FILM REVIEWS:

 

THE CHAMPION (EL CAMPEON)(Spain 2024) ***1/2
Directed by Carlos Theron

 

In the light of the current football craze as the world watches the world’s best team play for the Eurocup, comes this Spanish comedy about a champion footballer, who is Spain’s top scorer.  From the age of 6, his father has groomed Diego to be a footballer, arming him for all the right clubs, etc.  He is called, a champion, just as the title of the film implies.  But Diego, the champion can also be described as a hooligan.  He was given a red card after head-butting not the football but his team captain, and suspended for two games and maybe a third. 

So, this hot-headed football star has had it all until a fight gets him benched and assigned a new tutor: a reclusive academic who'll teach him to face his fears.  Though advertised as a sports drama, it is a light one with many humourous light touches.  The teacher discovers that Diego suffers from dyslexia.  

  At its best, THE CHAMPION captures both the spirit of the sport of football as well as the problems associated with dyslexia.  It is a sensitive and moving story encapsulated in an occasionally brilliant script

 

The film is about two highly different personalities.  Though it sounds like a movie with a story to avoid, a story of how two mismatched characters interact and learn from each other - the film ends up quite endearing.  The character study makes good observations, revealing similarities as well as differences between the two, otherwise, hotheads, one keeping it all inside and the other always letting it out on someone else.  And the whole thing works, thankfully for the two actors who play the two leads.  At its best, the film is moving demonstrating the resilience of the human spirit.

THE CHAMPION, filmed in Spanish, opens for streaming on Friday the 12th on Netflix.

FLY ME TO THE MOON (USA 2024) ***½

Directed by Greg Berlanti

 

It has been almost 50 years since Peter Hyams’ famous action thriller CAPRICORN One graced the screens about a totally faked Mars Mission landing.  The caption went like this: “Would you be shocked if the greatest moment in history never happened?”  Elliot Gould discovered the truth in the film and had to fight for his dear life.  Something sort of similar occurs in FLY ME TO THE MOON.  The actual moon landing! The United States figures might not be as glamorous as the actual one occurring and decides to have a fake one filmed and teslas to the world instead.

FLY ME TO THE MOON is set during the 1960s Space Race between the United States and the Soviet Union. a relationship develops between the NASA director, Cole Davis (Channing Tatum) in charge of the Apollo 11 launch, and the marketing specialist, Kelly Jones (Scarlett Johansson)  brought in to fix NASA's public image and stage a "backup" fake Moon landing.  She brings in her own director, described as the best director no one has heard of, Lance Vespertine (Jim Rash) to do the honours of filming the fake moon landing.  Lance is a perfectionist and needles to say, impossible to work with.  At one point, Kelly says that she should have got Kubrick instead.

But FLY ME TO THE MOON is a romantic comedy, the type of the 60’s the typical Rock Hudson and Doris Day pairing but with the roles reversed in this one.  Tatum plays the prissy follow-the-rules shy romantic while Johnson plays the brash independent female who is a con artist at heart.   The film works as a romantic comedy as the romance plays second fiddle to the NASA story, where the audience is drawn to the intrigue of NASA and its problems.

The film contains a great assortment of ‘moon songs including of course “Fly Me to the Moon” the 1954 song by Bart Howard, and the classic 1961 “Moon River” performed by Aretha Franklin.

FLY ME TO THE MOON is Greg Berlanti’s feature-directing debut.  Though his name is not that well known, Berlanti once made Time's list of the 100 most influential people in the world in 2020.  In the 2017–2018 television season, Berlanti tied Jerry Bruckheimer's 2005–2006 record in having 10 different live-action scripted television series airing on various networks and digital platforms and took sole possession of the record, with 14 airing in the 2018–19 television season, having signed the most expensive producer deal at that time (June 2018) with Warner Bros.  But it is Johansson’s movie.  Besides serving as one of the film’s producers, she delivers a stellar performance as Kelly the female sweet-talking con artist.  Her performance is so good that director Berlanti omitted the dialogue and scene where she convinces two cops to pardon a shop breaking in to give her an escorted ride back to Nasa.  Omitted dialogue is very effective but not so widely used if the audience knows the gist of what is to be said as in Hitchcocks TORN CURTAIN and Spielberg’s SAVING PRIVATE RYAN where the tactic was used,

Though running a bit long over 2 hours, the chemistry of the two leads Tatum and Johansson works well making FLY ME TOTHE MOON  a successful and entertaining romantic comedy with the backdrop of the Nasa moon landing. 

LONGLEGS (USA 2023) ***½

Directed by Osgood Perkins

 

The new horror film LONGLEGS begins old-school Italian Gallo style with the screen all red, and one can tell that something terrible is going to happen.  FBI agents including Lee Parker are briefed that a serial killer is in the neighbourhood and they are to go door-to-door asking questions while being fully aware of how dangerous the killer is.  Lee and her partner are in the squad car and the partner leaves her in the car to do the door questions.  Lee then tells him that the killer is in the next house.  And to call it in.  When asked how she skins and she replied that she has a hunch.  Her partner goes to the door of the house and knocks on the door.  The partner is then blasted with a shotgun.  The scene pays homage to Gallo Maestro Dario Argento who has made incredible horror slasher films including SUSPIRA, OPERA, THE BIRD WITH THE CRYSTAL PLUMMAGE, and his latest DARK EYES.  In his movies there is always some danger behind a door or curtain, and before any reason can be given the thing behind the barrier has lashed out and killed its victim.  The same can be said in this scene i which no reason needs to be given that Lee has the hunch the killer is in that house, and the killer does away with the victim in the same horrific way tight one would expect from Argento.

The film unfolds in three chapters, the first one untitled.  Not that it matters!

The story is set in the 1990s. New FBI agent Lee Harker (Maika Monroe) was assigned to an unsolved case involving a Satanic serial killer known as Longlegs (Nicolas Cage).   As the investigation becomes more complicated with occult evidence uncovered, Harker realizes a personal link to the killer and must act quickly to prevent another family murder.

Watching LONGLEGS is like getting one’s senses jarred, not once but many times and with different means, be it sudden loud screeching sounds or sudden appearing frightening scenes.  It feels like the answer to a riddle is given and then it is a task to figure out the question.  Not everything makes sense and there are non-chronological moments.  One one confrontational scene between mother and daughter, the mother tells her that the daughter is allowed to grow up.  “What do you remember, mum?  the daughter asks.  “I forget but there are things in your room that will help you remember.”  is her mother’s reply.  At its best, the tactics used by writer/director Nichols work as a fresh and scary horror movie and at its worst, one is left trying to figure out what the last segment meant.

LONGLEGS is not Osgood Perkins's first feature. Perkins wrote and directed the horror films The Blackcoat's Daughter (2015) and I Am the Pretty Thing That Lives in the House (2016), and directed the dark fantasy-horror adaptation Gretel & Hansel (2020).   He is also the second elder son of Anthony Perkins who starred as Norman Bates in Alfred Hitchcock’ Psycho.  He also played Norman

Nicholas Cage, the Academy Award Winner for LEAVING LAS VEGAS who loves playing weird roles has one of the weirdest I’m his career as the serial killer LONGLEGS.  When he first appears, he is totally unrecognizable, looking like a team with his long white hair and screechy voice.  Yes, and Cage’s character gets weirder as the story progresses.  Cage also serves as the producer of the film.

Trailer: 

SISI & I (Sisi & Ich)(Austria/Germany/Switzerland 2022) ****
Directed by Frauke Finsterwalder

 

Sissi (or Sisi) is the name often used for Empress Elisabeth.  Many films including the series THE EMPRESS from Netflix, a 1955 Austrian film SISSI and the recent CORSAGE have been made on the Empress, a famous figure in History.  Some history is useful in the appreciation of the new handsome period piece SISSIS and I.

Elisabeth, nicknamed Sisi, was Empress of Austria and Queen of Hungary from her marriage to Emperor Franz Joseph I on 24 April 1854 until her assassination in 1898. Elisabeth was born into the Ducal royal branch of the Bavarian House of Wittelsbach but enjoyed an informal upbringing before marrying her first cousin, Emperor Franz Joseph I, at 16. The marriage thrust her into the much more formal Habsburg court life, for which she was unprepared and which she found suffocating.  The birth of a son, Crown Prince Rudolf, improved Elisabeth's standing at court, but her health suffered under the strain.  The death of Elisabeth's only son and his mistress Mary Vetsera in a murder-suicide at his hunting lodge at Mayerling in 1889 was a blow from which the Empress never recovered.  In 1890, she had the palace Achilleion built on the Greek island of Corfu the setting of the film. The palace featured an elaborate mythological motif and served as a refuge, which Elisabeth visited often. She was obsessively concerned with maintaining her youthful figure and beauty, developing a restrictive diet and wearing extremely tightlaced corsets (hence the title of the recent film CORSGE) to keep her waist looking very small. The story of the Empress is told and given from a different point-of-view as the title of the film implies, that of her Lady-In-Waiting, Irma played by Academy Award Nominee Sandra Huger (ANATOMY OF A FALL).  She calls the Empress a stupid cow in one scene and ‘your majesty’ in the next,

The film opens in the late 19th century. The single, middle-aged Hungarian countess Irma Sztáray, (Huller)  having rejected marriage and the convent, is forced by her overbearing mother to apply to be handmaiden to the increasingly reclusive Empress Elisabeth of Austria, aka Sisi (Susanne Wolff).  An extravagant and temperamental woman, Sisi has been separated from her husband for many years and is living in an aristocratic women-only commune in Corfu, Greece. After a humiliating interview by her predecessor, Irma arrives at the estate seasick and heatstruck and is immediately put through her paces by her new mistress. Though initially uncertain, Irma soon bows to the will of the Empress in all things, curbing her healthy appetite to match Sisi's obsessively restricted one and parting with her frou-frou ribbons and lace to adopt Sisi's preferred, Japanese-influenced style. Irma falls madly in love with the Empress, and as they travel from Corfu to Algiers, Bavaria to England, the two develop a co-dependent bond – though naturally, only as close as Sisi will allow. But when they return to Vienna, their lives change drastically. After her husband the Emperor rapes her, Sisi pressures Irma to murder her with a shiv, blaming an Italian anarchist.

SISI & I can be distinguished from the other films made of the Austrian Empress as this one is told from the pout of view of her Lady-In-Waiting, Irma and best of all played with constraint and elegance by Sandra Huller.  Director Frauke Finsterwalder creates an irrelevant tale full of detail, pleasures and decadence that feel so important to Sissi and Irma.  A wonderfully and stunning film and is entertaining from start to end.

SISI & I opens theatrically July 12th.

Trailer:  

TOUCH (Iceland/USA 2014) ***

Directed by Baltasar Kormakur

 

TOUCH is a senior love story of regrets and missed opportunities. It also encompasses two enormous events or rather catastrophic world disasters that affect the lives of everyone living on the planet - the bombing of Hiroshima (and Nagasaki) ending the Second World War and the COVID-19 pandemic.  These events affect the lives of the film’s protagonist and it is up to him to use the strength of the human will to overcome the difficulties.

Kristofer (played in the younger self by Pálmi Kormákur, the director’s son) is a young student in London who because of the tumultuous times of protests had to quit his studies,   He finds work, initially as a dishwasher at a Japanese restaurant (also in London) called Nippon, which is the old name for Japan.   He meets and gradually falls in love with the owner's daughter.  But separation ends their romance from the part of the father who takes his daughter back to Japan after finding that she is pregnant with child.

The time is the present 2020 and widower Kris When his doctor advises him that is time to tend to unfinished business, Kristofer takes the advice to heart.  He closes his Rekyavik restaurant, mutters a quiet “Forgive me” to a framed photograph of his late wife, and flies to London, just as COVID-19 pandemic restrictions are ramping up.  He stays at a hotel that is just about to be in lockdown mode.

The story contains a few too many coincidental incidents, and thoughts can be blamed on the source material, which is the novel of the same name.  One is the coincidence of the dementia and the other is that he is free to travel as his wife has already died.  Other coincidences include him meeting another widower, who shares the same demise and who also helps him in his journey.   It is a journey to search for a loved one.  As the film moves very slowly, one can feel the effects of a difficult search

The two timelines are intercut with the film moving forwards and backward, in fact rather clumsily in flashbacks.  At least with different actors playing the couple in different stages, one can tell when the setting is in the '60s and during the Pandemic.

The film is shot in both Japan and London, and the period atmosphere is effectively captured under the limitations of a tight budget.  For example, the older double-decker London bus is shown but with no other vehicles on the street.

The two lovers eventually meet at the end, in a satisfactory climax.  This can be compared to Jacques Demy’s LES PARAPLUIES DE CHERBOURG in which the lovers just miss each other in a tear-jerking finale.

This reviewer could be nasty and say that the film TOUCH, because of its theme, pace and characters is a film for old people, but I would rather say that TOUCH has the older audience as its target audience.  And to this effect, TOUCH succeeds,  but it is difficult to see the youth getting excited about a 50-year-old love romantic saga.  They have to wait their time.

Focus Features and Universal Pictures Canada will release TOUCH In-Theatres Nationwide on Friday, July 12th

Trailer: 

WILD WILD PUNJAB (India 2024) **
Directed by
Simarpreet Singh

 

In the tradition of movies with goofy losers like the HAROLD AND KUMAR, HEY DUDE WHERE’S MY CAR and THE HANGOVER movies comes this film set in Punjab about 4  yes, goofy Punjabi goofballs who have nothing to do but hang around to complete one nonsensical task.  WILD WILD PUNJAB as the comedy is appropriately called is a nonsensical and goofy comedy that tests one’s patience more than testing one's funny bone.

The (irrelevant) premise of the movie goes like this:  Khanne has had a breakup. He's upset, but he has friends like Arore, Jainu and Honey Paaji who encourage him to face this breakup head-on and move on. They embark on a trip across Punjab to help Khanne find the closure he desires.

The four friends are an assortment of losers who are introduced in the film one by one.  The first is a college dropout staying in college because of his mixed martial arts ‘abilities’.

Arore (Sunny Singh) is introduced as a sex fiend, banging away girl after girl in a car that belongs to the second loser dude Jainu (Jassie Gill) who lives under his greedy father’s thumb.  The dad is busy counting the loot dowry given by the ‘papaji’ of sonny boy’s would-be-bride.  The father threatens Jaini that if he misbehaves, he will go back 26 years in time and use a condom - perhaps the film's one of the few funny jokes.  The third is the chubby and annoying Khanne (Varun Sharma), the one been dumped.  He cannot get over it and his friends, with him, are now travelling in the fourth’s SUV to her wedding to yell at her: ‘I’m Over You!” in front of all the wedding guests.  This person is drunk in the car all the way, creating more annoyance besides silly and unfunny shenanigans.  These include quite a few comedic set-pieces that are generally sillier than funny.  One is the toll gate fight in which the four engage in some kick-box choreography that also includes Khanne peeing on the toll barrier.  His pee apparently can set the toll gate on fire (Really?) and they make off without a scratch,  The fourth and thankfully the last is Honey Paaji (Manjot Singh), a rich dude of has a result of his father’s successful transport company, who owns his prized (cannot leave a scratch on it) SUV they are all driving up in.

The one positive thing about the film is its Punjabi setting which North Americans seldom see.  The costumes streets, and celebrations are all quite colourful (while stereotyping to an extent) though the shenanigans of the four are not that different from the youth of the Western countries.  The wedding is an excuse for some Bollywood song and dance numbers, the choreography with the 4 dancing in unison not being too bad.

 The wedding is an excuse for some Bollywood song and dance numbers, the choreography with the 4 dancing in unison not being too bad.

While a little entertaining, this goofy teen Punjabi comedy about drunken loser friends is nothing to write home about. Forgettable for sure, but not really good guilty entertainment.  One of the 4 friends says at one point in the movie: This is no HANGOVER movie!:  He is absolutely right!  WILD WILD PUNJAB: country of origin: India; and filmed in Hindi) is a Netflix original film that opens for streaming this week the recent Wednesday.

Trailer: 

VANISHED INTO THE NGIHT (Svaniti Nella Notte) (Italy 2024) **

Directed by (dirreto da) Renato de Maria

 

In the Pierre Morel actioncter TAKEN starring Liam Neeson that spun several sequels,  Bryan Mills (Liam Neeson), a former government operative, is trying to reconnect with his daughter, Kim. Then his worst fears become real when sex slavers abduct Kim and her friend shortly after they arrive in Paris for vacation.  The new Netflix thriller from Italy VANISHED INTO THE NIGHT follows the rescue of a couple’s taken children, Giovanni and Bianca by the father in what is a mediocre action mystery thriller that suffers from a sluggish pace despite some fine performances of its leads.  This film is based on the 2017 Argentinian/Spanish thriller SEPTIMO (THE 7TH FLOOR) directed Patxi Amezcua, a box-office success and thus this remake.  Director Amexcua is one of the three co-writers for this script.

The film opens with a family outing on a luxurious boat in the sea where the family of four, Pietro (Riccardo Scamarcio) and Elena (Annabelle Wallis) and the two children swimming in the sea.  The father and mother find the two kids missing only to discover that they have hidden in the boat.  The next scene has the couple in a lawyer’s office arguing over custody of the two kids.  From here, it is obvious that there are problems with the script.  It is immediately confusing not to say disconcerting to see the loving couple arguing and separating over the two kids in two scenes next to each other.  There is also the question of the purpose of the two children hiding to fool their parents, as this has nothing to do with the rest of the story, except for the fact that they do disappear one night under the watch of Pietro.  From the scene in the lawyer’s office, the audience learns that the couple do not make the perfect pair.  Elena was addicted to opiates after being given addictive painkillers while Pietro accumulated a huge gambling debt of $250,000 euros.

The children disappear when staying with the father.  At night they disappear without a trace and Pietro receives a ransom call.  Pietro assumes that is the creditor that is responsible and goes to see Nicola, an old crooked acquaintance that he now has severed ties with,  Having no choice, he agrees to be a drug mule using his boat. As it turns out there is more mystery than action in the kidnapping story.  The only action is a fight between Nicola and Pietro later in the film and the mystery occurs when the kids suddenly appear at their mother’s house and the kids are in no way aware, as Elena too, of any kidnapping.  Pietro figures out the mystery’s solution, which is the main twist in the story.  The trouble is that the twist occurs too early and the film ponders clumsily after that,

The script has a good story but is executed a bit clumsily resulting in a lacklustre mystery thriller without much action or suspense. At best the cinematography around the Bari area in Italy is quite stunning. Bari is a port city on the Adriatic Sea and the capital of southern Italy’s Puglia region. Performances by the two leads are ok.

The film is shot in Italian and English.  VANISHED IN TO THE NIGHT opens for streaming this week on Netflix.

Trailer: 

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