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THE BATMAN (USA 2022) 
Directed by Matt Reeves

 

Writer/director Matt Reeves has hard shoes to fill.   The previous BATMAN films (DARK KNIGHT, THE DARK KNIGHT RETURNS) have had critical reviews, though not in my good books of excellent films and Nolan has already established a reputation to be reckoned with.   To Reeves’ credit, he has had success with DAWN OF THE PLANET OF THE APES and BATTLE OF THE PLANET OF THE APES as well as in the more intimate CLOVERDALE.   But THE BATMAN, though ambitious, expensive and running too long at almost three hours, is a confusing mess of darkness and excellent cinematography that might not have audiences wanting for more, though 2 sequels are already under way.   Most of the fun in the Batman comic books are now gone.  I still enjoy the Batman TV series and the BATMAN film with Adam West as Batman and Burt Ward as Robin.  These days, there has been so many BATMAN reboots, no one can recall the names of the actors who played the dark crusader. 

During his second year of fighting crime, Batman (Robert Pattinson) pursues the Riddler (Paul Dano), a serial killer who targets elite Gotham City citizens.  He uncovers corruption that connects to his own family during the investigation, and is forced to make new allies to catch the Riddler and bring the corrupt to justice.

This is a darker Batman and a much angrier one that all the Batman’s in the past.  This is evident in arguably the film’s best scene - the one where Batman visits the riddler already in prison.  The riddler boasts that he has made Batman an extension of himself in pursuing his crime to expose all the high ranking criminals of Gotham City.  Batman loses it in this scene.

Batman is assisted to a large degree by a member of the police force called James Gordon (Jeffrey Wright).  If the name sounds familiar to Batman fans, this is Police Commissioner Gordon in the Batman comics.  Here, it is assumed that his success would have eventually got him promoted to the position of Police Commissioner.

Of the performances three stand out.   These include John Turturro as a crime lord, Colin Farrell totally unrecognizable as the Penguin and Dano as the Riddler.   Other stars in the film include Peter Skarsgard, Andy Serkis as Alfred the Butler (who thinks his employer has lost it) and Barry Keoghan.

The best things about THE BATMAN are its cinematography by Greig Fraser, visual effects by Dan Lemmon (who worked before with Reeves on the PLANET OF THE APES movies) and the production design.

No one should toy, least of all change the main substance of the stories of the BATMAN series.  Nolan had the awful habit of doing this.  In his last BATMAN film, almost everyone knew Batman’s secret identity.  Batman got married to Catwoman.   There is still no Robin.    Reeves is equally guilty in his latest film by painting a bad and dark nature of Billionaire Bruce Wayne’s parents.  Minor somewhat unforgivable changes include the Penguin as owning a drug associated nightclub and the appearance of the villain the riddler without his famous riddler suit.

The film cost $100 -$180 million to make.  Here’s hoping that the film will be a success, as the film industry needs a big boost.

HUDA’S SALON (Israel 2021) ****
Directed by Hany Abu-Assad


I first saw HUDA’S SALON at the Toronto International Film Festival 2021 and regarded the film as one of the top films screened at the festival.  I wrote a capsule review and the review is now expanded to a full one.  I always say that the real test of a good film is whether it can stand the test of a second  viewing - when there is more to discover on second viewing or whether the events will remain just as fresh.

“It’s a disaster when everyone thinks they are an artist, they post everything online,” says Huda, washing the hair of her client, Reem, in a spirited conversation about things in general that are surprisingly true and relevant today.  One can tell from the impression of the first scene that this is going to be an awesome film.

HUDA’S SALON is a nest of spies blackmailed into working for the Israeli Secret Service by its owner Hula.   It is a major surprise with this fresh political drama of two women trying to survive in occupied Palestine.  Reem (Maisa Abd Elhadi) goes to HUDA’S SALON to get her hair done.  As they chat, what starts as a lovely domestic drama shifts hard when Reem is betrayed by Huda (Manal Awad) and thrown into a dangerously compromising situation. She’s offered only one way out: work with Israel’s secret service, spying on her own community. As Reem tries to extricate herself from an impossible dilemma, Huda’s actions threaten her own safety.  As in every region torn apart by war, the broader battle lines and larger violence also take a more intimate form between individuals trying to survive at any cost.  The film shows that everyone is a victim during war.   Huda who blackmails Reem is as much a victim as Reem.  But HUDA’S SALON is a raw film about strong women, who use their strong feminine instincts to survive.  Reem has a husband who does not really trust her.  As a result, she has to compromise by not telling him the truth - an act that has dire consequences.  The film contains one of the most bitingly funny jokes this year at the cinema.  This is a comment Reem makes at her mother-in-law at the dinner table - a joke so awful (yet funny) it drives her husband up the wall.  This is perhaps one of the few humorous scenes.  But director Abu-Assad has his odd sense of humour.  After Huda has blackmailed Reem in her salon, Huda tells her that she might as well get her hair done.  The following scene has Reem walking out of the salon with better hair.

Palestinian award winning director Abu-Assad shoots his two actresses in close-ups intensifying the seriousness of the situation, while keeping the audience glued to the screen throughout the film.  His humour is also bitingly funny.  He is unafraid to shock his audience with surprises like the setting fire to a male model and a sharp but satisfying ending.  HUDA’S SALON is an unforgettable realistic spy film that does not glorify spies with inventive gadgets operating in slick surroundings.  Instead it shows the distrust, trauma and danger that comes with the vocation.  A total winner of a film and comes with my highest recommendation. 

 Trailer: 

 

JOCKEY (USA 2021) ***

Directed by Clint Bentley

 

Horses have always fascinated cinema audiences since BLACK BEAUTY charmed horse lovers and families.  A search through the movie database imdb brings up at least a hundred or so horse films.  Personally, I don’t care much about horses as they are beasts that can kick you to death or bite you when feeding it a lump of sugar.  I have a constant fear of horses.  But horse movies have taught me to look and appreciate these magnificent creatures as in director Laure de Clermont-Tonnerre’s 2019 THE MUSTANG and the more recent Conrad Stanley and Steven Latham's documentary, THE MUSTANGS.

JOCKEY is, however, a film more about its riders, an aging one and a novice - though horse lovers should love the film as well.   All the horses appear well treated in the film, being fed or petted lovingly.  The film, since premiering at Sundance 2021  has so far earned many accolades, including an audience award at the AFI Fest and a spot on the National Board of Review’s “Top Ten Independent Films.”

Jackson (Collins) and his trainer Ruth (Canada’s Molly Parker) have always worked as a team.  Then a young rookie (Moises Arias) shows up, claiming to be Jackson's son.   The scene in which the two meet and Gabriel makes the claim occurs at the film’s 10-minute mark.  This leaves a fair amount of time for the audience to keep wondering about the truth of the claim, a fact that director Bentley wishes, undoubtedly. Now Ruth has just bought her first horse, a magnificent steed that Jackson calls “the horse I never thought I’d get to ride.”  But the years – and injuries (his horse doctor says he has already broken his back three times and should see  a doctor) – have taken their toll on Jackson’s body, questioning his ability to continue his lifelong passion.  So, when a winning horse that needs to be ridden and a race be won, it does take a genius who will be replacing him as the jockey.

Bentley has done tremendous research into the world of jockeys.  Or perhaps obtained the knowledge of horses from his father, who is also a jockey.  The film includes a scene with a jockey’s popular game called 52-pickup being played, which looks interesting enough for one to play - that is if one is fit enough.  Besides the main cast of his film, the rest are real jockeys who are shown to live like carnies, travelling around the circuit, where tack rooms, trailers and canteens are part of their lifestyle.  Bentley shows them a close-knit community, connected by both stories and injuries.

The story is co-written by Bentley and Greg Kwedar (TRANSPECOS).  Bentley’s father was a jockey which explains his interest in jockeys and also in the theme of a father/son relationship.

More drama than a feel-good racing sports film, JOCKEY is a solid sports drama well shot and crafted in an authentic equine atmosphere.

JOCKEY opens at the TIFF Bell Lightbox on March the 4th, 2022.

 

THE LONG WALK (Laos 2019) ***

Directed by Mattie Do

 

THE LONG WALK is intriguing in that it is a rare form from the country of Laos in Asia.  In fact this is my first film review from that country.  The film is interesting in that it displays the lifestyle of that third world country- a world mostly unknown to others in North America.  It would not be surprising that many might not know that such  country exists or where it is.

THE LONG WALK world premiered to great acclaim at the Venice Film Festival in the Giornate degli Autori section and was followed by praise out of the Toronto International Film Festival. It’s the third feature of Lao based director Mattie Do (CHANTHALY, DEAREST SISTER), whose career has been recognized by the Oldenburg International Film Festival and Locarno International Film Festival for her breakthrough work as Laos’ first and only woman filmmaker, and the only filmmaker of the country to work in the horror and fantastic genres.   All three films are written with Do’s collaborator, Christopher Larson.

The film follows an old scavenger living on the fringes of a near-future society exploits a ghostly companion’s ability to traverse time, hoping to prevent his mother’s suffering from a terminal illness.  The film is a really slow burn for a ghost story.  Though described as a horror film, it is less a horror film as there are only a few scares but more of ghostly appearances and time travel.  The film will definitely bore the hell out of commercial horror fans familiar with films like FRIDAY THE 13TH or SCREAM but arthouse cineastes might find the film intriguing.  Lots of patience are required in this snail paced 2 hour journey that does not really go anywhere.

Trailer: 

 

NIGHTRIDE (UK 2022) ***
Directed by Stephen Fingleton

 

The film’s main character, Budge (Moe Dunford) is spending the entire night driving in his car but it is not a fun night ride.  He is driving around Belfast trying to get his life back together within the same night.

Very much like Steven Knight’s LOCKE with Tom Hardy driving his car for two hours, the setting of  NIGHTRIDE is also a car, the film shot in one long continuous long take and in real time.  Though this kind of one take premise for  film is getting increasingly popular, one must hand it to the director, who in this case is Stephen Fingleton and its writer Ben Conway for creating a taut thriller, delivered on a tight budget with coherence.  Budge does get out of the car for a few short segments though.

As the film opens and Budge is driving around, the audience hears from his phone conversations (like Call Graham: and they talk; Call Joe and they talk etc. etc) that Budge has borrowed 10,000 quid to score some gear from Ukrainians who want to get rid of the merchandise to get out of Belfast, in order to sell it a buyer at double the price.  At the same time, Budge is speaking with his daughter on the phone who is nervous about her date, who turns up a no-show.   Through phone calls, the audience also learns of Budge’s girlfriend who is aware of what is going on, and also a Ukrainian.  It can be deduced that the pair are in love and that they care for each other.  The tidy profit from the job, if all go3s well, will allow him and his partner to open an auto body shop.  His partner has already invested 60, 000 of his parents money and if Budge does not get to the bank with his share, the deposit will be lost.  Budge thinks everything should go fine with him scoring the dough and he becoming a citizen once again (i.e. getting out of this nasty drug business).

Things go wrong.

Budge was going to do the entire job - get borrowed cash, drive a van containing drugs etc. himself).  Budge looks in the rear view mirror of his car and believes he is being tailed.  He gets his men to do the pickups instead but the job is botched.  The van carrying the drugs is stolen.

Budge is frantic.  So is the audience and the tension mounts and director Fingleton weaves his tale of bad luck and bad choices to its climax.

Moe Dudofrd who obviously carries the whole film on his shoulders delivers a solid performance thus contributing to the tension and thus success of the film.  The driving around the city as seen through the windows of the car is convincing enough, including a little car chase, only seen by the audience from the inside of Budge’s car.

NIGHTRIDE opens on March the 4th via Vortex Media via VOD and Digital.

Trailer: https://www.ign.com/videos/nightride-official-trailer

 

 

THE PINK CLOUD (Brazil 2019) *
Directed by Luli Gerbase

 

When the film begins, there is an introduction that mentions the film being written in 2017 and shot in 2019, the year the Covid-19 Pandemic began.  It is clear that the film is using the pandemic to promote the film - I would say done in poor taste.  The film goes in all the wrong directions from here, resulting in a really bad fit that is not only boring but meaningless and tedious.

The appearance of the pink cloud is obviously akin to the Covid-19 Pandemic.  When the pink cloud appears, people in cities around the world suddenly die from breathing in the pink smoke.  The film gives no explanation for the cloud or the origin of its toxicity.  Like the pandemic, the characters in the film have to stay home, isolating or breathing in the poison if they go out which means death.  The story centres on a couple that are forced to stay together, after first meeting a day ago.

Thus life changes for them and everybody else when this toxic and mysterious pink cloud appears across the globe, forcing the world indoors immediately and indefinitely.  In Brazil, Giovana (Renata de Lélis) finds herself stuck in her apartment with the man she just met (Eduardo Mendonça). But their carefree one-night stand grows into a years-long relationship complicated by a child and increasingly divergent worldviews as they try to imagine a future from the depths of a potentially never-ending lockdown. Written in 2017 and shot in 2019, this stunning, slow-burn sci-fi debut from writer/director Luli Gerbase is both an eerily prescient reflection of our reality and a cathartic exploration of hope and despair, love and fear, and the boundlessness and limits of our ability as humans to adapt. 

It is obvious that this film is written and directed by a woman. The colour ‘pink’ already indicates the fact.  Also, the female in the film always has the right words to say while the male is not only saying the wrong things but behaving like an asshole.  When they decide to separate, while living in the same place, Yado engages in internet sex.  Director also reverses the roles of male and female,  The male wants kids and the female does not.  The is an awful childbirth scene that involves lots of irritating groans from the actress playing the mother giving birth. - not to emote her awful acting.  The question is whether males want to watch this kind of shit.

As the world recoils from the pandemic, who would want to watch a couple in a Pandemic type situation where they are confined, argue and engage in a  toxic relationship?  No doubt, what transpires on screen is realistic to what has happened to many during the pandemic but one wants escapism not to be entrenched once again in a miserable situation.  The film contains a few songs that lift the mood a bit.

The film premiered in January 2021 at Sundance and opens virtually March the 1st.

Trailer: 

 

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