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This Week's Film Reviews (Apr 27, 2018)

26 Apr 2018

AVENGERS INFINITY WARS opens this weekend aiming to make it big at 





Best Animation:



Best Action:



Best Documentary:
(Check out Ht Docs 2018 now playing)


Best Foreign: 



Best Period:



Best Sci-fi



Best Drama:

You Were Never Really Here






Directed by Joe Russo and Anthony Russo

The first of two AVENGERS INFINITY WAR films, this is the most anticipated super action hero movie of the year and most expensive Marvel/Disney film with an estimated budget of $300-$400 million. But much of the filming had been done back to back with its sequel.

The film boasts all the marvel superheroes led by Stark/Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.).  The Avengers combine forces with the GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY, Peter Quill/Star-Lord (Chris Pratt) and gang to fight the most evil of all villains, Thanos (Josh Brolin) who wants to control the Universe.  In order to succeed, he has to possess 5 infinity stones, stones that were formed with the creation of the universe during the Big Bang, whatever sense this makes.  The stones are space, reality, power, should, mind and time.  There is no need to question the names or reason for these elements but the script by Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely takes the story very, very seriously.

The Guardians of the Galaxy have never met the Marvel fighters, so their first meeting is done tongue-in-cheek, resulting in some humour.

There is no messing around with the Marvel superheroes, unlike the mess Warner Bros. created with the D.C. comics i.e. Batman’s identity known to everyone; Superman dying and returning to life.  Comic book and super hero fans should not be disappointed with the treatment of their super heroes in this film.  Almost every Marvel hero is present, the list too long to mention.  Of all, a few appear more (Captain America, Thor, Black Panther, Spiderman, Dr. Strange) than others (White Wolf, Heimdall).  Humour is provided by one-liners and banter resulting from enmity among the Super Heroes, like between Dr. Strange and Iron Man.  Some emotion is provided during the Thanos/daughter confrontation.

For the most expensive Marvel production, the film is stunning to look at and there is no shortage of CGI and special effects.  Needless to say, it is best to pay a bit extra to watch the film in the best viewing environment be it in IMAX or 3-D.

A satisfactory action film always depends on a good villain.  Credit is given to the impressive performance of Josh Brolin who plays Thanos, the intergalactic despot from Titan who longs to collect all of the Infinity Stones in order to impose his will on the Universe.  Thanos is in the most scenes in the film, even more than Iron Man, Dr. Strange or Thor.  Thanos is so powerful that his size towers over all the super heroes.  He does not have to wear armour and his strength and might grows as he acquires more of the infinity stones.

At the press screening, reviewers were reminded to preserve the magic of movie storytelling by not revealing any surprises and plot twists in any coverage.  The film does not have as many as in the STAR WARS films, but there are a few, including some deaths and story surprises.

This film paves the way for the final part of the storm, which judging from this film should be a hit critically and at the box-office.

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6ZfuNTqbHE8



Directed by Iolande Cadrin-Rossignol

This new documentary that celebrates our Planet Earth opens in Toronto with competition from the Hot Docs Film Festival currently on at the same time.  If one wants to take a break from the Hot Docs crowd, this fascinating documentary serves to celebrate, educate and warn human beings of the delicate nature of the planet.  LA TERRE VUE DU COEUR (EARTH: SEEN FROM THE HEART) is a French documentary from Quebec subtitled in English with narration by well-respected scientists.

Having lived for 40 years on an old farm in northern Burgundy, Quebec astrophysicist Dr. Hubert Reeves has observed the deterioration of nature around his property.  Faced with this threat to the Earth's ecosystem, the scientist shares his concern in regards to the imminent possibility of a sixth extinction of animal and plant species on the planet.  Reeves and French sociologist Dr. Frédéric Lenoir team up with a variety of experts in various fields to propose possible solutions to stop the overexploitation of natural resources and the erosion of biodiversity.

The doc begins like a science lesson.  Water is the source of life, the audience is reminded, and it comes from depleted stars.  How water came to Planet Earth is a subject of scientific debate  Nevertheless, there is life.  The theme of water is kept throughout the film, coming back to the importance of water regardless of the current topic.

The biggest enemy to EARTH is oil, which director Cadrin-Rossignol attacks fiercely.  The unethical drilling of oil without any permission by TransCan in the St. Lawrence estuary is enough to infuriate anyone.  The drilling is eventually halted after the company is brought to court by the locals protesting the Harper Government and the company.

The film in its attempt to be exhaustive covers too many issues on the health of the earth.  Issues covered include global warming, the melting of he icebergs and opening of the NorthWest Passage, death of corals in the oceans (coral bleaching), permaculture, deepwater illumination,  overfishing, just to name a few.  One needs to learn more on each of the subjects put forward.  For example, Jeff Orlowski’s documentary CHASING CORAL would be a good film to learn more about coral bleaching.

As far as educational values go, the film excels.  There are many issues examined here that audiences will likely be unaware of.  The most important thing is that there is hope for the planet, hope in the form of the tireless activists that volunteer their time and money for an urgent course.  The film ends on a high note that cities are beginning to do their part.  Rosemont in Quebec are widening pavements for planting trees and shrubs while roofs in the neighbourhood will all eventually be changed to white to reflect heat to keep the neighbourhood cooler.  When one turns on the tap in NYC, the water that come out is filtered by natural means.

Rossignol’s doc also talks about the importance of animals.  Donkeys are monkeys are mentioned with some esteem.  Hunting is also brought into perspective.  It is explained hat animals eat others in order to survive and it is part of the cycle of life.  When wolves were eliminated from the American National Parks, the elk population expanded too fast which resulted in vegetation eaten too quickly.  Nature was rebalanced when wolves were brought back into the equation.

Director Rossignol has recruited a wide range of talents from many disciples to narrate his feature and to give it clout.  Among them are a cinematographer, a botanist, a conservationist, an entomologist, a biologist, an astrologist, an environmentalist and even a philosopher.

In the film, a narrator mentions that a person could be remembered as a party person or someone who makes a difference to the planet.  Oddly enough, this also points the finger at people going to see films like A SWINGER’S WEEKEND which also opens this week or this one about the planet.  The film opens coinciding with the celebration of EARTH Month. 

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sOpOaxZBeww&feature=youtu.be

KINGS (France/Belgium 2017) **

Directed by Deniz Gamze Ergüven

The first thing striking this film is that it is a French-Belgium co-production with a setting of racial tension following the 1992 riots in Los Angeles of the United States.  The riots are the result of the acquittal of the 4 policeman accused of the beating of black youth Rodney King.   Director Deniz Gamze Ergüven is a Turkish born French.  A foreigner tackling a sensitive American issue spells trouble.  True enough!  The film has, at the time of writing, a 0% rating on Rotten Tomatoes, based on 8 reviews.  The film contains too many instances of sensationalization and desperation with the overall feel that director Ergüven seems insecure and has too much to prove with her story.

But she is already an accomplished director with her debut film, MUSTANG nominated for the Best Foreign Film Academy Award.  This is quite the achievement, that allowed her the financial backing to make this film.  Not ono that, bit she is able to cast two stars Halle Berry and Daniel Craig in the title roles.  It is also her original script which is made even more current with a romance between a mixed couple.

The film’s opening scene is already troublesome.  A young black woman puts a jug of orange juice at an Asian Convenience Store into her coat only to be suspected for theft by the store owner who ends up shooting the black woman after being punched in the face by her.   Though this is a true incident that occurred, it downplays the Rodney King incident.  Another troublesome part involves black kids shoplifting and then celebrating their spoils, which basically translates to a film that condones stealing.  There is one good segment in which a cop has to handle one suspect in a car and two youths who has entered his cop car.  “God, I hate this job!” the cop screams.  This is a good view from the side of the cops, for a change, illustrating that they too, have problems when dealing with crime in a black neighbourhood. 

The film is largely spoiled by Halle Berry in what must be the worst casting of an actress in a role not to mention her bad acting.  She overdoes her angelic Mother Teresa role of taking troubled kids into her home.  Her perfect ‘model’ look and perfect hair do not help the credibility of her role either.  The next worst thing is the casting of James Bond Daniel Craig as the reclusive neighbour next time. And horror or horrors!  The two have a romantic interlude.

The females in the film often scream and shout, appearing like spoilt children getting into a fit for not being bale to get what they want.  They also resort to foul language that is so unbecoming of a lady.  All this seems ok and fine since the director has a thing about women issues.  Yet, the audience is supposed to respect such behaviour.

The result is an overdone, over preachy film that gets tedious and terribly annoying.

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

THE RIDER (USA 2017) ***1/2

Directed by Chloe Zhao

The film’s title THE RIDER tells it all - what Chinese director Chloe Zhao’s film is all about.  The film centres on a rodeo hopeful’s life after his dreams are dashed following a serious rodeo accident.

The audience sees the pain right at the very start when Brady Blackburn, a South Dakota cowboy (Brady Jandreau) manually takes off the medical staples from his wounds. The accident is seen from a video recording, the audience obviously spared the gore and blood.

Zhao emphasizes the claustrophobic life of Brady, despite having the open ranges.  He lives with his often drunk and gambling father and mentally challenged sister, Lilly (Lilly Jandreau).  His few friends provide him a drinking outlet but it is the rodeo that makes Brady, the man.  If a cowboy cannot ride, then what good is he?  These be Brady’s own words. With his injury his brain is sensitive and riding rodeo might be the end of him.

Zhao shows Brady’s outlets for his anger.  One is the breaking in of a wild horse, named Apollo.  It is sad that the horse has to eventually be euthanized as a result of a nasty accident.  In another outlet, Brady wrestles one of his young buddies, James but ends up unable to control his inner anger.

Brady Jandreau, a wrangler in real life does an ok acting job, but his riding and horse handling that are more important.  Zhao stays away from any romance in her story.

Zhao builds good characterizations.  The father is not a one sided cardboard has been.  Despite his constant arguments with his son, it is shown at the end that he understands Brady and his decisions.  Brady’s anguish, anger and decisions are also well displayed.  The horse training and rodeo segments are effectively shot and exciting enough.  Joshua James Richards captures the landscape of the open areas of the west, where horses run free.

For a female, Zhao captures the male world of male cowboys surprisingly well.  There are only few female characters like Lilly and the absent mother.  Female directors are fond of making their male characters cry on film.  Brady does burst into tears at his breaking point in the film.  Rather than showing his weakness, it shows his desperation.  He also has to work at a supermarket to support his family.  Like her previous feature SONGS MY BROTHERS TAUGHT ME, she blends in the real life of her character actors into the characters of her story.  This results in a sort of documentary but realistic feel in the film.

It is clear throughout THE RIDER that Zhao’s film is an artistic, well thought out process.  She does not resort to cheap sentiment.  There are few outbursts in confrontations.  Dialogue is simple and effective.  Zhao is fond of long slow takes to capture the mood of a segment.

THE RIDER premiered at Cannes Directors Fortnight Section to rave reviews. It is easy to see why.  Simple storytelling, a good human story and one dealing with nature makes this an excellent film.

Cannes Clip: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DbhO6MkO78U

A SWINGER’S WEEKEND (Canada 2017) **

Directed by Jon E. Cohen

The relationships of three couples come under examination in the debut feature of writer/director Jon E. Cohen with co-writer Nicola Sammeroff.

The audience is first introduced to what seems to be the perfect couple, Dan (Randal Edwards) and Lisa (Erin Karpluk).  Dan is exceptionally pleased in the car on the way to a gorgeous property by a lake when Lisa closes a house sale.  “I am the happiest man in the world,” Dan quips.  This means that this couple is going to have problems.  At the house, they are met by the second couple, their younger friends, Teejay (Michael Xavier) and Skai (Erin Agostino) who reveal their recent engagement.  Teejay and Skai are a mixed couple, so that the film can be current with the times.  Skai and Dan had an attraction in the past, so one can expect more trouble.  The third couple is Geoffrey (Jonas Chernick) and Fiona (Mia Kirshner), one with marital problems.  Lisa is unaware of the couple’s invitation by her husband and Fiona is unaware of the purpose of the weekend.

The purpose of the weekend is revealed to the audience 10 minutes into the film.  Lisa and Dan want to swap sexual partners.  It is Lisa’s idea as she wants to try something different, and one can see Dan has the hots for Skai.  Each individual has his or her own reasons for participating in the partner sharing in what is termed A SWINGER’S WEEKEND.  A list of rules are laid out, like no true affection, just sex and confidentiality.  It turns out that the couples are not really swingers but ordinary folk with jealousies and weaknesses trying to be hip.  The girls draw like a lottery to see who sleeps with whom.

It is interesting to see how each person reacts to the assigned sex partner.  But the film is no BOB & CAROL & TED & ALICE, Paul Mazursky’s film with a similar theme that was a hit way back when.  One problem is the story’s predictability.  It does not take a genius to guess which couple will benefit from the weekend.  (Cohen has his key to the success of a couple’s relationship.)  Cohen’s film cannot decide whether it should be a drama or a comedy.  As a drama, the story is too predictable and for a comedy, there are insufficient comedic set-ups.  Cohen appears too confident with the humour.  In one scene, Skai suggest yoga and Lisa retorts: “Can we drink wine with the session?”  The camera fades way as if allowing the audience to have time to take a good laugh.  The house, furniture and food served are more interesting than the couples.  The film contain a musical interlude that somehow fails to uplift the proceedings.

It is surprising though that the sex scenes turn out quite erotic.  The segments of Skai putting her arms around Dan while water-boarding and Geoffrey sneaking into the bed naked with Lisa get the blood flowing.

If Cohen meant the film to be a character study, it hardly works with couples the audience does not really care about.  Every person turns out too selfish (except for maybe Geoffrey) at the end.

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-R771KctpE8

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