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This Week's Film Reviews (Feb 8, 2019)

Two movies set in EXTREME COLD opens this week - COLD PURSUIT (the remake of IN ORDER OF DISAPPEARANCE) and ARCTIC.

BEST FILMS PLAYING:

 

Best Animation:

The Lego Movie 2

 

Best Documentary:
They Shall not Grow Old

 

Best Foreign: 

Roma

Capernaum

Cold War

 

Best Drama:

Ben is Back

 

Bets Horror/Sci-fi:

Bird Book

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

ARCTIC (Iceland 2018) ***1/2
Directed by Joe Penna

ARCTIC opens with a man digging up a path - a difficult task the man might have gone on for days as rocks had to be removed from the ground.  As the camera pulls back, it is revealed that it is not a path that is being cleared by the man, but part of a huge message carved out of the ice and snow with the letters S.O.S.   The man, Overgard (Mads Mikkelsen) has been stranded in the ARCTIC after his plane crashes and he is desperately waiting for a rescue.

The film goes on for a full 20 minutes with his survival - catching and eating fish; keeping warm; sleeping etc, before something else happens.  A helicopter appears.  When the helicopter that finds him crashes, the pilot is killed and the passenger, a young woman (María Thelma Smáradóttir) severely injured.  Overgard must then decide whether to remain in the relative safety of his camp or to embark on a deadly trek through the unknown for potential salvation.

The dialogue, when there is any is in English but there is much that is to be read between the lines or in this case, between the images.  For one, what happens on screen will reveal what season of the year it is that Overgard had been stranded.  He ice fishes but as the film progresses, the ice has become thicker and the fishing hole becomes frozen.  There is also quite an amount of light during the day.  One can come to the assumption that it is probably late summer and the weather is gradually getting colder.  This explains why he decided to make the difficult trip on foot to find civilization instead of waiting if warmer weather is approaching.

The audience will also ponder the reason he has decided to take the injured young woman to safety instead of just ditching her.  For one, she was in the helicopter that crashed trying to land and perhaps rescue him.  So, he owes it to his conscience to save her.

Films like ARCTIC are usually based on  true events but nothing of this sort is mentioned at the beginning of the film.  One in a way wishes that the film is based on a true story in order to see what a human being in real life might have gone through.  On the other hand, after watching the film, one might be relieved that no one had to go through what the protagonist in the film underwent.  Actor Mikkelsen referred to the film as the most difficult shoot of his career.

There are films that are difficult (to put it mildly) to watch.  Overgard, trekking through the ice and snow in blizzard conditions dragging a home-made stretcher carrying the injured woman creates quite the image.  When Overgard falls through the ice and gets his legs jammed stuck between the rocks, he finds he has no alternative but force his legs free, demanding a lot of physical pain in the process.   Screams help him forget the pain, but this is one scene that will have many an audience shut they eyes or turn away.

ARCTIC avoids the typical happy Hollywood ending and ends with an alternative appropriate ending (that will not be revealed in the review) that should satisfy audiences.  ARCTIC is a difficult but rewarding watch that shows man’s conquest over the elements of cold and ice.

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=N5aD9ppoQIo

COLD PURSUIT (USA 2019) **
Directed by Hans Petter Moland

Back in 2014, out of Norway arrived a taut, intelligent noir thriller from director Hans Petter Moland entitled IN ORDER OF DISAPPEARANCE so called because the father of the boy killed by a drug lord kills of, in revenge, one dealer after another until reaching him.  The film was violent,, absorbing and extremely funny with the father, Nils played by Stellan Skarsgard tossing the bodies one after another wrapped in chicken wire over the waterfalls.  COLD PURSUIT is the Hollywood remake, directed by the same director.

Th protagonist is now called Nels (Liam Neeson), short for Nelson.  Nels Coxman's quiet life as a snowplow driver in a glitzy Rocky Mountains resort town where he was just awarded Citizen of the Year is disrupted when his beloved son is murdered under mysterious circumstances.  His search for the cause turns into a quest for revenge against a psychotic drug lord named Viking ((British Tom Bateman). Using his hunting skills to transform himself from upstanding citizen to cold-blooded vigilante, Coxman sets out to dismantle the cartel, triggering a chain of events leading to a turf war between Viking and a rival boss.

The best segment in IN ORDER OF DISAPPEARANCE, one that I have watched 5 times deserves mention.  In it, the drug lord is seated in his design furniture chair with a hole in its back rest peering through the hole to see his ex-wife angrily entering the house demanding to find the son’s gym bag and questioning his parenting skills.  He gives her a wad of cash saying that she can use it to find a dozen more gym bags and he has an important and difficult job (drugs) to do.  She questions the son’s eating, probably fruit loops to which he screams: “Fruit loops?  Fruit loops?  I am vegan and I make sure my son eats the proper food.”  He keeps screaming at her  but she has left the house.  The ensuing scene has the boy eating fruit loops in the kitchen with his employees.  In the remake, the drug lord, Viking talks about the food that he is feeding the boy.  No mention of fruit loops.  The furniture with the gaping the back rest is no longer there.  The next scene has the boy eating ‘fruit pebbles’.   There go the original’s classic scene.

In the remake the native Indians replace the Serbs as the rival drug gang.  There is more sympathy for the natives than the Serbs, so one up for this change in script by Frank Baldwin.

Both COLD PURSUIT and DISAPPEARANCE ends with the credits of all the players listed on the screen, with the names disappearing one by one in order of disappearance from the film.  This  impressive segment makes no sense in COLD PURSUIT but makes total sense in the original movie.

COLD PURSUIT is almost a scene for scene remake. 

COLD PURSUIT ends up a lazy and uninspired Hollywood remake of the Norwegian IN ORDER OF DISAPPEARANCE that was on my top 10 list of best films of the year in 2014.

Trailer:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0phuNQQ_gHI

 

 

THE GOSPEL OF EUREKA (USA 2018) ***

Directed by Donal Mosher and Michael Palmieri

The film begins with an image of the gay coloured rainbow flag.  Then there is the Passion Play put on by the people of Eureka Springs, Arkansas in the Bible Belt of America.  I first wondered whether I did see the rainbow flag as it would be strange that a film that propagates Christianity and born-gain Christians would also advocate gay rights.  Thankfully, the film, a doc about both Christianity and gay rights proves that these two entities can live happily together ever after.  Thus, it is a feel-good documentary that everyone can learn from - tolerance and the respect for every prison’s rights and beliefs.

Eureka Springs is a small town in Arkansas that is the home of about two thousand residents, as the city welcome sign proudly proclaims.  Yet the town attracts thousands of visitors annually to a Passion Play.  The Passion Play depicts the entirety of the life of Jesus from his birth to his resurrection and his ascension to heaven, which is shown in the climax of the movie, happening at night with the actor playing the Messiah rising up into the sky with the appropriate Christian music and lighting.  It sounds tacky but it works and there is a certain sanctity about it that everyone should respect.

Other parts of the Passion Play are also shown on screen.  The betrayal of Jesus by Judas Iscariot, the crucifixion of Jesus on the cross and the rolling away of the stone of Jesus tomb after Jesus’ burial at Easter.  These scenes are intercut with performances in a local gay club where drag queens strut their stuff much to the amusement of the spectators.  But many of the performers are Christians themselves.  The directors emphasize in these intercutting of scenes that Christianity and the gay lifestyle can reside by each other comfortably.  These drag performances are also lively and fun to watch.

THE GOSPEL OF EUREKA is a simply made doc,  There is not much research required and not much approval and copyrights needed for the doc’s making.  But the carefully placed segments and well thought-up interviews more than make up for the film’s effectiveness.

The best interview on display appears to be taken at random with a driver in a car who resides in Eureka Springs.  He speaks against gays and says that he will never have one invited to his house.  He cannot give any concrete reason for this behaviour except for his sexual discrimination.  He clearly says that the one interviewing him would be welcome to his home, obviously not realizing that he would likely be gay.  This clearly shows prejudice and stereotyping on his part.  The interviewer clearly states that the driver is welcome in his home, implying that he is gay.

The film is set at Christmas when the Passon Play is played.  Spend Christmas with Jesus and the Queens…. goes the film’s ad.  Yes, audiences will have a Merry time at that!

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=A3bMqOo0owc

THE LEGO MOVIE 2: THE SECOND PART (USA/Denmark/Australia 2019) ****
Directed by Mike Mitchell

THE LEGO MOVIE 2’s  story in the human world starts after the events of the first film made in 2014, just as Finn's toddler sister Bianca starts to play with Duplo blocks and tries to take over Bricksburg.  Bianca has grown up.  In the intervening years, Bianca has taken more of the Lego sets into her own room to incorporate into her own creations causing Finn  to get angry with her when he discovers this.   Meanwhile in the Lego story, the Duplo invaders have turned Bricksburg into a post-apocalyptic wasteland named Apocalypseburg, and continue to invade periodically.  On one occasion, Master Builder Emmet Brickowski (Chris Pratt) attempts to broker peace between the citizens and the aliens with a Lego heart, to no avail.  The ordeal has made most of Apocalypseburg's citizens hardened, but Emmet remains upbeat, wanting to move into a dream home with Lucy (Elizabeth Banks).   However, Emmet is troubled by dreams of a pending "Our-mom-ageddon".

The film pays nods to a dozen films including the MAD MAX films, JURASSIC PARK, STAR WARS, INDIANA JONES, BACK TO THE FUTURE and of course all the films the other Lego characters come from like Batman (Will Arnett), Superman (Channing Tatum), Green Lantern (Jonah Hill), Aquaman (Jason Mom) and Wonder Woman (Gal Gadot) among others.  These are the super heroes from the Warner Bros films.

The animation is impressive.  The Lego character also include fabrics and paper, exploring multiple animation styles for each playlet, thus expanding the target audience for girls as well as boys.

Mike Mitchell takes over the director reins from Lord and Miller who directed the original and Chris McKay initially signed to direct the sequel.  Mitchell does an awesome job.  Chris Miller and Phil Lord who stay around this film to write the screenplay.  The story is inventive and clever incorporating tow different worlds and in the concept of good and evil.

THE LEGO MOVIE worked, so there is no need to change the successful formula.  The format of the first film is kept similar including an ending involving human beings coming into the picture with the LEGO characters transforming into inanimate toys.  Will Farrell is again present (though is voice is only heard, shouting words like: “Where are my pants, honey?”)

Is the sequel just as awesome as the first?  It is awesome and just as inventive and hilarious.  The climax where Maya Rudolph appears as the mother is simply non-stop laugh-out loud laughter.  The original famous song “Everything is awesome” is replaced by a sister song “Everything’s Not Awesome” with news owns like “Catchy Song” written by Jon Lajoie who did the songs for the first movie.  The “Catchy Song” has the phrase ‘this song is gonna get stuck inside your head’ and indeed it does  Great songs and soundtrack!

THE LEGO MOVIE 2 is an animated film that should please both kids and adults.  It is tamed down several notches making it more coherent that the terrible LEGO NINJA movie.

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RU2qVosryck

 

THE PRODIGY (USA 2019) ***
Directed by Nicholas McCarthy

THE PRODIGY is a horror slasher/possession film that by nature of the script evokes a lot of thinking - at least from my part.  Part of these will be mentioned in the review.

The plot centres around a child, Miles (Jackson Robert Scott) whose disturbing behaviour signals that an evil, possibly supernatural force possessed him, forcing his parents, Sarah (Taylor Schilling) and John (Peter Mooney) to investigate whether sinister forces are involved.  Miles is a prodigy with exceptional learning ability though socially backward.  The film is clear later on to let the audience know the difference between possession and reincarnation though the effect of both on a horror film is the same - i.e Miles behaves like a different being.

The film begins with three intercut scenes.  One is a woman screaming for help, running out of the woods stopping a car driven by another woman, who stops.  The second is a birth, an early one at that, with the mother in labour.  The scene is intercut with a man in his tool shed, called out by the police and then gunned down in the yard.  The man clasps what seems to be a severed hand.  When the woman gives birth the writhing baby fades into the dying man that was gunned down by the police.   The film then moves on in years when the baby is now grown to a boy of different ages 8 and 10.  It does not take a genius to fit the pieces of the jigsaw together, but it is still fun doing it.  The dead serial killer is reincarnated in the boy.  The parents have to figure out what is happening and who the reincarnating killer is and save the day, and hopefully their son in the process.  A doctor, Arthur Jacobson (played by Canadian Colm Feore) aids in solving the mystery.

The film is supposedly set in the States but shot in Canada.  The actors are a mix of Canadian and American casting.

McCarty’s film is both scary in concept and execution.  One is not knowing what your child will grow up to be.  One scene has the mother wondering the same question, then assured by the physician that the boy is giftedly bright.  The film contains graphic gore and violence - the most disturbing scene involving the boy hitting another with a huge wrench.

Not to mention any details, there is one glitch in the story that I thought evaded the scriptwriter.  But upon closer examination, the script allowed for that discrepancy if one thinks hard enough.  The details will not disclosed for plot twists would have to be revealed.

THE PRODIGY is not without its loose ends (how did the boy get the sharp shears in the car?  How did the boy have the tools to make the camera to spy on his parents), which is forgivable in a low budget horror movie.  Still this is one hell of a thinking horror film, and a satisfying one nevertheless.

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=REXXOGV1IIE

WHAT MEN WANT (USA 2019) **
Directed by Adam Shankman

WHAT MEN WANT is a black woman’s fantasy romantic comedy, a loose remake of the 2000 film WHAT WOMEN WANT.  It is fantasy as the plot follows a woman who, after drinking a potent concoction given by a shaman, gains the ability to hear men's inner thoughts. 

There is nothing new or innovative in this rom-com with a little spin targeting a black female audience.  Last year’s Netflix original NAPPILY HAPPY AFTER saw a Black lady get her man.  The twist here is hair that made up her life - hair standing as a metaphor for her ego.  WHAT MEN WANT’s twist is less subtle, after an incident, the female protagonist can hear men’s thoughts.

So what do men think that is funny?  Apparently not much as the film attests.  Lots of dirty thoughts, gay thoughts and ridiculous thoughts, most of them more outrageous than funny. 

The woman in question is Ali Davis (Taraji P. Henson), a successful sports agent working in a man dominated world of sports.  Her personal agent, who is gay, Brandon (Josh Brener) dreams of becoming a sports agent but Ali wants him all to herself.  When she is passed over to become partner in the firm she questions what she needs to succeed in a man’s wold.  This is when she gains, half hour trough the movie, the ability other men’s thoughts.  This allows her not only to gain the upper hand at work but to engage in sex with several hunks including one who becomes her main romantic interest.

Of all the comedic set-ups, one stands out.  Oddly, the stand out if from Henson’s outrageousness as well as the scene’s.  This is the sex scene between Ali and Will (Aldis Hodge).  Ali plays the dominant sex partner, totally in control and freaking Will out so much so he can hardly breathe (yes, she chokes him) or speak.  Finally after they complete the act, she rolls over to her side to sleep ignoring him and leaving him looking totally flabbergasted.  I would not consider revealing this scene a spoiler as it has to be seen as description does not do the segment justice.

Other parts of the story involving Will’s son, Will and Ali’s misunderstanding and her work among men in the office fall into cliched territory.  The part where Ali makes up with her friends propel the plot but is rather uninventive.

It is interesting to note that Ali possesses this ‘power’ for only half of the movie.  She gains the power only after the 30 minute mark and loses it 30 minutes before the film ends.  Obviously the filmmakers do not think too highly of this niche in the rom-com story.

The film runs close to 2 hours, and that is very long for the typical romantic comedy.  And one feels the length of the running time.  The material is stretched out far too long for too many unfunny parts just to get the narrative flowing and unnecessarily.  Credit to Taraji P. Henson for trying really hard to make the film work.

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HeoLiTirRp4

THE WORLD BEFORE YOUR FEET (USA 2018) ***
Directed by Jeremy Workman

A very simple film likely with no budget about a man who walks around all the time.  Apparently there is more that goes under ones feet i.e. more than what meets the eye.

There are 8,000 miles of sidewalks, paths and roads in the 5 boroughs in New York City, and for the past six years Matt Green has been walking them all–every street, every block, every pedestrian overpass, park lane and hiking trail.  A journey that stretches from the heart of Harlem to the marshes of Staten Island, Matt’s walk is a pursuit of anything that catches his eye, be it a national landmark or a humble manhole cover.  Director Jeremy Workman in the doc executively produced by actor Jesse Eisenberg, accompanies Matt as he walks towards completing his goal through neighbourhoods rarely seen onscreen, chronicling the unusual daily routine of an exceptionally curious young man.

This is a very intriguing documentary that could be used as a textbook example of documentary filmmaking.  Find an interesting subject, not necessarily famous or one that would change the world - just one that might let audiences look at life differently.  Explain the background.  Describe his task and the reason behind his choice of this task.  Interview people that the subject knows or has encountered.  Keep the film lively with music, keen observations  or cinematography while putting a few lines of wisdom on the voiceover.

Matt’s background is civil engineering.  Matt is fed up working a desk job in a cubicle and decides to walk the world or rather NYC.  He had already walked across the U.S. from east to west at this time.  Matt sustains his endeavour through couch-surfing, cat-sitting and a $15 per day budget. He’s not sure exactly why he’s doing it, only knowing that there’s no other way he’d rather spend his days.

The reason?  Matt confesses he likes being in a place while being able to move on at the same time.  Walking allows him to enjoy pleasures that one will miss if travelling in a car - like being in a field of flowers.  Director Workman interviews strangers Matt meets on the way.  These strangers, including kids pose questions like: “Why walk?”, “What is the purpose?”  “How far have you walked?”  “How far do you have to go?”  “How long have you being doing this walk?’

Among the more interesting parts of the walk include the part on lower Manhattan where Mark encounters a graveyard in the midst of skyscrapers or curved narrower streets.  Also intriguing are the numerous 9/11 memorials he encounters during the walk near the ex-Twin Towers neighbourhood.

Director Workman has surprises up his sleeve, around every corner walked byMatt.  He reveals Matt to be an intriguing person.  Matt is smart- after all he is a qualified engineer.  Over time Matt has amasses an encyclopedia of surprising New York trivia and underground history, informed by his own research and conversations with the amused but supportive New Yorkers he encounters along the way.   He has a blog with visitors daily (though not that many) on his site.  Besides the sites, monuments and simple streets visible on screen that Matt has visited, it is also the people he crosses that makes the journey. 

The one lesson that can be taken from this doc are the surprises life offers daily in the ordinary.  One can find life’s beauty in ones own city as well as travelling thousands of miles away.  A simple tale simply but wonderfully told.

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=j8O-u8SiOwc

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