Tuesday, September 27, 2016

TIFF 16 Film Review- Manchester By The Sea

Lee Chandler (Casey Afflick)  is a man looking to punish himself  in the opening segments of the film.  He is living in a sparsely furnished basement apartment working as a janitor for a 6 complex apartment unit. Chandler goes to the units when summoned to work on pluming do some painting and other minor repairs. He does not have the best bedside manner generating complaints from the tenants to his boss. When not working inside the complex he's outside shoveling snow or at a local bar drinking alone picking fights with multiple people, expecting to loose and welcoming the beatings.

Chandler is ripped from his normal routine when he receives a phone call bearing tragic news about his brother Joe (Kyle Chander) forces Lee to drop everything and head to Manchester to see about his brother affairs and to his nephew Patrick (Lucas Hedges). Once back in Manchester the towns folk begin to whisper that THE Lee Chandler is back in town and through flashbacks we learn about his married life with his wife Randi (Michelle Williams) his past close relationship with his nephew and brother and the strained one with his sister in law Elise (Gretchen Mol). A central item to the family is the fishing boat that Joe ran with his partner circling Manchester harbour more for fun than as a business endeavour.

Director Kenneth Lonergan presents a somber piece who's initial shot of sorrow cannot compare to the events of the past that have put Lee into a catatonic state as he shuffles though his daily activities. The narrative does have comedic moments mainly in the exchanges between Lee and Patrick as the latter does not want the former to mess up his setup locally. The story includes an unexpected sentiment towards Lee from his ex-wife Randi that is not expected from a mother to the author of  her tragic loss.

Casey Afflick produces his best performance in a number of years as Lee Chandler. He is so paralyzed from his horrific past that he barely reacts to the news of his brother Kyle. He is cold and calculation as he handles his brother's affairs and the same when dealing with his nephew and the future of the boat. Lucas Hedges is strong as Lee's nephew Patrick for the most part he takes the events of his father in stride but has one pivotal scene as he rummages through the freezer and the reality of his Dad's passing hits him head on.

Quiet, somber, remorseful yet fulfilling. Manchester by the Sea is a picture that examines dark issues and emotions but gives hope that one will eventually all be it slowly emerge on the other side. The shooting style highlights a watercolour palate that is appropriate for the mood and location of the principal action in the production. The main and supporting cast do not make a wrong step with the material. Longran's long awaited third feature delivers strong characters dealing with difficult topics as one would expect from authentic New Englanders.

***  1/2  Out of 4.

Manchester by The Sea | Kenneth Lonergan | U.S.A. | 2016 | 137 Minutes.

Tags; Boston, Janitor/Handyman, Congestive Heart Failure, Fire, Suicide Attempt, Boating, Fishing, Funeral.      

TIFF 16 Film Review - Raw

Separation anxiety, the march to adulthood, latent urges and genetic history are the main signpost for Julia Ducournau's first feature film. The feature is a commentary on the vegan lifestyle, college hazing and the real effects of peer pressure.  Justine (Garance Marillier) is dropped off by her parents for her first year of Veterinarian School. She is a smart head of her class plus she's a legacy student. Both her patents attend the school and her older sister Alexia (Ella Rumpf) is in her second year in the program.  Justine's world changes at the initial hazing ritual for the new students. She is forced to consume a raw rabbit kidney which is an issue as she is a strict vegan along with both her parents and her sister although Alexia puts the most pressure on her to eat the kidney and seems to have turned into a regular meat eater.

After the hazing incident Justine develops a hunger for the smell and taste of flesh along with an extreme skin itching and peeling episode that lands her in the campus doctor's office. Her sister gives her some information about the goings on at school but also leaves a lot of information occasionally embarrassing Justine for her amusement. Our heroine's appetite continues to grow plus newly developing sexual urges combine to produce a jittery mess of a young woman who spends a good portion of time pin-balling from one emotion to the next.

Julia Ducournau takes a different approach to the horror genre. Jump scares are rare. A central figure does not run up a body count of unsuspecting co-eds. Instead psychology and instinct drive the action. Ducourneau depiction of the events on screen evoke a physical response to the viewer which may explain the extreme reaction of a couple of patrons at the midnight screening at this year's Toronto International Film Festival.

The ensemble case all perform their roles well. Garance Mariller is solid as the naive lead Justine and plays well against Ella Rumpf  in the role of her older mischievous sister who has all the answers but  dolls out information to Justine in drips and drabs. Rabah Nait Oufella has a large supporting role as Justine's roommate Adrien who identifies himself as gay right off the bat but ends up as the object of both sisters affection.

Raw is a cerebral horror film that delivers the gore in a different manner. The audience experiences the ever growing urges of the lead character at her pace while director Ducourneau often introduces a key event in the past tense when Justine attempts to unravel what has occurred.  The unorthodox approach of the narrative makes for an unconventional tale that I can definitely recommend.

   *** 1/2 Out of 4.

Raw | Julia Ducournau | France / Belgium | 2016 | 91 Minutes.

Tags; Vegan, Rabbit Kidney, Veternarian School, Hazing, Severed Limb, Car Accident, Animals, Dissection.

Sunday, September 25, 2016

TIFF 16 Film Review - Loving

The 1967 Supreme Court case Loving vs. Virginia that decide that marriage is a right for all Americans regardless of the race of either participant is the backdrop for Jeff Nichols latest film. If the viewer is expecting violence, vitriol or anger directed towards the Lovings they will not find in this film. Instead the couple Richard (Joel Edgerton) and Mildred (Ruth Negga) go about their everyday lives as their encounters with the law proceed forward towards the Supreme Court.

Richard is a general labourer in the poorer area of Virginia. He goes to work each day on the job site doing masonry work to build houses. Mildred spends her days at the family farm until Richard comes home. In their leisure time the pair go out with friends when Richard is not working on his car or going to the racetrack to compete in drag races. The couple is unremarkable until Richard proposes marriage which they do in Washington D.C. leading to their first run in with the authorities start of their legal entanglement when the local Virginia police learn of the event and their whereabouts.

Director Jeff Nichols takes a socially charged subject and presents in a quiet even paced manner. Mildred and Richard are not portrayed as a couple making grandiose speeches, large gestures or looking to be involved in open confrontation. Instead they take every step in stride, remaining optimistic and hopeful with Mildred being more vocal while Richard's statement on the affair is Tell the Judge I love my wife.

Nichols takes his time unwinding the narrative before he reveals the facts of the Loving's crime. They can face serious jail time if they are caught together in Virginia and the conditions of their suspended sentence from their first court case is a 25 year ban from returning to the State at the same time.

Ruth Negga is the main voice of the couple as Mildred. She makes the decision on where the family will live. She does the main communication with the lawyers and sends the vital letter to Washington to get their case moving in the right direction. Joel Edgerton performance as Richard is more physical.  He communicates with gestures, body language and facial expressions. When he talks its short sentences or grunts but he does speak up at the most critical times. Nick Kroll plays a key part as ACLU lawyer Bernie Cohen who first sees the potential of the Loving's case. He understands  the nuances of his clients but knows he will need help as he's well out of his league with the case. Nichols' muse Michael Shannon has an important part as the Life magazine report that spends a day with the family to produce the article and photos that brings their case to National attention.

Loving is an important story that lead to a landmark American court decision. Director Nichols focused on the couple's struggle delivering the story in a straight forward manner.  The narrative is free of demonstrations at the police headquarters or protests on the steps of the State Legislature. Instead the production narrows in on the everyday life of the pair as they continue on a path to give them the right be able to live and raise their children together.

*** 1/2 Out of 4.

Loving | Jeff Nichols | UK / USA | 2016 | 123 Minutes.

Tags: Virginia, 1958, Marriage, Arrest, Jail, Illegal, Supreme Court, Exile, Drag Racing, Life Magazine.

TIFF 16 Film Review - Frantz

Prolific French director Francois Ozon steps far away from his comfort zone with his latest film Frantz. The majority of the film is in black and white. The main language is German and the subject matter is very somber. The departure is the first of many parallels that can be drawn from the production. The two main characters one German and the other French also venture to each others country with tensions still high shortly after the completion of the Great War.

Anna (Paula Beer) lives in the small town of Oldenburg with the parents of her fiancee Franz Hoffmeister who died in the last days of World War I. She goes to his grave every day to water, maintain and leave fresh flowers. One day she notices a stranger at the grave leaving flowers. On her next sighting of the stranger Adrien (Pierre Niney) she learns that he new Frantz in Paris before the war and brings him home to the Hoffmeisters hoping that news of his friendship with Frantz could bring them some comfort.

Ozon's narrative roots stem from the 1932 Ernst Lubisch production Broken Lullaby. The earlier production had a stronger anti-war sentiment however some of those elements do inhabit the piece mainly though Adrien and flashbacks of Frantz neither of whom ever wanted to go to war or saw a difference in young men wearing a French or German solders uniform. A surprising discussion comes from the fathers of Oldenberg in one of their weekly meetings. They openly admit that the deaths of their sons and sons of French fathers is their responsibility as it is their generations actions that sent the young men off to war in the first place. Ozon also uses an effective technique of switching in and out of monochrome. First its used for the flashback scenes of Frantz then at other key occasions during the film. Ozon's use of mainly black and white fits the project as the simple colour palate fits perfectly with the images the viewer's image of the era.

Paula Beer and Pierre Niney are first-rate in the lead rolls. Beer's Anna is stuck at the start of the film until Adrien brings her out of her rut and moves her thoughts out of her past to the present and even to contemplating the future. Adrien is totally distraught having seen the Great War up close. His trip to Oldenberg eases his conscious and soothes him more when he sees the effect his presence has on Anna and Frantz parents. Ernst Stoetzner is strong in a supporting role as Frantz father the local town doctor. He is a proud German and very anti French stating that All Frenchmen killed my son but grows to tolerate, like and even contemplate Adrien as a suitable suitor for Anna as Adrien tells stories and antidotes of Frantz pre-war life in Paris.

Frantz is a picture that is mainly a commentary on processing loss. A secondary theme is choosing the best story to tell if one account will inflict even more pain on those that are grieving. The anti-war  subject matter of the sours material is pushed to a minor role in the production. There are two strong sequences of nationalism with each of the main characters in a foreign land that show despite the horrors each nation had just endured that it would not take much to whip up sentiment to plunge into the theatre of combat once again.

*** 1/2 Out of 4.

Frantz | Francois Ozon | France / Germany | 2016 | 113 Minutes.

Tags; The Great War, Death, Grave, Paris, The Louvre, Black & White, Grief, Sorrow, Edouard Manet, The Suicide.

Friday, September 23, 2016

TIFF 16- Film Review - The Women's Balcony (Ismach Hatani)

Religious devotion, division between the sexes, comparing yourself to your neighbour and fighting for your rights are thorny topic that fully on display in Emil Ben Shimon's new film. The story starts and ends with two significant events a bar mitzvah at the outset and a wedding to conclude. In between the members of an Orthodox synagogue in a small Jerusalem community interact, love and fight amongst each other after a catastrophic events strike their synagogue.

The film opens with all the members of the community headed happily down the narrow cobbled streets to their synagogue for a bar mitzvah. During the event as the candies rain down from the balcony that houses the female worshipers collapses putting the Rabbi's wife in a coma and incapacitating the Rabbi. The male worshipers gain a champion in Rabbi David (Avraham Aviv Alush) a staunchly religious man who makes it his single goal to restore the local synagogue to the delight of the men. However his interpretation of God's word is much stricter that their regular Rabbi leading to cracks in the community between those that see themselves as more devoted than others. The split hits a breaking point when first; the synagogue is restored without a women's balcony then when the women raise the funds for the balcony Rabbi David declares that the funds must go to another religious item instead.

Director Shimon uses humor and comedic timing very effectively in the film. The device is especially evident when the faithful debate amongst themselves their level of devotion. The comedic element also helps to defuse many highly contentious religious issues.

Ettie excellently portrayed by Evelin Hagoel and her Husband Zion (Igal Naor) are the most secular of the group and even they are split apart by the influence of Rabbi David. The Rabbi's passionate speeches implanted the idea in the men that their spouses are not modest enough in the face of God directing the men to purchase scarves for their wives to cover their heads which each spouse accepts to varying degrees. But its Rabbi David's freezing of the funds raised by the women  that unites them leading to a mass walk out and protest in front of the Rabbi's seminary.    

The Women's Balcony is an excellent commentary on how a happy and healthy community can be upset by an unexpected series of events. One should also be wary of seemingly pious saviours that falls into your midst. A community will gain more in the long run by banding together to reach a solution with equal input from everyone even if it's a slower and harder process over a quicker and easier route that could lead to more work to mend relationships in the end.

*** 1/2  Out of 4.

The Women's Balcony | Emile Ben Shimon | Israel | 2016 | 96 Minutes.

Tags: Bar Mitzvah, Synagogue, Sabbath, Orthodox, Rabbi, Gender, Protest, Wedding, Fruit Salad.


TIFF 16 Film Review - Aquarius

The Brazilian waterfront city of Recife is the setting for writer-director Mendonca Filho's second feature Aquarius. The city has many decades old waterfront apartments with a poorer section at the Eastend of the beach. The area has avoided the wrecking ball of big development companies until a developer shows up at the Aquarius Apartments offering more than market value to the owners to sell.

The story opens with a prelude set in 1979 a young Clara is on the beach with her brother and future sister in-law listening to the new track from Queen Another One Bites the Dust. Their lack of concept of time makes them late for her Aunt Lucia's 70th birthday party where they also celebrate Clara victory in her battle against breast cancer. The narrative shifts forward to the present day where Clara (Sonja Braga)  reflects on the events of that day while still occupying the same space with the wooden console table that evoked strong memories for her Aunt prominently positioned in the home.

Clara a retired music critic who is devotedly dedicated to her record collection and turntable is now the matriarch of her family.  She goes for her regular swims at the beach across the street enjoying her independence from her three children and grand kids.  The construction company continues to turn up the pressure as she is the last hold out in the building leading them to first approach her daughter Ana Paula (Maeve Jenkins)to try to persuade her to sell then allow other groups to stage events in the abandoned units.

Kleber Mendonca Filho presents the narrative at a steady pace. The battle with the construction company is civil and almost friendly at first but as Clara digs in stating that she will not leave her apartment until death. The company bears its teeth trying more invasive and extreme methods to try to get Clara to move out. The production also shows that an independent, active and sexual life can continue and even thrive past your 60th birthday. A rare event to focus a story on someone in that age range especially a female without the subject matter being on medical issues or failing health in general.

Sonja Braga is clearly the engine of this production.  She is feisty, fearless, defiant, dignified and sexy in the role of Clara. She is willing to take on a large developer and her family alike while attracting the interest of men in her age group along with those half her age. Maeve Jenkins turns in a strong performance as her daughter Ana Paula. With her marriage on shaky ground she has to juggle taking care of her young daughter and work while being the only a person willing to take on her mother head on.

Aquarius is a film that stars a senior actor in a strong positive aggressive role. It also displays the lengths developers are wiling to go to force people out of their homes including some very distasteful and inconceivable methods. Sonja Braga delivers an exceptional performance that will see her name mentioned at Award time. Kleber Mendonca Filho story is timely given the current political climate in Brazil making it one that I can highly recommend.

**** Out of 4.

Aquarius | Kleber Mendonca Filho | Brazil / France | 2016 |  142 Minutes.

Tags: 1979, Apartment, Real Estate, Queen, Orgy, Termites, Church Service, Birthday party, Breast Cancer



Wednesday, September 21, 2016

TIFF 16 Film Review - Moonlight

Presented in three distinct chapters writer-director Barry Jenkins' Moonlight tells the story of  Chiron as he grows from  a 9 year old kid to an adult and attempts to navigate and survive on the dangerous streets of 1980's Liberty City.  Chiron is bullied constantly while saddled with a crack addicted mother (Naomie Harris) . He is on the run from a group of older kids forced to seek refuge in a crack house at the films opening.  In the first chapter entitled Little the mood is set by the films opening track Boris Gordon's Every Nigg.r.Is a Star. played on the radio of Juan (Mahershala Ali)  Impala as he  arrives at the corner where he runs the local crack business. Juan rescues Little from his hiding place then serves as a father figure over the objections of his paranoid mother. Jaun girlfriend Teresa (Janelle Monae) opens her home to Little whenever his absentee abusive mother becomes too much to handle.

Chapter two finds Chiron (now played by Ashton Sanders) in high school seemingly with fewer friends than when he was a child. His friend Kevin from childhood is present but he is part of the cool group and the main catalyst for the two key events of his adolescence one tender and the other violent.

The third chapter Black (Trevante Rhodes) features our protagonist bulked up occupying the same role as his mentor Juan in Georgia where he was sent to Juvi. after he finally defended himself in high school. Black controls the main corner, does his rounds to collect money, blasting tunes  in his Impala with grills covering his upper and lower teeth.

Jenkins film is a strong portrayal of a repeating cycle that vulnerable youth are destined to fall into if their world consists of absentee, addicted or abusive parents, indifferent teachers at school coupled with the drug culture right outside their doorstep. However Jenkins highlights those fragile touching moments that fight their way to the surface; Juan taking Little to the beach and teaching him how to float or multiple poignant moments in each chapter between Chiron and Kevin.  

Of the three actors that play Chiron Ashton Sanders tackles the role in the most pivital time frame. Chiron is an adolescent, he is still being picked on at an age where the attacks can cause real physical injury. He is also trying to come to terms with his developing sexuality as his crack addicted mom brings strange men around the home when she's not accosting him for money. Naomie Harris is superb as his mother Paula. She manages to hold down a job as a nurse while feeding her habit while flipping between being extremely overprotective or overtly indifferent to her son. Mahershala Ali turns in a strong performance to complement his role in this year's Kicks as Chiron's protector and father figure in the first chapter. He sees the effect that his profession has on the community taking on a guardian type role with Chiron to do some good.

Moonlight is an important portrayal of the everyday factors in a marginalized community that have real consequences on the youth and adolescence. Growing up in these areas children face threats at home, school, and in their neighborhoods. In this instance coupled with developing sexual feelings leads to even more isolation and withdrawal as a shield against criticism. It's a powerful, painful and pleasing production that I can definitely recommend.

**** Out of 4.

Moonlight | Barry Jenkins | U.S.A. | 2016 | 110 minutes.

Tags: Liberty City, South Florida , Miami, Bullying, Homosexuality, Isolation, Georgia, Juvenile Prison ,Crack Cocaine, Rehab.


Tuesday, September 20, 2016

TIFF 16 Film Review - Nocturnal Animals

The choice between love, sensitivity and risk oppose practicality, safety and materialism in Tom Ford's second feature Nocturnal Animals. Susan Morrow (Amy Adams) runs a prestigious art gallery in LA.  Her latest exhibit featuring obese nude cheerleaders dancing in glass enclosures runs over the opening credits of the film. Susan leaves the opening to head home to her expansive utilitarian home where she gives the servants the weekend off.  She sees her husband Hutton (Arnie Hammer) the next morning as he is on his way to New York to close out a big deal leaving Susan along in their large soulless mansion for the weekend.  Into this settling a package arrives from her ex-husband Edward Sheffield (Jack Gyllenhaal) on the inner page the dedication reads to Susan.  Thus begins a nightly ritual of settling into bed to read from the manuscript which serves as a story within the main narrative. In the book Tony (Gyllenhaal) is driving through East Texas with his wife Laura (Isla Fisher) and daughter India (Ellie Bamber) when they encounter two cars of locals moving slowly blocking the highway. As Tony tries to pass the most extreme case for road rage ensues resulting in horrific consequences for Tony and his family. As the tension builds in the story Susan often slams the book close gasping heavily as she struggles to catch her breath. Edward was the idealist that believed in her ability as an artist that she married against the wishes of her mother who called him weak foreseeing the eventual split.

Tom Ford's roots from the fashion world permeate the piece. The clothes worn by the main player are sleek and stylish looking fresh from the runway. The male characters feature the every present  Tom Ford white shirt, black blazer uniform. While the design of the sets are flooded with black, whites and silvers down to the Morrow midnight black Mercedes. The story is based on the Austin Wright novel Tony and Susan. Ford's fingerprints are every present in the production serving as director, writer and producer. Ford contrasts the stylist LA world with the remote dusty Texas setting for the novel. The flashy runway wear is replaced with ball caps, tee shirts and torn jeans.

Amy Adams leads the cast as Susan. Deep inside she has the elements to embrace risk, show confidence in her abilities and to take a leap of faith but her practical side prevailed trapping her in a  loveless marriage working as an administrator instead of a creative artist. Jake Gyllenhaal takes on one of his more emotionally charged due roles as idealistic Edward and psychologically traumatized Tony. Look for Laura Linney in a commanding once scene role as Susan mother Anne. She is the epitome of big hair conservative old money fit with a slow relaxed Texas drawl. Michael Shannon turns in another in a series for strong performances as the local law man Bobbly Andes who is not afraid to bend some rules as he helps Tony in the pursuit of the perpetrators.

Nocturnal Animals is a highly suspenseful violent tale of a man trying to communicate to his ex-wife the true extent of the pain that she has inflicted on him through a novel. Tom Ford's eye for fashion , shapes and colour saturate the screen. The two stories work well in tandem as the action switches back and forth throughout the production. The actors excel backed by strongly written dialogue and superior direction that will likely see the film at the head of the line during award season.

**** Out of 4.

Nocturnal Animals | Tom Ford |  U.S.A. | 2016 |  115 Minutes.

Tags; LA, Gallery, Opening, Cheerleader, Divorce, Manuscript, Idealism, Materialism, Texas, Vacation, Road Rage, Highway, Flat, Shack.


TIFF16 Film Review - The Secret Scripture

Rosecommon Regional Mental Hospital is about to close causing a massive upheaval to its longest serving resident Rose McNulty played by Vanessa Redgrave in present day. Rose has been a resident for 50 years with no one quite knowing the reason why she has been in the institution for so long.  Before she departs Dr. William Grene (Eric Bana ) is charged with completing an evaluation. The doctor begins to dig through the documents in her file noting the inconsistencies in the material.

The massive machines of the Catholic Church and Psychiatry are put under the microscope in the Jim  Sheridan film. How unproven testimony can set in motion a series of events to have someone committed  to an asylum then the downhill momentum of bureaucracy keep them there for decades on end.

As the story shifts back to the past Rooney Mara takes on the role of young Rose in World War two era Northern Ireland. She has just sparked a relationship with Michael (Jack Reynor) a future RAF pilot when she vacates to the Republic to work in her Aunts Temperance House that serves both Catholics and Protestants. Her late Mothers mental heath issues loom above her as she displays unladylike traits such as looking men right in the eye, swimming where she shouldn't and warding off suitor after suitor including the local priest Father Gaunt (Theo James) who grows ever more obsessed with Rose's defiance and combative attitude. Our Protagonist is first banished to a farmhouse on the outskirts of town where she reunites with Michael for a brief period of time.   However her non-conformist attitude lands her in Rosecommon in 1942 where she is brutalized by the nurses and subjected to shock therapy as she fight to keep her memories alive.

Sheridan adapts the story from Sebastian Barry's novel of the same name. The story has elements that reminder the viewer of two recent Irish Catholic stories The Magdalene Sisters and Philomena. The political angle is an intriguing element. The old IRA are present who's position is clearly more anti monarchy then anti-German. Rose is often asked by its supports who's side is she on.

Both Rooney Mara and Vanessa Redgrave turn in excellent performances in the shared lead role. Ms. Redgrave plays confused, vulnerable but is equally sharp and perceptive on the issues that affect her most. Mara is equally effective challenging the standards of 1940's Ireland as she battles against  the place of a woman in society.  Theo James is the other constant presence thorough the film as Father Gaunt. He has a pivotal role in Rose's story thinking that he is doing the best thing for her but seems to be present at every tragic moment in her life.

The Secret Scripture is a detailed study of a life frozen in time due to the actions of State institutions. Rose's world came to an effective end the day she was dragged into the Asylum faced with threats and experimental therapies. The power of  government institutions to hold a person in limbo for decades on end is both horrifying yet sadly believable. The film is beautifully shot featuring strong acting performances making it one that I an highly recommend.

**** Out of 4

The Secret Scripture | Jim Sheridan |  Ireland | 2016 | 108 Minutes.

Tags: World War II, RAF, 1940's Ireland , Catholic Church, IRA, Mental Asylum, Shock Therapy, Bible, Book of Job.



TIFF 16 - Film Review - La La Land

Mia (Emma Stone) is down to the her last glimmer of hope after 6 years of auditions in her attempts to become a working actress. She's a barista at a coffee house on the lot of a major studio so she can at least get the feel of the movie business each day. Mia continues to have random meeting with Sebastian (Ryan Gosling) who has plans of his own to keep the pure form of jazz alive by opening a club but in the meantime to make money he's forced to take small jobs playing elevator music gigs or synthesizers at corporate parties. Their relationship shifts from anger, to wisecracks to dating while both continue to struggle in an attempt to reach their dreams.

The struggling couples fortunes begin to change when Seb runs into an old music pal Keith (John Legend) who has put a touring pop band together in need of a keyboard player. At the same time Mia works on a one woman show that catches the eye of a major casting agent. However success changes the relationship and each decide they have achieved all they can together  agreeing to go their separate ways.

Damien Chazelle takes another leap forward with his vision as a director following 2014's Whiplash . The film is a send up of the golden age of musicals where the main players follow their dreams as an innocent naiveté fills the air. Chazelle's sweeping camera shots and Peter Pan like choreography for Mia & Seb's first date will thoroughly please audiences. The dialogue peppered with several comedic moments shifts in and out of musical numbers as the action progresses on screen.

Emma Stone gives her best acting performance to date as Mia. She is hanging to the last branch of show business by her fingernails at the outset of the film. She embarks on the one woman show encouraged by Seb that introduces her to a Hollywood heavyweight. Ryan Gosling is cool and stoic  Seb. He finds a degree of success first but it's questionable if his new gig is in line with his dram goal.

La La Land will bring audiences back to the musical in a large way. It may not resurrect the genre but the film is a joyful ride that will be liked by young and old alike. Chazelle has made a significant shift from his last project but has hit the mark again. The choreography is brilliant, the music sections smartly written backed by a pleasing colour palate making it a film I can  recommend.

*** Out of 4.

La La Land | Damien Chazelle | U.S.A. | 2016 | 126 minutes.

Tags: Jazz, Los Angeles, Barista, Auditions, Casting Agent, Observatory, Paris, Touring, The Messengers, Paris, Improv.

Friday, September 9, 2016

levelFilm Film Review - Moments of Clarity

Claire (Kristen Wallace) can normally be found in one of two places. At home with her agoraphobic obsessive-compulsive mother Henrietta (Saxon Trainor), or in church. She ventures outside on a rare occasion to give out muffins to the neighbourhood where a mishap lands her in Danielle's (Lyndsy Fonseca) house with a nose bleed.  At their next encounter Clair's actions lead to the destruction of Danielle's prized Super 8 camera which is the first step in a series that gets the girls off on a journey along Route 43 in Illinois.

Fear, Isolation, Home Schooling, Overbearing Parents , Adventure and Trust are the main elements of Stev Elam's first feature. Claire and Danielle head further out on the road after Claire leans from her grandparents how her mother's mental issues have effected her life as she is a 24 year old home schooled girl with the social skills of an 11 year old.  Along the road they encounter an ever increasingly odd set of clerks from the camera store, to the nursing home to a bar where the duo consider entering a Karaoke contest.

Elam shooting style features many long shots with the camera stationary. He also employees several dream sequences normally illustrating Claire naive concept of sexual encounters many of which  feature Danielle's dad Paster Paul (Mackenzie Astin). The other recurring plot device is the ever increasingly disturbing stories on the radio.  They start with a report of a local peeping Tom and peak with a piece on an Association of Men with Women's names.

Henrietta and Paul eventually head out to find their daughters. The girls only get into a mild bit of trouble ending up at a full Moon festival on their way to the Pump up the Jam Christian Youth Jamboree. Along the way Claire gets to experience the world outside of her front yard meeting people with differing backgrounds, interests and agenda's for the first time.

Kristen Wallace also takes a writing credit for the production along with playing the central character Claire. Wallace is at her best when she is open, accepting and genuinely expecting the best from people at each new encounter. However the repeated use of childlike or long dead phrases does get taxing as the action progresses. Lyndsy Fornseca has the best material to work with as Danielle. She is the Pastor's daughter that lost her mother at age that spends her days watching old family films when she is not acting out trying to appear tough and smart. Eric Roberts and Xander Berkeley inject some needed enthusiasm into the proceedings as partners and authors of the Full Moon Festival while being champions and friends to travelers.

Moments of Clarity is study in helicopter parenting to the extreme. The narrative raises in a lighthearted way the real consequences of the actions of parents who think that they are protecting their child from the harsh outside world but in fact the harder they squeeze the more likely their child will slip through their fingers and turn resentful. The film has many enjoyable sequence with the running gags of desk clerks and kooky radio stories being the most noteworthy. If you are in the mood for something light with a good message in a production that does not deliver it in a heavy handed then Moments of Clarity is worth a look.                

*** Out of 4.

Moments of Clarity | Stev Elam | Canada /USA | 2015 | 97 Minutes.

Tags: Home Schooling, Super 8 Camera, Full Moon Festival, Route 43, Classic Porn, Jamboree.

Monday, September 5, 2016

Film Review - Kicks

Friendship, belonging, status, street cred and the harsh reality of the wrong side of Bay are key elements in Justin Tipping's Kicks. Our protagonist Brandon (Jahking Guillory) is 15 shorter that his friends and classmates spending his days paling around with fit and confident Rico (Christopher Meyer) and braggart husky rapper Albert (Christopher Jordan Wallace) The troika usually go to the convince store where innocent looking Brandon steals alcohol, ride their bikes around and hang out at the basketball courts looking for girls. One topic of extreme knowledge is the vintages of Air Jordan basketball shoes. There are the three's, the fives and the Holy Grail the black and red original Air Jordan one's vintage 1986.

One day while walking home Brandon comes across local hustler Daryl selling Nike's out of the back of a van including a pair of red and black Jordan1's. Brandon makes the purchase, throws his workout all white Nike's over a power line and heads to the basketball court feeling a foot taller to impress. Later, on the way home he's intercepted by neighbourhood thief (Flaco) and his crew. They roll him for his belongings and his shoes kicking off a series of events in the pursuit to recover the stolen shoes.

Writer -Directory Justin Tipping's strong sharp dialogue dominates the narrative. Tipping displays a deft touch with the turn of phrase in his writing. The story is hard on serious ribbing between the friends then doubles down on their bond when the intensity increases during the confrontation with Flaco and his followers.  Cinematographer Michael Ragen excels especially during the sequences where Brandon looks to his spaceman protector for guidance. His lens captures the gritty dark and treacherous streets of the East Bay exposing all of its grit and prickles.

The ensemble cast perform their roles well. Jahking Gilroy has the most to due with the main role but he is complemented well by the two Christopher's portraying his best friends. Look for Dante and Donton Clark as Brandon's cousins from Flaco's neighbourhood. Mahershali Ali only has a couple of scenes but provides major impact as Brandon's Uncle fresh off an extended stint in jail.

Kicks is a film set over two days that's onscreen presence exceeds its small budget status. The story brings the viewers into a world where your possessions and confrontations that often lead to violence are the measure of where you stand in society. Beautifully shot crisply written and even pacing making it a film worth a look.

*** Out of 4.

Kicks | Justin Tipping |  U.S.A. | 2016 | 80 Minutes.

Tags : Oakland, East Bay, BART, Nike, Air Jordan's, Robbery, Drifting, Basketball, BMX Bike