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This Week's Film Reviews (Oct 4, 2019)

BEST FILMS PLAYING:

Human Nature

Roger Waters US + THEM

The Laundromat

Sometimes Always Maybe

Where's my Roy Cohn?

FILM REVIEWS:

FIRST LOVE (HATSUKOI) (JAPAN/UK 2019) **
Directed by Takashi Miike

A boxer, Leo who has just lost an important bout saves a kidnapped drug addict on the street end up as crossfire between two drug gangs one Chinese and the other Japanese.  An undercover cop also comes into the picture.  All this is an excuse for lots of gore and blood letting violence found in a typical Yakashi Miike (13 ASSASSINS, ICHI THE KILLER) movie.  The jokes are fierce and plentiful and totally irrelevant.  For example, during a shoot out, a thug suddenly stops running screaming: “I got a leg cramp!” or during a boxing match, a big knockout punch sees the opponent’s head rolling into the street. The whole exercise is totally silly, loud, annoying and unless one is a Miike fan - like the guy sitting beside me laughing his head off, non-stop - the entire film is a waste of time. 

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0XBBGjUf63E

HUMAN NATURE (USA 2019) ***1/2
Directed by Adam Bolt

This documentary  on the advancements of DNA technology begins with a speech by an expert on the topic at the Californian Institute of Technology waning that advancements of DNA could lead to either disaster or positive changes.   The ad for the film claims it to be the biggest tech revolution of the 21st Century and it isn’t digital, it’s biological. 

The film goes on to tell the story of one of the most important scientific discoveries of the 21st century - CRISPR, a genome engineering tool that allows to change certain parts of the DNA, and provides a provocative exploration of the potential applications and limitations of this tool.  

Directed by Emmy Award winner Adam Bolt, HUMAN NATURE has successfully premiered at SXSW Film Festival and was further featured as the official selection at multiple film festivals across the world, including Hot Docs. 

The film is told in Chapters.  Chapter 2 itself called CRISPR and Chapter 3 called ‘The Gene Machine’.

Director Bolt’s documentary has this simple aim - to tell the story.  But in order to do so, Bolt has to educate his audience on CRISPR and CAS9 (pronounced KAST 9).  What these are is explained (as described by Wikipedia) below;

CRISPR is a family of DNA sequences found within the genomes of prokaryotic organisms such as bacteria and archaea. These sequences are derived from DNA fragments of bacteriophages that have previously infected the prokaryote and are used to detect and destroy DNA from similar phages during subsequent infections.  Hence these sequences play a key role in the antiviral (i.e. anti-phage) defense system of prokaryotes.

Cas9 (or "CRISPR-associated protein 9") is an enzyme that uses CRISPR sequences as a guide to recognize and cleave specific strands of DNA that are complementary to the CRISPR sequence. Cas9 enzymes together with CRISPR sequences form the basis of a technology known as CRISPR-Cas9 that can be used to edit genes within organisms. This editing process has a wide variety of applications including basic biological research, development of biotechnology products, and treatment of diseases.

It is not an easy task to understand the last 2 paragraphs or to understand what Bolt’s microbiologists in the film are explaining either.  But Bolt tries hard, credit to him, using everyday English  and animation to illustrate and simplify.  In the end, it is not really necessary to understand the dynamics but how it works.  Bolt also uses an application of it with sickle cell cancer to bring his story down to earth.

Bolt goes to the extreme of using the analogy of the manufacture of the car by the Ford Motor company with genome engineering, even intercutting the latter with cars coming off the auto assembly plant.

But the doc is not without its feel good moments.  In an inspirational segment, Chinese eGenetics engineers describe enthusiastically how they can use pig cells to do the equivalent of organ donors.  With feel good also comes the horror.  Bolt informs that with one gene, it could be made available to that people could for example, be altered to survive with only 4 hours of sleep or given more muscular strength.   The ethical question is whether human beings want to go there.

HUMAN NATURE is educational though at times tough to understand film, but also a provocative and study on an urgent subject that will change the course of the human race.

Trailer: https://vimeo.com/321655980

THE LAUNDROMAT (USA 2019) ***1/2

Directed by Steven Soderbergh

In 1973, Matthew Cooke made a smart little doc comedy called HOW TO MAKE MONEY SELLING DRUGS which instructed the audience how to do so in chapters humorously.  Veteran director Steven Soderbergh follows the identical format in which he explains how money laundering is done by ‘shell’ companies, again humorously in chapters renamed as secrets.  Secret #1: How the meek are screwed.  Secret #2: It’s Only Shells etc.  Each vignette stands for a skit itself often starring different actors..  The film is based once Panama Papers adapted to the screen from Pulitzer Prize–winning investigative journalist Jake Bernstein's Secrecy World by frequent Soderbergh collaborator Scott Z. Burns.  This is a story that needs to be told and who else but Meryl Streep to take up the cause.  She is only in a few vignettes with Gary Oldman stealing the show.  Director Soderbergh keeps its smart and funny in this educational entertaining film.

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wuBRcfe4bSo

  

ROBBERY (Canada 2018) ***1/2
Directed by Corey Stanton

There is a very sad and moving moment at the start of ROBBERY that sets the tone of this film involving a robbery.  As the father in the driver’s seat of a car asks the passenger beside him: “Who are you?”  The reply is: “I am your son, dad.”   Everyone has or will go through the time when a parent goes through dementia.  This is a sad and real problem which ROBBERY bravely examines in this indie-Canadian feature.

When his criminal father, Frank (veteran actor Art Hindle who has been in countless TV series and films including classics like PORKY’S and BLACK CHRISTMAS) is diagnosed with dementia, a young thief, Robbie (Jeremy Ferdman) plans a series of reckless heists in order to battle the disease and pay for his medication.

The film shifts between a crime film and family drama with some comedy thrown in for good measure.  The film unfolds in Chapters - 3 of them in total.  The first is entitled ‘Robin Hood’, the second “An Awful Disease” since the dementia is one though the awful disease being referred to is Robbie’s gambling addiction.

The script, written by Stanton himself contains some solid moving lines.  It also contains the concept of a 5-minute memory span that works well into a suspenseful plot though in reality (there) is no such thing.  Frank can only remember 5-minutes at a time, so when he is on a job, it must take no longer than 5 minutes.  (In truth, if one can remember 5 minutes at a time, these 5 minutes can be linked to another 5 minutes, meaning that the 5 minutes can last a much longer time span.)

Once can tell Stanton is having a field day writing the Roxanne (Jennifer Dale) scene, the one that ends with Robbie’s fingers smashed.  Dale laps up the lines in the film’s best scene, to be taken tongue-in-cheek, obviously.  The story takes a violent twist after.

The film is not without humour, or at least not without Stanton’s warped sense of it.  After a character’s speech on setting one goal after another so that in essence that becomes living effectively the rest of ones life,  Robbie decides his next step in life is to kidnap a dog with the help of his dementia-ridden father.

Superlative performances are elicited by Stanton particularly from Hingle, Dale and relative newcomer Ferdman in the title role.  Ferdman who is a real “hottie’ has been in a few TV series and in a very minor role in the Jessie Owens movie RACE.

ROBBERY tries to be too smart for its own good leading to an over-stylish but confusing ending.

Because of its quirkiness, ROBBERY is perhaps an ideal film to be selected at the After Dark Film Festival where it premiered in October last year.  ROBBERY is clearly an above-average Canadian indie with a twisted sensibility making it worth a look.

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YTT_XC3TSj8

ROGER WATERS US + THEM (USA 2019) ****
Directed by Sean Evans and Roger Waters

The Us + Them Tour was a concert tour by Roger Waters, formerly of Pink Floyd.  The tour visited the United States, Canada, New Zealand, Australia and countries in Europe and Latin America, showcasing songs from Waters' career with Pink Floyd and from his most recent album as a solo artist, Is This the Life We Really Want? It opened on 26 May 2017 in Kansas City, Missouri and ended on 9 December 2018 in Monterrey, Mexico.

Roger Waters, now at the age of 76, co-founder, creative force and songwriter behind Pink Floyd, presents his highly anticipated film, ROGER WATERS US + THEM, featuring state-of- the-art visual production and breath-taking sound in this unmissable cinema event.  Filmed in Amsterdam on the European leg of his 2017 – 2018 Us + Them tour which saw Waters perform to over two million people worldwide, the film features songs from his legendary Pink Floyd albums (The Dark Side of the Moon, The Wall, Animals, Wish You Were Here) and from his last album, Is This The Life We Really Want?  Waters collaborates once more with Sean Evans, visionary director of the highly acclaimed movie, Roger Waters The Wall, to deliver this creatively pioneering film that inspires with its powerful music and message of human rights, liberty and love.

The concert film comes with a message.  Unlike Bruce Springsteen’s WESTERN STARS which is too preachy, Roger Water’s film takes the preaching down several notches.  The message of everyone are brothers and sisters comes across loud and clear - emphasized by the lyrics of many of the songs performed.  The film is bookended by an image on a mother sitting on a mound of sand on a beach looking out into the ocean.  A child is with her.  The image is called ‘The last Refugee’ in the closing credits and shows Waters’s fight for this cause.  There are also other disturbing images intercut with the concept, footage of refugees overcrowded into a road sailing towards  what they believe is freedom and a better life.

The best song performed is “The Wall”  which is enough to move any audience.  The song is accompanied bu children of many races n orange jumpsuits on stage during the performance.  The visuals seen on the gigantic screen behind the stage are well thought-of and executed, much the vision of Sean Evans.

The camera intercuts the performances with the reactions of the spectators many of whom know the lyrics of entire songs by heart.

The entire concert film is not only entertaining but a very moving experience.  This is the next best thing to attending the concert - without the hassle of having to deal with the crowds.

This film will inevitable be compared to Springsteen’s WESTERN STARS.  Roger Waters’s film wins hands down.  Waters works also more layered and a better listen - my view, (sorry Springsteen fans.)

Stay for the closing credits.  The credits list all the performers on stage as well as those behind the scenes.  The short entitled “A Fleeting Glimpse” comes after as a bonus.

Trailer: https://afrotoronto.com/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=1901&catid=67

SOMETIMES ALWAYS NEVER (UK 2019) ****
Directed by Carl Hunter 

One has to love the ambiguous title SOMETIMES ALWAYS NEVER.  The title is as smart as its quirky script, its occasionally brilliant dialogue and the crazy way it brings the game of scrabble into the story.  But the title is not as innocent as it seems.  The protagonist is a tailor and the 3 words have significant meaning with reference to a suit.  The title refers to the Sometimes, Always, Never Three-Button Rule. When wearing a suit with three buttons a man should sometimes button the top button, depending on the style of the suit, always button the middle button, and never button the bottom button.

Everyone loves a good story.  SOMETIMES ALWAYS MAYBE has one of the best premises ever thought of.  If that is not enough, there is a twist in the plot that no one would ever predict.  Director Hunter is also playful enough (there is also a splash of colour, particularly red) to go with the material as evident at the start of the film.  Some animation is inserted to put some bite into the storytelling.

Firstly, scrabble has everything to do with the story.  Alan (Golden Globe Winner Bill Nighy) is a stylish tailor with moves as sharp as his suits.  He has spent years searching tirelessly for his missing son Michael (Sam Riley) who stormed out over a game of scrabble. With a body to identify and his family torn apart, Alan must repair the relationship with his youngest son Peter and solve the mystery of an online player who he thinks could be Michael, so he can finally move on and reunite his family.  In short, it is about a lonely man trying to gain the love lost of his missing son.  Alan is also a scrabble pro.

My favourite dialogue in the script is the spill on the reason there is no marmite in Canada.  This has significant meaning for me as I grew up on it and bovril in Singapore but never realized the fact about marmite being banned by the government in Canada for its refusal to disclose a secret ingredient.  Such are the  little pleasures in the film.

Actor Nighy is always good in all his performances, again adding dignity in the role of a distraught old man.  Jenny Agutter plays Margaret, always a delight to watch, having seen her when she was much, much younger in films like THE RAILWAY CHILDREN and LOGAN’S RUN.

Though the film has a protagonist in his senior years about to settle the one mystery in his life, the story has universal appeal as it coves other issues like family relationships and senior romancing while being current with day to day stuff like gaming and cell phones.

Does Alan find his missing son in the end?  Alan does in a different way.  Frank Cottrell Boyce (MILLIONS, CODE 46, GOODBYE CHRISTOPHER ROBIN) gets my vote for most original script of the year.

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=22R-JQRov_U

WHERE’S MY ROY COHN? (USA 2019) ***1/2

Directed by Matt Tynmauer

Before the film title WHERE’S MY ROY COHN? first appears on the screen, the audience is given a quick introduction of the infamous lawyer.  He loves to fight power, he is a caged animal, he loves a good fight etc.  But director Tynmauer ensures that his audience knows of the evil that Cohn has amassed in his career.  Great villains usually make for good movies,
and Matt Tyrnauer certainly has a doozy in Roy Cohn.  The question is whether Tynmauer will create some sympathy for this supposedly evil person.

In Cohn’s own word as captured unarchive footage: “I would do anything to get my client to win.”  And the voiceover goes on to say that he did not care what the law is, but who the judge would be.

The doc unfolds in (almost) chronological order from the time he was born in the U.S. to his rise to fame as counsel to McCarthy and to become the all-powerful lawyer.  Firstly, director Tynmauer makes it interesting by starting on Cohn’s mother.   She was the ugliest girl on the block who no man wanted to marry.  From a clever boy at school, Roy Cohn is shown to grow to become the ruthless lawyer/political power broker whose 28-year career ranged from serving as chief counsel to Senator Joseph McCarthy's anti-communist witch hunt to molding the career a young real estate developer named Donald Trump.

  In the ’50s, Cohn formulated his playbook, ushering in a paranoid style of American politics.  Today it’s resurfaced – with scare tactics, divisive rhetoric, and aggressions against the vulnerable.
Cohn had many celebrity friends like Andy Warhol, Aristotle Onassis and George Steinbrenner.  He was a regular at Studio 54, often accompanied by his male lovers, while adamantly denying his homosexuality to everyone.  The portion of the film revealing Cohn’s homosexuality is the most intriguing and entertaining.  It is as if God made him gay to punish him.  To make matters worse, Cohn was ugly and widely believed to have undergone plastic surgery to  having sex with a different boy every day, often with someone poor.  But he had a good slim body, doing his regimental 200 sit-ups daily.

  Some of Cohn’s best-known exploits include: spearheading J. Edgar Hoover and McCarthy’s crusade against homosexuals, helping pave Ronald Reagan’s path to the oval office, torpedoing Geraldine Ferraro’s historic bid for the vice presidency, keeping many American
mafiosos out of jail and looting the bank accounts of his legal clients.

  Mixing archival footage (including journalist Ken Auletta’s ’70s audio interview with Cohn, never heard by the public before) and contemporary interviews (cousins, an ex-boyfriend, gossip columnist Liz Smith, now fallen politico Roger Stone et al.), the film also offers clues to his behaviour (a doting mother, insecurities about his looks).  

The film ends with the climax of Cohn going out fighting to the very end.  Disbarred in 1986, he went out defiantly, dying five weeks later at age 59, never admitting that he had AIDS.  Cohn is the true real life villain everyone loves to hate.

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lTrHL7Vo_SQ

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