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This Week's Film Reviews ( June 18th, 2021)

06 Jun 2021

FILM REVIEWS:

 

THE ACCIDENTAL PRESIDENT (USA 2020) ***1/2

Directed by James Fletcher

Love or hate him, Donald Trump is one of the most newsworthy Presidents of the United States.  Trump has shown to be as unpredictable as his Presidency win.  The news loves him, as he increases their ratings and provides more entertainment than the most outrageous comedians.  THE ACCIDENTAL PRESIDENT examines how the man became the President of the United States of America and stops right there.  How he fared during his presidency and how he lost to Biden are clearly omitted in the doc, likely spawning perhaps, another sequel that could also be intriguing viewing, maybe even more so than this one.

THE ACCIDENTAL PRESIDENT is directed and produced by British filmmaker/journalist James Fletcher who brings his journalistic insight into the events.  The film uncovers a detailed play-by-play from all angles on how it all went down, the state of America that led to the results, what the electorate was really motivated by, and how a former reality show host with an elevated understanding of the media and entertainment was able to connect with voters from all walks of life and stage a takeover of Washington D.C. -- whether he meant to or not.

Like a villain in a film that everyone loves to hate, Trump is a President everyone loves to make fun off.  The doc even begins with night time talk chops host Seth Meyers saying that when Trump said he was running, he thought he meant running as a joke. The entire country was laughing at Trump.  Robert De Niro says that Trump is an embarrassment to the country.  A joke!  No way!  The President?  But Trump did it.

Director Fletcher tries his best to stay neutral in his doc on Trump, giving both sides of view.  When Trump’s campaign is up a few notches over Hillary Clinton’s, Fletcher is not afraid of praising Trump.  There are so many wrong things about Trump, but Fletcher sifts through the good from the bad.  Fletcher is also quick to mention that unlike what many think that only idiots vote for Trump, there are also many brilliant and wealthy people who are pro-Trump.  One of the most valid facts that Fletcher points out is that people are sick of the confidence and attitude of the politicians and that people just want a change and to shake up the system.  People don’t care about past political records and such.  The fact is demonstrated then the American public forgave Trump for his locker room remarks about grabbing a woman’s pussy.  This is likely the same reason the Brits voted for Brexit.  They were sick of the over-confident politicians and wanted a change.

One of the best picks Fletcher got as a talking head is writer/director Aaron Sorkin who states that voters have to take responsibility and insist on a higher level of debate.

In Sorkin’s words: America always gets the President they deserve.  American got Trump and now they got Biden.

THE ACCIDENTAL PRESIDENT, as watchable and entertaining as Trump is, will be screening in limited U.S. theatres beginning Monday, June 21, 2021, and will be coming soon to Starz.

Trailer: 

BLACK CONFLUX (Canada 2019) ***
Directed by Nicole Dorsey

BLACK CONFLUX tells the dual stories of two disillusioned people set in 1980’s Newfoundland.  The film could very well be set in the present in Toronto close to where director Dorsey earned her film degree and lives.  The seemingly separate lives of an anxious, disillusioned teen girl and a troubled, alienated man converge fatefully in this haunting exploration of womanhood, isolation, and toxic masculinity.

Fifteen-year-old Jackie (Ella Ballentine) is navigating from vulnerable adolescence to impending adulthood. Dennis (Ryan McDonald) is a socially inept loner with a volatile dark streak and delusional fantasies of adoring women at his beck and call.

Director Dorsey loves to play with symbols.  There are two scenes involving bugs, the significance only realized after a bit of deep thought at the end of the film.

Dennis’ story is more interesting as his character is an ambiguous creepy one that could explode at any instant.  McDonald delivers a powerful performance as the much misunderstood Dennis.  There is so much anger inside but he is over-polite on the outside.  He seems to invoke sympathy from his colleagues, both his boss who does not know what to do with him but comically writes him up, as an example to show to his other colleagues.  Instead of anger, Dennis responds with an apology.  The scene in the bar where he lets his anger out on the dance floor shows how sexy and scary his character can be.  Oddly enough, it attracts a woman who he ends up taking home to bed.

Jackie’s story, though less interesting, is still a well-written one.  Her character and behaviour are contrasted with her mates, especially that of her best friend, Amber (Olivia Screen).  Jackie is a young teen who is frivolous in her character and is occasionally serious.  She learns the importance of responsibility when she is turned down the opportunity of singing in the school choir after initially not committing to it.

The film is a little slow paced because of director Dorsey’s decision to spend screen time on character development.  It pays off!

The atmosphere of 80’s Newfoundland is effectively created in the film, though the story could very well be reset to the present.  Director Dorsey always has the beautiful sea in view in her frames.

The film has a solid ending when the two stories eventually converge and the two meet.  The meeting arrives at the very last 5 minutes of the film when one is about to give up on the chance of the two meeting.  One would expect a powerful explosion of an encounter as the Dennis character can be likened to a ticking time bomb.  The same can be said for the more timid Jackie, but what eventually occurs, not to be revealed in this movie, shows Dorsey’s  bravery and faith in her story telling.   The ending is a surprise one would not have expected.  A very assured debut feature from Dorsey again enforcing the power of women.

BLACK CONFLUX premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival in 2019 when I first saw the film.  It was worth the second viewing.

Trailer: 

CENSOR (UK 2021) ***1/2
Directed by Prano Bailey-Bond

Horror has always been a favourite genre among cineastes.  Special sections similar to Midnight Madness at the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) have been created specially to cater to this genre of films that delight audiences who like their entertainment doused with lots of blood and gore.  CENSOR is one such bloody love letter to this genre of films, particularly video nasties, the ones that flooded the British market during the mid-1980s.

CENSOR is a film in which life imitates art - in a similar way as occurred in Toronto with Peter Jackson’s 1992 horror zombie flick.  DEAD ALIVE  featured a young man's mother bitten by a Sumatran rat-monkey.  She gets sick and dies, at which time she comes back to life, killing and eating dogs, nurses, friends, and neighbours.  Jackson’s brilliant film was hilariously graphic and is my personally top 3 horror films of all time.  I first saw the film at the Midnight Section at TIFF but the film was banned and released finally a year later with censorship cuts available only in video under the different title BRAINDEAD.  The big video chains like Blockbuster Video refused to carry the video nasty but one could get it for rent at the smaller independent shops.  Video nasties are important in providing a market for these films.  CENSOR contains a scene in which a video store owner rents out banned films under the counter.

CENSOR is set in Thatcher’s 80’s.  Welsh director Prano Bailey-Bond takes great pains in creating the 80’s atmosphere which distinguishes CENSOR from other run of the mill horror flicks.  She has also included a scene with the Prime Minister preaching her policies on television.  CENSOR is filled with aesthetics of the British horror films of the times like those churned out by Hammer Film Studios.  Her film is a trip down horror nostalgia lane.

The film follows Enid (Niamh Algar), a censor, often agonizing over whether to cut (or not to cut) graphic scenes like eye gouges and decapitation.  She is a prim and proper lady, dressing always in a prudish fashion, despite her occasional liberating ways of censorship.  This results in her being under scrutiny, especially after the press tries to link a brutal murder to a film that she approved.  But Enid has a secret.  She is riddled with the guilt of losing her sister during an outing in the woods when they were younger.  When she views a new film that bears an uncanny resemblance to the tragedy she had endured, she decides to solve the puzzle.  This is where reality and fiction begin to blur in terrifying ways.

CENSOR is an ambitious first feature.  But true commercial horror fans might get bored owing to its slow pace, despite the excesses in gore and violence.  Director Bailey-Bond also makes an effective statement on the #MeToo Movement with a creepy film producer (Michael Smiley) who makes sexual advances towards Enid.

CENSOR had its world premiere in the Midnight Section of Sundance this year and opens June the 18th VOD.  It is definitely worth a look for its 80’s period look!

 Trailer: 

 FATHERHOOD (USA 2021) **

Review embargoed till Wednesday noon

 

Trailer: 

 

LUCA (USA 2021) ***1/2

Directed by Enrico Casrosa

LUCA is new new Pixar film premiering on Disney+ directed by Enrico Casarosa (in his feature-length directorial debut) and written by Jesse Andrews and Mike Jones.   The film is dedicated to Italian musician Ennio Morricone (the famous composer of the Italian spaghetti westerns), who was originally considered to compose the soundtrack, but died before he was asked to do so.

Set on the Italian Riviera between the 50s and 60s, the film centres on Luca Paguro, a sea monster boy with the ability to assume human form while on land, who explores the town of Portorosso with his new best friend Alberto Scorfano, experiencing a life-changing summer.

The film tries to be everything Italian including an Italian-like soundtrack with an Italian song and Italian dialogue as the film opens.  The fishing boat is too close to the town which has legends of sea monsters , or more like Italian sea monsters.  As this is a family Pixar film, the sea monsters are cute and have childish faces and look like those sea monkeys kids used to shell out their pocket money for, and got duped.

If the story sounds familiar, it is nothing really fresh.  A sea creature wanting to be human is the age old Hans Cristian Anderson’s fairy tale THE LITTLE MERMAID.  The film is described as paying homage to classic filmmakers like the Japanese Hayao Miyazaki who himself made a similar LITTLE MERMAID film called PONYO.  The animation in the film is similar to Hayao Miyazaki’s, of hand-drawn and stop motion works.  One scene has an image of Italian star Marcello Mastroianni, again a nod to old Italian classics like those made by Fellini (like 8 1/2 that starred Mastroianni). 

The main voices are provided by Jacob Tremblay as Luca Paguro, the 13-year-old sea monster and Jack Dylan Grazer as Alberto Scorfano, a teenage sea monster and Luca's best friend. The two heavyweights in the cast include Maya Rudolph as the mother, she has been playing a lot of mothers lately and Sasha Baron Cohen, hamming it up as Uncle Ugo, a sea monster and distant relative Luca’s.  Ugo comes from the really deep where it is so very dark out of lack of sunlight, but according to him, there is nothing much to see anyway.  Cohen does an outrageous Italian accent and his character’s red heart has to be punched hard ever so often when he goes into a coughing fit.  There is not enough of Ugo in the film.

LUCA was made around the same time by Disney as SOUL.  While SOUL covered more series themes like death and finding one’s purpose, LUCA deals with kids also searching for meaning, but also having fun such as diving off cliffs and riding on Vespas.

During the making of Luca, LUCA was given a whole lot of publicity together with the Oscar Winning (for Best Animation) SOUL.  LUCA, in comparison never reaches the jazzy dizzy heights of SOUL but is still charming summer fun in the sun - Italian style.

Trailer: 

 

 LES NOTRES (The Others) (Canada 2020) ****

Directed by Jeanne Leblanc

LES NOTRES opens with the 5-year term mayor, Jean-Marc Ricard of the Quebec town Sainte-Adeline giving a speech during a ceremony for the opening of a local park, the Saint Germaine.  He is well respected and has a photo taken of is family, as he claims.  It does no take a genius to guess that something is afoot, and perhaps this mayor is up to no good.  Director Leblanc plays her cards well s her somewhat brilliant small-town drama unfolds.  This opening scene, if one examines carefully after watching the film, is one that takes place after the story not before.

The film is set in the tight-knit community of Sainte-Adeline, Quebec, where everyone knows everyone else and gossip moves around really fast and is deadly.  Magalie (Émilie Bierre) appears as a normal suburban high school sophomore surrounded by friends.  Magalie collapses one day in her dance class and a doctor’s examination reveals his popular teenage girl is harbouring a shocking secret: she’s pregnant. Her mother is informed and word spreads.  When Magalie refuses to identify the father, suspicions among the townsfolk come to a boiling point and the layers of a carefully maintained social varnish eventually crack.  As said, it does not take  genius to guess that the father is the mayor, the fact revealed after the film’s 30-minute mark.  Mr. Ricard is clearly the bad guy in the story, preying sexually on under-aged girls and clearly deserving of no mercy.  Director Leblanc makes that clear and the audience despises this evil sorry excuse of a human being from the first sight of the pudgy man.

The story is seen from two points of view - those of Magalie and of her mother.  Director Leblanc dishes out the details, without any judgement with the audience being sympathetic to both sides.  When they argue, one could take either side, as both have the right to feel angry and unappreciated.

There are many moving scenes and these are what makes the movie such a compelling watch.  One occurs when mother an daughter arrive home after the mother discovers the pregnancy.  The babysitter of the little brother remarks: “Your son was very well behaved.”

Or the exchange of words between the social worker, Patrice and the mother: “I am looking out for her best interest.”  Her retort: “I have been doing that for the past 13 years.”  Or the mother to daughte when first told of the pregnancy:”I don’t understand.”  Daughter’s reply: “I am sorry.”

The emotions run wild.  Both  mother and daughter do not know how to deal with the situation.  One moment the mother tells the daughter that she loves her and the next she is screaming at her in order to find out who the father is.  The 13-year old has mixed feelings, too young to realize that the father has no intention of loving her or keeping the baby, while she is doting on him.  All these questions are left to the climax of the film, which I can only reveal as a very powerful one.

The small yet brilliant LES NOTRES gets my vote for Best Canadian film of the year!

Trailer: 

SONGS FOR A SLOTH (USA 2020) **
Directed by Bradley Hasse

SONGS FOR A SLOTH opens with a man digging up a yard in the middle of the rain.  His brother shouts through the house window at him, questioning him as to what he is doing.  he scene shifts to the brother’s room that turns out to be his toilet.  The brother is wiping his bum as he shouts though the window.  There is absolutely no reason that the man has to be wiping his ass while talking.  There is also no reason the other man, Maxwell (Richard Hollman) should be digging up the garden.  In fact, the film would not have made any difference i its first 10 minutes were cut out of the picture.

It appears that director Bradley Hasse and film cast and crew seem eager to provide humour in the worse way.  And that is how the humour is often provided in this film - in the worst way.

Well, the first scene does reveal that perhaps Maxwell, who is digging in the rain has a screw or two loose.  On the edge of a nervous breakdown, Maxwell is shocked to find he has inherited a sloth sanctuary from his father.   Again, the unfunny meting between his father’s lawyer (Arian Moayed) and the brothers could very well be dispensed with, as well.  Now, then a talking sloth (voiced by Jack McBrayer) visits Maxwell’s dreams.  This could have been funnier.  Maxwell becomes obsessed with saving the animal's habitat in his waking life by returning to his first passion, music.  His brother, Barney (Brian McCarthy) had just given him a guitar as a present.   Maxwell write a song about sloths in order to raise money for his charity.

His song goes something like this, as if sung by a sloth: Don’t let me die.  I live in a tree…. to save energy!  (Note the rhyme.)   Please, please, don’t let me die.

In order to complete the task though, he must enlist the help of his lazy brother Barney (Brian McCarthy) and self-involved sister (Ava Eisenson). 

So what is SONGS FOR A SLOTH all about?  According to the press notes, it is a film about the struggle to be both the person we want to be and the person we feel responsible to be, and about coming to know that it's never too late to pursue one's dream in life. It is also about live video games, secret paintings, viral videos, social media influencing, paintball, fancy banquets, and drones.  One feels as if the filmmakers are making it up as the film goes along.  Everyone seems passionate about nothing important, which is symbolized by the sloth sanctuary.

Director Hasse’s film comes finally to some focus near the end.  Maxwell has organized a fundraising event with the aid of both his sister and elder brother.  When not a single person shows up, due to hindsight Barney’s hindsight, all hell breaks lose.  The theme of the dysfunctional family sets in - and this really what the film is all about.

TRAILER: 

SUPERDEEP (Russia 2020) ***
Directed by Arseny Syuhin

Russia does THE ABYSSS - a horror film about a sleeping monster awoken in the deep underwater.  It has been done before, but almost everything has been done before.  SUPERDEEP is thus, worth a look and it is to half bad.

A small research team went down below the surface to find out what secret the world's deepest borehole was hiding.  What they have found turned out to be the greatest threat in history. And the future of humanity is in their hands -  a sleeping monster frozen during the Ice Age now awoken with all its rage on mankind.  It is up to the Russians to save mankind.  All the actors speak in English with a Russian accent, sometimes difficult to decipher.  It is difficult to tell if the film was shot in Russian and dubbed in English as the lip synching appears to be quite matched.

The film follows the stereotyped scenes expected in this kind of horror flicks.  There is the skimpy dressed (ok - thee is an excuse as it is terribly hot with increased temperatures well below the surface, but how come the male counterparts are not running around in their underwear?) female protagonist, Anna (Milena Radoluvic) running around trying to escape her predator.

The best thing about this movie is the endless amount of corny lies, that are mostly quite funny, to the film’s credit.

“The man you so wanted to help is no longer.  He is a laking dead.”

“It is not a war!”

“It is a war!  Our country (Russia) is falling apart and we need a weapon.”

“Something is happening to me.”  says an infected girl with a growth to which she is told, “I can cut this.”

“You can’t help!  If they’re dead, the are dead.”

“Will the doors hold?”  followed by “I wish I knew.”

These lines provide the best laughs.

Peter, one of the scientists shoots a fellow crew member, saying that he wishes to be famous and remembered fro the discovery of the creature.  It does not take a genius to guess how Peter will come to his death end.

To director Arseny Syuhin’s credit, Syuhi who also wrote the script, the film delivers an incredible and terrifying atmosphere of the superdeep.  One of the most spin-chilling scenes is the one where the crew travel at top speed down the shaft in the elevator to the superdeep.  They are covering their ears, their faces contoured as they experience  the great increase in pressure as they make their descent.  Anyone who has taken a plan descending can appreciate the pain due to increased pressure.  The use of limited lighting in the dark abyss and the narrow corridors of space available also add to the claustrophobic fear of the crew.  The special effects are quite solid as well, with special mention given to the creation of the huge monster.

SUPERDEEP is available to stream on Shudder on June the 17th 2021.

Trailer: 

 

SWEET THING (USA 2021) ***1/2

Directed by Alexandre Rockwell

The story revolves around two siblings, Billie (Lana Rockwell) and Nico (Nico Rockwell) and their struggle to find a solid foundation in the homes of their alcoholic father, Adam (Bill Paxton) and negligent mother (Karyn Parsons).  Things come to a boil when Billie and Nico stay at the beach house with their mother and her boyfriend, Beau (M. L. Josepher).  When Beau turns abusive, he gets stabbed and left for dead.  Billie, Nico and their friend, Malik (Jabari Watkins), who had stabbed Beau, take off.  The children ultimately run away and find a way to fend for themselves.

Director Rockwell shoots his film in black and white, colour and saturated colours, often to reflect the mood of his film.  The film’s saturated colours flow into the bright sun’s rays when the children are having fun in the sun at the beach house.

Director Rockwell elicits magnificent performance from his actors.  Paxton is marvellous as is Josepher playing the abusive mother’s boyfriend, Beau.  The children Nico and Billie are played by Rockwell’s two children as the role of the mother played by Rockwell’s wife.

At its best, SWEET THING reminds one of Francois Truffaut’s 1959 classic LES QUARTRE CENTS COUPS (400 BLOWS) about a young boy, left without attention, delves into a life of petty crime or the scene where the teacher in Truffaut’s 1976 L’ARGENT DE POCHE (SMALL CHANGE) talks about children’s rights.  It shows how much effort and thought go into creating a classic.

The main reason Rockwell’s film is different from Truffaut’s classics is that Truffaut’s stories are down-to-earth ordinary and concerns everyday common occurrences.  In 400 BLOWS, the boy goes to the fair and enjoy the centrifugal rotating ride; in L’ARGENT DE POCHE an abused boy’s beatings are only discovered by a school medical check-up.  In SWEET THING, Rockwell has to go to extremes such as the mother’s boyfriend coming on to Lana, or the boyfriend being stabbed or the tacked on happy ending to make his points.  Truffaut’s films feel so natural whereas Rockwell’s seems forced.

Young punk kids, helpless runaways or sweet things?  By the end of the film, one decides consciously or non-consciously which category the three children fall into.  Or perhaps children are little magic that got into miracles. as al old man the children meet claim them to be.  Yet, the man and his wife betray the kids in an incident that is not fully credible.

One problem with Rockwell’s film is the often sudden change in mood or story telling.  At one point the children can be having fun and in the next they are in a precarious position.  A person can be ultra nice and then turn on them.  The mother can be loving and then abandoning.  The children are always right and the adults are all shown as mostly untrustworthy, they only exception being the father’s love.

Though not reaching those dizzy heights of Truffaut’s film on youth, SWEET THING still emerges as Rockwell’s amazing yet scary ode to youth with all its splendour, danger and horrors.

Trailer: 

 

TRUMAN & TENNESSEE: AN INTIMATE CONVERSATION (USA 2021) ***1/2

Directed by Lisa Immordino Vreeland

There are many valid reasons to watch this new documentary TRUMAN AND TENNESSEE: AN INTIMATE CONVERSATION.  For one, these are the two most famous American writers of their time, if not of all time.  They share incredibly intriguing lives, both being openly gay when homosexuality was a crime back in the day.  Both were friends, rivals and each a genius in the literary field.

One of Capote’s famous quotes take from his book “Other Voices, Other Rooms”: ‘The brain may take advice, but not the heart, and love having no geography, knows no boundaries’  One of the doc’s more interesting segments has the novelties talk to a talk show host on the subject of love, whee he distinguishes between sex and love relationships claiming that he had and fallen out of more of the latter.  Capote was an American novelist, screenwriter, playwright, and actor.  Several of his short stories, novels, and plays have been praised as literary classics, including the novella Breakfast at Tiffany's (1958) and the true crime novel In Cold Blood (1966), which he labeled a "nonfiction novel". His works have been adapted into more than 20 films and television dramas.

Tennessee Williams quote from his play and film A STREETCAR NAMED DESIRE: ‘“What is straight? A line can be straight, or a street, but the human heart, oh, no, it's curved like a road through mountains.” Ironically, William took in one main lover in his life and loved him so very much even after his death.  But before that, he claims he was always the pursuer in any relationship or pick-up.  Tennessee Williams was an American playwright, considered among the three foremost playwrights of 20th-century American drama.  Williams became famous with the success of The Glass Menagerie (1944) in New York City. This play closely reflected his own unhappy family background. It was the first of a string of successes, including A Streetcar Named Desire (1947), Cat on a Hot Tin Roof (1955), Sweet Bird of Youth (1959), and The Night of the Iguana (1961).  Much of Williams' most acclaimed work has been adapted for the cinema.  Film clips of all the above works are shown in the doc.

The brilliant work, personal struggles, and cultural impact of iconic American writers Truman Capote and Tennessee Williams explode onto the screen in this innovative dual-portrait documentary.  Director Vreeland illustrates both their similarities (especially their southern and gay backgrounds) and differences, emphasizing that they remained friends for am major part of their lives.  The doc benefits from the large amount of footage shown of the two writers.  The inclusion of the films made of their works also make the film more interesting.

The voiceover work by award-winning actors Jim Parsons (Capote) and Zachary Quinto (Williams), with much of the words taken from their writings sounds very authentic.  Parson's voice , though recognizable from his, could very well pass on as Capote’s while Quinto’s raspy voice sounds realistic as well.

TRUMAN AND TENNESSEE is a tremendously entertaining doc about two hight entertaining gay writers with lots of old film clips to boot.

Trailer: 

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