Wednesday, November 7, 2018

Film Review - Overlord

An American airborne division has a mission to drop behind enemy lines and knock out a radio transmitter atop  a church ahead of the planned Allied D-Day invasion. On the bomber headed into enemy territory is Boyce (Jovan Adepo) fresh out of basic and three months from hanging out on his grandma's porch in Louisiana. Wiseass New Yorker Tibbet (John Magaro) shutterbug  Chase (Ian De Caestecker) and the mysterious Ford (Wyatt Russell) the explosive expert who transferred in from another unit.  The opening sequence as the bomber heads to the drop site in Normandy is harrowing. The plane is under attack, explosions are going off all around. The aircraft is teetering, hit several times, about to go down as Sargent Resin (Bokeem Woodbine) tells the soldiers to hold until they hit the jump point.  On the ground the main players rally together crossing paths with Chloe (Matilde Olliver) who brings them to her home where she resides with her younger brother and sick aunt. There the Americans go about finalizing their plans on how they will take out the church.

James Avery film starts out as a straightforward World War two story then morphs into something more. The first snag is SS officer Wafner (Pilou Asbaek) that has an arrangement with Chloe planting himself on the main floor of the residence. The next is the realization that strange activities afoot in the church. The townsfolk are being subject to experiments with the end goal of a super solider to facilitate the 1000 year Reich. The tool a red serum that grants invincibility but at an incredible price.

Jovan Adepo is at the centre of the action as Boyce. He has a strong moral compass demanding to do what has to be done to wipe out the Nazi lab in addition to completing the mission. Kurt Russel's son Wyatt is the strong and silent Ford. He's more in the join them school but makes the right decisions when crunch time hits. Matilde Olliver is very effective as Chloe. She does what she has to do in her occupied town for the benefit of her younger brother being submissive when required but ferocious when the opportunity presents.

Overlord is a World War Two Nazi hunting tale with a twist. It will remind viewers of Quentin Tarantino's Inglourious Basterds but the action is on boil just about the whole way through with a set of possibly the most unlikable Nazi ever on film. Which of course leads to great satisfaction when they meet their fate. Its a straight -ahead story that takes a detour that it rounds well on its way to a satisfying result.

*** Out of 4.

Overlord | James Avery |  U.S.A. | 2018 | 109 Minutes.

Tags; World War II, Airborne, D-Day, Nazi, Experiments, Serum, Super Soldier, 1000 Year Reich, Baseball.

Film Review - Boy Erased

Gay Conversion Therapy is the subject matter explored in Joel Edgerton's new film Boy Erased. Jared Eamons (Lucas Hedges) who shined in Manchester By The Sea is the son of an Arkansas Baptist preacher Marshall (Russell Crowe) and proper Southern lady Nancy (Nicole Kidman). He goes off to college where he is attacked by his running buddy, forced to have sex with him against his will. Confused Jared says nothing about the incident then his attacker outs him to his family leading to late night clandestine meetings with religious elders ending with Nancy driving her son to a gay conversion therapy program in Georgia. Once at the church all modern devices are removed alongside any written material the attendee may have. They are given binders, mandated to dress a specific way and told certain actions and topics are off limits but there is no indication that the participant is not allowed to leave if they choose. It's more the confusion, shame and pressure from family making them feel that they need to stay and change that keeps them there.

Director Joel Edgerton who plays the camp's untrained lead therapist and founder Victor Sykes has a message he is trying to get across with this film. These camps overwhelmingly have a negative effect on everyone they touch expect for the proprietors of the facility. The participant is mentally emotionally and physically confronted. The family can be split apart by the process plus friends, extended family and the community get word of the circumstance before an individual has sorted out their feelings, emotions, orientation, and path themselves.

Australian Edgerton enlists fellow Aussies Kidman and Crowe to play Jared's parents. Crowe's Marshal tried to take the analytic approach to fix his son while Kidman's big haired Nancy keeps her emotions and thoughts to herself letting her husband make the decisions until a critical point. Look for Flea channeling an Army Drill Sargent as an instructor at the camp. Lucas Hedges who seems to be everywhere this year is understated as Jared. He is not sure of his sexuality, honestly not knowing if he is gay and willing to do what his parents wish. He has suffered a recent trauma that he has not come to grips with plus has unresolved charged issues with his dad.

Boy Erased is a critical look at conversion therapy programs. Edgerton explores how they are run, dramatizes the confrontations student to student /student to staff/ attendee to their family. The qualifications of the instructors and experts are scrutinized in a subtle yet effective manner. The goal here looking at the end credits postscript is to have kids and parents communicate with each other on an equal footing with the teenager having the final say after significant research and discussion to determine if this is the path to be followed.

**1/2 Out of 4

Boy Erased | Joel Edgerton | U.S.A. | 2018 | 114 Minutes.

Tags: Arkansas, Baptist Church, Running, Rape, Gay Teenager, Outed, Conversion Therapy, Confusion, Embarrassment, Understanding, Acceptance, Ford Dealership.

Film Review - The Front Runner

Bad timing is the key takeaway from the story of Gary Hart's failed presidential campaign portrayed in The Front Runner. Politicians a generation before from Eisenhower, to LBJ and of course JFK had an unspoken understanding with the press that their personal lives were off limits. The sexual scandal itself took place at the birth of tabloid journalism igniting an appetite for the American public for the salacious details of the affair. It's also bad timing that the film is coming out now in the Trump era where such an incident today would not even cause a candidate to blink. The film opens at the tail end of the 1984 Democratic race for President where a camera weaves around a political campaign hotel room eventually getting to Gary Hart (Hugh Jackman) as he is about to concede to Walter Mondale. Jump to the start of the 1988 race where Hart is the clear Front Runner to be the next President of the United States. He has the look, is the darling of the media, is full of boundless energy and a forward thinker. His run undone by a dalliance on a boat with a model named Donna Rice who he later flew up to his Washington brownstone while his wife was back home in Colorado with his daughter. The bad timing for Hart also referred to the leap forward in technology of the time. News coverage had increased. Information zips through fax machines, reports now appeared live on scene supported by news vans with satellite up -links.

Director Jason Reitman and writer Matt Bai whose book All The Truth is Out:The Week Politics Went Tabloid is the blueprint for the film take a sympathetic approach towards Hart. They show him as a friend to the press particularly in a scene where he helps a reporter AJ Parker (Mamoudou Athie) deal with a fear of turbulence as a premise to make the reporter seem ungrateful later when asking Hart tough questions. The Miami Herald reporters that cement the story are shown as unsavory staking out Hart's Washington brownstone then confronting him in the back alley of his residence in the middle of the night to ask questions about Rice.

The biggest flaw with the production is that the story is no longer relevant today. There is no need to tell this story in today's political climate where a similar event today would not even occupy an afternoon of the news cycle. The theory of if Hart had won things would be different today is a trip down an unknown rabbit hole that can be labeled as fake news.

Hugh Jackman turns in a strong layered bold and blind performance as Gary Hart. Vera Farmiga fleshes out a more complicated role that it appears at first glance as Hart's wife Lee . She has an understanding with her husband that is tolerable in a private setting but not as much when the medical is camped out at her front gate. The strong lead performances, however, cannot propel the film into the realm of recommended viewing given the subject matter does not resonate today.

** Out of 4.

The Front Runner | Jason Reitman | U.S.A. | 113 Minutes.

Tags: Politics, Washington, Democratic Party, 1988 Presidential Campaign, Sex Scandal, Colorado, Miami Herald, Stakeout, Press Conference.

Friday, November 2, 2018

ABMO Films Film Review - Suspiria

Six acts and an epilogue set in divided Berlin is the title card for Luca Guadagnino's remake of Dario Argento's regal Art House film Suspiria. A wet disheveled feral female bursts into her psychologist's office. She is babbling about people trying to get inside of her. Her psychoanalyst Dr. Jozef Klemperer a doting old man with a strange look that's hard to place. He tries to listen to her disjointed tale about the dance company where she's a member the need for revolution but she storms out leaving her bag never to be seen again. Cut to Susie (Dakota Johnson) stumbling in the U-Bahn at Suspiria station, hiding her money from the counterculture youth while trying to get her bearings. She finds her destination a building literally right beside the Berlin Wall with TANZ written above the door. She enters the Helena Markos Dance Company doors being told immediately that they tried to call and cancel her audition. She gets to dance anyway impressing the directors and compelling the artistic director Madame Blanc (Tilda Swinton) to poke her head in the room to watch. Susie is forceful steps and razor-sharp movements as she commands the floor. She is precise, passionate and has that quality that Madame Blanc likes; moves that would break a nose if you got in her way.

Behind the scenes, the directors are struggling for control of the company split between the Blanc and Markos camps. The battle is not only over the direction of the club but also for the path of the witches coven that dwells below the surface. Susie makes the all-female troop rocketing up to lead for the upcoming performance of Volk with Madame Blanc firmly in her corner. Her complete commitment to her routines leads the directors to discuss the possibility of her being an asset in the activities at the lower level of the building seeing that Patricia (Chloe Grace Moretz) last seen panicked in her psychologist office couldn't handle the responsibility.

Director Guadagnino could not have picked a more polar opposite project to follow last year's summer romance film Call Me By Your Name. There you had a research student and the Professors son hanging out in a lazy small Italian town. Here you have Berlin in the height of the Cold War with the spectre of the Baader-Meinhof Gang and the Lufthansa highjacking on every, T.V., radio and newspaper front page. The films 152 minute runtime is not an issue as it whips by for the first three acts. However, some will become increasingly uneasy in an extended 4th act ritual scene that goes full on mother! towards the end.

Suspiria has several elements that will remind the audience of other directors. Argento is obvious, the title card is von Trierish and the closing third dreamlike chaos. The viewer will have an opinion on this film. It will likely be strong whether positive or negative featuring a sharp scrip pointing out revelations such as Susie explaining that the Mennonites broke away from the Amish because the latter was too liberal or Madame Blanc remarking that if you want to be a dance you have to learn French. Tilda Swinton is steely focused as alway while Dakota Johnson turns in a very physical performance. It's violent, jarring, gruesome, sad yet funnier that one would expect and you definitely won't come out of the theatre yawning after the house lights go up.

***1/2 Out of 4

Suspiria | Luca Guadagnino | Italy / U.S.A. | 2018 | 152 Minutes.

Tags; Cold War, Berlin, Baader Meinhof Gang , Dance Company, Witches Coven, Meat Hook, Porcelain, Compound Fracture, Sacrifice, Ritual, Nazi Camp, Sliced Pear.

Sunday, October 28, 2018

Planet In Focus '18 Film Review - Island of Hungry Ghosts

Poh-Lin is a therapist that works with asylum seekers on the Australian territory of Christmas Island off the coast of Indonesia. It's a crossroads of cultures with Chinese, Australian and indigenous peoples exerting their influence.  The spirit world permeates the Island. The natives believe that the spirit of those that have died on the Island and not been buried hover around looking for peace. A relevant belief as detainees disappear or meet an unknown fate all around the area.

The trauma counselor practices a form of sand therapy where she places a sandbox in front of her patients then gives them the opportunity to create whatever they want in the space. Some just run their hands though the sand remarking on how it feels or sounds. Others place some of the army of Poh-Lin's figures and structures into the sand to represent scenarios and settings. While they work in the sand Poh-Lin asks them about their journey coming to the Island and what their experience has been like since they have arrived.

Countering the desperate state of the Asylum seekers is the red crab migration that takes place as events unfold. The crabs are moving from the jungle to the sea supported by the authorities and every soul on the Island going to extreme measures to protect the creatures. Government employees build bridges with logs so they can transverse water areas and roads.  Road Closed signs are strictly followed. All residents have rakes at the ready to sweep the animals gently out of the way as they maneuver around them to get from point A to B. Director Gabrielle Brady who expanded her 2017 short film The Island to create this mixture of documentary and scripted dialogue includes these scenes for a reason. They show that the locals treat these creatures far better than the human beings locked behind rolls of barbed wire in the detention centre.

The most harrowing story is a voice over of a protest from the past, It starts off peaceful but the guards throw the participants into isolation tied up without beds or blankets. One of them manages to get a hold of a needle and thread then proceeds to sow his mouth shut. Followed by a second person then a fourth, eventually up to 20. Another riveting account comes from a young man that is in the detention centre with his mother.  They are looking for singles to take elsewhere when his name is called. He thinks its a mistake but he is soon separated from his mom as he is 18. They get to visit, but those begin to spread out until his mom stops running to meet him when he arrives due to a sickness that she has picked up in detention.

Island of Hungry Ghosts is a different take on the current refugee crisis. It's not about escaping the home country or the journey to the new land. It doesn't touch on adapting to the culture. Instead, the focus is on those that find themselves in limbo. At a detention centre for an indefinite amount of time. A day turns into a week, a year then potentially 10 years. The common thread amongst all of the detainees that come to meet with Poh-Lin is suffering. They suffer themselves, try to be strong for their relatives and friends but see them being taken away to unknown fates day after day. They have no control over the situation except to know that things will only get worst. Some get so desperate that they choose to affect the one thing that they can which is when their own life will end. The toll on Poh-Lin is substantial as the people that she is there to help are in a worse state every time she sees them. Missed appointment pile up, the whereabouts of her patients not disclosed by detention ops she inevitably comes to realize that she is not in a situation where she can have any chance of a positive impact.

**** Out of 4.

Island of Hungary Ghosts | Gabrielle Brady | U.K. / Germany/ Australia | 2018 98 Minutes.

Planet In Focus '18 Film Review - Ground War

Environmental filmmaker Andrew Nisker brings his most personal inquisitive story to the screen. His inspiration for the piece was sparked by the death of his father Harold who was the healthiest person Andrew knew.  Harold ate well, was into supplements before it was a thing golfed just about every day for forty years and was a ski guide well into his eighties. Then Harold was diagnosed with the very rare Mantle cell Non-Hodgkin Lymphoma that took his life and Andrew wanted to know why.

The director began to examine the elements in his dad's life. the medical records all stated that he was very fit. He talked to some experts that pointed him in the direction of something in his dad's environment might be the culprit. The first potential answer was household cleaners considering the toxic ingredients mixed into many on the market.  The second and most compelling was pesticides possibly from Harold's beloved game of golf.

Andrew begins to look into the chemicals used to keep golf courses so green and pristine at his father's old club then golf courses in general. He comes across a pesticide 2.4-D in general use that happens to be one of the two major components for Agent Orange that came to prominence during the Vietnam War as a tool to clear the trees in Vietnam allowing the American troops to see where the enemy was hiding.  The director also learned that the rules in Canada for golf courses are different from the rest of the public. Many dangerous pesticides that are banned elsewhere are allowed on the golf course.

The narrative explores the use of these chemicals on both sides of the border with our investigator going as far as the Bahamas and Scotland to gather information. The conclusion is nothing definitive but a higher rate of cancers to people in close proximity or regular uses of these products are a fact. Farmers and golf course groundskeepers are two central groups plus the products have a direct impact on human beings and the ecosystems nearest their concentrated use.  Harold who golfed just about every Friday afternoon, Saturday and Sunday while he worked then 6 days a week in retirement may have been a victim alongside children that play on playgrounds, sports fields and in some jurisdiction, their own front and back yards that pesticides makers boast their products make living room beautiful.

*** 1/2  Out of 4.

Ground War | Andrew Nisker | Canada / Bahamas / U.S.A. / U.K. | 2018 | 78 Minutes.

Tags: Cosmetic Pesticides, Golf, 2,4-D, Cancer, Lymphoma, Bahamas, Coral Reef, Evasive Algae, Links Land, Chlorothalonil, Bensulide, Dicamba, Dow, Syngenta, Bayer, Silent Spring

Friday, October 26, 2018

Fox Searchlight Film Review - Can You Ever Forgive Me?

Lee Israel (Melissa McCarthy) is in one of the worst predicaments possible. She has name recognition as published biographer dating back to the 70's & 80's but she is broke. She's trying to pitch her latest one on vaudeville notary Fanny Brice. However at present in 1991 New York City she has been working as a copy editor with co-workers half her age that talk behind their back dreading the possibility still doing the job at Lee' age.  She lives in an old world apartment that she rarely cleans. Her cat Jersey her only true friend is ill and in need of treatment but her owner is unable to pay the current tab at the vet.

While researching her Fanny Brice project Lee she comes across a couple of letters from her subject tucked in a book. She takes them and sells them to a bookstore for a decent fee. The buyer Anna (Dolly Wells) indicates that something similar with a bit more personal touch could fetch a larger sum. Desperate and with little to nothing to loose Israel grabs typewriters from the eras of her literary targets to write postscripts from the grave to letters from the likes of Noel Coward and Dorothy Parker learning that collectors will pay more than the equivalent of one month's rent for the pieces. What she calls embellishing the buyer, collector and authorities would instead use the word forgery.

Director Marielle Heller handles the material and her star performer well. Melissa McCarthy is given free reign to wallow in her curmudgeonly ways, disheveled attire while slinging whiskey like an alcoholic day drinker. Nicole Holofcener co-wrote the piece featuring an unlikeable main character that pushes everyone away even those that she needs to get her next work published. But the narrative gets to the inner core of Lee who has a good heart is incredibly trusting once she lets you in and is ultimately willing to take responsibility for her actions.

Can You Ever Forgive Me? is a film that takes its title from a quote from one Lee's heroes Dorothy Parker. Melissa McCarthy turns in her impeccable comedic timing for a biting bordering on cruel sharp wit. Richard E. Grant shines riding shotgun as literary circle notable Jack Hock trying desperately to hold onto what's left of his good looks, romantic charm and name recognition. Dolly Wells is touching as the vulnerable bookshop owner Anna who gives Lee her first sale and willing despite the formers attitude and appearance to explore a deeper relationship.

*** 1/2 Out of 4.

Can You Ever Forgive Me? | Marielle Heller | U.S.A. | 2018 | 106 Minutes.

Tags: Lee Israel, Biographer, Whiskey, Forgery, Noel Coward, Dorothy Parker, Memoir, Agent, Publisher, Yale, Archives.