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This Week's Film Reviews (Jan 15, 2021)

27 Dec 2020

FILM REVIEWS:

THE 2ND (USA 2020) ***

Directed by Brian Skiba

Tough guy or pretty face? (see image)

The 2ND refers to the second amendment.  The Second Amendment, often referred to as the right to bear arms, is one of 10 amendments that form the Bill of Rights, ratified in 1791 by the U.S. Congress.  Differing interpretations of the amendment have fuelled a long-running debate over gun control legislation and the rights of individual citizens to buy, own and carry firearms.  The 2ND here, is a B-rated action thriller based on the 2ND, as the existing President of the United States (William Katt), like Trump is pro-arms and will stop at nothing to keep his position as President including kidnapping and killing the daughter of the Supreme Court Justice (Randy Charach) .  Trump was impeached for consorting with the Russians to get dirty stuff on Biden’s son.  So fiction is not that far from fact.  The bad guys have to deal with hero Ryan Phillippe, who stars and produced this movie, playing a war veteran Delta leader, Major Vic Davis and an overall anti-gun good-guy.

The film’s predictable plot has been told in already too mnay films in this genre.  Father is at a job that prevents him from spending time with his kids, with his son in this instant.  Matters get dodgy and father comes to the rescue, while bonding back with his kid. 

This is a Ryan Phillippe film all the way.  Phillippe has disappeared from the screen the last couple of years, after becoming a hit with films that exhibited his good looks in CRUEL INTENTIONS, his break-out movie.  His best film was probably the supporting role he obtained in Robert Altman’s GOSFORD PARK.  The 2ND is an action flick.  Yet, do not expect it to be as good as any one from the Liam Neeson TAKEN franchise.  This is Phillippe taking an action hero role similar to Neeson’s.  What Phillippe needs is an agent as good as Neeson’s.  But the 2ND is Phillippe’s film all round, as he produced the film as well.

The film sure contains a lot of hunks from himself to the actor playing his son (who looks somewhat like him, only a younger, plumper less attractive vision) and Casper Van Died (STARSHIP TROOPERS) a hottie too in his better days, as the film’s villain.

From the very first frames, it is obvious that the 2ND wishes to satirize or at least socially comment on Trump’s America.  The President of the United States is shown as an elderly guy with fake white hair similar to Trump’s.  The President is pro-arms and there is a scene of protesters outside the White House.   One of them carries a sign that says TRUMP on it even though the President in the film is called by some other name.  How is that for obvious social commentary?  The president is all out to get his election opponent at all costs including mobilizing the CIA who is as corrupt as Trump, oops, I mean the President of the United States depicted in the film.  All this is tremendous cheesy satire, but it works!

More cheesiness?  The film’s Christmas setting must be the big hope that this might join the DIE HARD films action Christmas fare.   Cheesy dialogue?  Son to father: “I heard you were dead.” “No, they just gave me a workout.” the dad’s reply.

Cheesy and corny cliched as the film is, the 2ND is, given what it is, still entertaining for pretending to be the number 1 action film of the year as if all the cliched parts were done for the very first time.  One would like to think that Phillippe is a good guy who gave the film’s director Skiba his first shot at directing.  Maybe he did.

Trailer:

 

ACASA, MY HOME (Romania/Germany 2020) ****

Directed by Radu Ciorniciuc

ACASA, MY HOME is billed as a documentary, the first part of it in the wilderness of the Bucharest Delta, an abandoned water reservoir just outside the bustling metropolis. Here, the Enache family (father, mother and 10 children) lived in perfect harmony with nature for two decades, sleeping in a hut on the lakeshore.   Nothing free lasts forever, as the Enache family is to  find out.  When Romanian authorities decide to transform the entire area into a national park, what they think is the largest national park in the E.U., the family is forced to relocate to the city across the wall that separates the wilderness from the concrete.  There is a segment where Prince Charles is on hand looking at the area before the family is moved.

ACASA, MY HOME is a story of the displacement of the Enache family.  Though billed a documentary, it is more like a feature film based on the true story of the family re-enacted by the family members themselves, as it is obvious most of the action does not take place as it happens.  No complaint here, as the story is still told effectively, perhaps even more so.

Director Ciorniciuc with his cinematographer have matured the beauty of the wilderness from the lake to the woods.  The first part of the film shows the family settled in the wilderness before authorities come down on them.   Ciorniciuc shoots here with a hand-held camera as noticeable from the jittery boundaries of each frame.  The film is most stunning when the audience sees activities like the Enache boys catching fish barehanded, while the family follows the rhythm of the seasons.  The eldest son, Vali (he plays himself) and second eldest Rica (also playing himself) are focused on, especially after they are moved to the city.  Vali works hard, selling fish that they catch to the city, after crossing the highway and wall separating the city and them, in order to support the family.  The father complains most of the time while bragging of being the one overseeing the family.  He has diabetes and chain smokes to no end.  Mother works hard to keep the family together.  Despite being quite the filthy bunch, sleeping with chicks and pigeons, this is still a family in the making and director Ciorniciuc succeeds in having usia audience be on the side of the family.

When this area is transformed into a public national park, they are forced to leave behind their unconventional life and move to the city, where fishing rods are replaced by smartphones and idle afternoons are now spent in classrooms.  The family is re-located in a small flat but they are not used to modern amenities.  When authorities check, the children are not bathed, the flat stinks and property like the toilet seat broken.   Of course, these parts are re-enactments, it would be difficult to film in real time when the authorities visit and access the damage.

Director Ciorniciuc shows the family’s struggles to conform to modern civilization and maintain their connection to each other and themselves.  The eldest Vali begins having serious quarrels with his father.  He also gets a city girl pregnant.  It will be a children family, he tells his girl as both he and the girl are below the age of 16.

Director Ciorniciuc offers no solution or happy ending to the story as there is none.  The struggle to survive goes on.  ACASA, MY HOME is a beautiful shot film telling a universal story about family displacement. 

Trailer:

 

HUNTED (France/Belgium/Ireland 2020) ***1/2

Directed by Vincent Paronnaud

The horror film genre has taken off in many directions.  As the documentary last month TALES OF THE UNCANNY demonstrated, there is a large fan base for the horror anthologies such as CREEPSHOW and NIGHT GALLERY while sly British humour has been injected into classics like DEAD OF NIGHT, ASYLUM and THE HOUSE THAT DRIPPED BLOOD.  Then there are the slasher films the come with American brand of tongue-in-cheek humour like the FRIDAY THE 13th, NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET and HALLOWEEN franchises while new ones like QUIET PLACE, THE CONJURING and ANABELLA attempt to inject some fresh blood.  But what many have forgotten is the true horror movie, the ones where raw and terrifying realistic scares are prominent, no nonsense involved.  Roman Polanski’s ROSEMARY’S BABY and this year’s KOKO-DI KOKO-DA from Sweden and Denmark directed by Johannes Nyholm are examples.  HUNTED falls into the latter category and though the predator/prey themed horror story is close to a shaker flick, director Vincent Paronnaud keeps the horror close to home.  Because the story is set in the woods, it bears a resemblance  to KOKO-DI KOKO-DA about  a couple under assault while camping in the woods.

What started as a flirtatious encounter at a bar turns into a life-or-death struggle as Eve (Lucie Debay) becomes the unknowing target of a misogynistic plot against her. Forced to flee as two men, one the sociopathic (Arieh Worthalter) she picked up and the other, a hapless disciple (Ciaran O’Brien) pursue her through the forest, she is pushed to her extremes while fighting to survive in the wilderness

Director Vincent Parannaud is a comic artist who served as co-director to the Oscar nominated PERSEPOLIS that demonstrated a certain eeriness.  Co-written by him, HUNTED is his solo directional duet and it is a highly charged horror film that impresses.

The script contains two incidents that come out of the blue.  Though not really making logical sense why they are there, they nevertheless provide  the film with both some uplifting threat as well as a welcome upturn.  One is the sudden appearance of paintball gamers.  Eva gets shot in the head resulting in blue war paint over her face making her look crazier like an Indian warrior attacker.  The other is the encounter with a mother training her son on survival skills.  The latter segment allows director Paronnaud to inject some crossbow action into the story.

Amidst all the predator prey action, director Paronnaud puts in some good old-fashioned Hitchcockian suspense and anticipation.  When gagged and tied up in the trunk of a car, Eve manages to switch on her cell and call her mother using her nose.  But she can only make muffled sounds amidst the loud noise coming from the car stereo.  Another segment has Eve’s unseen boyfriend texting her on her cell.  Will he get a distress message and come to the rescue?  Director Paronnaud keeps the audience guessing.

An element of fairytale folklore is injected into the story at the film’s start.  A little girl is told a Brothers Grimms like fairy tale involving wolves.”The company of wolves is better than the company of men,” the little girl is told of the moral of that story.  A wolf would appear later on in the film to save Eve as the wolves saved the girl in the fairy tale.

HUNTED is a well worn tale of predator hunting prey but given many uplifting surprises making it a standout film in the slasher genre.  Opening on Shudder in January.

Trailer: https://www.joblo.com/horror-movies/news/hunted-trailer-released-for-survival-horror-film

LOVE SARAH (UK 2019) ***
Directed by Eliza Schroeder

LOVE SARAH is the name of the new bakery set up in Notting Hill, London in the new British comedy/drama/romance of the same name.  It may be described as a female flick as the director and 3 main protagonists are female.  But the film is charming enough that males should not complain.

Sarah (Candice Brown) and Isabella (Shelley Cohn) are best friends who attended culinary school together.  They are about to open their dream bakery when Sarah dies in an accident.  Sarah’s daughter, Clasrissa (Shannon Tarbet) seeks the needed funding to keep the dream alive by enlisting the help of her grandmother (Sarah’s mum), Mimi (Celia Imrie).  So, it is these three females who strive to make a business out of their dreams.  Things get a bit dicey with the appearance of Mathew (Rupert Penry-Jones) who had a fling with Sarah back in the day. 

There are actually three stories in the film, neatly tied together - one for each of the ladies.

Romance is also in the air as Mathew and Isabelle get together.  Even granny finds romance with a neighbourhood inventor, Felix (Bill Paterson).

LOVE SARAH is a British production, so one would expect the dialogue to be English and not American.  In one scene, Mathew corrects Isabella that his place is not called an apartment but a flat as they are not Americans.  But the film’s close captioning has the short form for mother spelled mom (the American spelling) at one point and the English short form mum before that.  One wonders that there must have been both an English and American doing the closed captioning that resulted in this discrepancy.

Where does the story of LOVE SARAH come from?  The script is credited with 3 writers - the director, Jake Brunger and Mahalia Rimmer.  But it is in reality, based on a true story.  The brief role of Sarah as she appears at the film’s start is portrayed by Candace Brown.  Brown is a well known British baker TV personality who attributed her success to the opening of her own bakery.  In real life, her grandmother helped her,  her story that is reflected in the film itself.  Candace is also a dancer as the character Clarissa also is in the film.

There are lots of London on display in the film, as the setting is Notting Hill.  The food critic in the film is from TIME OUT, one of the most read weekly papers in London - not so much now that it is free and publications are striving to survive.  Whenever I visited London in the past, I would always buy a weekly copy of TIME OUT for everything to know about going out in London.  The bakery is given a feature by TIME OUT in the film.  TIME OUT is similar to NOW or EYE Weekly in Toronto but paid before going free and now disappearing as a publication.)

LOVE SARAH is available January 15h, VOD/EST.  It is a sweet as dessert film, pleasant  and entertaining in all ways.

Trailer:

MAKE UP (UK 2019) ***
Directed by Claire Oakley

MAKE UP begins with a vehicle first seen only by its headlights, two small dots of light on the large screen as the vehicle manoeuvres around a windy road in the midst of a misty darkness.  It is a metaphor for the film’s protagonist, a teen girl, Ruth (Molly Windsor) as she heads for an uncertain future, likely with equal twist and turns as she heads for a caravan park in Cornwall.  She is to meet and live with her boyfriend, Tom (Joseph Quinn).

She is met in the dead of night by the campsite manager, Shirley (Lisa Palfrey).  Shirley is such a character, with such an infectious and hilarious laugh that she could be the central character of another film.  One wishes there were more scenes of Shirley in the film.  Shirley offers a job to Ruth.

Nothing much happens in terms of stories or events in director Oakley’s film.  The rest of the film follows Ruth around the campsite, which is closed after the summer months.  She is working, by cleaning up the rented caravans and she meets the other two that work on the campsite,  one of which is Jade (Stephanie Martini) who begins a friendship with Ruth.

Ruth suspects that Tom is having an affair with someone else but is unsure.  She finds red hair on his clothes while doing laundry but the only red hair comes from a wig that Jade owns.  Jade claims never to have worn that red wig.

When moving to a completely new place to live with someone that one is never sure of can be a nightmare and a really scary experience.  Director Oakley knows it and shoots her film like a horror movie.  The light goes out in a scene reminiscent of a horror flick.  She also uses shadows to create an eerie atmosphere.  Her camera movement looks as if a predator is lurking around the corners.

The film contains a few light touches for a serious coming-of-age movie.  Jade asked after making pot: “If there is anywhere in the world you would go where would it be?”  When no one replies, she says “Mauritius ”.  “What is there in Mauritius?” she is asked.  “I don’t know. Wanna come?” 

Directly Oakley charts the troubled relationship between Tom and Ruth as would normally be expected for young couples.  But Ruth’s transition towards the same sex as she develops a fondness towards a same sex relationship with Jade is not entirely convincing.  Is this just another transitional phase of experimenting as she did withTom?

The beaches in Cornwall are white and generally flat, as depicted in the swimming segments by cinematographer Nick Cooke.

Oakley’s film might be frustrating to come as her loose narrative of Ruth’s coming-of-age journey seems to be meandering without direction.  But it is for this fact, that her film stands out without falling into cliched pitfalls. 

The film is called MAKE UP because Ruth dons make up for the first time towards the end of the film.  The putting on of the makeup is again a metaphor that she has now grown up.


Trailer:

 

MY LITTLE SISTER (Schwesterlein) (Switzerland 2020) *** 1/2

Directed by Stéphanie Chuat and Véronique Reymond

The story involves a gifted playwright (Nina Hoss) pushes her twin sibling, David (Lars Eidinger) a famous stage actor, back into the limelight though he's suffering from cancer.   The title implies that the protagonist could be the little sister or the brother (referring to his little sister).  The story actually unfolds from the sister’s point of view.

The film shows the different reactions of the family members to David’s illness.  Father is sympathetic and does not want to pretend that all is ok.  David’s mother (Marthe Keller) is less sympathetic, not visiting him and complaining that she does not have to deal with all this.  David’s sister, Lisa (called little because she was born 2 minutes after David) appears the one always out there for him, but she too has her patience limit.  Her own family is also under stress and her husband, Martin (Jens Albinis) wants to stay in Switzerland with his job while she wants to move back to Berlin, though her reason does not seem too convincing.

The audience does not always need to hear every line of dialogue.  A picture is worth a thousand words, and if the soundtrack goes silent and the audience sees the lips of the characters arguing, that is often good enough to get the point across.  Alfred Hitchcock used the tactic in TORN CURTAIN in the silent scene where one knows that Paul Newman is explaining to Julie Andrews the reason he is in Russia.  Spielberg followed suit in his silent scene of communication  where the audience knows that the mother was being informed of her son’s death in SAVING PRIVATE RYAN.  Here, the couple argue in hospital after the husband takes the wife’s brother parachuting resulting in his passing out and landing in hospital.   There is another grand entrance scene where they walk to the patient’s bed, the curtains drawn as in a theatre.

One point about the story is David’s character.  The directors do not make him sympathetic.  Despite being ill, he goes out, gets drunk and annoys the people around him.  He gets a blowjob in the toilet as well.  Then he goes, the next day hand parachuting and passes out in midair.  He also wants to perform HAMLET disregarding the fact that he might not be strong enough to do all the theatrical performances.  He does not care for this theatre company or his own health.  In one scene, he swallows the entire bottle of allergy medication.  One wonders the reason his little sister can put up with his unacceptable behaviour when he himself is so destructive.

The film is a sombre pice of work, not surprising given the film’s content of lingering death.  The directors provide little humour though the drama is well executed, staying away from cliched territory.  Unlike the typical films of this genre (dying theatre actor), David does not perform his swan song on the stage as would be expected, which is what makes this movie.

Voss delivers a remarkable performance as the troubled sister and wife with a troubled marriage, completed by excellent supporting performances all round.

The film had been selected to compete for the Golden Bear in the main competition section at the 70th Berlin International Film Festival.  It was also selected as the Swiss entry for the Best International Feature Film at the 93rd Academy Awards.
Trailer:

 

OUTSIDE THE WIRE (USA 2021) **
Directed by Mikael Håfström

OUTSIDE THE WIRE (USA 2021) ***
Directed by Mikael Håfström

OUTSIDE THE WIRE is a new Netflix original action thriller set in the near future of 2036.  Though it is explained that ‘Gumps’ or robotic fighters are the U.S. peacekeepers in the violent war raging in East Europe, it is still the basic premise of good guys (in this case black Americans) fighting bad guys.  In this case the East Europeans are headed by villain Victor Koval (Pilou Asbæk) who is planning to amass nuclear arms of mass destruction.  The nukes are hidden and he is about to get the key codes.  The good guy in this case is drone pilot, Lt. Thomas Harp (Brit Damson Idris) aided by a new mentor, a non-human android, Captain Leo (Anthony Mackie, CAPTAIN AMERICA, THE HURT LOCKER, THE ADJUSTMENT BUREAU).

The film begins showing a drone pilot in action. Though good in his job, all he does is sit at his desk and control the drones.  Director Håfström makes it seem as if Lt. Harp is playing video games.  There is little difference.  When Harp takes matters into his own hands, using his experiences and instincts, he disobeys a direct order.  Harp is then banished to the East Europe fighting zone as punishment.  He meets android Leo.  It is later revealed that Leo picked Harp to be his partner on the job, as Harp is able to think outside the box, later revealing more that his disobedience was actually a  good decision that saved lives.

There is only so much one can do with an android and rookie as partners in a dystopian action futuristic setting.  For what it is worth, OUTSIDE THE WIRE is pale in comparison to BLADE RUNNER or even the operatic STAR WARS.  OUTSIDE THE WIRE tries too hard and fails miserably, notably in the last 30 minutes when it becomes too silly in trying to be too clever.

The action sequences are at least. exciting and well executed with special mention of the Gumps’ special effects.  At points in the film, for example when looking at Leo’s transparent mechanized body and the rain falling in many segments, one is reminded of BLADE RUNNER.  But a film’splto and story is more important than special effects.

There is one segment in which Leo the human looking android is driving rookie Harp in a car to their first dangerous assignment.  It is a wonderful homage to Antoine Fuqua’s TRAINING DAY where Denzel Washington trains rookie Ethan Hawke.  The scene is here, played mainly for laughs instead of drama, has Leo taunting Harper (calling him gummy bear, his romantic nickname) about his fiancee he had to leave behind, giving him advice on his girl.   Mackie proves his mettle in comedy besides being a pretty face hunk.  Also to be mentioned, is the discussion between the two on the reason the Pentagon made Leo the android black and not some white-haired, blue-eyed all American pecker-head.  The main advice given is basically summarized with these words: “Follow close!  Shut-up!  Don’t die!    Does this android dream of electric sheep?

Swede director Mikael Håfström, loses control in this action packed movie, though he has proven himself in his home country with the excellent film EVIL.  He is not the only celebrated home country director that have moved to Hollywood to fail in a blockbuster,

OUTSIDE THE WIRE is a sorry action time-waster, with a good cast but a tired look at an otherwise over-familiar futuristic setting that should bore fans of all action genres.

Trailer:

 

WANADAVISION (USA 2021) ****

(DISNEY+ TV Series: 9 episodes beginning Jan 15th, 2021)

What WANDAVISION is all about:

It is a new TV spot just debuted featuring Marvel Studios’ upcoming new Disney+ series “WandaVision,” a blend of classic television and the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

  The spot reveals an original theme song written by Oscar®-winning songwriters Kristen Anderson-Lopez and Robert Lopez (“Frozen”), who penned unique songs for several episodes, spanning from the 1950s to the early 2000s. “

For those who grew up on 60’s and 70’s TV sitcoms like myself, WANDAVISION is  welcome nostalgic.  The closest sitcom I can think of, that is as inventive, funny and addictive as this on is BEWITCHED as both have similar themes of beings with powers living incognito as human beings,

Created exclusively for Disney+, WANDAVISION stars Elizabeth Olsen as Wanda Maximoff, Paul Bettany as Vision, Kathryn Hahn as neighbour Agnes, and Teyonah Parris as Monica Rambeau, who was introduced to audiences in “Captain Marvel.”  Kat Dennings will reprise her role as Darcy from “Thor” and “Thor: The Dark World,” and Randall Park will reprise his role as Jimmy Woo from “Ant-Man and The Wasp.” 

Filmed in both black and white and colour with vintage cars, period wardrobe with music and delivery of the series, WANDAVISION could very well be a sitcom of the 60’s.  Together with that pleasure plus the fact that it is addictive watchable, WANDAVISION comes highly recommended entertainment.  No need to be navigating YoutTube TV shows.

The first 3 episodes are directed by Matt Shakman but penned by different writers with Jac Shaeffer as chief writer.

Trailer: 

 

 

Episode 1: (27 Minutes) Directed by Matt Shakman

The first episode sets the mood and atmosphere for future episodes. It introduces each of the characters, the husband, Vision and the wife, Wanda.  These super heroes move into the new neighbourhood, buying a house.  Wanda meets her new neighbour, Agnes (Agnes and Ralph, her unseen husband are typical 60’s TV character names).  Vision goes to work at an office where he cannot figure what is being made.  But he is fully efficient like the perfectly designed robot that he is.  The humour is both funny and corny. “Did you use movers?” asks Agnes.  “Of course.  Boxes don’t move themselves.” is Wanda’s reply.  Agnes complains about her husband forgetting their anniversary date: “The only way Ralph can remember is if there is beer called June the 2nd.”  But the first episode goes downhill after the first half.  If not for trying too hard, the humour gets tiresome when Vision has his boss and wife drop by for dinner.  Wanda tries to impress with her cooking, using her magic, but proves it too much for her as well as for the audience.  A waste as the first half of the episode was perfect.

Episode 2: (34 Minutes)  Directed by Matt Shakman

The second episode is more of the same.  Wanda and Vision continue making  acquaintances with the residents of the town.  They meet Dotty, the self-appointed socialite of the town who everyone wants and needs to impress - including Wanda.  The premise of the episode is Vision and Wanda’s magic act in Dotty’s fund raiser for the children.  But Vision accidentally swallows a piece of gum causing him to act abnormally thus screwing up the act in various places.  Wanda tries her best, using her magic to correct the blunders.  The characters in the first episode like Agnes and Vision’s boss’s wife are present.  Episode 2 is funnier than numbers uno, making the first two episodes a success, making one wonder how the next one will be.  There are two strange happenings that occur which prime the audience that something is afoot.  One of these involves a toy helicopter which s and in colour.  The incidents are left to be unexplained in future episodes, a good tactic to enhance audience anticipation. Nothing is what it seems.

Episode 3: (30 Minutes)  Directed by Matt Shakman

The last episode ended with Wanda pregnant and the image turning from black and white into colour.  Episode 3, unlike the first two is in full colour.  In this one, Wanda delivers a baby, in a really short span of time because they are two super action heroes.  They try to keep the pregnancy secret from their neighbours, but that does not really matter.  There is humour here on the pains of parenthood.  Special effects are called upon when Wanda suffers contractions as she is unable to control her emotions and thus her powers.  Electricity goes out, picture frames rotate, and fire emerges from the fireplace - but nothing really funny, just merely amusing.  The episode ends strangely (a neighbour reveals that they are all….; and Wanda’s friend, Geraldine appears to know Wanda’s secret that her brother Pietro was killed by Utron) which would definitely arouse the audience’s curiosity as what is happening and what is yet to come.  Nothing is what it seems.

 

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