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

28 Feb 2019

A few interesting pictures are opening this week: BIRDS OF PASSAGE and CLIMAX among others.

 

BEST FILMS PLAYING:

 

Best Animation:

Ruben Brandt, Collector

 

Best Documentary:
They Shall not Grow Old

 

Best Foreign: 

Never Look Away

 

Best Drama:

Climax

 

Bets Horror/Sci-fi:

Bird Book

 

 

 

 

 

 

FILM REVIEWS:

 

BIRDS OF PASSAGE (PAJAROS DEVERANO) (Colombia/ Denmark/Mexico,/France 2018) ****

Directed by Cristina Gallego and Ciro Guerra

Though advertised as a crime epic, BIRDS OF PASSAGE begins like a period tribe drama about tribe culture, beliefs and rites-of-passage.  Young Zaida has just competed her year old isolation rites-of-passage and she is wooed by a magnificently performed dance by a suitor of questionable means.  “You are my woman,” he whispers in her ear.  He gets her and fortunately turns out to be a decent man.  The drugs and crime start trickling into the story after the first half hour.

The film chronicles a Wayuu family's rise and fall during the early days of the illegal drug trade of selling weed.  Spanning the late 60s and 70s, the film is divided into five chapters ("cantos"): Wild Grass, The Graves, Prosperity, The War and Limbo.

BIRDS OF PASSAGE plays like a Colombian style GODFATHER epic.  Both films begin with a young couple’s love.  In BIRDS OF PARADISE, Raphayet (José Acosta) is captivated by Zaida (Natalia Reyes) at her “coming out” ceremony, and is determined to come up with the enormous dowry (of  gars, cows and necklaces) her mother and family matriarch Úrsula (Carmiña Martínez) demands.  This is where the trouble starts.  He gets the dowry from drug money involving wars between clans that eventually are too difficult to solve.  The film is a good study of how things get seriously totally out of control from a small incident which in this case is Rapha’s trigger happy outsider Moisés.

The film contains a disgusting and unforgettable dog shit eating scene that rivals Divine’s dog shit eating in John Water’s PINK FLAMINGOS. 

Co-director Ciro Guerra is Colombia’s most well known and celebrated director when his first film, WANDERING SHADOWS was selected in 2004 as the country’s entry for the Best Foreign Film Oscar, when Guerra was only 23 at the time.  But he is more well known for his more recent 2015 film EMBRACE OF THE SERPENT.

The film is beautifully shot by cinematographer David Gallego in the Guajira Desert.  The beautiful desert is a located in northern Colombia and Venezuela.  The area is also home to the indigenous Wayuu people.  The subjects of the film are members of the Wayuu’s.

BIRDS OF PARADISE is a colourful film (though a lot of colour is blood red) showing Colombia as many have not seen before, especially with the indigenous Wayuu customs, traditions, and celebrations  In addition there is the classic tragedy arising from pride, greed, and the clash between the old and new worlds.  Director Guerra has described BIRDS OF PASSAGE as a gangster film - but a very different gangster film.  True, it is but the film also marvellously captures the conflict of the clash between the old and new worlds.  This is what makes BIRDS OF PASSAGE stand out as a different kind of gangster film.   I have seen the film twice with the film growing on me on second viewing.

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_cbzb4pXZT0

 

CLIMAX (France 2018) ****
Directed b Gaspar Noé

 

French auteur Gaspar Noé excited audiences with his first two films, the excellent CARNE and the sequel SEUL CONTRE TOUS which were both an hour or so long.  But Noé pushed the limits with ENTER THE VOID and IRREVERSIBLE and he continues to do so with his new film CLIMAX about a troupe of dancers on acid.

What can one do with a troupe of real dancers?  Noé proves that more than everything can be done.  His film can be divided into 5 parts - the interviews; the group dance; the mingling of the dancers; the individual dances; the sex that occurs after the acid takes effect and the climax (aftermath).   Even if all else fails, the dance choreography is so good, many done with one long take, that watching these dance segments is worth more than the ticket price.  I myself, would watch the film again just for the dance sequences.

The film begins with the dancers being interviewed by an unseen male and female interviewer.  This sequence takes about 15 minutes and the audience sees the obsession of the dancers. “Dance is everything.” “I will commit suicide if I cannot dance.”  “I would do anything to be able to dance in the troupe.”  To the last comment, Noé pursues the implications further, bringing light to the current sexual abuse in the entertainment industry, but with an intelligent difference.  The two dancers who make the identical last comment are probed further to the point that their sexual offers might be accepted.  Noé uses the males instead of the females to be accosted and the possible guilty party to be one male and one female.

The troupe’s dance number is nothing short of stunning.  Forget the dances in any other television show or dance movie.   This is the real thing - real dance from the streets, expertly choreographed by gifted dancers.

When the dancers start mingling, the audience discovers more about each individual, their sexual orientation, who each has the hots for and how one might be related to another.  This is the time the dancers take to the spiked sangria. The LSD (acid)  takes about a hour to take effect.

The film breaks out into dance again.  This time it is individual dance where each dancer is given the chance to perform solo.  Noé uses the overhead shot.  The camera displaced above and each dancer moves in a and then out of the spot,with the dance performance seen from a bird’s eye view.  It is uncommon to shoot dance numbers this way, but it is nevertheless inventive and effective.

The last two segments are not so easy to watch.  Once the dancers start to feel the effect of the drug, their emotions come loose and sex begins leading to the films climax which unfortunately is not so entertaining as the dance sequences.   Noé’s camera goes upside down with lighting going on and off so that not every scene can be deciphered clearly.

Noé never fails to shock and to push his filming limits.  CLIMAX shows Noé at one of his most effective, disturbing though not disgusting.

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2AuDB8pskGs

 

GRETA (Ireland/USA 2018) ***

Directed by Neil Jordan

 

Some films are best if seen without any prior knowledge of the plot.  Neil Jordan’s GRETA is one of them.  As in Jordan’s THE CRYING GAME, the shock occurs when the girl the protagonist is having sex with suddenly is shown with a penis.  The big surprise secret comes literally out of the closet at the 30-minus mark of Jordan’s latest psychological thriller GRETA. 

Set in NYC, Isabelle Huppert plays a widow (the film’s original title was THE WIDOW) developing a friendship with a naïve young woman, Frances (Chloë Grace Moretz).  Frances returns the handbag she finds on the subway to its rightful owner, Greta (Huppert).  The scene in the subway station in Manhattan was shot at Bay Station, Toronto.  It is ironical that the Transit’s Lost and Found in Toronto is located at this Bay Station.  Frances recently lost her mother and feels alienated by her father (Colm Meaney); Greta has lost her husband, and her daughter lives far away.   The two become fast friends much to the consternation of her best friend Erika (Maika Monroe).  Erika turns out to be a bigger part in the story than envisioned.

Unfortunately, the film ends with a totally unlikely twist in the plot that could only happen in a one in a million chance.  This spoils an otherwise excellent thriller.

Still all things given, having seen the film twice, there are many pleasures derived from GRETA.  One are the excellent performances by the two leads, Huppert and Moretz.  Huppert is sufficiently creepy and nasty, a character the audience would love to hate, contrasting the innocent character of Frances who is so naive as to return a handbag with the cash intact.

Another pleasure is the campy dialogue, obviously written to bring the audience up to the type of talk of the present.  When Frances tells Erika of returning the wad of money found in the handbag, Erika remarks on use of the money  “Spa or colonic?”  Erika continues that a friend who had colonic can now recite the alphabet backwards.  When Frances later declines an outing invite from Erika, Erika’s retort is: “Am I snorting meth or you are telling me you are going dog shopping with the old lady?.”   And another instance, Erika warns Frances: “The crazier they are, the more clinging they are.”  The use of the chewing gum metaphor is also funny, “sticking around”.

As expected in a Jordan film, the film contains some very nasty (though camp) sequences.  One is when Frances uses the cookie cutter to slice off Greta’s finger.  Huppert is so good in her role as the menacing predator, that any audience member would also gladly slice off her finger.  The camera quickly focuses on the blood spurting vertically out from the severed finger - a deliciously camp moment.

The film is largely shot in Toronto around the Bay Subway Station area.  Those who live downtown  will immediately recognize the familiar streets and buildings.

Though one can tell was will happen in this predictable horror fare, GRETA is still guilty pleasure due largely to Jordan’s flare for the weird.

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=l7SUePnsxWo

 

RUBEN BRANDT, Collector (Hungary 2018) ***1/2

Directed Milorad Krstić

RUBEN BRANDT, COLLECTOR the film is so called as it is named after the two famed painters.  RUBEN BRANDT is one of the recent sprout of films on artists.

The film begins with a priceless fan stolen from the Louvre in Paris.  The backward somersaulting Mimi is the thief and an elaborate car chase takes place along the streets of Paris with Inspector Kowalski in pursuit.  The story is eventually revealed that Mimi is one of the patients of a psychotherapist who suffers from nightmares where famous paintings come to life (Velázquez’s Infanta Margarita or Boticelli’s Venus) to kill him.  His therapy theory is to own the problem and thus cure it.  He recruits his patients to steal the rare paintings that haunt him taking the audience  around the animated worlds of the famous museums of the Guggenheim to the Louvre to the Tate Modern.

The film’s animation is no Pixar or Disney but is of a different style that celebrates painters, particularly Picasso.  Many characters in the film have cuboid faces, with many containing three eyes or two mouths.  Director also loves to play with swaying shadows, giving his film a distinct artistic look.  The film contains a few scenes of graphic violence, acceptable as the target audience for the animated feature is adults and not children.

The spectacular car chase at the start of the film demands mention.  The chase is animated as if the camera was placed on the dashboard of a real car during the chase giving the sequence a realistic while stylistic look.  The background of the chase encompasses shops and lots of steps looking very much like typical Paris in a painting,

As with the T-shirt worn by one inconsequential person proclaiming “I Love Nothing”, the film contains a lot of ‘nothing’ humour.  These include the numerous innocent bystanders caught in the crossfire of the car chase.  But the most notable of these nothings is a three-minute inconsequential sequence dedicated to a mosquito.  The camera shows the animated mosquito. looking very much like a real one,  drawing blood from the arm of Inspector Kowalski.  The mosquito is subsequently smashed and killed with his saying: “He was the first to draw blood.”  Not really a funny or meaningful segment by the director but by no means a less entertaining one.  Such are the film’s pleasures.

But the single and most hilarious scene is when the therapist conducts a session involving role playing around a fire.  Each patient is required to play the role with one complaining about having to play Little Red Riding Hood.  The therapist insists he plays her for his problem is being too timid and unable to relate in an office work situation.

The film has an amazing soundtrack that includes music and songs from American country and western to contemporary to classical.  There are lots of classic film references from Hitchcock to the director’s own short he directed.  Stay for the end credits as all the references are lists as well as all the paintings and painters where are the inspirations or lookalikes in the film are taken from.

For a 66-year old director whose first film is this stunning, one can only eagerly await for his next project.  This might surely be a Best Animated Best Feature Oscar nominee for next year.

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OWI9KvPaOEE

TYLER PERRY’S A MADEA FAMILY FUNERAL (USA 2019) ***
Directed by Tyler Perry

The trouble with the Tyler Perry films is that they could be quite awful, from a critic’s point of view.   But critics do not pay for tickets at the box office.  Perry’s films are often all over the place, preachy, rude, cheap and politically incorrect.  But they do bring on good laughs despite the complaint that the jokes are the same.  The latest and 11th of the MADEA film series  proves more of the same.  And the last one featuring Madea, though I hardly doubt that.  It has garnered generally negative reviews from critics but went on to be one of his most successful films to date.  Lionsgate Company is still enjoying the cash cow, though the company has not got a string of hits for some time.

This is arguable the laziest of Perry’s films.  Tyler Perry has opened his Tyler Perry studios and this film was shot there in a week.  Most of the acts consist of people sitting around in a room complaining and bitching.  Most of the time two or more of the characters are played by Perry himself.

One of the few scenes that take place outside the house involves Madea and the family being stopped by a white cop for no reason.  Madea tells the Tyler Perry character he wheel to drive and speed off but he insists on doing what is right.  The white cop, of course turns unnecessarily rude and gets everyone in the car worked up and someone might get shot accidentally.   The rest of the film takes place in the house, which means the film is extremely low budget.

There is hardly any plot or story in the film.  The two loose stories are one involving Madea’s dead relative. the unseen Anthony who is caught dead in the act while having S & M sex with a whore.  The reason of death is attempted to be kept secret from the other members of the family.  The other subplot evolves A.J. (Courtney Burrell) cheating on his fiancé for her sister during the wedding.  Of course, Madea has a say in all these 2 events - that is the reason Madea exists, to offer her loud opinion.

Tyler Perry introduces a new character into the movie, a crippled war veteran called Heathrow.  As expected, this character is loud, obnoxious sexist and plain nasty.  Not only is Heathrow (played by Very of course) in a wheelchair but he has to use a vibrator to speak because he has a hole in his throat due to cancer.  And Madea has to remark that she get an orgasm from the speaking vibrator.  Heathow is one of Perry’s funniest and rudest characters.

Madea also organizes the funeral to great hilarity.  Eulogies are kept to a minimum time like the Academy Award acceptance speeches,  No jokes will be revealed in order not to spoil your entertainment.

Nothing much else need be said about this Tyler Perry movie.  Those who know the Tyler Perry movies get what they expected.  No surprises but yes, plenty of laughs.

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=id61hcbdMZA

 

WHAT WALAA WANTS (Canada/Denmark 2018) **
Directed by Christy Garland

Waala is the pre-teen daughter of an imprisoned woman, jailed for 8 solid years for terrorist activities.  When the film opens, the mother’s house was entered during her arrest, one of the soldiers yelling at her: “You are not a mother, you are no one, you are shit!”

The mother is released 8 years later and reunited with her family, namely her 2 daughters  and the younger son.  The mother seems to have tamed down, but one daughter, Waala  appears full of sprite.  What does Waala want?  Waala is rebellious at school, creating mischief that could result in delinquency detention, but she now wants to become a police woman in the Palestinian Security Forces.  Toronto filmmaker Christy Garland follows Waala from the ages of 15 to 21.

WHAT WAALA WANTS has garnished rave reviews including being selected as Canada’s Top 10 films of the year.  This an example of a case where a film is praised for its subject rather than its merit, though it is clear that there is still considerable merit in the film despite glaring flaws.  This is also a woman’s film with a woman director and producer and subject with the aim of showing how a young female can defy formidable odds to get what she wants.

For one the film’s continuity comes into question right at the beginning.  When arrested, the woman answers ‘no’ to the question posed by the solder if she is a mother.  Why then is there a son and 2 daughters present at her release.  No details are given as to what the mother was arrested for, except that she intended to drive a suicide bomber to his target  but got caught before.  Not much of the political climate is explained as well.  The film assumes the audience familiar with the current situation.  The film also uncomfortably shifts its subject from the mother to the daughter. 

The conflict scene between mother and Walaa looks weird as the two are never shown in the same frame.  The segment loses its effectiveness.  Question is why the two were unable to be filmed together.

The film contains lengthy middle section showing the details of the rigours undergone by Walaa during boot camp Palestinian training.  This is the most watchable segment where director  shows that What Walaa wants is not so easily obtained.

The film’s seemingly misguided narrative amplifies the fact that director Garland is indecisive as to what the film’s real goal is.  At one point, it is a story of a family undergoing hardship.  Then it becomes one about a girl’s coming of age.  Or is it one about the rigours of boot camp training?  The film never questions the gravity of the mother’s crime.  For Garland, being imprisoned is the crime against her and her family.  Should the mother serve life sentence for being part of a terrorist act that could have killed dozens of innocent people?

Tough WHAT WAALA WANTS falls into the documentary category, it hardly feels like one.  It feels more like a fiction film based on true incidents.

So does Waala get what she wants in the end?  It does not take a genius to determine the answer.  Despite illustrating life of a Palestinian teen in hardship, director Garland has more sympathy for her heroine than she deserves in a film that could do with clearer direction.

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=psmv9pe6RmM

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