- Category: Movie Reviews
- Written by Gilbert Seah
The new TOMB RAIDER reboot opens this week together with action flick 7 DAYS IN ENTEBBE. Best film opening is FOXTROT. Wtahc out for Wes Anderson’s excellent ISLE OF DOGS that opens next weel.
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Best Foreign: LOVELESS
THE SHAPE OF WATER
7 DAYS IN ENTEBBE (UK/USA 2017) **
Directe by José Padilha
There has already been 2 television movies (released theatrically outside the U.S.) on the 1976 rescue/hijack event, VICTORY IN ENTEBBE and RAID ON ENTEBBE including the documentary OPERATION THUNDERBOLT. I have not seen the doc but the two made for television movies were quite bad. So, is this new 2017 version the definitive Entebbe film? (Note that the closing credits list the film as a 2017 production though there is a statement on screen stating that there is presently no peace alliance between Israel and Palestine with the date, March 2018 flashed on the screen. The only explanation is that the statement was put into the film in 2017 and not in March of 2018.)
Who else then to direct the Entebbe raid true story than Brazilian director, José Padilha who helmed the excellent documentary BUS 174 way back about the hijacked bus in Rio de Janeiro? But despite the impressive cast and crew, 7 DAYS IN ENTEBBE that unfolds from Day 1 (June 25th,1976) to Day 7 is incredibly boring.
The film is based on the real life rescue of the hijacked Air France passengers in Uganda by Israeli forces. The plane was hijacked from its Athens, Greece departure by a group of 4, 2 Germans, Brigitee Kuhlmann (Rosamund Pike) and Wilfred Bose (Daniel Bruhl) and 2 Palestinians. Instead of centring on the actual raid and heroics, the script by Gregory Burke focuses on the conflict between Israel and Palestine. The film itself begins with a reminder of the fact that an Israeli state was formed in 1947 and fighting between Palestine and Israel has been going on ever since - the fighters for liberating the land back to Palestine known to the Palestinians as Freedom Fighters but as terrorists to the Israelis. The film contains a lot of talk behind the scenes of the planning, between Minister of Defence, Shimon Peres (the always excellent Eddie Marsan in extreme makeup) and Israel Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin (Lior Ashkenazi). There is also a debate on the insufficient funds in the defence budget. One of the soldiers has a girlfriend in dance. He is advised by a fellow soldier to have her join the army or be forever apart. This explains the dance scenes in the film.
The dance sequences appear at length not only at the start and end of the film, but interspersed at other points during the film. Besides the soldier’s girlfriend being in dance, what are the dance sequences really doing in a supposedly action film? The dance metaphor, if there is one, surely escapes me. Anyway, too much time is wasted watching the dancers in tights prancing around on stage. The dance sequences go right into the closing credits.
Acting is surprisingly good with a jolt of hilarity provided by Nonso Anozie in the role of Dictator Idi Amin. Bruhl and Marsan also stand out.
The individual film scenes are well directed by Padilha. But the problem is that they all do not come together as a whole or for the right purpose. A film that stresses the needed peace agreement between Israel and Palestine should not be one that centres on heroic Israeli forces rescuing a hijacked plane.
DEAR DICTATOR (USA 2016) ***1/2
Directed by Lisa Addario and Joe Syracuse
DEAR DICTATOR has an usual and outrageous premise for its script. Dictator teaches school girl how to deal with the ‘mean girls’ in her school while initiating a revolution on his own island.
When political turmoil forces a British-Caribbean dictator to flee his island nation, he seeks refuge and hides with a rebellious teenage girl in suburban America, and ends up teaching the young teen how to start a revolution and overthrow the "mean girls" in her high school. The sparks really fly when General Anton Vincent (Michael Caine) actually appears to Tatiana (Odeya Rush). “Don’t worry, mom! He is not a creepy child molester. He is just a Dictator!” Tatiana re-assures her mother after she finds him in the closet, thinking she has hidden Danny there. Other subplots like the one with the mother (Katie Holmes) trying to make it with her employee, dentist (Seth Green) also works the humour favourably.
Despite the highly unbelievable plot, the script makes no effort to make it more credible, which is a good thing. The film takes it that everything as a given and totally believable and even takes things several steps further.
The film also works primarily due to the comedic performance of veteran British actor Michael Caine. Caine seldom does comedy, but when he does he can be really funny, as he proved in his role as the father of Austin Powers, Nigel Powers in GOLDMEMBER. I still remember his classic line in that movie “There are only two people I do not like in this world - the racists and the Dutch.” The reason Caine is so funny is that he takes all the writing dead seriously, delivering the lines as if his life depends on it. The result is the over-the-top humour that suits most of the writing in this film. The film has a preposterous over-the-top premise and Caine makes it work. And work well. It is good to see Caine take on a variety of different roles and not old fart roles like a seniors trying to have sex or fall in love. Other comedians Seth Green and Jason Biggs as Mr. Spines are also funny.
The film also contains many messages as well, and hilariously delivered at that. The film pokes fun at America as the General criticizes Americans saying:” You eat and eat until you cannot speak anymore.” He even convinces Tatiana that she has the power to change her school. Also the General teaches her to diffuse factions as they rule by “fear or love”.
The film contains many quotable lines. Besides Hamlet’s “Conscience makes cowards of us all”, there is the General Anton quote: “I am a rebel, I keep going until I am stopped!”
Another surprise is the film’s serious tone. General Anton’ speech to Tatiana about doing what’s right despite hurting the ones one loves should be taken with a pinch of salt.
A smaller budget comedy that is well delivered because everyone is convinced that the material works, ends up entertaining and hilarious for audiences as well. Many, many laugh-out loud moments.
THE DEATH OF STALIN (UK/France/Belgium 2017) ***
Directed by Armando Iannucci
Joseph Stalin dies unexpectedly turning his ministers into panic. There is a re-balance of power and power grabbing, a state funeral and other un-niceties. The premise appears perfect for a black comedy.
THE DEATH OF STALIN, as the film is appropriately called can be divided into three parts, with sufficient chaos devoted to each. The first part of the film establishes who is who around Stalin. The second is the passing of Stalin and his funeral. The third is what happens after with Stalin’s ministry. The film is described on film sites as a ‘comedy’.
Among the who’s who is Nikita Khrushchev (Steve Buchemi) who starts taking charge after Stalin’s passing. Lavrentiy Beria (Simon Russell Beale) receives the worse end of the death, being accused of murder, execution, torture and yes, multiple rapes of little girls, of which Beria demands a fair trial. Other well known actors Michael Palin (of Monty Python), Rupert Friend, Paddy Considine and Jeffrey Tambor add to the impressive cast making up ministers of various departments like defence, agriculture and so on.
Unlike his previous hit IN THE LOOP, Iannucci ’s THE DEATH OF STALIN, treads on the same grounds of political humour bordering on satire but turns out more crass and desperate for laughs. The word ‘fuck’ is uttered too often and sounds out of place in a setting where the real Stalin and his men actually should be speaking Russian. Example: When Stalin’s son is its on making a speech at his father’s funeral, Khrushchev’s response is: “and I want to fuck Grace Kelly.” The questions: “What the fuck is going on?” is uttered many times. The running joke of enemies of the State executed, tortured or imprisoned is fondly used. When Stalin suffers a hurt attack and a doctor needed urgently, it is remarked that all the old doctors have been sent to he Gulag.
The film feels artificial with English spoken throughout, instead of Russian with subtitles. The spectrum of accents is distracting. While Buscemi speaks as if an American, the majority including Stalin speak with a strong British accent.
Despite the variety of accents, the performances are quite convincing. Each actor could pass of as a Stalin comrade. Buschemi is particularly hilarious, though the use of vulgarities could be toned down a little. Jason Isaacs is also memorable as the Russian field marshall who is very fond of punching those he does not like right in the face, and then joke about it.
The sets, costumes and production design is to be commended for an authentic period Russian piece.
In THE DEATH OF STALIN, which premiered last year at TIFF, cheap jokes and crass humour with lots of vulgarity appear the order of the day! But these still bring in the laughs. Just don’t expect classy black satirical humour but crass black satirical humour. The ending is superb though with a shot of Leonid Brezhnev watching over the new proceedings like a cunning fox.
FOXTROT (Israel/France/Germany/Switzerland 2017) ****
Directed by Samuel Maoz
FOXTROT as most people know is the name of a dance, which is performed a third through the film by a bored soldier at his deserted outpost. It is also known in the military to stand for the letter ‘F’ when spelt out as taught in signalling courses to prevent confusion in communication. (Alpha is for ‘A’, Bravo for ‘B’ etc.) In the film it is also the name given to a military operation.
The film is divided into 3 parts, each almost equal in running time. The opening sequence is reminiscent of Steven Spielberg’s SAVING PRIVATE RYAN when a mother faints after hearing the news of her son’s death during WWII. The story begins at the home of Michael Feldman (Lior Ashkenazi) and his wife Dafna (Sarah Adler), where an army detail arrives with the news of their son Jonathan ((Yonatan Shiray). Dafna faints and is sedated. Meanwhile Michael spirals from anguish to anger. He even kicks his poor unsuspecting dog. Nothing new here, the film seems treading on water. The film picks up when he begins to suspect that he has not been told the whole story when the army refuse to let him see the son’s body in the coffin during the military funeral. Not soon after, there is news that the boy is alive. Apparently, there is another Jonathan Feldman and it is this other Jonathan that died. Michael freaks out and demands that his son be returned home right away. Michael and Dafna have an argument, she accusing him of being nasty, he of her being too nice being sedated on drugs.
The film ends on a bright note, with a touch of surrealism. The second section begins with the narrator describing the foxtrot dance followed by a very uplifting and amusing dance sequence. The musical interlude jumps out of the blue and is a fantastic surprise. The audience then learns of Jonathan’s mundane military duties at the check post, identifying everyone that drives through. The soldiers also let a camel through. Writer/director Maoz pulls another trick up his sleeve with a twist in the plot. When a passenger in a car tosses out an empty drink can, the soldiers open fire thinking it to be a grenade. There are been more twists in the plot but they will not be mentioned in the review to prevent to many spoilers. A few of these twists could be reduced for the film to be more effective.
The film works as a very different film audiences have never seen before. FOXTROT is a surrealistic film set in the midst of the israeli/Palestinian conflict, a very unlikely setting, which makes the surrealism work even better. Maoz’s story also shows that fate plays games with people’s lives - and there is nothing one can do about it. Michael and Dafna try to make sense of what is happening. At their best moment, as their daughter, Alma tells them: “You two look beautiful when you are together.” Perhaps, that is the only thing human beings can hang on to, each other in the midst of the quirky hands of fate.
The film won the Silver Lion (Grand Jury Prize) at the 2017 Venice Film Festival. FOXTROT is definitely worth a look.
THE LEISURE SEEKER (USA 2017) **
Directed by Paolo Virzi
Oscar winner Helen Mirren (THE QUEEN) and Donald Sutherland star as an elderly couple looking for adventure on one boisterous and bittersweet final road trip.
It has finally come the time (UGH!) when both Mirren and Sutherland star in a old fart film, and one that goes all the way. Yes, heaven forbid but the worst can happen. THE LEISURE SEEKER is the camper that the elderly married couple take off on their road trip.
Italian director Paolo Virzi who also did the music for the film makes clear of his American political stand. The film opens with Trump, newly elected voicing his speech on the radio “We will make America great again.” Another scene later on in the film has the couple walking through a pro-Trump rally.
Ella (Mirren) is dying of cancer. Her husband, John (Sutherland) is suffering from Alzheimer's disease. As the film opens, their son and daughter discover that their parents have taken off with THE LEISURE SEEKER, on a last road trip. Neither Ella nor John is interested in quietly fading away surrounded by nurses and machines just to needlessly prolong a winnowing life. They travel from Boston to Florida (some nice scenery on display) with John behind the wheel. He may not always be cognizant of the nature of their trip — she assures him it is just a vacation — but he gets into the spirit. As they pass through cities and towns they see how much the world they know has changed for ill or for good.
The film is based on the novel by Michael Zadoorian. But as a film, there is too much tackled in the film. Everything that one can think about growing old is in the film and covered unfortunately in a clinched manner.
The issues covered include:
sex between an elderly couple
sickness that are incurable such as cancer and memory loss
past skeletons in the closet
children who care too much
being a burden
loss of bodily functions
being taken advantage of as seniors (the hold-up scene)
what old people really look like outside their make-up and hair pieces
Director Virzi acts like a traffic cop ushering these issues in an out. The incidents like the traffic comes and goes, none too memorable, and quite boring too, just as the job of directing traffic.
Helen Mirren does a southern accent though her British accent can still be heard. Her first few dialogue lines are done with British accent which is odd. Mirren is brave enough to show her real looks, with thinning white hair and all. Sutherland, looking really lean and sexy in the old (younger days) photographs on display in the film.
The script attempts to put some insight with lots of quotations from Hemingway as John is a former professor of Literature.
It is clear that the film is aimed at displaying humour, affection, observation, and maybe a little satire, but the result is another old farts fantasy film about old people trying to be young again.
LOVE, CECIL (USA 2017) ***1/2
Directed by Lisa Immordino Vreeland
LOVE, CECIL is a love letter by director Lisa Immordino Vreeland on two-time Academy Award-winning costume/set designer Cecil Beaton. Cecil Beaton won Oscars for Best Costume and Set Design for MY FAIR LADY (a clip is provided of Audrey Hepburn and Rex Harrison at the races from the film illustrating the gorgeous costumes included) and GIGI. Cecil was also a respected world renowned photographer, artist and set designer.
When asked whether to describe himself as a painter, a photographer, an author or even a dandy, Cecil has no particular one to choose from. Cecil is in is own words, fascinated by the labyrinth of choice so does not undertake a single path like most people. Much of the film’s narration comes from his personal diary, as voiced in the first person by Rupert Everett. “Hundreds of thousands of words and pictures to describe fleeting moments.”
“I started out with so little talent but was tormented by too much ambition…” The film also contains interviews with photographer David Bailey, artist David Hockney, designer Isaac Mizrahi, and Beaton’s biographer Hugo Vickers.
Like the subject itself, the doc is filled with beautiful narration (with many quotables) and visuals so that the audience is completely immerse in Cecil’s personal world. The camera is often on Cecil himself, courtesy of archive footage and the audience gets a good glimpse of the man, from his ‘pretty young things’ age to his older years. It is funny that Cecil was bullied at Health MountSchool by Evelyn Waugh who wrote “Pretty Young Things” that was also made into a film by Stephen Frears.
Cecil’s career is intimately traced by Vreeland. As expected, it is not entirely a bed of roses. Cecil has a bad spell when he played a joke by means of a photograph in American Vogue. He had the word ‘kike’ scribbled obscurely in the photograph. The word could still be seen by its Jewish owners This was an act that got Cecil fired and perhaps humbled the man. It took a while during the war when he finally redeemed himself by taking sympathetic shots of the devastation of War. Many said that his work influenced America to aid Britain in the War effort.
What is most impressive and invigorating about Vreeland’s film is that she excites the audience to see the beauty that Cecil himself sees, the beauty captured in his photographs and his work.
LOVE, CECIL is an intimate portrait of an artist by Vreeland. She makes no attempt to convince her audience to like Cecil. She provides a detailed documentary of the man showing his openly gay life, dandy and all. She lets Cecil’s work speak for itself, that the audience can see the genius in the man’s work - visually and verbally. If one is not drawn by art, film, photography and words, which is rare, LOVE, CECIL might a total bore and the document of the life of the man would mean nothing.
Still, LOVE CECIL is a beautiful biography of Cecil Beaton and many who have not known him will at least now be able to appreciate his 60 years of work.
TOMB RAIDER (USA/UK 2018) **
Directed by Roar Uthaug
Tomb Raider is the new 2018 action-adventure re-boot film directed by Roar Uthaug and written by Geneva Robertson-Dworet and Alastair Siddons, from a story by Evan Daugherty and Robertson-Dworet. It is based on the 2013 video game (beware of films based on video games!!) of the same name, with some elements of its sequel by Crystal Dynamics. There is evidently more plot and story in tho re-boot, making Lara Croft more human than in the previous Angelina Jolie LARA CROFT TOMB RAIDER films.
The plot involves Sir Richard Croft (Dominic West) on some silly mission of finding some Queen of Japan’s tomb in some island off Japan. He disappears after giving all his love to his little daughter, Lara. Lara (Alicia Vikander) grows up and searches for him on the island with the help of a Hong Kong boat captain (the delicious looking Hong Kong star Daniel Wu). She encounters the villain (Walter Goggins) and learns that daddy is alive. And the plot thickens right up to a promised sequel.
The film contains many loose ends and ridiculous set-ups. For one, why and how the father placed all these clues (example: the first letter in my last destination) while undergoing his tremendous task is questionable. After father and daughter are re-united in a cave, the next scene has Lara Croft armed with a bow and 6 arrows in the quiver attacking the enemy camp single-handedly. Where did she get the weaponry from? After killing 6 or so, there are still 6 arrows in the quiver.
Lara Croft is the super heroine that never dies and can solve a dozen puzzles, even if they are never explained satisfactorily to the audience. The trouble with a super heroine is that the audience knows she can never die, and so there is never any real suspense in the action scenes. The action set-ups are all great too look at though, and watching the film in IMAX makes all the action grander but also quite ridiculous.
The film, though running at a length of almost 2 hours gets boring after 30 minutes. The elaborate story creates more boredom that interest. Dialogue runs from cliched (traps are made to keep people in; not people out) to the ridiculous (all myths have their foundations in reality.)
Uthaug and his crew including the actors try too hard to make the film work. The result is a film too serious in intentions such as saving the world at all costs resulting in a plot so convoluted that it turns out confusing and unbelievable. The film also ensures that a sequel is necessary to continue the story.
The production budget is $94 million but there are well orchestrated action pieces like the shipwreck segment.
TOMB RAIDER is directed by Norwegian Roar Uthaugh who shot to fame with his Best Foreign Film Oscar Nominee THE WAVE, a Hollywood blockbuster disaster wannabe that I was unimpressed with. TOMB RAIDER gives him the budget and logistics to make his real Hollywood blockbuster. Too bad it turned out a disaster of a movie.