Friday, October 27, 2017

Film Review - Wonderstruck

Two different narratives 50 years apart drive the action in Todd Haynes latest film Wonderstruck. Both follow a child's search for a parent that also happens to be their first visit to New York City. In Gunflint, Minnesota Ben (Oakes Fegley) wakes up from a nightmare about wolves to see his cousin beside him. His mother Elaine (Michelle Williams) recently died leaving Ben to live with his Aunt and her family.  His mother would not tell him any details about his dad waiting for the right time that never came. However Ben finds a book about museums among his mother's things along with a bookmark for a New York City bookstore. Wanting desperately to find out about his dad despite an unfortunate accident ventures to New York with this one clue in hand.

In 1927 Hoboken, Rose (Millicent Simmonds) is deaf living with her well to do father obsessed with silent film star Lillian Mayhew (Julianne Moore) Rose learns that her favourite actress is staring in a stage play in New York so she hops on the ferry for her first trip into the City greeted by the impressive cityscape as the ferry approaches the pier. The storyline jumps back and forth between the pair as they explore around the city both eventually ending up at the American Museum of Natural History. Each have an employee connection to the museum giving them unique access to the historical treasures.

Director Todd Haynes opts for black and white for the 1927 sections playing with a silent picture feel that comes off as being a bit too modern. The musical selections for this piece are often jarring when Rose has a conflict to try and indicated her emotions. Ben in 1977 comes out of the bus terminal to 70's funk music, big hair and bell-bottoms. Here we get one of the projects better transitions as we switch between Rose and Ben walking amongst a throng of humanity. The 70's New York looks more authentic with grainy bright colours abundance of graffiti and the expected ethnic mix just outside the port authority bus terminal where at 41st street meets 42.

Oakes Fegley and Millicent Simmonds share top billing as Ben and Rose. The pair are both adventurous and resourceful as they wander the city. It seems as though Ben is following in Rose's 50 year old footsteps as he looks at exhibits in the Museum especially when he stops to spend time at a large meteor that crashed to earth in 1902. The narrative transitioning from him reading the plaque to Rose running her hand across it.

Wonderstruck is a child focused film with a pair of youngsters searching for a family connection in the largest American city. Julianne Moore serves as the link between the pair strenthing the 70's storyline when she enters but the twenties tale weakens after she leaves that thread. The film has several good elements but the banal feel of the Rose thread leaves the piece wanting in the end.

** 1/2 Out of 4.

Wonderstruck | Todd Haynes | USA | 2017 | 117 minutes.

Tags: New York City, Minnesota, Hoboken, Ferry, Bus Terminal, Museum, Worlds Fair, Bookstore, Deaf, Sign Language, Electricity.

Wednesday, October 25, 2017

imagineNATIVE 17 Film Review- Our People Will Be Healed

To call Alanis Obomsawin a prolific director would be a severe understatement. The 85 year old has been producing films at a rate of about one a year since 2012. Most of her latest works have centered on the harsher aspects of the Indigenous experience with government entities but her latest production looks at a success story: Helen Betty Osbourne Ininiw Education Resource Centre at Norway House in Northern Manitoba. This school competes on equal footing with others in Manitoba for teaching talent. It serves students from Nursery to Grade 12 featuring an exceptional music program, strong science classes plus Cree language teaching starting in nursery and grade 1.

Obomaswin camera roams the bright sunlit curved hallways observing a science class studying metal oxidation, geometry, music/fiddling and a grade one group learning basic Cree phrases. Students are interviewed all with big hopes and dreams for future employment. They marvel at the abundance of resources and equipment available to them at the school. Several of the senior classes have had the opportunity to go on rewarding trips to locations like Ottawa but also the chance to take guided canoe trips through their territory where they learn traditional fishing, hunting, building and portaging techniques all part of Cree culture and oral storytelling.

Of course it wouldn't be an Obomsawin film without highlighting some dark aspects of the struggle. The school is named after Helen Betty Osbourne a Norway House resident that was abducted and killed while walking alone when away at a resident school in The Pas in 1971. This event as told by her peers lead all Indigenous women to be sure not to go anywhere alone while away at school. The negative effect of colonialism is also illustrated through discussions about the Sundance Ceromony. An Indigenous tradition that was banned by the Indian Act at the turn of the last century but still practiced in secret. It took the adoption of a Human Rights declaration by the United Nations to openly revive the tradition again in 1951 with the film looking at the 2016 version at Norway House and it's highly emotional effect on the residents showing its importance to the community.

The school is evidence that the best approach is to invest in the social development and education of children plus teaching the culture and impact of treaties to allow the community to heal. Their parents were caught up in drugs, alcohol, gangs suffering from lack of education and despair. Their grandparents were ripped from their communities to suffer abuse, separation and racism in the residential school era passing that trauma on to their kids. The piece is positive and uplifting pointing towards endless possibilities for the current and future generation of Indigenous peoples.

*** 1/2 Out of 4.

Our People Will Be Healed | Alanis Obomsawin | Canada | 2017 | 97 Minutes.

Kinosao Sipi, Norway House, Manitoba, Frontier School Division, Helen Betty Osbourne, Residential Schools, Portage La Prairie, The Pas, Fiddle Jamboree, Sundance Ceremony.

Tuesday, October 24, 2017

imagineNATIVE 17 Film Review - Out of State

Kalani, David and Hale are the three main subjects of Ciara Lucy's Out of State. The three men were at different stages within the prison system. Kalani is the most permanent serving a life sentence with no chance for parole for 45 years. Hale is coming to the end of a 15 year stint while David has been in and out of prison and about to be released at the films opening. The men are housed in Saguaro Correctional in Arizona a for profit prison that was built especially for Hawaiians due to overcrowding back home. The inmates are 3000 miles from home making any family visits impossible. Therefore the men focus on their culture. Kalani is one of the main teachers. Imparting knowledge of the Maori language, Dance, Music, writings and culture.

David is the first to be released back home. He lands a job that turns out to be part time teaching the Haka war dance that does not produce enough income to cover rent and alimony. A fight with a student leads to a fast dismissal. David is proud and closed off despite the best efforts of his daughter and court appointed therapist making his release not go so well.

Hale lands a job as a driver for an airport shuttle service while on work furlough back on the island. He has a woman that loves him and he will get married as soon as he is fully paroled. Hales support system plus his humility will set him up for success.

Kalenee remains behind bars, far away from home serving his time filling his days writing, educating and teaching the new and serving inmates as they come to the prison.

The film can be a tool for the viewer to feel empathy for the images gong though this process and lead to discussion for moving these Hawaiians out of these far away for profit prisons back to facilities on the island. But that cost money and at the moment the government is not willing to spend. On the island prison is seen as punishment thus the men are out of site out of mind forgotten by the community. The film could lead to the population seeing the possibility of rehabilitation in a prison closer to home.

** 1/2 Out of 4.

Out of State | Ciara Lucy | U.S.A. | 82 Minutes.

Tags: For Profit Prison, Life Sentence, Alimony, Haka War Dance, Marriage, Work Furlongs, Driver, Teacher, Maori Culture.

Sunday, October 22, 2017

imagineNATIVE 17 Film Review - Indictment

Want to be model Paris Dunn liked the persona of Denver Nugget player Chris Birdman Andersen. She liked his look so she sent him a message on his Facebook page. Then to her surprise she received a response. That began an online relationship that escalated to nude photos being exchanged followed by a ticket to Denver to vista the basketball star. In Denver some of the conversations did not match the information that had been exchanged online. Once back home her exchanges with Andersen's friend Tom Taylor who had encouraged her to go on the trip changed to aggressive and threatening. Paris panicked and told her mom who called cops. Birdman's house was raided then the police went thorough all of the prior conversations to find that the originated from a small town of Easterville, Manitoba at the hope of Shelly Chartier.

Chartier lived as a shut in caring for her bedridden mother for the past decade. She dropped out of school at age 12 due to bullying with a real fear of interacting with people. So when she saw online this girl Paris looking for attention on Birdman's Facebook page. She made a fake profile to say Hey to her. Followed by a text to Chris putting the two together through her. She also created the Tom Taylor persona to move the action along. What she thought was a harmless prank let to the RCMP at her door, guilty plea and a 12-month jail sentence. Interested parties in the US were not happy with the plea leaving open the possibility of a much stiffer sentence if she heads stateside.

Directors Shane Belcourt and Lisa Jackson delve into the background circumstances that brought Shelly Cartier to this point. The earliest evidence dates back to 1962-63 when Manitoba Hydro flooded the old reserve that had lush land to grow vegetables waters to fish and soil to build proper homes.  Their new location is built on rock.  Leaving the former self sufficient Cree Nation facing  high unemployment and lack of prospects. Experts also discuss the Gladue Sentencing Principles that were not considered in this case. The principals consider status of Aboriginals as they are overrepresented in Canadian Prisons and backgrounds could include unemployment, lack of opportunities, little education, substance abuse, loneliness and community fragmentation.

Indictment gives a different look at Shelly Charier aka Manitoba's Master Manipulator or Ghost of Easterville. It shows a reclusive young woman who launched a catfish scheme on an NBA star amongst other alleged celebrities out of boredom and loneliness.  It's unclear if she made any money off of her actions that left her with a criminal record but her online activity did lead to a boyfriend turned husband which has hopefully broken her spell of being alone.

*** 1/2 Out of 4.

Indictment | Shane Belcourt / Lisa Jackson | Canada | 2017 | 44 Minutes.

Tags: Catfishing, Birdman Andersen, Paris Dunn, Easterville, Manitoba, Denver Nuggets, Chemawawin Cree Nation, Cedar Lake, Call of Duty.

Saturday, October 21, 2017

imagineNATIVE 17 Film Review - Kayak to Klemtu

The plan to put pipelines or use oil tankers to transport the product through natural ecosystems is an issue of great concern that has become a balancing act for many governments. The oil companies state that they are conservationists taking every step to avoid any impact to the natural environment that they are in. The Indigenous peoples and environmentalist point out that it only takes one mistake  one spill to wipe out an entire ecosystem for scores of years. The Indigenous peoples that rely on the water for fishing, washing and life itself say that risk is not acceptable plus what is in the water will always come to the land itself.

14-year-old Ella (Ta'kaiya Blaney) had planed to make the 500 Km trip from Tai'Amin to Klemtu up the Inside Passage with her Uncle Dave (Evan Adams). However at the films opening Uncle Dave had just passed from a terminal disease but made Ella promise that she would make the trip and testify in his place against the pipeline permitting oil tankers into the territorial waters. Still determined to make the trip against the wishes of her mother Maureen Ella enlists Dave's stepson Alex, widow Cory (Sonja Bennett) and her other Uncle the reluctant Don (Lorne Cardinal) to make the journey. School teacher Cory who's been having great difficulty with Dave's passing is definitely an indoor girl but ready to go. Alex who can be described as clumsy at best is game as well. Don who has money issues plus an estranged son up in Klemtu takes the most persuading to join the party.

Director Zoe Leigh Hopkins manages to find several funny moments in a serious and somber adventure. The group is inexperienced except for Don, on a tight deadline to get Ella to Klemtu to in time in addition to pledging to spread Dave's ashes along the way. Lorne Cardinal authors the best comedic moments as Don. His rant against environmentalist is a classic oratory extent. Non-native Cory provides the physical humour balancing delicately on that border between laughing with and laughing at.

The natural beauty captured along the trip is breathtaking. Seals great the foursome as they push off. They cross many whale sightings both tails in the distance and Hopkins great use of underwater shots. But The best sequence may be when the paddlers argue if they are passing an abundant group of seals or Sea Lions within arms reach on their port side.

Kayak to Klemtu puts the spotlight on an important issue that could have disastrous effects on our waterways and coastlines. Just after the film wrapped there was a spill near Bella Bella that saw a tugboat hauling an American fuel barge go down spilling 100,000 litres of diesel into the main food gathering source for the area shutting down the clam fishery as it leaked oil for 32 days. This labeled minor incident not requiring an environmental impact survey will effect the fishing in the area for at least 10 years.

*** Out of 4.

Kayak to Klemtu | Zoe Leigh Hopkins | Canada | 2017 | 90 Minutes.

Tags: Tai'Amin, Klemtu, Inside Passage, Great Bear Rainforest, Kyak, Ashes, Community Gathering, Pipeline, Oil Tanker, Oysters.

Other Animal Film Review - Poor Agnes

When you take a human life you become God just for an instant but if you take a human mind you own a sole then you ARE God is the manifesto of Agnes Poelzl (Lora Burke) as she goes through life on a different plain from most human beings. She young, attractive, energetic and direct but lacks a human quality that at first you might not be able to put your finger on.

The opening shot of the film is a sweeping overhead view of an isolated home deep in the woods of Thunder Bay, Ontario. It's the first of many shifts in angles used by director Navin Ramaswaran to bring the audience in close or keep them back at a distance.  Inside the house we find Agnes pontificating about men and woman in base terms. Into this environment comes Mike (Robert Notman). He is working on behalf of the parents of an old boyfriend who's been missing for 10 years. Mike senses a spark with Agnes which he explores starting a twisted level of dependancy that the term sub cannot even begin to describe.

Writer James Gordon Ross researched the CIA handbook on how to break someone down mentally in preparation for the film Agnes goes through the steps from the 60's manual to turn the investigator into a puddle of mush. He also thought Agnes' key character trait of a devout relationship with God as an important element in line with other megalomaniacs from Hitler to Mussolini or other narcissist. In her mind God is smiling down on her as she carries out her acts. Ross sees it as a flaw in the human species that we are attracted to these dangerous bullies; the cruel people.

Lora Burke is in just about every frame of the film as Agnes. She is driven, talented, intelligent but poor of spirit clearly missing that empathy gene. Robert Notman is effective as Mike the main target of her mind games. Seeing his character being broken down right before our eyes is quite disturbing. Look for Will Conlon as Chris a computer nerd that Agnes meets on a dating site who she uses to fill the spaces when she is either angry, bored or tired of Mike.

Poor Agnes is a very strong entry into the psychological thriller category with a perfectly cast titular character. James Gordon Ross provides a rich script that gives the players plenty to do even packing compelling moments into apparent throwaway scenes. The content will stay with you long after you walk out of the theatre. It will definitely spark sideways looks at the next person that passes by with handcuff bruises on their wrist. But likely best not lead to an interaction for fear of what could come next.

**** Out of 4.

Poor Agnes | Navin Ramaswaran | Canada | 2017 | 95 Minutes.

Tags: Serial Killer, Psychopath, Missing Person, Private Investigator, CIA Handbook, Stockholm Syndrome, Handcuffs, Torture Survivor, Axe, Shotgun, Thunder Bay, Baseball Bat.

Thursday, October 19, 2017

imagineNATIVE 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.  


Monday, October 16, 2017


The dark corners of Maori society are prodded, probed and laid bare in the multi directed Waru. The linking element is the death of a young boy at the hands of a caregiver. The split is that the action is told by eight different female directors covering the same 10 minute period from a different direction. The shooting style of a one shot take that is evident in all of the segments is best presented in the first segment that focuses on the family Auntie as she runs a military style kitchen preparing food for the mourners. She finds the Waru's mother sobbing in a storage room delivering to her tough talk enabling her to stand and somewhat compose herself.  The two weaker sections focus on the child's kindergarden teacher Anahera (Roimata Fox) who's trying to explain the situation to Waru's classmates while juggling a workplace affair. The other the media reaction directed by Chelsea Cohen giving the majority reaction to the Maori problem through the slow burning eyes of a Maori anchorwoman.

The common elements help the production establish and keep cohesion. Drue Sturge serves as cinematographer using blown out grainy natural elements in most of the vignettes except for the sterility of the television studio scene another reason why that passage sticks out from the rest. The action all takes place at 10 AM in all sections plus the commitment to a one shot take that is also common amongst the films.

Two of the stronger segments point a finger at the failure of male authority figure in the community. In one directed by Paula Jones a young woman backed by her mates takes up makeshift arms against her male abuser. In the other helmed by Awanui Simich-Pene two sisters Titty and Bash head to a male dominated drinking hole to take back what's hers. Both of these sessions end at the moment things are about to escalate. The gaze back by Bash (Miriama McDowell) to the camera as she is about to enter the breach is the harrowing moment of the film.

The potential standout portion centres on the funeral (tangi) for the young boy. Both grandmothers adorned in green spar for the fate of the body. Renae Maihi's camera weaves between the two like a third character as the matriarchs try to settle the dispute. When the body is finally carried out to a waiting vehicle. The sobbing mom appears from the first scene to play a part in the fate of her child.

Waru is a powerful story told by voices that are not often heard in greater society. The content is somber as base feelings including grief, remorse, anger and guilt are explored throughout alongside the underlying question of how can this pattern be stopped from happening again? The well-trained lenses sharply deliver their snippets that despite needing a bit of tuning in a couple of instances make it a story I can definitely recommend.

*** 1/2 Out of 4.

Waru | Renae Maihi / Awanui Simich-Pene/ plus 6 others | New Zealand | 88 Minutes.

Tags: Maori, Abuse, Waru, Tangi, Funeral, Dragons, Gas, TV Station, Female Directors, One Take, Spare Key.

TAD17 Film Review - Rabbit

Michael Darren's score is the first think that hits you from Luke Shanahan's Rabbit. It announces loudly that chilling events will follow with its mix of classical instruments and high pitched tech beats leadings one's mind to anticipate violence pain and suffering. In the opening frames we see a young girl in two different settings attempting to escape something terrifying. As the narrative begins it's explained that Maude (Adelaide Clemens) who is staying medicine in Germany has a twin sister also played by Clemens who had disappeared over a year ago. Since her sister Cleo has gone missing Maude has these dreams that appear to be Cleo's experiences or an attempt to tell Maude where she is. One day while studying a cadaver for class Maude becomes agitated seemingly needing to get some air then collapses. After this event she returns home to Australia determined to find her sister.

The next part of the narrative looses the frenzied quick opening replacing it with an expositional heavy slow trot. Maude's parents are introduced along with her sister's fiancee Ralph (Alex Russell) who's been helping out at the house. There is tension there as her parents had a funeral for Cleo which Maude did not attend while the local now on leave police detective who was consumed with the case Henry (Jonny Pasvolsky) still feels that Ralph had something to do with the death.

The action quickens when Maude follows her visions out to a Caravan full of American Horror Story types with Ralph and Henry in tow. Here cinematographer Anna Howard shines as her lens illuminates the southern Australian palate regardless if the sun or moon is at a highpoint in the sky. Maude tries to put substance to her dreams trying to determine if they are a path to Cleo. Amongst the fringe they meet a normal couple a German trained doctor Nerida (Veele Baetens) and her husband Keith (Charles Mayer) From there the story moves to one last port of call a sterile yet ominous Victorian Mansion which doubles as a medical facility appearing to be the spot where Maude's dreams and the bits and pieces she's picked up along the way will lead her to answers.

Rabbit is a psychological thriller that has several compelling elements but just does not seem to get to the juicy centre. The score overwhelms leaving a lot for the story to colour in. It's a beautiful looking landscape with an ensemble cast that supports the material. However, several passages require more bite to bring the entire project up to the level of the visual and auditory elements of the piece.

** 1/2 Out of 4

Rabbit | Luke Shanahan | Australia | 2017 | 103 Minutes.

Tags:  Disappearance, Twins, Medical School, Caravan, Forest, Southern Australia, Hide n Seek, Experiments.

Thursday, October 12, 2017

Kinosmith Film Review - 78/52

78 pieces of film from Alfred Hitchcock and 52 cuts from editor George Tomasini throw in the chilling score from Bernard Herrman, a helping of Hershey's chocolate syrup and you have the essence of the shower scene from Psycho. Director Alexandre O. Phillipe has put together the all encompassing detailed frame by frame analysis of the film with a band of the films aficionados interviewed in a setting similar to the Bates motel to provide their thoughts. The discussion looks at the US in the time before the film juxtaposed with what was to come after, Political Assassinations, Civil Rights, Women's Rights, Vietnam and Protest. The participants point to three films Some Like It Hot, Anatomy of a Murder and Suddenly Last Summer that began to push new boundaries. Where these films pushed, Psycho smashed leaving many wondering how Hitchcock got away with what he put on the screen.

No stone is left unturned. Marli Renfro who was Janet Leigh's body double for the scene features heavily in the production. She answered an ad for the role, stripping down for Hitchcock then again for Janet Leigh before getting the gig a couple of days later. Renfro talks about prop difficulties on set to that fact that she was hired for a couple of days work that turned into a week. Hitchcock in fact shot the scene entirely separate from the rest of the picture.

To really experience the horror of the scene one has to go back to the time and the directors' recent history. He had just come off North by Northwest pus several Technicolor marvels before it. He was also hearing the talk that Henri-Georges Clouzot was coming for his title of master of suspense with 1955's Diabolique being exhibit 1. Hitchcock was having none of it wanting to make a mike drop statement in black & white in a motel shower.

Among the commentators are Directors Eli Roth, Guillermo del Toro actors Elijah Wood and Jamile Lee Curtis alongside composer Danny Elfman who comes to the fore when Bernard Herrmann's  slashing strings music that opens the attack followed by the lower octave baseline as Marion Crane slowly takes her last breaths. Director/ Actor/ Critic Peter Bogdanovich was at the press screening from the opening. He recalls that from the moment mother pulls the curtain back and the knife comes into frame the audience started a sustained screen that did not stop until the scene faded to black. Bogdanovich felt like he was assaulted not to mention Hitchcock's misdirection as Vera Miles appeared in the shower in the trailer. Plus it was unheard of in mainstream films of the day to kill off you presumptive lead character 40 minutes into the film. Phillipe also recruited a series of editors including Chris Innis ( Hurt Locker) Walter Murch ( Apolocype Now) and Bob Murawski (Spiderman) to break down Tomansini's work. They focus in on the dead space to the left of the frame, the switch from Marion's back to the wall to back to the curtain in order to introduce Norman Bates into the scene and the knife stabs themselves cutting through the shower spray and only touching Marion's body in on frame near her belly button.

78/52 is a film historian, director obsessed, editing nerds Valhalla. The documentary has clips of the director from his Sunday night show, interviews, doc with Truffaut doc and stories of his idiosyncrasies. The score is dissected, Saul Bass' storyboards examined along side the battle with the sensors. It's a master class in filmmaking that I can highly recommend.

**** Out of 4

78/52 | Alexandre O. Philippe | U.S.A. | 2017 | 91 Minutes.

Tags: Documentary, Interviews, Shower, Murder, Shots, Cuts, Film, Psycho, Hitchcock, 1960, Black & White, Body Double, Bates Motel, $40,000.

Fox Searchlight Film Review - Goodbye Christopher Robin

London playwright Alan A. Milne (Domhnall Gleeson) suffered from a serious case of shell-shock known today as PSTD when he returned to England from The Great War. Loud noises, corks popping, bright lights and especially bees would bring him back to the Western Front in a trench at  the Somme seeing men's lifeless bodies piled up with files spawned from maggots buzzing around. During one of his episodes his illustrator friend Ernest Shepard (Stephen Campbell Moore) who was at Passchendaele during the war commented that for him it's his motorcycle backfiring. Shepard then summed up that they both would be fine they just need to get things right up here pointing to his temple.

The English people were collectively down after the war. A generation of first sons lost leaving a shortage of marriage options with many who returned prone to sudden fits of anger. Milne had to get out of the city which his wife Daphne (Margot Robbie) who craves fast pace action opposed remarking that a Westend playwright needs to be in London. Soon after their arrival in Sussex Christopher Robin (Will Tilston) their largely ignored 8-year-old son arrives. His mother wanted a girl telling anyone who would listen that the birth almost killed her. Milne had remote contact with the child leaving nanny Olive (Kelly Macdonald) to be the child's default parent.

Director Simon Curtis takes his time with the material introducing the iconic toys slowly with each member of the family playing their part in providing the names. Pooh was initially directed at another animal entirely, Daphne who did most of the playful voicing came up with Kanga and Roo while Alan Milne the author himself felt that Eeyore would be a good name for donkey. A bear that Billy saw in the Zoo named Winne short for it's birthplace Winnipeg became the titular character Winnie the Pooh.

Cinematographer Ben Smithard is greatly responsible for bring the story to life. From the opening shot light and shadow play a major role displaying the mythical Hundred Acre 100 Wood. Including the wooden footbridge across River Medway where Smithard lens captures the energy of each game of Poohsticks flowing downstream below.  Natural light also cuts into interior scenes at the country house through windowpanes. At nighttime it's the moonlight that lights the actors as it hovers about the quiet Sussex countryside.

Goodbye Christopher Robin is a fitting backstory for characters that are universally known and loved. The reveal here is the strain that the books put on Milne son who had to bore the mantle of Christopher Robin. As a child he was a show pony trotted out to events to sell product. By his teens ridiculed and bullied then as a young man seeking anonymity headed off to the front for the Second World war as Private Milne. It's a sweet tale that children of all ages will find nuggets that make them smile making it a film that I can recommend.

*** Out of 4.

Goodbye Christopher Robin | Simon Curtis | UK | 2017 | 107 Minutes.

Tags: The Great War, London, PTSB, Sussex, Toy Bear, Ashdown Forest, Vanity Fair, Book Signing, New York, London Zoo.

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Film Review - Blade Runner 2049

Set 30 years after the Ridley Scott original Denis Villeneuve wades into hollow ground to direct the sequel that fanatics have both dreamed of and dreaded since viewing the ending credits of the 1982 film. There was much risk here, 150 million budget, an original that pre-dates the millennial crowd plus an extra long run time that challenges today's short attention spans to let the material breathe.

However Villeneuve has planted the seeds that sprouted a visually spectacular film underpinned by a compelling narrative that starts on a remote farm on the outskirts of 2049 Los Angeles. LAPD officer K (Ryan Gosling) is this generations Rick Deckhard (Harrison Ford) a replicant hunter specifically the Nexus 8's that are designated for retirement. Underlying is the 10 day black out that wiped all digitally stored records on the androids from the system. K arrives at the farm for a seemingly routine mission that set ups totems that will play out throughout the film. His target Sapper Morton (Dave Bautista) verbally attacks him for hunting his kind spiting out that K can only do his job because he has not seen a miracle.

Beside K and Deckard Villeneuve's universe is occupied by a series of memorable characters. K's boss Lieutenant Joshi (Robin Wright) cold blooded and focused seeming at times more of an android than K. At home in his apartment where he is ridiculed by human residents he is waited on by his holographic girlfriend Joi (Ana de Armas) who has a fifty foot ad along the city's skyline promising to fulfill the pleasure of any man who purchases her program. Sylvia Hoeks shines as Luv the right hand woman to replicant reviver Niander Wallace (Jared Leto) a martial arts assassin that doesn't give a second thought to killing scavengers via satellite as she casually has her nails done in a comfortable recliner.

Villeneuve comes off as having a keen knowledge of the source material. The essence is the movement between dreams and reality peaking when K goes to have a discussion with memory implanter Carla Juri (Dr. Ana Stelline) then as he enters the home of his main totem a sand swept dead space with decaying erotic idols mixed amongst a living bee colony of insects K has never seen. Final proof casting Mackenzie Davis as Mariette a pleasure provider who's a dead ringer for Daryl Hannah's persona Pris from the original. It's a sensory filling cinematic experience that I can highly recommend.

**** Out of 4.

Blade Runner 2049 | Denis Villeneuve | USA/UK/Canada | 2017 | 164 Minutes.

Tags: Sequel, Sci-Fi , Dystopian, Replicants, Hologram,  Pregnancy, Android, Farm, L.A., Las Vegas, Peugeot, Pan Am, Atari, Toy Horse.

Sunday, October 1, 2017

TIFF 17 Film Review - Molly's Game

Molly Bloom (Jessica Chastain) is competitive having been driven by her psychologist dad (Kevin Costner) who produced three kids with a shot to make the U.S. Olympic ski team. Director Aaron Sorkins first feature film is wordy as expected. Bloom describes her last run to make the U.S. ski team up down forwards and backwards. After crashing out she goes to L.A. ahead of Law School takes the job as an assistant for a sleazy L.A. producer who gets mad at her for picking up the wrong bagels but lets her host his weekly poker game for tips. The underground soiree is THE GAME in L.A. $10,000 buy ins potentially a million changing hands in one night with A-list actors, sports stars financiers, fund managers and moguls in attendance. Bloom studies, learns and two weeks in knows the in's and outs of Hold'em poker positioning herself to swoop in and take the players when the inevitable dispute occurs with her boss.

However she did not see the next blind side coming which lead her two New York, an even larger game (250K Buy-ins) plus now she's taking a rake therefore officially breaking the law. The shady characters increase as does the game's frequency bringing her to the attention of the mob and the feds coupled with her memoir see's her arrested with assets seized a move by the Feds trying to flush her out and give up bigger fish.

Screenwriter Arron Sorkin can talk up a subject. The opening skiing sequence followed by Molly learning the skills of poker are narrative ballets dancing across the screen. With Bloom he found a strong personality to anchor his directorial debut and in Chastain the perfect person to play her. To say the piece is fast paced would be the ultimate understatement. The titular's character's scenes with her lawyer Charley Jaffey (Idris Elba) consist of verbal badminton where he's looking out for her best interest but she is refusing to do anything that she feels is not right to say nothing of the fact his frustration since she can't cover his $250,000 retainer. Sorkin even blows up Psychiatry as a profession when Molly's dad appears in New York to give her all of the answers that would have normally taken three years of psychotherapy to achieve. Chastain continues her run of being the female in an male dominated area where she not only survives but excels.  

Molly's Game is a finely measured maiden outing from a screenwriter that everyone knew would eventually find his way behind the camera. For his maiden outing he is blessed with a strong real life characters and a principal cast filled with acting precision. It's a fresh look at poker, power, wealth and fame that I can definitely recommend.

*** 1/2 Out of 4.

Molly's Game | Aaron Sorkin | USA | 2017 | 141 Minutes.

Tags: Voice Over, Biopic, Texas Hold'em, Private Game, Hostess, Tips, Player List, Fund Managers, L.A., New York, Russians, FBI, Poker Princess, Informant, Arrest, Trial, Hard Drive, Sentence.

TIFF 17 Film Review - Faces Places

The oddest of couples helm Faces Places early thirties graffiti/ large form print artist JR teams with Master Agnes Varda who is more than 50 years his senior to take a ride across the villages in France posting large format print of the characters they run into along the way. Chance has always been my best assistant she declares near the films opening. Not a truer sentiment could have been stated to introduce the events that follow. JR has recently been in the news having completed a 70 foot instillation at the Mexico-US border of a baby peering over the wall from the Mexican side.

The pair set out in Jr's Mercedes van that doubles as a large black and white camera, photo booth and print shop. Their first stop an abandoned northern mining town with one remaining resident. There they post photos of the former minors on the row houses plus one of the last resident adorning her home. Next there off to see a farmer that once had 2000 acres under his care. They learn about his current experience and leave him with a souvenir print of himself on the front side of his barn.

Varda and JR share directing credit for the piece. They spend their time together teasing and provoking. Varda constantly at JR for never removing his sunglasses or fedora while he fires back at Varda on just about every topic imaginable. They are both so forward and forthright that their natural personalities fill the screen and theatre with constant laughter.

The most profound portions of the project include a stop at a shipping yard in Le Harve an all male domain. Here the pair bring the wives of three of the dock workers giving them 100 foot monuments plastered on shipping containers. The other an ill-fated train trip to go and see Goddard a long time friend of Varda and her late husband director Jack Demy who stands her up. Seeing how disappointed she is with that event Jr finally gives Varda what she wants and removes his hat and sunglasses. Special mention to a recreation of Goddard's dash though the Louve scene from Band of Ousiders with Varda in a wheelchair and JR pushing her maniacally from behind.

Faces Places is a joyful romp across the small towns of France featuring the best opening and closing credit sequences of the year. The film brings ordinary people to the forefront in the most simple manor bringing joy to them and their communities. The two principals are a perfect match even though you would think they have noting in common being generations apart. Varda youthful exuberance along with JR laid back calmness make for the perfect mix that underpins a film that I can highly recommend.

*** 1/2 Out of 4.

Faces Places | Agnes Varda / JR | France | 2017 | 89 Minutes.

Tags: Documentary, Street Artist, Cole Miners, Church Bells, Le Havre, The Louvre, Jean Luc Godard, Rolle Switzerland.

TIFF 17 Film Review - Lean on Pete

15-year-old Charley (Charley Thompson) has seen enough hardship in his young live to match someone three times his age. He has just moved to Portland with his dad from Spokane, Washington. He has two prized possessions a running and junior football trophy. His home is borderline condemned and there are rodents on the loose throughout. His only form of enjoyment is his morning run that one day brings him by Portland Downs where he meets Del (Steve Buscemi) who takes him on as an assistant for a small amount of cash.

Charley is in constant search of a mother figure. His ultimate goal is his Aunt Martha (Rachel Perrell Fosket) who her dad pushed away years ago. A fill in is Bonnie (Chloe Sevigny) who works as a jockey for Del on occasion and is not opposed to his shady means to boosts a horses performance. After a tragic family incident Charley seizes the oppournity to save a labouring old quarter horse Lean on Pete and combine that with a trek to find his Aunt Martha in Wyoming. Along the way Charley's struggles get worse he's forced to syphon gas, beg for food then ending up emaciated and homeless.

Director Andrew Haig tells a tale of a young teenage that starts out badly then progressively gets worse. Charley comes across many people who are sympathetic to his situation even though many of these encounters could have been the final straw in a short desperate life. This is not an uplifting journey of discovery for a young adventurer. Cinematographer Magnus Nordenhof Jonck deserves special mention as the second half of the film is mainly shots of Charley wondering the Western countryside. Jonck delivers the greens, blues, browns and oranges of the tapestry to the screen. Nighttime scenes with a fire flickering or headlights cutting through the darkness on quiet highways set the tone for the cold quiet isolation of the lead character.

The ensemble cast settle comfortably into their roles. Charley Thompson is perfectly cast as the frail 15 year old teen whose mom walked out on him in his youth and dad moves him from city to city across the Northwest seeking warehouse work. Travis Fimmel as is dad Ray still has some of his boyish charm that helps him with the opposite sex but gets him in trouble with their regular partners. Shady horse trainer Del Steve Bushemi teaches Charley more at a couple of out of town races about manners and hard work that his father ever has.  Look for Steve Zahn in a small role as Del who takes an interest in Charley after a meeting in a soup kitchen offering him a place to sleep and get off of the streets.

Lean On Pete is the story of a young teen that due to circumstances has to grow up much to fast. All he is looking for is a shot of stability a chance to settle into a regular schedule and a warm roof over his head at night. It's a road film where the main character meets many an in testing character along the way as he tries to get to his fabled Aunt Martha who could be his symbolic unicorn

*** 1/2 Out of 4.

Lean on Pete | Andrew Haig | UK | 2017 | 121 Minutes.

Tags: Horse Training, Running, Junior Football, Claim Racing, Boosting, Drug Testing, Mexico, Slaughterhouse, Dine and Dash.