Saturday, September 30, 2017

TIFF 17 Film Review - Hostiles

Soon to be retiring Army Captain Joseph J. Blocker (Christian Bale) has one last great assignment to complete by order of the President. Escort Cheyenne leader Chief Yellow Hawk (Wes Studi) who has been in prison for years back to his homeland in Montana to die.  The party sets out from the New Mexico fort coming across coming across frontier woman Rosalie Quaid (Rosamund Pike) whose family was wiped out by Comanche raiders. She joins the party uncomfortable with the native members as first considering her recent experience. As they make their way across the territory the same Comanches attack again with grave consequences for two of the military party. The troop limps into Fort Collins, Colorado picking up a condemned criminal Philip Wills (Ben Foster).

The subject matter of the film is uncomfortable jarring and psychologically challenging. Rosalie is bearly functioning when Blocker finds her then her next encounter is with people looking like those that wiped out her family. Blocker and Yellow Hawk are sworn enemies but they are forced to team up along the route to fight common enemies. Wills and Blocker served together both viciously killing natives but one is leading a mission sanctioned by the President wile the other is shackled in chains on his way to the gallows.

Director Scott Cooper's film is set in 1892 towards the end of the Indian wars. The frontier setting means that no one that you don't know well is to be trusted. Your level of authority as a lawman or commissioned solider is tenuous at best and revoked if facing a larger party or out gunned. The pace is cautious as everyone has to be who dwells in the western territories.

Christian Bale spans the range of emotion as Captain Blocker. He has no love loss for the natives although he speaks their language. Having seen many past colleagues die at their hand he tried to refuse the assignment until his pension was threatened. He's highly educated yet a blunt instrument of death when those skills are required. Rosamund Pike is effective as Rosalie Quaid. She's a mess totally traumatized by the death of her family but slowly builds back up to ultimately be a key contributor in a vital confrontation later on in the film. Rory Coltrane turns in a philosopher warrior performance as Metz. He's been fighting alongside Blocker for many years having started out on the other side with the Grays. He's killed his share of men but realizes that his people have wronged those that originally inhabited this land.

Hostiles is a beautiful looking film where cinematographer Masanobu Takayanagi's lens captures the colours, rough edges and vast spaces of the land. Christian Bale leads a sharp cast that's short on words but ready in an instant to make a deadly choice.  It's a story where friends become enemies, those that look like you can be your biggest threat while those that do not can save your life.

*** 1/2 Out of 4

Hostiles | Scott Cooper | USA | 2017 | 127 Minutes.

Tags: Western, Frontier, Burial Lands, New Mexico, Scalped, Colorado, Montana, Prisoner.

TIFF 17 Film Review - Disobedience

Ronit (Rachel Weisz ) is a successful photographer in New York. The film opens with her on a shoot when she he gets a call that her father the principal Orthodox Rabbi in a North London orthodox community has died. His last act a frenzied sermon on free will that will hover over the balance of the action to come. Ronit who left on bad terms shows up at the reception for her father to the shocked looks of the community. She is reunited with her two childhood pals Dovid (Alessando Nivola) and Esti (Rachel McAdams) who are married seeming having turned to each other after Ronit's departure.

Sebastian Lelio continues to show that he is adept at telling stories with complicated female leads. A Fantastic Woman his other feature this year features a transgendered person determined to get the right to grieve a lost love. His prior film Gloria followed a mid-fifties woman who's very active in the Santiago, Chile dating scene. Here Lelio switches to English backed by a strong cast head into the dark corners of Jewish Orthodoxy to present a narrative of two women who break from tradition.

Esti is a symbol of repression. She is a teacher who's very frum as she walks the community streets sporting the obligatory off fitting wig. She does her duty of Friday night sex with Dovid only beginning to come out of her shell after a chance meeting with Ronit that leads to a rekindling of a long lost relationship near a favourite tree in a park. The pair separate until they steal off to a central London hotel room to unleash a half a lifetime of pent up feeling and emotions in a scene that will have the public and industry talking about for a long time. It's not exploitive but effective and essential to the narrative. Dovid is left along to wrestle with the changes in his home and his synagogue as he is the expected successor to the departed Rav.

Rachel Weisz serves as a producer having optioned the book of Naomi Alderman. Her performance is  energetic but occupies one beat of defiance until she is in her fathers home seeing how he lived at the end shows her vulnerability. The central performance here is that of Rachel McAdams as Esti. She stayed behind, takes her teaching and religious cannons seriously but knows there has been a large hole since Ronit fled town all of those years ago. The most surprising performer is Alessandro Nivola as Dovid. He was the top student of the departed Rav Krushka, best friends of both the women and feels the pressure to do the right thing by his wife and for the community. He's also the one that extends the first kind words to Ronit when she turns up at the reception for her father.  Eventually his actions he takes in all of these areas are very unexpected.

In the end as introduced with the opening prelude Disobedience is a film that brings to a head the struggle between religious order and tradition on one side and freedom and free will on the other.  Lelio continues his trend of brining characters to the screen that the viewer quickly feels a vested interest in their well being. Here Dovid, Esti and Ronit have a very complicated relationship  that's well worth the watch.

**** Out of 4.

Disobedience | Sebastian Lelio | USA/UK/Ireland | 2017 | 114 Minutes.

Tags:  Photographer, Orthodox, Rabbi, Shabbat Dinner, Sermon, Teacher, Yeshiva, Judgement, Piety, Frum, Candle Sticks,

TIFF 17 Film Review - The Killing of a Sacred Deer

Old testament rules or even more severe ancient judgment are the principals that rule Yorgos Lanthimos’ latest feature Killing of A Sacred Deer. Taking of a life even if you did not mean to will have repercussions on your family ala the death of the first born of Egypt in the Ten Commandments.  With this premise in mind Steven Murphy (Colin Farrell) a heart surgeon has taken a unexplained interest in a young man Martin (Barry Keoghan) Martin shows up at the hospital to see him unannounced but even when annoyed Steven always has time to see him.  His wife Anna (Nicole Kidman) is a leading ophthalmologist who along with Steven and their two kids Kim (Raffey Cassidy) and Bob (Sunny Sulkic) live in a well to do area of town.  Martin ‘s involvement with the Murphy's builds when he is invited for dinner. The visitor immediately fascinates Kim coming off as the perfect gentleman throughout the evening. Martin request that Steven to return the favour and have dinner at his modest home across town. That evening does not go as planned with Steven scrambling to leave as things begin to get awkward. 

Director Lanthimos slowly builds the story unravelling the linkage between the characters. The players oddly to jump from hello to imitate personal details in the next exchange.  Remembering the initial premise consequences appear one morning when Bob tries to get out of bed to go to school finding he does not have the use of his legs. His parents think that he is joking at first but that is not the case. Next the same affliction befalls Kim then it’s revealed that Steven a former alcoholic may not have been right when he performed surgery on Martin’s dad.

Colin Farrell continues in a streak of playing flawed characters with the role of Steven. He feels bad for what happened thus tries to do what he can for Martin only to realize that friendships, guidance and gifts do not interest Martin. Barry Keoghan is haunting as the family interloper in the best tradition of family stalkers. He charms the entire family practically has a spell cast over Kim then is steady and unrelenting when pushed to move off of his position. Look for Alicia Silverstone is a minor role as Martin’s mother. She tries to keep a normal home for her son following the untimely death of his father.

The Killing of a Sacred Deer is a chilling tale that demonstrates that despite money or status when you have committed a wrong justice must be extracted. The most horrific aspect of the tale is how calm the family members are despite terrible symptoms occurring to the kids and they grow to learn  what they have to do to break the curse. It’s a compelling watch and  a film I can recommend.

****  Out of 4.

The Killing of a Sacred Deer | Yorgos Lanthimos | U.S.A. | 2017 |

Tags: Heart Surgeon, Ophthalmologist, Alcoholic, Operation, Watch Band, Rifle, Smoking, Gardening, Deadly Choice.  


Wednesday, September 27, 2017

TIFF 17 Film Review - The Rider

Perched in front a bathroom mirror pulling staples out of the side of a heavily bandaged head are the first images we see of Broncho rider  Brady Blackburn (Brady Jandreau) Brady is just recently home from hospital after being stepped on by a bucking horse at a rodeo event.   His world consists of his mentally challenged sister Lilly (Lilly Jandreau) his dad (Tim Jandreau) the trailer they live in and the horses on their South Dakota property that they groom and train. His dad is prone to drinking and gambling leaving the family short of cash especially since Brady can no longer complete plus the doctors are even cautioning him from even training horses.

Director Chloe Zhao lets the South Dakota vast landscape and space habitation play out like a leading character in this film/documentary story of the challenges facing an injured cowboy in recovery.  A few of his professional riding friends drop by taking him out into the desert for a night of beers, shenanigans and riding stories. A telling comment is all the pride they have remarking how keep going when even one of their smallest injuries would put a millionaire NFL player into concussion protocol.

Back to reality Brady is forced to take a job in a grocery store to bring in some money as his dad is forced to sell a beloved horse to pay off the back rent on the family trailer. He’s recognized by fans who pose for pictures egging him on to get back on a horse and into competition. Brady’s happiest times occur when he visits his friend Lane (Lane Scott) who’s in a rehabilitation hospital with severe injuries from a riding accident that has put him in a wheelchair. They look at Lanes old rides, get him up on a saddle and work the reigns together as if Lane is back up on a horse.

Cinematographer Joshua James Richards deserves special mention. His lighting, shading and framing choices show off the South Dakota terrain. The fire flickering off the friends faces as they surround a campfire in the desert as they switch off telling war stories to the closing window of light between Brady and a colt as he tries to gain a stallion’s trust to first be able to touch, place a saddle then mount. 

The Rider is an intimate measured paced story rooted in the true obstacles facing a bronco buster after a serious injury. Brady identifies himself as the titular character but must face the fact that he may not be able to do the one thing he loves ever again. Zhao dives into the lifestyle the factors by which a cowboy determines their self-worth and into the stark reality of what changes have to be made when the dream is over.

**** Out of 4.

The Rider |Chloe Zhao | U.S.A. | 2017 | 104 Minutes

Tags:  Rodeo, Bronco Rider, Head Injury, Double Wide, Saddle, Chaps, Horse Trainer, Spinal Injury, Rehabilitation Hospital, Seizures, Pine Ridge, Dakotamart.

TIFF 17 Film Review - A Fantastic Woman

When we first meet Martina Vidal (Daniela Vega) she is in her element. A popular nightclub singer performing on stage with her lover Orlando (Francisco Reyes) in his late fifties watching her intently. Then the couple go out for a celebratory dinner for Orlando birthday where he mentions a lavish trip in the making. Following dinner they go home to Orlando’s apartment to celebrate when he suffers a medical emergency and dies thus spinning Martina’s world into complete turmoil.  Orlando has a family, a grown son, ex-wife, brother and cousins who never approved of their family members relationship with a transgendered person.  After Martina brings Orlando to the hospital in an attempt to save her life. She is treated as a criminal then pursued by a police detective who forces her to be stripped down to nudity at the station to be photographed amid questions of prostitution and abuse.

Director Sebastian Lelio continues to show that he is a storyteller to watch following his break out film Gloria. Again here he trains his lens on a female that is struggling outside of main stream society to keep her dignity and push forward. In Gloria the subject was a middle aged divorced woman. In this case it’s a late 20’s transgendered person who is shunned at every turn but wants closure of her relationship with her suddenly departed partner. The offering is also very timely as the debate on how to treat transgender persons socially and legally rages in several countries around the world. 
Transgendered Actress Daniela Vega is in just about every frame in the piece as Martina. She has a great inner strength to stand up for herself in just about every situation but in two scenes where she has direct dealings with the authorities they break her down to a tiny pebble. That treatment is worse than any open abuse or ridicule that she faces including a physical confrontation with Orlando’s son and some of his friends. She’s also suppressing real operatic talent as detailed in an exchange with her vocal coach who she visits in the turmoil following Orlando’s death.  

With A Fantastic Woman, Sebastian Lelio has established himself as a strong voice in world cinema. He again films mainly in his comfort zone in Santiago, Chile but has branched out with another film his first in English Disobedience with Rachel Weisz and Rachel McAdam set in London that also screened at TIFF.  Lelio continues tell stories of strong female characters fighting for their individuality and fulfilment against the backlash of a patristic society.

**** Out of 4.

A Fantastic Woman | Sabastian Lelio | Chile | 2017 | 104 Minutes.

Tags: Birthday Celebration, Nightclub Singer, Waitress, Iguaza Falls, Aneurism, Sex Crimes Unit, Physical Exam, Key, Spa Locker, German Sheppard. 

Monday, September 25, 2017

TIFF 17 Film Review - I, Tonya

The opening frames of I, Tonya announce that what follows is based on a series of irony-free, wildly contradictory and total true interviews. Then we cut to mock set ups of Tonya ( Margot Robbie) her ex-husband Jeff Gillooly (Sebastian Stan) and her mother LeVona  Harding ( Allison Janney) decked out in a fur coat with oxygen tubes attached to her nostrils and a bird on her shoulder that pecks at her on a semi regular basis.  From there we go back to the beginning where we see a three year old Harding led onto the ice by her chain smoking mother determined to have the leading figure skating coach in Portland Diane Rawlinson (Julianne Nicholson) take on her talented daughter as a student.  Harding then moves onto the figure skating competitive circuit where her brashness coloured by the harsh comments of her mother turn the community against her. She has the talent but lacks the polish all the while refusing to play ball. The middle segment ends with Tonya dad leaving forcing the skater to face her abuse mother full on as Margo Robbie first appears on screen as the 15 year old version of the titular character.

Director Gillespie makes some bold choices with the material that may not be to everyone’s taste but is true to the set up with the initial declaration. Events are described by, Tonya, Jeff and LeVona as if they all were at a different event with the characters often looking right at the camera as they deliver their soon to be disputed dialogue. The best of these passages comes from Gillooly buddy and Kerrigan assault ringleader Shawn Eckhardt (Paul Walter Hauser) as he makes himself out to be an espionage expert worthy of the toughest deep cover assignment Langley could offer. The other script choice was to limit the role of Harding foil  Nancy Kerrigan (Caitlin Carver) she plays ball, wears the regulation costumes and is the circuit darling.   
The film’s pace quickens following a death threat to Harding that effects her performance on the ice. Jeff and his pal Shawn reason that something should happen to Kerrigan to even the playing field. Their initial thought of letters which involved Tanya playing a role to obtain and jot down Kerrigan’s training schedule escalated out of control to the lead pipe to the knee assault perpetrated by two bozo acquaintances of Echhardt referred to only as the incident in the film.

Margot Robbie undergoes quite the transformation to play Harding. She embraces early 90’s frizz alongside of a working class Pacific Northwest accent and attitude. She has not filter as a result of her tough upbringing. If she feels she’s been wronged she is right in your face be it a fan in the stands or a judge perched up on the far boards.  Robbie’s morphing may have been topped by Allison Janney. After a series of responsible adult roles she takes the most offence stab at motherhood since Faye Dunaway picked up a coat hanger as Joan Crawford.  

I, Tonya is a loosely framed biopic backed by sharp cutting dialogue and a base story that is so unbelievable that no one could have presented the topic as a fictional piece and had it made. All the elements of an underdog story are present. The outsider vs the establishment. Escape from abusive relationships and a second shot at redemption by the main character after falling short of her lifelong dream. Ultimately it’s a tale that makes the viewer surprisingly sympathetic to Harding witch is a fine testament to the work of Margot Robbie in front of and Craig Gillespie behind the camera.

**** Out of 4.

I, Tonya | Craig Gillespie | U.S.A. | 2017 | 121 minutes.

Tags: Figure Skating, Olympics, Albertville, Lillehammer, Scandal, Tabloids, Lead Pipe, Skate Lace, Fourth Wall. 


TIFF 17 Film Review - Sweet Country

Set in 1929 Sweet Country walks the razors edge of race relations between Aboriginals and Whites deep in the Australian. The relationship between the communities span from being treated with respect and dignity to being seen as property depending on whose land you’re on.  The aborigines work as labour and domestic help on the properties but fear that the continued expansion of the white settles continue to encroach on their historical lands.

Sam Neil’s Fred Smith is at one end of the spectrum. He treats his workers fairly and sees them as equals in conversation and based on his actions.  Nearby Mick Kennedy (Thomas M. Wright) beats a teenage aboriginal boy  Philomac (Tremayne/Trevon Doolan) who is likely his son with a belt as he stole a watermelon from the garden. The other end of the spectrum is occupied by Harry March (Ewen Leslie) the recently arrived war veteran, drinks constantly Philomac  to a post when he comes to work on his property then rapes Sam Kelly’s ( Hamilton Norris) wife Lizzie ( Natassia Gorey-Fuber) who came along with Sam and the boy to help March settle in to his new  place.  Philomac escapes pursued by Harry March leading to a exchange of gunfire between Sam Kelly and March.

Director Warwick Thorton explores frontier justice and customs in his expansive visually stunning productions. The Northern territories with its vast open spaces, lack of green and never-ending orange,, sun and dust serve as a featured character in the film. A group of four lead by the local law man Sergeant Fletcher (Bryan Brown) and including Mick and Fred chase after Sam and Lizzie who outwit them based on their knowledge of the land. As the tale unfolds Thornton uses the nifty device of flash forwards to give a glimpse of what the future will hold for the main participants.      

Sam Neil continues his streak of strong performances as the steady handed preacher Fred Smith. Acting neophytes Tremayne / Trevon Doolan alongside Hamilton Morris as Sam Kelly hold their own in a community that is set up against them  where they have no idea how they will be treated from one person to the next. Ewen Leslie is powerful and impactful in the limited role of Harry Marsh that serves to get the main thrust of the story kick started.      

Warwick Thorton explores native/settler relations in the most remote regions of Australia in the first part of the last century. The settlers see their presence as just scratching the surface of the territory while the Aborigines see them as already to deep into their territory. This difference of opinion and position will always lead to conflict, tension and confrontation that is unfortunately still not fully resolved today.

**** Out of 4.
Sweet Country | Warwick Thornton| Australia | 2017 | 112 minutes.
Tags: Outback, Station, Stockmen, Servants, Rape, Beating, Shotgun, Self Defense, Chase, Trial, Verdict, Sentence. 

TIFF 17 Film Review - Loveless

12 year old Alyosha (Matvey Novikov) has a special tree that he likes to spend time at in the woods between the school and his home. Here there is no shouting or harsh words. Alyosha can play with a colourful piece of ribbon, stare at the water and marvel at the sky. Once he leaves and comes home he is faced with his reality. His apartment is up for sale, there are people trekking in every day to poke around in his room. On top of this his soon to be divorced mother Zhenya (Maryana Spivak) and father Boris (Alexey Rozin) already have new partner seemingly not able to speak a sentence to each other without degenerating into a fight. The fights are usually in front of their son welling him up with emotion that is mocked by his parents.

In the early going it appears that neither of the parents want the kid. Zhenya prefers to stare at her iPhone than look at her son. Boris already has another woman pregnant and faces real concerns at his office job as the boss expects all of his sales staff to be in happily married families. Then one night each parent is out with their partner overnight leaving no one at home to realize that Alyosha has gone missing.

Director Alexey Zvyagintsev tells the unblinking tale of two people who can't stand the sight of each other that are forced to team up to find their son. The key to the piece is Zvyaintsev's account of the volunteer search team that help build a background then go step by step through the procedure to investigate and search for a missing child. The phalanx of yellow clad searches marching grid style though a field has been done before but here we get investigation techniques, prime people to interview, interaction with the undermanned disinterested police department and the right questions to ask at hospitals.

Maryana Spivak and Alexey Rozin give equally strong performances as the parents. On a car trip to Zhenya's mother the viewer truly sees how much they despite each other as they try to provoke one another through, music, an open car window and smoking. Matvey Novikov role is limited at Alyosha but he has the most pivotal scene very early on in the proceedings establishing how much he is hurting and how oblivious his parents are of his pain.

Loveless is another suburb offering from Zvyaginstev following in the footsteps of his last feature Leviathan.  While that film was heavier on government corruption, here the officials are more apathetic. Parents desperate to escape from a dead relationship forced to work together make a fascinating dynamic. Neither parent is a sympathetic player with at times the citizen search group leaders appearing to be more interested in finding their child. Zvyaginstev has delivered another piece centered on the workings of modern Russian affairs that is keenly watchable and highly recommended.

**** Out of 4.

Loveless | Alexey Zvagintsev | Russia | 2017 | 127 Minutes.

Tags: Divorce, Christian Fundamentalist, Pregnancy, Runaway, Missing Child, Search and Rescue, Flyers, Surveillance Video, Secret Hideout, Grid Search, Hospital, Athlete, Treadmill.

TIFF 17 Film Review - What Will People Say

The balance between embracing the culture of your new land and maintaining the values of your homeland are difficult choices that each family and the community at large have to face when emigrating. The larger the difference between the old and the new homes enlarges the struggle with potential language and religious differences fostering a larger dependence on the community of ex-pats in the new local. Nisha (Maria Mozhdah) is 16 and popular amongst her Norwegian high school friends. She outgoing, comfortable in Western clothing and even gaining interest from the local boys. At home she follows Pakistani traditions, is front and centre at family gathering even if she might sneak out to see her friends when her parents think that she has gone to bed. He dad Mirza (Adil Hussain) is happy that she is doing well with her studies. Her mother is not fooled by her act and wonders what shame she will bring to her family and by extension to the Pakistani community.

Writer director Iram Haq expertly builds the narrative seemingly at a slow steady pace several times during the piece then a sudden act occurs that spins the viewer around in circles. The first being when Nisha's father discovers her boyfriend in her room leading to the strictest form of punishment to save face for the family and serve as a warning to other teens in the Pakistani community. During these heightened exchanges Nisha pleads with her dad no believing what is in store for her raising the tension up to fever pitch levels.

Maria Mozhdah leads the cast as Nisha. To the Western viewer she is not doing anything wrong but her actions on several occasion are interpreted to an insult to the family and a definite sense of shame to her self that make her an outcast on to sides of the planet. Adil Hussain gives a heavily nuanced performance as her father Mirza. Nisha is obviously has favourite child which makes it ever the more painful for him that he continually has to punish her. Look for Sheeba Chaddha as Nisha' Pakistani Aunt. She is having no talk back from her niece after she is banished from Norway to her home keeping her busy in the kitchen when not under a watchful eye when the pair are out at the market.

What Will People say is a story about a clash of cultures. Nisha finds herself stuck exactly in the middle. She is willing to participate in traditional Pakistani events and ceremonies but wants to be with her friends in her spare time. The harshness venom and trickery used against her by her supposed loving family is shocking. It's these types of rigid cultural positions that give rise to honour killings. It's a compelling study of the conflict between culture and society that I can highly recommend.

**** Out of 4.

What Will People Say | Iram Haq | Norway / Germany / Sweden | 2017 | 106 Minutes.

Tags: Norway, Child Services, Pakistan, Police Corruption, Birthday Party, Arranged Marriage, Bed Check, Canada, Kites.

Sunday, September 24, 2017

Fox Searchlight Film Review - Battle of the Sexes

Billie Jean King (Emma Stone) was a champion of three important issues of the last century.  Founding member of the WTA, Being a leading advocate of LGTBQ rights and taking a direct risk to her personal life and profession to battle male chauvinism head on.  In Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris’ film The Battle of the Sexes These important pillars are too often interrupted or not complexly fleshed out to give equal time to the Bobby Riggs (Steve Carell) clown prince of tennis storyline.

The Riggs angle could have been covered by showing two or three of his stunts along with his best two passages one involving winning a Rolls Royce and the other telling attendees at a gamblers anonymous meeting where their true failings lie.  Instead the narrative often cuts away from an intimate or poignant moment in King’s life to Riggs playing showman in one instance dressed up as Little Bo Peep on the court rallying while shepherding.  
The story does hit on a few critical points. How leading tennis players King, Rosie Casals and Ann Jones boycotted the Pacific Southwest Championship run by Jack Kramer (Bill Pullman) the true male chauvinist in the film  when he announced that the that he would pay the men 12:1 in prize money as they were the true draws.  The women then created their own tournament The Houston Women’s Invitational lead by Gladys Heldman (Sara Silverman). More details around this venture would have been compelling instead of flipping back to another Riggs antidote.

The actors all perform well with the material presented. Emma Stone slides comfortably into the Billie Jean King role.  Her struggles with focus, creeping new sexual feelings, knowing the persona she has to present to the public for the survival of the fledgling WTA but still taking a strong stance against an icon of the sport Jack Kramer (Bill Pullman). Steve Carrell is larger than life as Bobby Riggs. He is the outward chauvinist that knows he’s playing a character all the while knowing he’s bankrolled by a woman his estranged wife Priscilla (Elizabeth Shue). Andrea Riseborough turns in a strong supporting role as tour hairdresser Marilyn Barnett carefree in a Haight & Asbury way and catalyst for King’s sexually awakening.

Battle of the Sexes is a film that covers three distinct elements. The story would have benefited from at least a 1/3 split of the topics instead of giving the least engaging aspect half of the screen time. There are some good elements here surrounding the birth of the Women’s Tennis Association, The drive of a competitive athlete and the publics draw to a spectacle but a more in depth look at Billie Jean King’s personal and professional risks would have served the piece better.

** ½ Out of 4.

Battle of the Sexes | Jonathan Dayton / Valerie Faris| UK/ US | 2017 | 121 minutes.

Tags: Tennis, WTA, USLTA, Virginia Slims, Boycott, Chauvinism, Gambling, Exhibition, Houston Astrodome, ABC Sports.  

TIFF 17 Film Review - April's Daughter

A study of a middle age woman that refuses to let go of her youth is at the core of Michel Franco’s film April’s Daughter. April (Emma Saurez) fresh of a strong tern in Pedro Almodovar’s last feature Julieta comes to visit her Puerto Vallarta summer home upon learning from her older daughter Clara (Joanna Larequi) that her younger daughter Valeria (Ana Valeria Becerril) is pregnant. Valeria had her suspicions thus did not advise her mom of the pregnancy but upon arrival April seems supportive and helpful. She immediately gets on Clara’s case about her weight and not having a boyfriend, spouts off about her new found love of Yoga teaching wanting to launch a You Tube channel with her and Valeria as instructors.

The screw begins to turn once April decides to drive hundreds of miles to see Valeri’s father with the pretext of requesting help with the impending child but also to fulfill an underlying need to upset his happy new home with a much younger new spouse.  There she meets former ally the family housekeeper. After the birth April becomes increasingly controlling leading to a severe betrayal of her daughter on two fronts as she takes outlandish steps to maintain youthful relevance.

Director Franco presents a tale focused on two mother daughter relationship where each participant is no as they initially appear. Valeria initially comes off as whimsical, selfish and self-absorbed while April is loving, supportive and understanding of her youngest daughter’s situation and wishes. The most intriguing character is Clara. She’s mute when Valeria and her boyfriend Matteo (Enrique Arrizon) openly flaunt their sexually charged relationship, tells her mom about the pregnancy despite her half-sisters open protests, endures blatant fat shaming but is part of a transaction that completely betrays her sister.

Emma Suarez turns in another fine acting performance as April.  She could easily pass as Clara’s older sister not being out of place when she goes shopping for clothes with a younger boy toy. She switches on a dime from being cheerful, playful and lighthearted to controlling, manipulative and cruel the next. Ana Valeria Becerril is sneaky tough as Valeria. She is way more resourceful, single minded and persistent that one would expect.
April’s Daughter is a story of betrayal and shattering of the most basic human bond of that between a mother and a daughter. The daughter seemingly with zero cards to play manages to work out the problem to solve the puzzle. The strong ensemble cast do not set a foot wrong in a film that I can recommend.

*** Out of 4.

April’s Daughter |Michael Franco | Mexico | 2017 | 103 minutes. 

Tags: Puerto Vallarta,Step Sisters, Yoga, Mexico City, Real Estate Agency, Beach House, Pregnancy, Adoption, Kidnapping.

TIFF 17 Film Review - Black Cop

The script is reversed in writer director Cory Bowles Black Cop.  Ronnie Row Jr. plays the titular character a black police officer in an unnamed North American city working on the Metropolitan Police force. He patrols alone regularly flipping on his body camera just before he’s about to engage the public. Following an incident where he is stopped by fellow police offices while out jogging warring a hoodie the films protagonist decides to brandish his own form of justice all the while haunted by the recent death of a black teen under dubious circumstance.

The patrolman stops and harasses among others a middle age white jogger who does not match the description of a suspect in a neighbourhood. Follows a frat boy around campus tracking him on bodycam footage until confronting him as he tries to unlock his bike.  Gives a black hipster the gears over his lost bike then adds further insult to injury later in the piece just because everyone hates hipsters regardless of race.

Director Cory Bowels accomplishes his goals with this film. The point is to make those who normally don’t feel uncomfortable around law enforcement uncomfortable to start and spark debate. When people that look like you are being stopped for no reason then on the wrong end of a power struggle when you speak up for your rights it’s very unnerving.

Ronnie Rowe Jr. shines at the vigilante cop. He is in just about every frame of the film having to deal with being attacked by all sides and called every name in the book. His fellow offices see him as a threat when he is out of uniform while members of the Black community see him as a sellout when he is in uniform keeping the peace at a rally.

Black Cop is a timely piece of filmmaking given the current climate of race relations.  The writing rich bordering on poetry in some instances. It’s a film that will lead to heated debate and discussion. A little confrontation at the cinema is always welcome in a presentation that I can definitely recommend.

*** ½ Out of 4.

Black Cop | Cory Bowles | Canada | 2017 | 91 minutes.

Tags: Racial Profiling, Hoodie, Stop and Frisk, Patrolling, Body Camera, Hipster, Red Bike, Jogger, Lawyer, Rookie Cop, Police violence, Vigilante, Rogue Cop.         


Wednesday, September 20, 2017

TIFF 17 Film Review - Mary Goes Round

An early scene in director Molly McGlynn's Mary Goes Round sets the tone for a series of ironic events that are soon to follow in the films narrative. Following a night of heavy drinking Mary (Aya Cash) is seated on a chair in a circle of an obvious AA meeting. As the viewer expects her to eventually take her turn to tell her story instead it turns out she is the counselor that is leading the group. Mary is on a short leash with her boyfriend then she trashes his car, is charged with DUI becoming the subject of a You Tube video of the incident that goes viral she decides to respond to a Facebook poke from her estranged father and head to Niagara Falls from Toronto on his request to get to know her half sister.

Upon arriving in the Falls she learns that her 15 year old half sister Robyn (Sara Waisglass) didn't know she was coming, claims to not know who she is and that her father Walt (John Ralston) wants Mary to do the dirty work of telling Robyn that he has a terminal disease plus take care of him in his final days having refused invasive medial treatment.

Writer director McGlynn's film is at its heart a story of a 29 year old woman who has to grow up take responsibility for her actions and admit that she has flaws and faults. Mary continues to drink in Niagara Falls where she encounters a friend/ sponsor Lou (Melanie Nicholls-King) who has seen several ups and downs spotting right away that Mary is in complete denial. Her dad also catches on to her current state noting that she is not driving plus as an addict himself has had dealings with Lou in the past.

Aya Cash is in just about every frame of the film as the titular character. She's angry, sarcastic, selfish and sympathetic all under her red striped blue toque. Cash flips easily from being the grownup in one situation to acting as a selfish child in the next. Melanie Nicholls-King supporting role as Lou touches all of the other main character but she is also fallible as an addict herself that can slip from time to time.

Mary Goes Round is a tightly spun narrative that tacked the subjects of addiction, abandonment and reconcillation in a non-heavy handed manner. Given the subject matter here the film could have been weighty, intense and serious. Instead McGlynn injects enough humour, bluntness and lighter moments to tell the tale but not overwhelm the viewer with morbidity. It's an evenly paced entertaining story that I can recommend.

*** Out of 4.

Mary Goes Round | Molly McGlynn | Canada | 2017 | 84 Minutes.

Tags; Alcoholic, Substance Abuse Counselor, AA Meeting, Serenity Poem, Sponsor, Sobriety, Small Cell Cancer, Half Sisters, Sandbanks, Timmins, Niagara Falls, Drunk Driving, Suspended Licence, Frat Party.

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

TIFF 17 Film Review - Custody

A strong narrative combined with understated initial acting beats serve to build the suspense and tension in director's Xavier Legrand's full feature directing debut. The subject is domestic violence starting with a custody hearing in the first few frames of the piece. Miriam (Lea Drucker) her two children Josephine (Mathilde Auneveux) who's about to turn 18 and Julien (Thomas Gioria) the real subject of the hearing have been living in fear of the mental and physical abuse by their hulking father Antoine  (Denis Menochet). Antoine uses the hearing to apparently regain access to Julien but the real aim is to re establish contact with his ex-wife. Antoine demands that she come out to meet him when he arrives at her parent's house to pick up his son. He finds Mariam's number in her son's notebook requesting that she ask him directly if Julien can attend his sister's eighteenth birthday party that falls on a weekend that he has custody.

Director Legrand is a strong advocate fighting to expose domestic violence in France. At the TIFF screening he commented how in a 20 minute hearing a judge can set into a motion a series of events that can lead to a life threatening situation for several parties involved. The director's tactic to take a slow steady approach actually could have some viewers taking Antoine's side especially with the events that occur in the second act.

Denis Menochet as Antoine is the key performer in the film. He has to be menacing in his gestures and movement but not overtly violent for the narrative to work. Lea Drucker is also effective as the not entirely sympathetic Miriam. In the early stages of the film the audience is not sure if the children genuinely do not want to see their dad or are their comments and actions coloured by their mother. Thomas Gioria is highly believable as 12 year old Julien. He is completely fearful that his dad will physically attack his mom so much so that he constantly lies to him about her whereabouts despite the growing possibility that Antoine could take out his anger on him directly.

Custody is a warning to state institutions, law enforcement, the public and the courts that domestic violence is mainly suffered in silence with the psychological scars outweighing the physical ones by a large margin. It may make sense on paper for a parent to re enter a child's life but the effect of reestablishing regular contact with abused partner could lead to catastrophic results.

*** 1/2 Out of 4.

Custody | Xavier Legrand | France | 2017 | 94 Minutes.

Tags: Custody Hearing, Judge, Lawyers, Visitation, The Projects, Birthday Party, Grandparents, Unlisted Number, Apartment Hunting, Shotgun, 911 call.