Thursday, March 22, 2018

Fox Searchlight Film Review - Isle of Dogs

Fictional Megasaki: 20 years into the future a mass flu outbreak is blamed on the city's dogs by their iron-fisted mayor Kobayshi (Konichi Noumura -voice).  The first dog to be subject to the solution of exile to Trash Island is Spots (Liev Schreiber -voice) the protector dog of Mayor Kobayshi's regent 12-Year-Old Atari (Koyu Rankin - Voice). the rest of the cities pollution falls in line resulting in all of the resident's pets ending up on the island. On the island a short while later we meet a pack of dogs voiced by Wes Anderson stalwarts. Ed Norton voices King the leader of the pack. Bill Murray is Boss a former baseball team mascot, and Bob Balaban supplies the voice for King a former dog food pitch hound back in the city. Jeff Goldblum joins the pack as Duke the gossip with Bryan Cranston as Chief hanging at an arm's length distance a stray with a pension for fighting and biting.

The meat of the story hits when the resourceful Atari crash lands on the island in search of his beloved Spot. He teams up with the pack in an attempt to find his loyal friend. The crew trecks across the island meeting a series of interesting characters on their journey. Nutmeg (Scarlett  Johansson) a former show dog that takes a shining to the rough-edged Chief. They visit the seer dogs Jupiter (F.Murray Abraham) and Oracle (Tilda Swinton) the latter who interprets the news on television for their guidance. A group of students in the city lead by exchange student Tracy Walker (Greta Gerwig) oppose the mayor's plan wanting their dogs back. Science candidate (Akira Ito) Watanabe finds a cure for the flu that is repressed by the Mayor who wants to see cats reign supreme.

Wes Anderson creates a wonderful stop animation world. His fastidious attention to detail is fully on display mainly around displaying Japanese tradition. The film includes a mesmerizing sushi preparing sequence that's pure Anderson. Anderson shares writing credits with regular Jason Schwartzman, Roman Coppola and Nourma who voices the Mayor. The quartet weave a tale that is heavy on the indiosyncracies of Japanese culture giving a grand stage for Chief to grow and evolve balanced by Atari's single-minded quest to find his lost dog.

Isle of Dogs is a welcome addition to Wes Anderson's film catalog.  His ensemble cast of four-legged canines play off each other well. Mayor Kobayshi is an effective villain that ends up opposed to his regent nephew Atari. The action takes place in a  marvelously constructed world backed by an off-beat Alexandre Desplat score making it a film I can recommend.

*** 1/2 Out of 4.

Isle of Dogs | Wes Anderson | USA /Germany | 2018 | 101 Minutes.

Tags, Dogs, Japan, Student Newspaper, Cats, Vaccine, Snout Flu, Train Crash, Orphan, Sushi

Saturday, March 17, 2018

TIFF '18 Film Review - Rosie & Moussa

9-year-old Rosie (Savannah Vandendriessche) along with her mum Lilly (Ruth Beeckmans) move into a low-income rental tower at the opening of the film. The are greeted by the buildings Super Mr. Tax (Damiaan De Schrijver) a secret tap dancer warns them to stay away from the lowlifes on the 10th floor Rosie has a prized possession a snow globe from "Katapulco"given to her by her dad who is "out of town." Here we get our first fantasy sequence where the globe comes to life with Papa (Titus de Voogt) occupying it playing guitar.

Director Dorothee van den Berghe adapts the story from Michael De Cock and Judith Vanistendael children's books. On first impression, one would expect that Rosie and her mom Lilly are out of their element in a housing building with new Belgian immigrants. But they are the ones with checkered family relations both sorting out their bond with Papa. The pair adapt to their environment with Rosie becoming fast friend with Moussa (Imad Borji) one of the lowlifes from the tenth floor and mom with Uncle Ibrahim (Mourad Zeguendi) one of Moussa's relatives without papers.

A major subplot is Moussa's goal to be a train pilot as he calls it. He has a spot near the tracks where he goes to watch the commuter trains pass. As the trains rush through it's hard not to believe that this favourite hangout literally shows that the protagonists are living on the wrong side of the tracks. He brings Rosie there enforcing his dream that he will pilot one of the trains when he grows up. Rosie hopes with her volatile homelike that she could get on one of the trains to take her to the other side of the world. The other is Papa's attempt to rejoin his wife and daughter after he returns. He can see that Lilly has moved on and that it may be best for all if he takes a step away for awhile.

Rosie & Moussa is another film in a line from this year's TIFF Kids that teach do not judge by first impressions. Lowlife Moussa has a clear career path, is very supportive of Rosie at key times and is willing to contribute to the school play even if he does not like his part. Rosie's time is half spent in fantasy as she creates an internal world to escape the harsh facts of her reality. Cinematographer Jan Vancaillie and Art director Gert Stas bring to life the fantasy sequences that will delight the grade 4-7 target range for this film. The original nature of the subject matter will no doubt draw in some more.

*** Out of 4.

Rosie and Moussa | Dorothee Van Den Berghe | Belgium | 2018 | 90 Minutes

Tags: Trains, Acapulco, Molenbeek, New Kid, Peer Pressure, School Play, Chop Shop, Caterpillar, Titus, Oysters, Lemonade, Rapping, Visitation, Football, Snow Globe.

Friday, March 16, 2018

TIFF '18 Film Review - Rock My Heart

Jana (Lena Klenke) likes to take dangerous risks. She loves speed, adrenaline rushes, and daredevil maneuvers. The problem is Jana has a congenital heart condition that causes her heart to stop when her pace gets too fast. She has had the condition since the age of 8, is tired of being poked and prodded refusing to have a newly developed surgery that's invasive but could help. After a battle over her future with her controlling fearful mom, Beate (Annette Frier) and more level-headed dad Joachim (Michael Lott) Jana happens upon a horse farm where she bonds immediately with an untrainable horse named Rock My Heart. The horses' owner Pau Brenner (Dieter Hallervorden) needs the stallion to race in the upcoming Rhineland Cup for the prize money needed to dig his farm out of debt.

Director Hanno Olderdissen presents a piece that will hold the attention of tweens and early teens. It's storyline of bonding with an animal, fighting against odds and living up to your commitments are all good lessons. The writing is somewhat telegraphed especially around the subplot relationship with Jana's boyfriend Sami (Emilio Sakraya) who met Jana at a camp for teens with similar ailments. Its reckless thread of Jana refusing her medicine, talking back to her parents and taking wild risks are somewhat troubling but understandable given the fact that the 17-year-old has been in and out of hospitals since the age of eight.

Lene Klenke is very effective as Jana, She can be tough, daring, vulnerable and stubborn all in one scene. Kleneke is particularly strong when she explains how she feels when she riding Rock and why the pair needs each other. Vetran actor Dieter Hallevorden is her perfect foil as Paul Brenner. He teaches Jana discipline, what it means to give your word while he struggles with his own personal financial issues. Emilio Sakraya's Sami is always looking out for Jana's best interest. He wants her to have the experimental surgery that could help her, keeps her secrets against his better judgment and makes a personal sacrifice to help her keep her Rhineland dreams on track.

Rock My Heart is a middle of the road film with a storyline that does not venture too far off track. The ensemble cast delivers on screen but the material could use more original beats. The soundtrack features several saccharine drenched English language songs that are distracting taking away from the moment.   The production has some useful themes that will resonate with the intended audience but will likely not garner wide appeal.

** Out of 4.

Rock My Heart | Hanno Olderdissen | Germany | 2017 | 105 Minutes.

Tags; Heart Condition, Inhaler, Experimental Surgery, Horse Training, Starting Gate, 75 MG, Riding Licence Test, Business Plan, Prize Money.

Monday, March 12, 2018

TIFF '18 Film Review - Children of Genghis

Byamba (Dorjsambuu Dambii) is talking to an unseen Sarah as he treks through the snow to go to school near his Mongolian village. He talks of the cold winter ahead of a flashback to the summer before. We see the Dambii homestead consisting of two large hexagonal yurts. Patriarch Dambii tends to the goats and sheep while his wife Tsetsegee (Ankhnyam Ragchaa) does the milking. The youngest son Ulaanaa  (Sharavdorj Dambii ) runs around as a bundle of energy while the eldest Uuganaa (Dorj Dambii) is much more reserved. The Naadam holiday race and festival is on the horizon bringing the best horse trainer Bold recruiting Uuganaa to ride his fastest horse. Byamba is upset because he likes horses more but at 9 is a year too young to ride in the race.

The Mongolian countryside is a major character in the film. The crew used drones for the sweeping overhead shots and cranes to mount and enhance the sound. The shooting of the horse racing across the countryside is unique. The production mixes real time, slow motion and stop motion shooting to produce a multi-layered end product. Director Zolbayar Dorj went to an isolated area outside of a remote small town in Western Mongolia for the authentic spot to shoot the racing.

The subplot features Sarah (Brittany Belt) a humanitarian worker who has come to Outer Mongolia to pass along safety equipment to the children riders that enter these dangerous 25 kilometer races. She is passionate about her objective but the locals are resistant wanting to keep the traditional ways and not this new hard plastic costume. Her contact Mayor Sundui does not distribute the safety equipment to the children making a comedic moment when she pops by his yurt catching him in the act.

The cast features many nonactors. The three main brothers 12-8- and 4 respectively are all brothers from a local town. Sarah's translator Delgermaa (Normin Davaasuren) is a local singer cast due to her knowledge of English. Batmend Baast as the patriarch Dambii shows the most grown next to Byamba in the film. He stoic refusing to train any horses at the outset. His reasoning dates back to an incident when his father was still alive and their legendary speed horse Beauty. Dambii feels pressure from the villagers and his middle son who begins to train a horse on his own forcing his father back into the game.

Children of Genghis is a study of a people that live a full life focusing on the simple things. They have their horses, farm animals, archery, and wrestling. They have tea and snacks ready for any friend or stranger that comes to visit. Director Dorj uses local no actors in key role giving the piece an authentic feel that rings true. They are steeped in their traditional way passed down through the generations. But are willing to embrace new ways slowly if they will help the individual or the community as a role.

**** Out of 4.

Children of Genghis | Zolbayar Dorj | Mongolia | 2017 | 101 minutes.

Tags: Sweating Horses, F.I.D., Mongolia, Naadam Holiday, Candy, Pact, Yurt , Motorcycle.

Saturday, March 10, 2018

TIFF Kids'18 Film Review - Zoo

The Belfast Blitz is the backdrop of Colin McIvor's Zoo which was inspired by try events. Tom (Art Parkinson) handles narration explaining how the German raids over Belfast meant something different to him than others. Shift to the city port for the offloading of a special crate that contained a baby elephant for the zoo. The highlight of the opening segment follows as the townsfolk march following the new arrival and zoo staff through town and up the hill to the zoo. The public can't enter but Tom slips in as his dad is the vet at the facility. The war comes closer leading to the first bombing of Belfast. The government authorities determine that the predatory animals could be a threat if they escaped leading the military to shot them down. Tom seeing that Buster the Elephant could be next springs a plot to free him accompanied by his classmate Jane (Emily Fan) and Pete (Ian O'Reilly).

Director Chris McIvor pulls his story from the pages of history. Tom Hall hatched the plan believing that his father who had been called up to the war would have stopped the shootings at the zoo that he was not strong enough to do. The youngsters turned to the towns cat lady Denise Austin (Penelope Wilton) who is the central historical figure in this event having photos in the cities archive of the real Sheila the elephant and her in her backyard. McIvor includes themes of value to a young audience such as treating animals with respect., Standing up to bullies and a common thread at TIFF 18' drop all preconceived notions.

Art Parkinson runs with the lead youth role building his team to rescue Buster the elephant from the Zoo.  Emily Fan has the complicated role of a 12-year-old girl with the abusive town drunk as a dad and no mum in the picture. The third member of the youthful trio Pete portrayed by Ian O'Reilly pals around with the school bully beating up kids that are different at school while secretly caring for his disabled brother. Toby Jones is the biggest name in the cast as Charlie the security guard. He occupies the hut at the Zoo entrance is strict on admission but at the moment of truth chooses the right thing to do. Penelope Wilton gives a multifaceted performance as Mrs. Austin. At first glimpse, she is the crazy woman in town with way too many animals in her flat. But deep down she is very aware of her surroundings still grieving from a loss she suffered years before.

Zoo is the telling of a little-known event that helped to build the morale of the town at the time when its citizens were put to the ultimate test. Director McIvor and his effects and sound teams do fine work bringing the sensation of the Belfast bombings to the screen. the young leads inject comedy and a sense of purpose and duty that goes beyond the character of may adults in the film. It's a historical event that is worth a watch.

*** Out of 4

Zoo | Colin McIvor | Ireland/UK | 2017 | 97 Minutes.

Tags: Bellevue Zoo, Belfast, Air Raid, Gas Mask, WWII, Elephant, Tiger, Giraffe, Bomb Shelter, Letters, Bully,

Friday, March 9, 2018

TIFF Kids '18 Film Review - The Giant Pear

Solby is the best town in the world because the sun always shines and the inhabitants are all really happy.  The beloved mayor J.B. is open and available to the community not wanting to make any changes that would affect the well being of the town. His only annoyance is vice mayor Twig who wants to erect a grand  town hall grand that would block out the sun casting a shadow over the town. Mayor J.B. disappears one day without a trace until a bottle turns up caught by his friends Sebastian and Mitcho along with a seed that turns into a giant pear.  The pair along with local scientist Professor Glykose of the Atomic Institute head out in the pear turned  houseboat to find J.B. who is marooned on the Mysterious Island.

Directors Philip Einstein Lipski, Amalie Naesby Flick and Jorgen Lerdam craft a tale that teaches children not to believe or act on rumors but to go out and seek the facts. As the trio start their journey they have many fears. Sebastian cannot swim and is generally afraid of everything, Mitcho is a cat that hates the water. On their path to the island legend has it they will be faced with Pirates, a Sea Dragon and the Pitch Black Sea. What they find when they come face to face with these obstacles they are all not as advertised.

The art department create a bright and colourful world that will mystify and delight their the films target audience. Solby is dotted by unique buildings, winding roads and green spaces. Humans live alongside animals all interacting in their daily lives. Best illustrated by our young elephant hero Sebestian alongside Mitchco a cat who go on an adventure to rescue a human mayor J.B. alongside another one Professor Glykose.

The Giant Pear is an adventure story that will captivate its intended audience of 4-7 year olds. The directors have some messages that are also valuable for children beyond the demographic. Themes like look within to find another way of achieving a difficult goal and don't fall victim to preconceived notions are beneficial. Sebastian grows from a mindset of fear and timidness to one where he is willing to take on a challenge with satisfying results. I'm not too fond of the small man stereotype of Vice Mayor Twig but overall it's a piece producing several positive lesson for the viewer.

*** Out of 4.

The Gian Pear | Philip Einstein Lipski / Amalie Naesby Flick / Jorgen Lerdam | Denmark | 2017 | 79 Minutes.

Tags: Message in a Bottle, Juicy Pear, Pirates, Sea Dragon, Town Hall, Disappearance, Watermelon, Dragon's Dip, Yatzee.

Thursday, March 8, 2018

levelFILM Review - Juggernaut

You can never go home to the small town that you left in a cloud of dust in is the message of Daniel DiMarco's Juggernaut. Saxon Gamble (Jack Kesy) returns to his hometown in 1986 after a stint of prison time. His beloved mother had died two years ago with his estranged brother Dean (David Cubitt) the town golden boy having brought a private prison to the town. Saxon also has an uncomfortable reunion with his dad turned preacher Leonard (Peter McRobbie) as he settles into the abandoned farm where his mother lived prior to her suicide.

As Saxon works his way around the property he comes across some evidence which on top of his gut leads him to investigate his mother's death as not a suicide. He teams up with his old buddy Hank Jr. (Ty Olsson) plus seeks advise from Hank Sr. (Stephen McHattie) to turn over some rocks. Meanwhile, his presence makes most of the locals uncomfortable. He spars with the town Sheriff (Philip Granger) most of the locals wonder openly why he came back with his Dad and brother at the top of the list. The only person willing to give him the benefit of the doubt is Dean's fiancé Amelia (Amanda Crew) who identifies with Saxon as she is also an outsider with some unresolved issues from her past.

Cinematographer Patrick Scola plays a large role in setting the scene for the story. From the first shot of Saxon coming back into town in the back of a pickup truck with green mountains in the distance Scola's eye is key in transmitting the big sky feel of the small western town. Writer-Director DiMarco script communicates the deep-seated anger in our protagonist both physically and verbally. He also captures the mid 80's feel with the big American cars corded phones and a regular use of pay phones.

Jack Kesy is formidable as Saxon. He's a man of view words, direct and has a habit of jumbling common sayings. The nothing's all good I hope, Well don't believe everything you think and The friend of my enemy is my enemy are three particular gems. Amanda Crew walks a delicate line as Amelia. She meets Saxon at a town hall and is immediately warned by Dean to stay away from him. But his wounded spirit attracts her against her better judgment. Look for veteran actors Peter McRobbie and Stephen McHattie as Leonard Gamble and Hank Senior respectively. Leonard has found god becoming a preacher after a life of hard living. Hank Sr. is the epitome of unseemly. The pair have an epic scene where Hank Sr.'s involvement with Saxon is strongly opposed by Leonard.

Juggernaut is the tale of the bad son coming. Saxon's return is not wanted by his family, local law enforcement and the townsfolk all expecting that he's fixing to start trouble. However, his close relationship with his mother drivers him to investigate her suicide. Along the way, he and his confidants rattle some cages causing to life changing results.

*** 1/2 Out of 4.

Juggernaut | Daniel DiMarco | Canada | 2017 | 105 Minutes.

Tags: Ex-con, Brothers, Suicide, Life Insurance, Inheritance,, Ex-Con, Private Prison,Triumph Motorcycle, Suicide, Pay Phone, Lil' Buddy.