Sunday, April 30, 2017

Tribeca Film Festival Film Review - Tilt

Joseph Burns (Joseph Cross) should be at a good point in his life. He has just come back from a great vacation in Hawaii with his expectant wife Joanne (Alexia Rasmussen). The documentary filmmaker  is working on a new project entitled Golden Age. His wife works at a medical as she's about to embark on full time medical studies to become a doctor.  Joseph works at home spending a lot of time on his new project then keeping house in his downtime hours.

But Joseph has other activities in mind that take over his being in the late night hours. He has an urge to go outside and interact with the night owls in the city whether his advances are welcomed or not.  His initial nocturnal outings start with errands to pick up items at the local convenience store sneaking a quick smoke on route although he's not supposed to but his nighttime crawls grow from there as he is seeming followed by the presence of a Japanese tourist that has gone missing.

Writer director Karsa Farahani tells a slow steady building story of a man that is loosing his grip on reality. At first he retreats away from family and friends then can't face up to the criticism from his wife that his passion of documentary film making is not enough to provide for the family with a child coming and Joanne's imminent switch to become a full time student. His daylight hours are spent drinking and editing clips while struggling with the voice over on Golden Age production that aims to prove that the American dream is an untrue story.

Joseph Cross is onscreen for just about ever frame of the piece. He captures fully the nature of the underachiever that married up well. Shining particularly brightly in a scene early on in the piece where he is completely uninterested in entertaining his wives friends. Alexia Rasmussen is strong as his supporting wife Joanne defending Joseph to her friends and loyal even as she can see that he is slowly loosing his grip.

Tilt is perhaps the first film to react to the Donald Trump Presidency. The Presidential campaign and his speeches serve as a background to several scenes making his voice a defacto soundtrack to the piece. Joseph spends many an evening on the couch dismissing Trump while his wife remarks if you don't like him why do you watch him all the time. Cinematographer Alexander Alexandrov lens framing of L.A. at night ads a gritty feel to Joseph's nighttime adventures. The production is the story of a man seeing his old life and passions going away due to change in society who's seemingly mentally not able to accept it.

*** 1/2 Out of 4.

Tilt | Karsa Farahani | U.S.A. | 2017 | 99 Minutes.

Tags: Pregnancy, Ultrasound, Hawaii, Japanese Tourist, Documentary Filmmaker, Medical School, Smoking, Convenience Store.

Tribeca Film Festival Film Review - The Endless

Justin Benson and Aaron Moorhead the co-directors and writers of The Endless play the lead roles in the small budget film where a doomsday cult intersects with a supernatural spirit. Justin and Aaron are brothers who escaped from Camp Arcadia that in Justin's mind was a U.F.O end of the world organization. Since their departure 10 years ago the pair have not faired well. They have no money to fix the battery on their car, work at cleaning houses and have little or no regular meals. Their current dining situation consists of sharing a bowl of ramen noodles. Aaron remembers regular meals at Camp Acadia and wants to return. As there prospects are low and this might serve to get the camp out of his system Justing agrees to go back for a visit.

The Camp is on the outskirts of the city and appears unassuming at first. The pair are welcomed back with smiles and hugs. Aaron immediately takes up with Anna (Callie a former crush that appears to now have a steady fella in Camp. But soon strange acts begin to occur the centre of which is a tug of war with an unknown entity juxtaposed to a mysterious elevated shed that no one is allowed to enter.

The story is about relationships between brothers, family and loss. Justin feels guilty that he pulled his brother out of the only situation he knows The narrative gives just enough details on the Camp to make the viewer unsure but balances the vagueness with enough story to hold the viewers attention and make the audience care about the two main characters.

The purpose of the Camp is at the centre of the film. Events unfold that appear to bend with the known rules of the world giving evidence that something different is going on in this corner of earth. Time, actions, life and death appear to run in a foggy loop raising questions as to what's real vs imagined.

The directors cast little known actors in the film. Despite this he cast all settle into comfortable spaces with their roles.

The Endless walks the balance between the elements of this world and the next. The ensemble cast does not put a foot wrong and are backed by a narrative that's simple and compelling.

*** 1/2 Out of 4.

The Endless | Justin Benson / Aaron Morehead | U.S.A. | 2017 | 100 Minutes.

Tags: Cult, Programmed, Leader, Video Equipment, Card Trick, Aliens, Karaoke,  Ramen noodles.

TIFF Kids 2017- Cloud Boy

Niilas (Daan Roofthooft) is very close to his father and lives in the perfect fantasy land setting in Belgium. His dad plays stacking games with him while doing the dishes in the gaps between showering him with love and attention referring to him affectionately as Mister. When he is not with his father Niilas hangs out at the free running park jumping over, under and between structures and objects.  His mother who has remarried and lives very far north wants to reconnect with her son so it's arranged for Niilas to go for a visit against his will to Lapland to see his mom and his half brother and  his mother's new husband's daughter.

Things do not work out for an extended period of time when the scene shifts to Lapland. Niilas is withdrawn often lashes out and just wants to go home. His new sibling Sunna (Ayla Nutti) is the only one that can initially break through his tough shield. It's Reindeer migration season in Lapland when the sun does not set. After an incident leads to the reindeer escaping our protagonist must combine his skills from back home with the new ones he's learned to help locate a vital element for the herd.

Writer director Meikeminne Clinckspoor weaves a story that has several important learning points for tweens in the age range of 12 year old Niilas. How to cope in a blended separated family is extensively explored. the narrative is clear to point out that being withdrawn and angry is not the path to take. Rather different people, cultures, lifestyles and environments give an opportunity to expand you skills and knowledge that can be useful in the new and even your surroundings when you get back home.

The cast are all well suited for there roles with Ayla Nutti being the most memorable in the role of Sunna. She is not a blood relative of Niilas but willing to meet him head on. Not tippy toe around his uncomfortableness. Sara Sommerfeld represents well as the struggling mother Katarina. She wants her son to accept her and her new life but quickly gets to her wits ends on how to reach through to him. Cinematographer Christian Paulussen creates the top of the world set of Lapland as a major supporting character in the piece. The film is filled with panoramic views of the hills, valley, waterfalls and tough gravel landscape of the area.

Couldboy is a straight ahead tale of a young boy taken out of his comfort zone who is reluctant at first but comes to appreciate his new surroundings and extended family. The film is well suited for the 8-14 age range providing lessons and tools to be used when faced with a fractured or blended family situation. The acting fits the narrative with its mainly understated performances leaving room for the natural Norway landscape to fill the void.

*** Out of 4.

Cloudboy | Meikeminne Clinckspoor | Belgium / Sweden/ Norway / Netherlands| 78 Minutes | 2017.

Tags: Reindeer,  Free running, Step Brother, Divorce, Lapland,  24 Hour Daylight, Lasso, Reindeer Pen.

TIFF Kids 2017 Film Review - Room 213

Attending summer camp for the first time is usually a major life event for a child. It's often the first time that a youth spends a significant time away from home. It's an opportunity to make life long friends and possibly a chance for a first romance to spark. It's also typically starts with a kid that does not want go and ends with the same individual not wanting to leave the new found environment at the end.

We first meet Elvira (Wilma Lungren) as her mother is trying to get her out of the house to go to a weeklong summer camp. Elvira doesn't want to go as she fears that she will be split up with her best friend Sibel then she becomes really distressed upon learning that Sibel is sick and will not go at all. Elvira gripes on the ride to the camp that does not lighten until she is introduced to her two roommates Meja (Elle Fogelstrom) and Be a (Elena Hobsepyan). The girls are escorted to their room by counsellor Jennifer but have to change to long abandoned room 213 due to a water pipe burst in their previous quarters. The room is thought to be haunted by the ghost of a girl that had stayed in the room long ago.

Director Emilie Lindblom takes the camp horror genre down a different rewarding path with this film. Easy jump scares, evil spiritual presences or violent deaths are not the subject matter of the film. The adaptation falls in line with the Ingelin Angerborn's source material. The uneasy moments are more subtle and thoughtfully presented. The spiritual presence builds slowly, first thorough a few missing items then moving slowly into the realm of visual and physical signs. The narrative parallels the ghost story with a regular dose of camp pranks that could be responsible for all that's occurring.

The young cast fall easily into their roles with Wilma Lungren fitting well into the female lead as Elvira. Elena Hobsepyan is particularly strong as the third roommate Bea as misfortune hits her character first leading her to withdraw to the room as popular Meja accuses her of several ills isolating her from the group.

Room 213 is a very watchable ghost story that will appeal to a wide range of ages.  It presents horror on an intellectual level rather than a visceral one. The story has all of the elements of summer camp life including mysteries surrounding past attendees, camp games, pranks and adventures that one would expect. However it unique approach to the supernatural element leaning more J-horror than American slasher makes it a film I can recommend.

*** 1/2 Out of 4.

Room 213 | Emelie Lindblom| Sweden | 2017 | 110 Minutes.

Tags: Summer Camp, Ghosts, Ouiji, Mystery, Kittens, Out of Bounds, Summer Crush, Find Me.

TIFF Kids 2017 Film Review - Not Without Us

A child's path and access to education is fundamentally different depending on where you live in the world. G-7 experience ranges from walking across the street to a short bus ride to perhaps a couple to transit changes to complete the act. In other parts of the world kids travel for days to get to school sometimes taking dangerous paths or having to spend weeks at a time away from home to get their education. Lastly there are some that don't even get into the classroom as they have to work to support their family.

Sigrid Klausmann's film looks at kids road to school starting from the moment they get up, their family dynamic before the narrative moves on to their modes of transport to school. The piece touches on all of the subjects hopes for the future, themselves, their family and the planet. The kids are all very knowledgeable of the major stories in the world and have very straightforward solutions. Their frankness leads one to think that adult agendas must get in the way of settling many of the worlds conflicts. The narrative uses exceptional editing and transitions to shift in and out of each child's tale. At one moment your alongside Vincent and his father as they ski down from their Swiss mountain resort to his studies when the scene shifts from ski tracks to a dirt road in the desert where Ekhlas and her siblings are leading a donkey through a steep narrow mountain pass on their journey to school.

While all of the stories are compelling a few bubble to the surface resonating stronger that the rest. Alphonsine from Ivory Coast is at the top of the list. She wakes up on the dirt floor of her family hut each day at 4 AM. Her first task is sweeping as she explains that her parents are dead and she suffers beating from her grandmother if she does not do her chores well. She heads to school but does not attend. She balances pots and pans in a basked on her head that she puts out in the courtyard to serve food. Her foil is Sai in Flushing Queens. Her family moved from India when she was very young to give her the best opportunity to succeed. She attends a gifted school in Manhattan excels in her studies and music and expects to be a brain surgeon when she finishes school. Then the story shifts to Sanjana who is still in India living in the red light district in Forbesganj. She's connected to the area because it's her home but does not like it that the women there are often abused.

The two passages where the children talk about their hopes and their thoughts on how they see the world are the most compelling. Alphonisine heads to the cocoa tree plantation where children younger than 10 swing machetes chopping down cocoa when she comments that she knows they make chocolate with coco but has never tasted it because its too expensive for her or anyone in her village. Perla from Iceland sums up the hopes from the group. Children want someone that they can trust, can help them in life along side family or friends that can take care of them and love them as much as their parents do. The film is a wonderful woven piece with several diverse and compelling subjects that is well worth the watch.

*** 1/2 Out of 4

Not Without Us | Sigrid Klausmann | Germany | 2017 | 87 Minutes.

Tags: Education, Ivory Coast, Austria, Chores, Trains, Subway, Skateboard, Visually Impaired, Avalanche Detector, Donkey.

TIFF Kids 2017 Film Review - The Day My Father Became a Bush

10 year old Toda (Celeste Holsheimer) is lucky to have a dad thats the best pastry chef in her town in an unnamed country. She participates in delivering the pastries while having great fun with her dad in the store. However the threat of war is approaching with the yellow patched Others meaning that her dad may have to go off to fight. As her fellow classmates pack up and leave town Toda  pleads with her dad to hide disguise himself as a bush or piece of furniture so he does not have to go. Shortly there after it's too dangerous for her to stay so she has to head to be with her mom in another country and the balance of the film is filled with the colourful people she meets along the way.

The most lasting of the contacts is with a boy about her age that she nicknames Sticky (Matsen Montsma) because he comes on the bus taking her out of country sits beside her and immediately falls asleep using her as his pillow. He is our typical rough housing young boy who talks bold likely to the horrors he's faced as he has been orphaned due to the war. Toda's journey takes her to the home of a debatable war hero and his wife who show definite signs that they want to keep Toda for their own followed by a dubious group of transporters who are looking for more payment even though her transportation across the boarder has already been arranged.

Director Nicole van Kilsdonk adapts her story from the Joke van Leeuwen book. The narrative is a strong easy to follow commentary on the absurdity of war. The weak reasons to go to war and the real  life consequences of that thinking. Toda's home land is known as The Ones with there soldiers clad in blue markings with the enemy The Others are marked in yellow. These markings and speaking a different language seems to be the only difference between the two sides.

Celeste Holsheimer is in just about every frame of the film as Toda. She is very resourceful and resilient making her a charter that the audience quickly takes a liking to forming a rooting interest that is critical for the film.  He co traveler Sticky is perfect as a representation of all ten year old boys that girls of that age think are dumb, dirty and violent. Look for Jobst Schnibbe and Leny Breederveld as the General and his wife. Toda wonderers into their midst as she preps to head across the boarder. They are inviting and eccentric with an undertone of potential child nappers.

The Day My Father Became a Bush is well suited for its target audience of 9-11year olds. It approaches that theme that's common of a separated home where the mother and father live in different countries. The narratives distaste that boarders on mocking the mechanics of war come clearly through in the piece. The ultimate message is that despite labels and language that people are just abut the same is a good message to pass on to the generation growing up today.

*** 1/2 Out of 4.

The Day My Father Became A Bush | Nicole van Kilsdonk | Croatia/ Belgium/ Netherlands | 2016 | 90 minutes.

Tags: Pastry Chef, War, Evacuation, Bus Trip, Bombings, River Crossing, Language, Divorce.

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

TIFF Kids 2017 Film Review - My Life As a Courgette

Icare nicknamed Courgette (Zucchini) by his beer guzzling mom is the centre of this particularly dark story directed by Claude Barras. The film features stop motion animation or marionettes sporting big heads, large saucer eyes and small noses.. At the outset 9 year old Icare is staring out of his steeple like window in the attic where he resides. He flies a kite with a masked superhero drawing meant to be his long lost father. Downstairs his mother watches T.V. complains drinking her beer and throwing the cans at the T.V. screen. Icare collects the empty cans to play with in the attic. A mishap occurs causing his mother's death and the need for Icare to be placed somewhere to live.  This is where one would normally expect the story to continue down a dark alley but instead the fortunes of Icare improve dramatically. First he meets a kind police officer named Raymond responsible for his placement directing him to a home with other kids around his age that have escaped varying degrees of difficult home lives. The Adults at the home are all protective and caring.  Madame Papineau is the understanding head mistress, Mr. Paul the children's energetic teacher and Rosy the house mother that takes extra special care of the kids while saving her personal time to spend with Mr. Paul.

The film is based on the novel Autobiography of a Courgette by Gilles Paris. The writer sees his book as a tribute to social workers a narrative that flows strongly in the film. All of the children are dealing with trauma and adversity but they bond together, have each other's backs and make their group residence a real home. Perhaps the most complicated of the kids is Simon. At first glance he comes off as a bully but he is the most protective of his fellow residents from outsiders and in the end all he is looking for is a simple letter from his drug addict mom or dad.

The story truly hits its stride when Camille arrives and sparks special feelings for Icare. She also has a difficult story seeing his father who killed her mother commit suicide right in front of her. She is quiet at first but takes on Simon at the first opportunity and seems to be the only person that can reach Alice who suffered abuse at home. Camille is hounded by her Aunt Ida who only wants the child to live with her in order to collect government money.

My Life as A Courgette is a film that has very strong themes and lessons for kids. It shows that despite traumas you can still move forward and bond with others. It points to the realization that you have to pick your attitude and if it's a positive one surrounded by strong protecting leaders happiness and friendship can be achieved. The Oscar nominated film is a notable first effort by director Claude Barras that will play well with pre- teens making it a film that I can highly recommend.  Lastly, don't skip out early on the credits as a neat Easter egg of Gasped Schlatter's audition for the voice of Icare in stop motion is planted in the middle.

**** Out of 4.

My Life as a Zuccini | Claude Barras | 66 minutes | Switzerland/ France  |66 minutes

Tags; Alcoholic, Kite, Orphan, Abuse, Drugs, Deportation, Arrest, Bed Wetter,Bully, Friendship, Caring, Love, Pregnancy, Field Trip, MP3 Player.      


Friday, April 7, 2017

Fox Searchlight Film Review - Gifted

Frank Adler (Chris Evans) has taught 7- year old Mary (Mckenna Grace) everything he knows. So it's time for her to leave their modest small town Florida home to attend a regular school for grade 1. Frank has put measures in place for his niece to play within the rules but when her classmates receive praise for answering basic math questions she can't hold back revealing her extraordinary mathematical skills leading her teacher Bonnie (Jenny Slate) and school principal to offer a full scholarship to a school for the gifted that Frank turns down. The caring Uncle wants Mary to have a childhood unlike his sister who was focused only on math until she committed suicide when Mary was only 6 months old.

The public reveal of Mary's skills brings Franks mother Evelyn (Lindsay Duncan) to Florida then the family to court as Evelyn battles for custody. She does not want to see her granddaughter waste her talent. Frank does not want his mother to drive Mary the same way that she did to his sister potentially leaving her with no options when she comes across a problem she is not able to solve. Bonnie seeing how the reveal played out takes Frank's side in his desire to have Mary experience a normal childhood.

Director Marc Webb leaves the big budget superhero genre having helmed the two Andrew Garfield Spiderman films to return to his comfort indie zone that saw him come to prominence with 2009's 500 Days of Summer.  Webb presents an easy flowing narrative that changes direction several times featuring a cast that act true to their characters. Tom Flynn's story features a surprising amount of comedic moments vitally needed given the dry subject matter while negotiating the minefield of presenting a genius kid in a leading role skillfully avoiding the annoying child lead zone.

Chris Evans continues to take on compelling roles when he's out of his Captain America tights as Frank. He had a strong academic background working in that field back east but moved to a modest Florida community to shelter his niece while working repairing boats at the marina. Mckenna Grace is a gem as Mary ranging from happy to sad, to betrayed with equal ease. She is brilliant but mostly respectful of her elders while showing a strong sense of what's right. Her strong ability in mathematics could easily make her smug and unlikable but her willingness to embrace and explore areas where she is not as dominant like not knowing the meaning of Ad nauseam gives her performance great depth. Lindsay Duncan escapes the potential one note evil grandmother box,first when she shines on the stand at the custody hearing then later on when key information about her daughter is revealed. Look for Octavia Spencer as Roberta Taylor the superintendent of Frank's cottage community, Friday night/ Saturday morning babysitter for Mary who's weary of the consequences of letting Mary's gift gaining a foothold in the outside world.

Gifted is a warm comfortable tale of an Uncle trying to provide for his niece in the fashion he expects his sister would want. All the while he has to battle with the question is he neutering her gift to give her a normal life. The story is funnier than expected hits the structural plot chords but goes in different directions to get it out of the formulaic web. The excellent main and strong supporting cast do not make a wrong step putting the piece in the category of a film that I can recommend.

*** 1/2 Out of 4.

Gifted | Marc Webb | U.S.A. | 2017 | 101 Minutes.

Tags: Mathematics, Prodigy, Suicide, Guardian, Court Case, Child Custody, Foster Care, Tutors, Scholarship, Grade 1, Bullying.