This Week's Film Reviews (Jan 31, 2020)

25 Jan 2020

A few solid films opne this week, among them THE TRAITOR, a hit from Cannes  The Oscar Nominated shorts also open at the TIFF Bell Lghtbox (docs, live-action and animated).  Lots to see!




GRETEL AND HANSEL (Ireland/Canada/USA 2020) ***
Directed by Osgood (Oz) Perkins

GRETEL AND HANSEL is a new horror thriller based on the fairy tale of Hansel and Gretel by The Brothers Grimm.  A few changes have been modified to the story but the overall effect is thankfully still as chilly.  This grim fairy tale haunted me as a child.  But the film plays more for adults.  This adult horror has scenes that are definitely too shocking for children, the most notable of these being Gretel’s father inserting a red hot poker into his mouth.  The film is called GRETEL AND HANSEL because the story focuses more on the elder sister, Gretel.  The relationship between brother and sister is explored to greater detail making the story more personable.  Gretel is the guardian and already aware of subjects like sex that her little brother knows nothing about.

The film is set in a distant fairy tale like countryside.  A young girl by the name of Gretel (Sophia Lillis) leads her younger brother, Hansel (Samuel Leakey) into the woods in a desperate search for food and work, when they stumble upon something sinister in the form of a witch.

Being an Irish co-production, the characters in the film all speak with an Irish accent.  Gretel’s varies between Irish and her American accent (the actress Lillis playing her is from Brooklyn) when the American one leaks out.  All the other actors are from various Commonwealth countries including Canada, South Africa, Australia and Britain and clearly none from Ireland.  The Irish accents sound suitably authentic, nevertheless.

Among the changes made in the story is the introduction of the character of the hunter (Charles Babalola) and the old man at the film start who wishes to buy Gretel, asking whether she is still ‘intact’.  An amusing scene has her explain to Hansel why she denied work there.  The story follows its course, but it is the first half of the film that is the more interesting.

The film has a strong voiceover that keeps the atmosphere of the film in check.  This is particularly effective in the beginning where the audience hears and therefore form their opinion and imagination of the circumstances of the story.  An illness has plagued the land and Gretel is vey ill, about to die.  The father gives her to the Darkness that heals her, giving her also the power to see into the future.  Most people do not know what evil lies ahead, so this gift is not appreciated.  Gretel is attributed to the father’s death and therefore she is banished into the woods by her mother.  Brother Hansel suddenly appears with her in the film, which breaks the story’s continuity.  How did he suddenly come about?  It is a bit confusing who is narrating the story - whether it is Gretel, her mother or the witch?

The best thing about the film is the careful created atmosphere of the film. The woods looks as evil as evil can be depicted.  The narration helps create the mood as well.  Director Perkins does not resort to any cheap scares typically found in cheesy horror flicks.  This is what makes GRETEL AND HANSEL stand out as a solid horror movie.  The film is definitely worth a look.

Trailer: https://www.imdb.com/video/vi1141620505?playlistId=tt9086228&ref_=tt_ov_vi


MAN PROPOSES, GOD DISPOSES (Canada/Poland/Brazil 2017) ***1/2

Directed by Daniel Leo

Montreal photographer Daniel Leo turned filmmaker’s debut MAN PROPOSES, GOD DISPOSES is an impressive feature that takes a look at where life can lead one.

The director is Canadian, the male character Polish who moves to Brazil to be with the mother of his child.  The film is thus a Canadian/Polish/Brazilian co-production.

The film begins with a shot of a European city with buildings and a hotel that looks just like Wes Anderson’s  GRAND BUDAPEST HOTEL.  The country turns out to be Poland, with Director’s shooting also reminds one of Anderson’s camera shots, which makes one wonder if Leo has intentionally paid homage to Anderson.  The film then settles on two figures on the run.  Upon closer look, the two turn out to be running from the cops, which one can assume is due to some crime that ha taken place.  Soon, the film eventually settles on one of the men.

Karol’s (Mateusz Nedza ) life in Poland is going nowhere fast. Without a job and living at home with his mother and sister, he engages in small organized crime during the day and goes clubbing all night. Then one day he receives a phone call from Brazil that changes his life - a one-night stand with a visiting Brazilian tourist named Bruna (Bruna Massarelli) has resulted in a surprise pregnancy. As someone who grew up with an absent father, the choice for Karol is clear, and he quickly leaves Poland for São Paulo. Bruna, however, isn't necessarily pleased by Karol's sudden appearance. Dealing with an unexpected pregnancy while Brazil is on the edge of political chaos means she has no patience for her new couch surfer's immaturity. But as Karol and Bruna slowly open up to each other, they realize how much they each need human connection. Neither one of them, however, can be prepared for what fate has in store. 

Leo's characters are as quirky as those typically found in Anderson’s films.  It is neat to see that little signals in Leo’s film indicating incidents about to unfold.  One has the lead character, Karel sitting by a wall with the words: “Everything is going to be all right.”   Another scene where Karel breaks six eggs in a pan, making breakfast - that eventually reveals that he is living with his sister and mother.  Karel has fathered a child.  One can only hope God does not dispose of the child, as the title hints.

The intriguing fact about Leo’s film is that one cannot tell where he leading his audience.  The film has a simple plot that is never short of surprises.  In the first half of the film, the setting is Poland before moving onto Brazil.

MAN PROPOSES, GOD DISPOSES has screened at 14 international film festivals and received a special jury mention for Best Canadian Feature at the Calgary International Film Festival (2017) and won the Best Cinematography award at Italy’s Ischia Film Festival (2018).  It is definitely a film worth a look for what this new director has to offer.

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Mk1gtKdavV8

ROSIE (Ireland 2018) ***

Directed by Paddy Breathnach

Paddy Breathnach directs this no-nonsense social family drama based on the script by Roddy Doyle who also serves as executive director for the film.  The film set in Dublin, was shot entirely in Ireland with the aid of the Irish Film Board.   This is truly an Irish film, complete with Irish accent from all the actors.

ROSIE is a film about a mother named Rosie (Sarah Greene).  Rosie has 4 children and is with who supposedly is her husband, John Paul (Moe Dunford).  John Paul works hard as kitchen help in a restaurant.  The family is in trouble.  The family has nowhere to go as they have been moved out by the landlord.  They are seeking a permanent place to live, but need a place to stay also in the mean time, for a few days.  When the film opens Rosie is in the car with her children, calling from a list, hotels that have a room for her family of 6.

There is a lot of repetition in the film.  It requires patience to watch Rosie do the same thing again and again.  Her lines of dialogue on the phone: “Hiya!  I am looking for a room.  A family room.  Yes, a City Council Credit Card!  One , two, a few days will do.  OK, Thanks.”  These are her lines when she calls one by one, from the list of lodgings given to her, as she is rejected one after the other.  The lines are repeated so many times that one can memorize the lines and know what Rosie is going to say time and again.

There is nothing really wrong with the small dramatic film ROSIE.  The trouble is that it is a hard watch, especially seeing how Rosie endures all the hardships of motherhood.  She has to take care of her 4 children, the younger ones being terribly annoying while trying to find temporary lodging in the mean time.   It is not really feel-good entertainment and it will be a hard sell for audiences to watch a film on this subject. 

The question arises why Rosie does not have her family stay with relatives.The point is brought up.  Her brother’s wife is expecting.  So far, he is already looking after the family’s household pet.  Rosie and/or mother are not getting along.  Rosie’s mum has not forgiven her for saying and things about her dad.

As Rosie desperately tries to find housing, the magic question comes to mind.  How is the love between Rosie and her husband coming along under this extreme trial?  It is a question that needs be answered and is left near the end of the film to add to the film’s climax.   Rosie also loses it a few times, understandably, showing that she is also human.  Sarah Greene delivers a remarkable performance as the long-suffering mother.

Films about poverty and the inadequacies of the social system have been done more effectively before, especially by Masters like Ken Loach whose latest film (SORRY I MISSED YOU about a British deliver man trying to bring up his family) also treads the same waters.  Still, Breathnach’s film is a decent film that accomplishes its goal on revealing the shortage of low-income housing in Ireland.

Trailer: https://www.imdb.com/video/vi2356132633?playlistId=tt8247470&ref_=tt_ov_vi

Directed by Mead Morano

THE RHYTHM SECTION is the story of a woman, Stephanie Patrick (Blake Lively) seeking revenge against those who orchestrated a plane crash that killed her family.  Flashbacks show a loving family.  After the crash, Stephanie has deteriorated to the low-life of a drug addicted prostitute.  When a journalist posing as a client informs her of he truth of the plane crash, that it was a terrorist attack, she decides to take down the terrorist and organization that killed her family.

A few things that one needs to know about the new feminist thriller THE RHYTHM SECTION.  It is similar to female assassin films that have been done much better like the not so long ago Joe Wright’s 2011 HANNAH with Saorise Ronan as Hannah, a super efficient violent killer and Luc Besson’s 1990 LA FEMME NIKITA with Anne Parillaud in the title role. THE RHYTHM SECTION has quite the opposite - an very inefficient assassin who is not that good but nevertheless gets the job done, because the script by who also wrote ether book calls for it.  THE RHYTHM SECTION is also a very bad movie.  Director Mead Romano has one feature film (2015’S MEADOWLAND) and two episodes of THE HANDMAID’S TALE  to her credit.

The film requires logic to be thrown to the wind.  It requires the audience to believe:

  • that a drug addicted prostitute at the brink of death can become a sexy efficient killing machine;
  • the transformation of the above can be accomplished in a few weeks with one  trainer
  • that a super efficient terrorist network can suddenly be taken down
  • a drug addict can recover all on her own with no help from anyone

      There are a few well choreographed sections in the film.  Director Morano has had experience serving as cinematographer in the past, as she did her own cinematography in MEADOWLAND.  The car chase sequence in Tangier shown from the inside of the car, seen through the windscreen and windows (especially of what is happening with the cab chasing the heroine) is impressive and well-shot.  There is another chilling scene where her British operative (Jude Law) trains her to swim.  She has to take off her clothes and swim in what appears to be the very, very cold water of a lake in Scotland (though the film was shot in Ireland).  One can see and imagine the cold as she wades into the water.  But what his has really to do with her training is the question.  The segment makes no sense whatsoever in terms of the story or the film’s  continuity.  The entire boot-camp training is totally laughable.

The villain of the piece turns out to be a black character (Sterling K. Brown) who seems to have the hots for Stephanie.  The film has already gone downhill to the point of no return at this stage.

Avoid THE RHYTHM SECTION which appears to be the only big production opening this week.  What is Barbara Broccoli (James bond films) doing producing this piece?

Trailer: https://www.imdb.com/video/vi761642777?playlistId=tt7134096&ref_=tt_ov_vi


IL TRADITORE (THE TRAITOR) (Italy/France/Germany/Brazil 2019) ****

Directed by Marco Bellocchio

THE TRAITOR is the true story of the Cost Nostra criminals of the heroin trade in Palermo, Italy.  Almost all the heroin in the world passes through Palermo.  THE TRAITOR, Tommaso Buscetta (Pierfrancesco Favino) tells his story which allows the film the basis to be made.  Veteran director Marco Bellochio (DEVIL IN THE FLESH) is not stranger to excellent films, and this (true) Cosa Nostra tale is as effective and riveting as any crime film can be.

Director Bellocchio takes his time to reach the point where Buscetta

 decides to confess.  All the reasons, very important to the story, are proposed.  Among the factors that help make his mind up include:

  • the protection the law will offer him and his family
  • the revenge he can get from the criminals that have killed his family and other families
  • his limited choice of other options
  • the convenience of leading a better life afterwards

It is clear that it not one but the combination of these reasons that Buscetta have taken into consideration.  This makes his decision and the film more relevant.

The betrayal begins only after 40 minutes from the film’s start.  Judge Falcone (Fausto Russo Alesi) questions Buscetta who says: “I am not an informant.  I am not a spy, a rat.  I’ve been a man of honour and ready to pay my debt with the law.”  It is at this point that the focus of the story, which is a little confusing at first, finally comes into place.  A sort of summary is given by Buscetta as he confesses of the pyramid structure of the Cosa Nostra.  The villain of the piece Riina (Nicola Cali) is established, the one who has slaughtered half of Buscetta’s family including two sons after he wanted to quit, forcing him to come back to Italy so that he can join back the Cosa Nostra so that he can be killed. 

In order to make make his film more interesting and have the audience connect with his movie, director Bellocchio makes a hero out of Buscetta.  The film therefore has Buscetta articulate his own praises, never killing innocent people but exposing only those who deserve to be disposed of.   His informing appears justified from his family members executed by the Cosa Nostra.

Director Bellocchio has one scene, the one with Falcone killed his car from an explosion on the highway executed with great finesse.  Not only did I jump out of my seat, but the experience of the crash as seen from the insides of the car through the windscreen is totally impressive and remarkable.

THE TRAITOR premiered at Cannes followed by a screening at TIFF, garnishing praises wherever it played.  The film was also selected as Italy’s entry for this year’s Academy Award for Best international Film, though it did not make the short list.  THE TRAITOR is a brave film that should have at least made it.  It is probably too real and violent for the Academy’s liking.

Trailer: https://www.imdb.com/video/vi547602201?playlistId=tt7736478&ref_=tt_ov_vi

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