- Category: Movie Reviews
- Written by Gilbert Seah
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47 METRES DOWN: UNCAGED (USA 2019) **
Directed by Johannes Roberts
Back in 2017, a low budget survival horror film that cost only $5 million to make earned a whopping $62 million worldwide at the box-office despite mixed reviews. The plot followed two sisters who are invited to cage dive while on holiday in Mexico. When the winch system holding the cage broke and the cage plummets to the ocean floor with the two girls trapped inside, they must find a way to escape, with their air supplies running low and great white sharks stalking nearby.
A new survival horror sequel arrives this week with a similar title 47 METRES DOWN: UNCAGED. The first part of the title 47 METRES DOWN will tend to be confusing but the uncaged signifies that the film is also about sharks, and this time about girls attacked by sharks unprotected by a cage. The film was supposedly to be set in Brazil but moved to Yucaton, Mexico. Principal photography for the film took place in the Dominican Republic, Pinewood Studios, Dominican Republic, The Underwater Studio in Basildon and Pinewood Studios, UK.
Four teenage girls scuba diving in a ruined underwater city quickly find themselves in a watery hell as their adventure turns to horror when they learn they are not alone in the submerged caves. As they swim deeper into the claustrophobic labyrinth of caves, they enter the territory of the deadliest shark species in the ocean. The species is supposed to have developed heightened senses for the silly reason that these sharks need to survive in deep underwater without sight, as there is no light in the far depths of the ocean. Yet, the sharks keep missing their prey.
Mia (Sophe Nelisse) and Sasha (Corinne Foxx) are two half sisters who do not get along- till of course they bond after their encounter with the sharks - no surprise here. They are led by Alexa (Brianne Tju), followed by troublemaker Nicole (Sistine Stallone), the latter take risks at the expense of others to satisfy her curiosity. Needless to say, she is the first one to go. The cast is eclectic enough with a white, a black and an asian forming three of the girls. Surprising for a film set in Mexico, there is hardly a Mexican to be seen on the screen.
Nothing much happens for the first third of the film, where director Roberts takes his time to establish the relationship between the sisters, Mia and her schoolmates that eventually lead nowhere. The action and mishaps are all too predictable. When all the thrills appear exhausted, the sharks suddenly appear - not one but many. The underwater photography is impressive.
The music is a hash of old hits including the Carpenters’ song “We’ve Only Just Begun”, which is an odd choice for the movie.
The film is obviously a cash grab banging not the success of the original 2017 movie, providing much more of the same which in other words, ends up quite the bore, even at 90 minutes.
AFTER THE WEDDING (USA 2019) ***
Directed by Bart Freundlich
AFTER THE WEDDING is the 2006 Best Foreign Film Oscar nominee that put Danish filmmaker Susanne Bier on the moviemaking map. As the film was released way back when, it has been more than 10 years since Julianne Moore initiated the remake and many will hardly remember anything abut the original movie, expect that it was really good. And that’s a good thing. The plot revelations in the film are what keeps the film both interesting and engrossing.
In the original film, the protagonist played by Mads Mikkelsen is a Dane working in India at an orphanage before traveling back to Copenhagen to secure funds from a wealthy entrepreneur who happens to have a hidden agenda. In the new version the gender roles are switched. Isabel (Michelle Williams) is an American transplant who has devoted her life to running a Calcutta orphanage. Just as funds are drying up, she is contacted by a potential donor , Theresa (Julianne Moore) who insists that Isabel must travel to New York (replacing Copenhagen) to make a presentation in person. Once in New York, Isabel lands in the sight line of Theresa, a multi-millionaire media mogul who seems to have a perfect life – from the glittering skyscraper where she runs her business, to the glorious Oyster Bay estate, where she lives with her artist husband (Billy Crudup), about-to-be married daughter (Abby Quinn) and younger twin sons. While Isabel thinks she’ll soon be returning to the orphanage, Theresa has other plans for Isabel.
The less said about the film’s story the better, as the revelations of the plot would spoil the film’s entertainment.
Both what is a marvellous about this version are the performances by the two female leads. Williams is the best, acting through her eyes and mannerisms, and obviously stealing the limelight from Moore. Moore, understandably gives herself some major lines to dramatize when she, realizing that she is going to die screams that she wants to live. This is reminiscent of the Jill Clayburgh scene in Daryl Duke’s GRIFFIN AND PHOENIX where she and Peter Falk played lovers who were both dying of terminal illness but finally happy in love. Clayburgh’s character screams and cries: “Life is so unfair!!”
In the film there is a segment where the females Isabel and her daughter (Abby Quinn) bond together in a moment of distress. Again, this is right out of Alfonso Curaron’s ROMA where the major line was uttered by the mistress to the maid, when pregnant thought she was going to be fired (by her mistress) but only to be told: “We women have to stick together.”
AFTER THE WEDDING is so immaculately shot in an almost too perfect India (with a huge outdoor pool for washing that seems too clean for authenticity) and an orphanage looking too perfect with a perfectly organized wedding where all the speeches are delivered spot-on. Imperfections occur in real life.
AFTER THE WEDDING is clearly a female film based on a film made by a female auteur with a newly written female slant and starring two powerful actresses. Women are making a big difference in the film industry recently. And this is a good thing with less slant of filmmaking in any one direction.
BLINDED BY THE LIGHT (UK 2019) **
Directed by Gurinder Chadha
BLINDED BY THE LGHT is inspired by the life of journalist Sarfraz Manzoor and his love of the works of Bruce Springsteen. Manzoor co-wrote the script with director Chadha and Paul Mayeda Berges. It is based on Manzoor's acclaimed memoir Greetings from Bury Park: Race, Religion and Rock N’ Roll. In real life, Springsteen told Manzoor he loved the memoir which inspired Manzoor to move forward to eventually have the film made.
The story is set in the town of Luton in 1987 Thatcher’s Britain. Javed (an impressive first performance by youthful Viveik Kalra) is a British-Pakistani Muslim teenager whose life is troubled. His father has just been laid off and his family has to cope with expenses. Being Pakistani, he and his family are subject to racism. His quest to become a writer, however is encouraged by his English teacher but discouraged by his father. He yearns for a girlfriend. It is at this point his life where he discovers the music of Springsteen.
African born British Asian Gurinder Chadha has got two commercial hits under her belt - 1993’s BHANJI ON THE BEACH (Indian women on an excursion to Blackpool) and BEND IT LIKE BECKHAM (female talented soccer player within a close knitted Indian family), which is likely the reason BLINDED BY THE LIGHT got made. She championed the cause of the film being made based on the memoir her friend Sarfraz Manzoor gave her to read.
BLINDED BY THE LIGHT had initial troubles in funding but after being made and premiering at Sundance this January, earned a standing ovation as well as a $15 million sale to Want Bros. who is releasing this film.
Like BEND IT LIKE BECKHAM, BLINDED BY THE LIGHT is a manipulative crowd pleaser set in Britain in this case the town of Luton in 1987 where unemployment and racism was present in Thatcher’s Britain. Ironically during one racial riot scene, a poster of Thatcher “Britain Unified’ can be seen in the background.
The film is heavily laden with Pakistani stereotypes from the rebellious son to the patriarch father to the quiet all-knowing mother. The young immigrant faces formidable obstacles in his quest to become a writer as well as a romance with a white Brit. The father is down on the son before reconciliation. All this have been seen before, as most recent as in Danny Boyle’s YESTERDAY.
There are certain difficulties with translating the story into film. Foremost is to show how the lyrics of Springsteen’s songs affect Javed. This director Chadha accomplishes by having the lyrics done as subtitles appearing on the screen as Javed listens to the songs.
Despite being a male dominated story, Chad infuses the strength of the female in the Pakistani family. She shows the father crying at his failure at one point. In another scene, the mother makes a distinct influence on the fathers decision by telling him that she would never forgive him if Javed leaves the family. Yet anther shows Javed’s sister also having a good time partying and is therefore also an individual voice in the family.
Despite director Chadha and the film’s good intentions, the film bows to white commercialism stereotyping minorities, providing no insight to the problems but dishing put easy feel good set-ups like the unbearable ending speech Javed delivers at his graduation ceremonies.
COLD WATER HAMMARSKJOLD (Denmark/Norway/Sweden/Belgium 219) ***
Directed by Mads Brügger
At Sundance 2019, the World Cinema Documentary Directing Award went to Mads Brügger’s Cold Case Hammarskjöld. The doc traces the murder of the then Secretary of the United Nations in 1961, Dag Hammarskjöld, through supposedly a plane crash. Did this actually happen or is this part of a conspiracy theory? The doc plays like a whodunit with lots of clues (actually too many that the story becomes confusing and long).
The doc does not open too impressively. Within the first 10 minutes, the doc jumps through half a dozen diverse places and times. The director Mads Brügger (THE RED CHAPEL, THE AMBASSADOR) is dressed in white apparel while in a hotel room dictating to his black secretary. The members of a clandestine organization SAIMR all dress in white. There is absolutely no reason for Mads Brügger to wear white except to step into character. But the fact emphasizes the director’s attention to detail, which is the sort of thing delivers of conspiracy theories get into.
Danish filmmaker Mads Brügger and his Swedish sidekick Göran Björkdahl investigate the mysterious 1961 plane crash that killed United Nations secretary-general Dag Hammarskjöld. As their search closes in, they discover a crime darker than they could have imagined. Hammarskjöld had sympathized with African nations that were forging independent identities – a stance that made him a lot of enemies among old colonial powers. When his plane went down in Northern Rhodesia (now Zambia), Hammarskjöld was en route to cease-fire negotiations during the Congo Crisis. His body was found with the ace of spades
(the Death Card) tucked in his collar. For decades rumours have swirled around the cause of the crash. Was it murder? If so, who would benefit?
Brügger and Björkdahl spent six years travelling all over Europe and Africa, conducting interviews and roaming through archives. Their path led to stories of Belgian mercenaries, tales of evil men who dressed in white and rumours about a secret African society. Just as Brügger is
wondering if the film will have an ending, a brutal secret emerges, which thankfully enlivens the story which is beginning to descend into depths of boredom.
It is fascinating to watch how one man Brügger can go all out to search for clues like a sleuth in heat. Armed with two shovels and a metal detector, he and Björkdahl dig up the remains of the crashed plane. They also interview old people dug up from the archives who might have slight knowledge to contribute. They do not seem to get tired though the findings may be slow and meagre. This is a case where the search for the truth is more interesting that the truth itself.
The film is shot in many different languages - in English, French Bemba, Danish and Swedish. One cannot complain about the film’s attention to detail except for the fact that it become a little too much at times.
GOOD BOYS (USA 2019) ***
Directed by Gene Stupnitsky
Right on the heels of Olivia Wilde’s incredibly smart BOOKSMART arrives the male gendered version of kids trying to be cool while keeping their friendships intact.
The three kids in the film are ironically, never referred to as GOOD BOYS but as BAD BOYS (two other films have already used that title) and other names. The trouble starts when the three are invited to a kissing party, though they have no idea how to kiss.
The film begins, with 12-year old Max caught watching porn on his lap top in his bedroom by his father. Instead of being chastised, his dad is proud that Max is coming of age and tells the mother. It is a funny situation that makes a good start for a pubescent comedy about growing up.
After being invited to his first kissing party, 12-year-old Max (Jacob Tremblay, a Canadian who is also 12 years of age, best known for ROOM) is panicking because he does not know how to kiss. Eager for some pointers, Max and his best friends, Thor (Brady Noon) and Lucas (Keith L. Williams), decide to use Max's dad's drone, which they are forbidden to touch, to spy on a teenage couple who are making out. But when things go ridiculously wrong, the drone is confiscated by two teenage girls. Desperate to get it back before Max's dad gets home, the boys skip school and set off an odyssey of epically bad decisions involving some accidentally stolen drugs, frat-house paintball, and running from both the cops and terrifying teenage girls.
GOOD BOYS prides itself as being an adult film about kids. Thus, as expected, there is quite a lot of swearing, even coming out of the mouths of the 12-year olds. Director Stupnisky seems desperate to elicit laughs at any cost.
GOOD BOYS contains a few unforgettable segments involving the growing up process like trying to drink one first beer (remember how awful the first taste was?), trying to cope with adult problems like a parent’s divorce and bullying. Director Stupniksy delivers a very funny ANANBELLE (as in the horror franchise) sequence. Whenever the three boys are having a bonding moment, one of the younger sisters named Annabelle suddenly appears just as in the ANNABELLE movies to scare them out of their wits and invade their privacy. Another has a kid character called Atticus (poking fun at TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD). These two parts got the most laughs out of me. The comedic set-up of the boys crossing a busy highway is also terrifying hilarious.
The kids parents are also given the token nod and not ignored in the film. They are, thankfully, not treated as complete idiots as in many kid-oriented films.
GOOD BOYS, though funny enough is inferior, by inevitable comparison to BOOKSMART which contains funnier jokes, more inventive comedic set-ups with more cinematic surprises (the underwater swimming pool sequence). Still, Stupnisky’s GOOD BOYS contains a few good memories about adolescence.
MINE 9 (USA 2019) ***
Directed by Eddie Mensore
The main mine explosion that is what the film is about occurs right at the one-third mark of the movie. The film then plays like an action disaster movie.
But there is an explosion in a mining sequence at the film’s start. One wonders if this explosion is one that occurred prior to the main one, or it is the main one re-visited at the one third mark of the film. It is all quite disorienting but the answer comes clear only the end of the film.
Words like: “What about Smithy?” “Smithy is behind me.” “I suggest we leave him be.”
“The whole f***ing panel’s caved in.” tell the story just as well as images. For all that is worth, the scenes are dark as the miners have limited light the only light coming from the lamps on their helmets.
At its worst, MINE 9 plays like a typical cliched disaster movie - the type producer Irwin Allen used to churn out by the dozen (THE TOWERING INFERNO, THE SWARM, THE POSEIDON ADVENTURE) till audiences got fed up with them. There is the typical selfless hero (Terry Serpico, doing a fine job despite the script’s limitations) who makes all the correct decisions, the rookie that the other miners make fun, the bad guys who are the company (mine) bosses et al. The first third of the movie has the audience familiarize with all the miners and how each one is connected with each other - be it distant or close family or friend. A backyard birthday party is the excuse for the gathering for all the miners before they are told to be ready in 2 hours time for work, just as it is cue for the film to work out its tired formula.
On the positive side, the film stresses the authenticity of the disaster., scoring high marks in this category. There are lots of screaming in MINE 9 compared to the usual disaster movie with lots of broken limbs and clambering in the darkness to add to he mayhem.
There is one unwatchable segment after a roof has collapsed on the miners, the rocks trapping one miner by the arm. In order to make himself available to be rescued, he would have to have his arm sawed off. Director Mensore milks the horror off the scene for all its worth, making even the hardest of moviegoers cringe. The question is whether one needs to watch this?
The soundtrack contains repeating metallic pounding sounds - the type that will drive one mad, which works well for the film’s tension. The miners occasionally sing their songs (some religious) making the film looks like a Terence Davies movie.
Cinematography is excellent courtesy of D.P. Matthew Boyd. The claustrophobic atmosphere is effectively created with the height of the mines often just enough for a human being to crawl through. The exterior landscape of the countryside is also stunning.
The ultimate question posed to the audiences throughout the film is weather the miners will survive? Those familiar with the disaster film genre will be quick to guess the correct answer. The closing credits all while real miners talk about their lives putting the film into perspective.
SPICE IT UP ( Canada 2018) ***
Directed by Lev Lewis, Yonah Lewis, and Calvin Thomas
Directed by Lev Lewis (The Intestine) and Yonah Lewis and Calvin Thomas (co-directors of Amy George and The Oxbow Cure), SPICE IT UP is about a young filmmaker making her first film done as a tongue-in-cheek odyssey about the discouraging obstacles encountered by independent filmmakers.
Film student Rene (Jennifer Hardy), struggles to complete her thesis project — a piece of straight-faced, GoPro-shot absurdity about seven female friends who try to enlist in the Canadian army after they fail to graduate from high school. To her discouragement, she finds her work dismissed or ignored by everyone she shares it with, including her own professor (Adam Nayman - Toronto’s film critic who happens to also teach film at Ryerson University, Toronto as depicted in the film), whose notes are less than inspiring. Jumping between the ensemble-based film-within-a-film about friendship and teamwork, and the framing story of the lonely plight of its creator.
SPICE IT UP definitely has a documentary filmmaker’s look about it. It feels that the film is directed by the protagonist Rene, while in reality the film is directed by three different people.
This is a film within a film. Famous directors in the past have made films about their experiences in filmmaking resulting in their best works. Francois Truffaut directed and played a film director himself in the Academy Award Winner for Best Foreign Film LA NUIT AMERICAINE (English title: DAY FOR NIGHT), Federico Fellini directed bis masterpiece 81/2 with Marcello Mastroianni playing a young film director while the most recent ONCE UPON A TIME IN HOLLYWOOD is Quentin Tarrantino’s excursion on the filmmaking process during the hippie era. It seems odd that the directors’ early film would tackle such a project that involves all the intricacies of creating a film - all of which comes with experience while making many, many films. It is clear that SPICE IT UP turns out a little simple in its outlook on how to create a film. Unlike the Masters’ works in filmmaking, all the information about making a good film appears to be textbook material, as advised by the Adam Nayman character in one scene where he, playing a film processor gives Rene advice on her film - create a stronger lead character instead of using 7 actors; engage a stronger narrative etc. These words are echoed by a film editor who offers identical advice to Rene. “Do you want me to got down and get dirty?” the editor asks Rene at one point whether he has permission to snip up her film. In short, Rene is advised to SPICE IT (her film) UP!
The answer to the last question would be a definite no, if one asks the opinion of the audience watching this film. SPICE IT UP is Rene’s own film despite flaws and all and destroying it would seem nothing short of criminal.
SPICE IT UP ends up a quiet little film that would turn out more intriguing to cineastes. This kind of small Canadian film would not have a release if it were not be for the TIFF Bell Lightbox and its programmers who give little films like SPICE IT UP a decent chance.
The film has its surprises and flaws. One surprise is Rene’s professor who appears again at the end. Nayman is hilarious as the pompous professor dishing out advice to Rene without realizing that he had watched the wrong film. The part of Rene discovering her past unfortunately leads nowhere and serves as a distraction.
There is a Q&A (you already missed it!!) moderated by the said Adam Nayman in the film on Friday, August 16 at 8:30pm with the film’s three directors at the TIFF Bell Lightbox.
WHERE’D YOU GO, BERNADETTE (USA 2019) ***
Directed by Richard Linklater
The answer to the question of the film title: WHERE’D YOU GO, BERNADETTE? is Antarctica. Bernadette (Oscar Winner Cate Blanchett) is seen at the film’s start kayaking along in waters with icebergs in the background. What led to this scene? The film flashes back the story 5 weeks earlier to explain the series events leading to this.
WHERE’D YOU GO, BERNADETTE is a mystery comedy drama that has two things going for it. First is the film’s director Richard Linklater (BOYHOOD) who has made quite the name for himself as a filmmaker to be reckoned with. Second is its star Cate Blanchett who is the main reason to see the movie. Blanchett is nothing short of excellent, supported by an equally apt Kirsten Wiig playing Audrey her woman-made enemy.
The film is based on the recent bestseller of the same name by Maria Semple - with a few changes. The novel could be described as unfilmmable as it consists of a series of emails and texts, so to Linklater’s credit, he has done an excellent job with his script.
The book is mostly narrated by Bee who is the daughter of Bernadette but the film makes Bernadette the main character. Bernadette is an agropbobic architect who after considerable success winning the prestigious architecture award in L.A. has moved with husband, Elgin (Billy Crudup) and daughter Bee (Emma Nelson) to Seattle where Bernadette never leaves the family home. Elgin is an important designer at Microsoft. All of Bernadette’s chores are done through her cell phone via Anjuli. When Bee convinces both parents to go on an Antarctic cruise, Bernadette tries to come up with any excuse not to go - as she hates people and seldom leaves the house. There is much more in the plot which should not be disclosed in the review. But it s safe today that Bernadette runs into a big fight with her neighbour Audrey (Wiig). When her husband suspects that his wife is having psychological problems, he and assistant, Soo-Lin (Zoe Chao) arrange a meeting to have her committed. This is the Bernadette escapes ending up in Antarctica.
In the book, Soo-Lin is impregnated by Elgin, but this is not the case in the film. Bernadette suspects he husband of liking Soo-Lin but that is it and there is no infidelity unless one can argue that it could be implied. This simplifies the story which is already quite complicated with too many subplots.
The script is a little too heavy on the dialogue. The voiceover, and dialogue from all the characters appear too perfect for the typical American, though one can argue that one character is an architect and the other a Microsoft genius. The script sneaks in quite the few world issues like environmental conservation, climate change and feminine presence. As in recent films such as Alfonso Cuaron’s ROMA and the recent THE KITCHEN where it is said: “we women have to stick together.”, the statement is realized in the segment when the enemy Audrey bonds and ends up aiding Bernadette when her husband plans to commit her. A woman is also in charge of the Antarctic Station.
Stay for the ending credits where the design of the Antarctic station comes alive in front of he audience’s eyes.
WHERE’D YOU GO, BERNADETTE ends up an over-bloated dysfunctional family drama that is ultimately resolved in a somewhat entertaining film.
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