Quite a few big openings this week. ISLE OF DOGS, PACIFIC RIM UPRISING, SHERLOCK GNOMES and UNSANE compete for a share of the box-office. ISLE OF DOGS is the BEST movie of the lot, a must-see, one of the TOP 10 of 2018 films so far.
BEST FILMS PLAYING:
ISLE OF DOGS
Best Foreign: LOVELESS
THE SHAPE OF WATER
CATWALK: TALES FROM THE CAT SHOW CIRCUIT (Canada 2018) ***
Directed by Michael McNamara and Aaron Hancox
People can grasp the concept of a dog show. But people cannot grasp the concept of a cat show. This is the film, CATWALK’s premise and mission to put cats on the film map just as the successful dog show film BEST IN SHOW did for canines.
One difference between BEST IN SHOW and CATWALK should be noted. BEST IN SHOW was a mockumentary that followed 5 different dogs with their owners as they showed off their dogs in different shows while CATWALK is a real documentary. This does not mean that a real documentary is less funny that a mockumentary as the film occasionally proves.
The cats are judged by a panel according to:
what cat perfection is (agility; intelligence etc.)
the best of the breed (example: if the exhibitor does not comb out the knots of his/her long haired cat, a whole lot of points will be lost
The main cat that has won the most points by touring the catwalk circuit in Canada, when the film opens, is a white playful cat named Bobby owned by Kim. The other, is a Red Persian breed full of fluffy fur named Oh-La-La by owned by Shirley. The film shows that the cat owners are just as interesting to observe than the cats. When Oh-La-La is showcased on stage, the camera locks on the face of Kim, showing how jealous she is that her cat, Bobby might be upstaged. Bobby and Oh-La-La are completely different cats. The former loves to play, winning the hearts of the judges from its friendliness as compared to Oh-La-la who just sits proudly, unconcerned of the surroundings. There is a scene whee the two cat owners are seen joking with each otter. Deborah says to Kim: “I don’t think evil of you…. just of your cat.”
The film takes a distraction with a segment on Kim taking scuba diving lessons and having a new group of friends she considers her family. There is no purpose this segment serves with regards to cats except as a time filler. CATWALK runs at a brisk 75 minutes.
The film interviews two main cat owners/exhibitors and a few breeders while featuring a few of the show’s judges.
The main owner is Kim Langille who shows off her pride a white Turkish Angora. Kim is also a show organizer and her enthusiasm for cats rubs off n her audience. She as a wise pick to be the doc’s main character. The other is her competitor, Shirley McCollow who spends hours grooming her Red Persian for the show. There is a sweet moment of an autistic cat owner who overcomes her disability by devoting her efforts on her cat.
CATWALK is made more colourful by the titles that appear on screen, one on purple or green or orange background.
CATWALK the film does not offer any advice to cat showers or messages for the audience. (Oh, maybe just one message from a cat breeder: Good things come to good people who do good things.) It is just an entertaining fun picture about cats, even for non-cat lovers like myself.
FLOWER (USA 2016) **
Directed by Max Winkler
The film begins with teen Erica (Zoey Deutch) giving a blow job to a sheriff Dale (Eric Edelstein) in his cop car while being filmed on the cell phones by Erika’s friends (Dylan Gelula, Maya Eshet). They threaten Dale, extort money, split the money and go their own ways. An exciting start of the film, no doubt and what transpires through the rest of the film matches the incident in terms or surprise and vulgarity.
The story settles on Erica and her mother (Kathryn Hahn from BAD MOMS) who loves her but gives her free reign. Erica makes the extra cash not only for herself but to earn enough for bail to spring her father in prison. Mum has a new boyfriend and Erica promises to be nice to his son, her new step-brother, Luke (Joey Morgan) who has just been sprung from re-hab. Luke is mentally unstable, fat and is troubled after he accused a teacher of molesting him.
The sparks start flying when the teacher Will (Adam Scott) is seen at the local bowling alley. Erica decides to help her step-brother. Good intentions using bad tactics never result in things going well. Director Max Winker (son of Happy Day’s ‘Fonzie’ Henry Winkler) plays the film as a black comedy which largely works despite a few flaws.
The script co-written by Winkler with Alex McAulay and Matt Spicer contains problems the foremost being credibility. The audience is supposed to believe that Erica can make extra pocket money by giving blow jobs which she finds acceptable. She also offered to give one to her step-brother out of pity. When questioned, she likens the penis to be similar to a finger without a nail. But a finger does not pee or cum either. The script also has Eric fall in love with her fat step brother who actually have no redeeming qualities except for the only one good deed he had done. Erica is also put up by her long-suffering mother, a point hard to believe. When mum finally blows up, the story suddenly becomes believable with the mother/daughter confrontation segment making the film’s best part.
The film benefits from some excellent performances mostly from Deutch as the lead and comedian Kathryn Hahn as the mother. Hahn has proven her comedic and dramatic potential in films like BAD MOMS but also demonstrates that if the vehicle is extremely bad as in A BAD MOM’S CHRISTMAS even she cannot save the movie. Adam Scott plays the odd role (as least he is an actor daring enough to undertake risky roles like this one and the one in HOT TUB TIME MACHINE 2) as the pervert.
The film ends up a rather unbelievable morality tale that borders on farce because of the incidents in the story. The film is supposed to demonstrate that good intentions are all that count. But it also truthfully shows that if good intentions come about by criminal means there is a price to pay. Luke ends up in prison and Erica under house arrest. Entertaining to a point, one wishes the film could have been better.
ISLE OF DOGS (USA 2017) ***** TOP 10
Directed by Wes Anderson
ISLE OF DOGS lies on many critics’ list as one of their most anticipated films of the year. The reason is easy to see. It has been 4 years since Anderson wowed both audiences and critics alike with the excellent THE GRAND BUDAPEST HOTEL. ISLE OF DOGS is also Anderson’s second animated feature after THE FANTASTIC MR. FOX and judging from that film, ISLE OF DOGS arrives with high expectations. Fortunately, these are all met. The film also won Anderson the Silver Bear Award for Best Director for ISLE OF DOGS which also opened the Berlin International Film Festival.
In a dystopian future Japan, dogs have been quarantined and banished to a remote island due to a "canine flu". Major Kobayashihas (Kunichi Nomura) who has won the election and has convinced all his voters that this is the best idea. The all-important question is then posed; “Whatever happened to man’s best friend?”
There is hope for the dogs. A boy, ironically the major’s nephew, Atari (Koyu Rankin), ventures to the island to search for his dog, Spots (Liev Screiber). There is at least one human being who still loves his pet dog. Dogs Chief (Bryan Cranston), Rex (Edward Norton), Boss (Bill Murray), Duke (Jeff Goldblum), and King (Bob Balaban) help him search for Spots and evade the authorities. Eventually Atari discovers his uncle’s plot to eliminate all dogs on the isle and with the help of the dogs led by Chief saves the dog world. The film is enough to seriously have audiences consider getting themselves a pet dog after watching the moving saga.
The film is shot in both English and Japanese. The dogs speak English which English audiences understand while the humans speak Japanese which the dogs (and audiences do not understand). This is a brilliant concept which is even more brilliant when one considers the reverse effect when Japanese watch the film.
The ensemble voice cast is impressive but largely wasted as many of the voices cannot be recognized. Even Yoko Ono is on the list, but very few know what she sounds like, less alone the more famous stars that include Ken Watanabe, Frances McDormand, Harvey Keitel, Scarlett Johansson, Greta Gerwig, just to name a few.
And the film is extremely funny with more than I can count, laugh-out loud moments. Anderson’s humour is mostly tongue-in-cheek, which is not the characteristic humour (slapstick, sarcasm, dead-pan) found in many films. Examples are the way Anderson shoots his animated feature as if all happening is live action. The segment on the liver transplant is done in an overhead shot as if the operation is actually filmed live with live characters. Dialogue like one dog saying: “The ones I want are never in heat!” or “I see cats with more balls than you guys,” also come across as very funny in their situations. The most hilarious of these occur after the film’s climax where the mayoral elections are finally over with the commentator announcing in a sort of anti-climaxed statement: “Boy, What a night!”
On originality alone, ISLE OF DOGS scores 100% which makes it one of the first 10 best films of 2018. Boy! What a movie!
MADAME (France 2017) **1/2
Directed by Amanda Sthers
A film shot in English with a Paris setting boasting acting international talents like Toni Collette and Harvey Keitel featuring a comic performance by Pedro Almodovar regular Rossy de Palma (WOMEN ON THE VERGE OF A NERVOUS BREAKDOWN) shows much promise in the beginning as writer/director Amanda Sthers prepares the setting of her black comedy/bedroom farce.
The film begins when a scenic backdrop of Paris where a seasoned married couple, Anne (Collette) and Bob Fredericks (Keitel) ride their bikes while bickering constantly. They are adding a little spice (likely more pepper than salt) to a waning marriage. Anne and Bob, a wealthy and well-connected American couple, move into a manor house in romantic Paris. While preparing a particularly luxurious dinner for sophisticated international friends, the hostess discovers there are thirteen guests, owing to the sudden unexpected appearance of her step-son. Shades of Bunuel’s DISCREET CHARM OF THE BOURGEOUSIE. Panic-stricken, Anne insists her loyal maid Maria (De Palma) disguise herself as a mysterious Spanish noble woman to even out the numbers. But a little too much wine, and some playful chat, lead Maria to accidentally endear herself to a dandy British art broker (David Morgan). Their budding romance will have Anne chasing her maid around Paris and finally plotting to destroy this most unexpected and joyous love affair.
The film bursts into life whenever Rossy de Palma is in the spotlight. Reason too, is that Sthers knows her potential and taps it appropriately. The result is the film’s funniest part is the dinner scene when she, the maid, pretending to be Spanish royalty tells two off-coloured jokes about the 3 different phases of the female and male. Nervous yet confident, De Palma, the best thing in this comedy portrays a maid on the verge of a nervous breakdown. Kietel and Collette appear less interesting, again due to their underwritten roles.
MADAME lives up to its French title. The wardrobe, production sets (the interiors of the mansion) and the exterior shots are all beautiful to look at. The film, however, is shot largely in English, with the characters only occasionally breaking out into French and Spanish,
The film has many stories on display. The foremost is the Madame chasing the maid trying to break up an affair, another her relationship with her husband and yet another the relationship the couple has with their stiff-upped lipped novelist son, Steven (Tom Hughes). The problem with so many stories is that the film gets distracting and the audience never knows what the main issue is at hand or what the goal of the plot is. One benefit however, is that there are more humorous set-ups to mine.
Sthers keeps her film light, avoiding more critical issues like the conflict between the upper and lower class. It is clear Anne cannot achieve the romance Maria gets within a second, but the film has her try to destroy rather than analyze it. As expected, MADAME ends up more a crowd pleaser than a more ambitious satire of manners.
PACIFIC RIM UPRISING (USA 2018) **
Directed by Steven S. DeKnight
Steven S. DeKnight takes over the director’s reins from Guillermo del Toro making his directorial debut in the sequel to the 2013 hit PACIFIC RIM. PACIFIC RIM is del Toro’s most successful film at the box-office making over $400 million worldwide at the box-office. UPRISING costing $150 million aims to do the same.
The premise of the first film which is the backdrop for uprising is summarized in voiceover at the start of the film by Jake Pentecost (John Boyega from STAR WARS). That film was set in the future, when Earth is at war with the Kaiju, colossal sea monsters which have emerged from an inter-dimensional portal on the bottom of the Pacific Ocean. To combat the monsters, humanity united to create the Jaegers, gigantic humanoid machine robots, each controlled by at least two pilots, whose minds are joined by a mental link. The Jaeger was championed by General Pentecost, Jake’s father played by Idris Elba. Jake was partying it up when the film opens.
UPRISING is set ten years after the Battle of the Breach, the oceans have become restless once again, but the Jaeger program has evolved into the next generation for the PPDC. However, a mysterious organization has reopened the Breach for the Kaiju and a Jaeger has gone rogue. Jake Pentecost, son of Stacker Pentecost, rises up to stand against the evolved Kaiju and the mysterious rogue Jaeger, Obsidian Fury, to prevent humanity's extinction and preserve his father’s legacy.
The film is divided into two parts. One is the action sequences, which with its $150 million budget are executed with all the pyro-technics, metal crunching and noise expect from a Hollywood blockbuster. The film will also be released in iMAX which boasts - “See a movie, or be a part of one.” Regardless, be prepared to get a headache. This is a very loud film. The second is the camaraderie among the Jaeger group. Jake Pentecost bonds with Mako Mori to lead a new generation of Jaeger pilots, including rival Lambert (Scott Eastwood, Clint’s son) and 15-year-old hacker Amara (Madeleine McGraw), against the new Kaiju threat. The pilots are all buffed and ideal specimens of the human race. The script by Steven S. DeKnight, Emily Carmichael, Kira Snyder and T.S. Nowlin displays the normal enmity as well as camaraderie of the Jaeger fighters. But dialogue like: “…not how you perform but what people think how you perform…” are meant to be taken tongue in cheek, playing with typical cliched lines. The banter between Dr. Newt Geiszler (Charlie Day) and Dr. Hermann Gottlieb (Burn Gorman) works better.
As the first film was huge hit in China, UPRISING has a few scenes shot in China, as observed by the Chinese on the streets running away from the monists, looking like old monster movies.
Despite the efforts for making PACIFIC RIM UPRISING rise above the first PACIFIC RIM and TRANSFORMER franchise, UPRISING turns out to be a big bore with too much noise and CG effects.
SHERLOCK GNOMES (USA/UK 2018) ***1/2
Directed by John Stevenson
SHERLOCK GNOMES is the 3D animated sequel to the 2011 successful animated GNOMEO AND JULIET. In case one is wondering what Sherlock Gnomes has to do with the original characters, SHERLOCK GNOMES the sequel has Gnomeo and Juliet in it, as two of the main characters, once again voiced by James McAvoy and Emily Blunt respectively. Michael Caine and Dame Maggie Smith reprise their voice roles (immediately recognizable) as gnomes Lord Redbrick and Lady Bluebury.
When the film opens, gnomes are being stolen from gardens in London, England. They will be smashed and destroyed within 24 hours unless Sherlock Gnomes (Johnny Depp) and Dr. Watson (Chiwetel Ejiofor) foil the culprit who turns out to be Professor Moriarty (Jamie Demetriou). He is foiled in the London Museum of Natural History and presumed dead. The film then switches to the garden of Gnomeo and Juliet where Juliet is given the task of making the garden work by spring, the next season. But gnomes start disappearing once again and Sherlock establishes that Gnomeo and Juliet’s garden is next. It is! All the gnomes go missing except for Gnomeo and Juliet who happen to be out of the garden at the time. The four solve the mystery and save the day - and the garden!
Stevenson is no newbie to animation having directed KUNG FU PANDA and worked in the art department of the SHREK films. SHERLOCK GNOMES benefits from his experience as evident in the humour that caters to both kids and adults. For one, the bond between Holmes and Dr. Watson and enmity between between them and their arch enemy Moriarty as in the Sir Conan Doyle novels are kept respected. The villainous Moriarty is fashioned after Batman’s joker in his laughter and antics, he even saying like in the BATMAN film, that there is a love affair between him and his enemy. Jamie Demetriou does a marvellous job voicing the cartoonish villain, as do his animators.
Sir Elton John executively produced the film and his songs are featured in the film. There is even an Elton John gnome playing a sparkled piano. Immediately recognizable is “Don’t Go Breaking My Heart” that is played during the opening credits. The song is relevant to the film’s message. The story involves the respect between Holmes and Dr. Watson and between Gnomeo and Juliet. Both couples are having relationship problems that need to be solved. These are serious issues dished out for the adults while the younger audience can relish the childish gnome dances.
The animation is impressive especially of the gargoyles that guard the kidnapped gnomes. The gnomes are also sufficiently detailed in their 3D looks. Of the voice characterizations, Ejiofor and Demetriou stand out. Johnny Depp gets away with his British accent as Holmes.
SHERLOCK GNOMES’ budget comes just under $60 million compared to GNOMEO AND JULIET’s $36 million. It is still a bargain considering Disney’s expensive animated features. The almost perfect family film!
UNSANE (USA 2018) ***1/2
Directed by Steven Soderbergh
Director Steven Soderbergh alternates between making big budget Hollywood blockbusters like OCEAN’S ELEVEN, ERIN BROCKOVICH and small budget personal movies. UNSANE falls into the latter and shows the director in playful mood. His playful mood translates to genuine scares and twisted humour in UNSANE, the story of a businesswoman institutionalized against her free will.
UNSANE contains touches of Soderbergh’s past films like a female heroine discovering a conspiracy (ERIN BROCKOVICH) and even has a welcome appearance of a cameo from a famous actor from one of his blockbuster films, even if not for more than a minute. The film is updated to a scene similar to what the heroine would face if placed in a Harvey Weinstein like situation.
The heroine of the piece is Sawyer Valentini (Claire Foy), a young, pretty and bright but troubled businesswoman. She begins to find out that her past is catching up to her when she encounters a stalker. To ensure her safety, Sawyer signs up for a support group that helps people tackle stalking problems. She also moves to a different city leaving her mother and friends behind, leading an excluded life that would likely bring her paranoia. She gets help from a stalking support group. Unfortunately, Sawyer finds out that she has involuntarily placed herself in a mental institution with strict rules that there should be no contact with the outside world. The message here is to be careful what you sign. Never sign what you have not read! Now, Sawyer is alone and trapped against her will.
According to the film’s ad, Sawyer must fight her own demons within the twisted asylum as the visions of her stalker begin to take over.
There are are two main questions posed in the film’s premise:
what the reason is for her to be institutionalized against her own free will
whether she is imagining the stalker now or is it the real thing
To avoid any spoilers, the answers will not be revealed in this review, safe to say that they are revealed to the audience quite early in the film. Nevertheless, director Soderbergh devises other means to scare his audience. And quite effectively too. One is the placement of another scary, mental patient in the bed next to Sawyer. Olivia (Juno Temple) is not all there and carries a sharp object which she threatens Sawyer with. Her mother (Amy Irving) inadvertently lets Sawyer’s stalker into her apartment as he poses to be the maintenance man. (Message: Never let strangers with no identification into you home.” The element of audience anticipation is cleverly evoked.
The film has a few flaws. The monologue that Sawyer delivers to her tormentor that results in his breaking down garnered a few laughs in what was supposed to be a dead serious segment. UNSANE contains a few ultra-violent scenes reminiscent of another kidnapping film, Stephen King’s MISERY.
Coming out of the film, I heard a member of the public complain that she had watched a dissatisfying movie. There is nothing dissatisfying about this movie. Great premise, apt performances and scary atmosphere - no complaints in these departments! UNSANE is a genuinely scary, well executed movie that brings closure to all the issues tendered. What she saw was a less commercialized movie she and many are not used to.