CARMEN (Australia/France 2022) **
Directed by Benjamin Millepied
Benjamin Millepied, former principal dancer of the New York City Ballet and choreographer of the film BLACK SWAN makes his directorial debut in CARMEN, a modern-day interpretation of Bizet's classic opera. The film opens with a breathtaking dance performance in the Mexican desert, where the mother of the protagonist is tragically shot by a gunman. The surreal and impressive scene sets the tone for the rest of the film, which features dream-like dance sequences and a majestic score by three-time Oscar nominee Nicholas Britell.
CARMEN, the film tells the story of Carmen, a fiercely independent young woman who flees to the US after her mother's murder. Along the way, she meets Aidan, a border guard and Marine suffering from PTSD. Their journey together leads to a budding romance, but it is a poor imitation of the love story in the original opera. Solid performances are delivered by both Melissa Barrera and rising star Paul Mescal, looking really buffed as a marine should, compared to his physique in his last film AFTERSUN.
One of the film's strengths is the presence of Rossy de Palma, a regular actress in Pedro Almodovar's films, who plays the mercurial owner of La Sombra nightclub, a sanctuary of music and dance where Carmen and Aidan find solace and their unwavering love for each other. However, the film's attempt to blend reality with dance and music is uneven, and the dance and music sequences often feel disconnected from the rest of the story. The climactic dance scene between Carmen and Aidan is impressive, but it feels out of place in the film.
Despite its flaws, "CARMEN" is an ambitious film that showcases Millepied's talent as a director and choreographer. The impressive dance and music sequences, as well as the strong performances by the cast, make it worth watching. In particular, Paul Mescal's (AFTERSUN) performance demands mention and shows that he is a talent to watch in the future. "CARMEN" opens in Toronto and Vancouver on May 5th, and in Montreal on May 12th, with more cities to follow throughout the spring and summer.
THE FORGER (Der Passfalscher) (Germany 2022) ***1/2
Directed by Maggie Peren
THE FORGER, the new German WWII suspense drama recounts the true-life story of the spirited Cioma Schönhaus, who created documents that saved hundreds of lives of Jews in Nazi Germany. Cioma is at the age of 21 in the film ’s setting. Cioma has barely come of age and goes through romance, survival and life’s dangerous lessons. The real Cioma died at the age of 93 in 2015 during the 4th draft of the script. The real forger, Cioma was interviewed four times for the film and what is witnessed on the screen is a remarkable and winning account of a young man trapped in dangerous times.
Berlin, 1942. Cioma Schönhaus (Louis Hofmann) is a young Jewish man who won't let anyone take away his zest for life, especially not the Nazis. Cioma audaciously adopts the identity of a marine officer to escape being deported like his family before him. Drawing on his art school background, he joins a network of underground rescuers and becomes infamous for his masterfully forged IDs – created with just a brush, some ink, and a steady hand – that save the lives of hundreds of Jews by allowing them to escape the country. Meanwhile, he throws himself into the city's nightlife and even finds a fragile hope for love during the darkest moments of the war.
Ironically, Cioma Schönhaus survived the Holocaust by hiding in plain sight in Berlin. He even says in the film that he does not attempt to hide his true identity. Sadly, he is alone with no family, which makes him more daring. The young Jewish man’s parents and grandmother were deported to death camps in the East, but he stayed behind thanks to an exemption allowing him to work in an armaments factory. When his job ended, he remained in the city illegally, took off his yellow star, assumed the more Germanic name Peter Schönhausen, and blended in.
Director paren’s film moves at a moderate pace and she pays great attention to detail. She shows Comas at work, the arduous painstaking and meticulous difficult task of the forging process - the process that needs to be seen for the film to be credible. Berlin is shown without the usual fanfare Nazi flags or large number of troops, which is necessary because Cioma was largely in hiding during most of the story. The film also shows that everyone is farid and suffers during the Nazi times - even the Germans were afraid. Everyone has to survive on rationing coupons and black marketing was pronounced. All the activities add to the authenticity and credibility of the period and atmosphere of the film. Director Peren does not resolve to cheap theatrics to make a point.
25-year old blond German rising star Louis Hofmann plays the forger with solid effect. The real Cioma shown in part images has black hair. Hofmann would have done better with dyed black hair to look more jewish and his bond hair makes him look like a real Nazi German.
At the end, when the Gestapo closed in on Schönhaus and all those close to him or who have worked with him were getting caught, he forged a German Wehrmacht soldier’s identity card and holiday pass for himself and fled on a bicycle to Switzerland, where he lived for the rest of his life. The bicycle part is not shown on the screen bu th escape to Switzerland was mentioned in the closing credits.
THE FORGER will be available for purchase and rental on all major digital platforms, including Apple TV, Amazon, Vudu, Google Play, and Kino Now, on May 2.
GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY VOL 3 (USA 2023) ***
Written and Directed by James Gunn
After the sequel to GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY with GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY VOL. 2 made $870 million out of a $200 million production, it is inevitable that Vol.3 be made. It will be of no surprise that this one will also be a big box-office hit. So as expected, louder and more of the same is the motto, so Guardians of the Galaxy fans should be thrilled with this second sequel.
Marvel Cinematic Universe and action hero movies always share the common tread of a nasty villain and a story involving saving oneself, one’s family, the world or universe. In the case of this film, it is saving the universe. On a minor note, the story also involves saving the life of one Guardian member, Rocket (Bradley Cooper) injured in a fight. In the case of the apparent destruction of the universe, the villain says, I am not destroying the universe but perfecting it. Then he humorously corrected, You are not perfecting it. You are not accepting the universe the way it is,.” As for villainy, the film contains a really good villain in the form of Chukwudi Iwuji playing the High Evolutionary, giving the term narcissism a new meaning. Will Poulter, the British newcomer to the franchise, steals the show from his first appearance coming in like a rocket destroyer. The other memorable performance belongs to Dave Bautista as Drax the Destroyer, the supposedly stupid member but the one with a good heart and of course also the one with some cool dance moves. He has a way with the story’s lost children.
The film has a varied and very pleasant soundtrack that was not limited to 1970s pop songs compared to the first two films, instead spanning multiple decades. Songs include those from artists like Bruce Springsteen (“Badlands”), Earth Wind and Fire (“Reasons”) and even the Beastie Boys (“No Sleep till Brooklyn”). The film opens with an acoustic version of "Creep" by Radiohead, which noticeably provided "a much different tone from the beginning than the other two films”.
As in the other two Guardian films, the film contains an even balance of action and humour without resorting to excessive gore, blood of violence, making the film suitable for family fare. Beware of a few lewd though harmless jokes. The actors appear to be having loads of fun, as seen by the many choreographed dance sequences and the spirit rubs off on the audiences. Though this is not the sort of film that will enthral critics, the film is enjoyable enough without too many lagging moments.
The film runs the longest of the three, with a running time of 150 minutes i.e. 2 and a half hours. It is expected that the film contains a few dull parts, but to director Gunn’s credit, there are a few major surprises as well. The special effects are especially stunning.
The film contains some nice surprises with the appearances of Howard the Duck voiced by Seth Meyers and James Gunn, the film’s writer/director playing Lamb-Shank.
The money making machine opens May the 5th.
TRIALS TO TRIUMPH (USA 2022) ***
Directed by Dan Ratner, Greg Romano, and Misa Garcia
Primarily, TRIALS TO TRIUMPH is the story of Freddie Stevenson’s meteoric football career, the crash that followed, and his reinvention. But the doc also digresses other mini-accounts of other football celebrities and their trials. There is not one but three directors. The doc understandably feel unfocused as it without notice, jumps from one to another athlete’s story But the audience gets to witness primarily stories of struggle & redemption from Freddie Stebvenson as well as minor stories of Maurice Benard, Delvin Breaux, Tony Gaskins, and more and see them overcome the odds in these powerful, real conversations.
TRIALS TO TRIUMPH was directed by Dan Ratner, Greg Romano, and Misa Garcia. This inspirational documentary based on Stevenson’s Best-Selling memoir features interviews with Freddie Stevenson, Maurice Benard, Dasia Torres, Neno Torres, Tyrell Lyons, Tony Gaskins, Dr. Dan Ratner, Delvin Breaux, Terris Stevenson, Sylvia Stevenson, and Ryan Green. It was produced by Dan Ratner, Greg Romano, and Freddie Stevenson.
Life is resilience, says his coach. And Freddie’s life shows it. The major part of the doc has Freddie talk to the camera as well as those close to him, relatives like his father and mother and also his then girlfriend.m His girlfriend says: “ He would go to the gym and give 110%. His father and mother were always there to support him and offer the pain and struggles their son had to go through. It is inspirational not to hear the words from Freddie himself but of the words of those close to him as observations also tell the whole story.
There is an extended talk by Freddie’s father at the beginning of the film explaining how much hardship with limited opportunities available for coloured folk. He confesses to drug dealing, hiding the fact from his son, Freddie and how he was sentenced to prison. His incarceration followed by him becoming a born againChristian. The film almost gets preachy about Christianity but gaudy stayed away from the issue. Though this testimony has nothing to tell with TRIALS TO TRIUMPH, the segment is actually the film’s most interesting part as it deals with real life problems of the coloured folk.
One of the key issues omitted in the doc, the larger problem that is responsible not only for Freddie’s football injury but for the injuries of all footballers is the fact that football is a dangerous sport with already documentation of a very high percentage of permanent injuries arising from professional football players, particularly in the injury of head concussion, which fortunately Freddie does not suffer from. It is hinted that Freddie after recovering from an injury and offered a job back into football realizes the fact, and hesitates before accepting the position in the NFL. But the problem is systematic and more serious. North America is the only country in the world that champions this sport. The closest Europe has is rugby and Australia has, isastraluaq rules football.
Gravitas Ventures will release TRIALS TO TRIUMPH on digital platforms on May 2, 2023. The film has a running time of 1 hour 35 minutes and will not be rated by the MPAA.