This Week's Film Reviews (Mar 15, 2019)

15 Mar 2019

The animated WONDER PARK opens this week - that should thrill the kids.

BEST FILMS PLAYING:

 

Best Animation:

Wonder Park

 

Best Documentary:
They Shall Not Grow Old

 

Best Foreign: 

Never Look Away

 

Best Drama:

Gloria Bell

 

Bets Horror/Sci-fi:

Us (opening next week)

 

 

 

 

 

 

FILM REVIEWS:

 

FIVE FEET APART (USA 2019) **

Directed by Justin Baldwin

FIVE FEET APART is an American teen weepie based on a script written and sold (they paid for this?) by Mikki Daughtry and Tobias Iaconis.

FIVE FEET APART belongs to the genre of teen romantic comedies, the type I used to avoid when I was a teen movie-goer.  Films like LOVE STORY with corny dialogue like “love means never having to say you’re sorry,” or S.W.A.L.K. (SEALED WITH A LOVING KISS) with Bee Gee songs gave me goosebumps.   I hate goosebumps! Now after all these years, arrive 5 FEET APART, a film about two kids suffering from C.F. (cystic fibrosis) falling in love that is supposed to tug (and perhaps break) ones heartstrings arrives.  The film will be a bit too much to take in for many but still there is a healthy market for these teen tearjerkers.  The film also comes filled with cliches including that dreaded one of the gay best friend.

The film centres on Stella (Haley Lu Richardson from COLUMBUS and SUPPORT THE GIRLS) who has made a home in the hospital - comfortable and friends particularly for her caring nurse (Kimberly Hebert Gregory).  She meets another C.F. patient. Will (Cole Spouse from RIVERDALE) who has a bacteria that requires him to stay at least six feet apart from anyone one else with C.F.  Death will and has resulted in the past, according to the nurse who insists the rule be maintained.  Of course, the lovers break the rule, 1 foot at at a time.  She gets a stick 5 feet long to keep herself and the now true love apart.

There are a few but too many coincidences in the story.  One is the nurse who has already experienced an identical situation that resulted in death.  “It won’t happen again, not on my watch,” she insists.  Stella has a dead sister, from a diving accident who will make her guilty with the sister appearing in her dreams to bring up the tears several notches.  The parents are conveniently left out of the story.  So obvious is this fact, is that when Stella’s father suddenly appears at the end of the film, audiences will likely wonder: “I never knew Stella had one.”  The parents never visit.

Actors Richardson and Spouse do what they can with the limited material and fare quite well, all things considering.

The film’s soundtrack is filled with indie songs.  But it is so manipulative to observe the way these tunes are drummed into the audience.  In the hospital scene, the nurse and others move in slow motion so that the song on the soundtrack can be finished by the time the scene ends.

To the film’s credit, it reveals a few points of awareness of the disease.  The film is also too obvious in being politically correct, which includes a nurse that has to be black.

Stay hundreds of feet apart from this one.

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ClVX0_9rV8c

 

GARRY WINOGRAND: ALL THINGS ARE PHOTOGRAPHABLE (USA 2018) ***
Directed by Sasha Waters Freyer

Many people, me included might not have heard of Garry Winogrand, less want to spend 90 minutes in the dark watching a documentary about a stranger.  Bt if one is open-minded enough, many things including life lessons can be learnt from the film.

Garry Winogrand has been described as one of the most influential American photographers of our generation.  He died of cancer from complications after going for a cancer biopsy.   Decades before digital technology transformed how we make and see pictures, Garry Winogrand made hundreds of thousands of them with his 35mm Leica, creating an encyclopedic portrait of America from the late 1950s to the early 1980s in the process. When he died suddenly at age 56 in 1984, Winogrand left behind more than 10,000 rolls of film – more than a quarter of a million pictures! These images capture a bygone era: the New York of Mad Men and the early years of the Women’s Movement, the birth of American suburbs, and the glamour and alienation of Hollywood. He produced so many unseen images that it has taken until now for the full measure of his artistic legacy to emerge. Endorsed by his gallery and estate, Garry Winogrand: All Things are Photographable is the first cinematic survey of that legacy. The film tells the story of an artist whose rise and fall was – like America’s in the late decades of the 20th century – larger-than-life as well as the story from his photographs.  

There is not much footage of Garry as Garry himself had died since the doc was conceived.  But the film plays his voice in voiceover, his face unseen, during one of his talks he has delivered, in a delivery that resembles a standup comedy routine.  One can see a lighter side of him.

The film also answers questions like:
What is photography?  What can you make a camera do?  which are explained as the doc rolls.

Quite a lot of the man is also revealed from the chosen interviewed in the film.  Among them is his second wife who reveals more of the intimacy of the man - what he was like in real life, how he relates to children and animals, how dominating he can be; how he wooed her and how he even made his own meals.  Others interviewed are photography experts like Walker Evans, Robert Frank and Dan Weiner.  Garry can do no wrong - in their eyes, even if he does.  When Garry photographed women’s nipples during public demonstrations, they defend Garry.

The best thing about the doc, is expectedly, Garry’s photographs, the most famous ones on display in the film.  The most impressive ones are the ones that show people as if performing a dance.  The film also contrasts his coloured with his black and the photography.

The magic question is whether the film will change the way audiences will look at still photographs?  The answer is a clear yes, despite the man’s faults such as of being a lonely human.

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qmEj4bx-3XU

 

GHOST TOWN ANTHOLOGY ( Répertoire des villes disparues)(Canada 2019) ***
Directed by
Denis Côté

Before appreciating the small budget pensive drama GHOST TOWN ANTHOLOGY, a bit of background on its writer/director Denis Côté should be worthy of note.

Denis Côté is a Quebecois direct born in New Brunswick.  He is known as an experimental filmmaker with five of his previous film with no scripts and 5 with scripts.  In films like his documentary BEASTAIRE, he had lots of footage he shot at the zoo and wondered what to to with the footage before assembling the footage into a coherent film.  The films of  Denis Côté have been respected over the years and a number of cinematheques around the world have already organized retrospectives of his work.  Personally, I  admire Denis Côté's work.  They are pensive, meticulously crafted and intelligently conceived.

His latest work, GHOST TOWN ANTHOLOGY has its experimental roots but is arguably his most accessible wok to date.  The film bears  his trademarks like carcasses of dead animals that are frequently found in the story - in this case a dead deer.  The film can be described as a different kind of zombie (or ghost) film.  Zombies appear in the film but no one is hurt.  No one attacks the zombies and as a result the zombies do not attack the town folk either.  But they appear and the villagers recognize them as being previous dead residents.  If all this sounds too weird or feels that this is not your kind of  movie that stay away - but the film definitely has its rewards.

The film is set in the small town of Sainte-Irénée-les-Neiges, Quebec with a population of only 215.  The film opens with a car on a road that swerves to the side hitting stacks of hard objects casing the death of its driver, revealed soon to be a leading respected citizen of the town who everyone loves.  The town is shocked and speechless.  They claim the death as as suicide but from the scene, it looks more like the car took a deliberate turn, implying a suicide.  Suicide or accident?   The inhabitants of the town struggle to cope with the death of Simon Dubé, the teenage son of the family.  The odd thing is that two figures wearing masks witness the crash and are seen running away from it after.   More figures wearing these ‘ghostly’ masks appear later in the film as well.  It is a small town where everyone knows everybody as she does, prides the mayor, Simone Smallwood (Diane Lavallee) who becomes visibly upset when the county sends a stranger to her town to help the people cope with the tragedy of a death.  Director Cote knows how to grab and hold the audiences attention despite the film’s slow pace.  More odd incidents occur as well as more characters are introduced into the story.  A welfare teen is the first to see the zombies.  The dead Simon appears to both his brother and mother.

GHOST TOWN ANTHOLOGY is another of Cote’s pensive teasers, so don’t expect any resolutions to the zombie crisis.  Also: great sound effects and occasionally great gothic atmosphere.

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

 

GLORIA BELL (USA/Chile 2018) ***
Directed by Sebastian Leilo

GLORIA BELL begins and ends with Julianne Moore dancing at a club in an 80’s setting.  The era is never mentioned but can be deduced from the 80’s song playlist and from the wardrobe and hair style of the characters.  Chilean director Leila has been known to effectively use and bring to life his films with the use of a singular song, the most notable and remembered being Richard Burton’s rendering of the song CAMELOT from the stage musical in Leilo’s film JACKIE about Jackie Kennedy.  In GLORIA BELL, Gloria Gayor’s ‘“Never Can Say Goodbye” begins the film while the popular 80’s song “Gloria” closes it.

GLORIA BELL is described in the press notes as a film on mature dating.   The film opens with Gloria on the dance floor.  Gloria Bell (Julianna Moore) introduces herself to a stranger (and to the audience) as Gloria Bell, a divorcee of 12 odd years.  She meets in the same night, Arnold (John Torturro) who she eventually begins a relationship with, after some hot sex, in which nothing much can be seen much but much can be heard, which means the audience will get the point.

Gloria has been on the dating scene for a while - probably for 12 years or so, judging from her behaviour.  She is not eager to begin a relationship right away but is not opposed to the idea either.

For a film about mature dating, the film covers all the points about its problems.  These include:

- the baggage that each member brings to the relationship with each having their own children and each with their own set of problems

  • the discomfort of still dating at such a late age; Arnold \ has qualms about telling his children about Gloria, obviously embarrassed at the situation
  • jealousies that flare up; Arnold is uncomfortable when Gloria shows affection for her ex (Sean Astin) at her son’s (Michael Cera) birthday party
  • each member is set in their own stubborn ways and behaviour; Arnold in leaving Gloria when trouble arise 
  • disapproval and constant questioning of the children; as it happens at Gloria’s son’s birthday party

The song, Gilbert O’Sullivan’s “Alone Again, Naturally”  that is heard right in the middle of the film again is effectively used by Leilo to put his story in perspective.

Leilo’s film benefits from the performances of its actors, which are key for a dating drama of this sort.  Moore and Torturro are both excellent, especially Torturro who obviously has toned down his usual manic performances.  It is good too to see Michael Sera in the role of Gloria’s son, Cera being absent from the screen for some time.

The script is also smart enough not to take sides.  Both Arnold  and Gloria have their valid reasons for each fight and one could side with either, despite being male or female.  The film’s subplots, like Gloria’s expecting daughter taking off to Sweden to marry her beau also enhances rather than distracts the main story.

GLORIA BELL is not full of surprises (in fact, if the film seems strangely familiar, you could have seen Leilo’s original Spanish 2013 version called GLORIA which was set in Santiago) but it serves a realistic slice of life mature dating, with all its pitfalls and bright spots.  It is an entertaining watch to see ourselves in similar situations.

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fPq4zW9QZSg

LEVEL 16 (Canada 2018) ***1/2

Directed by Danishka Esterhazy

 

LEVEL 16, basically a young lady’s prison escape thriller evokes immediately the atmosphere of THE HANDMAID’S TALE and the little seen Irish supposedly true story of nuns’ abusive training in Peter Mulan’s THE MAGDALENE SISTERS - which is a good thing.  These three films bring out good solid drama where the audience cares for the innocent but abused characters.  Even though the final escape seems so easy (in THE MAGDALENE SISTERS, ironically the escape is through an unlocked door), it is the build up that counts.  And the terror of the frequent punishment that comes with disobedience.

16 refers to both the current age of the film’s protagonist, Vivien (Katie Douglas) as well as the new Level - LEVEL 16 of Viv’s education.  It is a walled in concrete world with no windows and no pictures in what is known to the girls, all pretty young things as the Vesralis Boarding School where the young girls are educated for adoption by wealthy parents. or so they are told by their teachers, who are too strict for comfort.  They are also told their adoptive parents sponsor the school and they only wait for their adoption after completion,

The first half of the film  reveals the daily regimental routines.  The girl believe the school is a refuge from an outside world rendered toxic.  But the school is a neglected, antiseptic institution where girls without families are monitored, their day scheduled practically to the minute, and “education” consists of a constantly repeated list of “feminine virtues” – obedience, cleanliness, patience and humility – preached by a matriarch and propagandized in moral-hygiene films.  Among the activities are vitamins the girls are taking daily with a voice telling them that vitamins are good for the body and that they prevent disease.

An incident occurs.  Viv is taken away for punishment because of an accident committed by Sophie (Celina Martin).  On LEVEL 16, Sophie informs Viv, out of guilt, a secret.  The vitamins that they are taking daily are not vitamins but sleeping drugs which knock them out to sleep.  Worse, Sophie who has not taken the drug for while, has witnessed a guard who comes in the middle of the night to touch the girls.  This is where the film gets interesting.

The two villains of the piece are equally chilling  There is the matriarch of the place, white wig donning no-nonsense warden like bitch, Miss Brixil (Sara Canning).  This role seems right tailored for Tilda Swinton to play.  The other is the doctor that owns the place, (Peter Outerbridge) a creepy elderly man who one can tell has the urges to touch his girl victims.

If the climax does not match the build up, the film still is a success rather than a disappointment as the build-up is pretty good.  The script reveals just enough to satisfy the audience and to keep the suspense maintained.  It is this mystery and audience anticipation that makes this tale stand out.

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pQ10TZba5QU

 

THE QUIETUDE (LA QUIETUD) (Argentina 2018) **
Directed by Pablo Trapero

THE QUIETUDE is the name of the sprawling ranch in Argentina where a wealthy Argentine family resides.  The quiet ranch will be shown to be not that quiet or restful by the time the film ends.

The film begins with a beautiful young lady in Buenos Aires, Mia (Martina Gusman) entering the house and interrupting a nasty argument that is heard but not seen, which is likely all for the best, as the audience gets the picture.  Mia follows the father to the D.A,’s office where he suffers a stroke and is bedridden.  This brings back to Buenos Aires the other member of the family - Eugenia (Berenice Bejo, the actress and wife of the director of the Oscar Winning Best Film THE ARTIST.)

With every member of the family at home, trouble ensues, as expected.  It is revealed that the two sisters have an unhealthy sexual incestuous relationship, as can be witnessed in the 5-minute or so oral sex scene that should keep many an audience aroused.  The two main actresses are both Argentine and they look so alike, they could pass on for twins.  This is a bit confusing during some parts of the movie when one needs to distinguish Mia and Eugenia, unless their names are used in the dialogue.

The events take place during the political unrest of the country due to the brutality of the current dictatorship.

But Trapero’s film, apart from the sexual scenes are boring for the fact that they are hardly credible.  It seems that anything goes for drama, and Trapero puts in any event convenient to create high drama, like the father’s stroke, the sex between two females and then male and female.   A bit more detail would have been helpful to aid the story’s credibility.  Nothing is mentioned of how the family’ wealth is achieved or the reason Eugenia went away to Paris or he reason father and mother stayed together despite huge disagreements.

Though shot on a ranch, most of the film’s scenes are interiors, with not much seen of the animals or in the farming. But the exteriors and production sets are quite good to look at courtesy of the cinematographer and production designer.

Trapero does not do anything to connect the audience with his characters.  The audience do not care if the father passes away or not or whether the two sisters will earn their happiness.  It appears that all Trapero is interested in doing is to titillate or shock his audience - as in the sex scenes and the oddities of behaviour of the family. 

The end result THE QUIETUDE is a rather boring family affair which could be quietly  dismissed.

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=e23SQyvTfcA

WOMAN AT WAR (Kona for i strio) (Iceland/France/Ukraine 2018)***
Directed by Benedikt Erlingsson

Those who have visited Iceland (myself included) will find extra pleasures in watching the Icelandic film WOMAN AT WAR shot in Icelandic.  The residential shots are typical what one would see around Reykjavic and the heroine moves into the countryside where the landscape shows typical Iceland - the barren outcrop, the moss and the hills.  Iceland is known as in other Scandinavian countries to be ultra-modern and more ecologically and environmentally friendly so a film that centres on an eco-terrorist is totally appropriate.  And a woman at that, makes the film even more politically correct.

The film opens with lots of promise.  A middle aged woman later revealed as Halla (Halldóra Geirharðsdóttir) who conducts the local choir, is in the mountains with a bow and arrow (the modern kind), taking refuge from the police.  She takes down a huge transformer pole carrying key power lines causing havoc in outages.  Funnily, a Latino tourist nearby gets arrested and blamed for a terrorist act.  The story is quite simple, revolving around he woman and later with her new-age twin sister (also played by the same actress).  Both sisters are intent to adopt a girl from the Ukraine which explains the film as a Ukrainian co-production.

The only complaint of the film is its predictability, particularly in the story’s main twist.  It does not take a genius (I guessed it) to figure what happens when the sister visits Halla in prison, but not everyone is like me, who sees about 400 films a year.

The script co-written by the director with Ólafur Egill Egilsson pokes fun often at Iceland.  There are scenes with Halla with her face on moss, common in Iceland’s vegetation.  The part about the population of Iceland being so small that everyone is somehow related to each other is used in the film when Halla meets a farmer who hides her.  He claims that he could somehow be related, tracing verbally all his ancestral roots.  The country’s many sheep is also used to hide Halla from the cops in one scene.

The Chinese are the main villains in the film.  They are the lot to blame, taking away the blame from the Icelandic government for the anti-environment projects that Halla is so angry about.

Director Erlingsson utilizes a band of musicians and singers (in Icelandic and in Icelandic native garb) in the background of most scenes to deliver the soundtrack, which gives the film a surreal (Greek Chorus) look, adding to the film’s quirkiness and bit of humour, though the tactic is a bit distracting.

The film premiered at Cannes and won Geirharðsdóttir the Best Actress prize at Montreal/s 2018 Festival of New Cinema.  The film was Iceland’s Official Entry for the Best Foreign Language Oscar though it did to make the short list.  Worth a look for its quirkiness and topicality but nothing really out of the ordinary.  But the film won 10 Edda Awards (Icelandic Film Awards) including the coveted Best Film, Best Actress and Best Director and Best Cinematography prizes.

Trailer: https://www.imdb.com/title/tt7279188/videoplayer/vi2484779545?ref_=tt_pv_vi_aiv_1

 

WONDER PARK (USA 2019) ***
(No director credited)

One must wonder how the filmmakers decide on whether the main child protagonist in their animated feature is going to be male or female.  Males have been highly successful in the  TOY STORY franchise while females in the FROZEN franchise.  For WONDER PARRK, creating rides and using mechanical expertise to tune up the rides would be more suited for a male child and his father rather than a girl and mother.  Girls do not generally engage in races either.  But in this age of gender equality, anything goes.  The female protagonist works well in this story to show more gender equality, credit to he filmmakers.

A young imaginative 10-year old girl named Cameron "June" Bailey (voiced by newcomer Brianna Denski) spent her childhood days constructing an amusement park filled with fantastical rides and inhabited by talking animals called Wonderland with her mother (Jennifer Garner) and her friends, but she lost her sense of imagination and wonder after her mother leaves home for an illness not mentioned and growing up, until she finds the real Wonderland in the woods while at math camp.  She needs to team up with the animals to stop the destruction of Wonderland by Chimpanzombies and bring it back to life.  Simple story, simply executed.

The film obviously suffers from the lack of a single evil villain.  The cute chimanzombies do not really cut it as scary villains.  Even their name sounds cute.  But the weight of worry on a sick mother on a child can be devastating.  Credit to the filmmakers and scriptwriter to include a more serious note in an otherwise fun film.  But this sad weight does anchor down the fun atmosphere of the film.  The audience also pities the poor father who now has to look after June and do the household chores which June does not believe the father is capable of.

The dialogue is sufficiently corny but doable. The characters try to put back the wonder in WONDER PARK when the park is breaking down.  The animals also frequently chant: “We are the Wonder in Wonder Park”.  The characters con up words like ‘splendiferous’ and ‘wonderiferous’, words that children can pick up and constantly annoy their parents with after the movie.  The park also encompasses some ingenious rides that the script has churned out, rides that could perhaps work in a real amusement part, but deemed too dangerous.

Other voice characterizations from more famous actors include the ones from Mila Kunis, Ken Jeong and Matthew Broderick as June’s father.

The part of the story of twin worlds existing makes a good concept.  When June whispers into the ear of her toy chimpanzee, the chimpanzee in WONDER WORLD, Peanut (Norbert Leo Lutz) hears her ideas and implements the suggestions.

WONDER PARK is the third animation feature from Nickleodeon Pictures and Paramount Animation Studios after JIMMY NEUTRON: BOY GENIUS and BARNYARD.  It was reported that the filmmakers hope the film turns out as big as Disney’s COCO.  Both films share the voice of a newcomer for the main child protagonist.

WONDER WORLD is no COCO but it is still not without its pleasures but for mostly kids. 

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5MRSBuQt51A

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