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This Week's Film Reviews (Apr 6, 2018)

05 Apr 2018

Best Film playing is ISLE OF DOGS that opened last week.

 

BEST FILMS PLAYING:

 

 

Best Animation:

ISLE OF DOGS

 

Best Action:

RED SPARROW

 

Best Documentary:
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:

 

ALLURE (A WORTHY COMPANION) (Canada 2017) **
Directed by Carlos and Jason Sanchez

 

ALLURE is the new title of the film A WORTHY COMPANION which premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival last year, a title more uplifting given its sombre subject matter.

Montreal-based fine arts photographers Carlos and Jason Sanchez’s debut (written and directorial) feature is a hard psychological thriller which centres on Laura (Evan Rachel Wood), a thirty-year-old woman, troubled by her past and struggling with a dysfunctional relationship with her father, seeking sexual and emotional fulfillment through a series of failed relationships.  However, her life changes when she befriends and convinces an unhappy sixteen-year-old girl, Eva (Julia Sarah Stone) to run away to her house, under the guise of a confidante who wants to help.   Although the arrangement initially works, it soon becomes clear that for the young girl to stay and continue satisfying her needs, the older woman will have to employ immoral tactics. Manipulation, denial and co-dependency fuel what ultimately becomes a fractured dynamic that can only sustain itself for so long.  Laura also begins sexual advances towards Eva.

But Laura begins getting really obsessive and prevents Eva from leaving the house.  The relationship turns out to be something like the Stockholm Syndrome.  Apparently, though no details are given, Laura has had the same type of ‘stalking’ problems before, as her dad, who employs her mentions in the film.  The film is both disturbing and engaging though onot always likeable.  Both actresses Wood and Stone (who looks a-like a very young Catherine Frot, the French actress) bring compassion to their roles and show their need for normalcy.  Unfortunately, as can be seen in the film, this normalcy is not easily to come about and the state of affairs come about from their own personal behavioural flaws. 

The film’ setting is left vague.  Though the wrier/directors are Montrealers, the characters speak fluent English and there is no trace of French.  The neighbourhood does look like a typical Montreal neighbourhood though there are no signs in French.  The film begins in the fall (judging from the colour of the leaves on the trees) and ends in winter (with snow seen on the ground).  It is a school term but nowhere in he film is Eva’s school mentioned.  Eva’s schooling is conveniently left out in the story.  Or any of her friends or acquaintances.  Does Eva not own a cell phone?

The film suffers from an open ended ending, which for a film like this, one expects some satisfactory closure though one would to be surprised that there isn’t one.

ALLURE ends up an ok made, very nasty movie about nasty people dealing with nastiness.  The film began with dialogue like: “Fucking faggot!”  But one would think that this gay slant nastiness could have been down away with.

Trailer: http://www.eonefilmsmedia.ca/FileBank/Video/2018/91453-Allure%20-%20Canadian%20Domestic%20Trailer%20-%20Theatrical%20-%20Coming%20Soon.mp4

BLOCKERS (USA 2018) **

Directed by Kay Cannon 

The title and film poster are a reference to cock blocking (the rooster icon is put on top of the film title BLOCKERS in the poster).  But the film is just entitled in one word - BLOCKERS.   I first heard of the term cock blocker in London.  The term is referred to as the guy who stands for the one to prevent a good looking gay guy from being picked up by a not-so-good looking guy.  The cock blocker usually says he is the good looking guy’s boyfriend or partner.  In the film the blockers are the parents (2 fathers and a mother) trying their best to prevent their daughters from losing their virginity on Prom night.

Despite what one might think is a premise for lots of high-jinx comedy, the film is surprisingly short of laugh-out loud laughs.  Director Kay Cannon wrote all three of the PITCH PERFECT films and as one can expect, a lot of the humour is physical.  The funniest of these is the ass chugging contest - but the idea is funnier than its execution.

A lot of jokes fall flat.  The running joke of bulked up Mitchell (Michael Cena) getting teary-eyed not only does not cut it, but used way too often.  The FAST AND FURIOUS joke is pitiful.  Adult parents are treated as bumbling idiots while the teens are supposed to be the wise ones who make all the right decisions and have the correct emotions.

But despite the relatively innocent title, the film turns out quite raunchy since it is co-produced by Masters of Mischief, Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg.  But more raunchy than funny, unfortunately.  Example are the naked sex scenes and the raunchy sex experiments of Mitchell’s ex and new boyfriend that are not that funny, not even the squeezing of Hunter’s balls.   More laughs are generated from the sly comments and smirk of one of the daughter’s dates, Connor (newcomer Miles Robbins). The film also suffers from having to go through the same incident three times, since there are three daughters and three parents.  Mitchell finds Kayla (Geraldine Viswanathan) having sex and has to deal with it.  Then, the audience has through a similar tiresome routine with the other two.

The tired script also goes through cliched territory of mother missing the daughter going away for college more than daughter missing the mother. 

Of the three parents, Hunter, played by Ike Barinholtz (he was the loud laughing clown in NEIGHBOURS 2) comes through as the funniest.  Reason is that he is the wildest card in the pack and given more free reign to do crazy things.  Leslie Mann could have been funnier, but not given much to do but to complain and worry.

The film most boring parts are the ones with the three daughters bonding.  One also wonders why their dates at the prom did not abandon them as they talk to each other more than to their dates.  There are a few, genuinely funny moments like the Korean student’s break dancing that always ends in disaster.  But these are few and far between.

The film aims at being politically current by having mixed couples like Mitchell and his wife and ex-wife with one of the daughters turning out to be gay.  But the comedy disappoints.

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uMDVa4yoCWw

 

CHAPPAQUIDDICK (USA 2017) ***
Directed by John Curran

CHAPPAQUIDDICK is a story not many non-Americans are familiar with.  If this is not a story that needs be told, and if it is not an interesting one, it is one that questions the right thing that human beings should do.  The story has also been given a TV movie treatment a few years back, only now a full feature treatment.

A story that deals with a tragedy and with a character that is a coward relying on others to cover up his bad deeds is hardly material Hollywood would be interested in.  But the story is told with a twist, where the main character finally redeems himself and proves to others that he is a decent human being.  This character is Senator Ted Kennedy.

The film set in 1964, is also a meticulously crafted period piece with vintage vehicles.  The accident of the car going over the bridge into the water (a repeatedly visited scene) is well executed.

Presidents of the United States have always lied when confronted with catastrophe, Nixon and Clinton being the best examples.  This film questions the integrity of Ted Kennedy, which is correctly chosen to be the subject of the film.  This suspenseful historical drama examines the infamous 1969 incident when Senator Ted Kennedy (Jason Clarke) accidentally drove off a bridge, resulting in the death of campaign worker Mary Jo Kopechne (Kate Mara).  This become known as the Chappaquiddick Incident.  Kopechne was trapped in a car that Senator Ted Kennedy drove, following a night of festivities.  Kennedy patriarch Joe (Bruce Dern), however, always considered his youngest son a ne'er-do-well — and he never let Ted forget it.  The party on Chappaquiddick reunited the "Boiler Room Girls" who had served on Robert Kennedy's 1968 presidential campaign, among them Mary Jo (Kate Mara). Ted whisks Mary Jo away for a reckless moonlight drive that ends in tragedy.  But the more profound malfeasance begins after the drowning — itself dramatized here in harrowing detail — when a battalion of spin doctors gets to work on covering up the incident, using the Apollo 11 moon landing as a distraction.

The acting honours go to veteran actor Bruce Dern as the patriarch of the Kennedy family.  Joe is wheelchair ridden and unable to speak due to a stroke.  His mannerisms and utterings bring a different perspective to the story.  Jason Clarke is also marvellous is the role of Ted Kennedy, evoking our anger in the beginning and later earning the audience’s sympathy even forgiving him.

The film clearly stays clear any material dealing with the possible affair between Kennedy and Mary Jo.  The film also avoids any issue with Kennedy’s wife, she only said to be not feeling well during the events.  Near the end of the film, however, director Curran allows multiple opinions to be voiced through staged interviewees on camera.  One lady accurately says, that not all the facts are revealed so the public never knows the whole story.

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qG-c8DtOm9g

FINAL PORTRAIT (USA/UK 2017) ***
Directed by Stanley Tucci

Actor Stanley Tucci has stepped into the director’s chair only a few times.  As in his previous features, whether as an actor or director, he is recognizable for his dead seriousness in he treats his subjects though his seriousness is often tainted with a wry sense of humour.  FINAL PORTRAIT is the story of the touching and offbeat friendship between American writer and art-lover James Lord (Armie Hammer) and Alberto Giacometti (Geoffrey Rush) with humour emancipating from the subtle relationship as well as Rush’s comical portrayal of the questionable genius.

The story unfolds through Lord’s eyes and revealing unique insight into the beauty, frustration, profundity and sometimes the chaos of the artistic process.   Set in 1964, while on a short trip to Paris, Lord is asked by his friend, Giacometti, to sit for a portrait.  Lord is promised that the sitting will be a short one, maybe two hours or maybe an afternoon.  9 days later….

Lord finally wonders “how much longer can it go on like this?”, as he keeps having to postpone his flight many times back to New York.  The funny thing is that when the portrait is almost finished, Giacimetti will take his large brush with grey paint and paint over the portrait therefore starting again, almost as if from scratch.  This process has been repeated so many times that Lord can predict when the process will occur again.  He finally finishes up the portrait by stopping Giacimetti from restarting again with the big brush and the grey paint.

Tucci is more interested in Giancimetti than in Lord.  Nothing is much known of Lord, of his living in New York or his family.  One scene in a cafe establishes that he is gay and that is about it.  Giacimetti’s life is outlined, however, in greater detail.  The audience sees the troubled relationship with him and his wife, as well as his relationship, a much happier one with his putain, Carolyn.

FINAL PORTRAIT will unfortunately be inevitably compared to the minor masterpiece, the 4-hour long LE BELLE NOISEUSE directed by Jacques Rivette about the relationship between a painter and his model.  FINAL PORTRAIT can nowhere be compared to this film - in fact nor can any film for that matter, so one can understand director Tucci going the easier comedic route.

Rush is pretty good as the temperamental artist while Hammer reprises another gay role after CALL ME BY YOUR NAME.  The film has some nice shots of Hammer in his skimpy swimming trunks.  Rush is an Academy Award Best Actor Winner for his role in the film SHINE.  But he is currently the latest victim under scrutiny for inappropriate (sexual) behaviour.

FINAL PORTRAIT was filmed entirely in France.  The American speaks both English and French while Rush gets away of being totally believable as a Frenchman fluent in French.  The film is shot in both English and French with English subtitles.

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=e3iFt_lOxIw\

 

 

 

PANDAS (USA 2018) ****
Directed by David Douglas and Drew Fellman

Warner Bros. Studios and IMAX take over Disney Studios duties by providing audiences with a spectacular documentary, complete with story about the most adorable animal in the world - PANDAS.

PANDAS is an IMAX original movie.  PANDAS is not a film comprised of short clips but one that contains a story with a solid narrative set in both Sichuan, China and New England, United States.

The story revolves around a Panda called Qian Qian.  She is the star.  And the audience will surely love her.  When the film opens, the narrative (voiced by Kristen Bell) informs of the diminishing number of pandas in the wild - less than two thousand.  Owing to humans destroying their natural habitat, they are forced further and further higher up the mountains in northern China.  It would have been miraculous if the film could have captured shots of wild Pandas.  The film then rests on Pandas born in captivity.  Qian Qian is one such panda.  The goal is to prepare captive born pandas for survival in the wild and let them increase the Panda population.  Qian Qian is chosen.  The film follows her training from cub to young adult.  The heroes of the story are the human being Panda experts Wen Lei Bu, Jacob Owens and Rong Hou who are involved in the training.   They also enlist the help of a New England black bear expert, Ben Kilham to train Qian Qian.  When Qian Qian is released into the wild in the mountains of Sichuan, a collar is put around her neck to monitor her movements and to know when she might be in distress.  This is the Panda story.

The film contains many candid shots.  The best of these is the one in the panda facility where human beings clad in medical outfit feed the 4 baby panda cubs with baby milk bottles.  One other is the panda star, Qian Qian injured up stuck in the tree.

Here are a few reasons to see PANDAS:

the pandas especially the baby cubs are cute beyond comparison and this is the only way to be able to see them play and up close.  (I went to the Toronto Zoo to see the pandas and the new cub.  The public was not allowed to see the cub as it was still too fragile  and the adult panda was too far in the pen to be observed clearly.)

the film is in glorious IMAX

the film provides a good solid story of pandas

the film is a feel good movie celebrating the bond between animals and human beings.  It is inspirational to see human beings devote themselves for the good of the animal Kingdom

a good perspective is given on the life of Pandas

stunning shots of the natural beauty and landscape of northern China

The doc is quite short with a running time of 50 minutes or so.  It is a question of quality vs. quantity.  PANDAS come highly recommended!

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=r3eaGCk2Acs

 

RUSSIAN DOLL (USA 2016) ***
Directed by Ed Gaffney

RUSSIAN DOLL begins with three excellent segments.  The first is the rehearsal of a play called RUSSIAN DOLL which ends with a character being shot.  The audience is fooled to think that was transpires on screen is real till the camera pulls back to reveal the audience watching the stage play.  The other is the cop, Viola Ames (Melanie Brockman Gaffney) who holds her own after being hassled in a redneck bar.  The third is the attack and abduction of a woman calling 911 to report a murder.

RUSSIAN DOLL has a solid story with a play within a film that has potential for more mysterious goings-on.   A Russian doll can be opened to reveal another smaller one which again can be opened to real yet another until the last one.  The characters in the story are not what they seem.  They have hidden layers which in most cases reveal a more sinister person.  The main lead is cop Viola Ames who appears tough on the outside, but is still mourning the death of her wife, constantly having nightmares every night.

The story begins when a young woman, Dalene (Aly Trasher) discovers a murder plot, and calls 911. But seconds into the call, she is attacked and abducted. The police investigation into the woman's disappearance leads them to interrogate the cast and crew of a play called 'The Russian Doll.'   What the cops don't know is that like a Russian doll, one of the people they question is a killer hiding in plain sight, preparing to avenge a thirty-year-old crime by murdering a cast member on opening night.   This fact is revealed after the first half of the film.  And what they also do not know is that if they do not act quickly, the kidnapped woman will die, too.  Running throughout the movie is a subplot focused on the lead detective, Viola Ames. Viola's wife died two years earlier, and Viola has never really recovered.  During her investigation, Viola meets a beautiful young lesbian named Faith.   The story ties the subplot to the main one by having Faith contribute a clue to the investigation.  One way of getting thought to a cop or detective is to provide a relevant clue.  As a result, Viola is strongly attracted to Faith, which allows the film to have a double happy ending.

The film also contains a beautiful original song “Memories of You” sung by a street singer, Travis as Viola tips him too much for singing her favourite song, bringing her back good memories of her passed way lover.

The film described appropriately as a sexy lesbian crime thriller lives to its catch phrase description.  It also accepts the lead character’s sexual orientation as a given.  Viola’s mother (Kristine Sutherland) fixes her daughter up with a dinner date with Faith (Marem Hassler).  Both mothers are present during the dinner and it could very well be a straight dinner date fix-up as a gay one.  The sexual orientation is not given any issue and taken as an accepted given, a sign of good progress that this film demonstrates.  This is in contrast to the soon to be released ALLURE where the writer/directors have to resort to unacceptable offensive dialogue like “fucking faggot” to make a point.

RUSSIAN DOLL is a satisfying, well made thriller, a compelling watch from start to end. 

A QUIET PLACE (USA 2018) ***1/2

Directed by John Krasinski

A QUIET PLACE is actor John Krasinki’s third directorial effort, a horror film that premiered at the South by Southwest film festival.  Krasinski also co-write the script with Bryan Woods and Scott Beck based on their story.  His first two films (THE HOLLARS, BREIF INTERVIEWS WITH HIDEOUS MEN) were, to put it mildly, nothing to write home about .  A QUIET PLACE also stars Krasinki’s wife, Emily Blunt, which is a clear signal to stay away.  But DON’T.  A QUIET PLACE is his assured directorial piece that would put many horror directors to shame.  It is scary, suspenseful and even had the audience (at the promo I attended) cheering at the end.  These are signs of a good horror film, and the film has been getting rave reviews since its premiere.

The poster looks like David Cronenberg’s RABID.  A woman, bloodied lies in a bath tub.  The scene occurs in the middle of the film when Evelyn (Blunt) has to deliver a new born in silence while the monster attracted to sound lurks around the house.

The script concentrates on scary set-ups but omits details and history of the setting.  Nothing is mentioned on how the situation came about.  What brought about the destruction of the human race?  Where did these supposedly deaf creatures come from?  What is the reason the Abbott family is the only one that survived?  But one can argue that if the film works in its aim at scaring, no one should question these omissions in plot.  As Hitchcock as proven in many of his films, the same holds true in A QUIET PLACE.

The placement of an expecting mother having to give birth in silence for fear of monsters attracted to noise is nothing short of brilliant.  The delivery scene kept the audience at the edge of their seats, evident as I looked around the theatre during the segment.

A word of warning!  This film requires a very silent audience, so pick a seat away from others.  The screening I attended had a person bring his own snacks, and one could hear him crackling his packages open and cans of pop.  Really annoying.  The theatre should ban popcorn and snacks for the screening of this film.

The special effects and sound are impressive.  The monster with its big ears and dripping saliva moving around to the sound of a creaking door is sufficiently menacing.

It is well to note that Millicent Simmonds (Todd Hayne’s WONDERSTRUCK) who plays Regan the deaf daughter is deaf in real life.  Krasinksi did not want a non-deaf actress pretending to be deaf.  Most important is the fact that a deaf actress would help his knowledge and understanding of the situations tenfold.  Simmonds who communicates in American Sign Language in the film to avoid sound taught the actors ASL during the filming.  The authenticity comes through in the film.

A QUIET PLACE achieves what it aims at, a solid horror film with a message of strong family values that ends up satisfying entertainment for all. 

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=p9wE8dyzEJE

RUSSIAN DOLL (USA 2016) ***
Directed by Ed Gaffney

RUSSIAN DOLL begins with three excellent segments.  The first is the rehearsal of a play called RUSSIAN DOLL which ends with a character being shot.  The audience is fooled to think that was transpires on screen is real till the camera pulls back to reveal the audience watching the stage play.  The other is the cop, Viola Ames (Melanie Brockman Gaffney) who holds her own after being hassled in a redneck bar.  The third is the attack and abduction of a woman calling 911 to report a murder.

RUSSIAN DOLL has a solid story with a play within a film that has potential for more mysterious goings-on.   A Russian doll can be opened to reveal another smaller one which again can be opened to real yet another until the last one.  The characters in the story are not what they seem.  They have hidden layers which in most cases reveal a more sinister person.  The main lead is cop Viola Ames who appears tough on the outside, but is still mourning the death of her wife, constantly having nightmares every night.

The story begins when a young woman, Dalene (Aly Trasher) discovers a murder plot, and calls 911. But seconds into the call, she is attacked and abducted. The police investigation into the woman's disappearance leads them to interrogate the cast and crew of a play called 'The Russian Doll.'   What the cops don't know is that like a Russian doll, one of the people they question is a killer hiding in plain sight, preparing to avenge a thirty-year-old crime by murdering a cast member on opening night.   This fact is revealed after the first half of the film.  And what they also do not know is that if they do not act quickly, the kidnapped woman will die, too.  Running throughout the movie is a subplot focused on the lead detective, Viola Ames. Viola's wife died two years earlier, and Viola has never really recovered.  During her investigation, Viola meets a beautiful young lesbian named Faith.   The story ties the subplot to the main one by having Faith contribute a clue to the investigation.  One way of getting thought to a cop or detective is to provide a relevant clue.  As a result, Viola is strongly attracted to Faith, which allows the film to have a double happy ending.

The film also contains a beautiful original song “Memories of You” sung by a street singer, Travis as Viola tips him too much for singing her favourite song, bringing her back good memories of her passed way lover.

The film described appropriately as a sexy lesbian crime thriller lives to its catch phrase description.  It also accepts the lead character’s sexual orientation as a given.  Viola’s mother (Kristine Sutherland) fixes her daughter up with a dinner date with Faith (Marem Hassler).  Both mothers are present during the dinner and it could very well be a straight dinner date fix-up as a gay one.  The sexual orientation is not given any issue and taken as an accepted given, a sign of good progress that this film demonstrates.  This is in contrast to the soon to be released ALLURE where the writer/directors have to resort to unacceptable offensive dialogue like “fucking faggot” to make a point.

RUSSIAN DOLL is a satisfying, well made thriller, a compelling watch from start to end.    It releases on April 17th, 2018 worldwide on DVD & VOD via Wolfe. 

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4WnBM8CABlU

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4WnBM8CABlU

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