FILM REVIEWS:

BRATS (USA 2024) **
Directed by Andrew McCarthy

 

The new documentary BRATS that opens on Disney+ explores the Brat Pack, a group of young actors who frequently appeared together in coming-of-age 1980s films, and the impact on their lives and careers.  Emilio Estevez, Ally Sheedy, Timothy Hutton, Demi Moore, Rob Lowe, Lea Thompson and Jon Cryer appear in the film, as do Lauren Shuler Donner (producer), Howard Deutch (writer and director), and David Blum (journalist).  Blum is the journalist who can be considered the one who conned the term Brat Pack.  Blum popularized in a 1985 New York magazine cover story, which described a group of highly successful film stars in their early twenties.  He wrote the article after witnessing several young actors being mobbed by groupies at Los Angeles' Hard Rock Cafe.

When the piece ran, the actors all felt betrayed, especially Estevez. The article mentioned people in several films but focused on Estevez, Lowe, and Nelson, and portrayed those three negatively. The "Brat Pack" label, which the actors disliked, stuck for years afterward.\Before the article ran, they had been regarded as talented individuals; after the article, all of them were grouped together and regarded as unprofessional. Interviewed for Susannah Gora's 2010 book You Couldn't Ignore Me If You Tried: The Brat Pack, John Hughes, And Their Impact on a Generation, Blum admitted that he should not have written the article.  But in the interview with McCarthy in this doc, he was asked if he would have changed anything in his article and he replied ‘no’.

With the increased negative attention to them, the actors soon stopped socializing with one another. On the group's camaraderie, Ally Sheedy later said the article "just destroyed it. I had felt truly a part of something, and that guy just blew it to pieces."

The magic question is: Who makes up the Brat Pack?  An appearance in one or both of the ensemble casts of two specific films released in 1985—John Hughes's The Breakfast Club and Joel Schumacher's St. Elmo's Fire—is often considered the prerequisite for being a core Brat Pack member.[With this criterion, the most commonly cited members include:

Emilio Estevez

Anthony Michael Hall

Rob Lowe

Andrew McCarthy

Demi Moore

Judd Nelson

Molly Ringwald

Ally Sheedy

Obviously, there are a few other less recognizable members.  These include Oscar Winner Timothy Hutton (ORDINARY PEOPLE), Tom Cruise and Charlie Sheen, among many others. The doc has director McCarthy traveling around most of the time and meeting members of Brat Pack, most of whom he had not seen in 30 years.  They discuss the effects of being branded a member of the Brat Pack, mostly negative.   The trouble is whether we do care what these over-privileged actors feel.  They are wealthy enough to have people listen to their opinions, and the doc makes a point of the fact.  McCarthy tries to offer an insightful overview of a bygone Hollywood era as well as his deeply personal journey.   If  BRATS is a bittersweet reflection on childhood stardom, it needs more emotion and credibility.  In the end, the doc ends up having the pack and journalist Blum included, acknowledging the adverse effects of the article initially and then saying that it eventually did them well while justifying the actions they had overcome.  Again not many would care.

Trailer: 

 

DADDIO (USA 2024) ***
Directed by Christie Hall

 

DADDIO is a two-handler in which the action takes place in a cab ride from JFK Airport to the city.  It begins with two very different personalities with different moods at the time forced to spend the film’s running time together. She wants to be left alone while he wishes to chat.

After landing at JFK International Airport, a young woman (Dakota Johnson, who also produced the film) takes a cab back to her apartment in Manhattan at 44th, between 9th. and 10th.  During the ride, she and the cab driver, who reveals his name as Clark (Sean Penn), have unexpectedly honest conversations about numerous topics, including their past and present relationships, sex and power dynamics, loss, and vulnerability.

Despite the basic film premise of two strangers sharing views on different topics and their personal lives, the story requires credibility.  The audience must believe the conversation occurs in the film’s 100-minute running time.  The ride takes less time so the hurdle is overcome with the cab stuck in a traffic jam for some time.  To have the audience believe that the strangers can embark on honest dialogue, the dialogue is initially begun with small talk (Clark:  This is my last ride of the day; it has been a rough day), slowly leading to more personal issues.  The icebreaker comes from Clark who first talks about hating credit cards use for payment.  He then talks about other forms of money used in the past like salt and gold.  Clark also talks about his bucket list - meeting a cowboy, scuba diving and going to Japan.  As for the passenger, she slowly eases into the conversation even explaining to him the use of digital data, she confessing that she is a computer programmer.  It is about ‘1’s and ‘0’s and ‘I’ being an on and a ‘0’ being an off.

The big revelation of the passenger to Clark (not to be revealed in the review) is kept to the end of the film forming its climax.

The film is a very serious affair of serious talk with little humour.  The only humour, if it can be considered humour is the image of the girl’s boyfriend’s cock that he displays that she receives on her cell phone to show how horny he is.   The girl occasionally calls him DADDIO, which forms the title of the film.

In a more serious conversation, they discuss the ‘L’ word, and the reason one should never mention the word in a relationship.

DADDIO began as a spec script by Christie Hall.  A spec script, also known as a speculative screenplay, is a non-commissioned and unsolicited screenplay. It is usually written by a screenwriter who hopes to have the script optioned and eventually purchased by a producer, production company, or studio.  The film went on to make the "Black List" of the most-liked un-produced scripts in Hollywood.

The film’s interiors (i.e. the cab) are shot on a sound stage with some filming occurring in New York City and Jersey City, NJ in December 2022.   The modest production was shot in 16 days.

DADDIO opens June 28 across Canada, including Toronto, Vancouver and Montreal!

Trailer: 

DRAWING CLOSER (Japan 2024) **
Directed by Takahiro Miki

 

DRAWING CLOSER can be described as a light teen relationship tale about two teens who are terminally ill.   Akito has a tumor and was diagnosed with a year to live and is very unhappy at the news, but still goes about his daily activities.  The unhappiness is not shown.  His parents ponder if it was the right decision to let him know or if he might be happier in his last year of life,  Haruna has 6 months to live as she was born with a very rare condition that affects one in hundreds of thousands.  What this disease it is, is never mentioned.

DRAWING CLOSER immediately draws to mind the Darryl Duke (he directed the Christmas Canadian classic THE SILENT PARTNER) little heard of TV movie GRIFFIN AND PHOENIX (not the remake), though a TV movie that is far more superior to this one.  Geoffrey Griffin (Peter Falk) who has been diagnosed with terminal cancer in his chest, meets Sarah Phoenix (Jill Clayburgh) as they both attend a university lecture on the psychology of dying.  Sarah Phoenix has terminal leukemia, but Griffin doesn't know that, and she doesn't know that he is terminally ill. They start spending time together and fall in love, both struggling with their fate. This is the beginning of a beautiful and sad love story!  In real life, Clayburgh died of cancer and so did Peter Falk.

Akito, who is afraid to die meets Haruna who is looking forward to going to heaven.  The trouble with DRAWING CLOSER is that if falls into the category of goody-two-shoes.  Everyone is smiling and happy.  Hopes are high, even in the face of death.  Akito has a talent for art and Haruna paints pictures of heaven.  No one is angry.  If death is imminent one would expect much anger at the unfairness life has dished out.  Both Haruna and Akito should be mad (though Akitio displays a bit of despair) that they are only given a year and 6 months to live respectively.  In GRIFFIN and PHOENIX, there is a scene where Jill Clayburgh cries and screams at the top of her lungs at how life is so unfair, especially when she has found love finally and both are ill with terminal cancer.  This is one of cinema’s most riveting scenes.

For a movie about death, the film is treated as a fairy tale fantasy instead of a tragedy.  One might argue that one should always look positively at the bright side of things, but the darker side should not be overlooked, as in the case of this unrealistic treatment of the subject.  One would also expect the two to fall in love but they don’t.  Blame can be given to the source novel on which the film is based.

DRAWING CLOSER is a Netflix original Japanese film that opens for streaming this week.  Only mildly entertaining, this is a film that omits key issues while meandering aimlessly around the lives of its two subjects.

Trailer: 

THE ESCORT (ESCORT) (Bosnia 2023) ***
Directed by Lukas Nola

 

For the first time in his life, happily married filmmaker Miro (Zrvko Anočić) spends the night with a prostitute who was mysteriously sent to his hotel room after a business evening. After indulging in sex and drugs, he finds the girl dead in the bathroom and quickly covers up the unfortunate incident with the help of two hotel employees who suddenly start to play a major role in his life that will never be the same.

ESCORT plays like a Kafka-ish plot.  After the escort is found dead in his hotel room, the whole incident is taken matter-of-factly by the hotel staff.  Miro is told that the hotel staff has made his bed and asks if he wants to change his room.  This thing happens all the time Miro is told and thongs could be worse.  The staff then asks for 200 currency for ‘operating expenses’.

And as in all Kafka-sih incidents, Miro is asking himself; “Is this happening to me?”  Amidst all this, it is never made sure what happened so the audience is wondering if a crime was committed or not and if Miro is guilty of murder or not.

Director Nola proves himself apt at getting the audience's attention at inconsequential details.  The first 15 minutes of the film have a bar scene in which three men, Miro included getting pissed drunk and talking shit.  They talk about nonsense and flirt with the waitress.  The men men talk in a camaraderie reminiscent of the men in John Cassavetes’ HUSBANDS.  A few minutes are spent talking about the tattoo on the waitress’ arm, on water Miro still getting sex outside his marriage and other items that seem important to the drunk men and interesting enough for the audience, despite them not making any dent to the main plot.  And if all this is not enough to interest the audience, Director Nola includes lengthy erotic and intimate love-making scenes with full nudity.

Director Nola’s private joe includes inserting close-ups of animals at random at various parts of his film.  These include a fix, a rabbit a field mouse and even a crawling spider.

THE ESCORT has already won numerous awards.  Acclaimed on the festival circuit, THE ESCORT captured many awards including Best Feature Film at Lithuanian’s 2024 Voice of the Future Film Festival and 2023’s Portugal Indie Film Festival (Lisbon) and the Courtyard International Film Festival (Naples), as well as several awards, including Best Supporting Actor and Best Production Design at the Pula Film Festival, Croatia’s best-known fest. 

On a sadder note, THE ESCORT is also the final film from Director Lukas Nola, who passed away in 2022 after a long battle with cancer. From his feature film debut, Russian Meat, in 1995 to his final Lynchian thriller, Nola carved out a place for himself as one of Croatia’s best-known filmmakers, with gritty arthouse films such as 2013’s Hush and AFI Grand Jury nominee, Celestial Body, to his name.

THE ESCORT makes its North American debut on SVOD service INDEPIX Unlimited on June 28th, 2024.

Trailer: 

A FAMILY AFFAIR (USA 2024) **
Directed by Richard LaGravenese

 

An unexpected romance triggers comic consequences for a young woman, her mother, and her boss, grappling with the complications of love, sex, and identity.

A FAMILY AFFAIR is a romantic comedy of sorts that includes a family relationship that tests the romance between the older woman and the younger man.  The older woman is Brooke Harwood (Nicole Kidman, still looking gorgeous at her age) and the hot hunk movie star is Chris Cole (Zac Ephron).  The family involved is Brooke’s daughter, Zara (Zoey King) and Brooke’s mother Leila (the always watchable Kathy Bates).  The trouble is that Zara is the personal assistant of spoilt brat Chris Cole who gets her to do menial chores like getting him coffee and breakup presents for his dates, many of them when he breaks up with them.  Cole can never have a relationship.  He has no friends for the reason of his star status and haughty behaviour.  Ephron probably is like his character in real life, so he is basically playing a version of himself in character.

A FAMILY AFFAIR, written by Carrie Solomon and directed by Richard LaGravenese (the 2013 BEAUTIFUL CREATURES) strives to be a hilarious comedy, a family drama and a deeply felt love story but fails in all three.  The humour is slight and the jokes are not funny enough.  Credit should be given to that joke that is priceless - the one with the analogy of Zara's eyebrow piercing and sexual intercourse.  But that one joke can hardly be said to have saved the movie.  The love story is cliched and nothing that one has not seen in a romance film before, especially between an older woman and a younger man.  The family drama works better than the other two stories but the film is touted more as a comedy.

Joey King as the over-caring daughter who wishes to protect her mother from the otherwise womanizing Chris Cole is convincing.  She is able to elicit sympathy from the audience for his mistakes even though she is wrong.  The confrontation scene between her and her best friend is the most moving segment of the film.  Ephron with his good looks and misty eyes has difficulty projecting sincerity in the film.  When he says he really loves Brooke, which is the case according to the script, it hardly comes across as convincing.  He is more credible making his snide remarks with just words like “yeah”.  Ephron’s funniest role ever was in NEIGHBOURS where he played the out-of-control parking neighbour of Seth Rogen.  To Kidman’s credit, she does well as the mother looking for love once again after a long period of time without being kissed, after the death of her husband.  Bates plays the adorable grandmother who helps turn the family around.  Bates plays a well-known writer, shades of her Oscar Winning Best Actress leading role for MISERY.

A FAMILY AFFAIR is a Netflix original movie that opens for streaming on Friday, June 29th.

Trailer: 

GHOSTLIGHT (USA 2023) ***
Directed by Alex Thompson and Kelly O’Sullivan

The term GHOSTLIGHT with reference to the theatre is a light left lit overnight in a theatre.  GHOSTLIGHT tells the story of Dan playing Romeo in the Community Theatre whilst getting his life back together again.

When a film like GHOSTLIGHT begins with the spritely song “Oh, What a Wonderful Morning” from Rodgers and Hammerstein’s OKLAHOMA! (1955 film) one can tell that it is going to be the opposite.  It is going to be a trying and angry day for the subject Dan, a construction worker, in which life has given him a terrible dish of misfortune.  Firstly, he has to deal with the death of his son and currently the anger and rebellious nature of his daughter, who is about to be expelled from school.  Worst still his job is getting to him.  A car barely misses him at the construction roadside, just almost side-swiping him.  When doing his job, an irate person asks if he could turn the noise level down.  Finally, Dan loses it.  But somehow, by fate, he ends up playing a role in Community Theatre, that of the famous Romeo in ROMEO AND JULIET, this blue-collar worker not even knowing anything about the plight of the two Shakespearean lovers.

The premise of the film goes like this:  When melancholic construction worker Dan finds himself drifting from his wife and daughter, he discovers community and purpose in a local theatre’s production of Romeo and Juliet.  As the drama onstage starts to mirror his own life, he and his family are forced to confront a personal loss.  This sounds like something one would avoid at the cinema, being a downer and a drama that does sound quite cliched.

Surprisingly, GHOSTLIGHT turns out to be a hit thus far, a hit at the recent Sundance Film Festival and earning an almost perfect score on Rotten Tomatoes at the time of writing,

There is little humour in this otherwise serious venture, as many similar-themed films would have included lots of quirky humour.  The script by Kelly O’Sullivan avoids this easy way out and replaces humour with bouts of angry scenes and a few with uplifting moments.  The anger scenes include the one where Dan freaks out in public, his wife screaming at him when she thinks Dan is having an affair and the uplifting scene is the one where daughter Daisy surprises everyone, the audience included by singing “I Can’t Say No” also, from Rodgers and Hammerstein’s OKLAHOMA!

For a small production, GHOSTLIGHT contains big performances.  Keith Kupferer is as convincing as Dan and can also win the audience's sympathy.  Dolly de Leon plays the smart-mouthed Rita, last seen in the role of the toilet manager in the memorable hit TRIANGLE OF SADNESS.  But the prize performance belongs to Katherine May Kupferer who plays the volatile Daisy.

GHOSTLIGHT premiered at Sundance and has won numerous awards festival-wide.  It opened in the U.S. on June 14th and opens at the TIFF Lightbox on the 28th of June.

Trailer: 

GREEN BORDER (Zielona granica)(Poland/Czech/France/Belgium 2023) ***½

Directed by Agnieszka  Holland

 

The action of the film takes place at a GREEN BORDER.  A green border is a weakly protected section of the national border, and in this movie the border between Poland and Belarus. The term green border comes from the area covered with vegetation: green borders are usually forests, thickets and meadows, often with varied terrain.

In the treacherous and swampy forests that make up the so-called 'green border' between Belarus and Poland, refugees from the Middle East and Africa trying to reach the European Union are caught in a geopolitical crisis triggered by Belarusian dictator Alexander Lukashenko. In an attempt to provoke Europe, refugees are lured to the border by propaganda promising easy passage to the EU. Pawns in this hidden war, the lives of Julia, a newly minted activist who has given up her comfortable life, Jan, a young border guard, and a Syrian refugee family intertwine.

Director Holland unleashes the emotional effects of the refugee crisis from the points of view of each of the different perspectives.  Julie, the activist is all out trying to help the refugees, while breaking the law and almost getting herself arrested.  The film shows her dedication and indeed there are many like her who are saints in their job, risking all.  There is also the troubled young border guard who is uneasy with the atrocities his fellow guards inflict on the refugees.  He takes the trouble home with the result of tension between himself and his wife.  But he is seen as a good person, able to separate his humanity against peer pressure.  He gets to do a good deed at the end of the film.  The family on the run is the most difficult to watch.  The refugee family consists of a father and mother, the grandfather, two young kids and a baby on the way.  The cat and mouse chases take a toll on the family relationships.  The grandfather is religious while the father is more skeptical of his religion.  The mother cares for her two kids but the pressure also gets to her.  At first patient with the younger daughter, the mother finally snaps at her when she wets her pants.  In the midst is a good Samaritan, a Polish schoolteacher who helps the family out in saintly ways.

The film competed for the Golden Lion at the 80th Venice International Film Festival, where it won the Special Jury Prize.  It received positive reviews from critics but was condemned by Polish government officials for its portal of the inhuman treatment of the refugees by the border guards, which includes one disturbing scene in which a guard places broken glass in a flask for a refugee to drink, and by some segments of the wider Polish nation.

GREEN BORDER runs a bit long because it tells in detail, the story of refugees from three different points of view.  It takes a little patience to wash the entire film as it is not an easy watch, it being a difficult subject but well worth it.

GREEN BORDER opens June 28th at the TIFF Lightbox in Toronto.

Trailer: 

 

KINDS OF KINDNESS (UK/Ireland/USA 2024) ****|

Directed by Yorgos Lanthimos

KINDS OF KINDNESS is written by director Yorgos Lanthimos and co-writer Efthimis Filippou.  They collaborated in the past in films just as weird, DOGTOOTH (2009,) THE LOBSTER (2007) and THE KILLING OF A SACRED DEER (2019).  Their latest film KINDS OF KINDNESS is an anthology of three stories that can be classified as absurdist psychological horror black comedy.

The three stories are of approximately equal length with a total combined running time of 142 minutes and it is difficult to determine which one is best.  The long-running time is not felt for the fact there are three stories with a surprise (or shock) around every corner.  No one can tell what to expect and what would happen next,  Twice Oscar Winner Emma Stone plays the lead in the third story which is the reason it is used as the last one.  Jesse Plemons plays the lead in the first two stories, with Emma Stone also appearing in minor roles.  Plemons is an exceptionally good actor, able to command screen presence as demonstrated in films like the recent CIVIL WAR and POWER OF THE DOG.  He commands attention as well in the first two stories, making them just as good if not better than the climactic third.  Plemons who steals the entire film, won the Best Actor Award for his role in this film at Cannes,

KINDS OF KINDNESS, described as a "triptych fable," consists of three distinct but loosely connected stories. The first segment, "The Death of R.M.F," follows a man who seeks to take charge of his own destiny after breaking away from his powerful boss. The second, "R.M.F. is Flying," depicts a man plagued by suspicions that his spouse, who has recently returned after being reported missing, is an imposter. The final segment, "R.M.F. Eats a Sandwich," revolves around a cultist's task to find a specific person with the ability to resurrect the dead.

The film’s original title was AND before the title was changed to KINDS OF KINDNESS.  The three kinds of kindness are demonstrated in each of the three stories.  In the first, Plemons plays a devoted employee who does everything unquestionably for his boss (Willem Defoe) including running his waiting car to crash on another passing by.  But he is unsuccessful in killing the second driver.  He refuses his boss’ request to attempt the deed a second time out of kindness not to kill another person.  The other types of kinds can be ascertained in the next two stories.

The film contains bouts of graphic violence like the cutting off of a finger, to be cooked and served with cauliflower for dinner.  There is also a foursome sex scene involving Plemons and Stone - more shocking than erotic.

The film was shot in was little in 3 weeks for a modest budget of $15 million.  One would have expected the film to cost more with Emma Stone in it, but she likely took a salary cut to work with Lanthimos whose films earned her two Academy Awards.  Stone has a chance to ham it up with a breakdance in the last story.

` This reviewer loves his films absurdist and weird so KINDS OF KINDNESS is a deliciously wicked delight.

A QUIET PLACE DAY ONE (USA 2024) **
Directed by Michael Sarnoksi

A QUIET PLACE has morphed into a noisy franchise that includes 3 sequels, the 4th one in the making and a video game to boot.  Enough is enough as can be witnessed in this third installment A QUIET PLACE: DAY ONE which is the only one in the franchise not directed by John Krasinski.

A QUIET PLACE is an American post-apocalyptic horror media franchise centring on a series of films set in a world inhabited by blind extraterrestrial creatures with an acute sense of hearing.  A QUIET PLACE (2018) is the first film in the series, which was followed by the sequel A QUIET PLACE Part II (2020), both directed by John Krasinski.  The spin-off prequel, A QUIET PLACE: Day One, is the one reviewed here and directed by Michael Sarnoski and will be released on June 28, 2024.  A third and final sequel, A QUIET PLACE Part III, directed by Krasinski, is in development and scheduled to be released in 2025. The franchise also includes A Quiet Place: The Road Ahead, a video game set within the same fictional universe.

This QUIET PLACE installment works as a standalone film.  The characters are new and different from the first two films.  Samira (Luputa Nyong’o), a terminally ill cancer patient, lives at a hospice in New York City with her service cat, Frodo.  One day, Reuben (a bearded Alex Woolf), a care worker, convinces a reluctant Sam to join a group outing to watch a play involving marionettes in Manhattan. During the trip, the group noticed meteor-like objects crashing into the city. Shortly afterward, hostile extraterrestrial creatures began to attack people. In the ensuing chaos, Sam is knocked unconscious.

Sam later wakes up inside the marionette theatre with Frodo and other survivors.  Everyone is quiet, and fellow survivor Henri signals her to avoid making any noise. Announcements from overhead military helicopters warn civilians to stay silent and hidden until rescues can be made, with the bridges leading out of the city being bombed to prevent the creatures from leaving the island. One of the survivors begins to panic, which causes Henri (Djimon Hounsou) to accidentally kill him in the process of calming him down.

As in the first two QUIET PLACE movies, the characters have to remain silent in order to evade the aliens.  The same occurs in this film too, and it gets quite monotonous after a while.  The aliens are given the setback that they cannot swim (an excuse) and thus enable the humans to escape by boat.  Sam’s cat is silent by nature which allows it to survive and also lead the humans to safety in certain scenes.  Director Darnoski moves his film at a snail’s pace with lots of attention to detail.  Manhattan is shown in destruction and disarray accounting mainly for the film’s enormous $65 million production costs.  Though the atmosphere of chaos and destruction is stunning, it is quite boring to have to sit through  99 minutes (the film’s running time) watching Sam and her cat Frodo.  Another character is introduced in the last thread of the film, a law student, Eric from Britain (Joesph Quinn) though this annoying person does not alleviate the tedium.

The film has unexplained details.  How did so many survivors get on the barge before Sam and Eric noticed it?  Why do the aliens suddenly appear or disappear suddenly?  Why did they come to Earth and why is there no other information on these creatures?

A QUIET PLACE DAY ONE IS definitely well made but the premise of sound-tracking aliens preying on human victims has worn out its interest in the third of the QUIET PLACE franchise resulting in a boring piece with portions that make no sense.

Trailer: 

 

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