This Week's Film Reviews (Feb 7, 2020)

01 Feb 2020

Gilbert's Picks

Hlighly Recommended are

1.   Les Miserables

2.   1917

3.   The Traitor

4.   Oscar Shorts



Directed by Kitty Green

THE ASSISTANT is described by its writer/director Kitty Green as a quiet film about a very loud subject.  Indeed, it is a withering critique of workplace harassment and systemic oppression.  The film helps explain how sexually predatory behaviour by powerful men often remains hidden. 

The opening sequence shows what is assumed to be the assistant, Jane (Julia Garner) outside a building in the dark leaving work.  But then she is shown at the office turning on the lights.   Jane is thus not leaving work but going to work in the morning.  A case of first in and last out (LIFO acronym) of the office.  Jane is a recent graduate given a chance to prove herself at her first job.  It is not an easy task.

Jane never or seldom smiles.  She is in a male dominated workplace and has to endure male related jokes of her colleagues who are one up from her, experience-wise.  When she fouls up, she has to resort to writing a letter of apology, which in the film occurs twice.  A male colleague leans over her shoulder as she types the apology on the keyboard.  “Thank him for the opportunity for working in the company and then promise that the mishap will never happen again.” is the advice given to her which she reluctantly takes.  There is a lot to be read in the scene.  Has the male colleague also undergone a similar humiliating process?  Is he being snide?  Whatever the reason, writer/director Green makes her audience think.

THE ASSISTANT is a tight 90-minute drama.  The film aim has one aim and it is to show the abuse of the female in a different way from say the recent BOMBSHELL where the abuse is crystal clear.  In this film, there is a bit more ambiguity.  Unlike many female dominant films, the males in THE ASSISTANT are not complete bumbling idiots.  Jane’s male supervisor is a cunning one, even complementing her that she is a smart one and will likely succeed.  The males here are not easy targets to take down.

An incident that occurs in the film is when a pretty actress enters the office and leaves.  The actress leaves a ring behind that Jane takes after cleaning up the office at night. Jane assumes that the male has had sex with the actress and lodges a complaint to her superior offering the ring as proof.  The result is far from what she expected.  She is chided for being nosy and for making assumptions.  Worse still, she is reminded to take her scarf from the office which she forgets - implying someone could have assumed she might have had sex taking off her scarf in the process.  She now has to write a letter of apology and eat humble pie.

Julia Garner is totally in her comfort zone playing the distressed Jane.  In an interview (see link below) she mentions admiring the director Green’s work.  The working bond between Green and Garner clearly pays off in the film.

THE ASSISTANT turns out to be a subtle often brilliant film and that rare one that allows the audience the privilege to figure out what is actually going on besides what appears on the screen.

Trailer: https://www.imdb.com/video/vi1195228953?playlistId=tt9000224&ref_=tt_ov_vi

Interview (source: imdb): https://www.imdb.com/video/vi1902952217?listId=ls093993028&pf_rd_m=A2FGELUUNOQJNL&pf_rd_p=2cd6c824-f790-4d23-82a4-23b13daa7541&pf_rd_r=ASEZNGJTJB2KR9QCRR5D&pf_rd_s=center-3&pf_rd_t=15021&pf_rd_i=tt9000224&ref_=tt_sun20_jg_asst_i_1

BIRDS OF PREY  (and the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn) (USA 2020 ***)

Directed by Cathy Yan

BIRDS OF PREY follows the adventures of Harley Quinn (Margot Robbie), who audiences last saw in the THE SUICIDE SQUAD (2015) where she was one of the squad members.  Quinn was a super annoying character and she can get quite again so in BIRDS OF PREY.  But Robbie is excellent in the role, even able to squeeze out lots of sympathy from the audience.

The film opens in comic book animated form in which Harley Quinn narrates the events of her life. The Joker has broken up with Harley, throwing her out on the streets of Gotham City.  She is taken in by Doc, the elderly owner of a Chinese restaurant.  Recovering from her abusive relationship with the Joker, Harley cuts her hair, adopts a spotted hyena (whom she names after Bruce Wayne), takes up roller derby, and blows up the Ace Chemicals plant where she pledged herself to the Joker.  No one dares to stand up against the Joker, cops or thugs alike, so Quinn has got immunity, managing to get away with almost anything till now, when the Joker’s protection is over.

Why is the film called BIRDS OF PREY?  The answer is only evident at the end of the film.  The script by Christina Hodson has its story unfold non-linearly time wise, resulting in quiet the confusion at the film’s beginning.  An event takes place.  The a flashback 4 minutes ago.  Then, 4 weeks before that.  When Quinn is arrested by the police in Gotham City, the next scene shows her free because of a flashback, that can seem quite confusing.  If one tries to follow the plot, one can also get quite muddled up.  So it is best just to relax and take in whatever can be taken in, never mind not following the story totally.  As such, the film only gets on its feet after the first third, but then, it gets pretty solid terms of quirky action and humour. - 

The film lies almost entirely on Margot Robbie who is nothing short of excellent in her role, she also serving as producer of the film.  Of the supporting cast, Rosie Perez, is always a pleasure to watch,  She plays a female version of DIRTY HARRY, only she is unable to do what she wishes.  McGregor does the rare turn as a villain, and a rather nasty and sadistic one at that.

BIRDS OF PREY is clearly a woman’s film all the way from production, direction, script action to characters and theme.  This is to be praised of course, especially when the males are not treated in the story as complete idiots but a challenge to be defeated, also thanks to an excellent performance of Ewan McGregor as a villain, Black Mask to be contended with.  The film has visual style, adult humour (the second R-rated film and 8th film by Warner Brothers in the DCEU).

Trailer: https://www.imdb.com/video/vi3883843353?playlistId=tt7713068&ref_=tt_ov_vi


COME TO DADDY (Canada/Ireland/New Zealand 2019) ****

Directed by Ant Timpson

COME TO DADDY as its title implies, is a delicious wicked horror film, a mix between horror and comedy, a co-production among Canada, Ireland and New Zealand.

The protagonist in the story is a mild mannered mother’s boy who now COES TO DADDY for the first time, as he has never met him.  The visit prompt him to exhibits hidden violent nature in order to survive, akin to the Dustin Hoffman’s characters in Sam Peckinpah’s famous STRWA DOGS.

COME TO DADDY stars three solid actors Elijah Wood, Stephen McHattie and ration Donovan.  These three actors are known for odd roles anti is a pleasure to see them do weird things together.  Wood is famous for playing Froddo Baggins in Peter Jackson’s LORD OF THE RINGS trilogy.  Here he looks as if he is taking another unexpected journey (as if from his comfortable shire) to visit his dad for the first time.  Wood has a weird look too, which he uses to h fuller in the film.  Canadian McHattie plays older rascals while Donovan, whose fame could be attributed to the early Hal Hartley films like TRUST and SIMPLE MEN is also no stranger at playing strange characters.  Donovan and McHattie both apparently play who the Wood character things is his father until truth comes out.

The film plays like a family drama for the first 30 minutes.  Abandoned son gets a letter from dad whom he has never seen requesting a visit in Port Hope (according to the words on a cap worn by a coroner).  His visit (hence the title COME TO DADDY) shows the father to be kind of weird, prompting him to query the purpose of his visit.  At the 30 minute mark, the horror starts. The father comes charging to with a bad attacking this son.  This is the turning point when the fun starts.

One of the film’s odd moments concerns the arrival of a car that shows California license plates.  What is an American car doing in Pope Hope?

One of the film’s best segments (if one can handle the extreme violence)  has Norval fight for his life against a fat Oriental (Simon Chin).  The entire fight is totally gross with extreme violence and  humour that is guaranteed to have ones heart beating twice as quickly as before the fight started.

Good trivia to know: (Source: imdb)

The films that influence the film; and Ant's reasoning for them, are Snowball Express (1972) ("for the cat & mouse twists") , Sexy Beast (2000) ("for the jarring lead antagonist and turns from comedy to violence"), The Servant (1963) ("for the mind games with those we're inavoidably [sic] linked with"), The Birthday Party (1968) ("for the pitch-black comedy of menace") and Sam Peckinpah's 1971 masterpiece Straw Dogs (1971) ("for the simmering violence awakened in the lead”)

COME TO DADDY is real blast for horror fans who love their horror with an extreme dose of violence and sardonic humour.  It gets my vote for the Best Canadian Film seen so far this year!

Trailer: https://www.imdb.com/video/vi4078944025?playlistId=tt8816194&ref_=tt_ov_vi

IL TRADITORE (THE TRAITOR) (Italy/France/Germany/Brazil 2019) ****

Directed by Marco Bellocchio

THE TRAITOR is the true story of the Cost Nostra criminals of the heroin trade in Palermo, Italy.  Almost all the heroin in the world passes through Palermo.  THE TRAITOR, Tommaso Buscetta (Pierfrancesco Favino) tells his story which allows the film the basis to be made.  Veteran director Marco Bellochio (DEVIL IN THE FLESH) is not stranger to excellent films, and this (true) Cosa Nostra tale is as effective and riveting as any crime film can be.

Director Bellocchio takes his time to reach the point where Buscetta

 decides to confess.  All the reasons, very important to the story, are proposed.  Among the factors that help make his mind up include:

  • the protection the law will offer him and his family
  • the revenge he can get from the criminals that have killed his family and other families
  • his limited choice of other options
  • the convenience of leading a better life afterwards

It is clear that it not one but the combination of these reasons that Buscetta have taken into consideration.  This makes his decision and the film more relevant.

The betrayal begins only after 40 minutes from the film’s start.  Judge Falcone (Fausto Russo Alesi) questions Buscetta who says: “I am not an informant.  I am not a spy, a rat.  I’ve been a man of honour and ready to pay my debt with the law.”  It is at this point that the focus of the story, which is a little confusing at first, finally comes into place.  A sort of summary is given by Buscetta as he confesses of the pyramid structure of the Cosa Nostra.  The villain of the piece Riina (Nicola Cali) is established, the one who has slaughtered half of Buscetta’s family including two sons after he wanted to quit, forcing him to come back to Italy so that he can join back the Cosa Nostra so that he can be killed. 

In order to make make his film more interesting and have the audience connect with his movie, director Bellocchio makes a hero out of Buscetta.  The film therefore has Buscetta articulate his own praises, never killing innocent people but exposing only those who deserve to be disposed of.   His informing appears justified from his family members executed by the Cosa Nostra.

Director Bellocchio has one scene, the one with Falcone killed his car from an explosion on the highway executed with great finesse.  Not only did I jump out of my seat, but the experience of the crash as seen from the insides of the car through the windscreen is totally impressive and remarkable.

THE TRAITOR premiered at Cannes followed by a screening at TIFF, garnishing praises wherever it played.  The film was also selected as Italy’s entry for this year’s Academy Award for Best international Film, though it did not make the short list.  THE TRAITOR is a brave film that should have at least made it.  It is probably too real and violent for the Academy’s liking.

Trailer: https://www.imdb.com/video/vi547602201?playlistId=tt7736478&ref_=tt_ov_vi

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