Friday, April 26, 2019

TIFF Bell Lightbox New Release Film Review- Long Day's Journey Into Night

Director Gan Bi returns to his hometown of Kaili in the southwestern Chinese province of Guizhou to craft his second feature following Kaili Blues. Lou Hongwu (Huang Jue) is back in Kaili for his father's funeral. His family owns the Feng restaurant that he wants no part of only demanding that his mother's name stays. The first half of the film jumps back and forth between present day and the turn of the millennium when Lou had a heated relationship with Wan Quiwen (Tang Wei). Much of the early passages take on a dreamlike quality mixing memories of the past and attempts to pursue Wan Quiwen in the present. A secondary thread centres on Lou's friend Wildcat (Li Hongqi) who turns up dead in a mine shaft dispatched by local gangsters with whom Wan is also connected.

Neither the films English title taken from a play by Eugene O'Neill or its Chinese one that translates to Last Evenings On Earth a book of short stories from Robert Bolano has anything to do with the events unfolding on screen. The piece also has a recurring tale within the tale of a mysterious woman who is such a good storyteller that one cannot separate what is real from fantasy. The hook to the piece is the 59 minute one take sequence that occupies the back half of the film. Our protagonist announces the start of the 3D sequence by literally putting on a pair of glasses while seated then falling asleep in a movie theater.


Waking up Lou finds himself in a mine shaft where he meets a young teenage boy who might be a ghost or spiritual guide. The boy leads the lost dreamer to a zip-line fashioned swing that carries the Kaili native on a descent into an improvised town square featuring a pool hall and Karaoke stage fronted by benches and barrel fires. Running the billiards den is Wan Quiwen's double Kaizhen who Lou is immediately attracted, launching the sequence of the extra long take where the pair dance around each other at several checkpoints around the square.

Long Day's Journey Into Night is at its core a film about searching for and trying to recapture moments in time from your past. The mining town a symbol of the thankless pursuit and its effect as the decaying town is filled with rubble at every turn. The trance like first section will draw the viewer in with its non-linear style, dark shadows and elusive green clad femme fatale. The hour long 3D back half pays off the first with the camera steadily pacing the two leads as they roam from point to point around the makeshift square.

*** Out of 4.

Long Day's Journey Into Night | Gan Bi | China | 2019 | 140 Minutes.

Tags: Kaili, Karaoke, Pool Hall, Mine Shaft, Funeral, Restaurant, Prison Visit, 3D, Long Take.


Saturday, April 20, 2019

TIFF Bell Lightbox New Relase Film Review - Fausto

Director Andrea Bussmann wanted to make a film around the subject of Faust, in particular, the themes related to nature and history. She went to Mexico where she has spent a lot of her time but picked a location for the adaptation, the Oaxacan coastal town of Puerto Escondido where she knew no one. She had a structure then and was luckily able to rope in some locals to be in the film. The constant element in the film is the narration meant to be the town itself speaking. Bussmann then came up with some fables of her own told mainly by male interviewees touching on many of the themes from Goethe's work.


The main subjects are Fernando (Fernando Renjifo) and Alberto (Alberto Nunez) who own a cabana that is the centre of local activity as but are disrupted by a Frenchman who comes to stay with nothing to offer but his shadow. The visitor disappears as does the pledged shadow putting the two friends into a spiral searching for both. The pair turn their attention back to the beach where the tide continues to advance threatening the coastline. The men take steps to reverse the process leading to wonderful shots of the tide advancing with one particular shot of a slow-moving wave of water coming to shore like an evenly symmetrical velvet cape.


Bussmann shoots a lot of the project at night in and around the restaurant/bar with the patrons moving in and out of the shadows. There are drawings, cigarettes smoked and drinks consumed by candlelight. Red embers fill the screen amongst the shadows making it intentionally blurry to emphasis the Faust themes of hovering between the conscious and unconscious. The narrative features many stories about animals and perceptions. A horse that has a blind spot four feet out front of its face, Cats with telepathy and the only story with some truth about turtles coming to shore to lay their eggs being confused by artificial light.

Fausto is a film that draws on a mix of themes from Goethe, local supernatural, and anti-colonial mystical and oral history. Shot mainly with a newly minted mirrorless camera that can function in darkness and low light giving the piece its haunting supernatural presence. Gertrude Stein's adaptation of the subject is a strong influence on the writer-director. In that early 20th century version Faust sells is sole for electric light then a new found thing again bringing light vs. darkness and the contrast between the seen and unseen world to the forefront.

*** Out of 4.

FAUSTO | Andrea Bussmann | Mexico/Canada | 2018 |70 Minutes.

Tags: Faust, Goethe, Fable, Mexico, Oaxacan Coast, Cabana Bar, Shadows, Telepathy, The Devil, Colonization.




Friday, April 12, 2019

Universal Films Film Review - Little

Little Jordan Sanders brilliantly portrayed by Marsai Martin was bullied in middle school. She believed in and trusted science taunted as she proved her point at the Windsor Middle school assembly. Her nemesis turned the tables putting her in the hospital and making her a laughing stock. Skip to present day grown up Jordan (Regina Hall) is the CEO of a tech firm with several covers of leading magazines under her belt. Her main goal is to protect herself by being mean to people before they can do the same to her first. Her staff wants to do their best for her but she rules based on fear. No one feels the brunt of her rage more than her assistant April Williams (Issa Rae) who gets an earful if Jordan's slippers are not in the right spot when she goes to get out of bed in the morning or if her coffee cup is a millimetre out of place on the desk in her office.


Enter Mikey Day as Connor, Jordan's biggest client who brings a new meaning to the phrase born with a silver spoon. He wants a new app and is giving Jordan's firm 48 hours to impress him or he is moving his business elsewhere. April has an idea but is afraid to pitch it. Jordan storms off but not before being extra cruel to everyone leading to a confrontation with a kid with a wand who vows to cut here down to size which occurs the next morning when Jordan awakes.

Director Tina Gordon who also shares writing credits with Tracey Oliver backed by the Girls Trip team deliver a story that is heavy on the comedy but has a solid spine anchoring the production. There are lessons to be learned here on how to treat people, the cliff fall of expecting the worse at all times and the weight of always being angry.

As noted above Marsai Martin is perfectly cast as young Jordan. In the prelude, she blindly trusts science to her detriment then when reintroduced after the spell, bonds with the misfits at school imploring them to be themselves even if it looks like they are being set up for ridicule. Regina Hall is strong as always as CEO Jordan Sanders she revels in the role of the bossy bully and tech celebrity. Loving to cut in line for her morning coffee or pulling out of the driveway in her limited edition sports car cutting off traffic knowing that the rules of the road do not apply to her. Issa Rae is the glue that links the two Jordan's' She grows in confidence as the narrative moves along. Gaining the fortitude to pitch her idea live willing to live with the results good or bad. Her comedic timing is excellent especially when dealing with overbearing boss issues, petulant child ones and even more so where there is sexual innuendo hanging in the air.

Little is a comedy that will appeal to both adults and children. It's a film that the whole family will enjoy and don't be surprised if the kids want to see it again soon after the credits role. There are some good lesson here on how to treat people and looking for the best in them. It's an enjoyable time at the movies that I can recommend.

*** Out of 4.

Little | Tina Gordon | U.S.A. | 2019 | 109 Minutes.

Tags: Middle School, Bullying, Science, Tech, Apps, Donuts, Pitch Meetings, School Assembly.






Thursday, April 11, 2019

Mk2 | Mile End Film Review - Mia and The White Lion

Director Gilles de Maistre wanted to make a film about an unbreakable bond between a young child and a lion and was told it could not be done. A 3- year-old lion is an adult and will see any human as prey. The only way around that would be to have the actor bond with a cub from birth so that is what de Maistre did for the film. Daniah de Villiers a youth actor who was familiar with the species was cast to play Mia Owen starting at age 11 growing up with Thor who was a cuddly cub that arrived at Christmas one year at the Owen family breeding farm in South Africa and allowed to live in the family home. Named Charlie for the narrative its Mia's older brother Mick (Ryan McLennan) traumatized by an event in his infancy that has lead to nightmares, psychologists and stunted growth who takes to the cub first. Mia is sulking not wanting to be South Africa but instead back in London with her friends who she skypes cheering on her favourite team Manchester United and her favourite player Wayne Rooney. It's Charlie that pushes the friendship early on. Always coming to her, looking at her from a distance and taking her soccer ball. But its when she goes away to soccer camp and the two are separated both struggling from the distance apart that the bond is cemented once reunited.



Seedy canned trophy hunting alongside the practice of lion breading for conservation is exolored abd examined is in the film. The family-run a breeding farm is promoted as conversationalist with a goal to preserve the species but money is tight and a poacher with rich clients is always lurking about waiving a wad of cash looking to purchase lions for sport. Charlie is very valuable as a rare white lion that will bring in the tourists and be the main draw for the planned bed and breakfast.

 
The scenes with Mia and Charlie are rare to see on screen. The baby cute cub shots early on where humans feed newborns their bottles are standard fare. But as Charlie grows to 8 months, 1 year then on to two remaining in the family home is unprecedented. The peak is a scene where Mia taunts her mother Alice (Melanie Laurent) doing explicit no no's with the animal. Roughhousing, getting down on the animals level and turning her back as the lion approaches from behind knocking her down from behind for an embrace.

The story travel down a winding route. The adults force the pair to separate, Mia won't, leading the best friends to set out to walk across the country in an attempt to get Charlie to an animal sanctuary where he can roam free. Director de Maistre took a page out of Richard Linklater's Boyhood by having the cast fly in periodically over the three years to film their scenes. Changes in the cast are notable over the time period with the biggest being in the two children Mia and Mick and of course The white lion Thor.

*** Out of 4.

Mia and The White Lion | Gilles de Maistre | France / Germany / South Africa | 2018 | 98 Minutes.

Tags: Lions, Lion breeding, White Lion, London, Skype, Trophy Hunting, Canned Huts, Poaching, Manchester United, Runaway, Manhunt.

Sunday, April 7, 2019

Film Review - Pet Semetary

Directors Kevin Kolsch and Dennis Widmyer alongside writer Matt Greenberg take the Stephen King classic novel down a different path with Pet Semetary. Louis (Jason Clarke) and Rachel (Amy Seimetz) take their children 8-year-old Ellie (Jete Laurence ) and preschooler Gage (Lucas Lavoie) out from the city of Boston to Maine to slow down a bit and give physician Louis a slower pace to spend more time with the family. Upon arrival at their new country home, they are greeted by speeding transport trucks racing down the street inches from their front driveway. Next Ellie wanders into the back yard to see a  procession of mask-clad kids walking behind a deceased dog in a wheelbarrow headed into the woods looking to perform a burial ritual. Curious by the events she heads out later meeting Jeb (John Lithgow) the pair strike up a quick bond with Jeb filling in the new arrivals on some of customs and traditions of the town.


The pace of the film drags to some extent in the opening acts. The parents have a heartfelt conversation with Ellie about death early on in the proceeding Louis believes his eight- year-old daughter can hear the truth while Mom Rachel wants to shield her from the harsher realities of the world.  Things begin to pick up when the family cat Church becomes road kill for one of those speeding tanker.  Jeb helps  Louis to bury the feline up beyond the Pet Semetary that is actually an abandoned Native burial ground where things come back but they are not the same.

Relative newcomer Jete Laurence dominates the frame when she is on screen as Ellie. She is inquisitive, adventurous and challenging to her parents as she approaches her 9th birthday. The young actress has a lot to do in the final act being a pivotal figure in the plot flip in the film. Jason Clarke gets to broaden his acting skills as Louis. He is a medical doctor that is a pragmatic follower of science but when strange events begin to occur at work and outside his bedroom window he jumps in with both feet headed towards the predictable negative outcome. Amy Seimetz who has indie directing, writing and acting credits in her background is dealing with daemons and extreme guilt stemming from to in the. She does not know the full extent of what Jeb and her Husband have been up to in the woods but as a faith-based woman wants no part of it.

Pet Semetary is a different take on the Stephen King novel adapted to the screen. The final third turns upside down the viewers' sense of the film up to that point. Your rooting interest will shift from character to character until it lands on the most unlikely spot at the end of the film. The film finds its legs when it moves away from the obligatory jump scares moving to face to face and hand to hand combat using both sharp and blunt objects to bring the horror down to and below ground level.

*** Out of 4.

Pet Semetary |  Kevin Kolsch / Dennis Widmyer | U.S.A. | 2019 | 101 Minutes.

Tags: Stephen King Novel, Burial Ground, Wendigo, Cat, Birthday Party, Funeral, Procession, Animal Masks, Toy Bunny Rabbit, Dumb Waiter.

Friday, April 5, 2019

Film Review - Shazam!

Billy Batson (Asher Angel) just wants to have a family. He has bounced in and out of foster homes for years after wandering away from his mom at a county fair as a toddler. Since then he has relied on his own abilities, looking out for himself while getting into a mild level of trouble. His main goal  is to try to find his mother who he knows is out there somewhere. Our central figure is down to his last chance when he is taken in by foster parents Rosa (Marta Milans) and Victor (Cooper Andrews) who both were foster kids themselves. The other kids in the home include gamer Eugene (Ian Chen), non stop talker pre-teen Darla (Faithe Herman) and Billy's roommate comic book fan Freddy (Jack Dylan Glazer).


When Billy gets on the wrong side of a couple of bullies at school he escapes into the subway ending up at The Rock of Eternity the resting place of the Wizard Shazam! We have been here before in the prelude when a young Thaddeus Silvana was transported to the same room but found not to be worthy and cast out. Running out of time the Wizard (Djimon Hounsou) transfers his powers to Billy making his alter ego Shazam! an adult male (Zachary Levi) when he says the word. Terrified the transformed Billy returns to the group home employing Freddy to complete filed test to learn more about his new found powers. Meanwhile Silvana (Mark Strong) now a grown up never forgot that missed opportunity in 1974, obsessed he finds an alternate way into The Rock of Eternity lair releasing the evil trapped within then setting out to track down Shazam!

Some of the best moments in the film are between Freddy and Billy/Shazam! They are truly brothers despite not having the same parents. They argue, disappoint each other but when it really matters are there to support. Freddy is the one Billy seeks out upon becoming Shazam and the field tests of the new found powers are a highlight.

Director David F. Sanberg alongside writer Henry Gayden plant a strong message a level below all the humor and fun. The picture is bright in comparison of the unusual dreary tone in the D.C. Extended Universe. However, at the heart of the picture is family. A very poignant refrain repeats in the piece around the dinner table that once you find it you know that you're home. The film is a lighthearted romp that will entertain kids and adults alike. The story moves quickly making the 132 minutes run time zip by. Its a popcorn movie in all the sense of the word and one that I can recommend.

*** Out of 4.

Shazam! | David F. Sanberg | U.S.A. | 2019 | 132 Minutes.

Tags: Wizard, Electricity, Secret Identity, Field Test, Super Powers, Foster Child, Foster Home, Bullies, 7 Deadly Sins, Cumpas




Sunday, March 31, 2019

Film Review - Dumbo

Dumbo is a classic tale that has many strong moral lessons for kids. The little elephant is born with oversized ears leading to ridicule, jeering and shunning from the fellow circus performers and the audience. However, the pachyderm turns that apparent flaw into his greatest strength soaring around the big top the delight and amazement of his fellow performers and sold out crowds abound.


Tim Burton's remake of the 1941 Disney classic has some high points but just as many low ones as the film muddles through several lulls in the middle of the production. A strong opening introduces the main acts in the traveling Medici Brothers circus lead by ringmaster Max Medici (Danny Divito) a cajoler always on the lookout for a deal like the one that brought him Dumbo's pregnant mother for a steal of a price. We meet Colin Farrell (Holt Farrier) a cowboy who returns from the war missing an arm. His kids Milly (Nico Parker) and Joe (Finley Hobbins) have been helped though some rough times by the performers while he was away with their mother and Holt's partner in the western act having succumbed to an outbreak of tuberculosis.

There is a spike in energy when Michael Keaton turns up as V.A. Vandervere owner of the most successful circus at the time permanently set at Dreamland. As Vadervere tells Medici the key is to have the people come to you. He wants Dumbo for his big top alongside his top performer aerialist Colette Marchant (Eva Green) who has stardom and fame but longs for the Farrier's family dynamic. The first meeting of Vadevere and Medici may cause flashbacks to another Burton production where the two faced off against each other as Batman & The Penguin.

Dumbo is a heartwarming tale that will draw ooh's and aww's from the kids as the baby elephant soars around the big top. It also has valuable lessons on mocking others, knowing who your true friends are and if a deal appears to be too got to be true it likely is.  However, the writing is thin, the CGI appearance of the elephant uneven and unstable at times. It will keep the younger set preoccupied for two hours but their guardians may find themselves looking for an opportunity to sneak a quick glimpse or step out into the lobby to check their phones.

** Out of 4.

Dumbo | Tim Burton|  U.S.A.| 2019 | 112 Minutes.

Tags: Disney, Elephant, Circus, World War, Trains, Big Top, Clowns, Strong Man, Mermaid, Snake Charmer, Prosthetic Arm. Feather.