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This Week's Film Reviews (Feb 9, 2018)

08 Feb 2018

Two Hollywood films FIFTY SHADES FREED and Clint eastwood's 15:17 TO PARIS (no press screning for this one) open this week.

 

BEST FILMS PLAYING:

Best Animation:

COCO

Best Action:

THE COMMUTER

 

Best Foreign: (lots to see in this category)

THE SQUARE; A FANTASTIC WOMAN; IN THE FADE

Best Period:

PHANTOM THREAD

Best Sci-fi

THE SHAPE OF WATER

Best Drama:

THREE BILLBOARDS OUTSIDE EBBING, MISSOURI

 

FILM REVIEWS:

 

ENTANGLEMENT (Canada 2017) **

Directed by Jason James

ENTANGLEMENT plays on the subject of Quantum Entanglement, which is the reason the film subject, Ben Layten’s (Thomas Middleditch) has fallen apart -  mentally.

Quantum entanglement (as in Physics) is described as the physical phenomenon that occurs when pairs or groups of particles are generated or interact in ways such that the quantum state of each particle cannot be described independently of the others, even when the particles are separated by a large distance.  The pair in this case is Ben and his almost adopted sister, Hanna Weathers (Jess Weixler).  Ben’s parents were ready to adopt Hanna as a baby.  Hanna arrived the very same day Ben’s mother discovered she was pregnant with ben and therefore unable to adopt.  Ben concluded that his life would have been different and therefore meeting her now would have resulted in a correction in the path of his life.

As far as theories go, this is both an interesting and credible one.  Feeling that this is the key to his happiness, Ben sets out to find her only to learn that it is the woman he met earlier named Hanna Weathers. Through constant visitations with her,  Ben falls in love with her and learns that life and love is far more complicated than he thought.

It is difficult to root for a loser like Ben.  Ben is not only a recent divorcee, but leads a miserable, jobless life.   He has made a few unsuccessful suicide attempts, though a good thing coming from this is his befriending of his sarcastic, yet helpful neighbour Tabby Song (Diana Bang).  Writer/director Jason James pulls a few surprises in his plot.  To see Ben slowly emerging victorious from the doldrums, though is uplifting for the audience.

The problem with ENTANGLEMENT is that the film is just not serious or funny enough (Ben trying to electrocute himself in the bath but forgetting to plug it in; slitting his wrists but then having to answer the door bell) in the material’s treatment.  Ben’s unsuccessful suicide attempts cold have been funnier or insightful.  The decision to make Hanna totally a character that conforms to Ben’s wishes and then have Ben snap out of his problems is a bitt of a cop-out.

ENTANGLEMENT does contain a few good scenes like the confrontation segments where Ben’s mother angrily tells Ben that he has no right to turn out the way he did.  The confrontation segment between Ben and Tabby seems to go along too similar lines.

From the cast of relative unknown actors, Marilyn Norry does best as Ben’s conflicted mother.  Thomas Middleditch, the lead isn’t bad either, his look and stature resembling the nature of his character.

Running only at 82 minutes, Jason James’ debut feature is not without its charms. ENTANGLEMENT could have turned out as the best feel-good movie of the year if done right.  Life could be seen as a whole lot of surprises and good events instead of the negatives.  James’ film instead plods along towards a boring finish.

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZMMWSu3AjJo

 

 

FAKE BLOOD (Canada 2017) *

Directed by Rob Grant

 

What if a filmmaker made a few films no one really wanted to see then made a documentary about those films no one wanted to see?  This is exactly the case of Rob Grant’s FAKE BLOOD.  After making the little seen low budget horror flicks, YESTERDAY and MON AMI, writer/director Rob Grant and his actor buddy, Mike Kovac receive a disturbing fan video inspired by their previous horror movie Mon Ami, motivating them to make a documentary investigating the responsibility of filmmakers in portraying violence in movies.  In their so-called pursuit of the truth they are unwittingly introduced to the real world of violent criminals and their victims.

The question is whether the duo provides any insight on the portrayal of violence in movies.  The answer is a clear no.  This can be observed by the unchallenging and made-up-interview-questions-as-they-go-along during the interviews.  Grant and Kovac spend half the time explaining the pathetic reason for making the doc to the interviewees who end up in all cases milking the duo for some money to speak on camera. 

The question on the filmmakers responsibility on violence is already answered by Grant early into the movie.  His answer is that the filmmakers job is to entertain.  No one really bothers, or cares, whether the violence or a killing is accurate.  In many cases, they go an extreme lengths to seek out individuals who have seen violence or real fights.  I do not see the difficulty here, as I have seen real fights and violence (though not a killing) first hand.  And the interviewed do not provide any fresh information either.

A point to note is that the film makes no disclaimer that it is bot based on any true or real characters.  This, implies of course, that what is seen on the screen is real, but there is no real proof, just supposition.  There is no film governing board that checks this.

Another glaring problem of FAKE BLOOD is whether what is documented is true or false.  The killer interviewed on film is played by an actor and what he says could have been real or made up, no one knows.  The film plays with a bit of comedy, but the apparent seriousness of the matter excludes it from being classified a mockumentary, which means that the film could be entire fiction, but just made documentary style for it to classify a documentary.  An example is the 2005 British film BROTHERS OF THE HEAD by directors Keith Fulton, Louis Pepe that plays like a real serious documentary only that the Siamese twins never existed in real life.

But ultimately, what transpired on screen in uninteresting and boring.  Grant tackles a minor subject that really dos not impact anybody.  Does anyone really imitate the violence on screen?  Even if they do, it is hard to prove (interviewing a few killers will never prove anything conclusive) and violence in real life will always be there, regardless.

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aTit5tJ5XYM

FIFTY SHADES FREED (UK 2018) **
Directed by James Foley

FIFTY SHADES FREED is the third film of the FIFTY SHADES franchise with the first two FIFTY SHADES OF GREY and FIFTY SHADES DARKER winning raspberry awards for worst film and worst acting for its actors.  FIFTY SHADES is likely the worst reviewed film franchise ever though the films have been Universal tons of cash.

The film clearly aims at a female audience.  Imagine the fantasy - Marriage to a wealthy husband with the perfect body, romantic wedding vows, a glamorous lifestyle and most of all, great sexy with S&M thrown in for good measure.

FIFTY SHADES FREED opens with what looks like the perfect wedding.  It is the marriage of Ana (Dakota Fanning) and billionaire Christian Grey (Jamie Dornan).  But the matrimonial noon is tested when Ana insists on ‘not being Mrs. Grey’.  She insists on keeping her maiden name, her job and dispenses with a wife’s household duties.  All this results in sexual punishment dished out by her husband.  Ana loves it and keeps going on till she eventually gets pregnant because she missed her shots.  The marriage is on the rocks.  The plot also invokes Ana’s ex-boss, Jack Hyde (Eric Johnson) stalking her and wanting to punish her for what she has done to him, which is explained later on in the film.  That is pretty much the film.  Sex, sex, sex, get Ana’s stalker and would-be killer then the end.

FREED can stand on its own with audiences unfamiliar with the stories of the other two films.  Ana met Grey in the first film engaging in S&M sex.  The second film shows her being promised marriage by Grey while having trouble at work with her boss who turns up as the villain in FREED.

The sexual scenes are interesting but goes boring really quickly despite the two perfect bodies of the actors.  For what the script provides, Dakota Fanning does quite a good job at her performance, making the audience care for her despite her gong against all the hubby’s wishes.  Marcia Gay Harden has a small role as Christian’s adoptive mother, but her role is simply awful, involving her to hug the gorgeous Christian at one point in the film.  She looks as if she got a sexual turn on in the film when she holds on to him.

A few things that Universal Pictures got right with this sequel.  The budget is kept the same as the second film at $55 million with a shorter running length.  It is clear that the movie should still make money though expectedly less that the $580 million for the first and $300 million for the second.  At the film’s promo screening, one self touted critic remarked loudly that the film is shit and the editing is shit.  It is easy to condemn a film without giving clear examples.  The editing is actually half decent, especially the S&M scenes, keeping it fairly decent considering the film’s content.  Th car chases are also well cut with ok continuity. 

Having not seen the first two films, I actually enjoyed the tackiness of the film’s first 20 minutes, to see how much rubbish the audience can take in.  But tackiness or not, the film keeps repeating itself (example: the story’s silly excuses for Ana’s behaviour to keep getting sexually punished.)  The S&M are not really imaginative.  I am are everyone has seen a vibrating, dildos or handcuffs.  The film then resorts to ice-cream being slid on the naked bodies.  In Mike Leigh’s LIFE IS SWEET for example, he had a sexual bathroom scene with his two actors covered in chocolate. The film is noticeably drug free.  I am not advocating drug use, but this really stretches the film’s credibility.

James Foley takes over the director’s reins.  Foley has directed decent films in the past, the most notable being Mamet’s GLENGARRY GLEN ROSS.  FIFTY SHADES FREED is obviously not one of them. Foley goes for empty glossiness.  Though the film has a slick look, there is no substance and the polished exterior fades fast.

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nJCc5HRPxYA

UNA MUJER FANTASTICO (A FANTASTIC WOMAN ) (Chile 2017) ***1/2

Directed by Sebastián Lelio

Chilean director Sebastián Lelio broke into the international film scene with his Best Foreign Film Oscar nominee GLORIA back in 2013.  His latest hit, already critically acclaimed since its debut at Cannes also deals with a female protagonist, actually a transgender heroine, played astonishingly by Daniela Vega.  If she had been nominated for a Best Actress Oscar she will make headlines as the first transgender to get nominated in the Best Actress Oscar category.  Lelio’s camera loves her.  And she is very good in the role too.  And very beautiful!

A FANTASTIC WOMAN is the portrait of a woman adrift.  Marina (Vega), the FANTASTIC WOMAN of the title is beautiful, enigmatic, and plunged into a precarious situation after her older boyfriend dies unexpectedly in her company.  Her world is turned upside down.  She has to come to terms not only of her loss but with the horrid prejudice of his family.

Fifty-seven-year-old divorcé Orlando (Francisco Reyes) wakes in the middle of the night, suffers an aneurism, and falls down some stairs.  He sustains injuries that will come to haunt Marina after she takes him to the hospital and attempts to slip away before authorities and family members begin prying. 

Marina knows she's regarded with suspicion for her youth, class, and, above all, gender status.   She experiences the viciousness of Orlando's son, the cold-heartedness of Orlando's ex-wife, and the intrusiveness of a detective from the Sexual Offences Investigation Unit force Marina to not only clear her name, but also to demand the very thing no one seems willing to give her: respect.  The saddest segment is when she is denied the human right to say goodbye to the dead Orlando.  She is chased out of the funeral church service by her family.

The events are also put into a different perspective from Marina’s sister and her husband, who reluctantly but finally offer to help.  At least they realize that it is the right thing to do.

The film is shot in Santiago, though the tourist sights are not seen.  The film is accompanied by sombre music when it needs to and uplifting music at other times.

Lelio’s film contains both disturbing scenes and scenes of elation.  The ones most difficult to watch are understandably those involving abuse to Marina.  Marina is picked up and forced into a car by Orlando’s brother and family, beaten, taped up and then tossed out of the car.  Marina at one point, goes dancing to forget her troubles.  In a fantasy sequence, she dances wearing a sparkling top together with those dancing around her.  Marina finally sums up her courage to do what is right - to see her lover, Orlando one last time before he is cremated.

A FANTASTIC WOMAN is both a sad and uplifting film that illustrates the old adage that something that will not kill you will make you stronger.

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SgDhpy9Z-NM

LET THERE BE LIGHT (USA 2017) **
Directed by Kevin Sorbo

First thing noticeable is that there a lot of Sorbos involved in the making of this Christian movie.  First and foremost, Kevin Sorbo stars (as Saul Hannity) and directs.  His wife, Sam Sorbo co-writes and produces while their sons Braeden and Shane join in the acting cast (terrible though they are) playing Saul’s two sons..  The plot follows an atheist, Saul (Kevin Sorbo) who goes through a near-death experience in an auto accident and converts to Christianity.

Despite the film’s flaws, there are a good moments.  The tenderness the couple go through in the time of Saul’s crisis is believable and touching.  There are also a few genuine funny moments like the running joke of the doorman who lets anyone up to Saul’s apartment.

The script contains references like to Shakespeare’s Taming of the Shrew, though the referenced is explained, director Sorbo probably not believing that his audience is literate enough to get it.  The naming of the main character as Saul is also biblical, the apostle Paul initially called Saul before his conversion to Christianity. 

Another pleasure might be noting all the times the film gets manipulative - which is a whole lot.  The best example can be seen in the scene where Saul is just recovering in the hospital, pushed in a wheelchair while he asked his ex-wife, Kate (Sam Sorbo) to carry his jacket.  Her reply: “I am through carrying your baggage.”  There is no need for him to ask her to carry his jacket as it is laid on his lap but he asks Kate to do so for that one-liner to be made.  Dionne Warwick’s performance at the wedding reception is a neat surprise.

The character of Saul’s agent, Norm (Daniel Roebuck) wears a bow tie and is portrayed as a straight person (he requests Saul in one one scene for his mistress’s sister or cousin introductions) though it is clear he is a closeted gay, from his mannerisms.  Homosexuality is always a no-no, so this portrayal is odd.

Saul’s conversion is difficult to take in, in the film’s key scene - maybe not so for believers but for non-believers.   But there is a test of faith segment in the film’s last 20 minutes that should keep Christians happy and faith enhanced.  Non-believers might shrug unless they love tearjerkers.

To Sorbo’s credit, his direction is effective and suits the film’s purpose.  The conversion scene is a problem, so Sorby quickly moves the next scene to Saul’s baptism.

The film goes right downhill from this point.  Christian believers might well be the only ones that will not complain.  The film’s high point is the start when Sorbu’s Saul puts down Christianity and hails atheism.  Worst is the romantic element pushed to the limit with Saul and his ex-wife Kate romancing again.

Why is the film called LET THERE BE LIGHT?  Besides Davey’s words to Saul during his death moment, the other reason is the shameless spiritual promotion (a phone app?) of Christianity.

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UeD3sCW7Yag

 

PERMISSION (USA 2016) **

Directed by Brian Crano

 

There are two categories of chick-flick romantic comedies - those made by female directors and those made by male directors.  The former category usually sees everything from the feminine perspective while glorifying the female while more often than not, debasing the male counterpart. 

PERMISSION, the new romantic comedy debut by writer/director Brian Crano belongs to the second category.  Like most films in this category the male filmmaker usually also takes the side of the female, giving them enough respect so as not to offend them.  In PERMISSION, the female is clearly the more mature and intelligent of the couple.  Since the film is written by a male, males cannot complain that this is a feminist film.

The film begins with a really short sex scene between the two leads.  Anna (Rebecca Hall) and Will (Dan Stevens) are very much in love and have great (if not, too short) sex.  Will intends to propose to Anna at her birthday celebrations at a bar with her brother, Hale (David Joseph Craig) and current male lover, Reece (Morgan Spector).  But that is impeded by the suggestion of Reece and Hale to have Anna "test date" other men before she ultimately settles down.  This results in the relationship turning open, meaning that Will can try other girls too. 

The couple faces the obvious problems that result in an accepted open relationship though the film and the couple insist that dating others does not constitute an open relationship.  My question to them is then: What then is an open relationship?  The problems include jealousy number one followed by number two, the craving for wanting for sex with strangers.  But the biggest danger of all is the probability that the stranger might be the better one to marry.  These are two human feelings that cannot be removed, and unless a couple can deal with these two issues, an open relationship or a closed relationship with allowance for multiple sex partners should not ever be considered.   Anna and Will together believe that their love for each other can conquer all.  So the rest of the film goes on to see whether love can.

Writer/director Crano’s film runs into many problems.  For one, the main premise of the couple is compromised by the introduction of Anna’s brother’s gay relationship.  Worst still, Crano inserts a problem into the gay couple’s relationship - the adoption of a child.  This distraction is boring and does not contribute to the main story at hand.  The four characters are all too nice and likeable.  The film would be more interesting if any one would be a complete asshole or one to be totally at fault.  Some of the humour makes no sense at all, as in Will spitting into his lover, Lydia (Gina Gershon) mouth, while high and having sex.

One good insight the film provides is that it shows the hurt the people go through as a result of such an experiment.  The film also surprisingly is almost saved by its ending.

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EV9ZnPPnyz8

SPETTACOLO (USA 2017) **

Directed by Jeff Malmberg and Chris Shellen

The title of the film SPETTACOLO is the Italian for the word spectacle which refers to a performance or a play.

The documentary is about a small town by the hills called Monticchiello in Tuscany, Italy with inhabitants of 130, according to the film.  The inhabitants practice a unique form of theatre called “autodrama”.  By turning their lives into a play, they confront their issues of their past 50 years of existence.  Their piazza becomes their stage and villagers from 6 to 90 play a part - the role of themselves.  Every issue the town has faced in its history - their near annihilation by Nazis, the disappearance of their farming heritage, the commercialization of their land - every major event has been dramatized and debated by the villagers in the centre of town. The film tells the story of Teatro Povero (“Poor Theatre”), interweaving episodes from its past with footage from the present as the villagers turn a series of devastating blows - financial ruin, rising fascism, a dwindling future generation - into a play about the end of their world.  The audience sees the townsfolk planning their play, debating issues as well as what to present at the performance.  News of the play has also spread over the years so that Italians from all over is it Monticchiello to experience the play.

It all got started with the most crucial event in history of the town.  It was when the Nazis wanted to kill all the inhabitants for supporting the rebels also known as partisans.  But one woman pleaded to the German officer in charge that they were all innocent and never participated or collaborated with the partisans - which was a lie.  And the townsfolk were spared. 

One can hardly tell, to the filmmakers’ credit that SPETTACOLO is an American and not an Italian production.  The film is shot largely in Italian, set in Tuscany and filmed between 2012 and 2016, using a Sony EX-1 camera and a portable Zoom audio recorder.  The film crew also lived in Monticchiello, the small town in Tuscany for six months in 2012 to make the film.  Not only that but they involved the town in their editorial process, showing several rough cuts of the film to the townspeople for feedback.  The result is a very authentic and believable film in which the audience is completely immersed in the 130 population number of the town.

The film also tackles the universal problem of old versus the new, small versus big and tradition (50 years of it) versus the modern.  Here, there is the compromise that benefits everyone.

The filmmakers sacrifices the town’s charm in place of problems and key issues resulting in a film more relevant than just entertaining.

The film’s climax hinges on whether the play will be staged despite all the problems.  The actors are ill-disciplined, there are arguments and financial backers have opted out.  Still, despite the doc’s good intentions and the filmmakers’ diligence, it is really difficult to get drawn into SPETTACOLO.

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=l7oITFo7rHg

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