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This Week's Film Reviews (Jul 26, 2019)

25 Jul 2019

One ot the year's most anticipated movies ONCE UPON A TIME IN ... HOLLYWOOD opens this week.

BEST FILMS PLAYING:

Best Comedy:

Booksmart

Best Foreign: 

Never Look Away

Best Action:
Spider-Man: Far from Home

Best Doc:

Maiden

Best Family:

Story Story 

Best Horror:

Midsommar

 

FILM REVIEWS:

ASTRONAUT (USA 2019) **

Directed by Shelagh McLeod

ASTRONAUT belongs to the genre of old-fart films where the protagonist is a senior and has to come to terms with age and usually makes good, be it in romance or achieving ones final goal in life.  Thankfully, it is the latter.

The protagonist is 75-year old widower Angus (Richard Dreyfuss) who lives with his daughter’s family.  His son-in-law, Jim (Lyriq Bent) convinces the daughter, Molly (Krista Bridges) to move Angus into a retirement home.   His life seems over; he feels worthless and alone.  But Angus’s long extinguished dream is reignited when an exciting national competition is announced.  The prize is one golden ticket for a trip to space!   Way past the age limit at 65, he doesn't have a chance.  But spurred on by his grandson, Barney (Richie Lawrence) Angus fudges his birthdate, and enters the competition.  Against all odds, he must battle against prejudice, ill health, and win the contest.  Angus discovers too that the rocket is not safe, being a civil engineer.  A subplot requires him to tell the organizers of the problem but no one would believe an old man.

The film’s best parts is surprisingly nothing to do with his space trip.  It is his realization that he has to move and adapt into a retirement home.  From the looks of the home, it is quite attractive, spacious and grand and I doubt that anyone including myself (when I am old, of course) would mind staying there.  One feels for Angus.

The film features a mixed raced family, husband (African American) and wife (white), something much more common in films these days.

The film’s subplot concerns Angus Stewart’s family. The son-in-law has loses his job for standing up for his principles.

ASTRONAUT is in part another Richard Dreyfuss vehicle.  For those who remember, Dreyfuss won an Academy Award for his role in THE GOODBYE GIRL primarily for the scene where he made audiences cry when he played an actor realizing in his dressing room how bad his performance was as a crippled Hamlet.   Dreyfuss plays a senior inches in ASTRONAUT and it was not that long ago when audiences saw him as a teen in AMERICAN GRAFFITI and in the other space film, Steven Spielberg’s CLOSE ENCOUNTERS OF THE THIRD KIND. 

The other performance worthy of mention belongs to Native Canadian (born on the Six Nation Reserve in Ontario, Canada) Graham Greene (best remembered in THUNDERHEART) who plays  a fellow resident  of the retirement home.  He is to given much to say but still makes a screen presence.

ASTRONAUT is McLeod’s first feature and it shows.  The film meanders from being a family conflict drama and a space adventure while not satisfying either.  The one thing going for the film is Dreyfuss’ performance.  Dreyfuss had at one time turned into the most annoying actor on the planet, but his controlled acting here shows the actor this best when he was in films like JAWS, CLOSE ENCOUNTERS OF THE THIRD KIND, THE GOODBYE GIRL and THE BIG FIX.

The film has a odd tacked on sort-of happy ending that could have been better though of.

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bE1Nw5pEqL8

KILLING PATIENT ZERO (Canada 2019) ***1/2
Directed by Laurie Lynda

If you are a straight person reading this review, it would be unlikely that you would know who or what Patient Zero means.  The opposite can be said for any gay person, who is totally aware of the significance of Patient Zero.  Patient Zero is thought to be the man (an Air Canada flight steward) who brought  A.I.Ds to North America.

While Laurie Lynd's entertaining and informative documentary educates both sexual orientations on Patent Zero, the film serves more as an account of the History of A.I.D.s.

This is the documentary about the origins of the A.I.DS epidemic and the story of Gaetan Dugas, the man who was incorrectly accused of starting it all.

Gaetan when sick was recorded in California as Patient 57, a patient Out of California.  Patient ‘O’ not ‘0’, but mistaken for a zero.  This he was then mistaken to be Patient Zero the first one to have propagated the A.I.Ds virus.  He actually did (but not the first one) as he was a handsome man who had promiscuous unprotected sex with strangers.  In Gaetan's defence, no one knew at that time that the virus was passed on though unprotected sex.  And he cooperated with the authorities in re-tracing his 72 sex partners.  The most unforgettable words of one of the interviewees was: “after all this time, gay men can finally open up and enjoy sex and boom, the gay cancer occurs.  Everyone was scared as people were dying and no one knew how or what was happening.”  One interviewee includes gay Canadian filmmaker John Greyson who made the movie ZERO PATIENCE with an all-male cast.

The film has a definite impact on this reviewer.  This reviewer was a gay young man at the time in his early 30’s.  When I first came on the scene, A.I.D.s had just reared its ugly head.  When I first enjoyed the beauty of my youth, as I did sleep around with strangers, maybe twice a week, (not as promiscuous as Gaetan, but promiscuous nonetheless), news was already out that one has to use condoms to prevent  contacting the disease.  But having sex so often is difficult to be always safe and every year, I would have to be tested as I would have unprotected sex once or twice a year and then regretted it.  Anyway, yours truly has survived or you would not be reading this review.  It was hell of a good time then, being able to go to the clubs, get ‘high’ , dance, then take someone beautiful home.  Those were indeed the days.  The film captures those days. 

Most important of all is the fact that the film educates on the truth of Patient Zero.  The film attributes him a a scapegoat propagated in part by Randy Shilt’s book “And the Band Played on”.  But the film shows him a hero who cooperated with researchers.  It took 8000 gay men to die before Americans realize the A.I.D.s epidemic and for gays to be able to live, and alive to this day.

Though a doc, the film contains quite the few erotic scenes, like scantily clothed men rolling around on the floor and one scene set in the bath house (or sauna) that gay men go for casual sex.

Females are noticeably left out (except at the end) in this doc, but they are fortunate enough not to have suffered the effects of AIDs as much as their male counterparts.

KILLING PATIENT ZERO is a thorough History lesson on AIDs of the early 80’s that captures both the nostalgia and horror the times. Writer and director Laurie Lynd will be present for a Q&A  after the Friday, July 26, 6 PM screening at the Ted Rogers Cinema.

Trailer: https://www.imdb.com/title/tt9896252/videoplayer/vi176995353?ref_=tt_ov_vi

MASTER Z- THE IP MAN LEGACY (Hong Kong 2018) ***
Directed by Yuen Woo-Ping

The fourth and spin-off of the 2015 IP MAN 3, MASTER Z- THE IP MAN LEGACY still has plenty of bite in the franchise.  The IP MAN films have been a hit, one after the other, because the filmmakers kept to the successful formula while keeping the action and its execution fresh.  Though the stories have been told before, they still come across as fresh and convincing.

MASTER Z can stand alone without anything known about the three IP films.  When the film opens, the protagonist, Cheung Tin Chi (Max Zhang) has lost a bout with IP MAN, not shown, just mentioned.  He retreats with his shy son to Hong Kong where he opens a grocery store, hoping to retire without notice and lead a normal non-fighting life.  A little romance is provided by Julia (Liu Yan) who Tin Chi rescues from a local thug, Kit (Kevin Cheng).  This is the typical story where a hit man wants to come clean or a boxer who wishes to stop fighting, but is then pushed past his limit so that he is forced to complete one final job.  The same in this film.  The local thugs will not leave him alone - burning down his grocery store and house while nearly killing his son.

The film has quite a few innovative action set pieces.  The fights on the scaffoldings and on the signs that cover the top the builds are impressive.

The film has a good cameo from Thai fighter Tony Jaa (those who love martial-arts movies will immediately recognize him) as the hired assassin.  Michelle Yeoh (CRAZY RICH ASIANS, former Bond girl and Martial-arts film regular in Martial-arts films like THE HEROIC TRIO) has a supporting but important role as the local gangster sister and boss who wishes to make all her activities legal despite objections.

The film pokes fun at the white man and the colonized Hong Kong by the British.  The police commissioner is a white man who take bribes from the local gangsters.  The scenes are played funny the way he accepts the bribes and how the Chinese under him are forced to obey his every command.  A scene in the bar that the protagonist works at also shows the way the Chinese kow-tows to white people - something they do outwardly but grudgingly.  Dave Bautista (AVENGERS, STUBER) has a role of Davidson, a bad drug dealer.  The film takes the issue one step further, though done in a cheesy way, with the Chinese subduing their corrupt white authorities.

The segment where the drugs are dealt in public is unrealistic.  Only reason this is likely done is so that Tin Chi can witness the drug deal.

For a Martial-arts film MASTER Z is above average - which is a good compliment considering the number of shitty Martial-Art films Hong Kong used to churn out in the past and also the present.  The fight sequences are expertly executed (director Yuen is martial-arts choreographer who has worked in the MATRIX films) and alone worth the price of the ticket.

The film is available on digital and on DVD/Blu-Ray Tuesday, July 23rd.

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GqpmvER7a_E

ONCE UPON A TIME IN … HOLLYWOOD (USA 2009) ****
Directed by Quentin Tarantino

One of the year’s most anticipated films, Quentin Tarantino’s 9th and latest film, ONCE UPON A TIME IN … HOLLYWOOD follows the misadventures of has-been star Rick Danton and his stunt double and best friend Cliff Booth set in 1969 Hollywood.  The action takes place in three separate days on February the 8th and 9th and August the 8th, the night of the Charles Manson murders.

To reveal more of the plot would spoil ones entertainment of the film.

Tarantino is so much loved by cineastes that he can get away with murder.  A close friend of Harvey Weinstein, he must be guilty to his bad deeds by association.  ONCE UPON A TIME also contains minor racist humour, regarding Mexicans, Germans and Indians.  “Don’t cry in front of the Mexicans”  “Fresh sauerkraut” “The only good Indian is a dead Indian” are three such lines uttered in the film.

There are just so many impressive plusses in the film.  Foremost are the performances from the two leads, Leonardo DiCaprio as the has-been Hollywood star Rick Danton and Brad Pitt as his stunt double Cliff Booth.  DiCaprio exhibits the paranoia and childishness of a spoilt star while in perfect contrast Pitt plays the super-cool macho stuntman that supports Dalton but at  the same time needs him for employment - a excellent irony of a relationship.  Apparently Tarantino noticed the relationship between an actor and his stunt double and their support for each other and based his script from that keen observation.  To make matters more interesting, their relationship unfolds in the background of the infamous Charles Manson murders which included the death of Roman Polanski’s wife, Sharon Tate.  Or so it seems.  Tarantino has played with History as in his best film INGLOURIOUS BASTERDS and he does the same (not to be detailed in this review as to reveal a spoiler) in this film.

The film contains lots of references to the late 60’s films (as the film is set in 1969) that those growing up during those times will find particularly nostalgic.  Seen in posters in the film or heard announced on the radio are films like Jack Smight’s 1969 THE ILLUSTRATED MAN, Gordon Douglas’ Tony Rome 1968 LADY IN CEMENT, Richard Wilson’s 1968 3 IN THE ATTIC, Mike Sarne’s 1968 JOANNA, Phil Karlson’s Matt Helm flick the 1968 THE WRECKING CREW and Alexander Mackendrick’s 1967 DON’T MAKE WAVES the latter two films also starring Sharon Tate. These are not classics but the typical type of films common that help mold many a cineaste, me included.  It is puzzling why Tarantino did not include the Roman Polanski’s 1967 film THE FEARLESS VAMPIRE KILLERS in the list.  Fans are also in for a treat with a scene in THE WRECKING CREW where Sharon Tate takes down Nancy Kwan.  If these films are not enough, Tarantino also creates fake films starring Rick Dalton and other stars at the time like Telly Savalas and Ann-Margaret.

Cliff Booth gets fired from a job on a Hollywood set.  Tarantino shows the incident that led to the firing in the film’s best and funniest scene where Cliff Booth kicks Bice Lee’s (an excellent Mike Moh) ass in a fight on the set of THE GREEN HORNET.

This film, Tarantino’s 9th and reportedly his lasting clearly displays the director’s indulgence in his passion for film within a certain period. There is nothing wrong with this.  Though a little overlong, there are details that can be observed (especially in the background) and tons of references.  No Tarantino film has failed to surprise and this film is no exception.  And with so much detail, ONCE UPON A TIME IN … HOLLYWOOD which premiered in Cannes to a 15-minute standing ovation deserves to be see a second time.

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Scf8nIJCvs4

THE OTHER STORY (Israel 2018) ****
Directed by Avi Nether

THE OTHER STORY is one of the BEST Jewish films I have seen, succeeding for the fact that it has quite a good story, and one related to Jewish mores.  The film follows two rebellious young women, one fleeing the chaos of secular hedonism for the disciplined comforts of faith, the other desperate to transcend her oppressive religious upbringing for sexual and spiritual freedom, cross paths unexpectedly in Jerusalem — with startling consequences — in this empowering drama from Avi Nesher (PAST LIFE).  The film begins with Yonathan returning from the U.S. to Jerusalem, called by his ex-wife to do whatever crooked means possible to prevent their daughter Anati from marrying by defaming the groom.  Meanwhile, Yonatan’s dad gets him involved in another couple’s dispute over custardy of their child.   It is fucked up people doing fucked up things to un-fuck up their lives - a sort of dysfunctional family with a thriller element thrown in for good measure.  THE OTHER STORY is totally unpredictable, hilarious while remaining smart and believable.  The best surprise in this crown-pleaser is the happy ending that had the audience applauding at the end credits.

Trailer: https://vimeo.com/283720820

 

THE STONE SPEAKERS (KAMENI GOVORNICI)(Canada/Bosnia/Herzegovina 2018) **

Directed by Igor Drljaca

 

The old Yugoslavia and the new Yugoslavia.  The past and the present.  How anti-fascism was ridden of and the country that now enjoys the benefits from tourism.  THE STONE SPEAKERS is directed by Canadian based Igor Drljaca, examining the intersection between tourism and ideology in four post-war Bosnian and Herzegovinian towns.

In present-day Bosnia-Herzegovina is a country still reeling from the civil war in the early 90s. The Bosnian economy never recovered, and the country remains divided. In order to cope, many towns have transformed themselves into unique tourist destinations that bring together history, religion, politics and folklore.  The tourist sites promoted are not only a reflection of peopleʼs attempts to make a livelihood but are also a means to promote and establish competing narratives about the countryʼs past, present and future. The Stone Speakers explores four towns in Bosnia-Herzegovina through their tourism, slowly unravelling

these competing narratives.

The four towns are:

1. MEDJUGORJE in Eastern Herzegovina became a site of considerable interest in 1981 after six children, who are referred to as visionaries, began to see apparitions of the Virgin Mary.  Te film includes sites with tourists and pilgrims visiting the town.  The town now attracts upwards of one million pilgrims per year.  Despite the foreign crowds, like the rest of Bosnia-

Herzegovina, the local population in the region continues to decline.

2. TUZLA is located in what was once the industrial heartland of North-eastern Bosnia. Sitting on massive salt deposits, it has been historically well-known for its production of salt, which has continued nearly uninterrupted for over a thousand years. The cityʼs manufacturing sector, much like other industrial infrastructure throughout the country, was criminally privatized

and closed in the post-war period.  The city authorities have taken advantage of sinkholes caused by the over-extraction of salt to create salt lakes that have tourists.  The portion on TUZLA is the most interesting of the 4 cities.

3. VISOKO has only recently received more widespread attention, stemming from claims that a complex network of pyramids, older than the ones in Egypt, has existed at the site since at least 12 000 BCE. The claims, made by Semir Osmanagic, have not been supported by the scientific community, but the town has continued to enjoy a tourism boom as a result. A wide network of tunnels has been unearthed beneath the pyramids, which have been integrated into a

tourist attraction.  This segment is quite informative as many do not know pyramids existed here.

4. VIŠEGRAD - is at the crossroads of empires, and until recently, it was a predominantly a Bosniak town.  This part is primarily history and the director Drljaca trees it as such.  Prior to the civil war in the 1990s, Bosniaks accounted for over 60% of the townʼs population, but most were ethically cleansed during the fighting. The city has never been able to fully recover since the war, and its demographic decline continues, driven in part by the poor socio-economic conditions of the region.

THE STONE SPEAKERS plays like both a history and geography lesson.  Director Drljaca has 12 residents speak about the 4 towns.  They stand alone and then speak amidst a background that ranges from landscape to architecture.  He has them remain in silence for a minute before speaking.  They speak slowly but the English subtitles often run too fast for the audience to read.

As artful and informative this doc is, it would be difficult to recommend it to any commercial moviegoer. THE STONE SPEAKERS is not the run-of-the-mill documentary.  The majority would likely not connect wth the director’s aim and find the film a complete bore.  The one user review on imdb claimed that THE STONE SPEAKERS is a really bad movie.  Though not entirely true, it is easy to see the reason that writer felt that way.

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6tcQ-dd-RJw

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