This Week's Film Reviews (Mar 8, 2019)

07 Mar 2019

CAPTAIN MARVEL should take this weekend’s box-office by storm.  Nothing else big opening the week. 

BEST FILMS PLAYING:

 

Best Animation:

The Lego Movie 2

 

Best Documentary:
They Shall not Grow Old

 

Best Foreign: 

Never Look Away

 

Best Drama:

Ben is Back

 

Bets Horror/Sci-fi:

Bird Book

 

 

 

 

 

 

FILM REVIEWS:

3 FACES (Iran 2018) ***
Directed by Jafar Panahi

Iranian director Jafar Panahi has shot to fame after being imprisoned by the Iranian Government followed by 8 years of house arrest.  Worst and not least, Panahi has been banned from making films.  As Tanya Harding proclaimed after she was banned from ever entering any skiing competition for crimes she allegedly committed (“If you have taken skating away from me, what else is there in life?”), what else is Panahi to do if he does not make films.  Thankfully, he has continued to make films, as evident in his latest entry set in repressed Iran which won him the Best Scenario Prize at Cannes this year.

Iranian director Jafar Panahi’s 3 FACES looks at current issues dominating not only Iran but the world today - female inequality, oppression leading to abuse and unwavering tradition.

The film begins with a lengthy and troubling video shot on a cellphone of Marziyeh (Marziyeh Rezaei), describing how her ambition to become an actor has been thwarted by her family, and pleading for support from Iranian actor Behnaz Jafari. The footage ends abruptly, with the defeated Marziyeh appearing to commit suicide.   The footage illustrates how effective a simple device like a cell phone can be  used to make a film.  It also shows that clarity of the image is not mandatory in order to get a  point across,  Still, this sequence is overdone and overlong. 

Shaken by the recording, Jafari (playing a fictionalized version of herself) abandons a film shoot and sets off to Marziyeh's village in the company of her friend Panahi (playing himself).  Upon their arrival, they meet with Marziyeh's friends and apprehensive family, who remain unmoved in ostracizing their daughter for her choice of profession — a reaction rooted in the village's traditional mindset, and one that's forced an old silver-screen legend, Shahrazade, to live on the edge of town. The more Jafari and Panahi discover about Marziyeh, the more they learn about the community around her and the inescapable bond between tradition and destiny.

Th film contains a few clever plot twists that keep the story moving.  The film has the feel of an Abbas Kiarostami movie, particularly THE WIND WILL CARRY US, especially the scenes with the winding roads up the hill, with similar such scenes in Panahi’s film.  At times, Panahi tries to be too cute, such as the dialogue involving the honking of the car while driving to the village.  Still the simplicity of the film shows the mastery in Panahi’s work.

Despite good ideas in small budget filmmaking, most of which transpires onscreen have been seen before, especially in Iranian films who appear to have cornered the niche in this type of filmmaking.  Even at 90 minutes, 3 FACES feels long and stretched out.  It could have been compressed to 70 minutes resulting in a  less boring film.  The beginning sequence of Marziyeh committing suicide says it all.  That 8 minute sequence could have been trimmed to half the time to better effect.

Trailer: https://vimeo.com/284212080

 

CAPTAIN MARVEL (USA 2019) ***

Directed by Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck

CAPTAIN MARVEL turns out to be more a franchise moneymaker in the Marvel Comics Universe than a film.  At the end, the audience reads that CAPTAIN MARVEL will next be seen in the AVENGERS: ENDGAME film while a sequel is likely already in the process (the film ends with the Kree promising: we will return for the woman).  Exiting the theatre and immediate in sight are a row of empty ready to use buckets of popcorn with the Captain Marvel imprinted around its sides that tells it all.

The film opens with Carol Danvars, an ex-U.S. Air Force fighter pilot and member of an elite Kree military unit called Starforce.   Her DNA was fused with that of a Kree during an accident, imbuing her with superhuman strength, energy projection.   Danvers is a believer in truth and justice and a "bridge between Earth and space, who must balance her "unemotional" Kree side that is an "amazing fighter" with her "flawed" human half that is the thing that she ends up leading by.  This is tested by her mentor played by Judd Law, all buffed up and looking good for this role.

Danvars cannot remember her past but it is revealed later on in the film that everything she had believed in is a lie.  Even those she thought were the villains were not.  As such, the film suffers the lack of a true evil villain.

Though the film has a very weak storyline, the film puts emphasis on the relationship between Danvars and other characters - like her and her mentor and her and her best friend, Maria Ramveau  (Lashana Lynch) in the airforce.  Unfortunately, the result is still quite un-engaging. 

The film benefits from it its leading stars - Brie Lawson (from ROOM) and Samuel L. Jackson.  Larson took judo and wrestling classes before taking on the role.  Jackson lifts the spirit of the film with his comic and somewhat over-the-top portrayal of Nick Fury, the future leader of S.H.I.E.L.D.  He is seen here without his eye patch before he lost his eye.  Watch out for that part, which makes the film’s most hilarious moment.   This is where Jackson gets to utter his signature ‘motherf*****’ phrase.  (Jackson utters this phrase in almost every movie he is in.)
The big question then is whether the film is any good.  CAPTAIN MARVEL has a very thin plot and a story that really does not mean anything despite saving the earth and Universe in some form or other.  The special effects and CGI take over, and the film establishes the woman CAPTAIN MARVEL as yet another action super hero - and a strong one at that.  So, the film achieves its aim of establishing CAPTAIN MARVEL in the Marvel Universe while making lots of money, but the answer to whether it is really any good is debatable.  But the film should bring 2019’s box-office, currently in the doldrums up several notches after the film debuts the first two weeks.  And audiences will flock to see these action hero films, even when they are plain awful like BATMAN V. SUPERMAN or AQUAMAN.
Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Z1BCujX3pw8

INVISIBLE ESSENCE: THE LITTLE PRINCE (Canada 2018) ***
Directed by Charles Officer

The essence is seen from the heart.  What is essential is invisible to the eye.  These are the words of the fox to the little prince in Antoine de Saint-Exupéry’s much loved novella The Little Prince.  This same line is introduced in the new film on The Little Prince by Charles Officer that introduces a modern-day Little Prince – a cheerful, seven-year-old blind Pakistani-Canadian boy who encounters The Little Prince, via braille and audio-book, for the very first time, and grapples with the meanings of the story he has just read.

The doc can be divided into 3 different parts.  One deals with the book and what it means, the second on the author, Antoine de Saint-Exupéry - his life and book influences and thirdly how the novella has affected human beings. 

Dealing with the book and what means is the most interesting of the three and makes up for the other two parts which by comparison, look disconnected.  The use of the Pakistani Canadian blind boy to illustrate invisible essence is questionable whether the tactic works.  The question too, is why Pakistani?  And must the subject need be blind?  The choice of a blind subject appears too obvious.  The Pakistani blind boy wanders around at the start of the film and does not contribute any insight to the film.

The Little Prince is the much loved book of a stranded aviator who encounters an elegant alien who is the little prince in the Sahara desert.  The book, though selling an average of 2 million copies annually and translated into 300 languages isn’t familiar to everyone, especially those in Asia.  Director Charles Officer takes time to retell the important parts of the story in the film - which is key to understanding the book.  Officer uses three means to get the points across.  Using footage from various film versions (live-action and stop-action animated), these work most effectively.  Director Stanley Donen who made the most popular film version which starred Gene Wilder and featured Bob Fosse just recently passed away.  His film is featured in all its charm and glory.  Academic insights are also provided from scholars and archivists who have  devoted their lives to Saint-Exupéry and his message, and – most poignantly – as it applies today, such as Mark Osborne (director of the animated film “The Little Prince”), Adam Gopnik (Staff Writer at The New Yorker), Rupi Kaur (Poet, New York TimesBestselling Author), Stacy Schiff (Pulitzer-Prize-winning biographer of St-Exupéry), and Olivier and François d'Agay (the great nephew and nephew of Antoine de Saint- Exupéry).   The American scholar who has her say claims the story to be American as Saint-Exupéry wrote the book while in New York.  This is extremely offensive and typically American to wish to claim ownership for a universal story which should not belong to anyone or any particular country.  The story comes from the author’s experiences in the War and life and not from NewYork City.  Officer should have edited this dialogue out of the documentary.

The doc succeeds better as a meditation of the book’s different philosophies on existentialism.  The author comes across as quite the opinionated eccentric, despite his genius in the book.

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MLxvR-UNz68

TRIPLE FRONTIER (USA 2019) ***
Directed by J.C. Chandor 

Written by director J.C. Chandor (A MOST VIOLENT YEAR, MARGIN CALL) and Mark Boal, TRIPLE FRONTIER is an American action thriller filmed in Hawaii but set in Colombia where drugs and drug lords rule.  Mark Boal also wrote the Oscar winning THE HURT LOCKER which explains Kathryn Bigelow serving as executive producer for this film.  The film involves a drug money heist from unseen drug lords.  The film is not so much a robbery caper but an escape caper and more than half of the film involves the gang trying to escape from Colombia with the money.  TRIPLE FRONTIER is a Netflix original movie.  Netflix movies have the reputation of having scenarios that Hollywood studios are afraid to touch.  There are reasons that can be imagined studios would not touch this none.  It is not the conventional action film but the less said is better so that no spoilers may be revealed.

Five former Special Forces operatives reunite to plan a heist in a sparsely populated multi-border zone of South America.  For the first time in their prestigious careers these unsung heroes undertake this dangerous mission for self instead of country.   But when events take an unexpected turn and threaten to spiral out of control, their skills, their loyalties and their morals are pushed to a breaking point in an epic battle for survival.

The film looks at both greed and sacrifice, the former coming across more convincing than the latter.  In fact it is greed for money that accounts for the major part of the group’s problems.  As expected, loyalties are tested with  big fights resulting from the clash of personalities.  As stated at the start of the film when one of the Special Forces claim, as he lectures a new class of recruits on what it means to be a warrior; “We are trained to achieve an aim at the expense of any human being.”   The script ensures that this is reasoning behind how the five robbers behave and act during their escape.

The script, story-wise is nothing spectacular and leaves many holes in terms of credibility.  But the script leads to a few excellent action setups, most of these leaving the audience at the end of their seats.  The cinematography by Roman Vasyanov is stunning, especially the shots from the helicopter of the jungles and mountains.  The big crash of the chopper in the middle of the Colombian countryside in the midst of panicking horses is truly well executed.  The other action segment where the mules passing along a narrow mountainside path carrying large bags of money is cliff-hanging suspense.

Music is by Disasterpeace and contains few neat songs that suit the action of the film.

The five stars playing the Special Forces include Ben Affleck, Oscar Isaac, Charlie Hunnam, Garrett Hedlund and Pedro Pascal do a fair job and could be replaced by any other.  Oscar Isaac fares the best paying the lead character that keeps everything in check, while Affleck plays the wild card asshole in the group effectively.

The film scores strong points on the authenticity of the setting especially in the scenes set in Colombia even though the film was shot in Hawaii.  But why would these Colombian villagers go chasing after the 5, risking their lives in the process?

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Fo3yRLLrXQA

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