Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Film Review - River of My Dreams: A Portrait of Gordon Pinsent

Canadian acting icon Gordon Pinsent left his beloved Newfoundland to head to Canada a year before the Island entered Confederation. He began his acting career in Winnipeg where he met his first wife and had his first two children. Pensent in his own words was not ready for family life in his mid twenties so he hitch hiked to Toronto to embark on the next level of his acting career.

Director Brigette Berman crafts her film mainly from interviews with family and creative friends with Pinsent being the chief recounter telling barbs from his past starting from his days as a boy in Grand Falls, Newfoundland. His kids Beverly, Barry and Leah are also interviewed extensively along with director Norman Jewison and Mary Walsh. Pinsent who is now entering his 87th year is sharp as a tack as he gives a living history of his 70 year in Canadian television and film. He is at his most compelling when he recounts soliloquies from his roles on stage; Macbeth, the Tempest, Cyrano de Bergerac with a knowing slight smile fixed on his lips. The only drawback in production is the ill-advised choice to mix in stop action motion recreation of scenes from the actor's childhood plus a few additional episodes from his adult life.

The documentary is at its best when Pinsent is on camera. One particular sequence describing his first meeting with Christopher Plummer at Stafford is very juicy. Plummer remembers Pinsent as a young and annoying leaving Plummer (in his mind) with no alternative but to use a pointed expletive to get Pinsent out of his space. The actor clearly shows his devotion to Canada as he found several success in Hollywood notably in the Norman Jewison directed Thomas Crown Affair where he held his own on screen along side Steve McQueen and Fay Dunaway. Despite his success he wanted to come back to Canada to tell Canadian stories on Canadian soil such as The Rowdyman shot in his native Newfoundland.

A strong element of the piece is the inclusion of Pinsent's paintings that serve as a snapshot of many moments in his life. There are several portraits that feature his beloved late wife Char normally with a cigarette in hand along with several of his third child daughter Leah as she grew from child to adulthood. Pinsent does not exclude the not so shining moments in his life. From leaving his first wife in Winnipeg with two very young kids that he would not see again for 25 years to a need to seek attention of other women while married to or during the separation periods from Char.

The River of My Dreams is a complete study of a revered Canadian actor. It touches on his television successes starting with Quentin Durgens M.P. John and the Missus and a wonderful turn on This Hour Has 22 minutes doing a serious read of the memoirs of a 16 year old Justin Beiber's book. His films including his recent tour de force performance in Sarah Polley's Away From Her is also highlighted. A certain generation may not know any of his films but might remember that he was the voice of Babar in their youth. If your're a fan of the Canadian arts from Stage to TV to Film and like a story of an actor that came back to working in Canada despite the potential of the potential of bigger and better opportunities south of the border then this production is for you.

*** Out of 4

The River of My Dreams | Brigitte Berman | U.S.A. | 201 |104 Minutes .

Tags: Documentary. Biography, Grand Falls, Winnipeg, Stratford, Shakespeare, Divorce, CBC.

Sunday, January 29, 2017

Movie Nights Across Canada Film Review - Mean Dreams

Jonas Ford (Josh Wiggins) is a rural farm boy with a strong moral compass in Nathan Morlando's Mean Dreams. He has clear ideas of right and wrong, good and evil underpinned by the belief that good people deserve to have thing go right for them.  Enter into his world Casey Caraway (Sophie Nelisse) who moved in next door to the Ford rural family farm with her dad Wayne Caraway  (Bill Paxton) who has roots in the area taking a job as a local cop. One of the first acts in the new home is to drill a bolt on the inside of her room after taking her dog Blaze for a walk in the yard.

Casey and Jonas hit it off almost a little too quickly as they roam the fall flat rural landscape of windswept tall grass, leaves and dirt roads the season that splits summer from winter. They both have troubled homes Jonas pulled out of school to work the failing family farm, a convenient target for his dad as his mom has withdrawn to be sad just about every day. Casey pushed into the role of maid, wife and daughter for her dad who is prone to fits of rage as he wonders around the property with a tumbler of whisky in hand. The pair need to get away then Sargent Caraway provides the means when his funds from a drug deal ends up in Jonas' hands.

Director Nathan Morlando more than tips his cap to Terrence Malick's Badlands with this film. All the elements are present the quiet teen girl, blue collar boy in a middle of nowhere rural setting heading out on the run. The biggest drawback of the piece is the scrip. The narrative is telegraphed. As plot point is introduced and it's obvious where the story is going to next.  The reason to watch is the excellent cinematography work of Seven Cosens who uses the vast Northern Ontario Autumn palate to bring out rich yellow, browns and burnt oranges vividly on screen.

The two young leads Josh Wiggins and rising star Sophie Nelisse of Monsieur Lazhar fame hold the screen well quickly getting the audience to care about their characters Jonas & Sophie. Bill Paxton puts his own twist on the abusive dad corrupt, alcoholic cop role as Sgt Caraway. Look for veteran character actor Colm Feore with significantly more screen time then expected as the local Chief.

Mean Dreams features several strong acting performances in a picturesque rural setting framed by the attentive eye of cinematographer Steven Cosens. The story has moments of tension mixed with displays of harshness but ultimately fails to break new ground or hold a sustained level of suspense due to pedestrian writing. The visuals are pleasing and I expect great performances are sure to follow from the two young leads but ultimately this is not the film where either will make their mark.

** Out of 4.

 Mean Dreams | Nathan Morlando | Canada | 2016 | 108 Minutes.

Tags: Family Farm, Drug Deal, Runaway, Drug Money, Corrupt Cop, Abusive Father, Right vs. Wrong, Good vs. Evil.          

Sunday, January 22, 2017

Film Review - Split

M. Night Shyamalan where have you been? The prodigious director who has been out in the wilderness since 2004's The Village the fourth in a series of very well received films. M. Night's new film Split see's him return with a vengeance. Casey Cooke (Anya Taylor-Joy) is the outsider in school. She is always in trouble spending most of her time in detention. She receives a mercy invite to super popular Claire's (Haley Lu Richardson's) birthday party. When Casey does not have a ride home, Clare's dad (Neal Huff) insist that he drive her home along with Claire's BFF Marcia (Jessica Sula.

The quartet are incepted by Dennis (James McAvoy) a meticulous individual who knocks out Mr. Benoit slips into the driver's seat of his car and kidnaps the girls. The captives find themselves in a basement room a dirty mixture of wood, iron and stone featuring two cots and a pristine bright white bathroom. The door unlocks, Dennis rushes in, looks at Marcia stating I choose you first and begins to drag her out of the room as she's pulled by, Casey tells her to wet herself. Marcia is returned quickly to the room, pants damp leaving the audience to wonder if prior experiences lead Casey to give that advise.

M. Night Shyamalan plays it more or less straight ahead in this piece. His central character Kevin Wendell Crumb (McAvoy) suffers from dissociative identity disorder that manifested in 23 different personalities. The storyline uses the introduction and idiosyncrasies of each personalities to advance the plot but this disorder is more than a simple change of clothes or speech patterns. Each personality believe who they are and when they get control Kevin looks different physically due to the different physiology, mannerisms, ailments and IQ's. The second most developed character is Casey. The narrative includes flashbacks to her hunting as a little girl with her dad and Uncle. It's a happy memory of her father but also hints to an inappropriate relationship with her Uncle perhaps a clue to Casey's  earlier recommendation to avoid an assault.

James McAvoy makes this film work. In another actor's hands the result could have been bordering on laughable or venturing towards the ridiculous. Initially the Dennis persona is in charge of Kevin  but the suspense rises to a higher plain when measured female personality Patricia followed by 9 year old mischievous Hedwig make their debuts. Hedwig explains that all the persona are in one place with the one in charge getting the light. Hedwig can get the light anytime he wants which Patricia and Dennis discover wanting to use their new found control of Kevin to introduce a new personality The Beast. Anya Taylor-Joy's Casey meets McAvoy's level at just about every turn. While her co-captives  rush to carry out the first thought that comes into their heads Casey wants to know more about their situation looking for the right opportunity to make a move. Betty Buckley is very effective as Dr. Karen Fletcher. She's Kevin's psychiatrist who normally meets Barry the fashion conscious  persona tasked to keep the horde inside Kevin in line. She argues to colleagues that DID is more than multiple personalities as her patients display different accents, levels of physical strengths and physical ailments all in the same body.

Split is a psychological thriller driven by a villain that is cold and measured one moment then doey eyed and vulnerable the next. The two leads play well off each other as the thematic notions that the damaged ones are pure lies at the core of the story. West Dylan Thordson's score is key in setting the tones for many of the scenes and becomes more important as the action rolls along. M. Night has found his footing, rediscovered his mojo but be sure not to rush out of the theatre after end title as there is a small nugget still to come that's not to be missed.

*** 1/2 Out of 4.

Split | M Night Shyamalan | U.S.A. | 2017 | 117 Minutes.

Tags; DID, Kidnapping, Dungeon, Molestation, Cutting, Maintenance, Pure, Horror, Amtrak

Friday, January 20, 2017

Film Review - The Founder

Ray Kroc (Michael Keaton) is a struggling milkshake mixer salesman traveling the Midwest in 1954. He goes from Drive-in to Drive-in giving his: What Came First speech The Chicken or The Egg ending by asking the restaurant owner if he can see that more volume will mean more sales only to be rejected time after time. After a particularly bad rejection he checks in at the office to hear of an order for 6 multi mixers from a couple of brothers in San Bernardino, California. Thinking it's a mistake he calls to hear chaos on the other end of the phone and confirm that it was a mistake they need eight  instead of six. Curios he looks at the map, finds route 66 and takes it from Missouri to California to check out the restaurant himself.

Ray Kroc McDonald's story is similar to many that came before and will be repeated again and again. The person who is most associated with a hugely successful enterprise is not always the originator or  the genius that came up with the concept. It's often the person who saw the true potential of the endeavour that ends up sitting across a table from the originator in a room full of lawyers striking a deal for an amount that would fill a thimble compared to the ultimate earnings of the company. The visionary normally gets a few helpful hints from like-minded individuals along the way that make the expansion even bigger.

Mark Zukerberg saw a computer based yearbook; Facebook having to grudgingly pay off the Winklevoss twins and getting two pieces of key advise from Napster inventor Sean Parker send the idea out to Stanford students and drop the "THE" in The Facebook. Bill Gates saw the real gem was controlling and licensing and owning the software on the personal computer and not running the computer business itself. Therefore he split from working with IBM to form Microsoft. Steve Jobs rose above more talented colleagues at Apple seeing iPods overtaking Walkmans, iPhones over flip phones, iTunes replacing record stores and iPads overshooting notepads, charts and books.

Before the McDonald Brothers knew what was coming Ray Kroc had literally bought the land out from under their feet with the help of smart businessman Harry Sonneborn (B.J.Novak). He also found a partner in Joan Smith (Linda Cardellini) who could see the big picture as opposed to his wife Ethel Kroc (Laura Dern) who seemed to stunt his creativity more often than not.

Director John Lee Hancock and writer Robert Siegel do not stray far from the standard narrative of the McDonalds story. Ray Kroc swoops in gets a foot in the door and through his main driving quality of persistence pushes the brothers further and further off to the sidelines. Michael Keaton is gloriously slithery in the lead role while Linda Cardellini is the other notable performer in the film as Minnesota franchise owner Joan Smith who also grasps where the McDonald's franchise could go.

The Founder is a standard biopic on a topic that everyone knows that the production team could have pushed the boundaries to tell a bigger story but does not to do so. The early part of the film laid out markers that could have fostered an intriguing tale but except for the few and far between scenes featuring Kroc's interactions with Cardellini's Joan Smith the balance of the piece does not do enough to hold the viewer's attention. The film is not about genius or invention its message is persistence conquers all with business being more rat eat rat over dog eat dog unfortunately storytelling falls into the same category as eating a McDonalds sandwich. The first few bites are wonderful but by the time you're halfway through you regret your food choice as the inevitable bellyache begins to take hold.

** Out of 4.

The Founder | John Lee Hancock | USA | 2016 | 115 minutes.

Tags: Salesman, McDonald's, Fast Food, Biography, Franchise, Loan, Greed, Corporation, Handshake Deal, Illinois, Minnesota, Divorce, California.

Sunday, January 15, 2017

Film Review - Tampopo

Opening by breaking the fourth wall Juzo Itami's Ramen Western Tampopo signals early that it will be unlike any other movie experience the viewer has scene. 1930's style gangster (Koji Yakusho) and his girl (Fukumi Kuroda) storm into a theatre and occupy the front row. The gangster looks at then starts talking to the camera remarking that the audience is about to view a film as is he then goes on a rant on the thinks he does not like at a screening especially patrons fumbling with bags of chips. Right on cue a man in the second row tries to open a bag leading the gangster to almost strangle him. His last comment is about watch alarms going off. The scene plays like the current day warning to turn off your phone. Itami was right to note up front that nothing should distract the audience from this film.   With that prelude complete the screwball action is off and running.  The main thread is the story of Tampopo and her quest to make the perfect bowl of ramen to save the noodle shop of her late husband with regular large lines out front of the store. She begs regional Milk trucker Goro (Tsutomu Yamazaki) and his co-driver Gun a very young Ken Watanabe to help thus beginning a quest that's heavily western based, part Rocky with a dash of Avengers Assemble thrown in for good measure.

As if the two main plots are not enough to keep the audience engaged writer director Juzo Itami tosses in several non-sequitur interludes into the proceedings. One sequence in particular shows Itami's outstanding transition skills. Starting with a cat and mouse showdown between a shop owner and an elderly female customer who is obsessed with pinching foodstuff, moving to the shop owner locking eyes with an elderly distinguished gentlemen also eating Peking duck wrapped in pancake   then concluding with a man running home to his wife suffering from karoshi at a critical moment.

However the central ingredient in the narrative is food. The starts and stops of the struggle to get the ramen broth right, a decadent scene in a hotel room with the gangster and his girl featuring egg yokes and prawns to a young girl catching oysters and feeding them to the gangster right out of her hand. Food is a symbol to bring the characters together, a sexual aid, a reason to seek out a sansei and a cause for a high noon showdown with a rival ramen house after insults are hurled back and forth.

Cowboy hat wearing Tsutomu Yamazaki leads the cast as Goro. He is determined to make Tampopo a successful ramen chef and grows to have feelings for her that he will not admit. He is knowledgeable on the good qualities of a ramen house and staff especially on how they need to pay attention to their customers. Nobuko Miyamoto is very effective as the meek, timid but resilient Tampopo. She is obsesses with crafting the classic recipe creating a bowl of ramen that will have her customers daring the last drops of broth from the bowl. Miyamoto shines brightest when she shows a bit of an edge demonstrated best when she chips in insulting a rival noodle house setting up the Western equivalent of a high noon duel the following day at her shop.  Looks for a boyish Ken Wantabe as Gun. He differs to Goro most of the time but does have some of his own ideas to add in the groups quest for success.

Tampopo is a piece of comedic originality. Just when the audience things the story has gone as close  as possible to the edge another large leap follows. The strong cast excels especially with how seriously they take the subject matter. The team battle challengers to the shop like high noon showdowns in the Wild West. The food is mouth watering and an essential part of the narrative making the viewer compelled to hit their favourite ramen house moments after leaving the theatre to slurp down noodles respect the pork and drain the bowl of all its broth.

***** 5 Star Film.

Tampopo | Juzo Itami | Japan | 1985 | 114 Minutes.

Tags: Ramen, Noodles, Broth, Mik Truck, Con-man, Room Service, Theatre, Eggs, Prawns, Oyster, Toothache, Dentist.

Friday, January 13, 2017

Film Review - The Red Turtle

A shaggy haired main is tossed about in a vast sea of water. A wooden lifeboat and pieces of wood the only items in the vicinity. As his struggle continues he begins to sink below the surface but eventually ends up wash up on a beach of a small island. The unnamed man lying on his stomach is first met by a small crab that crawls up his pant leg, jolting him to life sparking his exploration of the island. The apparent facts, he is alone, there are many sources for food, a lush treed forest lies just off the beach, dangerous crevasses lurk amongst the rocks and from the island's highest point ocean dominates for all the eye can see.

Dutch director Michael Dudok de Wit becomes the first non-Japanese to helm an animated feature for Studio Ghibli with The Red Turtle containing nary a spoken word instead inaudible yells, gestures, sometimes peaceful or deafening sounds of nature permeate the narrative's soundtrack. The man may not have human companionship but a troop of small crabs are on hand to observe his every act, along with a mixture of birds, turtles and fish. After his initial exploration of his surroundings our hero builds a formidable raft in an attempt to sail off to rejoin humanity as he gets out past the break water his craft is met with bangs from below then torn apart. The culprit is a giant red turtle starting a continuing dance with the castaway until coming to shore and losing a confrontation with the sole frustrated inhabitant.    

From here the piece moves into fable land as the relationship between the turtle and castaway shifts dramatically with the new form of the turtle becoming companion as the man as he moves through the stations of life. Studio Ghibli throw the might of their animation prowess behind Dudok de Wit for the project. The feel of a Ghibli animation comes through clearly on the screen. No aspect of the film is neglected by the production team from the several large natural challenges to the man's survival to the minute intricacies of the small crabs moving in formation to transport branches into the tiny hole on the beach leading to their home.

The sound department lead by mixer Fabien Devillers and editor Alexandre Fleurant are worthy of special mention. In a film with no dialogue natural sounds have to fill the void; chirping of the birds, scurrying of the crabs, the ebb and flow of the ocean and wind rustling through the trees fill in the gaps. The department's work domination two scenes in particular. The opening storm where the castaway struggles for his very survival against the sea and a high wire large scale weather event mid- way through the piece that once again puts our hero's survival in serious jeopardy.

The Red Turtle is a poignant study of a life's journey thrown complete off course by a significant event. It also explores what the human mind will construct to keep the body going under extremely trying circumstances and where the loss of hope and building despair could overwhelm leading to simply give up.  Director Dudok De Wit took 9 years to craft his first animated feature bringing it to Studio Ghibli at a critical time as it's necessary for the studio to expand with the retirement of the master Hayao Miyazaki.

*** 1/2 Out of 4.

The Red Turtle | Michael Dudok de Wit | France /Belgium/ Japan | 2017 | 80 minutes.

Tags: Castaway, Deserted Island, Tsunami, Animation, Fantasy, Fable, Turtle, Crabs, Hallucinations, Nature. Raft.  

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Film Review - Silence

Father Ferreira has not been heard from since he sent his last letter filled with atrocities targeted at details priests in1630's Japan. Father Ferreira was on a mission speaking mostly to peasants spreading the gospel of Deues as the locals call it. The Tokugawa Shogunate saw Christianity as a danger therefore they took extreme measures to stamp it out declaring an Edit of Expulsion in 1614.  Featuring the authorities main tactic of going directly after the priests themselves. If they apostatize (renouncing faith) the effect is significantly greater then creating peasant Martyrs. Fathers Rodrigues and Garrpe hear the contents of Ferreira's letter back in Portugal, don't believe the rumours that he apostatized so they are released to go out to find their mentor.

The pair encounter Kichijro (Yosuke Kubozuka) possessor of a dubious relationship with Christianity who will grow to be intertwined with Rodgrigues. They are lead to a village of the truly devoted hidden Christians lead by Ichizo (Yoshi Oida) and Mokichi ( Shin'ya Tsukamoto) the authorities soon arrive at the village looking for the Padres. It's during this time that the peasants demonstrate the true depth of their faith.

Writer Director Martin Scorsese presents a study of faith based on the 1966 novel by Shusaku Endo separating the true believers from the tourists. The narrative shows in several instances that the truly faithful may not be the ones you'd expect A light moment of foreshadowing occurs early at the first dinner for the priests in the village where the peasants offer what they can to the visiting Padres Rodrigues and Garrpe rip into the food while the villagers take the time to do a proper grace that the sheepish Priest eventually join.

Cinematographer Rodrigo Prieto work shines bright in the production. The use of fog and shadow as the Priest are transported by boat to and from village locations is the epitome of eerie given the fact that there is a standing 300 piece of silver bounty on the head of any Padre turned over to ruling dynasty.

The best acting work comes from the Christian peasants. Starting with Yoshi Oida and Shin'ya Tuskamoto as Ichizo and Mokichi respectively and later Nana Komatsu as (Monica) the villagers show that they are willing to endure all manner of hardship, strife and torture to be true to the faith. They meet all punishment from the Authorities willingly almost with a smile as they believe if their life comes to an end in this world the next step promised to Christians is paradise where there is no suffering or hunger. The story is told from the perspective of Andrew Garfield's Rodrigues who has several tests of faith as he sees the horrors thrust upon the peasants and only receives silence in response to his prayers to God. Yosuke Kubozuka is both friend and foe as Kichijiro. He's always on the scene, struggles with weakness and sins also serves as a useful resource to Rodrigues journey in Japan.

Martin Scosese has crafted a deep prodding examination of faith that succeeds on all levels ironing out the imperfections of his earlier faith centric features Kundun and The Last Temptation of Christ  there is no hard rock backing soundtrack here or quick edited jump cuts. Instead quiet stoic contemplation rules the screen as the missionaries and the converted fight to spread the word of the gospel in a land that the enlightened describe as a swamp where no new roots will ever take hold.

**** Out of 4.

 Silence | Martin Scorsese | Mexico/ Taiwan/ U.S.A. | 2016 | 161 minutes.

Tags: Japan , 17th century, Priests, Sacrifice, Portuguese, Dutch, Apoptoses, Martyrdom ,torture, Step.  



Sunday, January 1, 2017

Top 10 Films of 2016

On the first day of 2017 we look back at 2016 which was a very strong year for film. It was a suprisingly good year for comedies with several making a large impression. Horror films also rose to the fore along with several emerging voices coming forward to tell stories.  Now to get to the point here are Flick Hunter's top films of 2016:

10., Hunt For The Wilderpeople

9.,  Manchester by The Sea

8., Rogue One

7., The Arbalest

6.,  Under The Shadow

5., Toni Erdmann

4., The Wailing

3., Moonlight

2.,  Mina Walking

1., Maliglutit (Searchers)