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FILM REVIEWS:

 

 

AMSTERDAM (USA 2022) ***1/2

Directed by David O Russell


It has been a while, in fact since 2015 that David O Russell graced cinema goers with his films.  My favourite Russell films are his first two, SPANKING THE MONKEY and FLIRTING WITH DISASTER, but his big Hollywood outings like JOY and SILVER LININGS PLAYBOOK are quite impressive as well.

One thing about director Russell is his keen sense of humour and the fact that he never fails to surprise.

AMSTERDAM is a 2022 period mystery comedy film directed, written, and produced by David O. Russell.  It stars an impressive ensemble cast, led by Christian Bale, who has worked before with Russell in THE FIGHTER, Margot Robbie, and John David Washington, featuring Chris Rock, Anya Taylor-Joy, Zoe Saldaña, Mike Myers, Michael Shannon, Timothy Olyphant, Andrea Riseborough, Taylor Swift, Matthias Schoenaerts, Alessandro Nivola, Rami Malek, and Robert De Niro.    Based on the Business Plot, a 1933 political conspiracy in the United States, the film follows three friends—a doctor, a nurse and a lawyer—who are caught in the murder of a US senator in the 1930s.  Filmed in Los Angeles from January to March 2021, Amsterdam marks Russell's first film since Joy (2015). 

With the impressive cast, it is not surprising that the performances make the movie.  Bale tries very hard and does well, adding a bit of humour in what is a deadly serious role.  He dons a glass eye that keeps popping out of his socket whenever he is punched or fallen to the ground. Robert De Niro who has proven himself apt at comedy plays it more serious as the General, a character to be reckoned with.  The other outstanding performance belongs to Rami Malek as an unlikely villain.

AMSTERDAM is a political comedy/thriller/drama based on true events.  The closing segment shows how true the film could have been.   The story follows the trio of friends—a doctor, a nurse, and a lawyer—a they become the prime suspects in the murder of US Senator Bill Meekins in the 1930s.

This is Russell’s first period piece, and the cinematography, props and productions all help in creating the power of the story.

The film is so-called AMSTERDAM as it is the city where the story's main 3 characters , Burt, Valerie and Harold played by Bale, Margot Robbie and John David Washington (TENET) respectively meet and bond.  The trio bear similarities of Francois Truffaut’s classic masterpiece JULES ET JIM with three characters, too, a woman and two men who also create a lifelong bond of camaraderie.

Unfortunately, at the time of writing, AMSTERDAM has got mixed reviews on Rotten Tomatoes.  But one thing should be said is that Russell is one director who is unafraid to try something new and to entertain and to challenge his audiences.  As such, a Russell film is always one to look forward to, as it is always filled with fresh ideas, his keen sense of humour and occasionally brilliant writing.

The film will be released in North America on October 7, 2022, 

Trailer: 

CONCEPTION (USA 2022) ***
Directed by Tarun Verma

 

The typical romantic comedy has a couple meet for the very first time and begin a relationship.  After what might seem insurmountable obstacles, they eventually wed with a happy ending.  CONCEPTION puts a spin on the genre. It is a romantic comedy/drama with a  difference - a comedy/drama about a romantic married couple trying to have a baby.

CONCEPTION begins with Ami waiting outside a bar for her beau.  The next scene has the couple Ami and Vic having drinks while also having a conversation.  They talk about playing a game, answering questions about their ambition before  Ami confesses that she wants to have a family, must of all.   The opening sequence introduces the topic of  having a baby or CONCEPTION as the film’s title is called.  The sequence also introduces the couple as to their beliefs and ends with the couple in bed.

There is one problematic thing about this sequence.  The audience is then pushed on to the next segment where they learn that the couple is married.  So, is the first sequence before their marriage or way before, when they first met?  If writer/director Tarun Verma attempts to be smart here, it is not working, leading to a bit of confusion and a problem with story continuity.  One can tell that Verma is trying to be too smug for the film’s own good. (The answer is revealed later on in the film.)

Vic and Ami are living the quintessential perfect married life. Living in the city, working high powered jobs, but their world turns upside down when they attempt to start a family and can't get pregnant and have to resort to IVF to have a baby. The journey of IVF tests their marriage and begs the question... how far will you go to have a baby?

 CONCEPTION is a fictional story, the film based on Director Tarun Verma’s time as a fertility pharmacist. This film is inspired by his time helping couples trying to get pregnant and go through IVF. “It was such an eye opener to see how prevalent fertility issues are nowadays AND no one talks about it,” she says.  In Toronto, one can hear fairly often on the radio, an ad for such a fertility clinic where the charge of storing an embryo can be quite expensive.  It doesn’t matter how old you are, what race you are, infertility rates are climbing every year worldwide.   There is the hope that if it happens for you and will be everything you would have dreamed it would be. The ultimate question is how far one would go to have a baby and is it all worth it?

CONCEPTION has its charm.  The husband and wife are likeable characters and the story follows a pleasant path.  The film also boasts an eclectic cast.  The married couple is East Indian.  The couple with the baby they visit has a white father and a black mother.  It is healthy to see a modern American movie where the cast is not majority white.

Gravitas Ventures will release CONCEPTION on digital platforms on October 11.

 

DARK GLASSES (Occhiali Neri) (Italy 2022) ***

Directed by Dario Argento

 

 

A serial killer is brutally slashing the prostitutes in an Italian city in giallo master Dario Argento’s new slasher movie DARK GLASSS.

“Neither the sun or death can be stared at.  Some French philosopher said that, but I don’t remember who that is,“ says a client to Diana (Ilenia Pastorelli) when she insists on keeping her dark classes on during a session.

The story follows one high class call girl, Diana who is the target of the slasher serial killer, after a failed attempt.  This same scenario has been found in many Argento films including one of his best ones, OPERA.  To add fuel to the fire, Diana is looking after an orphaned Chinese boy, out of conscience just as many female protagonists are forced to do as in Cassavetes’ classic GLORIA and the recent Canadian film ROSIE, among other film s in the genre.

The pleasure in many Argento movies is the display of his keen sense of humour amidst the horror.  In this film when Diana is recovering in hospital finding out that she may never gain back her sight, her doctor tells her that things will be ‘clearer’ in a few days.  And what does Diana do next after being blind?  She fires her housekeeper for mumbling “God’s punishment.”  When leaving the housekeeper tells Diana that she will pray for her.  Diana remarks that God has no time for people like her.

However, unlike other Argento films this one contains more kindness.  Perhaps the old Master is getting soft in his old age.  The boy, Chin is pleased when Diana’s guide dog licks his hand - a ‘kind’ scene.  Another is when the bullies return the phone they had taken from Chin back to him.  The other bout of kindness comes from Rita, the social worker, played by Asia Argento) that is assigned to aid Diana with her blindness.  She educates Diana including giving her a guide dog.  When Diana and Chin run out of options, Diana calls Rita and goes to her place with the boy.  Rita takes them in.  As in a typical slasher film, the immediate question comes to mind.  Could Rita be the serial prostitute killer?

Argento’s SUSPIRA had maggots dropping from the ceiling of the conservatory.  In DARK GLASSES, Diana and Chin as they cross a river disturb a nest of water snakes which attack them..  In OPERA, the stalker’s target answers a phone in her apartment saying that the detective assigned to protect her has arrived and in the lobby.  She then says, I already let the detective into my apartment.  In DARK GLASSES, Chin calls the police inspector not knowing that the detective has been killed by the serial killer who holds the detective’s cell phone.  Chin unaware, reveals his and Diana’s current location to the killer.   These are the typical Argento’s touches that distinguish hisof 81 horror films from the mass of others.

Though not Argento’s best, it is still totally cool to see the Master still at it, and making excellent films at his age .  The film is associate-produced by his daughter Asia Argento.  The film is rated 3 stars and 3 and a half stars for Argento fans.

trailer: 

 

DEADSTREAM (USA 2022) **
Directed by Vanessa and Joseph Winter


DEADSTREAM is a horror comedy where all the scenes seen on screen are from live-streaming or emulated live streaming.  Live streaming footage looks very much like found footage horror such as those popularized by the classic BLAIR WITCH PROJECT.  In many of the film’s segments, the camera looks ahead of its protagonist as he wanders around dark corners, not knowing what to expect.

The film opens with the introduction of the main character, Shawn.  He is shown in an image of his head popping out of a garbage can: “I am Shawn Trash!” he claims as the image is posted on social media.  This is followed by several other silly stints; as in towed by dogs on a sled while wearing underwear in winter or bundled up in a small cradle and sent downstream in a river in a Moses Baby stint.  All his stunts however eventually got him disgraced.

Deadstream follows Shawn as he attempts to win back his followers by live streaming one night alone in a haunted house.  He figures this house is the most famous haunted house and that he will achieve his aim.  So armed with his tablet, he livestreams the evening in the haunted house.  But when he accidentally pisses off a vengeful spirit, his big comeback event becomes a real-time fight for his life.  What allows the is a whole lot of silliness that is enough for anyone to turn off their social media.

The image of the demon coming to life is scary enough and appears in unexpected moments that will cause the audiences to jump out of their seats, as in the cheap tricks in cheap horror flicks.  Beware!  The scariest scene might be the one in which the demon picks Shawn’s nose on camera.

Example of bad humour…. “Is God smiting me?”  Shawn cries.  “I am sorry.  I will leave you a note.”  The film gives the impression that the directors put everything they think on screen.  A bit of filtering would definitely help.

DEADSTREAM begins extremely badly and is so awful that it is almost impossible to watch.  But it gets better.  (Is it possible for it to get worse?)  Incredibly stupid that it becomes occasionally funny, but not enough entertaining for it to qualify as a pass.  Credit must be given  to the husband and wife team as there is a tremendous amount of work that goes into the making of the film of timing, editing and putting together a live-streamed movie.

DEADSTREAM premiered earlier this year at the 2022 SXSW Film Festival in the Midnight section to wild acclaim from audiences and critics.  Joseph Winter also stars, alongside Melanie Stone and Jason K. Wixom. The film will be available on the Shudder horror streaming service this week. 

Point to note that Vanessa and Joseph Winter also has another film out this year on Shudder - the last instalment of the horror-footage horror series V/V/S/99 which premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival Midnight Madness Section this year.

The husband and wife team are quite talented but hopefully they will find themselves a more respectable project.

Clip: 

 

DIASPORA (Canada 2022) ***1/2
Directed by Deco Dawson

 

The word DIASPORA refers to a population that is scattered across regions which are separate from its geographic place of origin.

The new Canadian film that tackles the topic of Ukrainian immigration, DIASPORA makes its world premiere at the 51st Festival du Nouveau Cinéma on October 8, 2022 in Montréal, with a second screening on October 10.

Eva has left her homeland of Ukraine with nothing more than a few belongings, coming to Canada in search of a new life. Upon arriving, she finds a cold and hard city filled with immigrants from all other corners of the world and spirals into self-sabotage while trying to keep it all together. 

The film opens with the arrival in Winnipeg's North End, a young Ukrainian immigrant.  Nothing is known of Eva - her background or how and why she landed in Winnipeg, of all the forsaken cities in Canada, that the film is quick to depict.   Eva finds a city filled with rundown, outdated establishments and a disproportionate number of other, culturally diverse immigrants, all too in search for a new life; each desperately holding onto their own language and culture, creating a neighbourhood of (comedic) miscommunication, growing apathy and often painful alienation.  It is a devastating experience for any new Canadian newcomer, not the wonderful Canada that one might want to expect. 

The film follows Eva as she first gets settled from renting her room to buying clothes and cigarettes to getting groceries.  She is alone.  The director makes sure the audience feels her solitude.

There are limited subtitles, in the film, only English ones as Eva speaks Ukrainian.  This way, the audience gets to completely feel how it is to be in a new place trying to understand things and live life without knowing the language.  In fact, showcased are 25 different languages and cast with all new immigrants.  But one can get the gist of what is happening sans subtitles.

DIASPORA is an emotional and psychological portrait of the loneliness and despair Eva faces in her new homeland while poignantly exploring the importance of language and culture in finding oneself.  The only universal language that everyone understands is the language of loneliness.

DOS ESTACIONES  (Mexico 2022) ***
Directed by Juan Pablo González

 

Authentic Mexican tequila made from the Blue Weber agave plant.  For those who do not know what the agave fruit looks like, the first scene in the film shows a worker harvesting the fruit.  These are then roasted or baked and then ground to prepare for fermentation inside oak barrels.  Director González spends a lot of time showing the processes to the bottling in a tequila factory at the film's start, so that his audience will get the feel of the period and atmosphere of the work and people involved in the story.

Setting his film in Mexico's bucolic Jalisco highlands, director Juan Pablo González artfully illustrates a strong-willed business woman's fight (her name is Maria, played by Teresa Sánchez) to maintain her tequila factory in the face of competition from multinationals, persistent plague, and natural disasters.

This is a rare art movie that depicts hardship in the real world.  The film follows Maria.

For years in Jalisco, Mexico, the stoic María has watched other family-owned tequila operations fold and give way to multinational corporations. But she sees her factory as more than a business — it’s a source of pride and a part of her community that must be preserved.  Among her workers and staff shown on screen, her hairdresser is given some screen time as a subplot.  The film feels like a documentary because most of what is shown could be probably true.  Maria is shown handing pay cheques out to her staff personally and one, she has apologized as she does not have enough to cover hers.  It is clear that Maria is facing hard times.

Estaciones means seasons but a more accurate translation would be periods of time, the title referring to changing conditions in the tequila production for Maria as she copes with the changes.  The audience also sees her having fun such as when she is making wheelies with her new truck she had borrowed.  But mostly she is one woman not to be pushed around.  Maria is serious but caring.  She sports a butch haircut which makes her look like a lesbian and from certain scenes in the film, as in her dance with another woman, Rafaela, she probably is.  Rafaela has worked before in another tequila plantation and is looking for work after being let go.  Unable to pay Rafaela, Maria gives her lodging while she works partly as a housekeeper.

There is some stunning cinematography of the local landscapes.  One shows the towering trees that provide shade for the coffee plants beneath them.  Mara planted the trees with the help of Pedro, her trusted employee.  The scenes of the algae fields, rows and rows of them, are also magnificent.  But they are infected and the pesticides tried by Pedro do not work.

Teresa Sánchez won a Special Jury Prize at Sundance ’22 for her performance as the owner of a tequila factory struggling to keep her business afloat.  DOS ESTACIONES opens at the TIFF Bell Lightbox this week on October 7th Friday.

MR. HARRIGAN’S PHONE (USA 2022) ***
Directed by John Lee Hancock

 

It is not surprising that writer/director John Lee Hancock’s horror film based on a Stephen King feels like a coming-of-age story of morals as Hancock made his name with the Disney film SAVING MR. BANKS about Mary Poppins.  This is not to say MR. HARRIGAN’S PHONE is half bad as there are many good  points  in it, not to say that it is an immensely watchable film.  The film has so far received mixed reviews but hardly any bad ones - good to average mainly.

The plot is simple enough.  A boy named Craig befriends the elderly Mr. Harrigan and gives him a cell phone.  When Mr. Harrigan dies, Craig begins to make calls to his old number about those who torment him, only to find that doing so results in Mr. Harrigan's spirit avenging his young friend from beyond the grave through the iPhone that was buried with him.

The story unfolds in chronological order with Craig first employed by Mr. Harrigan to read him three times a week.  This goes on for many years.  Craig is thus played by two different actors, Colin O’Brien as the younger Craig and Jaeden Martell as the older one.  Mr Harrigan is played marvellously by Donald Sutherland, the billionaire who dies at the 40 minute mark of the film, but whose spirit aids Craig get his revenge on those who have done him wrong.  The film is ripe with morals and quotes, especially as Craig’s job is to read literary works for Mr. Harrigan.  “When the Gods wish to punish you, they answer your prayers,”  a quote from Oscar Wilde.  There are many good quotes like: “These are the best of times, these are the worst of times” from the TALE OF TWO CITIES, as this is how Craig feels during his high school days, when he has to travel from the small town of Harlow in New England to his school as Harlow is too small to have its own high school.  There, he is bullied and beaten up severely by Kenny Yankovich (Cyrus Arnold).

Director Hancock makes good use of creating audience anticipation.  In one scene, Craig is told that Mr. Harrigan had fired his old gardener for stealing and that he would not want to know what had happened to him - something revealed later on in the film.  In another Mr. Harrigan makes Craig promise that he would dispatch his enemies with haste and without an iota of guilt.  Craig also wants to be a screenwriter.  In Mr. Harrigan’s will that is read out to him, there is mention of a starlet screenwriter joke that can be found on the internet.  This would undoubtedly result in the audience googling the joke.  When Craig asks about the existence of ghosts, he is told that a person should not call out, unless they want an answer and that not all ghosts are holy.

MR. HARRIGAN”S PHONE is a Netflix original coming-of-age horror story based on a Stephen King short story that has plenty of good moments, but could have been made as a much more satisfying scarier movie.

Trailer:  

OLD PEOPLE (Germany/Poland 2022) **
Directed by Andy Fetscher

 

OLD PEOPLE is a horror slasher movie that opens this week on Netflix.  As horror films go, those that originate from non-English countries, example THE TRIP from Norway often have a fresh outlook in terms of terror and sometimes humour, making it a surprising watch.  OLD PEOPLE is a supernatural horror shot in German about old people attacking a family.  Unfortunately, OLD PEOPLE is a bad movie with nothing fresh to offer.

Afamily, the mother and son and daughter arrive in a remote town to attend her sister’s wedding.  Also attending are her ex’s and his girlfriend who is also the father of the two children.  The old folks in the nearby home turn berserk, for no apparent reason and attack them

It is the customary old brown stuff, with a rebellious coming-of-age (in terms of sex) daughter anther new boyfriend, and a mother who will do anything to save her kids.  The film attempts to put some dignity into the script with words appearing at the start of the film: “In terms of yore, an average spirit was thought to inhabit old people, a dark possession that takes hold of the frailest of the clan and drives them into a seemingly blind rage.”  The words ain’t fooling anyone.  Average scary atmosphere, ghastly killings and standard scares but best to skip this one.

Trailer: https://www.allocine.fr/video/player_gen_cmedia=19598399&cfilm=306171.html

TRIANGLE OF SADNESS (Sweden/UK/USA/France/Greece 2022) ***** Top 10

Directed by Ruben Ostlund

Swede filmmaker Ruben Östlund might be a difficult name to remember but one that should be remembered for his groundbreaking film FORCE MAJEURE and the Palme d’or Winner THE SQUARE.  This year Ruben Östlund returns with another grand Cannes Palme d’or Winner, a wicked and delicious satire on the rich and wealthy as they grapple with their power and 'lack of' in order to survive a shipwreck or rather a luxury yacht wreck.  TRIANGLE OF SADNESS is flawed but improves from the first to the third chapter and still makes it one of the top 10 films of the year.

TRIANGLE OF SADNESS is publicized as a film best seen with a full house.  This is true if everyone in the audience laughs together but in this case, the laughs, especially in the first and second chapters are derived from other films, so not laughing and finding everyone else doing the opposite might be extremely irritating.  I previewed the film at a quarter full pre-TIFF screening, a perfect compromise of a full and not so full house.

The film is so called as in the first segment, Carl, a model is asked to rid himself of that triangle of sadness that appears above his eyebrows in order to win the male model audition.   It is apparent that this look is more deeply rooted in his character as he tries in the whole film to rid himself of the inherent sadness within himself, but without success but not for want of trying.

TRIANGLE OF SADNESS unfolds in three chapters.  The first is entitled Carl and Yaya, the perfect human specimen of male and female played by Harris Dickinson (last seen in WHERE THE CRAWDADS SING) and the recently passed on (on the day of my screening) and beautifully talented Charlbi Dean.  The first chapter introduces the audience to the troubled couple, always arguing.  The argument at the restaurant is similar to the one in Östlund’s THE SQUARE where the couple just after sex, have a lengthy argument of who is going to throw away the used condom.  This time Carl and Yaya fight over who is paying the bill, Carl insisting that she always gets away with not paying (it) and when she insists, he says no, only to find that her credit cards have been refused.   The second chapter entitled THE YACHT has this couple win a cruise on a luxury yacht where they meet a bunch of wealthy people above their station.  In a  key scene during the Captain’s (Woody Harrelson) dinner, the guests spew out their dinner, each getting sick from the rocking ship.  The segment is over played especially when the vomiting dinner scenes were already used in MONTY PYTHON'S MEANING OF LIFE, though in  a different context.  The film improves tremendously in the last segment called THE ISLAND where a grenade explosion leaves the surviving guests shipwrecked on an island where LORD OF THE FLIES style, the balance of power changes into the hands of a Filipino worker, Abigail (Dolly De Lion) on a ship, previously the toilet manager now self promoted to Captain as she is the only one who knows how to fish and start a fire.  Everyone depends on her.  The scene where she hands out cooked octopus to her followers is genuinely hilarious.

The yacht’s passengers is comprised of a eclectic bunch of wealthy misfits including a British couple involved with weaponry, a German lady with a stroke who can only utter the words “In Den Wolken”, which she repeats no fewer than a dozen time in the film, and still being funny, a Russian oligarch, Dimitry (Zlatko Burić, from the PUSHER trilogy) who loses his wife among others.

Though the vomiting and shit toilet-overflowing humour and the bill paying segments might not have been that funny, the film contains two of the best jokes seen at TIFF films this year.  When asked by Carl what he does for a living, Dimitry the oligarch answers: “I sell shit!”.   When the passengers are throwing up, the captain and Dimitry debate social/political issues exchanging famous quotes.  Dimitry argues with this quote: “Socialism only works until it runs out of other people’s money - Margaret Thatcher.”

TRIANGLE OF SADNESS is a film everyone would delight in viewing.  There is the 99% of the less wealthy audience who would cheer to see the undeserving rich and wealthy get their comeuppance and also hopefully the other 1% of the audience as represented by the yacht’s passengers who are able to laugh at themselves.

         The film opens in theatres October 7th.

Trailer: 

 

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