This Week's Film Reviews (Dec 1, 2017)

Nothing spectacular opening this week.  But still a solid list of good films still making the rounds.

BEST FILMS PLAYING:

COCO

THE SQUARE

THE KILLING OF A SACRED DEER

GOD’S OWN COUNTRY

PARADISE

ROMAN J. ISRAEL, ESQ.

THELMA

THREE BILLBOARDS OUTSIDE EBBING, MISSOURI

FILM REVIEWS:

BIG TIME (Denmark 2017) ***
Directed by Kaspar Astrup Schröder

BIG TIME is look at Danish “starchitect” Bjarke Ingels, (following him for 7 years from 2009 to 2016) named “one of architecture’s biggest innovators” by The Wall Street Journal.  In 2016, Time Magazine named him one of “The 100 Most influential People” on the planet.

The film opens with Bjarke in a cab in NYC.  He is there to take on two high-profile projects that will change the Manhattan skyline, the VIA 57 West, a pyramid apartment complex with a courtyard inspired by Central Park.  The other is Two World Trade Centre.

At one point in the documentary, a character, Mr. Sullivan praises the man to be one where creative juices are flowing and how people working with him are on a high exhilarating level.  That feeling of exhilaration occasionally rubs off the film onto the audience as the audience witnesses the man’s work.

Often, Bjarke (as he is more affectionally called) stands in front of a table, white paper in front of him, holding a felt pen. He outlines his designs while speaking aloud articulating both the design and the philosophy behind it.  These few segments are the best in the doc that show how the creative genius thinks and how the ideas flow.  Bjarke is at the age of 40 with a lot of his successful work done between the age of 31 (when he started) and 40.  Bjarke also says in the film that one should not wait but continually create and build, with the example given of past architects that have suddenly died.  Louis Kahn died of a heart attack in a restroom at Manhattan's Penn Station.  Le Corbusier drowned while taking a swim in the Mediterranean Sea. 

Antoni Gaudi was hit by a tram on his way to church in Barcelona.

It is within reason that Bjarke speaks this way.  The film begins too with music accompanying weird patterns on the screen.  It becomes apparent only later in the film what these patterns are.  They are the patterns obtained from the MRA and MRI scans of Bjarke’s brain.  Bjarke has what could be a small tumour which is discovered at the mid-point of the film.  It gives him incredibly bad headaches preventing him from working any further.

Bjarke’s triumphs include Copenhagen’s Amager Bakke waste-to-energy plant with a 

ski slope on its roof and a chimney that emits “smoke” rings that are actually steam.  Ingels is also the brain behind Vancouver House, set to open in 2018.  He also talks about Sydney’s Opera House as the world’s greatest architecture design.

Director Schröder (RENT A FAMILY) also reveals Bjarke’s personal life thus making the doc more personal.  Bjarke at 40 is finally finding his partner in life in the form of a Spanish lady who he intends to marry, by buying her a unique engagement ring.

The film ends with Bjarke and fiancee walking through the completed VIA 57 West complex, ending the doc on an appropriate high.

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VK0mGdMKMW4

LA DANSEUSE (THE DANCER) (France/Belgium/Czech 2016) **

Directed by Stéphanie Di Giusto

A 2016 French biographical musical drama film based on the true story, directed and written by Stéphanie Di Giusto and co-written by Thomas Bidegain and Sarah Thiebaud, based on the novel by Giovanni Lista, LA DANSEUSE opens with the film’s subject and protagonist carried away after what looks like an injury during a dance.  This scene is returned to at the film’s halfway mark after she collapses from her first performance.

Director Di Giusto then takes her audience back to the dancer’s early days before she began her dance career, which is assumed must be a famous one.  Loie Fuller (Soko) is revealed as a rebellious teen taken in by her stern mother after her alcoholic father dies.  Loie promises to be obedient and not cause trouble which translates in movie terms that she will be disobedient and cause trouble.  Besides posing nude and starring on stage, she finds her calling as a dancer, though what occurs on screen does not seem credible.  One assumes what occurs must be true as the film is based on a true story.  Di Giusto uses that as carte blanche to bring in whatever she likes and portray the incidents however she deems suitable.  The result is a rather rough film, with too many incidents inserted inappropriately leaving the narrative disjointed.

Isadora Duncan (Lily-Rose Depp) is Loie’s dance peer.  Her appearance might eclipse Loie’s story, but Di Guisto keeps that in check.  Still it is hard to like Loie’s character.  Di Giusto shows her as strong willed, stubborn to perform at risk of her personal health, self destructive  and one who never accepts authority.  Loie comes off as an unlikeable character no matter how dedicated she is to her art.  As for the choreography with flowing dresses, it is quite different from ballet or modern dance and is a style in itself, taking a while to get used to.

The film is oddly shot in French and quite a bit in English.  The mother is English while the father is French, which is assumed the reason.  LA DANSEUESE is a period piece set in France and the period atmosphere and costumes show it.  The film won the Cesar for Best costume Design (by Anais Romand).

The most famous of the cast is Gaspard Ulliel who always looks dashing in this case playing Loie’s romantic interest.

The film is an ok biography which is keen to reveal the (anti-feminist) prejudice of the times and travails the main subject went through.  Di Giusto makes no attempt to make any of her characters likeable from Loie, to Isadora Duncan and to lover Louis and her other lesbian lover, Gabrielle (Mélanie Thierry). The result is a difficult film to like.

LA DANSEUSE was screened in the Un Certain Regard section at the 2016 Cannes Film Festival.  It took a year before finally released here, and might be worth a look if one likes period drama with some dancing added in for good measure.  The film was nominated for several Cesar and Lumiere Awards, including nods for Best First Feature and acing (main and supporting) roles.

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1hqdhfZ7UFA

 

THE DISASTER ARTIST (USA 2017) **
Directed by James Franco

James Franco has had dozens of credits as both director and actor.  His directorial debuts have never been too stellar unlike his acting (debuts).  He has proven his acting mettle in both comedy (THIS IS THE END, PINEAPPLE EXPRESS) and drama (SPRING BREAKERS).  In his latest outing, he does both directing and acting in a comedic/dramatic portrayal of Hollywood filmmaker Tommy Wiseau.  The odd film premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival Midnight Madness section to a full house, the reason being that Franco and his gang showed up during the screening.

James Franco and friends appear in this uneven tribute to eccentric filmmaker Tommy Wiseau (played by James) and his friend, actor Greg Sestero (played by brother Dave), whose notoriously awful film The Room has become one of the most beloved cult classics of all time.  (I have never heard of it though.)  Since its release in 2003, The Room has captivated cult audiences on the midnight movie circuit with its discombobulated plot, discordant performances, and inexplicable dialogue.  Drawing on the memoir of the same name, Franco chronicles the making of The Room as recalled by Greg.  The incredulous script supervisor is played by friend Seth Roger.  Other celebrity friends of the Franco’s like Christopher Mintz-Plasse and Zac Ephron also appear.  Franco’s portrayal of Wiseau is over-the-top, which is likely the character of the man himself.  Franco as Wiseau goes about the majority of the film speaking with an accent, shouting and speaking in broken English sentences. 

Films about directors of Hollywood bombs have been done before, most notable being Tim Burton’s ED WOOD.  But Franco’s DISASTER ARTIST bears more similarity to the 1970’s British/Italian comedy starring Peter Sellers as a mastermind Italian crook in Vittorio De Sica’s AFTER THE FOX.  In both movies, there are separate scenes of the film shot, that bear no sense, but when put together during a screening at the end of the film, bring on major laughs.  This is how best to describe Franco’s THE DISASTER ARTIST.  It is a shallow biography of Tommy Wiseau providing no new insight of the man, but it does provide some solid laughs.  The best scene is clearly the one where Wiseau does multiple takes on a segment, never getting it right until finally after uttering the line, “Oh, hi  Mike” generate spontaneous applause from the director and those watching on set (and loud laughs from the audience).

The Franco/ Rogen/Goldberg troupe has an uncanny sense of humour, and the humour and timing works magnificently at times.  The film ends with a split screen of the shots of the actual ROOM side-by-side of this movie. 

A so-so movie but one can always forgive a mediocre movie if it delivers a few good laugh-out loud laughs!

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4qab3TMg42k

RADIUS (Canada 2017) *
Directed by Caroline Labréche and Steeve Léonard

The Verge describes RADIUS as a high concept movie from start to finish and that it relies on surprises to keep the story moving.  No argument here with The Verge’s statement but upon closer examination of it, there is nothing to say that what is written makes RADIUS a good movie.

The main problem with RADIUS is its outlandish plot which is totally unbelievable.  True there are surprises and more incidents but getting all the mysteries tied up neatly is something writer/directors Labréche and Léonard (the cult favourite TURBO KID) have failed to achieve.

When the film opens, Liam (Diego Klattenhoff) wakes from a car crash at the bottom of a ditch with no memory of who he is.  As he makes his way into town, he discovers that anyone who comes within a 50-foot radius of him dies instantly.  Out of options, he tries to live in seclusion to protect others.  The film though made in Canada is set in the States complete with shameful references to NASA.

Labréche and Léonard now introduces a new character and another twist to the sci-fi story.   One day, Liam’s murderous power seems to subside with the arrival of a woman (Charlotte Sullivan) who says she was in the crash with him.  She too is suffering from amnesia and looking for answers.  The story allows the characters to remember certain events that suit the story and to forget others also to suit the story.

The amnesia is the third element in the story.  Together they then embark on a journey to uncover who they really are.  Into the picture comes the woman’s husband who she forces to help her and Liam.  Worse still, there is a silly hint of romance between the two despite the presence of the husband, who for all that matters, seems a more decent (as well as better looking) guy than the cussing Liam.

As if credibility has not already been stretched to the limit, the story suddenly reveals cases of missing persons where the bodies have not been recovered.  This must be the most ridiculous angle put into the film.

At this point with the story heading towards so many directions, it is difficult to care about the main characters or the ending.  Fortunately, the film runs no longer than 90 minutes.

The film is a joint Manitoba Quebec production.  The barren landscape not only shows the nothingness of a large part of that province but reflects where the film is heading.

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NExqMxRRM64

SWEET VIRGINIA (USA 2017) ***1/2

Directed by Jamie S. Dagg

SWEET VIRGINIA is a slow moving but effective film noir that plays like the Keith Richards and Mick Jagger written slow country song of the same name.  Set in Alaska but shot in Canada’s British Columbia standing in for the northernmost American state, the desolate landscape plays similarly to the Coen’s Brothers’ FARGO.

There are similarities between the Coen Brothers scripts and the film based on the script written by the Australian China Brothers (China is their last name).  In Fargo and SWEET VIRGINIA a hit-man is hired to do away with a spouse and like in NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN, the film centres on the hit-man.

SWEET VIRGINIA opens with a loner, later revealed as Elwood (Christopher Abbott) entering a closed bar where three friends are drinking and playing cards.  The stranger orders food but is ordered out of the closed premises.   He returns and kills all three.  It is disclosed that he was hired to kill of the men, by the wife Bernadette (Rosemarie DeWitt) because he was a pig and cheat.  Bernadette thought she could have claim to some money but the dead husband was dead broke.  Elwood stays in town waiting to get paid.  In the mean time, he befriends the motel owner, Sam (Jon Bernthal).

This moody piece works as the China Brothers and director Dagg centres the action on four characters whose lives entwine - Elwood the hit man, Sam the motel owner, the wife Bernadette and the young worker at the motel, Maggie (Odessa Young) who longs to leave the town for a better life.  Elwood is the most interesting character, a practical man in many ways.  He does his hooker from the back telling her to close the door after they are done.  He also ends up the most pitiful and despite his bad deed of killing Bernadette’s husband, one can hardly not forgive him.  He gains the respect of the audience too, as he is a real man able to stand up and fight.  Sam in comparison, has seen his glory rodeo days gone by.  He walks with a limp.  He is unable to stand up and face a disrespectful motel guest.  He gets beaten up.  But the film choses to end with a slow motion segment of Sam riding a bull in a rodeo.

The story emphasizes the fact that harm can come to innocent people.  Sam gets punched up by a noisy disrespectful guest; the young kid hired by Elwood to do the robbery is killed while Bernadette has not only married the wrong man but hired the wrong man to do the killing.  The odd coincidences never end up turning for the better - but for the worse.  It is a pessimistic  look at life in a town that sees no light.  Cinematography Jessica Lee Gagné shoots most of the action in the dark.

To think that all the above lives would not have been connected if the owner of the bar had locked the front door and no killing would have occurred in the first place.

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SqZu5uxqLUE

TODD & THE BOOK OF PURE EVIL: THE END OF THE END: THE ANIMATED FEATURE FILM (Canada 2017) ** 

(or TATBOPE: TEOTE: TAFF for short)

 Directed by Craig David Wallace and Richard Duhaney

The long title of this movie matches the long introduction of the film which brings the audience up to date with where the movie starts.  The introduction is fast and furiously delivered, but if one misses a pout or to, there is nothing to be worried about, as the incidents have have occurred are mentioned once again during the film.

Continuing where the critically acclaimed cult TV series (live action) left off, Todd & The Book of Pure Evil: The End of The End returns to Crowley Heights high school to find Todd, Jenny and Curtis grieving the loss of their dear friend Hannah, whose death may or may not have been caused by Todd's banishing of the Book.  The three must reunite to fight evil when the Book of Pure Evil returns to Crowley High, bringing with it some familiar faces (Guidance Counsellor Atticus Murphy Jr., Jimmy the Janitor, and The Metalhead Dudes) as well as some new foes, such as the Sweater Vest Beast and an Acidic Acne-Faced Teen.  But these enemies are merely warm-ups to the final battle with their greatest nemesis yet: The New Pure Evil One, whose intimate knowledge of our heroes may ultimately lead to their destruction!

The film is written by Charles Picco and Craig David Wallace with voices by Alex House, Maggie Castle, Bill Turnbull, Melanie Leishman, Chris Leavins and Jason Mewes (known from the Kevin Smith’s films).  The film done as animation instead of live action of the TV series allows more graphic violence.

The film as suited to teenaged contains typical teen issues.  Todd at one point, cannot get it up.  desperately, he goes to see the school councillor who gives advice fem his guidance councillor’s handbook.  Todd smokes dope, jerks off and does the typical things teens do.  He has a gang of friends who all have their own silly problems.  Adults like Atticus and Jimmy are portrayed as idiots.  No mention of parents in the film.

The animation is ok - the look that comes out from the typical comic book.  If anything, the film also contains a few forgettable songs and unforgettable gross out scenes like the toxic pus tom the zit-faced kid.

The narrative of saving the world or the teen world at that, if not hokum does not seem pressing enough in the film.  It does not help that one distraction after another occurs.

TODD & THE BOOK OF PURE EVIL caters to the typical angst teen.  Adults, even those that have gone through the identical problems in their younger days will likely find the whole enterprise boring.

The film opens  across Canada in November but oddly opens in Toronto (at the Royal Cinema) only in the start of December.  Craig David Wallace, Richard Duhaney, Alex House, Bill Turnbull and Melanie Leishman will be in attendance at the Royal on the opening day.

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=68JXEyLPUOY

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