This Week's Film Reviews (Nov 17, 2017)

Almost EVERYONE should be going to watch the $300 million JUSTICE LEAGUE this weekend.  But there are also other films that are much better and worth watching.

BEST 5 FILMS PLAYING:

THE SQUARE

THE KILLING OF A SACRED DEER

GOD’S OWN COUNTRY

PARADISE

THREE BILLBOARDS OUTSIDE EBBING, MISSOURI

FILM REVIEWS:

BLADE OF THE IMMORTAL (Japan 2017) ***
Directed by Takashi Miiki

If you have not heard of Takashi Miiki, this is the opportunity to get acquainted with the Japanese writer/director who has made 99 films so far with this one BLADE OFTHE IMMORTAL based on Hiroaki Samura’s ground-breaking and award-winning manga, being his 100th film.  Most of his films, violent as they are never get a commercial release in Canada.

Miiki is famous for action samurai films but he is also well known for his modern horror flicks, especially AUDITION, which is one film guaranteed to make one cringe - imagine steel wire supported by bricks dismembering ones foot.

BLADE OF THE IMMORTAL follows the hero of the story, Manji (Takuya Kimura), a highly skilled samurai who becomes cursed with immortality after a legendary battle.  Haunted by the brutal murder of his sister, Manji knows that only fighting evil will regain his soul.  He promises to help a young girl named Rin avenge her parents, who were killed by a group of master swordsmen led by ruthless warrior Anotsu. The mission will change Manji in ways he could never imagine.

In period samurai pieces, interest is often lost without personalizing the story.  This one has Rin who hires Manji to avenge her father -  a story reminiscent of TRUE GRIT.

For amusement, Miiki inserts a debate on what is good and what evil is, only to tear apart the concept a few moments after.

  The straightforward samurai revenge flick is built around the platonic, primal ideal of what a samurai movie can be.  Still, as in Miiki’s films, BLADE OF THE IMMORTAL is a non-stop symphony of murder and steel filled with unbelievable weapons, gruesome amputations, rivers of blood, and charismatic warriors. It is a 2 hour 20 minute saga, though interest never flails.  It features spectacular fight scenes with a whole array of imaginative weapons, and a climactic battle reportedly involving some 300 people that took more than two weeks to film.

Miiki takes his time to establish his villain.  The villain is one Anotsu, not just a villain with no character.  He has his principle of fighting one on one, and not playing with children as he deems it vulgar.  He is a pretty boy with luscious lips, always decked in a gorgeous robe, obviously better looking than the hero, who has a scar right across his face.  That is Miiki’s weird humour that makes his film and his characters stand out against others.

Miiki remembers too that in spite of all, BLADE OF THE IMMORTAL is an action sword fitting flick.  So, the battles and fights are well choreographed and exciting enough to satisfy die hard fans.  There is a little combination of horror and action in the film, but the horror is not as disturbing as in his other films like AUDITION.  Still, there are a lot of chopped off hands, feet and limbs. 

BLADE OF THE IMMORTAL premiered at Cannes and at the Reel Asian International Film Festival in Toronto. 

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-M2F4-oTNF4

MUDBOUND (USA 2017) ***
Directed by Lee Rees

MUDBOUND, a Netflix original movie, is understandably a difficult film to be made for general audiences dealing with racial tensions, mixed relationships and the Ku Klax Klan.  Despite complaints about Netflix movies not being ‘real’ movies distributed in theatres, in Netflix defence - it is thanks to them that difficult films like these, worthy and gut wrenching get made.  MUDBOUND is a film about class, friendship and the fight against ‘the land’.  The characters are pitted against a landscape of mud, with the elements of nature working against them.  Just as they are about to succeed, the characters are pulled back into the mire.  Hence the film is entitled MUDBOUND, and also perhaps it is a metaphor used too often in the story.

The film is narrated by a few of the story’s characters but mostly by Laura McAllan (Carey Mulligan).  The story follows two families, one white, the McAllans, newly arrived from Memphis to his new farm in the Mississippi Delta.  The other, the Jacksons are coloured folk, sharecroppers who have worked the land for generations, but struggling to make a living.  Laura’s husband is Henry (Jason Clarke), a decent man, though stuck in his racist ways and they have two daughters.  The father-in-law is a racist pig.  The Jacksons are Hap (Rob Morgan), Florence (singer Mary J. Blige) and children.

The film setting is just after World War II.  The end of the war sees the return of Jamie McAllan (Garrett Hedlund) and Ronsel Jackson (Jason Mitchell).  The war allows the race barrier to be broken between the two war heroes but their friendship is not tolerated by the town, especially the father-in-law.  When it is discovered that Ronsel bears a son with a white woman (a German during the war), he is brutalized by the Ku Klax Klan.

Based on the novel by Hillary Jordan, and written for the screen by director Rees and Virgil Williams, the plot follow multiple stories divided between the two families.  Rees’ film flows smoothly with each story transitioning into another without the feeling of Rees acting like a cop directing traffic.

The film’s most unsettling scenes involve Hap Jackson’s infected leg, shown with all the pus and sores and the other the sudden appearance of the Ku Klax Klan.  Ronsel’s beating is also not easy to watch.  Rees gets her point across.  For a film about families working the land, Rees should have included more scenes depicting the hardship of toiling - though a few token ones are included.  The same goes for the war segments with one or two scenes in the tank and in the fighter jets.

The only trouble with MUDBOUND is the lack of one central character.  As the story divides between Laura, her husband, Ronsel, Florence Jackson and Jamie, the film loses its impact.  Still, MUDBOUND has nary a dull moment and gets its message that friendship and tolerance will save the day.

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vAZWhFI9lLQ

PARADISE (Russia 2016) ****
Directed by Andrey Konchalovsky 

Shot in black and white in part documentary style with interviews, PARADISE is a harrowing if not compelling study of human behaviour and strife for a better lifestyle (or as the film unfolds, the goal is to achieve a kind of PARADISE) regardless of circumstances.  The circumstances in the film’s setting are not too good - as the setting is a Nazi concentration camp.

When the film opens, the audience sees three different individuals interviewed, whose paths cross because of the devastation of war. 

The first person interviewed is a portly middle-class Frenchman named Jules who has a wife and a son called Emile..  He goes on to talk about his son being called Emile for no real reason, except to show that he is a man dedicated to family.  Director Konchalovsky (who has proven himself with 3 well-known films, RUNAWAY TRAIN, THE ODYSSEY, SHY PEOPLE) allows his audience to form their own opinion or judgement on this not entirely unlikeable character as in the other two, despite him being a French-Nazi collaborator. 

Next is handsome high-ranking German SS officer Helmut, who once fell madly in love with Olga and still harbours feelings. They re-kindle their old flame and embark on a twisted and destructive relationship.

The third and most important in the story is Olga.  Olga, a Russian aristocratic immigrant and member of the French Resistance, is arrested by Nazi police for hiding Jewish children during a surprise raid.  As her punishment, she is sent to jail where she meets Jules and later Helmut who offers her a safe haven to South America as an escape both for her from the concentration camp and for him from the defeat of the Nazis in the war.

The best thing about PARADISE is the film’s authentic look in terms of period and atmosphere.  Everything else too from the costumes, wardrobe, sets look directly as if they were derived from old photographs.  The camera moves in and out the seemingly crowded spaces in the concentration camp.

Konchalovsky also shows the rift between the Jewish prisoners.  They fight among themselves for food and for the attire off someone who has just died.  The kapos (the prisoners selected to act as guards) are also looked down upon in the film.  Besides the grim look of the camps, Konchalovsky also shows the splendour enjoyed by the rich.  Servants stand by to serve the rich and fortunate as they play tennis in the latest fashioned attire.  Helmut looks particular sexy in his outfits among the females.

But the film’s main goal is the message that is revealed only at the end of the film - on how humanity and kindness can still exist amidst the futility of war.  The film’s theme can be summarized using the famous words of German philosopher Karl Jaspers: “That which has happened is a warning. It must be continually remembered. It was possible for this to happen, and it remains possible for it to happen again at any minute. Only in knowledge can it be prevented.”

PARADISE arrives though a year late, with all the accolades after winning the Silver Lion Award at the Venice Film Festival.  Definitely a film worth seeing!

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OzIthDhMjC4

THE STAR (USA 2017) ***1/2

Directed by Timothy Eckhart

Christmas comes early at the movie theatres this year with THE STAR being the third Christmas themed film opening already in November.  While the first two A BAD MOM’S CHRISTMAS and DADDY’S HOME 2 were plain awful, it takes a donkey and other cartoon characters to show how Christmas should be done. Though by no means flawless, THE STAR written by Carlos Kotkin based on a story by Simon Moore and Carlos Kotkinis is a winning and charming family friendly film that works simply because the filmmakers took the time to figure out what works and to believe in the material.

Number one in Christmas films is the importance of a message. In current times when it is touted that being number one is very important ( Trump’s speech on making America number one again), many have forgotten, especially at this festive time of goodwill toward all men to put their neighbours first before oneself.  Two recent films have made this point their message.  One is Reel Asian Film Festival entry STAND UP MAN where the protagonist, Moses Kim gives up his dream of being a standup comedian to look after his visiting young cousin.  The other is ROMAN J. ISRAEL, ESQ. where Denzel Washington plays the lawyer working for peanuts serving human right causes.  In THE STAR, the donkey, named Bo (Steven Yuen) abandons his dream following a caravan show to protect Mary bearing the baby Jesus from her evil pursuers.

A Christian animation feature, THE STAR benefits from both not being preachy and giving the greatest story ever told a goofy twist while staying respectful.  The donkey (last given full movie status in the documentary DO DONKEYS ACT?) is promoted from supporting roles (the SHREK films) to chief protagonist here.  When the film opens, the donkey escapes from captivity, complete with full donkey chase through a biblical village pursued by the miller.  His foot is injured and he takes refuge with the expecting Mary.  Mary and husband Joseph leaves for Bethlehem as King Herod (Christopher Plummer) dispatches his chief henchman and two fierce dogs to destroy the new born King.  The donkey, named Bo by Mary enlists the help of Dave, a dove and Ruth, a sheep to help him save her and he bay Jesus.

Inspired voice casting includes Tyler Perry and Oprah Winfrey as two of the camels carrying the three kings.

Instead of writing all new songs, the film uses well known carols like “We Three Kings” and O Holy Night!” and lesser known ones like the seldom excellent but just as wonderful “What Child Is This?”, all given a more modern music mix.  The soundtrack also contains the track “The Star” by Mariah Carey.

It should be noted that this sincere animated feature can nowhere be compared to Pixar Animation Studios’ COCO.  THE STAR opens a week before COCO, giving it at least a chance at the box-office before COCO opens.

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tVgQuZf5o1M

STEGMAN IS DEAD (Canada 2017) ***
Directed by David Hyde

Raven Banner Entertainment distributes low budget films - usually horror flicks or flicks with an edge.  STEGMAN IS DEAD falls into the latter category, with violence and  some foul language thrown in for good measure despite the film’s protagonist being a family man.

A family man with a past crime background, to be more accurate.  He has ‘successfully’ completed a heist in which he had accidentally killed two security guards.  His boss, Don (Michael Ironside) has cleaned up everything but unfortunately all the cleanup was recorded on tape which has been stole by Stegman who is now blackmailing him.

The film attracted attention well before its release, with two nominations at the Golden Trailer Awards in LA, an Award Of Excellence at the IndieFest 2017 Film Awards in the US and a surprising “market premiere” at the Cannes Film Festival programmed by Telefilm Canada as one of their six favourite films of 2017.

Director Hyde focuses the film on a single location (Stegman’s home/studio) and created a colourful array of criminals, each with their own distinct “style.” There are twenty-one speaking roles include a bumbler named Lars (Arne MacPherson), a sadistic Russian named Sergei (David Lawrence Brown), a psycho “terminator” named Kruger (Stephen Eric McIntyre) and a mystery-woman named Evy (Bernice Liu).

This follows Diane’s family, a deceptively pleasant, aging lot of retired criminals who want to give her struggling husband Gus, a leg up.  The father and daughter – the leads of the story – are members of a clan that goes back generations. They revere the fact that they are thieves. They live in an offbeat culture that exists outside normal society. ‘My dad taught me how to steal wallets, I’m teaching my daughter how to steal wall

When the film opens, Mike is in front of his house. The voiceover informs that he is about to rob his own house.  But the police have been to the house first.  He is to recover the tapes that will save his hide and his marriage.

STEGMAN IS DEAD is confidently put together by director, writer and cast who clearly exhibits confidence.  The trouble with confidence is that the film comes out as too smug for tis own good.  A bit more humility will result in flaws being identified and perhaps corrected. 

The film’s dialogue ranges from funny to fair.  His wife warns him:”If you don’t bring back the bacon, you do not get the sausage.”  Or an old guys saying: “No ore tension, now with pension.”  But the film occasionally hits the laughter jackpot as in one scene where everyone at gathering is forced to lie on the ground.  The wife of an elderly tells him, “Keep your arms together”, as he has difficulty going down to the floor.

The film’s setting is Middle America with its low income residences, old cars and dirty roads.  It sold remembered though that this is a Canadian movie.

STEGMAN IS DEAD is not a bad film, efficiently put together with a confident cast and crew.  It contains occasional surprises but one has to watch out for them.  There is one good thing to say about this film - it has spirit!  The film has a limited engagement at the Carlton Cinemas, again a small venue for small budget films and gems.

Trailer: https://vimeo.com/223366304

THELMA (Norway/Sweden/France/Denmark 2017) ****

Directed by Joachim Trier

Director Joachim Trier’s (OSLO, AUGUST 31st and LOUDER THAN BOMBS) latest film combines the austerity of his previous films with a spin-off of the CARRIE the Stephen King story/Brian de Palma film where Sissy Spacek moves objects to avenge herself from the people who have wronged her.

THELMA inevitably draws comparisons from CARRIE but these are two very different films despite the similar subject matter.

The film follows a timid young woman, THELMA (Eili Harboe) who leaves her rural home to study in Oslo.  There, she finds love for the first time.  This love happens to be for a classmate of the same sex, which makes her extremely guilty because of her religion.  But her relationship is complicated by her family's oppressive meddling, their seemingly fundamentalist religious beliefs, and, possibly, her unique ability to shape and affect her environment.  When Thelma is upset or agitated, strange things seem to happen.  She also goes into epileptic fits which cannot be explained by the hospital doctors.

Trier’s film works for two reasons.  Trier keeps the story one step ahead of his audience, making it always interesting.  The other, related to this reason, is that he is thus able to use the tool of audience anticipation.  The first time Thelma is shown in the film exhibiting her powers is in the school library.  Birds crash onto the library window while she goes into convulsions.  Then nothing till later in the film.  Trier uses the first third of the film to introduce Thelma, her family and surroundings to the audience without much happening.  And what will Thelma do next? What is she really capable of?  How will the film end?  One at least knows from the history of movies in this genre that the bad guys will get what is coming to them.  In THELMA, Trier keeps the ambiguity on who is bad or who is good.

The most intriguing fact in THELMA which is never explained is Thelma’s mother’s accident.   Unni (Ellen Dorrit Petersen) is seen in the latter part of the film in a wheelchair.  Is this a result of Thelma’s doing or an accident or due to her father Trond’s (Henrik Rafaelsen) meddling.

Trier also ups the mystery element by introducing the character of Thelma’s grandmother.  She is bedridden in a home.  Thelma thinks her grandmother is dead and visits her, unbeknown to her parents, thinking that her grandmother possesses the same power she has and that her father had given her medication to cause her to be in that sorry state of affairs.  When Trond gives her daughter pills to calm her down, Thelma grows suspicious that he might be poisoning her. 

Trier never explains the origin or cause of Thelma’s powers.  But neither did the film CARRIE.  It does not matter the reason, but what Trier wants to do with the power that matters.

THELMA succeeds as a psychological horror drama that keep the audience intrigued from start to end.  THELMA is shot in Norwegian.

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HF36DsRFnXU

THREE BILLBOARDS OUTSIDE EBBING, MISSOURI (USA/UK 2017) *****

Directed by Martin McDonagh

Written, co-produced, and directed by one of the most esteemed playwrights in Ireland (the play, THE BEAUTY QUEEN OF LEENAN) Martin McDonagh, THREE BILLBOARDS OUTSIDE EBBING, MISSOURI arrives with all the hype after winning this year’s Toronto International Film Festival prestigious People’s Choice (Most Popular) Film Award.  This is a film that can be enjoyed by both the commercial audience and critics alike.  It is smart, funny (darkly so), suspenseful and brilliantly acted by all concerned.

Nine months after her daughter is raped and murdered, a woman, Mildred Hayes (Frances McDormand) is totally frustrated that there has been no progress with the investigation led by the local police chief, Bill Willoughby (Woody Harrelson).   Using the last of her hard earned money, she leases three billboards from Red (Caleb Landry Jones) on the edge of her Missouri town to condemn the local police force for failing to find the culprit.  This angers the sheriff and one of his top officers, Jason Dixon (Sam Rockwell), a red-neck racist mamma’s boy, with a temper to suit his prejudice.  Mildred is one angry, foul mouthed woman who would kick any man in the nuts if they comes across her the wrong way.  The billboards gradually lead from one bad incident to another resulting in the suicide of Police Chief Bill Willoughby.  This infuriates Jason who beats Red up, ending up in Red being in hospital and himself fired from the force.

Despite the wicked humour, McDonagh’s script is smart enough never to forget the main issue at hand - the desperation of a mother to see justice done.  The irony though, is that Mildred is not that good a mother who on the eventful night of the rape, had an argument with the daughter that led her to walking alone and abducted.  Those like myself who love irony, will see it rearing its head again when the racist Jason coming up as the one with the best clue as to the killer.

As one would imagine after the film passes its half way mark, it is not the identity of the killer that is important.  It is the nature of people - how people change, and in this film for the better.  The chief who kills himself writes letters to Mildred and Jason that would change them.  This is the reason audiences would favour the film.  It has heart, sympathy despite the dark humour and foul language - more irony here (the film with the most foul language has the biggest heart.) 

One might argue as to the necessity of the abusive language used in the film.  To McDonagh’s defence, thee are people in the world that utter the ‘f’ word in every sentence.  Mildred happens to be one of them. 

McDonagh develops excellent characterizations.  The best is the lead, Mildred.  Mildred has so fierce and powerful a personality that one is never sure what she will do, thus becoming an exciting presence in every scene she is in.  Sam Rockwell achieves marvellous results with his complex character which might win him an oscar nomination for Best Supporting Actor.  McDonagh’s film’s ending is also impressive.  It is a 4 way open ended non-Hollywood ending, which is the smartest conclusion I have seen in a film this year.

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Jit3YhGx5pU

WONDER (USA 2017) ***1/2

Directed by Stephen Chbosky

WONDER is a family friendly film with just the correct mix of comedy and drama about a boy with a facial deformity, Auggie ( Jacob Tremblay).  The film follows his adjustment to public school, Beecham Preparatory School after being home schooled by his mother, Isabel (Julia Roberts).  His father, Nate (Owen Wilson) is supportive as well as his sister, Via (Izabela Vidovic) though she resents not being given as much attention by her parents.  WONDER is written by Steve Conrad based on the book of the same name by R.J. Palacio.

Despite the obvious message as announced via voiceover at the end of the movie: “Be Kind: You just have to look at people to see…”, there is another more important message found in the movie, as uttered by Via, Auggie’s sister when she angrily quips at her brother: “It’s not always about you.” This message is also echoed in the way the film’s story is brilliantly told - in 4 parts from 3 other points of view besides Auggie’s, showing that other people count.  The other views are from Auggie’s sister, Via, and from two of his friends, Jack Will (Noah Jupe) and Miranda (Danielle Rose Russell).  The other three are revealed in the script as individuals, just as important as individuals as being a character in Auggie’s world.

The film’s contains one mixed message in the way Auggie finds his first friend, Jack Will - by allowing him to cheat, copying from him, during a test.  He could have helped him or offered to help him study instead.

The big minus in WONDER is the filmmakers insistence on going for sentiment.  They should be more confident on the material and stop tugging at the heartstrings.  So be forewarned!  Bring plenty of Kleenex as director Chbosky chooses to milk every opportunity he can for tears.  This can be observed by the choice of music; Julia Robert’s perpetual sad look; the script’s dialogue (You cannot blend in if you are meant to stand out in the world); the fondness of close-ups of the actors’ faces.

The script could be trimmed to do away with the teen budding romance between Via and her new theatre boyfriend, Justin that does not do much with the main story.

The performances from the young kids are to be praised.  The best of these belong to Noah Jupe as Jack Will, Auggie’s best friend.  Jupe is a natural, the camera loving his every facial expression - a possible future star in the making.  Two screen veterans Mandy Patinkin and Sonia Braga lend their hands playing Mr. Tushman and Via’s grandmother respectively.

Chbosky’s film tries at making every set-up perfect.  It is therefore not surprising that the film’s best moment is a quiet and simple one - a close-up of Jack Will’s face at being happy once again at being Auggie’s friend.

The film ends with Auggie’s mom saying to Auggie: “You are really a WONDER, Auggie".  Perhaps the film itself could have turned out a wonder if everyone did not try so hard.

But for all its flaws, WONDER is a film made about a subject that matters.  It is also good to see stars like Julia Roberts  and Owen Wilson putting their efforts in a earnest little movie for a change.

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cFxsRbqN8jA

THELMA (Norway/Sweden/France/Denmark 2017) ****

Directed by Joachim Tier

Director Joachim Trier’s (OSLO, AUGUST 31st and LOUDER THAN BOMBS) latest film combines the austerity of his previous films with a spin-off of the CARRIE the Stephen King story/Brian de Palma film where Sissy Spacek moves objects to avenge herself from the people who have wronged her.

THELMA inevitably draws comparisons from CARRIE but these are two very different films despite the similar subject matter.

The film follows a timid young woman, THELMA (Eili Harboe) who leaves her rural home to study in Oslo.  There, she finds love for the first time.  This love happens to be for a classmate of the same sex, which makes her extremely guilty because of her religion.  But her relationship is complicated by her family's oppressive meddling, their seemingly fundamentalist religious beliefs, and, possibly, her unique ability to shape and affect her environment.  When Thelma is upset or agitated, strange things seem to happen.  She also goes into epileptic fits which cannot be explained by the hospital doctors.

Trier’s film works for two reasons.  Trier keeps the story one step ahead of his audience, making it always interesting.  The other, related to this reason, is that he is thus able to use the tool of audience anticipation.  The first time Thelma is shown in the film exhibiting her powers is in the school library.  Birds crash onto the library window while she goes into convulsions.  Then nothing till later in the film.  Trier uses the first third of the film to introduce Thelma, her family and surroundings to the audience without much happening.  And what will Thelma do next? What is she really capable of?  How will the film end?  One at least knows from the history of movies in this genre that the bad guys will get what is coming to them.  In THELMA, Trier keeps the ambiguity on who is bad or who is good.

The most intriguing fact in THELMA which is never explained is Thelma’s mother’s accident.   Unni (Ellen Dorrit Petersen) is seen in the latter part of the film in a wheelchair.  Is this a result of Thelma’s doing or an accident or due to her father Trond’s (Henrik Rafaelsen) meddling.

Trier also ups the mystery element by introducing the character of Thelma’s grandmother.  She is bedridden in a home.  Thelma thinks her grandmother is dead and visits her, unbeknown to her parents, thinking that her grandmother possesses the same power she has and that her father had given her medication to cause her to be in that sorry state of affairs.  When Trond gives her daughter pills to calm her down, Thelma grows suspicious that he might be poisoning her. 

Trier never explains the origin or cause of Thelma’s powers.  But neither did the film CARRIE.  It does not matter the reason, but what Trier wants to do with the power that matters.

THELMA succeeds as a psychological horror drama that keep the audience intrigued from start to end.  THELMA is shot in Norwegian.

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HF36DsRFnXU

Subscribe to our newsletter!


Thank you for your subscription

Search Site

Latest on Instagram

Find a Job

Join Our Mailing List

Copyright © 2005 - 2017 Culture Shox Media Inc. All rights reserved unless otherwise stated.

Privacy Policy

Our website is protected by DMC Firewall!

Join our mailing list!