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This Week's Film Reviews (Oct 15th, 2020)

09 Oct 2021

FILM REVIEWS:

 

BERGMAN ISLAND (France 2021) ***1/2

Directed by Mia Hansen-Løve 

Director Mia Hansen-Løve is a master of films on relationships.  She examines the mechanics of them, often offering valuable and entertaining personal insight.   These deal with quite a few of young teen relationships but returns to an older couple here, as she covers the sensitive relationship between a middle-aged couple, both writers in their own right.

BERGMAN ISLAND is the island of Fårö, where legendary director Ingmar Bergman spent most of the end of his life.  Bergamn was born in Upsala, not Fårö.  A tourist attraction, Fårö sees Chris and Tony renting a place, in order to write.  The residence holds the bedroom where Bergman shot SCENES OF A MARRIAGE, the film that caused a million people to divorce, a joke of the film.  Hansen-Løve has been one of the most respected and outstanding French directors since LE PERE DE MES ENFANTS (The Father of my Children), all her films about relationships, mostly young ones.   Tony’s work is fêted at their artist residency while Chris struggles with her screenplay and the two, despite a tender rapport, seem to be at an unspoken impasse, navigating romantic malaise and subtle professional enmity under the spell of the stunning island and Bergman’s legacy.  Chris’s in-development script comes to life: a bittersweet love story starring Mia Wasikowska as Amy, a young filmmaker and obvious alter ego to Chris, who is reunited with her first love Joseph (Anders Danielsen Lie) at a mutual friend’s wedding on the same remote island.  Hansen-Løve does Woody Allen doing Ingmar Bergman in this film, with a surprise revelation at the end that should keep audiences thinking.

Occasionally clever and vastly entertaining, BERGMAN ISLAND should not disappoint Hansen-Løve’s fans.

BERGMAN ISLAND premiered at this year’s Cannes and continued its run at the Toronto International Film Festival.  It opens in theatres October the 15th and is available to rent everywhere on October the 22nd.

Trailer: 

CHRISTMAS AT CATTLE HILL (Jul på KuToppen) (Norway 2020) ***

Directed by  Will Ashurst


It looks like politically correct films have intended their influence to kiddies animated features.  Though the protagonist in CHRISTMAS AT CATTLE HILL is a female calf, the animation clearly shows the calf to be a black female.  The film also modernizes the typical family which here consists of a separated mother and father.

Klara the Calf is excited to spend her first Christmas on Cattle Hill with her father, but when they arrive at the farm Klara is disappointed to see he has not attempted to decorate for the holidays.  When her father is unexpectedly called away for work, Klara sees it as an opportunity to make Cattle Hill a Christmas paradise with the help of the cheeky Christmas gnome who lives on the farm, but as Klara finds out it is about being together at Christmas which is the most important.  Her friend, a young male sheep (a lamb) helps her inner high jinxed activities.

The film is dubbed in English and was a hit when it opened Christmas last year in Scandinavia.  CHRISTMAS AT CATTLE HILL has the standard happy ending and predictable plot but  to be fair the film is more targeted for kids than the parents.  The animation is all right, though nothing really fanciful.  

There are a few hilarious scenes like the one in which the gnome destroys a huge outdoor decorated Christmas tree screaming ‘oatmeal’.

Kids will not be disappointed, but parents might be bored if they are not enchanted by the simple and universal story of goodness at Christmas.  Short and sweet at an hour and 8 minutes.  Opens Oct 19 on VOD/Digital.

Trailer: 

 

DEAR FUTURE CHILDREN (Germany/UK/Austria 2021) ***1/2
Directed by Franz Böhm

With global protests on the rise, DEAR FUTURE CHILDREN is a film about the new generation at the heart of this seismic political shift. The doc focuses on three young activists.  Rayen protests for social justice in Chile, Pepper fights for democracy in Hong Kong and Hilda battles the devastating consequences of climate change in Uganda.  Facing almost impossible odds and grappling with the staggering impact of their activism on their personal lives, the film asks these three young women why they keep fighting.

Of all the three activists, it is difficult to say which of the three is the most interesting.   I found the Hong Kong protests to be the most affecting, but only because this critic is Chinese, born in Singapore.  Being in the region of Asia in the first part of his life before settling in the west in Canada (which I consider very lucky to have moved to the best country in the world), I know that China can never be trusted.  China can say one thing and lie outright.  Documentaries on Chinese manufacturing also reveal outright unscrupulous practices.  Companies have three books for their accounting - one for their parent company (be it European or American), one for the Chinese Government and the real one for themselves.

The doc’s best, most effective and most moving segment is young Hilda’s speech at the Climate Change Conference.  Fighting back tears until she chokes, Hilda tells of how her family had to sell their land because of drought as a result of climate change,  The family faced death and fear.  Yet, she says the children right to the other side of the Earth are fighting for the future for action against climate change.  This will teach a lesson or two to the politicians of the world.  When Great of Sweden appeared on the cover of TIME as person of the year because this autistic girl gave up so much to fight for climate change, all ex-president, Donald Trump, well known for reversing all the work done pro-climate change, would do is quibble why he was not on the cover   of TIME for ‘man of the year’.  Perhaps TIME should create a new title each year for a person to appear on the cover as ‘Bastard of the year”.   Hilda’s speech was from the heart and soul and spoken with wisdom and conviction.  What can be more moving?

The film contains one powerful conclusion where each of the three female teen activists summarize their emotions of the tireless and handles work - packing one hell of a punch!

One might dismiss DEAR FUTURE CHILDREN as yet another doc about protests.  This is true but one cannot hide the effect this doc can still make in the message to the world for everyone just to be decent and true.  Obviously, this is just too much to ask from our politicians and leaders.

DEAR FUTURE CHILDREN premiered at Hot Docs and opens in Select Theatres on October 15th and VOD on October 29th.

Trailer:

 

FEVER DREAM (DISTANCIA DE RESCUTE) (Chile/Peru/Argentina/Spain/USA 2021) ***1/2

Directed by Claudia Llosa  

A young woman named Amanda lies in pain, while a young teenager named David urgently questions her, forcing her to unravel the truth of what happened to her. She is not his mother and he is not her son. Together they will reveal a disturbing and evocative tale of broken souls, an invisible lurking terror, and the fragile threads that bind parents and children.

The English title of the film is FEVER DREAM which is the state that the film’s protagonist suffered as a major impact on her life occurs.  But the more appropriate title would be DISTANCIA DE RESCATE (Distance of Rescue) which is the title of the novella by Samanta Schweblin from which director Llosa wrote the script.  In the film Amanda looks from the car, her daughter Nina as she plays near the edge of the pool.  She wonders about the distance between her and Nina which would determine whether she has time to save her daughter if she fell into the water.  It is as if there is a tread between the two that she is pulling.

Director Llosa’s direction aided by the excellent cinematography by Oscar Faura is nothing short of marvellous.  The reflection of many images in the water of the ponds in the countryside or mirrors in the house show the filmmakers’ expertise in the creation of an eerie and creepy atmosphere.  One scene using shadows has the shadow of a horse blended into the shadow of man revealing the shape of a centaur, emphasizing the man’s obsession with horses.  The film’s best scene has Amada driving in the dead of night while seeing through her windscreen very weird looking children crossing in front of the car as she pulls into a gas station.  She is told that children are not usually born normal around the area.  Director Llosa injects some humour by having one flopping on the ground in front of the car, as a thud sound can be heard.)

FEVER DREAM is that rare genuine horror mystery chiller that does not resort to cheap jump scares but to superb storytelling, cinematography and excellent camerawork often using images and shadows to create the mood and atmosphere necessary for success to work.

The enjoyment of FEVER DREAM depends a large deal on the audience’s acceptance of the often complicated plot though the plot is well told and not particularly confusing.  It begins with a boy David talking to a woman named Amanda, as if connected to her.  The reason for this is finally revealed at the conclusion of the film and one has to unravel the clues to see the reasons events have unfolded in a  certain way.

The film is an international production from Spain, the U.S. and the South American countries of Chile, Argentina and Peru.  The story is set in Argentina with references to Spain and the director is Peruvian.

FEVER DREAM is a Netflix original.  There is a good side and bad side tooth’s.  The good is that this intriguing film would otherwise never be made and the downside is that watching the film at home means there is greater distraction for audiences like using the cell phone or texting while watching the movie.  This movie requires full undisturbed attention to be appreciated.  The time spent is well worth it.

Trailer:

 

 

I’M YOUR MAN (Ich bin dein Mensch)(Germany 2021) ***1/2

Directed by Maria Schrader

It has finally happened - a romantic comedy in which one falls in love with a robot.

The film brilliantly introduces the robot Tom (Dan Stevens) to his mistress, Alma (Mren Eggerrt) in the same way director Maria Schrader introduces him to her audience.  Alma as well as the audience is fascinated by Tom, or rather at the marvel that Tom can be a robot.  This is until Tom malfunctions repeating the words: “I’m your…”   before being briskly whisked off to be re-programmed.

I’M YOUR MAN (Ich bin dein Mensch) is an entertaining romantic comedy with a little sci-fi about a single German woman who, as part of a test trial, agrees to live for three
weeks with a humanoid robot that is programmed to be her perfect man.   As a scientist at Berlin’s famous Pergamon Museum, Alma only participates because she thinks it will help obtain funding for her own research into ancient cuneiform.  “I’m not here to find the perfect partner,” Alma tells Tom the first morning of the 3 weeks he is staying with her.”  “I am just here to write the evaluation.”  Director Schrader injects a bit of ironic humour by having Tom scratch his head.  It is these little details that add a bit more to the film’s charm and entertainment.  Tom (Stevens) is definitely handsome and even knows what cuneiform is.  At first Alma shrugs off Tom’s attempts, including a candle-lit evening with bubble bath and rose petals.  No matter, Tom’s algorithm simply adapts to make Alma happy. 

Alma finds Tom annoying after a while.  It turns out that Alma, probably like many others, does not know what she really wants or likes.  A perfect man annoys Alma and his perfect knowledge and advice turn out too much for her.  Then there is the sex factor that comes to play.

As a sci-fi film and a romantic comedy, director Schrader successfully engages her audience to both the characters and the story.  One knows the story works, when one wants the romance to be successful, despite the fact that one is not a human being.

Dan Stevens plays Tom, brilliantly.  In the script, Tom is a robot that speaks German with a British accent, as is desired by Alma.  Alma had stated that she finds men who speak German with a foreign accent sexy.  Surrey-born actor Dan Stevens performs well, a devilishly-handsome looking male specimen but playing a robot.  Stevens, himself speaks German in real life putting in a dash of hisBritish accent as well.  Stevens studied German in Cambridge.

I’M YOUR MAN won actress Maren Eggert Berlin’s 2021 Silver Bear for Best Actress. The film was also screened at this year’s Toronto International Film Festival in the Special Presentations Section.  The film has been  selected by Germany for the 2022 Academy Awards for Best International Feature.

Trailer: 

KNOCKING (Sweden 2021) **

Directed by Frieda Kempff

KNOCKING is a low budget thrill that has made a successful run around festivals (particularly horror ones) around the world.

The film is about a very fragile girl, Molly (Cecilia Milocco).  After suffering a traumatic incident, Molly moves into a new apartment to begin her path to recovery, but it is not long after her arrival that a series of persistent knocks and screams begin to wake her up at night. Molly’s new life begins to unravel as the screams intensify and no one else in the building believes or is willing to help her.  At first the audience can hardly hear the knocking when it happens.  Then they can, faintly, then these sounds turn into morse code and then to the words: “Help Me.”

It is the typical psychological thriller that is made under the lockdown times of Covid-19.  Most of the scenes has Molly alone or socially distanced part from the other actors.  The film is basically a one-handler.

The scrip adds several factors to make more interesting.

Add the background that Molly has just been released from a psychological institution.  Is she still crazy or has she recovered?

Add the fact that no one, not even the cops believe her when she reports knocking.

Add another fact that no one else hears the knocking sound.

Add yet another that she finds a bag of clothes in the trash containing blood stained clothes.

Molly paints her fingernails with a dark green colour.  She spills the nail polish which spreads on the ground like a high viscosity fluid.  She lies on the bed.  The camera shows her head in an used down position on the screen.  She then witnesses a domestic dispute outside a window, reports it and nothing happens.  Then it rains.  Warning: KNOCKING is as slow as a thriller can be.

KNOCKING really tests one patience.  It is not a bad film but it could have been condensed into a half hour featurette instead of stretching it to an overlong 83 minutes.  It does not help that the film has a totally predictable storyline.

Trailer: 

THE LAST DUEL (USA/UK 2021) ***** Top 10

Directed by Ridley Scott

In 1386, Marguerite de Carrouges (Jodie Comer) claims to have been raped by her husband's best friend and squire Jacques Le Gris (Adam Driver).  Her husband, knight Jean de Carrouges (Matt Damon), challenges him to trial by combat.  It is the last legally sanctioned duel (hence the title THE LAST DUEL) in France's history.  The film opens with the jousting between the two foes before the film flashbacks into the incidents that have led to this state of affairs.

The story is told from three points of view with the titles “The truth according to…”.  First is the story or truth according to Pierre d’Alencon, then to Le Gris and finally to Marguerite.   Certain scenes are repeated (as many as twice) as well as details added into the story.  The film’s climax is the continuation of the duel as seen at the film’s start but carried on to its brutal end.

Matt Damon and Ben Affleck collaborated on the script with Nicole Holofcener.  The last time Affleck and Damon wrote a script together was GOOD WILL HUNTING in which both actors came away with Best Screenplay Oscars.  They could very well win again as the film succeeds primarily from its fresh and distinguished script as well as the visual art of director Ridley Scott ’s vision.  This is Scott’s best film since BLADE RUNNER and ALIEN.  Scott has tackled period duelling in one of his early films stilted THE DUELLISTS with Keith Carradine  and Harvey Keitel playing the foes.

Though somewhat original, this is not the first time a film tells a story as seen from different people.  In the classic RASHOMON by Akira Kurosawa, the same story is told by various characters in the film, a few telling lies to benefit themselves.  Director Scott has the title “the truth according to…” begin each of the film’s chapters to emphasize the fact that the story is told from three different perspectives, it is the truth according to the characters.  Each character sees the details differently and it is the devil in these details that make the film.

Damon is brilliant in his role, with an ugly scar on his right cheek to match.  It would not be surprising if he earns an Oscar nod for Best Actor as this is clearly his best role to date.  Affleck provides humour in a role he clearly relishes while Driver makes the perfect villain, all cunning while hiding the rape behind what he declares is his uncontrollable love.

Being set during the gloomy and grim medieval times, director Scott ensues the look of his film being constantly grey and depressing.  Females will be put off seeing this film as it is brutal with the big climatic fight and it is not a pretty film of colour and flowers.  The film had problems in completion and release due to Covid-19 but it is finally here, opening on the big screen where it should be seen.  THE LAST DUEL is one helluva exciting film and one of the best action films of 2021 - forget all the Marvel superhero action nonsense.

Trailer: 

 

MASS (USA 2021) **

Directed by Fran Kranz

Two sets of parents try to resolve a situation in a civilized manner as their idiosyncrasies rise to the surface.

The above statement can be used to describe the new drama MASS but it also applies to the excellent 2011 Roman Polanski film, CARNAGE (a four star film).  Comparison is inevitable.

The film’s success depends a lot on the performances of its cast.  The cast:

Reed Birney as Richard

Ann Dowd as Linda

Jason Isaacs as Jay Perry

Martha Plimpton as Gail Perry

The 4 give their all, doing their best to overcome the shortcomings of the script.  The script at least should be praised for being politically correct.  At the film’s start, the arrangements of the meeting are performed by a white woman with a male assistant under the instruction of a black woman.  The issues and concerns during the meeting are initiated largely by the wives.  The husbands just provide additional information.  As the writer/director of the film is female, this would be expected and the female slant of the film’s material is definitely noticeable.

It would  be reasonable to assume that almost every person venturing out to stream or watch the film in theatres would already be made aware of the fact that the film is basically the meeting of the couples to come to some kind of understanding and closure of the killing of one son by the other.  Thus, the first 15 minutes or so, when this fact is kept from the audience seems superfluous.  When the fact is finally brought to light, around the third mark of the film, it appears that the material is wearing thin.  The fact that the meeting is dealt serious, there is understandably less opportunity for any humour.  Some humour is provided at the start of the film prior to the meeting, but one wonders of Kranz’s sense of humour.

To sit through the couples’ meeting is as aggravating as watching the film.  One wonders at the reasoning of the couples’ decision to meet.  All the facts of the tragedy have already been brought to light.  Attorneys of the two have already settled the case.  One cannot get blood from stone.

The comparison with Roman Polanski’s CARNAGE.  CARNAGE stars bigger stars performing at their best.  Jodie Foster and John C. Reilly make one couple and Kate Winslet and Christophe Waltz form the other.  3 of the cast here are Oscar Winners.  Reilly is also a superb actor who can do both comedy and drama.  CARNAGE is a black comedy providing a larger avenue of entertainment.  It also comes with the reputation that it is based on the Tony Award-winning 2006 play Le Dieu du carnage by French playwright Yasmina Reza.  MASS on the other hand is both written and directed by Kranz.

MASS is watchable and has garnered an impressive rating 94% on Rotten Tomatoes at the time of the writing of this review.  But the film is pale by inevitable comparison with Polanksi’s excellent CARNAGE which would  provide a better second watch than viewing MASS.

THE MEDIUM (Thailand/South Korea/UK/Australia 2021) ****

Directed by Banjong Pisanthanakun

A rarity!  This fortnight sees two horror films from countries not known for horror films - Taiwan (DETENTION) and now Thailand’s THE MEDIUM.  Horror fans are in for a real threat.

THE MEDIUM is a 2021 Thai-South Korean supernatural horror film directed by Banjong Pisanthanakun and produced by Na Hong-jin.  The film premiered at the 25th Bucheon International Fantastic Film Festival on 11 July 2021.  It was theatrically released in South Korea on 14 July 2021 and was adjudged as the best feature film at 25th Bucheon International Fantastic Film Festival and was awarded with the Bucheon Choice Award for the best film.  THE MEDIUM is one of the most amusing horror films seen in a long time - and a most welcome one.

The movie starts with a group of Thai documentary team traveling to the northeast part of Thailand, Isan to document the daily life of a local medium, Nim, who is possessed by the spirit of Bayan, a local deity whom the villagers worship.  Bayan is an ancestral God and has been possessing women in Nim's family for generations. The latest in the line of succession was Nim's sister, Noi. However, Noi did not wish to be a medium and turned to Christianity. The spirit of Bayan moved onto Nim and has been with her ever since.

While en route to the funeral of Noi's husband, Willow, Nim reveals misfortune always befall the men in his family, the Asatia family. His grandfather was stoned to death; his father's factory went bankrupt and he committed suicide after he was caught setting fire to the factory for insurance fraud; her son, Mike, died from a motorbike accident. Noi only has 1 daughter left, Ming, who does not believe in Shamanism and attends Church with her mother.

Ming's family and friends, as well as the documentary crew, notice her displaying strange and aggressive behaviours, along with displaying multiple personalities such as one of an old man, a drunkard, a child, and a prostitute. She starts to have strange dreams, hearing voices in her head, and experiences debilitating abdominal and vaginal pain. She is fired from her job after her boss caught her having sex with multiple men at work. Nim is initially convinced Bayan wishes Ming to succeed Nim, but Noi refuses to let Nim perform an Acceptance Ceremony to move Bayan's spirit onto her daughter.

And the plot thickens.

THE MEDIUM contains unforgettable scary scenes that are typically found in Asian folklore.  One has Noi breaking an egg on a plate for a sacrifice to the Gods.  Out of the cracked egg comes a black liquid.  Another has the possessed Mink putting her finger in a glass of water, part of the ceremony to calm the demon possessing her.  The finger emits a cloudy black fluid.  Then the glass breaks.

But the decision to tell the horror story mockumentary style works very well for really hilarious parts, with the hilarity not interfering with the horror.  It is clear to the audience, unless the audience were born yesterday, that this documentary-styled feature is all fiction and little fact.   Every several minutes or so, the characters will say to the screen: “Stop filming!”, as if the cameraman was present at every important incident of the story.  One hilarious scene (one has to pay attention to notice this) has Ming's condition deteriorating after the ceremony where she bludgeons Noi with a camera from the crew.  Yet the filming continues after the incident as if the camera was never broken.

It is hard to tell whether the director believes in the stuff or not.  The film goes into great detail on the religious beliefs of the shaman.  Yet, it is occasionally played for laughs emphasizing the director’s talent in storytelling.

Watch THE MEDIUM on Shudder.  A real treat!

Trailer: (unavailable)

 

THIS BLAZING WORLD (USA 2020) **
Directed by Carlson Young

Carlson Young does triple duty here as co-writer with Pierce Brown, director and star in a psychological thriller that premiered at Sundance.

 The tongue-in-cheek attitude of the film is befitting to its odd premise of alternate universes.  Nobody really believes in alternate universes, so revealing the concept tongue-in-cheek is a clever tactic to distract credibility.  “Life takes you down to rabbit holes.  I know!” says a black author in her car in one scene where she is confronted by the protagonist Margaret Winter (Young).

The film begins with a fierce argument between husband and wife Mr. (Dermot Mulroney) and Mrs. Winter (Vinnessa Shaw) before the little Margaret witnesses her twin sister's drowning in the pool.   She also sees a weird figure (played by Udo Kier) beckoning her sister into what seems like a big tunnel (another form of a rabbit hole?).  Decades later, Margaret returns to her family home, and finds herself drawn to an alternate dimension like what the back lady in the car was talking about.  Margaret begins an epic journey down the darkest corridors of her mind as she tries to reason out the impossible and exorcise her demons and Udo Kier.

The soundtrack consisting of thumping sounds and stringy elastic melodies add to the film’s ‘mind-fucked’ atmosphere of the film.  Director Young loves to use acid inspired colours so that the film has the look of an Alice in Wonderland book.

“Do you want to know the answer to life’s dark secrets?” asks a friend at a gathering as she pulls out tarot cards.   Margaret attempts to find out the truth behind her sister’s death.

What filmmaker Young has is an incredible odd sense of humour which is evident in almost every scene of the film.  At times, this roles some humour and while increasing the intensity of the situations.  The acid LSD scene is an example of Young pushing her film to the edge.

What Margret does next is to enter the rabbit hole.  In it she encounters Udo Kier again, who tries to be as weird as the film’s premise.  The audience is then led to believe that Margaret has to obtain three keys (one is given to her by Kier, who insists that he is a friend and not a slave) and the other three though a journey through a door corridor lit only by a candle that Margaret is given.  If she fails to obtain the 3 keys by the time the candle burns out, darkness will consume her.

If all this sounds intriguing, it is but the film fails to come together as a whole.  Once Margaret enters the rabbit hole, the film begins to fall apart.  The tongue-in-cheek humour grows as tiring as Udo Kier’s tactics.  With credibility being thrown out to the dogs with the film’s ending that does not follow any logical reasoning, THIS BLAZING WORLD ends up going up in smoke.

Trailer: 

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