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This Week's Film Reviews (Nov 22, 2019)

19 Nov 2019

Heavyweight FROZEN 2 opens this week.  Two dramas WAVES and THE REPORT make their debut if drama is your cup of tea. 

And two films starring busy Adam Driver open this week.

Two festivals also start their run this week - CineFranco (a celebration of French film) and Blood in the Snow (BITS) film festival.

FILM REVIEWS:

ATLANTIQUE (ATLANTICS) (France/Senegal/Belgium 2019) ***
Directed by Mati Diop

Fleeing across the sea from Africa as refugees to Spain.  Things are hard for the young as director Diop tackles current problems like unemployment, abuse of local workers (unpaid wages by the exploiting rich) and arranged marriages. 

The protagonist is a young girl who is in love with a local but forced to marry a rich man she does not love.  Trouble is that the one she loves takes off in a raft for Spain leaving her to her own devices.  Director Diop paints a bleak bleak future for everyone.  The addition of the supernatural - the dead of the exploited workers that return from their graves does not really work into the story.  Neither does the sick cop who threatens the young bride for burning her groom’s bed on the wedding night.  But the film came away wit a Grand Prix Winner at Cannes.

Clip: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SZuaXBQqFC4

 

FROZEN 2 (USA 2019) ***
Directed by Chris Buck and Jennifer Lee

After the phenomenal billion dollar success of 2013 FROZEN, directors Chris Buck and Jennifer Lee return with their sequel that will surely make more money for the already wealthy company Disney. 

The origin FROZEN was much well loved not only for its memorial musical songs but an incredible story - the type typically found in classic fairy tales.  The story involves two close sisters, princesses, Elsa and Anna, Elsa given ice magical powers that she is unable to control.  It is beneficial to recall the story of the first.  Though not necessary, the story of FROZEN II will make more sense thus enhancing ones entertainment.  So, before venturing to see number 2,  do a little homework and read on the original story.  Most of the characters in the original including the much beloved Olaf, the snowman and Sven the reindeer are present, so fans should not be disappointed.  Again, magic is the key and saving the Kingdom Arendelle is the princesses’ quest.

When the film opens, it is three years after the events of the first film.  Elsa (Idina Menzel) starts to hear a strange sound from the north calling her.  Together with her sister Anna (Kristen Bell), Kristoff (Jonathan Groff), Olaf (Josh Gad) and Sven , they embark on a new journey beyond their homeland of the Kingdom of Arendelle in order to discover the origin of Elsa's magical powers and thus save their kingdom.

Kristoff is the iceman who plays Anna’s boyfriend, providing the romantic element of the story.  The sister-sister antics which made the original so enchanting is ever present in this one with the two girls always looking after each other.  Thus, the film gets a bit too girly for the less fairer sex who must put up with sone patience.  It is good to note that the target audience is the female and not the male, so expect more Kleenex-type issues.  The songs are present but occasionally not well spaced out - the first two songs appear too close to each other leading to a a rather slow start for the film.  The humour is only slight at best, provided by Olaf, but nothing extremely goofy or funny. 

FROZEN 2 is heavy plodding while the original is heavy plotting.

Song-wise, no song in FROZEN 2 can match the famous “Let It Go”  of the original, though not for want of trying.  Each character in FROZEN 2 appear to have a song of their own from Elsa’s “Into the Unknown” to Olaf “When I Get Older” to  Anna’s “The Next Right Thing” and lastly to Kristoff’s “Lost in the Woods”.

Directors Lee and Buck keep to the successful formula of the first in terms of mood, atmosphere and  animation effects.  But the film, though visually stunning lacks the innovation and fresh ideas of the original thus leaving it, sorry for the pun, frozen in its delivery.

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bwzLiQZDw2I

THE DIVINE FURY (South Korea 2019) ***

Directed by Joo-hwan Kim (Jason)

From both South Korea comes a film combining two genres - MMA action and horror exorcism.  The story can be summed up in one line - an MMA figure helps an exorcist fight evil.  Sounds cheesy and the film is cheesy, but that does not mean it is not entertaining.  Given what it is, THE DIVINE FURY delivers action in a gothic (and Asian) setting.

After losing his father at a young age in a terrible accident, Yong-hu (Seo-joon Park) abandons his Christian faith and chooses to only believe in himself.  Now as an adult, Yong-hu is a champion fighter and has everything he has ever wanted, that is until mysterious wounds appear in the palms (some scary special effects here) of his hands. He solicits help from a local priest Father Ahn (Sung-ki Ahn), hoping the priest can help relieve him of the painful markings only to find himself in the middle of a dangerous fight against otherworldly evil forces seeking to wreak havoc on the human world.

The film runs just over two hours, allowing director/writer Kim not to rush things and tell his story.  The film opens with Yong-hu as a boy.  He has already lost his mother.  In church with his father, he has expressed doubts of his faith.  When the father dies in an accident involving a sobriety check on drunk driving, (his dad is a cop), Yong-hu blames God for it.  The film moves forward in time when Yong-hu is now all grown and a MMA fighter.  He takes out his anger with God on his opponent.

Director Km plants a few seeds of audience anticipation at the film’s start.  When Yong-hu’s father stops the car, the driver has red laser eyes signifying evil.  The tattoo on Yong-yu’s MMA opponent also bears some resemblance to evil.

Sung-ki Ahn who plays Father Ahn is a famous Korean actor who has won many international awards.  Park is also a handsome, attractive actor who should attract the younger crowd.

The film’s special effects especially the make-up are commendable.  The film is not over-violent and most of the violence is implied, which works better.  The fights are well choreographed - e.g. MMA vs. possessed child climbing on walls and ceiling.  For a South Korean exorcism film, there are enough references and quotes from the Bible like the demon crying out: “We are Legion”, from the Gospel of St. Mark.

The film is released in DVD and BluRay formats this past week (Tuesday) from Well Go USA Entertainment.  The DVD comes complete with an English version of the film, the making of the film, the trailer (as well as trailers of other titles) and of course, the original version of the film.  THE DIVINE FURY is well worth a look.  And if you liked THE DIVINE FURY Father Ahn will be back in the next movie called THE GREEN EXORCIST.

Trailer: https://ca.video.search.yahoo.com/yhs/search?fr=yhs-dcola-005&hsimp=yhs-005&hspart=dcola&p=divine+fury+trailer#id=1&vid=22622913c96e33584855de031fa692e8&action=click

THE REPORT (USA 2019) ****
Directed by Scott Z. Burns

THE REPORT is about the alleged report which exposes the CIA for their use of torture on suspected terrorists.  Most of what has been going on is already well known, including the inhuman torture methods as these have since been publicized following the Oscar Winner for Best Documentary, Alex Gibney’s TAXI TO THE DARK SIDE.

Gibney’s film examines the U.S. policy on torture and interrogation, specifically the CIA's use of torture and their research into sensory deprivation. The CIA re-terms the word torture with the phrase enhanced interrogation.  The film includes discussions against the use of torture by political and military opponents, as well as the defense of such methods; attempts by Congress to uphold the standards of theGeneva Convention forbidding torture; and popularization of the use of torture techniques in TV series such as 24. 

Burn’s film is highly different and employs actors to re-enact real life characters in the true story.  THE REPORT plays as a political thriller that explores matters of vital importance to the present. THE REPORT takes a deep dive into recent revelations that have lost none of their capacity to shock and appall.

Dan Jones (Adam Driver) is the man assigned to research and submit a report.  He is asked twice during the movie. “Did you sleep?” to which he answers.  “I used  to but it gets in the way of my work.”  Jones, a staff member of the US Select Committee on Intelligence, is tasked with helming a Senate investigative report into the CIA's use of torture after 9/11.  Some $80 million was spent; 119 detainees were interrogated. Hundreds of hours of recordings of those interrogations were destroyed. What happened? Who is accountable? Faced with one seemingly insurmountable obstacle after another, Jones spent half a decade finding out.  The CIA expected Jones to do the study , uncover a few facts but never expected Jones to go through all the extreme lengths to find out the truth and to uncover it to the American people.

Burns elicits excellent performances from his entire cast.   Adam Driver and Annette Bening both deliver award winning performances.  One cannot imagine anyone else playing those two roles.

Some might complain about the film’s talkiness.  It is talky but that is not necessarily a bad thing.  The dialogue from the script, also written by Burns is sharp and witty, and able to carry ones attention throughout the film.  A few of the torture scenes are re-enacted to emphasize the terrible use of torture by the CIA.

Everybody knows the ineffectiveness of torture as a interrogation tool to get information from the enemy.  Which is basically the tortured person saying anything to get the torture to stop.  Most of the information surrendered are either information the U.S. already knows or lies.  The script offers little debate on the matter, as the fact is already well known and stablished inTAXI TO THE DARK SIDE.  The REPORT is an excellent companion piece to that film film and succeeds, despite all the bad stuff the American CIA has done, in extolling the United States as a democracy who can call out its bad people.  If only they would made these people pay for their crimes.

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VHmn9U3c0zA

MARRIAGE STORY (USA 2019) ****
Directed by Noah Baumbach

The master of dysfunctional dramas, Noah Baumbach’s (THE SQUID AND THE WHALE, THE MEYEROWITZ STORIES) latest outing is a break-up story of two people still very much in love.  This premise has made wonderful films in the past such as Paul Mazursky’s 1973 BLUME IN LOVE where George Segal spends the whole film wooing his ex-wife.  MARRIAGE STORY tells both points of view of the love an break up of Nicole (Scarlett Johansson) and Charlie (Adam Driver).  The story takes most often Charlie’s side.  They wish to separate on friendly times but things get ugly when they hire lawyers (Ray Liotta and Laura Dern) to what they think might easy the breakup process.  A subplot involving child custody brings to mind Robert Benton’s 1979 KRAMER V.S. KRAMER.  Director Baumbach reveals both the heartbreak and glory of love in a very dramatic and sensitive portrait aided by excellent performances by Johansson and Driver.  But it is Driver who steals the show especially in the confrontation seen that might just win him the Best Actor Oscar.  An additional bonus is the excellent written and executed court scene where their two lawyers battle it out.

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-y1HhAlAOTs

 

WAVES (USA 2019) **
Directed byTrey Edward Shults

WAVES unfolds the drama of a black family of a son trying to connect with his strict father.  It is surprisingly and to the director’s credit that he is white and one would never expect such an emotional tale of black folk be told by none other than non-black folk.

Cracks begin to show in the perfect façade of a young athlete, Tyler’s (Kevin Harrison Jr.) life.  Tyler is a talented wrestler living in a  comfy wealthy residence courtesy of his business oriented father.  He and his sister live wth him and their step-mother after their biological mum overdosed.  But the future is still bright.  Tyler has everything he needs: a wealthy family to support him, a spot on the high-school wrestling team, and a girlfriend (Alexa Demie) he's head over heels in love with.  Committed to greatness and under intense scrutiny from his father (Sterling K. Brown), Tyler spends his mornings and nights training. But when pushed to the limit, life changes dramatically.

Tyler sustains a shoulder injury forcing him to quit wrestling.  He gets his girlfriend pregnant.  He wishes the baby aborted but she refuses resulting in a huge fight.  It does not help that dad is a real bully but sustains his actions by believing he is doing good.  “I am doing this not because I want to…. but because I have to….”  chastising Tyler.

To the film’s credit, Shults’s film is filled with such visual splendours like the colourful night run through the lawn sprinklers during one night scene, with rainbows visible in the images.  There is one scene with the couple with the camera at chest level that looks like Shults is paying homage to MOONLIGHT.  The scenes in the river with the fish are also stunningly shot.  His soundtrack is occasionally loud and boisterous, obviously made so to be annoying and to display Tyler’s state of mind - but subtlety could also be practiced.  Warning: those susceptible to headaches be best to stay away rom this movie where audibility is set several notches up, and too often in the film.

Shults’s film is a wild ride that initially takes you on and not let you get off.

The message of the film, among other things can be summed up with the statement: “The road to hell is paved with Good Intentions”.  Clearly the patriarch of the family had done what he had though was best, all full of good intentions.  But things do not always turn out the way they should and things can quickly go awry.  Ironically, the same can be said of Shults’s over long 135-minute film.  The film could have been cut 30 minutes instead of  propelling on with he father’s redemption process.  The message has already gone through, hard and clear and there is no need to haul the audience into the redemption process.  Also the switch from the main character from son to daughter disorientates the audiences a great deal.  Indeed, the road to a failed movie is also paved with similar good intentions.
Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=V5z3cr8AB5g

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