE MEYEROWITZ STORIES establishes Bambauch once again as the Master of films on dysfunctional families and quirky characters.

The film is available on NETFLIX for on-line streaming to subscribers.

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=czyMIIm12JY

PROFESSOR MARSTON AND THE WONDER WOMEN (USA 2017) ***
Directed by Angela Robinson

PROFESSOR MARSTON AND THE WONDER WOMEN examines the relationship of Dr. William Moulton Marston (Luke Evans), the creator of WONDER WOMAN with his wife, Elizabeth (Rebecca Hall) and the second girl, Olive Byrne (Bella Heathcote) in their menage a trios.  A man with two women living together with S&M sex including bondage and spanking, set in the 40’s does not an easy film make.  Credit therefore goes to Robinson for incorporating an uncomfortable subject into a movie for general audiences.  In fact, the film goes to accredit bigamy.  Those that do not agree are said in the film to be simple.  The film will expectedly infuriate many. The film does not always work, as awkward projects seldom do. 

The film begins with the rejection of the violence and sex depicted in the Wonder Woman comics.  While appearing at the Board on Enquiry, Dr, Marston explains his case, while the film flashes back to his marriage and sexual arrangements with Olive under the guise of psychology apprenticeship.   Complications arise when Olive’s two boys come into the picture and when a neighbour enters the house unexpectedly and catches the three in a sexual bondage act.

For a film promoting the acceptance of S&M and bondage, it is surprising that there are no graphic sex scenes nor even nudity.  Yet the film comes across as disturbing one.  It shows that no graphic scenes are needed to take the sexual content to a new psychological frontier.  By means of intercutting of scenes with the Wonder Woman comic book showing tied up prisoners, whipping and spanking, director Robinson cleverly makes her point.

But if one examines the situation on another level, there is nothing really objectionable.  Many men have mistresses.  The only difference in this case is that the wife is also in love with the mistress.  It also makes the sex affair more congenial for everyone if the three decide to stay together.  Everything works well till society objects.  The same thing happened in the past for gay couples.  They were rejected and ostracized from society with their acts deemed evil.  Now that society has condoned same sex marriages, gays living together are cool.  Robinson recognizes the fact and emphasizes it in one key scene where Marston screams that it is only society that has to accept them.   As to sexual fetishes, everybody has them, in one form or another.

Robinson is also quick to point out that the film is set in 1928 (though Wonder Woman was created in 1941), at the start and that there is a new psychology that is in the making.  At one point, Professor Marston says to Olive: “How do you expect to learn about life if you refuse to live it?”   Some psychology is also thrown into the film for good measure, like Marston’s explanation of the 4 categories of dominance, compliance, inducement and submission.  This enhances the credibility of the characters and the plot of the film.

After viewing PROFESSOR MARSTON AND THE WONDER WOMEN, one will never look at the WONDER WOMAN comics again in the same light.  A brave work by director Robinson!
Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=r991pr4Fohk

 

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