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This Week's Film Reviews (Feb 1, 2019)

31 Jan 2019

Quiet week for new openings this week - the calm before a whole load of new films next week.



Best Family:

Mary Poppins  Returns


Best Documentary:
They Shall not Grow Old


Best Foreign: 



Cold War


Best Drama:

Ben is Back


Bets Horror/Sci-fi:

Bird Book


Best Doc:

They Shall Never Grow Old







INTO INVISIBLE LIGHT (Canada 2017) ***
Directed  by Shelagh Carter

Everything spells art movie in the new and third feature by Winnipeg director Shelagh Carter.  It is also a strong feminine film with all the film creators, writer, director protagonist all being female.  Not that all these elements spell a good thing, but they do not necessary spell a bad thing either.

The film begins with image of a performance - a piece that expresses some torment.  The film returns to his scene and it is clear that the dance bookends the film.  What occurs in between revisits the situation of this dance.  The dancer happens to be the daughter of the main protagonist, Helena Grayson (Jennifer Dale) who has a problem to sort out with not only her daughter but with others as well .

For one thing the film’s title is ambiguous and demands some thought.  Is light invisible or is that not possible at all?  And what happens when one veers into invisible light?  And what does it all mean?  And is this a metaphor?  If all this sounds a bit too much to take in, the film actually is quite interesting.

There are segments in the darken interior of a house where a figure lingers.  The wind blows the curtains and haunting music is heard on the piano.  If the close captioning in seen, as I had it on when watching the streaming screening link, the title ‘thoughtful music ’ is seen at the bottom of the screen as what is heard appears to be true to the titles.  There is also playful music to be heard later on in the film.

And if all this sounds amusing, it actually is.  And quite funny too.  Director Carter and lead actress Jennifer Dale (both these ladies wrote the script) have a sense of humour.  The total artistic atmosphere which suits the theme of the film plays well together.  The film is a jigsaw puzzle of life as Helena Grayson (Dale) tries to fit her life pieces made up of dreams, desires hope and despair, together while falling in love along the way.

The story concerns Helena.  Her husband, who she apparently married but not love has passed away.  Helena is given a huge artistic endowment by her late husband that she feels unworthy to fulfill.  She feels unqualified to walk in her husband’s footsteps.  Her enforced engagement with art, sculpture, dance, writing, picking and choosing the candidates for consideration, brings up old ambitions, and memories of her own writing, done long ago before marriage and its complications seemingly obliterated all that. She had thought she “put away childish things”. Michael (Peter Keleghan) teaches literature at a local university, and is married to a woman who protects her independence ferociously, going off on hiking trips for weeks on end.  Michael and Helena rekindle their relationship that they had broken up in the past.

One problem with the film is the prejudiced script that treats the female as always right and the man otherwise.  In all the arguments that Helena and Michale have in the film, she has the right things to say.  Michael is always in the wrong and constantly apologizing.  The script also treats Helena as the perfect person, intellectually and physically.  One look at her makes it clear to the audience that the actress is past her prime and the script, partly written by her, serves as an ego trip.

Still, INTO INVISIBLE LIGHT, well directed and acted, is entertaining in its own way with impressive production values.  The film works when it is less self-conscious and less pretentious abuts subject matter.

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

MINIATURE (Canada 2018) ***
Directed by Tony Coleman and Margaret Meagher

MINIATUREs according to the filmmakers have fascinated humans since the beginning of time.  Even director Alexandre Payne examined the possibility of human beings minimized in his excellent comedy drama starring Matt Damon entitled DOWNSIZING.  In the film humans were shrunken and lived in miniature cities to aid the environment.  Last year also saw an excellent horror film HEREDITARY  where the protagonist made miniature furniture for a living.  Children have toys; adults collect figurines.  All these are example of how MINIATUREs have affected and fascinated the human race.  MINIATURE, a documentary examines the fascination and obsession with model objects.

The doc begins with the smallest and grows with the bigger ones.  One of the tiniest is a minute crown suggested by British Royalty.  The film also shows the recreation model of the apartments as viewed by James Stewart in Hitchcock’s REAR WINDOW.  One can hardly tell the difference.  A maker insists that often the miniature model sells for more than the real thing.  A miniature tool must be able to perform all the functions of the real tool.

MINIATURE takes the audience all over the world from Britain to Canada to the United States.

Quite a bit of screen time is devoted to model villages - one in Hamburg, Germany, the other in the Cotswolds, England and yet another in Lyon, France.

The film also tracks the rise and fall of the miniature or model villages, British style.  From quaint to corny, model villagers have had their fame.  The doc shows various miniature villagers built around the country together with an expert builder giving the necessary insight.  It is mandatory that the builder become a Jack of all trades from carpenter to welder, to painter to sculptor to engineer to build a miniature village or town together with the necessary workings, like a railway. 

The largest model railway system (13 km of track in total with signal monitoring so that the trains can operate without accident) in the world can be found in Hamburg, Germany.  The model village wonderland has become the tourist attraction.  The film follows how this village came about.  Now, 12 million visitors arrive in what is a million dollars tourist business.  The model airport is also something else.  The model makers had to learn how an airport works.  The airport construction with plane landing took 5 years in the making.

Why?  The chaos of a real place can be contained in a built place.  Artist and practical, the miniatures also allow the blind to feel their village

From villages, the camera shifts to Vienna where a model city lies in the centre of the actual city.  The construction of the model city is shown in all its intricacy.

The doc premieres at 2 pm Sunday Feb 3rd at the Hot Docs Cinema, Toronto.  Tony Coleman and Margaret Meagher, creators of the internationally successful film MIGHTY UKE, will be present for a Q & A following the screening.  Iconic miniatures in the film will be on display; t-shirts and mini swag will be on sale. 

Trailer: https://vimeo.com/295214755


MISS BALA (USA 2019) **
Directed by Catherine Hardwicke

These two weeks sees the Hollywood remakes of two highly successful foreign films.  Next week, the Liam Neeson vehicle COLD PURSUIT opens, which is directed by the same talent who made the excellent Scandinavian noir-thriller IN ORDER OF DISAPPEARANCE.  This week, MISS BALA opens.  MISS BALA (Spanish for Miss Bullet) is a remake of the 2011 Mexican film of the same name.

There must be something about the filmmakers not liking Mexico as the film reads: ‘based on a Spanish Language film’.

I have not seen the original Mexican MISS BALA movie, but the poster looks good. One would assume the remake cannot compare to the original.

Gloria Fuentes (Gina Rodriguez), a makeup artist from Los Angeles, visits her best friend Suzu Ramos (Cristina Rodlo) in Tijuana, Mexico.  When both of them decide to go to a night-club for the purpose of meeting a big-shot to secure  entrance to the local beauty contest (that wins the title Mis Baja, California).   When Gloria goes to the washroom, thugs enter through the window and she becomes witness to a gangland assassination attempt of the big-shot who turns out to be the corrupt Chief of Police.  But Suzu suddenly disappears at the nightclub

In the process of searching for and rescuing her,  Gloria gets kidnapped and is forced to smuggle laundered money for a cartel.  She works her way into the good graces of their leader Lino (Ismael Cruz Codovq) as well as the DEA, who also takes part in this case.   Gloria must turn the tables on everyone to escape and finds a power she never knew she had as she navigates a dangerous world of cross-border crime.  Surviving will require all of her cunning, innovation, and strength.

If all this sounds too incredible, it is.  To make matters worse, there is a twist in the story involving Jimmy played by Anthony Mackie a gangster in the film who suddenly appears at the end of the film as someone else.  Needless today, all turn out well - a case of too good to be true, too incredible to be believed.

Director Catherine Hardwicke (TWILIGHT) and the script by Gareth Dunnet-Alcocer take the movie too seriously.  Gloria is shown to be emotionally affected, too much, by what is going on.  She is sympathetic to everyone that have been mistreated and the camera dwells on her expressions too much.  No doubt Gina Rodriguez gets full credit for acting but the film would have been more effective as a tongue-in-cheek action thriller than going for the realistic emotional actioner.

All the actors, male and female look like chiselled models - perfect specimens of the human race.  Both sexes of the audience should be satisfied.

For Gloria to finally succeed and come out alive with barely a scratch, it requires quite a bit of imagination.  I would have rather seen the original that this failed remake of the commercially successful Mexican film.

Stay for the closing credits to hear the catchy song “Call the Shots” written for the film.

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=e-kPf-n4Mto


WONDERS OF THE SEA (UK/France 2017) ***1/2

Directed by Jean-Michel Cousteau and Jean-Jacques Mantello


This wonderful documentary about the sea is from the family of the famous French diver, filmmaker and explorer Jacques Cousteau.  The voiceover at the film’s start acknowledges Jacques’ contribution to the human race - the invention of camera equipment that allows underwater footage to be seen clearly.  WONDERS OF THE SEA, screened in 3-D is proof.

The narration of the film is largely done by bodybuilder/actor/governor/environmentalist 

Arnold Schwarzenegger who has a special appearance at the start of the film touting the wonders of the doc.  The other narrators are the members of the Cousteau family.

The film can be divided roughly into four equal parts as the camera takes the audience to different parts of the world to observe, examine and study:

  • the coral reefs
  • the California kelps
  • the sandy bottoms
  • the mangroves

It is difficult to say which section is the best or most interesting.  The film begins with he smaller creatures in the coral reefs moving up to larger and larger creatures of the sea.

The first journey takes the audience all the way to the topical Fiji Islands where the coral reefs are featured.  Again, the target of these reefs dying are mentioned.  The reef is alive, and an animal.  The many creatures big and especially small thrive on the reefs, which if dead or dying will adversely affect the eco system.  It is fascinating to watch the small creatures that move around - creatures like the  Christmas Tree world and the different varieties of colourful flat worms that make their way across the reefs.  Clams are also shown from the very small to the enormous  500 pound ones that hardly move and live for a century or more.  The shrimps are equally intriguing especially in the scene where two approach each other, the voiceover teasing the audience to decide it it is a fight or mating that is about to occur.

Like other films on nature, the same goes for survival.  The one survival rule is emphasized: to eat and not to get eaten.

The film then moves from the coral reef to the cooler California kelps.  And from there the sandy bottoms and finally the mangroves of sea water.  Descriptions of each of these are set not provided so that the entertainment of all the wonders can be revealed on film as it was meant to be.

The directors cannot help but play with he 3-D as evident in the bubbles ejected from the oxygen tank blowing right out of the screen at the audience.  Or the fish that suddenly appear out of nowhere from behind or sides of the audience. These are cheap tricks which can be forgiven.

The film’s best scenes are the one that take place in the dead of night under the deepest waters where the divers can only see where their light points.  The creators observed look like alien invaders. 

WONDERS OF THE SEA is a remarkable educational and visible feast for the eyes.

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FWtQqyg0TTc

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