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This Week's Film Reviews ( Sep 22, 2021)

16 Oct 2021

Quite an assortment of new films opening this week.  Most notable must-see's are Wes Anderson's THE FRENCH DISPATCH and Kiyushi Kurosawa's WIFE OF A SPY,  Sci-fi fans will be thrilled by VOYAGERS, opening on Amazon Prime.

 

FILM REVIEWS:

 

THE CAPOTE TAPES (USA 2021) ***

Directed by Ebs Burnough

It seems the public will never tire of the nasty little celebrity, the famous and glamorous writer Truman Capote.  Philip Seymour Hoffman portrayed him in the 2005 film CAPOTE and 2020 saw the doc TRUMAN & TENNESSEE that concentrated on the relationship between these two giant icons.  THE CAPOTE TAPES attempts to serve as a biopic on Truman Capote while concentrating on the topic of THE CAPOTE TAPES.

Truman Streckfus Persons, (September 30, 1924 – August 25, 1984) was an American novelist, screenwriter, playwright, and actor (MURDER BY DEATH, with a short clip included). 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).  His works have been adapted into more than 20 films and television dramas.   Capote rose above a childhood troubled by divorce, a long absence from his mother, and multiple migrations.  Capote earned the most fame with In Cold Blood (1966), a journalistic work about the murder of a Kansas farm family in their home.

The film does a fairly decent job at being a biopic covering his childhood (living with his 2 aunts, after being abandoned by his mother) prior to his rising to fame.  The last third of the film is devoted to THE CAPOTE TAPES, which is supposedly his lifelong novel that was never published, except for three chapters.  Those interviewed on film swear that he had completed  writing them though the manuscripts are nowhere to be found.   This doc serves to provide a glimpse of Capote’s life and understand the  influences on him as well as how he influences the high society of NYC.

THE CAPOTE TAPES is director Burnough’s debut documentary and he follows the rules of a typical doc.  The subjects background from childhood are mentioned, notable interviewees assembled and archive footage interspersed during the interviews.  The downfall of Capote, his excessive alcohol and drug abuse, together with his party-going (Club 54) led to his health and reputation in decline.  As a fabulous gay person, he did not care.  He was cruelly described a s an ageing dwarf at one point in the film.  Like a trueThe subject, on archive footage is presented multiple times to effect the impression that he is still ‘with us’.  The result is a  fairly entertaining doc for the primary reason that Capote was such an entertaining personality.

The film is largely narrated by George Plimpton, the journalist who befriended Capote.  He helped Capote organize the grand costume ball at the Plaza Hotel, which is one of the highlights of the documentary.  The other are the partying photos of the celebrities at Club 54 where he frequented.  The most insight on Capote is provided by the many interviews with Kate Harrington, Capote’s adopted daughter.  Her father was Capote’s manager and the two had become lovers.  Director Burnough also spends time talking about Capote’s most famous work, his short book OTHER ROOMS, OTHER VOICES and his  masterpiece IN COLD BLOOD.

A thorough biopic on the flamboyant Capote with the added bonus of the mystery of his missing tapes.

 

THE ELECTRICAL LIFE OF LOUIS WAIN (UK 2021) ***

Directed by Will Sharpe

Benedict Cumberbatch made quite an appearance in person during the recent Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) which honoured him with this year’s Tribute Actor Award.  Besides being an Oscar nominated actor, Cumberbatch, also a Marvel action hero (Doctor Strange) is reputed to be cast in solid performances in many outstanding films.  He has made his mark in THE IMITATION GAME as Alan Turin, the film that shot him to stardom, together with roles in the Oscar Winner for Best Picture 12 YEARS A SLAVE.   TIFF saw two of Cumberbatch’s new films, POWER OF THE DOG, Jane Campion’s excellent new period Australian drama and this one, THE ELECTRICAL LIFE OF LOUIS WAIN, a so-so film that is lifted by the actor’s meticulous performance.  If this film is slight, it is made watchable only by the actor’s presence.

THE ELECTRICAL LIFE OF LOUIS WAIN is the biopic of the eccentric cat book illustrator, Louis Wan.  It is a gentle woman’s picture, with lots of cats, pretty and colourful images with the female characters making a large dent in the film’s story as well as Louis Wain’s life.

An eccentric artist (Benedict Cumberbatch) introduces Victorian London to the delights of cats after he and his wife rescues a stray one from the garden of their residence.

Personally, I abhor cats (I am a dog person) but cats have accompanied humans on life’s journeys, especially the one that Luis found that.   The film tells the story of the Victorian-era artist whose widely published drawings of anthropomorphized cats transformed them from mysterious to irresistible. Wain was one of Britain’s most influential eccentrics as a flurry of wild ideas and prodigious artistic output.  Louis Wain suffers from a medical ailment causing him to act in an emotional hyper fashion, though the film never expels what it is.  It does look like he had the tick ailment.   Wain’s life in the 1880s oscillates between the delightful and the dizzying.   To support his widowed mother and five younger sisters, the academy-trained artist sells drawings of animals from the country fair.   His skilled and speedy portraiture impresses, but his often stormy view of the world and those in it keeps him from engaging much with society. That is, until he hires a kind, curious governess for his youngest sisters, Emily Richardson (Claire Foy), who illuminates his life in a way even he’d never imagined.   Love blooms across the class divide — albeit to the chagrin of Louis’s stern sister Caroline (Andrea Riseborough), second oldest and second in command.

Academy Award winning actress Olivia Colman narrates the film, with her name appearing in the acting credits.   Two other actors Toby Jones (as Louis’ mentor) and Adeel Akhtar (soon to be seen in ALI & AVA) deliver impressionable performances.

The film loses steam during the last third once Emily passes away from cancer.  There is not much plot after this point in the film except to showcase cats and more cat drawings.  Cat lovers will definitely be more entertained by this feline venture but Sharpe’s film gets tedious and takes too long to come to its likely conclusion.

Trailer: 

THE FRENCH DISPATCH (USA 2021) ****
Directed by Wes Anderson

There is much, very much to enjoy in a Wes Anderson film.  To many, myself included, an Anderson film is one to be looked forward to, as his films, besides being vastly entertaining, often showcases his mastery in filmmaking as evident in the details he creates in his work.  In THE FRENCH DISPATCH, one of his best films, he creates an entire French city Ennui-en-Blaise (English translation: Boredom on the Blaise River) together with an entire metro system for the Paris inspired city.  The film was shot in the French city of Angouleme which is perched on the Charent River.  Anderson always wanted to make an anthology picture set in France and THE FRENCH DISPATCH is it.  The film was conceived and written by Anderson with Roman Coppola, Hugo Guinness and Jason Schwartzman.

The film contains an impressive and fantastic ensemble cast featuring Benicio del Toro, Adrien Brody, Tilda Swinton, Léa Seydoux, Frances McDormand, Timothée Chalamet, Lyna Khoudri, Jeffrey Wright, Mathieu Amalric, Stephen Park, Bill Murray, and Owen Wilson.  A French based film (though the film is shot largely in English with some French) would not be right if it did not have its fair share of french actors.  There are dozens of known names in the film, including Lea Seydoux, Hyppolyte Giradot, Cécile de France and Guillaume Gallienne.

The film’s plot follows three different storylines, as the French foreign bureau of a fictional Kansas newspaper (THE FRENCH DISPATCH) creates its final issue.  The final issue is its editor’s final wishes as stated in his will, as he passes on, in the film’s conclusion.

The framing story is the goings-on in the office of Arthur Howitzer Jr. (Bill Murray), the editor of the French Dispatch, based on Harold Ross, the co-founder of The New Yorker.  He is seen giving his opinion and insisting on the idiosyncrasies of his writers, often giving them free reign, while occasionally implanting his personal imprint on their articles.

The first story is The Concrete Masterpiece – by J.K.L. Berensen (Tilda Swinton).  It is the reported story of Moses Rosenthaler (Benicio del Toro), an incarcerated artist imprisoned for murder growing famous after a fellow inmate (Adrien Brody) makes famous one of his splattered works.  The second is Revisions to a Manifesto – by Lucinda Krementz (Frances McDormand).  She profiles student revolutionaries and covers one involving the rights to have males in female dormitories.  The last and best, reserved for the last is The Private Dining Room of the Police Commissioner – by Roebuck Wright (Jeffrey Wright).  Roebuck Wright is a food journalist based on an amalgamation of James Baldwin and A.J. Liebling.  In this story, a kidnapped son of the Commissaire (Mathieu Amalric) is rescued after a shoot-out and car chase in an elaborate inspired and entertaining sequence involving the best of Anderson’s animation.  The other story in the anthology, not listed as an article follows a travel writer (Owen Wilson) riding his bicycle around.

The less said about this marvellous film the better.  A must-see for film cineastes that demands a second, if not multiple repeat screenings.

Trailer: 

 

THE MUSTANGS: AMERICA’S WILD HORSES (USA 2021) ***
Directed by  Steven Latham and Conrad Stanley

There are a lot of thugs about horses the world does not know.  And even more about wild horses that the world does not know.  As executive producer, a well known fighter for the cause of horses Robert Redford, narrates at the start of THE MUSTANGS, there are 50 thousand wild horses roaming in North America and 80 thousand in Government controlled areas.  Redford also executively produced the 2019 film directed by Laure de Clermont-Tonnerre, a fiction film entitled THE MUSTANG.  To the astonishment of many, the population of these horses cannot be maintained due to the obvious lack of space.  Wild horses are part of the history of North America but their future is questionable.

The scenes following showing wild horses galloping in the open are enough to send spirits soaring.  This beautifully shot film comes with a powerful message.

The film is informative to all, non-horse lovers included and educational.  The film reveals, among other things:

  • how wild horses are located
  • how they are located and trained
  • whether to keep mustangs running free (not enough water; not enough land) or gathered

If left wild, the mustangs will double in population every 4 or 5 years, as they have little to no predators.

  • One of these horses is Remmington, and the story of Remmington is told from the point of view of his trainer, an expert in mustang.

There are a lot of facts about horses that the film brings to light.  Narrated by a Pulitzer Prize winning author on horses, the audience learns about the market for mustangs.  He is David Philipps, also a New York Times journalist, and interviewed in the film, and he talks about his 2017 book “Wild Horse Country”.   After the first World war when the demand for horses collapsed, they were made into dog food.

The directors also include shots of mustangs from the TV series THE LONE RANGER.  “Hi ho Silver away…” can be heard as the lone ranger instructs his horse to gallop away.  There is also a scene from the Clark Gable Marilyn Monroe film THE MISFITS (John Huston’s 1961 film) where a horse is treated badly.  There is a shot of tear emancipating from Monroe’s eyes.

The audience also learns of Velma “Wild Horse Annie” Johnson who fights for the rights of wild horses.  This is one of the lighter and most amusing segments of the documentary.  Appalled at the way these horses were treated, she fought for better treatment of the horses.  Wild Horse Annie started a crusade that ended up taken by schools.  To see school children fighting for a worthy cause is not moving and inspirational.  The amazing feat of hers resulted in the Wild Free-Roaming Horses and Burros Act of 1971 in which killing a wild horse became a federal crime.

The last portion of the film educates the audience on horse sanctuaries.  And the need to control the population of horses to a sustainable level by fertility vaccination.  The doc suffers from some repetition of the narration here.

If this doc moves you, watch for MONTANA STORY, the upcoming film about an ageing horse about to be put down.

The film has just opened and has a VOD release on November the 23rd.

Trailer: 

 

NIGHT TEETH (USA 2021) **

Directed by Adam Randall

The premise that there have been in the past the eternal battle between vampires and humans.  It  goes that vampires exist and are hidden among humans.  The reason is a truce that had been made in the past between vampires and humans -  truce that has been kept, or so this outrageous plot has its gullible audience believe provided there rules be kept, according to the voiceover of one female vampire: 

  1. Don’t Let humans we exist
  2. Don’t feed on the unwilling
  3. And never enter Boyle Heights without permission

Why Boyle Heights?

Again, the voiceover informs the audience that Boyle Heights is the place where the fiercest of battles had been fought.  For those unfamiliar with Boyle Heights, it is historically known as Paredón Blanco, a notable and historic Chicano / Mexican-American neighbourhood in Los Angeles, California, located east of the Los Angeles River.   Boyle Heights is known as a bastion of Chicano culture, hosting cultural landmarks like Mariachi Plaza and events like the annual Día de los Muertos celebrations.

With that background as the film’s setting the story involves an unsuspecting Benny who substitutes for his brother Jay posing as a chauffeur.  Benny picks up two girls who turn out to be vampires.  Benny’s task is to drive them to a list of party venues ending at dawn.  Apparently the truce has been broken and the two girls are working with someone who wants to take over the ruler of the vampire world.  Jay happens to be the chief protector of humans against the vampires and he knows the truce is broken and has to take action.  Benny now realizes after a few blood sucking incidents that he is now involved in the fight between good and evil.

A few problems with the script’s credibility:

The two girls break the truce.  Why only now is the truce broken and not before?

What happens to all the other aged people in Boyle’s heights?  Is everyone living or the living dead all young adults?

One vampire (Zoe) is killed by sunlight.  The other two with her are not.

The entire story is too silly to be true.

To the film’s credit, there are a few pleasures.  One is the occasional detailed care work, as in the beginning where the camera zooms showing the closeups of the wheels of a skateboard as it ties and the wheels land on the ground.  A few laugh-out hilarious parts like the one Benny jumps out of the car only to find the vampire, Zoe standing right in front of him.  She says to Benny at one point in the film’s funniest line:  “You don’t know a party even if it came and fucked you in the face!”

The film’s message seems to put down ambition and goals.  “You think Economics is going to save the world?”  Bennys is told off at one point.

NIGHT TEETH attempts to bring the vampire film genre to young adults with stylized fantasy and comedy set in the supposedly cook club scene with vibrating vibes, but it just lacks bite (sorry -cannot help the pun) in all departments.

Trailer: 

RON’S GONE WRONG (USA 2021) ***
Directed by Sarah Smith, Jean-Philippe Vine and Octavio E. Rodriguez (c-director)

From 20th Century Fox Studios comes their new animated feature RON’S GONE WRONG.  Fox, being bought over by Disney, is thankfully allowed to keep producing animated features.  Disney not only delivers the best animated features each year, many winning the Academy Award for Best Animation, but RON’S GONE WRONG, though not as good as OSCAR, last year’s Oscar Winner still manages to hold its own.

This is the story of Barney, an awkward middle-schooler and Ron, his new walking, talking, digitally-connected device. Ron's malfunctions set against the backdrop of the social media age launch them on a journey to learn about true friendship.

The plot involves, yes again saving the world - in this case from unfriendly B-bots.  The villain in this case is the corporation making the B-bots that is personalized as Andrew, a figure inspired by the likes of the millionaire entrepreneurs of Facebook, Google and Apple - the FAANG companies.  The small inventor, in this case, a coloured teen is not given his chance to excel.  A young boy is one of the last to receive his own personal B-bot.  As a result, he is teased and bullied.  He finally gets one by the name of Ron (looking like a small snowman) and Ron goes wrong.  There is something incorrect in his functioning.

The story involves the power of friendship.  Friendship is finally distributed to all the B-bots in the world and the world is saved.  Silly?  Yes, but this is after all a kid’s film, more suitable for kids than for adults, judging from the humour and storyline.

The universally themed story of the benefits of friendship is a bit stretched.  The animation is up to Disney standard.  The characters are amusing enough without resorting to being extra cutesy.  There are no embarrassing songs like the vibes found in FROZEN but the soundtrack is pretty bad in telling the audience exactly how to feel, emotions-wise, as if the audience needs to be guided how to react.

RON’S GONE WRONG should entertain kids while adults might have to stretch their kiddie entertainment appreciation abilities.

Trailer: 

 

STUCK TOGETHER (8 Rue de l'Humanité) (France 2021) ***
Directed by Dany Boon

The non-French unless one is one who loves French comedies might not likely be familiar with the name of Dany Boon.  To Boon’s credit, he has starred and directed one of the biggest French comedy hits of all time, the 2008 WELCOME TO THE STICKS.  He has at present at least a film a year, last year seen in a supporting role as an action hero in LE LION (I saw the film on an Air Canada flight) and now the Netflix original film STUCK TOGETHER (8 Rue de l'Humanité).  This is a comedy about the tenants, except for one owner played by Boon of an apartment with the address of 8 Humanity Street in Paris who try to make sense and survive during the Covid-19 Pandemic.  The Pandemic comedy is manic and occasionally all over the place, as it crisscrosses stories with several tenants, but there are fresh laughs around every corner.

The streets of Paris are silent and empty.  While many flee the capital, seven families experience lockdown in a building on the rue de l'Humanité.  Among them: A café owner who reuses her pear alcohol as a hydroalcoholic gel, a geeky Zoom sports coach who gets fatter by the week, his fiancée, a singer (she sings a really corny song though getting more hits on the internet than her husband; spots videos) who is seven months pregnant and doesn't want to go to hospital alone, a self-made man who desperately wants to be as smart as his 8-year-old son, etc.  During the three months of lockdown, the families eventually meet each other - for better or worse.  They argue and fight but also end up banding together to fight the difficult times.   The story also involves a death due to Covid, but though a bit sappy, it brings the film to credibility levels as people do die from the disease.

The funniest tenant of the lot is the mad scientist played by Yvan Attal who is constantly searching for new animals to test the second dose of his vaccine.  He eventually tests it on himself, after running out of animals, most of which had died, resulting in his hilarious uncontrollable behaviour.  Attal is an actor and director of countless French films, rising to fame after his directorial debut in 2001, MA FEMME EST UNE ACTRESS (which I manage to see while in London).

The film is funniest when it makes fun of director Boon’s keen Covid observations.  The PCR Covid test swab with the swab more than twice in length than the actual performed on Boon’s character gets the biggest laugh.  Some Covid-19 lockdown practices observed in the film might be unfamiliar to outsiders.  In Paris during the lockdown, residents had to carry on them, when they go out, a déclaration sur l'honneur, a form downloaded from the internet they had to fill out and carry on their person.  In the film, Boon’s character is stopped by the policier and him asked for the form.

It is not surprising that the French would be the first to come up with a Pandemic comedy and quite a hilarious one at that, enabling the audience to laugh at what they had to endure during these times.  Time for Hollywood to do a re-make.

STUCK TOGETHER (8 Rue de l’Humanité) opens this week on Netflix.

Trailer: 

SURGE (UK 2019) ***
Directed by Aneil Kaira

Set over 24 hours in London, SURGE is a bold psychological thriller/drama following a man who goes on a bold and reckless journey of self-destruction.

The mental collapse of the film’s protagonist, Joseph (Ben Whishaw) is never fully explained or made clear.  It is clearly the aim of the director/writer to leave the cause to be ambiguous and a case for discussion or examination.  Lots of hints are at least thrown to the audience for possible catalysts to Joseph’s mental state.

Joseph stays by himself in a small flat.  He has parents that are at times overpowering.  This can be witnessed in the segment where the father is trying to install a large appliance in the house.  No matter what help is offered to him, he is never satisfied and has always a cause to grumble.  Mother is no help to Joseph either.  Nagging all the time, she pushes him to the limits one day at the dinner table where she complains that Joseph makes noise while swallowing.  This results in Joseph biting on his glass of water causing it to break into pieces thus cutting his mouth with the shattered pieces.  As Joseph rushes to the bathroom, all his mother can say is not to drip blood on the carpet.  All these living experiences are not helped by Joseph’s job as security at Stanford Airport.  He is often asked to frisk down passengers who are more often than not disgruntled.   While these are probably long term causes for Joseph’s breakdown, there are also several isolated incidents which cause him despair.  One is the ATM machinating his bank card.  As a result, he dis

SURGE is pretty much actor Ben Whishaw’s movie.  Whishaw has been seen, primarily in supporting roles (THE LOBSTER opposite Colin Farrell) with a few lead roles (LITTLE JOE) as well.  The film showcases his talent at capturing the mental anguish and gradual but eventual collapse of the character’s ability to function in society.

Despite the effectiveness of SURGE, the film will be a hard sell during the Pandemic.  It is difficult in itself to suffer depression and mental challenges and the last thing many would want to do during these difficult times is to watch the downward emotional and mental deterioration of a human being.

For a film posing so many reasons for mental distress, it surprisingly offers little no no solutions.  The only hint of a solution at the film’s end shows a band of Hair Khrisna chanters outside a building.  Still Joseph stares at them blankly.  Another has Joseph stealing a motorbike after complaining to the owner of the noise it makes.  As expected, acts of theft like this one lead to no favourable results.  Joseph also attempts to rob a bank by giving a note to a teller saying he has a gun.  It all appears too easy that the teller gives him loads of cash.  Joseph attempts the second time, but this time, the teller manages to dye and contaminate the money.  One wishes director kara offers some purpose to all these incidents.

Kaira’s film contains no main story or message, less a proper conclusion.  The open ending might leave many frustrated that his film has led nowhere, despite her logging in a desperate and riveting tale.

Trailer: 

 

TOM PETTY, SOMEWHERE YOU FEEL FREE: THE MAKING OF WILDFLOWERS

(USA 2021) *** Directed by Mary Wharton

Many know Tom Petty from his 1989 song “Free Fallin” that was played often on Much Music Videos as well as on the radio.  The film tells more of the work and other hits of the talented and famous singer/songwriter as the title implies than being a biopic of Petty.

The film opens with Tom Petty saying that he is satisfied at this point of life with the songs he had performed.  He also mentions that he is at heart, a soul singer.  It is surprising then, that this satisfied man ended up dying from a drug overdose in 2017.

Tom Petty was an American singer, songwriter, musician, record producer, and actor. He was the lead vocalist and guitarist of Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, formed in 1976. He previously led the band Mudcrutch, and was also a member of the late supergroup the Traveling Wilburys.  Petty recorded a number of hit singles with the Heartbreakers and as a solo artist.  The doc also follows his hit singles with the Heartbreakers include "Don't Do Me Like That" (1979), "Refugee" (1980), "The Waiting" (1981), "Don't Come Around Here No More" (1985) and "Learning to Fly" (1991).  Petty's hit singles as a solo act include "I Won't Back Down" (1989), "Free Fallin'" (1989), and "You Don't Know How It Feels" (1994).  In his career, he sold more than 80 million records worldwide, making him one of the best-selling music artists of all time.  Petty and the Heartbreakers were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2002.

Unless one is a Petty fan, what transpires on film, which is all about the man, might turn up pretty boring.  Worse still if one is unfamiliar with or does to like his music.  The doc appears to be all over the place, which is evident as the voiceover changes ever so often from one person to another.

The film is directed by Mary Wharton, who last year made JIMMY CARTER: A ROCK AND ROLL PRESIDENT, another doc about music and its influence on ex=President Jimmy Carter.

Wildflowers is known to be Tom Petty’s best and most popular album.  A lot of screen time is devoted to the making, success and effects of that album, Wildflowers.  The doc also showcases Petty’s talents, as lauded by the members of his band.  The doc also shows the difficulty of Petty's attempt starting and going solo after the band’s success.

There must be quite a number of Petty fans as the doc went on to win the 2021 SXSW Audience Award.  At its best, it offers a unique take on the Petty legacy, diving into a selected portion of the star’s life showing his creativity, freedom and lifestyle.

The doc has a limited opening on October the 22nd, part of Cineplex Events.  An ok doc, mire strictly for Tom Petty fans.

Trailer: 

 

THE TRIP (I ONDE DAGER) (Norway 2021) ****

Directed by Tommy Wirkola

Hardly publicized, this Norwegian comedy (IN EVIL DAYS - English translation of Norwegian title) is a real treat - that rare film that includes the genres of horror, action and comedy nicely blended together.  The hilarious and ingenious beginning of the movie is a promise that more good funny stuff is yet to come. 

THE TRIP refers to a dysfunctional couple’s  trip to a remote cabin to reconnect and solve their marriage differences.   But each has intentions to kill the other.  Before they can carry out their plans, unexpected visitors arrive and they are faced with a greater danger.  It is at this point that the film gets a bit predictable but this comedy is well worth the watch, especially when it is free to Netflix subscribers.  It does not take a genius to guess that the couple will put their differences aside and band together to survive the violent home invasion. 

A trip to the cabin with unsuspecting murder or murders to be committed.  If it sounds Hitchcockian, there is one hilarious reference to it.  The husband is a film director by profession while his father who had built the cabin, now in a retirement home has put money on the table by driving a bus.  His father’s advice to him on being a film director: “You are no fucking Hitchcock!”  When the father also tells his son that what is needed is a war - something that would forge real men, one can sense that something ominous is about to occur.  The camera shifts to focus on the television that announces the escape of 3 convicts. This is often what  Hitchcock uses in his films to create audience anticipation and suspense.

This film is very, very funny with a unique type of humour. The humour often entails an extreme amount of violence.  This includes - a victim with his fingers shot off before getting a bulletin the chest;  a n arm severed by the motor of the boat; death by lawnmower and other assorted mutilations.

The comedy is written and directed by Tommy Wirkola and stars Noomi Rapace, famous from starring in the original THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO.

 

Trailer:

VOYAGERS (USA 2021) ***
Directed by Neil Burger

A Neil Burger quote: “the goal is always to try to create a movie that I would like myself and that would knock me out, challenge me or intrigue me in some way.”  That said Burger has made two movies that resemble too close to home, the effects of particular drugs on humans in real life.  In his sci-fi LIMITLESS starring Bradley Cooper, the central character took a drug that enabled him to expand his mind 100%.  I would say that this drug is quite similar to crystal meth, that taking it, like the drug in LIMITLESS, allows the user to function without sleep and also expand his thinking.  The drug taken in his latest film VOYAGERS prohibits sexual arousal and other human stimulants.  This is the same powder that prison authorities use in the food of prison inmates to inhibit sexual desires.

VOYAGERS again returns the writer/director to drug sci-fi territory with a plot too similar to the LORD OF THE FLIES story.   As the planet earth is slowly poisoned by toxins and pollution, humans need to find another inhabitable planet to colonize.  One is found but unfortunately is around 86 (wonder where Burger got this number from) space years away.  So, a pod of specially genetically engineered teens, all super good-looking, led by Richard (Colin Farrell, who does not look too bad here either, all trim and clean-cut) travel to the new destination planet with the aim of re-populating it with their offspring.  They are given a blue liquid to drink that, unknown to them, inhibits their human emotions, mostly their sexual desires.  The authorities would have done better to put it as a powder in the food like the prison system does.  As human nature goes, two of them are curious enough to experiment not taking the blue stuff and sexual desires and male dominance result.  The good guy is Christopher (Tye Sheridan) and the bad one is Zac (Fionn Whitehead).  Zac tries to control the ship by having the others fight and kill each other off.  Christopher tries reasoning which in the end comes to a battle between the two.  No wrestling match here, but a fight still ensues.

The Earth going bad and re-populating another in space is a premise not new to sci-fi films.  It has been used so often that it has become rather stale here when the premise is proposed.  Many critics would immediately react with a shrug.  The LORD OF THE RINGS -type story also enforces the fact that there is nothing really original in the plot.  That said, Burger, the director of the young adult film DIVERGENT appears at ease at directing young adults, which is assumed also to be the target audience of this film.  Burger captures the attention of his audience more effectively in the first half, particularly the sexual tension, but it is predictably clear where the story will lead in the last half.  The set decoration looks something right out of Kubrick’s 2001 with the only thing missing being the HAL controlling robot.

The film receives a pass for effort and for the probable success in reaching its target of young adult audience.  VOYAGERS, an Amazon original (or rather un-original) film opens on Amazon Prime October 22.

Trailer: 

 

WIFE OF A SPY (Japan 2020) ***1/2

Directed by Kiyoshi Kurosawa

WIFE OF A SPY is veteran Japanese director Kiyoshi Kurosawa’s gorgeous-looking period piece set in the year 1940 in Kobe just before Japan’s entry into World War II.  Local merchant and amateur filmmaker Yusaku (Issey Takahashi from KILL BILL) senses that things are headed in an unsettling direction.  Following a trip to Manchuria, he becomes determined to bring to light the horrors he witnessed there, and secretly filmed the atrocities.  Meanwhile, his wife Satoko (Yû Aoi) receives a visit from her childhood friend, now a military policeman.  He warns her about Yusaku’s seditious ways and reveals that a woman her husband brought back from his trip has died.  Satoko confronts Yusaku, but when she discovers his true intentions, she is torn between loyalty to her husband, the life they have built, and the country they call home.  This is the halfway mark of the film, where the story takes a twist.

WIFE OF A SPY immediately brings to mind the classic Hitchcock suspense thrillers like NOTORIOUS and particularly TORN CURTAIN.  There are many similarities between the wife in this film and the Julie Andrews character in TORN CURTAIN.  Andrews played the wife of scientist Paul Newman who, like the wife of this film, is unaware of the husband’s espionage activities.  Both wives begin to suspect infidelity and both begin meddling.  TORN CURTAIN remains one of my favourite all time spy thrillers and WIFE OF A SPY holds one’s attention as well.

There are classic elements in this spy thriller - suspense, mystery and dread in a period atmosphere of danger.  One notable is the unspoken sexual attraction between the spy’s wife and the villain, previously childhood friends.  The villain is tall, dark and handsome but with a real sinister look.  His torture of a victim to extract information is evidence of his true nature.  The act is also very important and key to the fact of how the Japanese acted during World War II.  Everyone knows of the Germans and the Holocaust but not many know about the cruelty of the Japanese.  I come from Singapore which had to endure the Japanese Occupation during WWII.  My mother used to tell the stories of how much the civilians feared the Japanese during the occupation.  This film brings to light some of these truths.

WIFE OF A SPY bears other resemblances to TORN CURTAIN.  The couple’s defection to the United States is similar to the TORN CURTAIN’s couple’s escape back to the United States.  Both films involve hiding in crates.  In both movies, the espionage tests the genuine love the couples have for each other.  “You get two meals a day, and you use the bucket as the toilet,” says Bob to the wife as she enters the crate to be smuggled away to the U.S.

WIFE OF A SPY also includes a female protagonist which is the trend of the majority of films these days.

Director Kiyoshi Kurosawa won the Silver Lion (Best Director) at the Venice Film Festival for this suspenseful Hitchcockian-styled thriller shot in stunning 8K.  Definitely a treat for fans of the spy genre.

Trailer:

Trailer: 

 

 

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