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This Week's Film Reviews (Feb 30, 2018)

29 Mar 2018

Best Film playing is ISLE OF DOGS that opened last week.  Spielberg's READY PLAYER ONE also opens.

 

BEST FILMS PLAYING:

 

 

Best Animation:

ISLE OF DOGS

 

Best Action:

RED SPARROW

Best Documenatry:

THE CHINA HUSTLE

Best Foreign: 

C’EST LA VIE (LE SENS de la FETE)

 

Best Period:

PHANTOM THREAD

 

Best Sci-fi

THE SHAPE OF WATER

 

Best Drama:

THOROUGHBREDS

 

 

 

FILM REVIEWS:

 

C’EST LA VIE (LE SENS DE LA FETE) (France 2017) ***

Directed by Olivier Nakache and Eric Toledano 

Directors Olivier Nakache and Eric Toledano can best be remembered for their bubbly comedy LES UNTOUCHABLES, which ended up one of the mot successful of French comedies. 

The target this time is an extravagant wedding at a chateau where all the servers have (and forced to wear) valet costumes including white wigs.  The story is told from the point of view of the the wedding caterer manager, Max (Jean Pierre Bacri) a battle-weary veteran of the wedding-planning racket.  He is clearly a working class Frenchman who works in an upper-class environment.  This is evident in the film’s opening sequence where he is clearly perturbed at a couple cutting corners to save cost for their wedding in downtown Paris.  He freaks out at them before the film settles on his current gig.

Max has been running his catering company for 30 years, and beginning to grow tired. While planning a large wedding for clients Pierre and Helena, a series of mishaps upends a very tight schedule, and every instant of happiness and emotion could veer into disaster and chaos. From the preparations to daybreak, the audience gets a behind-the-scenes look at a wedding party through the eyes of the people working the event.

Max initially arrives to find everything in disarray.  He is short of staff and his employees are fighting.  This gig turns out to be a hell of a fête, involving stuffy period costumes for the caterers, a vain, hyper-sensitive singer who thinks he's a Gallic James Brown (Gilles Lellouche), and the morose, micromanaging groom, Pierre (Benjamin Lavernhe) determined to make Max's night as miserable as possible.  The script includes an assortment of working class workers totally out of place in a wedding of higher society.

When it rains, it pours, as James (aka DJ Fab) utters at one point in the film.  The electricity goes out, the guests get food poisoning and the groom appears with a list of personal demands, least of which is his very, very long prepared speech.  “Sober, chic and elegant is how I want my music,” says the groom to the loud and crass James.

Actor Bacri (THE TASTE OF OTHERS), according to the press notes, helped the directors in the script, having experience in that field.

Besides wedding ceremony problems, personal problems arise.  Max’s personal life  comes into chaos as Joisette (Canadian director Xavier Dolan regular Suzanne Clément), seems to have written him off, coolly going about her professional duties while openly flirting with a much younger server.  The bride recognizes a waiter as a past fling.  The wedding photographer’s son and father relationship is put to the test.  This is an ensemble work, which works as there are lots of humour with a touch of social comment.

For LE SENS DE LA FETE, the comedic set-ups are funny enough, most of them working and keeping the audience happy with laugh-out loud humour.  This is French comedy as the French can do best.  And it is a matter of time Hollywood will attempt a disastrous remake.

C’EST LA VIE! which was selected at the Closing Night Gala for the 2017 Toronto International Film Festival was named in ten categories, including Best Film, at the 43rd César Ceremony, the French’s equivalent to the Oscars.  This is my second viewing of the comedy and the laughs still bring tears to my eyes.  Very funny and very entertaining.

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=e3Kzarm0hRM

 

THE CHINA HUSTLE (USA 2017) ***1/2

Directed by Jed Rothstein

 

You can never trust the Chinese.  I am allowed to say that since I am Chinese.  The Chinese are all about money and THE CHINA HUSTLE, a doc about crooked Chinese emphasizes the point.  The Chinese have been exposed to many unethical money tactics.  The last time major information like this was dispersed was the doc where the target was Chinese companies operating under international names like Nokia.  In that documentary, the Chinese workers from the farms were shown abused.  They would work long hours staying at the company’s quarters at minimum pay under unbelievably bad conditions, while not allowed to visit home till after two years working in the company.  The companies would have 3 sets of accounting, one for the international owners, one for the Chinese government and the other, the real one for themselves.  Every factory has to so the same in order to survive.  That said, THE CHINA HUSTLE reveals more crooked practices.

Produced by Alex Gibney who directed ENRON: THE SMARTEST GUYS IN THE ROOM about the last 2008 stock market crash, THE CHINA HUSTLE could be considered a sequel as well as warning to all stock traders.  As in his previous film, THE CHINA HUSTLE is an unsettling and eye-opening Wall Street horror story, though this time the target being the Chinese companies listed on  the American stock market.   The film opens with the main subject, whistleblower Dan David confessing: "There are no good guys in this story, including me.”   After the 2008 stock market crash, David — like almost everyone else in finance — was looking for ways to make big gains quickly. China became an appealing target. Hundreds of Chinese companies entered the US stock market through reverse takeovers with American companies. They boasted tremendous growth, had little oversight, and created a stock-market feeding frenzy. It seemed too good to be true and it was.  The film follows the same pattern as EVRON, interviewing the whistleblowers, with the subject of fraudulence revealed and angering the audience to boiling point.  Again, he has on camera, the poor unsuspecting investors, usually the retirees who have lost all if not a fair portion of their hard earned savings. 

The camera follows the filmmakers to China where there are huge but empty factories.  The lights are on at night and the only employees would be the security people at the gate preventing outsides from entering.  The factories make nothing but money invested on paper that will increase in value, hopefully.  Smart (and manipulative) stock people, would expose these companies forcing their stock price to drop, but not before selling short so that they benefit from the fall in stock price.

THE CHINA HUSTLE might not be as interesting to those who do not dabble in the stock market, but it is still general knowledge that is needs to be known.

The film is not as tight or strong as ENRON, bout it is till an engaging informative documentary.  All investors should put this doc down as a must-see!

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=55892jT06aI

 

 

FOURPLAY (USA 2018) **
Directed by Dean Ronalds

Tom and Anna. Joseph and Susan.  These four people (portrayed by Bryan Greenberg, Tammy Blanchard, Dominic Fumusa and Emanuela Galliussi, in alphabetical order), two couples meet for a Sunday Brunch drinking session to celebrate Tom’s business success.  As the drinks continue, the party spirals downwards to rock bottom.

The film feels at times too much of a set up.  The first instance this can be observed is at the start of the film when the couple, when kissing accidentally breaks the grandmother’s vase that has been there for generations.  If the vase was this valuable, why would they leave it in such a vulnerable place.  Another is the arm wrestling.  The clearly strongest guy unbelievably loses his two matches.

A few glaring dialogue corrections.  It is not the plug but outlet or socket that does not work.  On the positive side, the dialogue contains a lot of current issues.  Issues such as negativity vs. positivity, eating meatless, sexual appropriateness and male chauvinism come into play.  The males are clearly meant to display male chauvinism here that the wives will surely rebuke.  The designated psychic’s dialogue is terribly annoying and corny.  “Change the impossible to - I M possible.”  The film often turns out more as a contest between male vs. female, rather than one about couples.

One wonders the reason for the film to be shot in black and white.  It could be deliberate to evoke the black and white 2 couple film of Edward Albee’s play, WHO’S AFRAID OF VIRGINIA WOOLF? starring Elizabeth Taylor, Richard Burton, Sandy Dennis and George Segal with the identical premise of two quarrelling couples drunk at a house party with the result of skeletons jumping out of the closet. 

One missing ingredient at the party is a dance interlude.  WHO’S AFRAID OF VIRGINIA WOOLF? had the famous Sandy Dennis scene: I dance like the Wind, the segment that  likely won her the Oscar.

“Live in the present.  That is the only gift we have,”  is the message given at one point.  “Then that is a pretty shitty gift,” comes the answer.  Would anyone want to be present at this party?

The first twist in the plot in the form of a skeleton in the closet arriving right at the film’s one hour mark.  It is a good one that lifts the film out of declining interest.  10 minutes comes another twist.  This one, however does not work and turns the film into a shouting math among the 4 - not to mention the credibility now of the story.  The credibility of the third turn in the plot is not even worth mentioning.  The film also suffers from a suitable ending.  Director Ronalds opts for the camera panning the sky outside the apartment.

“We are finally cleansed.  We should be happy.  We could start from the beginning.” says the wannabe psychic at the end of the movie.  If only the audience feels the same way about the movie.  FOURPlAY ends up a pauper’s version of WHO’S AFRAID OF VIRGINIA WOOLF?, and a party no one would like to be at or witness.

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=c_c97OYmlxA

 

JOURNEY’S END (UK 2017) ****
Directed by Saul Debbie

 

JOURNEY’S END about soldiers (Officers and enlisted men) during an offensive in the trenches during the First World War is a story that is already too familiar to us.  Still, it is a story that needs repeating, to remind the world of the futility of war and that orders coming down from the top brass would ultimately be executed often to the death by the men of lower ranks, who has loved ones and families back home.  JOURNEY’S END is based on the 1928 play and filmed two years later by James Whale which starred Sir Lawrence Olivier as Cpt. Stanhope now played brilliantly convincingly by Sam Catlin.  The updated screenplay be Simon Reade is by no means flawless, (words like a person needing to be sorted’. the word never used at that time; an offbeat change of scenery back to England for the reading of a letter) but serves the fi\ilm’s purpose.

The film begins like any war film.  There is news of the war and word of fighting in France against the Germans.  Things get real only when the audience can put a face to the goings-on.  The face in this case belongs to green 2LT Laleigh (Asa Butterfeld) who wishes to join the battalion of his old school mate Cpt Stanhope who used to be his house monitor and good friend of him and his sister.   Stanhope is found to be changed due to the strain of war.  In the trenches are Lta Osborne (Paul Bettany)  veteran who is the most stable of the lot and apparently the one who keeps everything together.   

When the men are ordered to attack the Germans in two days time in an effort that seems pointless, casualties increase and things come to a boil in this realities tale of men caught in the war apparently to fight in what they believe for their country. It is made clear at one point, that the assault is to take place at 5 pm so that the higher ups can discuss the results over dinner.

Despite the film’s seriousness in tone, Reade’s script is not devoid of needed humour, which is provided by stiff faced Toby Jones as Mason, the men’s cook.  If not describing his cutlets as new in shape or the yellowness of the soup to entice the blandness of his meals, the on running jokes on the meals are nothing short of hilarious.

The narrow trenches emphasizes the claustrophobia of the location complete with mud rats though only one is shown) and worms oozing out from the mud during a meal.  To Dibb’s and the production designer’s credit, the film never feels like a play.

Though one might wonder at the film’s aim, it is clear that Dibb’s message is that one is never to forget that human beings are the ones fighting the war, and there are casualties on both sides as the end credits remind both sides of the millions that have died in WWI.

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yPX-kajacyc

 

MAKER OF MONSTERS: THE EXTRAORDINARY LIFE OF BEAU DICK

(Canada 2016) ***

Directed by Natalie Boll and La'Tiesha Fazakas

Beau Dick is a famed artist, activist, mask carver and musician.  He has teaching residency at the University of British Columbia.  He is also native Canadian, which is the reason mainstream Americans have never heard of him.  The emblem of a truly great artist is the ability to give form to the intangible.  Tapping into the collective memory of his people and breathing new life into an age-old tradition, Beau Dick is one such artist.

The film begins with a beautiful shot of Alert Bay.  The Village of Alert Bay is a municipality on beautiful Cormorant Island, northeast of Vancouver Island.  It is the home town of Beau Dick.  There are many stunning shots of British Columbia interspersed throughout the film, the film likely being positive incentive for B.C. tourism.  The film goes on to detail the history of the man and his ancestors before he became famous.

The question is why anyone would be interested in Beau Dick.  Or why anyone would want to spend 90 minutes learning about his life.  The reason is simply that the man is inspirational.  What he has done for his culture and people is remarkable and there are major lessons to be learnt from Beau Dick.

The film takes time to unfold.  A bit of patience is needed but the waiting pays off.  Directors Boll and Fazakas realize that it takes time to establish the roots behind Dick’s actions, especially the political marches.  One political march that took place stretched all the way from B.C. to Ottawa which culminated with the breaking of a copper body plate.  It sounds silly but it is a native tradition that had not been practised for ages.

Among those interviewed are his two daughters from his ex-wife and his ex-wife herself.  A biologist studying the humpback whales in Victoria is yet another who gives her input on the importance of the environment as Dick fights for the environment as well.  She provides insight on wild and farmed salmon fishing, which is new to me.  One should be able to tell when eating wild vs. farmed salmon from the colour and texture of the fillets.

One of the directors, Fazakas is an art gallery owner herself.  She turns the camera on herself as she describes Beau Dick. praising him for the emotion in his work.

Beau Dick has had bad days in his life.  He had been on the wagon for 10 years after succumbing to alcohol for a full twenty years.  He was also addicted to crack cocaine before getting his life straight.  The film has him confessing about his addiction but never comes back to it.  Directors Boll and Fazakas stress his positive contributions to his people and Canada.

The film will be playing initially two shows, one on March 29th and one on April 1st in Cineplex theatres (markets below) across Canada, then be available digitally nationally on March 30th.

Trailer: https://vimeo.com/251359571

MARY GOES ROUND (Canada 2017) ***
Directed by Molly McGlynn

 

MARY GOES ROUND is the story of Mary.

Mary (Aya Cash) is what one might called a loser.  Her family split up when she was a child and, after her mother died, she was left alone, uninterested in (and maybe incapable of ) reconnecting with her father, Walt (John Ralton). She drinks to excess, crashes a car, loses her boyfriend and suspended from her job.  Her life goes round, nowhere.  Hailing from Toronto, she decides to leave, but not for the better as she discovers.  Despite the negativity facing Mary, the film turns out to be quite upbeat, credit going to writer-director Molly McGlynn who allows her poor heroine a path of redemption.

Mary is a substance abuse counsellor who ironically gets arrested for a DUI.  When she returns to her hometown of Niagara Falls, she learns that her estranged father is dying of cancer and wants her to form a bond with her teenaged half-sister Robyn (Sara Waisglass) that she’s never met.  All this might sound like boring family drama but writer-director Molly McGlynn knows how to liven up the festivities.  Yes, Robyn is as much a shit disturber as Mary.  Mary also has money problems.  She has to pay her lawyer.  She is being charged for drunken driving and to make matters worse, has to appear in court.

McGlynn's film benefits from her unique spirited style, complemented by the film’s main character, Mary.  Humorous is the way Mary tries to control her drinking but is incapable of it.  Her shenanigans, getting drunk in a bar, getting laid, having sex with strangers and often getting sick are done with a wry sense of humour instead of being done dead seriously.

The film is not without sentiment.  McGlynn includes a touching moment when the father reminds Mary when she was kind as a child when he and to pull her from a bum because she was going to give him her allowance to allow the bum to save to buy a house.

The only friend Mary has in Niagara is black.  When she shows up at the door to drive the father to the hospital, his look of surprise is in itself a surprise.  A sly message of acceptance is included in the story.

The best scene in the film is the one when Mary absolutely loses it and tells off her dad - while he is in hospital.   Then she goes off to tell her black friend off, who ends up telling Mary off.  Actress Aya Cash proves her acting chops in these two scenes.  This is the reason McGlynn’s film works.  She keeps the film dramatic, smart and funny throughout.  Mary can be right, then wrong - strong then vulnerable in the next moment.

“Good people do shitty things,”  so says Mary’s boss when questioned why she does not get fired after caught drunken driving.  Mary’s boss has faith in Mary in an awkward meeting that demonstrates faith in the good of human beings.  MARY GOES ROUND is solid Canadian fare that comes with an upbeat message as well.

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

READY PLAYER ONE (USA 2018) ***
Directed by Steven Spielberg

 

At the promo screening of READY PLAYER ONE, the MC who introduced the movie said that if one enjoys gaming, special effects and CGI, this is the movie, and if not…..”  His words are so true, as Steven Spielberg’s latest venture, based on the book of the same name by Ernest Cline is just that - too much going on screen for the average moviegoer to absorb.  Half of the humour and logic are completely lost, but on the other hand, half of what transpires on screen might be appreciated.

The film is set in the future of 2045 in Chicago where people live in what are called ‘the stacks’ as their cramped quarters are stacked one above the other.  The hero of the piece is an orphan, Wade Watts (Sheridan Tye) a youth of 18 who lives with his aunt (Susan Lynch) and her abusive boyfriend.

The is is the story’s premise.  The world is in the grip of many worries: energy crisis, disaster caused by climate change, famine, poverty, war, etc.  In this chaotic world, OASIS is a global virtual reality system ], accessible through head-mounted and haptic devices such as gloves and coveralls.  Originally conceived as a massively multiplayer online role-playing game (MMORPG), it has become over time a true virtual society which all humanity uses as an outlet.  It is a place everyone wants to be in and where everyone gets to be whoever he wants.  The players win coins (shades of bitcoin) but lose everything if they are killed.  Its creator, James Halliday (Mark Rylance, who now appears to be Spielberg’s favourite actor), is one of the richest men in the world.  Immediately after his death, a video is released in which he appears, explaining that he decided to bequeath his huge fortune, 500 billion dollars, and his company, GSS, to the person who will find an easter egg hidden in the OASIS.  The goal is to find three keys scattered in the OASIS and which are the preliminary to the discovery of the egg. 

The villain of the piece is Nolan Sorrento (Ben Mendelsohn) who for the most part wears a suit and tie.  He was Halliday’s partner who wants to own the entire OASIS, though he is not that familiar with all the pop culture that comes with OASIS.  He, comically has someone who does, connected to him via headphones so he can impress whoever he wants that he knows all.  He tries to foil Wade and his gang from finding the three keys.  Yes, there is also romance between wade and Samantha (Olivia Cooke) amidst all going on behind the action.

The search for the 3 keys and the east egg (in a film appropriately timed to be released at Easter) takes our heroes though a journey that includes, of all things, Stanley Kubrick’s horror movie THE SHINING.  Those familiar with the film will be pleased to see the twin girls and the river of blood coming from the two open doors.

The film, despite dwelling on pop culture kitsch has a few sensitive moments - a story of soul to be found in a special effects soulless film.  The film looks stunning with cinematography by Oscar winner, Janusz Kaminski (SCHINDLER’S LIST).  The film costs a huge bundle of millions to make and it shows.  The film astounds as it bores, is soulful as it is soulless, a contradiction in entertainment but nevertheless, a successful failure.

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cSp1dM2Vj48

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