- Category: Movie Reviews
- Written by Gilbert Seah
Three very different documentaries open this week, one a very camp treatment of Scotty Bowers in SCOTTY AND THE SECRET HISTORY OF HOLLYWOOD and two more serious ones on a film music composer (RYUICHI SAKAMOTO:CODA) and a fashion designer (McQUEEN). The young adult sci-fi DARKEST MINDS makes its debut as does the quite unfunny THE SPY WHO DUMPED ME.
BEST FILMS PLAYING:
Belle de Jour
Angels Wear White (China/France)
Don’t Worry, He Won’t Get Far on Foot
BESR FILMS OF 2018 (so far)
Angels Wear White
Isle of Dogs
You Were Never Really Here
BROTHERLY LOVE (USA 2016) ***
Directed by Anthony J. Caruso
BROTHERLY LOVE (not to be confused with the 2015 Jamal Hill film with the identical title about an African American basketball player) is a gay romantic comedy about a brother (Brother Vito) who wants to become a Catholic priest as he navigates his love life and his true calling.
Though the film sounds serious, it is definitely not. It is totally fun, with a high joke hit/miss ratio that should have one, especially if one is gay laughing out loud every minute or so. The reason the film is so funny is the way the film pokes fun at almost all the characters that are deliberately stereotyped - characters like the party boy, the old married queens, the new flamboyant young couples, the gay icons, dikes and more.
So, the questions posed in the film are: Which call do you answer? The one from God? Or the one from your authentic self? This is the dilemma at hand for Brother Vito (played by writer/director Anthony J. Caruso) as he must decide between becoming a brother or declaring his love for Gabe (Derek Babb). Shot entirely in Austin, Texas and with a local cast and crew, Brotherly Love is a fresh take on the traditional gay love story.
The script is based on the novel ’Seventy Times Seven’ by Salvatore Sapienza. BROTHERLY LOVE has gone on to win many awards as:
– GLITTER OKLAHOMA LGBT FILM FESTIVAL - Winner: Best Picture
– AUSTIN GAY & LESBIAN INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL - Official Selection
– NEVADA INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL - Winner: Best Feature Film
The film is not necessarily the best (straight) film by any standard, as evident in the lower than high production values, but it is thoroughly entertaining, and one can forgive a film for its flaws, if it makes one laugh.
The film’s exterior scenes, like a car pulling into the driveway look like something shot on a camcorder in a home video. The acting is so bad, it is hilarious. Main lead (and director) Caruso loves himself and gives himself unashamedly lots of glamour shots from start to finish. He cannot stop rolling back his eyeballs whenever a gay remark is made or pretending to blush whenever sex is hinted yet. It is this bad acting that adds to the film’s fun. Anyone in the gay scene can appreciate the candour and behaviour of the actors and one cannot help but laugh at themselves. Of the cast, the one that stands out is Chance McKee (what a name) who plays Tim, Vito’s best friend who tries his best throughout the film to convince Vito to indulge in sin and to leave the church. Tim is the typical good-looking, campy queen ready at all times to please any hunk of a man that comes his way. At the White party he drags Vito along. Who else can he ditch at the party so that the he can go back home with someone he will forget the next day?
The sex scene involving full nudity, that finally arrives after all that cock-teasing, is very erotic and necessary to show the strong bond between the two lovers.
Breaking Glass Pictures releases this tender coming-of-age drama BROTHERLY LOVE at the Laemmle Music Hall in Los Angeles on August 3, 2018 and on DVD/VOD worldwide on August 7, 2018.
Definitely worth a look!
CHRISTOPHER ROBIN (USA 2018) ***
Directed by Marc Forster
Not to be confused with last year’s biography GOODBYE CHRISTOPHER ROBIN on the author of WINNIE THE POOH, A.A. Milne’s life, CHRISTOPHER ROBIN is the story of Christopher Robin, the little boy from the Winnie-the-Pooh stories. Christopher Robin (Ewan McGregor) is now all grown up, married to Evelyn (Hayley Atwell) with a daughter, Madeline (Bronte Carmichael) but has lost all sense of imagination. Pooh and his friends from the Hundred Acre Wood re-enter Christopher's life to help him find joy again.
CHRISTOPHER ROBIN is not strictly the story of Winnie the Pooh (Jim Cummings), the beloved honey gulping bear but about Christopher Robin as the film title implies. It is is a live-action/CGI extension of the Disney franchise of the same name. The animated Pooh and friends, are true in appearance and motion to the beloved book and film, so this film will appeal and not disappoint the Pooh fans.
The screenplay by Alex Ross Perry and Allison Schroeder takes certain liberties. Pooh suddenly appears in Christopher Robin’s home with no apparent logic. The time of Robin growing up is glaringly absent in the story. The film unfolds with Chapter 1 (“Leaving His Friends”) then jumps to Chapter 3 and so on, leaving out certain chapters of Robin’s life as if they don’t matter. But begin a family film, these little omissions can be forgiven. One cannot forgive however is the repeated number of times the script tugs at the heartstrings. Why has Christopher Robin disappeared? Goodbye Christopher Robin? Is Pooh’s red balloon more important that the briefcase of work notes? Are the work notes more important that your daughter? Why is the daughter then not with you? These lines of dialogue can be quite trying. On the upside. the humour comes off from Pooh’s friend as original, cute and fresh.
Pooh’s friends include Tigger, a boy tiger (also voiced by Cummings, who gets to sing one song as well) , a donkey, an owl, a piglet, a rabbit and a kangaroo. Brad Garrett who voices the perpetually pessimistic donkey steals the show, with his gruff voice and the script’s best jokes. When asked “How was your day today?” His reply is: “Don’t get me started!”
What helps in creating the fairy tale atmosphere especially the colourful hundred acre wood where Pooh and his friends live is the cinematography by Matthias Koenigswieser coupled with the CGI effects. The music by Jon Brion including a few catchy songs lifts the film’s mood.
The last Disney’s Winnie the Pooh animated feature was good but really slow. In CHRISTOPHER ROBIN, the animated characters move just as slowly to keep with the expectations of the first film. McGregor makes a believable grown up Christopher, and does well putting up a straight face while taking all the dialogue with great seriousness. Christopher, when he realizes what is missing in life brings audiences right back to MARY POPPINS where David Thomlinson as Mr. Banks discards his frugality on saving a tuppence and begins feeding the birds.
Make sure you stay right up to the end of the closing credits. Just when you think the film is over with the credits coming on, a nifty musical number appears right in the middle, a song on the play of words “Noting becomes Something” as performed on a piano in the middle of the beach with Pooh and friends lying on deck chairs enjoying the sun. If that is not enough incentive to stay, this sequence is followed by another original Pooh song.
A bit sappy, but CHRISTOPHER ROBIN is entertaining enough and true to the mood of WINNIE THE POOH.
THE DARKEST MINDS (USA 2018) **
Directed by Jennifer Yuh Nelson
The first of a trilogy, THE DARKEST MINDS is a young adult sci-fi action movie similar to films like the THE HUNGER GAMES, DIVERGENT series that made a whole lot of money for Lionsgate. 20th Century Fox (or Disney for that matter) obviously hopes for the same. But THE DARKEST MINDS is quite the disappointment.
The premise involves a devastating disease abbreviated IAAN, whatever it stands for.
98% of the children are dead and the 2% surviving develop powers that no one understands. The audience witnesses only one of these deaths though millions have occurred in the world in a school cafeteria of all places. The film gets worse. Poor African American Ruby (Amandla Stenberg) sees the poor girl die and the film suddenly focuses on Ruby. Ruby has some powers that cause her to be taken, again like all the other children in the world to concentration camp like hospital centres to be cured of the powers. Apparently the government wants to harvest these powers for their own army to fight against …..? This part is never explained. There are several levels of powers possessed by children, colour coded. Ruby is orange which means she has the rare highest of the powers and those with orange are to be eliminated by death - a case of adults scared of the unknown. (The future is orange! Joke for the British.)
The film is extremely bad due to the reason of credibility. One can hardly blame director Nelson whose other credits are the two KUNG FU PANDA animated features which were not half bad. So one could blame the source martial or the kind of film she had been instructed to direct. Based on the story described, THE DARKEST MINDS could be a real scary horror/satire involving the end of the world. Instead, it turns out to be young adult fantasy that despite a few good ideas (like the colour coded powers) no one believes in.
The film poses lots of unanswered questions. Questions like: Why do all the parents not care about their children? How did the disease originate? What is the reason for the superpowers? The synopsis in wikipedia describes a vicious bounty hunt by the name of Lady Jane which only appears briefly in the film. The character must have been either edited out of the film or perhaps she appears in the sequel.
It is hard to describe the film’s best scene as there are none. The film’s worst scene has the two leads declare their love for each other in a long 5 minute sequence that keeps them babbling sweet nothings to the audience’s yawns.
To the director’s credit, the film was made on a modest $38 million, looks acceptable and probably satisfies the studios. She has some good images on screen, like the raised coloured hands at the end of the film signalling sequels to come. I would like to quote a line used by the late Toronto film critic, John Harkness from NOW Magazine to describe the Hulk Hogan film he hated: “Recommended for backward children.”, a line that got him into a lot of trouble for writing, but for obvious reasons I will not use it for this film. THE DARKEST MINDS shows a little promise and is interesting in certain parts, but could have been a much better start of the trilogy.
McQUEEN (UK 2018) ***1/2
Directed by Ian Bonhôte
Written by Peter Ettedgui, directed by Ian Bonhôte and co-directed by Ettedgui, McQUEEN is the no-nonsense documentary on British fashion designer and couturier Lee Alexander McQueen who shocked the world when he committed suicide by hanging himself at the age of 40, at his home in Mayfair, London.
The controversial Alexander McQueen himself reveals: “A lot of people say, I’ve discovered Alexander McQueen. But I discovered Alexander McQueen.” His resume included being chief designer at Givenchy from 1996 to 2001. That and his achievement in creating his own Alexander McQueen label earned him 4 British Designer of the Year Awards.
Though he passed on in 2010, It is fortunate that there is enough archive footage assembled to have him speak candidly on camera about his work, colleagues, friends and life, as if he was still alive. The doc thus provides an insightful and comprehensive examination of McQueen.
The doc reveals McQueen’s family life with information of his youth and some shocking information of abuse from his father and sister’s husband, though no details are given. His Scottish heritage makes an impression on him and his designs. The film goes on, chronologically as he grows up, with little money through his rise in fame, with his mentors and colleagues. McQueen was openly gay, with several boyfriends saying their spill on camera.
The film is tremendously interesting from start to finish as the subject himself was interesting. The film, like the man never fails to surprise with his humour, wit and talent on show.
The film glows with the coverage of his shows that reveal his genius in his designs. His themes are dark. two of them are called “Jack the Ripper” and “The Highland Rape”.
Among the many messages that can be discovered in the man’s life is that success not only comes from talent but hard work. The film shows McQueen working hard into many a night, a compulsive worker. The successful and wealthy often know poverty. McQueen worked hard as he was broke. And the adage that success does not bring happiness is evident in the last days of McQueen’s life. “Being famous is not important,: he says “What is, is what I do.” But with money, (McQueen quickly became a millionaire), came drugs and unhappiness.
The film takes a darker side at the hour mark when McQueen’s drug habit is revealed. He becomes, what his employees call ‘a taskmaster’. Worst still, he is diagnosed HIV positive. McQueen’s appearance also changes as the film progresses. He is practically a different person at the start compared to the man he becomes at the end of the film.
Important and included in the film is the difficult issue of McQueen’s death. The interviewed talk about the possible reasons for the suicide as well as the troubled man he became.
It would have also been insightful if director compared McQueen’s life with other famous designer icons to put McQueen’s life in perspective. Still, McQueen is an intriguing film about a gay man who went beyond his boundaries to prove himself capable of being world famous despite his personal demons.
McQUEEN is so far the top box-office grossing fashioned themed documentary in the U.K..
RYUICHI SAKAMOTO: CODA (USA/Japan 2017) ***
Directed by Stephen Nomura Schible
When I was teaching aerobics in my fit younger days, I used movie themes from a cassette given to be at TIFF (Toronto International Film Festival) for the cool down session. Two of the themes were from MERRY CHRISTMAS, MR. LAWRENCE and THE LAST EMPEROR. Little did I realize that the musical score from these two films were composed by Ryuichi Sakamoto, the subject of the new documentary by director Schible.
One of the most important artists of our era, Ryuichi Sakamoto has had a prolific career spanning over four decades, from techno-pop stardom to Oscar winning film composer. The evolution of his music has coincided with his life journeys. As the film opens, the audience is sadly told that Sakamoto is suffering from cancer and no longer able to work as diligently into the long the hours he was used to.
Besides the musician, Sakamoto is revealed to be an environmentalist. Sakamoto became an iconic figure in Japan’s social movement against nuclear power. As Sakamoto returns to music following cancer, his haunting awareness of life crisis leads to a resounding new masterpiece. This film is an intimate portrait of both the artist and the man.
The film’s most interesting segments involve Sakamoto’s work in film. Film works comes suddenly, he says. His work on films like Bertolucci’s THE SHELTERING SKY is outlined in detail. Bertolucci told him to change the score for the introduction of the film that he did not like. Ennio (Morricone) could do it, he was told. If Ennio could do it, so can I, Sakamoto muses. After re-writing the score within half an hour, Sakamoto himself was surprised at how great the music became. Sakamoto also talks about the work he did for director Andrei Tarkovski (for SOLARIS), blending in environmental and nature sounds to the music. Sakamoto has great admiration for Takorvski and likens him to be a composer as well. Schible’s doc includes several shot from films that Sakamoto had worked on, such as SHELTERING SKY, SOLARIS and THE LAST EMPEROR. These segments illustrate the perfect blending of sight and sound.
Needless to say, the film’s most inspirational moments are the ones where the audience gets to hear Sakamoto’s compositions. Sakamoto incorporates natural sounds (like melting ice) into his music compositions. Which are nothing less that incredible! The audience also sees the composer a a human being, frail from his illness and talking about things that matter to him.
Director Schible is an American Japanese film-maker who grew up in a bilingual and international household in Tokyo. As he is actively involved in Japanese culture and media, he has found Sakamoto’s life-long struggle as an anti-nuclear activist to be awe-inspiring and brings the influence into the documentary. especially for Japan, a country with tight control on political media, thesis a story that needs be told.
RYUICHI SAKAMOTO: CODA is a quiet yet comprehensive examination of a composer’s life at the end of his journey, full of insight and inspiration.
SCOTTY AND THE SECRET HISTORY OF HOLLYWOOD (USA 2017) ***
Directed by Matt Tyrnauer
Many have not heard of Scotty Bowers. Who is this man and why is it that important for a whole documentary be devoted to him?
Director Matt Tyrnauer’s (VALENTINO: THE LAST EMPEROR) begins his doc with a grand introduction of Scotty Bowers. He is celebrating his 90th birthday. His rise to fame is attributed to the gas station he operated that served escorts to a host of Hollywood stars. Everyone loves a scandal. Stephen Fry interviewed admits: “Scotty only made these Hollywood stars real by giving them what they want.” But then a more valid argument is whether Scotty had the right to out anyone gay in Hollywood. The doc then flashes dozens of gay stars on the screen to whet audiences appetite on the secret history of Hollywood. Randolph Scott had an affair with Cary Grant and the list goes on….
It is fortunate that Scotty Bowers is till alive at the time of making the doc as he appears in most of the film, talking about himself and about what he has done as well as life in the old days. The film contains a lot of black and white archive footage, especially of the area whee the infamous gas station stood. When footage is unavailable, re-enactments are done, often without faces but with the images of bodies. For instance, when an escort is ivied from the gas station to bathe his beautiful body in the star’s swimming pool, the audience sees a nude body (no face) swimming in the pool. In a way, the image looks even more erotic.
The goings-on, the audience are told are well planned and orchestrated. In the business world, Scotty could have been the C.E.O.of General Motors, says a close friend. The goings-on are indeed shocking, like a hill drilled in a wall in the nearby motel so that voyeurs can peep at the sex happening in the next room. It all feels like a dirty red-light district given a make-over for the Hollywood stars.
Just when you think that the film will run out of material, something saucier comes around. More famous star names are revealed, more intimate details of the sex parties revealed or secrets in the closet uncovered. The restricted era of 1950’s is also highlighted in the film - a time where cops witched hunted gays in parks and bars. And there is Scotty’s life that in itself is quite interesting. Returning home from WWII as a pretty boy, he was gay before settling down into marriage with Lois, who hereof is interviewed in the film. Their family home is also on display. Scotty is revealed as a hoarder. His house contains piles and piles of junk, such as every issue of Playboy Magazine
Scott claims to be the perfect host. He says he provided an introduction service not a pimp service, emphasizing the fact that he never took any money for the introductions. The only money he made was at the parties as a bartender.
The film emphasizes that Scott’s philosophy on life was to make people happy as there is already so much unhappiness in the world. But director Tyrnauer includes some sadness in Scotty’s life - the lost of his daughter, his friend Beach, his pet dog and the arrival of A.I.D.s.
Tyrnauer always inserts enough of the details to keep his film interesting - like the truth on Katherine Hepburn and Spencer Tracy. His film ends up a good mix of the life of Scotty, his contribution to the secret History of Hollywood and revealing ‘Enquirer’ type material.
SEARCHING (USA 2018) ***
Directed by Aneesh Changanty
SEARCHING is a psychological thriller starring John Cho (STAR TREK and HARRY AND KUMAR who plays David Kim, a father trying to find his missing 16-year-old daughter, Margo (Michelle La). As David interviews people who were supposedly close with her, he begins to learn that his daughter was not as perfect as she seemed. SEARCHING is a psychological thriller that unfolds almost totally from the computer screen. This is not a new tactic thought still quite a novel one, having being used only recently in UNFRIENDED: DARK WEB and its original UNFRIENDED films.
The question that immediately comes to mind is whether the story warrants this style of movie making and if it does, how effective it is.
The story involves David searching through her daughter’s web history, so quite a chunk of the film would involve watching the computer screen. Watching events unfold through a computer screen is more taxing for the following reasons:
it requires the audience to often absorb simultaneous events occurring on the screen. When a user is typing a reply, the question above the txt involving the question needs to be read too
the texts on screen is often too small to ready (this occurs a few times in the film), though it an be made larger when the box is maximized.
what appears on the screen is sometimes blurry
But being a novel idea, it is still a fresh look at a psychological film and the tactic does work, though one mayans argue that the entire film need not have to be told this way, without compromising the story. But credit to the filmmakers to try something new, and one can tell the amount of effort and coordination going into the making of the film this way.
While director Changanty does his best to put as much of the film on the computer screen, it is not always possible. The part of David beating up a possible suspect at a theatre is shown as if seen on youtube. But the searching for Margot’s body in the ravine area is not. The film revokes back to normal non-computer mode necessary keep the story intact.
The decision to make an American film about a missing daughter to include an Asian family is a good one. Most films have centred on whites or African American families, and this is a rare one where the fully English film is on a Korean American family. Apart of a few references to Korean culture (the kimchi cooking), the film could be substituted for any minority couple. But typical to most Asian families is to have a daughter take piano lessons. John Cho is one of the most famous young Asian actors today after making his name in STAR TREK and the HARRY AND KUMAR films. He show his serious acting chops in this movie.
Credit should be given to the studios for a thriller with a break in trend, made with a Korean family and taking place on a computer platform.
THE SPY WHO DUMPED ME (USA 2018) **
Directed by Susanna Fogel
When the film title is a rip off of a rip off (Austin Power’s THE SPY WHO SHAGGED ME, the ripoff of 007’s THE SPY WHO LOVED ME), one would not have high expectations going into the movie. True to instinct, THE SPY WHO DUMPED ME, which absolutely wastes the talents of SNL’ s Kate McKinnon and Mila Kunis is a totally painful unfunny buddy, buddy spy movie that makes Paul Feig’s SPY starring Melissa McCarthy look like a masterpiece.
The number one mistake of director Susanna Fogel who co-wrote the script with David Iserson (LIFE PARTNERS) is the decision to make this comedy also an action movie. Comedy and action do not usually go well together except for a few exceptions like KINGSMEN, and that film worked hard to achieve the correct blend between action and slick comedy. THE SPY WHO DUMPED ME goes for lower-brow comedy, that despite sleek looking sets and looks still clings desperately to puke, vagina and fart jokes (in the Amsterdam hostel).
Kunis (the straight one in the duo) and McKinnon (the clown) play best friends, Audrey and Morgan. When the film opens, Fogel intercuts comedy and action. The comedy is Audrey’s birthday celebration hosted by Morgan. The action scene takes place in Lithuania where the boyfriend, Drew (Justin Theroux) who has just dumped Audrey is fighting off dozens of assassins in search for a flash drive that contains some important information. It turns out, of course, that Audrey is in possession of the drive which puts her, and busybody best friend Morgan in trouble. They encounter CIA agent Sebastian (hunky gorgeous Sam Heughan) who helps them. Audrey and Sebastian have a thing going.
It only takes 10 minutes or so into the film when it can be observed that the film does not work. McKinnon tries her utmost best to be funny. Though she occasionally succeeds, she turns out more annoying than anything else, especially when she becomes loud and irritating.
The international locations of Prague, Paris, Berlin and others do not help either and it is doubtful that the film was actually shot in these cities.
Too much time is spent on car chases, actions sequences and killings which are below par in terms of excitement (audiences have seen much better in real action films like MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE - FALLOUT and the Marvel films) while being unfunny and out of place in a film billed as a comedy. The story with an icy cool female boss or female villain has been done before as are so are the story twists. Who is the real villain at the end? Audrey’s new or old boyfriend? A 5-year old would be able to guess. For a comedy, the violent segments (such as the cutting off of a thumb for a thumbprint to use the cell phone; the tasers and stabbings) are hardly necessary and kind of uncool.
Do not stay for the outtakes during the closing credits. These are just more examples of the painful humour that do not work.