This Week's Film Reviews (Aug 18, 2017)

Slow week with no blockbuster openings.  But the few films that are opening are worth a look.

 

Best Bets of the Week:

Best Film Opening: GOOD TIME

Best Action: VALERIAN and THE CITY OF A THOUSAND PLANETS

Best Horror: ALIEN: COVENANT

Best Family: BEAUTY AND THE BEAST

Best Foreign: GRADUATON

Best Documentary: AN INCONVENIENT SEQUEL

Best Comedy: THE HITMAN’S BODYGUARD 

 To find a review for a past film, type the title of the film in the SEARCH box on the front page of site.

FILM REVIEWS:

GOOD TIME (USA 2017 ) ****
Directed by Ben and Josh Safdie

GOOD TIME features Robert Pattinson in the role of bank robber unable to display love for his brother that will have critics screaming that Pattinson can act.

Though the film is called GOOD TIME, no one in the film appears to having one at any point.  The film begins with Nick (Ben Safdie) under psychiatric treatment before his brother Connie (Robert Pattinson) takes him on a botched bank robbery where he is arrested and put into hospital after running through a glass door.  Connie tries to spring Nick out but takes another felon, Ray instead.

The scene where Ray, already half beaten up with his face covered in bandages, scales a high fence, finally falling to the other side hurting his bad shoulder even more, best describes the entire film.  Intense, f***ed-up and painful to watch!  But Ben and Safdie’s film is a minor miracle, already garnering accolades of praises after Cannes, in the desperate journey of Constantine "Connie" Nikas (Robert Pattinson) in trying to right a wrong.

It is interesting to note that at one point in the film - Connie’s somewhat mentally challenged brother has been replaced by Ray, the wrong guy Connie springs out of the hospital.  Not only do the two look somewhat alike, but if the film had gone on with the brother instead of Ray, not much would have changed and the film could have resulted in the same sorry outcome.  The only difference in the plot would be the bottle of acid that Ray came up with.  This is a bromance that has gone totally wrong, and one in which Connie wants to show love towards his brother or to Ray for that matter, but is unable to do so.

The directors are fond of close-ups, with the bank robbery shot mainly with close ups without the camera moving back at all to show what the rest of the customers at the bank are doing.  The close-ups of the faces, often revealing the film’s characters in trouble, heightens the intensity of the film.

‘Oneohtrix Point Never’ won the Cannes soundtrack award in creating a one-of-a-kind soundtrack containing in many parts, a screeching metallic sound that is as unnerving as the film’s plot.  The film also features an original song.

Pattinson delivers what might be the best performance of his career, as the edgy bank robber trying to help spring his brother while keeping himself out of the law’s reach.  Jennifer Jason Leigh has a small role as Corey and one wishes there would be more of her.  Co-director Ben Safdie whom plays the brother and Buddy Duress as Ray are equally good but the small role by Barkhad Abdi as the poor amusement park security caught in the crossfire deserves mention. Abdi can be best remembered for his role as the pirate in CAPTAIN PHILLIPS that earned him an Oscar nomination for Best Supporting Actor.

The film shifts focus between Connie and his brother.  At the film’s start and end, the camera is on Nick and  what is happening to him.  While the majority of the film switches and stays with Connie, the film oddly leaves out what has happened to him after his arrest.

The film is bookended by Nick in his prison psychiatric sessions.  The film also questions the effectiveness of the prison system is rehabilitating criminals who are not all there mentally.  The film’s most disturbing segment is the prison scene where Nick is beaten up for changing the TV channel while another fight breaks two between two black inmates. 

Ben and Josh Safdie is to be commended in their absorbing, fresh and exciting caper movie that captures the seediness and desperation of NYC street life.

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AVyGCxHZ_Ko

THE HITMAN’S BODYGUARD (USA 2017) ****

Directed by Patrick Hughes

 

Actor Samuel L. Jackson is one bad ass mother f***er.  When ever he appears in a film, even when playing the President of the United States, he has never failed to use his favourite catch phrase ‘mother f***er’, which he gets to use multiple times in this movie.  Jackson is one of my favourite actors in films currently as he can always be counted on to deliver a solid, spirited performance, no matter what.  In THE HITMAN’S BODYGUARD, he also gets to utter the film’s best joke: “If life deals you shit, you go out and make kool-aid.” to which Ryan Reynolds remarks: “That is not how the saying goes.”  Jackson also gets a lot of laughs doing his HOME ALONE expression.  Another good joke (though this one belongs to Reynolds) is the one regarding the pen-knife.  But the best thing in the film, is a segment where the two leads discuss the usage of the ‘mother f***er’ phrase.  Priceless!

The story involves a bodyguard, Michael Bryce (Reynolds) assigned to keep a previous Hitman, Darius Kincaid (Jackson)  alive so that he can be transported to Hague, to testify against a corrupt Russian warlord Vladislav Dukhovich (Gary Oldman).  The film plays the two against each other.  The chemistry works, the laughs come fast and furious and the action segments are expertly executed.

The climax of the film includes a spectacular car chase that appear to take on the recent BABY DRIVER.  Jackson takes off in a speedboat on the canals around Amsterdam  pursued by the bad guys speeding on the streets around the canals.  The sequence is well shot with good continuity that also includes another boat contains merrymakers split right into two.  The camp factor is increased several notches with screaming prostitutes running around the streets.  There is also n funny window-eye view of the chase as if seen by one of them through the glass.   

As if this was not exciting enough, the car/boat chase is intercut with a foot case with Reynolds under pursuit.   The two chases are brilliantly brought together with the fire of an exploding vehicle from which the camera pulls back now only to show the fire now from the grill in the kitchen in a restaurant which Reynolds breaks into.

Though the script is occasionally lazily written, with details left out, for example why Jackson landed in a Manchester prison, the jokes and punch lines are perfectly timed.

The camera placement is also excellent throughout the film, often with images to show Jackson’s expressions through the car front window or to see Reynolds somersault through the front windscreen to land standing up in front of the car after.

The main plus of THE HITMAN’S BODYGUARD is that the absolute unexpected can and actually always occurs at any time.  The two for example, end up at one point, hitching a ride in a van full of nuns with Jackson joining them in a singalong. 

The film’s speed and spirit matches its message on life, that things happen but you got to do your ‘thang’.  They just do not make enough films like this one.

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=F4Afusxc2SM

IN THIS CORNER OF THE WORLD (Japan 2016) ***1/2

Directed by Sunao Katabuchi

This animated feature from studio MAPPA is a rare treat.  It is seldom that North Americans get to see a Japanese anime that is not violent manga and not from Studio Ghibli.  That is not to say that Studio Ghibli stuff is bad but variety is the spice of life as they say.  Based on the award-winning Japanese manga by Fumiyo Kouno, IN THIS CORNER OF THE WORLD is written and directed by Sunao Katabuchi and produced by GENCO and Japanese animation studio MAPPA.  Bolstered by emotionally resonant storytelling, as is evident from the very first frame and exquisite hand-drawn animation, this acclaimed animated feature recently won the coveted Animation of the Year award at this year’s 40th Japan Academy and the Jury Prize at ANNECY 2017.

Director Katabuchi opens his tale in 1933 setting the stage for his coming-of-age story of a girl called Suzu affected by the War setting.  The subject is said to be a daydreamer, which gives the film chance for fantasy and imagination.

Though the characters do not move as fluidly as in American animation, the background of many segments look something out of a water colour paining - especially the buildings, rocks, forests and mountains.

The film centres of Suzu, first seen as a little girl in school who loves to draw.  The title of the film refers to place where Suzu first meets her further husband.  The marriage is an arranged one and she moves from Hiroshima to Kure to live with her husband and his family.  She does the chores but much more once World War II begins.  Suzu experiences the horrors of World War II including the dropping of the atomic bomb in Hiroshima.

World War II is seen from the view of Suzu and her family and husband’s family.  There are no combat scenes but the effects of the war are still as devastating.  Families are always in danger from bombings and the daily routines involve constant running to the bomb shelters.   Suzu loses her niece and a part of her body due to one of the bombings and director Katabichi does not shy away from showing the horrors of war.  The dropping of the atom bomb on Hiroshima where Suzu’s family lives also occurs during the film’s climax.  Katabuchi does not judge the Americans for the catastrophe neither does he mention their collaboration with Germany.

An arranged marriage is always full of ‘ifs’.  The one here, laid out bare for Suzu’s point of view is similarly one full of both fear and anticipation.  Suzu leaves her home she is used to to live with her new husband and his family.  The wedding is a small one with lots of unfamiliarities.  But Suzu is finally comforted when her husband eventually shows her affection on the wedding night - in the film’s most enchanting sequences.

IN THIS CORNER OF THE WORLD ends up an empowering coming-of-age tale set against the backdrop of World War II, while parading the resilience and triumph of the human spirit.

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=s8FIdhofagA

LOGAN LUCKY (USA 2017) ***
Directed by Steven Soderbergh

Veteran director Steven Soderbergh, most famous for his OCEANS ELEVEN trilogy and for his Oscar winning ERIN BROCKOVICH and critically acclaimed films like KAFKA and THE LIMEY was supposed to have retired after his last film UNDER THE CANDELABRA .  But after reading the script for LOGAN LUCKY, he was supposedly so enamoured that he decided to direct it.  LOGAN LUCKY is a stylish crime caper, a sort of anti-OCEAN’s ELEVEN film without the glamour.  Everything is seedy on LOGAN LUCKY, the props, the heist and life depicted in the film.

Soderbergh said of LUCKY LOGAN: "Nobody dresses nice. Nobody has nice stuff. They have no money. They have no technology. It's all rubber band technology”. 

The film involves two brothers.  Trying to reverse a family curse (as lame as excuses come), siblings Jimmy (Channing Tatum), Mellie (Riley Keough), and Clyde Logan (Adam Driver) set out to execute an elaborate robbery during the Coca-Cola 600 race at Charlotte Motor Speedway in Concord, North Carolina during Memorial Day weekend.  Simple though the plot might seem, the story is complicated by all the baggage brought on by the characters.

These are a few examples: (proving Soderbergh’s liking for the script)

Jimmy is separated and has a daughter that is entering a talent contest, which he should support.  She performs John Denver’s  famous song “Country Road”, in one of the film’s best scenes. 

Clyde has lost his hand during the Iraq war.  He still serves a mean martini as a bartender using only one arm, and his hand is sucked into the vacuum during the heist

Special Agent Sarah Grayson (Hilary Swank) has a no-nonsense role as an investigator who hates tight alibis and coincidences

Warden Burns (Dwight Yoakam) as a 9-year old veteran who believes his prison to be the best and escapee proof

Because of all these distractions, the film runs almost two hours.  Though the story actually gets a bit convoluted and also a bit complicated at times, no one really cares, as Soderbergh always surprises with his style and dead-pan humour, reminiscent of KAFKA, my favourite film of his.

The heist segment is executed with a combination of more wry humour than suspense.  The home made bomb form the film’s funniest part.  Note that there are no exciting car races in this car race heist film.

The cast is impressive with well-known actors including James Bond 007’s Daniel Craig playing against time as a sprung convict, Joe Bang as well as 6 NASCAR drivers playing minor roles.  Carl Edwards and Kyle Busch play West Virginia state troopers, Brad Keselowski and Joey Logano are security guards, Kyle Larson is a limo driver, and Ryan Blaney is a delivery boy.  Everyone in the cast and crd appear to he having fun and the fun shows.

Not the best of the Soderbergh’s films, but LOGAN LUKCY is still an entertaining watch from a director who knows how to entertain, especially with a good caper comedy.

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aPzvKH8AVf0

LE RIDE (USA/France/ New Zealand 2016) ***

Directed by Phil Keoghan

With the increasing number of cyclists in Toronto and around the world today, this inspirational film about biking should be of immense interest.

LE RIDE is a film, as the voiceover is quick to emphasize, about people with a big heart and determination.  As the saying goes, it is not the size of the dog in a fight but the fight in the dog that matters. 

The history: In 1928 an under-resourced and untested team from New Zealand (one Harry Watson) and Australia (3 Australians) competed in what is considered to be the toughest sporting event in the world. Many considered the entry of these courageous underdogs, racing as a team of 4 against teams of 10, a joke.  One French journalist called their attempt nothing short of murder.  168 riders started the more than 3,500-mile race, only 41 finished.  Surprisingly this remarkable story about the achievements of these brave athletes has never been told on film, until now.  The present: What has fascinated the filmmaker is the original 1928 Tour de France.  Phil Keoghan - television personality, adventurer and cycling enthusiast, with his mate, Ben retraces the 1928 Tour de France route, bringing history to life.  Following the original course and schedule, riding a vintage bike, Phil and his team will average 150 miles a day for 22 stages.  This is their documentary.

A plus of the documentary are the breathtaking sights observed during the Tour de France.  These include the mountains of the Pyrenees, the little villagers and small towns all the way from Paris to Cherbourg to Bordeaux down to the south and back to Paris.  The aerial shots ands camera work enhance the scenery to entice the audience to visit France, if they have not already done so.

Phil and Ben, can come across as quite annoying tourists from the film, but their spirit and love for cycling is catching.  They must be doing something right, as they manage to convince a lot of French bike enthusiast to help them in their quest.

The quest is no easy task.  Phil is not shy to show the grilling and arduous work and pain that goes into completing the race.  They ride from nightfall to nightfall with insufficient rest for their bodies to recover.  As Ben and Phil race, the film is intercut with archive footage and commentary of the 4 Aussies and Kiwi who themselves suffered great difficulties in 1928.  Watson, the New Zealander came down with influenza during the race and still struggled to pull through.

The film also answers the ultimate question of why people go to extreme dangers in sports.  Phil jokingly says it is to show off his good looking bike legs.  Seriously, he admits that only when one puts himself to the limit does one learn about oneself.

LE RIDE reveals the other side of the glamour of the Tour de France - the gruelling pain and challenging passion that people are unaware of.  A film centring on the triumph of the human spirit over great difficulties is always an interesting watch.  LE RIDE proves that and much more!

*Le Ride screens for one night only on August 23rd at Cineplex theatres across Canada. Tickets can be purchased at ca.demand.film/le-ride.

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dX7Z_ZT_baE

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