Sunday, September 30, 2018

TIFF '18 Film Review - High Life

For centuries humans have sought to separate prisoners from the rest of society. The more distance the better and if you can surround the prisoners with water better still. Rykers Island in New York is still in use. Alcatraz in the San Francisco Bay is now a museum and tourist destination. More brutal locations include Robben Island where many South African dissidents including Nelson Mandella were jailed and Devil's Island in French Guiana established by Napoleon III in the 1850's for French prison around the same time as Australia was stopped being used by the British.

In High Life, the penal colony is floating in space also serves as a biological experiment and a vague mission to investigate the energy a black hole might produce. The occupants are not in cells, they have access to the full ship especially the popular garden. But the men have to give up their sperm, women their eggs for the de facto authority figure Dr. Dibs (Juliette Binoche) to do her studies and report back the results to Earth. Knowing the pension for director Claire Denis to use sensual and sexual imagery you would be correct in expecting that she would be full on given this premise and setting. In fact, a few scenes have sparked strong reactions sessionDr. Dibs close-up  in the self pleasuring room. Monte (Robert Pattinson) being milked for his sperm in his sleep by the doctor who then ijects it into an unspecting Boyse (Mia Goth). Thirdly a tied down Boyse being attacked in bed  by Chandra (Lars Eidinger) until Monte steps in.

On a few occasions, Denis remind us that the action takes place in space; periodic shots of the outside of the ship that looks like a rectangle pencil box; plus a distant black hole that plays a pivotal part during a key moment in the production. Denis and her regular co-writer Jean-Pol Fargeau's put the bulk of the narrative in flashback. Bookended by Monte working outside the ship with a crying baby inside on speaker, and a teenange girl (Jessie Ross) being the sole companion of a greying Monte who kicks her out of his bed because she is gettting too big to sleep with him.

High Life is a sci-fi film that is not interested in typical sci-fi elements.Instead, it focuses on the relationships and interactions between the inhabitants forced to make this journey being guinea pigs for science. Robert Pattinson's Monte stoically removes himself from the group but is drawn back in against his will by the supposed authorty figure Dr. Dibs. It's a strange watch that many of Denis' fans will see elements of the director's other works hidden in the recesses. But if you're looking to see Buck Rodgers you better turn your attention someplace else.

**1/2 Out of 4.

High Life | Claire Denis | Germany /France / U.K / Poland / U.S.A. | 2018 | 110 Minutes.

Tags: Penal Ship, Sperm, Eggs, Masturbation, Restraints, Rape, Murder, Artifical Insemination, Pregnancy, Penrose Process, Black Hole.

TIFF '18 Film Review - The Wedding Guest

Jay (Dev Patel) is a mysterious figure that the audience begins to try and pinpoint from the first moment he is on screen. He is packing to go on a trip rifling through several different passports before he hops in a cab in London to go to the airport.Landing in Pakistan he goes to the first of several car rental agencies shows an I.D. then goes shopping for a suitcase, clothing and several other supplies that seem unusual for a tourist. Jay heads out into the outskirts to attend the titular event but detours to snatch Samira (Radhika Apte) from her home the intended bride who turns out to be his mission.

Director Michael Winterbottom brings to the screen a story that crisscrosses Pakistan and India. The first wrench is tossed when an unintended hiccup in the abduction sees client Deepesh (Jim Sarbh) Samira's British boyfriend having second thoughts about the plan. He wants to cut bait but Jay not yet paid in full will not have it. Here we see him think on his feet obviously familiar with the need to improvise in his line of work hatching a new plan that should benefit all involved. Winterbottom does a formable job of bringing the viewer into the crowded streets of South Asian life. The traffic, Heat, roadside shops and food all play a prominent part in setting the mood.

Radhika Apte's Samria is no shirking violet herself. She is aware of Deepesh's plan sizes up Jay quickly not shy to use her female charms while always thinking of her best course of action at every turn of the multi twisting plot. Jim Sarbh plays Deepesh as the typical loud entitled rich boy with more money than brains. His family owns a lucrative jewellery business in London that allows him certain freedoms. Dev Patel's Jay is cold,calculating and sharp. He is obviously ex-military or government agency employee based on how he handles high-risk situations, a weapon and his network of contacts that seem to extend all over the world.

The Wedding Guest is not what it seems if you go by the title and the director's usual social interest based subjects. Here instead the subject is a face paced thriller that shifts venues on a dime that including New Deli, Amristar, Jaipur, and Goa.Cinematographer Giles Nuttengs delights as he brings these varying palates to life. It's a brisk ride that stumbles a bit, in the end, to deliver on the fanetic monumentum built earlier on in the proceedings but still well worth a look.

*** Out of 4

The Wedding Guest | Michael Winterbottom | U.K. | 2018 | 94 Minutes.

Tags: Passports, Pakistan, India, Id's, Firearms, Abduction, Rental Cars, Cash, Jewels, Border Crossing, Goa Beaches.

TIFF '18 Film Review - Cold War

Director Pawel Pawlikowski has a comfort zone for making films. It's Poland behind the Iron Curtain, the events are bleak, the format is monochrome yet the visuals are beautiful. In his follow up to 2013's Ida that one can only hope is the middle stanza of a mid 20th century trilogy Pawlikowski starts out in the winter chill of rural Poland circa 1949. Wiktor (Thomas Kot) is leading auditions for a touring traditional coordinated singing and dancing group. His current flame Irena (Ida's Agata Kulesza) by his side along with driver Kacmarek (Borys Szyc) whose willingness to perform underhanded deeds will lead to an upward climb in the Party. Zula (Joanna Kulig) a farm girl with a checkered past turns up to audition obviously catching the directors interest the moment she enters the room. The story then pitches forward to 1951, Zula is the star of the show, always centre stage singing positive socialist numbers as Party members look on from the balcony. Wiktor wants to get away from this world asking Zula (Joanna Kulig) to go with him to the West.

No real spoiler to report that Wiktor plan does not work out. He ends up in Paris alone, meeting up with Zula periodically as the next decade progresses. He's playing in Jazz bands, doing score music for film and falling in with the original beatnik crowd in Paris. Zula arrives for her longest spell at this point having married an Italian who is nowhere to be seen. The pair is passionate but that coin does turn as they argue leading Zula leave for what seems to be for good. Wiktor knowing that she is the love of his life decides to make a significant sacrifice just to be in the position to possibly see her even if it may in a controlled setting.

Pawlikowski shines when he tells stories of a few individuals struggle to survive under the harshness that was the Communist rule in Poland. No one escapes strife but there are moments of happiness and joy normally related to music. The best instances of this is a long cut sequence with Zula and Wikor in a Paris dance hall here as Rock Around the Clock his the speakers compelling Zula to hit the dance floor sharing moments of the song with different partners as a steady cam follows her around the hall. The other, a performance of the Mazurek troupe for important Communist Part members featuring Polish dancing spins and lifts with Zula at the forefront.

Cold War is the telling of a classic story of star-crossed lovers separated by time, space and politics. Joanna Kulig is the classical mid-twentieth century free-spirited modern woman ala Anita Ekberg in La Dolce Vita, Sophia Loren or Marilyn Monroe. But in all these cases unhappiness lurks just below the surface. Cinematographer Lukasz Zal's vision gleams incredible shifts between light and dark on the black and white canvas. The overall tone is a melancholy deliberately paced sharply edited production spanning parts of three decades that I can highly recommend.

*** 1/2 Out of 4.

Cold War | Pawel Pawlikowski |Poland/France/ U.K. | 2018 | 88 Minutes.

Tags: Poland, Eastern Bloc, Polish Folk Music, Mazowsze / Slask, East Berlin, Border Crossing, Paris, French Jazz, Yugoslavia, Bill Haley & The Comets.

Saturday, September 29, 2018

TIFF '18 Film Review - The Accused

Delores Dreier (Lai Esposito) wakes up at her best friend Camila Nieves' s house after a drunken night of partying. She grabs her knapsack and heads home seeing Camila passed out on her couch. Later she learns her friend had been stabbed to death and she is the main suspect accused of murder.  The film starts two years after the party. The case of the schoolgirl murdered by her best friend is a cause celebre in Buenos Aires. The trial is about to start with Delores' high powered defense counsel Ignacio Larocca (Daniel Fanego) getting his client ready for trial and the family ready for what will descend on them. Delores is combative, angry and self destructive often not acting in her best interest. She has a loyal friend Flo (Martina Campos)  by her side and a new Beau Lucas (Lautaro Rodriguez)  who might just be hanging around to get a piece of the action.

The grind of the affair on the families is at the centre of the film. Delores father Luis (Leonardo Sbaraglia) has spent just about every penny he has and feels that his daughter is not appreciative of all that he is doing to protect her. He along with his wife Betina (Ines Estevez) is fiercely protective of Delores little brother attempting to shield him from what is going on. Especially evident as they keep him out of a magazine article about the family being completed near the beginning of the film. On the other side is the mother of the deceased Marisa (Ana Garibaldi). She is sure that Delores did the crime, Delores and Camila had had a fight over a video of a sex act involving Delores that Camila posted online.

Director Gonzalo Tobal paces the film well. The legal goal is never far from the surface in the narrative. It's not to show that Delores is innocent. It's about raising enough doubt to show that she is not guilty. Part of that strategy is to appear on a local TV Current events show with a notorious host Mario Elmo (Gael Garcia Bernal). Gonzalo also has a secondary story about a wild cat on the loose roaming the neighbourhoods. News crews gather trying to catch a glimpse as the authorities try to cage the animal. Not dissimilar to what is going on with Delores.

The Accused is a tightly packaged tale of a big court case in Argentina. The first difference a viewer may notice that the trial is decided by three judges and not a jury. Lead Actress Lai Esposito who is a pop star in Argentina plays Delores in a subdued trance like state just wanting the ordeal to be over one way or the other. Director Tobal jumps on the modern reality that justice is not the important thing but instead your ability to tell a story that will win public opinion and hopefully sway the lawmakers.

*** Out of 4.

The Accused | Gonzalo Tobal | Argentina / Mexico | 2018 | 108 Minutes.

Tags: Trial, Murder, Stabbing, Back Pack, Magazine Article, Haircut,Sex Tape,TV Show, Cottage, Scissors,Well

Friday, September 28, 2018

TIFF '18 Film Review - The Kindergarten Teacher

Lisa Spinelli (Maggie Gyllenhaal) is a preschool teacher on Staten Island with a love bordering on obsession with poetry. When not teaching she is writing down phrases preparing for her weekly class in Manhattan. One day after class one of her students Jimmy (Parker Sevak) starts pacing back and forth speaking quietly yet purposefully emitting beautiful prose.  However, it seems that Lisa is the only one to notice. She questions her nanny who comes to pick him up who notes that he does this often at home. His dad also shows no interest only an Uncle that keeps his distance knows that his nephew has something to say. Lisa takes it on her self to nurture Jimmy's talent first taking his poems as her own, bringing him to museums to feed his artistic side then giving him her cell number to call her anytime he has a poem to recite.

Director Sara Colangelo helms this Netflicks project a remake of Navid Lapid's Israeli 2015 version of the film. The family dynamic for Sara is explored deeply. Her husband is devoted but their relationship seems to more friendly than passionate. Her daughter is buried in her phone 24 hours a day while her son plans to join the army over Sara's loud objections.

Lisa grows singularly focused on Jimmy. She is pulling him out of nap time to speak to him alone in the bathroom. She takes him aside for private conversations on the playground. Her actions and touching of the boy drawing the attention of her teaching assistant. Sara extends her authority against the will of Jimmy's dad leading her to be cut off which only increases her desire to be Jimmy's guide.

Maggie Gyllenhaal who is outstanding in almost everything she does is perfectly suited for this role. She is part mother, part teacher, fangirl, and partly jealous of Jimmy's talent. She is past her prime, toiling in the forgotten New York borough Kindergarten Class knowing quality but not able to produce it then sees it in a 5 -year -old boy. She must feel like she is being punished.

The Kindergarten Teacher is a study in an honest attempt to nurture that drifts steadily into the realm of obsession. Maggie Gyllenhaal shines in a role she was meant to play. The obsession builds steadily to a peak then diffuses as if a spell has been broken. It's a project that's faithful to the original story making it a film that I can recommend.

*** Out of 4

The Kindergarten Teacher | Sara Colangelo | U.S.A. | 2018 | 96 Minutes.

Tags: Poetry, Ferry, Night School, Pre-School, Nanny, Poetry Reading, Road Trip, Beach, Upstate New York.

TIFF '18 Film Review - The Sisters Brothers

Eli Sisters (John C. Reilly) the older, calmer, philosopher, while Charlie Sisters (Joaquin Phoenix) is younger, aggressive, violent one of the gun for hire duo. The pair work for the Commodore taking jobs to eliminate enemies or those that have crossed their boss in 1850's West coast America. Their current job is to track down chemist Hermann Kermit Warm (Riz Ahmed) who has perfected a method to illuminate gold on the riverbed floor allowing the prospector to only have to bend down and scoop it up. Detective John Morris (Jake Gyllenhaal) dispatched to keep an eye on the chemist until the brothers arrive has thrown in his lot with Warm severing communications.

French director Jacques Audiard coming off the 2015 Palm d'Or winning effort Dheepan crafts a road movie based on the novel of the same name by Patrick deWitt. The camera follows the brothers as they make their way south through frontier towns constantly outsmarting any opposition until they make it to San Francisco the centre of the gold rush. There they get information on their targets, see indoor plumbing for the first time and are soon upon their prey. They too are seduced by Warms formula helping to pan for gold until the side effects of the formula affect the quartet.

Its the relationship between the brothers that drives the film. Charlie has lofty ambitions to grow their hired gun business eventually with Eli and himself being the ones that give the orders. Eli, on the other hand, has had enough of this life. Always away from home, sleeping by campfires with a saddle bag as a pillow not to mention someone around every corner looking to shoot at him. But when  challenged they bolt into gunfighter mode showing why they are among the best hired guns in the west.

Joaquin Phoenix continues his busy schedule of complex roles as Charlie. Here he is foul-mouthed, angry, merciless and ruthless when not boozing and womanizing in a local saloon.  John C. Reilly Eli is a warrior monk. He's looking to the future what will be his next chapter but when duty calls he is every bit as sharp with his gun as his partner. Riz Ahmed injects a bit of civility into the Wild West setting as Hermann Kermit Warm. He is a scientist and not a shootist preferring to convince through reasoning as opposed to pointing a cocked weapon.

Jacques Audiard's first English language film tackles the classic American genre. Funnier than expected with an early sequence involving an unsuspecting sleeping Eli that is everyone secret fear. The production finds an effective way to show Warms formula in action alongside the brutal reality of its side effects. At the core is family in a film I can recommend.

*** out of 4.

Sisters Brothers | Jacques Audiard | France/Spain/ Romania/ USA| 2018 | 121 Minutes.

Tags: Western, 1850's, Prospecting, Gold, Frontier, San Francisco, Oregon, Spider, Fever, Cat House.   


Thursday, September 27, 2018

TIFF '18 Film Review - Anthropocene: The Human Epoch

Jennifer Baichwal, Edward Burtynsky and Nicholas de Pencier that their next step in their series on man's impact on the planet with Anthropocene: The Human Epoc. They start in Kenya with a staggering amount of elephant tusks in seized from shipping containers. The viewer can only wonder how many elephants were killed to produce the bounty. Anti-poaching activists speak to the damage caused to the species in the hunt for tusks. As with any contraband, the solution is to dispose of the items meaning a big bonfire in Nairobi National Park reaching to the heavens to destroy the poached tusks.

Next up is a trip to Siberia to the most polluted city on earth where the mine is king and the big celebration is Metallurgy Day where the town people play on cranes and earth movers. Among the other stops is a forest in look at the effects of clear-cutting and an open pit mine in Germany that has wiped out multiple towns in the area as it expands and devours.

Actor Alicia Vikander narrates the latest offering from the trio that has a real talent for showing the large scale of the locations they shoot. In Noriilsk the camera darts in and out the rows of heavy machinery used in smelting. We see the workers both men and women who love their town and jobs as they know nothing better.  In Carrara, Italy a marble quarry is featured that happens to have the best marble in the world where Michaelango went to source the marble for his great works. Here the camera pulls back to show the multi tonne machinery used to excavate the resource from the white mountain.  The directors never missing a minute to show how big and heavy man is willing to go to get at the earth's riches. The battle between machine and nature is so fierce that often the backhoes tip forward onto their front wheels as they dig in to pull the marble from the mountain and break it apart.

The Atacama Desert in Chile which look like one would expect from the surface of Mars is the main location on the planet where lithium is harvested. The material is used in everyting from batteries, to cell phones to cars but the effect of the farming leaves the landscape jagged and even more barren than before. The quieter, therefore, less awe-inspiring but not insignificant segment looks at extinct or near extinct animals in the wild. Pointing to the fact that if man continues as he is going many more creatures will suffer the same fate.

Anthropocene: The Human Epoch is the completion of the trilogy for this team that looks at the environment and man's effect on it. 2006's Manufactured Landscapes started the sequence with Watermark in 2013 being the middle chapter. The directors master of the large scale spectacle is jaw dropping the facts delivered by narrator Alicia Vikander harrowing. The weight and speed by which humans have effectively poisoned the planet staggering.

**** Out of 4

Anthropence: The Human Epoch | Jennifer Baichwal/Edward Burtynsky/ Nicholas de Pencier | Canada | 2018 | 87 Minutes

Tags: Ivory, Lithium, Marble, Timber, Smelting, Crane, Back Hoe, Narobi National Park, Atacama Desert, London Zoo.

Wednesday, September 26, 2018

TIFF '18 Film Review - Shoplifters

A  young boy and a middle age man enter a supermarket. They split up but are obviously working together staff positions are noted as the man blocks out the clerks for the boy to hide items under his clothes. they put down the basket they half filled as cover and leave the store. The pair returns home where they are bunking with grandma Hatsue Shibata (Kirin Kiki) who is on social assistance and supposed to be living alone. The other residents besides day labourer Osamu Shibata (Lily Franky)  are his wife Noboyu (Sakura Ando) a teenage girl Aki (Mayu Matsuoka) who seems too posh for the setting, and the boy Shota (Kairi Jyo) Osama's partner. The group isa mix of struggling misfits but they have true honor as they bring home a young 6-year-old girl Juri (Miyu Sasaki) that they find shivering alone abandoned and hungry.

The members of this circle do various forms of marginal work to fill their day. Aki works in a peep show booth where guys can get to cuddle with her for an extra fee. Noboyu works at a laundry facility where she steals items left in pockets and from the facility itself. Little Juri is soon coached up to go out with Shota learning the hand signals to join the shoplifting crew.

Director Hiokazu Koreeda beaks the myth that you can't choose your family. Here Osama is at the head of a family unit that have all in some way due to prior bad circumstances chose each other. Juri the latest edition is now on the news as her parents are looking for her, more for the government benefits that out of a real sense of loss. Then Shota has a fall after a botched shoplifting attempt that brings the authorities to the groups' door.

Shoplifters is a social study and commentary on Japanese society. A slice of the public does not earn a living wage meaning they have to resort to risky activities or go without. A pensioner cannot feed herself and maintain a good roof over her head. Juri's parents who abuse and neglect are seen as victims while Osama and Noboyu who take her in and despite their state in life show her real kindness and love pay the price for their actions. Shota takes chances out of jealousy of being displaced by Juri but he is at an age where he should get back to school for his best interest which is ultimately realized and recognized by both Osama and Noboyu.

***1/2 Out of 4.

Shoplifters | Hirokazu Koreeda | Japan | 2018 | 121 Minutes.

Tags: Orphan, Runaway, Kidnapping, Stealing, Pension, Squatting, Inspection, Investigation, Interrogation, Fishing, Reunion.

TIFF '18 Film Review - Border

Tina a heavily made-up neanderthal looking (Eva Melander) is a Swedish customs agent with an uncanny knack for spotting those attempting to smuggle or sneak items into the country. She can pick up on body language or a change in sent that a guilty or nervous exudes. Her skills are 100% foolproof until a male traveler Vore (Eero Milonoff) walks past her station and she has no read on him at all.

Director Ali Abbasi who was born in Iran but now rooted in Denmark takes his story from John Ajvide Lindqvist's short story Let the Right One In. Abbasi plays heavily on Tina's comfort with the forest and wild animals. He even brings in a secondary plot where the police employee her skills in a child pornography investigation a natural progression and use of her natural skills.

At home on the outskirts of town, Tina lives with Roland (Jorgen Thorsson) he is more interested in his fighting dogs then Tina but stays around for the free accommodations and the easy access to her bedroom when the mood hits. Her dad (Sten Ljunggren) living in a senior's home suffering from Dementia is happy when Tina comes to visit as she allows him to sneak a smoke but he constantly pushes her to kick Roland out as he is only taking advantage of her.

Tina's and Vore cross paths again leading her to offer him the unoccupied guest house. The pair have a special connection that unravels as the film moves along. Roland is not a fan seeing Vore as creepy wondering why she has invited someone that she knows nothing about to stay on the property.

Border is a film about folklore and mythical figures that inhabit Scandinavian culture. Tina has to decide if she wants to get along in regular society or side with Vore and blow everything up. Her choice will have a great impact on today and the future of herself and her line for generations to come. Abbasi turns his camera on the beautiful aspects of Tina's gifts but is as equally focused on the startling elements of her nature that gives birth to these traits. Its a unique story based on the works of a writer with a strong grasp of the underworld, supernatural and fantasy that I can recommend.

***1/2 Our of 4

Border | Ali Abbasi | Sweden/Denmark | 2018 | 180 Minutes.

Tags: Customs, Inspection, Search, Child, Pornorgraphy, Deer, River, Forest,  Baby, Ferry, Tail.

Tuesday, September 25, 2018

TIFF '18 Film Review - First Man

There are so many areas to emphasize in the Apollo 11 Mission that one could choose. There is the promise made by President John F. Kennedy that America was going to put a man on the moon. The cold war race between the Russians and Americans to be first at each step in space. The waving of the flag to signal how America is great or even the critics of the Space program who saw it as a waste of money and a distraction away from what was going on in Vietnam. With all of these options before him, director Damien Chazelle decided to put the relationship between a father and his daughter at the centre of his film.

Starting in 1961 with the stoic Neil Armstrong (Ryan Gosling) flying a test rocket exiting and re- entering the earth's atmosphere on a bumpy ride where he is merely holding on for dear life for the first of many times to come in the film. At the time he is dealing with his daughter suffering from a brain tumor that would soon take her life and set his personality and course throughout the rest of the decade. He applies to N.A.S.A. landing on the Gemini project the forerunner to Apollo requiring a move to Houston,Texas. The narrative does a good job here establishing that these pilots are engineers and scientists as opposed to cowboys and thrill seekers. They have to know the math and calculations in order to deal with what they may face when up in space. The personal relationships are also fleshed out. Armstrong relationship with Astronaut Ed White (Jason Clark), Elliot See (Patrick Fugit) and his wife Janet (Claire Foy) strong friendship with Ed's wife Pam (Olivia Hamilton) Corey Stoll sticks out as Buzz Aldrin. He is a cynic and critic, always in a bad mood making it ironic that he ends up being the second man down the ladder of the Eagle to step onto the moon's surface.

Chazelle does not shy away from the opposition to the Space program. The most powerful counterpoint is the inclusion of Gil Scott-Heron poem Whitey On The Moon. Poor people starving with rats in their homes who can't pay doctors bills or rent or electricity while the government is squandering millions on the space program. The fatal Cape Canaveral test that takes the life of Ed White, Gus Grissom and Roger Chaffee did not help support for the program either. The starkness returns when Armstrong forced by his wife Janet talks to his two sons on the night before the launch  to let them know that he may not be coming back.

The last third of the film is where the spectacle of space arrives. Armstrong is successful in completing a space docking in Gemini 8, then later gets the word that he will be commanding Apollo 11  the one that will take the first shot to land on the moon. The quarantine, blast off, the silence of space and the landing on the moon's surface are all spectacularly done. But with his first act once his boot hits the surface uttering the iconic phrase shows what was at the forefront of Armstrong's mind maybe as far back as the day he entered the space program.

*** Out of 4.

First Man | Damien Chazelle | U.S.A. | 2018 | 141 Minutes

Tags: NASA., Apollo 11, Houston, Gemini, Brain Tumor, Flight Simulator, Mission Control, Lunar Landing, Bracelet.

TIFF '18 Film Review - Never Look Away

Aunt Elizabeth (Saskia Rosendahl) is the focal point of the first frames of Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck new film Never Look Away. von Donnersmarck who burst on the scene with his rookie film The Lives of Others that won the Best Foreign Language film in 2007 goes back to a subject matter he knows for his third feature. Aunt Elisabeth takes her toddler nephew Kurt to an exhibit of Degenerate Art in 1937 Dresden signaling a move away from all things foreign and a move back to homegrown German. Elisabeth pays attention to her nephew seeing his talent wanting him to flourish.  She is freewheeling , carefree and unfiltered dangerous characteristics to have in a country that is moving more to the totalitarian side as Adolph Hitler consolidates power. Elisabeth tells her nephew in a moment of pure clarity's the allied bombs fall in Dresden to never look away. Everything that is true is beautiful.

Jump forward to post-war partitioned East Germany where a leading Nazi Docktor who was involved in weeding out inferior members of society saves himself by delivering a breached child of the new Russian commander. Kurt (Tom Shilling) also survives going to art school where he's forced to use his talents on projects that promote socialism. At school, he meets Ellie (Paula Beer) falling for her fast but feeling inferior to her families high status in the city as most East Germans struggled post-war. The pair eventually make their way to Dusseldorf in the west where Kurt gets into a prestigious art school but is pressed by his father in law as he struggles to find his way.

von Donnersmark  tells a story with a very long run time of over three hours but it's perfectly paced with every scene having a purpose that the viewer may not realize until later in the production. Nothing throwaway is put on screen. The writing is carefully done to build a relationship between the characters some not revealed until long after that initial kernel is dropped.

Never Look Away is a project by a director back on firm footing. The link between the initial central character Aunt Elizabeth and her nephew Kurt is unbreakable with the latter showing many of the former's traits as he grows to adulthood. The story of Dresden from the rise of Naziism, thought the war, reconstruction, and spell behind the iron curtain is a fascinating time to bring to the screen. Cinematographer Caleb Deschanel eye finds, beauty in the post-war rubble, the sprawling fields of the mid 50's and two wonderful bookend scenes of the co-leads conducting a symphony using a chorus of public bus horns as the instruments.

**** Out of 4.

Never Look Away | Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck | Germany/ Italy  | 2018 | 188 Minutes.

Tags: Dresden, Nazi Germany, Sterilization, Death Camp, World War II, Soviet Union, Berlin Wall, Art School, Alexander Platz,  Kurfurstendamm Station, Art Exhibit.

Monday, September 24, 2018

TIFF '18 Film Review - Let Me Fall

A young girl is in a hotel room with an older man. Two people listen in a car parked outside. The girl met the man on line who asks if she likes him.  He moves forward looking for more she threatens to stab him with an infected syringe then flees robbing him jumping int the car outside. The three roll away happy with their take making plans to do the same to their next victim.

Let Me Fall follows two girls Stella (Eyrun Bjork Jakobsdottir) and Magnea (Elin Sif Halldorsdottir) when they are teens then at a second stage in their mid-thirties. At the outset, Stella is more experienced alongside her boyfriend drug dealer. Magnea is 16 young and fresh faced. She's hanging with Stella and her boyfriend because she thinks that they are cool. Her parents are divorced but give her a long rope to do just about anything she wants. One day Stella offers Magnea a fix believing that she can handle it. We then jump forward to her older in her mid-thirties to haltingly learn that she couldn't.

Director Baldvin Zophoniasson based his story on true accounts of drug addicts in Iceland and their families. The narrative brings home how bad the need is for addicted people to fix. They will promise anything, lie, cheat steal and betray to secure that next fix. Stella and Magnea will take any pill liquid or any other form of drug that they find, crush it, put in a spoon light it and stick it in their arm. This is no more evident than in the most disturbing act of betrayal between the two that sends one of our protagonists to a place where the viewer thinks she has to have reached bottom but later realizes that she was nowhere close.

Magnea starts out as a fresh faced promising student looking for a thrill to a hardcore addict hiding in the shadows in the worst sections of her town. The older Stella (Lara Johanna Jonsdottir) who cleaned up after a prison spell is warned by her boyfriend to stay away from the person that she got hooked on hardcore drugs. Ultimately Stella can't, feeling a mix of love and guilt forcing herself to reflect back on her then escalating mistreatment of her now lost friend that she is in the end unable to deal with.

**** Out  4

Let Me Fall | Iceland / Finland / Germany | 2018 | 136 Minutes.

Tags: Addiction, Robbery, Hypodermic needle, Reykjavik, Rio De Janeiro, Smuggling, Pornography, Rehab, Overdose, Carbon Monoxide.

TIFF '18 Film Review - Quien Te Cantara

A super fan of a popular singer best case scenario is to meet their hero and be acknowledged by them. Perhaps getting a backstage pass attached to their ticket to a show or some type of perk from being actively invalid in their fan club. Quien Te Cantara flips the fan superstar relationship on its head. The famous singer has to reach out to her biggest fan for help. Lila (Najwa Nimri) heads out to the beach in front of her home when she faints falling into the water losing consciousness. Her personal assistant Blanca (Carme Elias) finds her starting CPR immediately. Lila comes to in the hospital diagnosed with amnesia which is a major issue as she was planning her comeback tour before the incident.

Recovering at home Lila faculties begin to come back but she can't remember all of the aspects of being  Lila Cassen famous singer. The solution is Violeta (Eva Lloarch) a bartender in a Karaoke bar who when onstage transforms her self into a perfect clone of Lila Cassen. Blanca goes to her to request her help but no one can know not even her daughter Marta (Natalia Molina). This is an issue for Violeta as her daughter is very needed and demanding. Often threading to kill herself if she does not get her way. She also recently threatened her mother of severe consequences if she were to lie to her again.

Director Carlos Vermut tells a story with a bevy of strong willed female voices. At the top of the list is Violetta trying hard to make ends meet with an overwhelming daughter at home and not to great prospects outside. Her love of Lila Cassen's music is a light that keeps her going with one of her prized possession being an album that the singer signed for her at a meet and greet. Violetta wrights songs and has a great voice but never got that break to perform. Blanca is as loyal an assistant can be. Lila had stopped singing for 10 years but she stayed with her as the money became thin leading for the need for this new tour to maintain the singer's lifestyle. She did not complain or push her boss but instead supported her until she was ready to sing again.

Voileta throws herself into the role almost wanting Lila's success more than the singer herself. Lloarch is clearly the emotional centre of the film as sings, moves, and dances in front of a wall full of gold records that seem more like she earned more than the detached singer sitting in from of her watching her perform. The one willing to do anything to see this project work.

Quien Te Cantara translates to Who Will Sing to You in English is an original take on the ultra fans relationship with their idol. At one point during practice, Lila asks Violeta if she had thought of this moment alone with her in her house before and if how she imagined it going. The answer pales in comparison to what actually occurs on screen in a film that I can highly recommend.

**** Out of 4.

Quien Te Cantara | Carlos Vermut | Spain/ France | 2018 | 124 Minutes.

Tags: Beach House, The Sea, CPR Amnesia, You Tube, Pop Singer, Super Fan, Karaoke, Gold Records, iPhone, Heroine, Keys, Masochist, Comeback.

Sunday, September 23, 2018

TIFF 18' Film Review - A Star is Born

An up and coming ingenue hooking up with a saged flawed mentor is a story as old as Hollywood itself .It's a story that will always resonate with audiences and can take many forms recent Oscar winner The Artist comes to mind. Another example is the The Color of Money where Tom Cruise's Vinny teams up with Paul Newman's reprise of Fast Eddie Felson in the world of high stakes pool.  Therefore it's not by chance that Bradley Cooper has chosen to tell the A Star is Born story for the fourth time on screen. The first being the 1937 original with Janet Gaynor and Frederic March the most recent circa 1976 featuring Barbara Streisand and Kris Kristofferson and many peoples favorite the 1954 edition staring Judy Garland and James Mason.

Here Bradley Cooper's Jackson Maine is an Arizona born stadium playing part country part rock god that can shred on a guitar , hold an audience in the palm of his hand with a ballad but due to years of performing suffers from extreme tinnitus needing a cocktails of booze and pills to get him to the mike on stage each night. When off it immediately looks to drinks himself into a haze before passing out somewhere that is hopefully in his hotel room. After the opening concert scene searching for a drink he ducks into a drag bar where he sees and hears Ally (Lady Gaga) immediately knowing that she has something to say (Jackson's threshold for talent) he flies her out to his next gig having her sing a duet with him on stage. 

Talent manager Rez (Rafi Gavron) sees her potential taking over her career setting her path to the top as Jackson spirals downward. Rez takes Ally in a direction she does not want to go with dyed hair, back up dancers singing songs about her body parts. Jackson calls her on this in a period of sobriety hurting her deeply calling her ugly at one point driving her farther away. The rock star regains his footing by proposing marriage followed by another epic fail embarrassing himself and Ally in the most public way leading her father Lorenzo a strong understated performance by Andrew Dice Clay to step in hard on behalf of his daughter. 

Cooper direction style is a less is more approach. He lets the story play out without any flairs behind the lens. As Jackson, however, he's wrought with pain maybe from doing the rock thing too long or for babysitting his aging alcoholic father as a young boy. He is basically channeling Sam Elliott dropping his voice to a drawling bass not unsimilar to Elliot natural one that is even spoofed in a line in the film. Lady Gaga is fresh and feisty as Ally reminding one of Emma Stone's Mia from La La Land. We all know that she can sing and dance but it's in the quieter scenes that she shines starting from the first night that the pair meets making it clear why a big star would giver her everything he's got knowing that she is the one.

Bradly Cooper's A Star Is Born is a worthy update on a classic show business tale. The story co-written by Cooper, Eric Roth and, Will Fetters has its original beats but follows the flow of these tales from the past. Jackson takes the ultimate step to do what he must to let his protegee flourish. The results are a satisfying turn on an old tune that I can highly recommend.

*** 1/2 Out of 4

A Star is Born | Bradley Cooper | U.S.A. | 2018 | 135 Minutes.

Tags: Alcoholism, Step Brothers, Waitress, Drag Bar, Stadium Show, Music Business, Manager, Marriage, Billboard.

TIFF '18 Film Review - Vox Lux

Starting with a 1999 school shooting actor turned director Bradley Corbert throws down the first jarring event of the film introducing Raffey Cassidy as 13-year-old Celeste in music class trying to talk down the shooter. Her efforts result in a pause then the goth clad killer continues striking Celeste in the neck leaving a permanent reminder of the event. Celeste in recovery mode sings a song at the memorial that goes viral announcing her as Americas next singing star.  Jude Law appears as her manager setting up recording time and videos while her sister Elanor (Stacy Martin) who Celeste acknowledges is more talented than her pledges to never leave her side.

Jump ahead to 2017 an adult Celeste (Natalie Portman) in full Diva mode preparing for a concert back in her hometown. She is in comeback mode having suffered the ups and downs of scandal and addiction that comes with the profession. Her daughter Albertine Cassidy ding double duty comes to the hotel where the pair goes out for lunch with disastrous results. The second act opened with a mass terrorist shooting on a beach in Croatia on the same day as Celeste show. The media point to the connections especially as the gunmen were clad in masks from one of her music videos. Celeste is asked to comment but again makes a mess due to a combination of drugs and alcohol consumed before the interview.

Corbert does not shy away from the glitter in the second act of the film. Portman is clad in shiny leather in her downtime with a bright studded dog collar around her neck covering her scar from all those years ago. The glitz picks up at her concert from the costumes to the stage design to the blaring decibels of her songs that is set to ear bleed level.

Natalie Portman devours he role of Celeste. She is full on as she battles with the media, her management team, her daughter and even the manager of a restaurant that merely asks to take a picture with her. Raffey Cassidy continues her upward trajectory from her strong work in last years Killing of A Sacred Deer.  She is brave confronting the shooter that has just shot dead her music teacher, vulnerable as she sings her first public song at the 1999 memorial. But she proves to be an equal to her manager and sister as her career blossoms. Later she firmly marks her territory acting as more of an adult than her now mega-famous mom as the latter throws one of her many tantrums.  Jude Law puts some good work on screen after what feels like years as the seedy Brit. manager.  He's more of an enabler than check on bad behavior having disappointed Celeste as a youngster on their first trip away from home.  The film is a send-up of pop culture and characters that I can recommend.

*** Out of 4

Vox Lux | Bradley Corbet | U.S.A. | 110 Minutes.

Tags: School Shooting, Memorial, Addiction, Terrorist Attack, Comeback Concert , Press Conference. Pop Star, Concert.

TIFF '18 Film Review - Her Smell

Becky Something ( Elizabeth Moss ) is very hard to like. She is the lead singer of a 90's punk band that bullies everyone around her is addicted to just about everything and is stunningly unpredictable with what she will do in the studio or when its time for her to go on stage. As she disintegrates on screen the viewer feels for those that are intertwined with her. Her band-mates in Something She Marielle (Agyness Deyn) and Ali (Gayle Rankin), The record label owner and manager Howard (Eric Stoltz), her estranged husband who has had more than enough looking for her to sign divorce papers backstage at her latest gig plus her mother and daughter. The first two scenes of the film border on being unwatchable due to the excruciating self-destructive acts portrayed by Becky. She yells and screams injures herself drawing blood while viciously verbally abusing anyone in earshot. Next, she is in studio burning recording time that should go to the next up and coming band. They are in awe of the former Spin Magazine cover girl but she attacks as Becky does after heaping on the false praise.

Alex Ross Perry's punk band project turns up the manic factor to thirteen with a lead actor in Moss who is definitely will to go there and further. The camera movement is handheld mayhem in the opening sequences cutting quickly between the characters mainly reacting to Becky's actions. Perry perhaps gives the best look at what life looks like backstage at a middling rock club where the rooms are small, the quarters cramped, the facilities dirty with the acts virtually on top of each other as family members roam the hallways. Perry also mixes in camcorder clips of the more innocent times back when the girls first got together starting to make their way in the record business.

Elisabeth Moss is a whirlwind as Becky Something. He's the car crash that hurts your head and eyes as you watch wanting to turn away. Moss pushes the performance to such an extreme that some viewers may say No Mas by the 30-minute mark. But if you hang in the reason why her bandmates and manager stick by her jumps off the screen as she sits at her piano playing for her daughter a hauntingly beautiful version for Bryan Adam's Heaven. Agyness Deryn Mari does the best to stand up to Becky but is left crying on occasions seeking her own addiction demons to steady herself. She is present silent and moved and sad by Becky's version of Heaven seeing the creativity of her friend has that's not being fully realized. Look for Virginia Madsen as Becky's mom. She is instrumental in raising her granddaughter but not immune to the wrath of her daughter backstage.

Her Smell is a physically hard watch. Its' someone self-distrusting on screen no willing to seek or accept help from anyone. The first few scenes are excruciating but if you can hold your nerve and get through the tunnel to the light on the other side is a rewarding catharsis. Elizabeth Moss leads a cast that is very committed to the project on is different, that in true Alex Ross Perry fashion is different unique and extremely challenging.

**** Out of 4.

Her Smell | Alex Ross Perry | U.S.A. | 2018 | 134 Minutes.

Tags: Punk Rock, Girl Band, Addiction, Back Stage, Cocaine, Breakdown,  Divorce Paper, Rehab, Sober, Comeback, 

TIFF '18 Film Review - The Good Girls

The 1982 Mexican debt crisis is the backdrop for Alejandra Marquez latest film The Good Girls (Las Ninas Bien) by good the meaning is posh. Upper class wealthy women who have help to raise their kids go from lavish birthday parties for their friends, children, and associates and spend the rest of their spare time at the country club playing tennis. The film opens with an extravagant birthday party for lead character Sofia (Ilse Salas) there is wine, glamours attire and great food at the spread laid out at the family estate. Sofia's husband Fernando (Flavio Medina)  is in finance arriving late to the event presenting her with a new car fitted with a bow. She is queen bee in her circle of well to do women a position that lasts until the financial climate of the times comes to the families front door.

Anna Paulina ( Paulina Gaitan) is next in line for the crown. Her background is not as pure but her husband is positioned well as the crisis intensifies plus she has the pull to invite Julio Iglesias Sofia's obsession to an event. As Sofia's kids learn more of their parents fate words like repossession and asking if they are now poor on the way from a pinata themed birthday party occupy their thoughts.

Ilse Salas commands the screen as Sofia. She is at the height of her powers at the outset of the film but as her financial status begins to crumble she struggles to keep up appearances as credit cards are declined and whispers grow amongst her peers. Her most dramatic move is  dash out of the residence to attend Anna's birthday party as repo men appear at her door to take away her car. Meanwhile husband Flavio Medina's Fernando soldiers along as if nothing has happened continuing with a shell game to hopeful keep one step ahead of the creditors. Paulina Gaitan holds up her part as Anna Pulina. She is the newest and youngest in the crew. She looks up to Sofia wanting to help her but all of her efforts are taken as an insult.

The Good Girls (La Ninas Bien) is a story about the Mexican debt crisis that leads to the Nationalization of the countries banks from the point of the wives and families of the men that benefited from the old system. Director Abella picked a different angle to approach drawing from Guadalupe Loaeza's short stories presenting events right down to a news report of the Nationalization as Sofia preps to go out for a party. Marquez Abella also employed clapping as an effect to emphasize certain events as they occur.  The poorer rural citizens would have no sympathy for these rich people but Abella's screenplay and the fine acting of the female leads build a bond with the audience that creates a vested interest in their fates.

*** 1/2 Out of 4. 

The Good Girls | Alejandra Marquez Abella | Mexico | 2018 |  93 minutes. 

Tags:1982, Debt Crisis, Mexico, Birthday Party, County Club, Tennis, Pinata,  Purse, Peso, Jose Lopez Portillo.

Saturday, September 22, 2018

TIFF '18 Film Review - ROMA

Academy Award-winning director Alfonso Cuaron gets very personal detailing life growing up in the early Seventies Mexico City. At the centre of the piece are two women that one feels were based on real-life influences on Cuaron. The opening sequence of what turns out to be the garage floor being washed sucks in the viewer. Then Cuaron gives one of his trademark panoramic camera moves to introduce the audience to the family home setting. At the centre is Nanny/ housekeeper Cleo (Yalitza Aparicio). She cares more for this family than she does for herself. Sofia (Marina de Tavira) the woman of the house is the other lead. She is an advocate for her three boys and girl while being very active outside of the home.

Cuaron's monochrome lens captures the high frantically paced daily events of Mexico City in 70-71. The street where the family resides is a bevel of activity. Marching bands, residents, tourist, and locals live life just outside of the families gated tile floored garage. One nighttime scene where Cleo takes the kids to the movies showcases busy streets, visual and audible stimuli all evidence of a people and a city that's doing well. In her time off Cleo gets herself into trouble with a friend of a friend Fermin (Jorge Antonio Guerrero) who fancies himself as a martial arts master. The father of the house Dr. Antonio (Fernando Grediaga)is announced as his gas guzzler Ford Galaxy rumbles into the garage bearly clearing the walls. He emerges from the car complaining about dog poop but calms surrounded by his family watching TV after dinner.

Cleo's story deepens after her encounter with Fermin. He disappears while the pair are at the movies unwilling to face his responsibilities. She is fearful of telling the family but Sofia rushes to show her support. Her travels take her to her village in search of Fermin then into the middle of a violent confrontation between students and police at a critical time for her health.

Cuaron's fingerprints are on just about every aspect of ROMA. His lead actress had never acted before.  He chose to go in the complete opposite direction of his highly successful Academy Award winning star driven space based prior film. This story is about the ups and down of a family that will have universal appeal. A true work of art by a master of the craft.

***** 5 Star Film

 ROMA | Alfonso Cuaron | U.S.A.| 2018 | 135 Minutes.

Tags: 1970-1971, Mexico City, Movies, Martial Arts, Shower Rod, FORD, Pregnancy Holiday, Student Protest, El Halconazo, Tree Pose.

TIFF '18 Film Review - Transit

German director Christian Petzold mixes eras and events in his latest film Transit. World War II era German refugees are plunked down into modern times scrambling to get out of France before they are swept up by the French authorities looking for those without papers. Their plan; get to Marseilles then arrange travel by sea to the U.S. or Mexico a feat requiring Transit papers.

Into this setting steps Georg (Franz Rogowski) a survivor who agrees to take two letters to a renowned writer in exchange for a fee. He arrives to a disturbing scene ending up escorting the critically injured author to Marseilles where he will meet his wife then secure passage to Mexico via the U.S. However due to tragic developments on the journey, Georg arrives alone with all of the author's paperwork  There he meets and befriends a young middle eastern boy Driss (Lilien Batman) Georg goes to the American Embassy where he takes the authors place jumping to the head of the line for transport out of France.

The other story-line focuses on the author's mysterious wife Marie (Paula Beer),who is already in Marseilles searching for her husband while continually crossing paths with Georg who's taken his place. She spends most of her time with Richard (Godehard Giese) a doctor who is on his way to set up a much needed medical clinic in Mexico.

Petzold adapts the story from Anna Seghers 1942 novel littering the landscape with many elements of that time period despite the modern vehicles roaming the French streets. The main bistro meeting spot could easily be from that era along with the rent by week apartments that the German refugees inhabit as they wait for passage while trying to avoid capture by the French authorities. This loving location is in stark contrast to the boys' apartment building housing modern refugees in traditional garb. Themselves trying to keep to themselves to avoid deportation.

Transit is a modern day telling of a multiple generational stories of the fate of refugees. They all have fear of the authorities with packed embassies of hopefuls with their paperwork in order waiting for hours to hear their number called to get their transit documents. The politics of those that rise to the top are explored juxtaposed to those that struggle, become desperate and the element that ultimately give up all hope. It's a tale that's well worth a watch and comparable to classic films that have tackled this subject in the past.

*** Out of 4.

Transit | Christian Petzold | Germany / France | 2018 | 101 Minutes.

Tags: Refugee, Identity, Papers, Consul, Mexico, U.S., Sea Passage, Marseilles, Paris, Police, Train Ride, Hunger.

Friday, September 21, 2018

levelFILM review - Fahrenheit 11/9

Starting with the day before the 2016 U.S. Presidential Michael Moore takes the pulse of the American people on a day where it seemed a foregone conclusion that Hillary Clinton would be President through the turbulent election day and into the wee hours of the following morning when Donald Trump wad declared the 45th President of the United States. Moore also dissects the reason behind Trump's rise using Governor Rick Snyder from his beloved home state of Michigan as the test case.

Hillary Clinton was on her way to the White House according to all of the pundits. Donald Trump had no path to the 270 Electoral College votes needed to win but something strange started to happen as election night rolled on. First Trump won Ohio, then Florida followed by Michigan and Pennsylvania meaning that was that. Moore's analysis of how could the happen pointed to two things Gwen Stefani and the Democrats tendency to compromise.

The other main thread in the piece are the events that occurred in Flint. Rick Snyder a businessman just like Trump the former head of Gateway computers won the Gubernatorial to support his friends therefore, he authorized an unneeded pipeline from Lake Huron to Flint. the pipeline was being built the residence had to get water from the polluted Flint river leading to heath problems for the residents.

Moore also looks at his history with the Trumps. He played nicely on talk show with Trump.  Jared Kushner hosted an event for his film Sicko and on election night Fox news used his name as the only voice sounding the warning when Hillary was busy meeting with donors while Trump was doing two rallies a day.

The director is always at his best when he talks to the common people be it an ex-military vet running for congress  Richard Ojeda in West Virginia, an upset primary winner Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez from the Bronx, a group of committed teachers from West Virginia or kids from Parkland High School in Florida who saw the shooting at their high school as one too many. He also continues his tradition of just showing up which he does at both the Governor's office and the official residence.

Fahrenheit 11/9 is a mirroring of his prior closely named film that Moore shows visually with the title credit at the beginnings of the film. No one escapes his wrath from the Democrat establishment to Obama himself for his stunt during his visit to Flint. The narrative goes a bit too far with some comparables laid out for Trump. But in the end, Trump is in the White House due to apathy. Moore pushes the positive a the end pointing to the young activists and new voices coming forward to run for office that could spark a change.

*** Out of 4.

Fahrenheit 11/9 | Michael Moore | U.S.A. | 2018 | 128 Minutes.

Tags: 2016 Presidential Election, Donald Trump, Hillary Clinton, Democratic Party, Flint Michigan, Lead, Activism, Grassroots Democracy, Teachers Strike.

Wednesday, September 19, 2018

TIFF '18 Film Review - Mademoiselle de Joncquieres

Madame de La Pommeraye ( Cecile de France) is a widower living on a vast estate in the French countryside outside of Paris. She is alone at the estate with only servants for company, therefore, she is happy when friends and peers make the trek out for a visit. It's under these conditions that notorious libertine Marquis of Arcis ( Edouard Baer) burrows his way into her realm staying for months on end gaining her trust then her heart against the warnings of her best friend L'Amie de Madame (Laure Calamy) who comes often to visit the Madame from Paris knowing well the Marquis' womanizing reputation. The Madame comes to learn the story of Madame de Jonquieres (Natalia Dontcheva) and her daughter the titular character the Mademoiselle (Alice Isaaz). The pair were shunned by the latter's father leading them into prostitution to survive.

The Marquis is fulfilled by Madame for a period of time symbolized by a smooth transition where they plant a sapling together that morphs into a tree in the next frame. The Marquis turns towards his real estate ventures spending less time in the country forcing the Madame to speak first of their distance that he jumps on immediately declaring that they work better as friends free to detail all of his conquests from then on. However, the Madame is not happy with this arrangement she runs into the Jonquieres taking them under her wing as she decides her next move.

Director Emmanuel Mouret creates a delightful 18th-century Provincial feel with this film. The Madame's state has vast sweeping grounds. Servants are everywhere with the decadence of the time on display early with the Madame and the Marquis out for a stroll with two servants carrying armchairs behind them.  The dialogue is full of rich gossip from Paris normally brought by L'Amie de Madame with the main mode of transportation carriages clattering along in the countryside.

Cecile de France has the most to do as the Madame. She is deeply involved with all of the main characters with her feelings and reactions to the other players forming the direction of the piece. Natalia Dontcheva is passionate as the fallen madame de Jonquieres. A strong advocate for her daughter doing what she needs to survive both before and after the Madame takes an interest in her fate. Edouard Baer takes the right tone in playing the Marquis. He is devoted to the Madame as he courts her, distant after her heart is his then desperate as he pursues his latest target that he feels might be the one.

Mademoiselle de Jonquires has all the elements that one is looking for in a period piece. Love and loss  Provincial estate life plus being in French leads the viewer to thoughts of Louis XIV. The script is sharp, the acting delectable in a film that I can definitely recommend.

*** 1/2 Out of 4.

Mademoiselle de Jonquires | Emmanuel Mouret | France | 2018 |109 Minutes.

Tags: 18th Century, Aristocracy, Paris, Scandal, Estate, Marquis, Madame, Gardens, Marriage, Libertine

Tuesday, September 18, 2018

TIFF 18 Film Review - Hotel By The River

An opening barb between a renowned poet Younghwan (Ki Joo-bong) and his two sons Kyungsoo (Kwon Hae-hyo) and Byungsoo (Yu Jun-sang) on whether or not they should come up to his room at the seaside hotel where he is staying or if Younghwan will come to meet them down in the lobby goes on for a bit too long then continues announcing to the viewer that they are on familiar ground of a Hong Sang-soo film. The two sons are estranged from their dad and not too friendly with each other as the younger is more trim and successful than his older sibling. Both are also not happy with how their dad treated their mother who is still seething mad to the day.

The secondary plot features Hong regulars Kim Min-hee as Sanghee and Song Seon-mi as best friend Yeonju the former is recovering from a difficult breakup sporting a nasty burn on her hand inviting while the latter pops by to slack off and hang out. They run into the poet on two occasions each being a highlight of the film.

Hong Sang-soo's narrative sense runs smoothly through the piece. The level of melancholy is high. The monochrome hue dominates the screen as the dialogue focuses on everyday events. The atmosphere is enhanced by the winter season at the snow-covered wonderland. Hong has produced one of his most understated pieces with this work. e commits a reckless act. Kim and her pal Yeonju discuss the follies of men in general which Hong weaves into the father-"sons" reunion driving home their point. Ki Joobong leads the cast as the well know poet besieged by hotel staff looking for autographs as he talks of his unfounded premonition that he is about to die. He suffers the wrath of his sons over his treatment of their mom then experiences an uptick at dinner later in the film courtesy of  Sang hee and Yeonju Yu Junsang appears to be the mommas' boy as Byungsoo. He is gaining some acclaim as a director that gives rise to a self-deprecating passage about a helmer with mediocre talent obviously a wink at Hong himself.

Hotel by the River is another in a recent line of projects that is clearly from the mind of the understated director. Fans of Hong will find a film that checks all of the boxes. But it would be a welcome departure if he were to step more regularly out of his comfort zone as he did to some extent with his visiting French tourist piece In Another Country. Hong can continue to be a success using his tested formula churning out multiple pictures a year but a swing for the fences every once in a while refreshes the tree that is an auteur's body of work.

*** Out of 4

Hotel By The River | Hong Sang-soo | South Korea | 2018 | 96 Minutes

Tags; Han River, Winter, Hotel, Coffee, Sake, Brothers, Infidelity, Break up, Burns, Poet, Autograph, Celebrity.