Friday, June 7, 2019

levelFILM Review- Framing John DeLorean

As Alec Baldwin sits in the make up chair made up as John DeLorean for the first time he facetimes his wife to show her how he looks. She asks what he is doing, Baldwin explains that they are doing re-enactment footage of DeLorean's escapades shot as a movie then cut into documentary footage about DeLorean and what he went through. Baldwin also explains his process of portraying a character. Baldwin in the past saw him as a manipulator but playing him you get into his mind and play who the character thinks he is.

Directors Sheena M. Joyce and Don Argott touch on the many failed attempts to turn DeLorean's life. The story has all of the elements: Ambitious genius, fashion model wife, two adorable kids. DeLorean was a  maverick that took on big business, plus cocaine and an F.B.I. sting. All during the return of Conservatism under Regan's war on drugs and the rise of the Iron Lady Margaret Thatcher in Britain.

The narrative starts with DeLorean as a promising engineer at G.M. making an impression then given the option to head of any division he chose Pontiac the one in the most trouble. There he went against the grain to birth the muscle car the G.T.O leading to increased profits for G.M. and a seat at the table on the Executive 14th floor. However, the old guard wanted him out which occurred in 1973.

From there the story moves to the development of his dream car the DMC-12. Hiring his chief engineer, raising funding then building the vehicle in a plant in troubled Belfast because the British government gave him the most money. That was the first of many instances where chasing funding lead to bad decisions and eventually to that L.A. hotel room drug deal with the F.B.I.

Framing John DeLorean has duality even in its title. DeLorean maintains that he was entrapped by the F.B.I. a version of the facts that a jury believed in is 1984 trail. It also stands for an attempt to get a picture of the man who had many different personas but at his core as Baldwin states he just perverted some dream that he had. That, in the end, had a devastating effect on himself, his marriage and ultimately his children.

*** Out of 4.

Framing John DeLorean | Sheena M. Joyce / Don Argott | U.S.A. | 2019 | 109 Minutes.

Tags: Detroit, G.M. Pontiac, G.T.O., Firebird, Californina, Stardom, DMC -12, Belfast, War on Drugs, Cocaine, Sting, Trial.

Thursday, June 6, 2019

levelFILM Film Review - Mouthpiece

Conceived as a work of performance art for the stage Mouthpiece staring Amy Nostbakken and Norah Sadava follows two actresses playing the same part simultaneously in the 48 hours leading up to the funeral of Cassie's mother Elaine. The pair of actresses reprise their roles from the stage, moving in unison, sweeping their hair at the same moment, dressed alike dragging a scarf behind them in parallel while they swap out turns dealing with life. Short Cassandra (Sadava) comforts brother Danny (Jake Epstein) when he comes the morning after the death. Both hook up with an old boyfriend for a quick romp to clear the mind alternating between doing the deed each critiquing the other's performance from a chair beside the bed.

The key theme examined is the marginalized role of women in today's society. Mother Elaine (Maev Beaty) had to take be the main caregiver to Cassie and her brother Danny. In flashbacks we see young Cassie (Taylor Belle Puterman) catching glimpses of her mom's failures. Loosing out on an editing/ writing opportunity, dunking her journal filled with hopes and dreams into a half full crockpot of cream soup burring her dreams in a vessel of motherly duties. There is a clip of Ruth Bater Ginsberg  proclaiming that nothing will change unless the next generation of men takes on a greater role in child rearing. Plus a call from her dad who tells young Cassie to say goodbye to her mom as he is busy doing very important things away on business that will keep him out of town longer than expected.

Sadava and Nostbakken know the material and characters well having authored the source material. Sometimes the pair move, act and speak as one. While at other junctures they argue, push each other and on a couple of occasions come to blows. The production plays off this duality. One telling scene in a fitting room trying on nylons turns into eight versions of the character fueled by mirror reflections as the leads discuss Mom's eating habits. The pair are often also dressed alike, except for one pivotal moment when Tall Cassandra (Nostbakken) dons a sweater mom gives Cassie a to wear at Christmas that is truly not her.

Mouthpiece is a bold experiment to bring an out of the ordinary play to the big screen. The project works due to the efforts of the four women at the centre of the cast. Nostbakken and Sadava alongside director Patricia Rozema and cinematographer Catherine Lutes who play up the duality on screen leaving the audience guessing at the relationship between the two leads even the prospect of one being real and the other imagined.

*** 1/2 Out of 4.

Mouthpiece | Patricia Rozema | Canada | 2019 | 91 Minutes.

Tags: Stroke, Funeral, Psyche, Eulogy, Divorce, Sexism, Bath, Christmas Party, Nylons, French Fries.

Thursday, May 16, 2019

Universal Pictures Film Review - A Dog's Journey

Bailey; Ethan's (Dennis Quaid) faithful Great Pyreness from A Dog's Purpose is a mature steady companion to his granddaughter C.J. (Emma Volk) as a preschooler helping to look after her as her mother Gloria (Betty Gilpin) a self-absorbed want to be performer grieves over the loss of her husband Ethan and Hanna (Marg Helgenberger's) son. Gloria is suspicious and resentful soon pulling CJ away from the family farm and her grandparents convinced they are trying to get at the inheritance left by their son for C.J. after his death. The pair settle in a new town with a new incarnation of Bailey this time a beagle named Molly looking to protect the now grade school girl as Ethan has send his spirit to her as she will need a friend given her mother's nature.

Director Gail Mancuso presents a warm- hearted film that is straight shooter with a few welcome twists. By the time C.J. is a young woman (Kathryn Prescott) she is in New York attempting to break as a singer-songwriter with Bailey's spirit now housed in a Yorkshire terrier named Max determined track her down having let her get away in his one encounter with her in the films shortest stint as African Boerboel Big Dog spending most of his days at a roadside gas station convenience stop. In New York, Max leads C.J. back to Trent (Henry Lau) as a young man who we first met as a youth (Ian Chen) when Bailey as Beagle Molly first meets C.J. in Chicago.

The story contains positive pointed messaging for the junior moviegoing set including solid lessons on following through on a promise, loyalty, friendship and standing by someone in challenging times. Kathryn Prescott of Skins fame delivers a strong performance as teenage/young adult C.J. She has been damaged due to the neglectful and selfish attitude of her mother Gloria but remains true to her songwriting path determined to perform in front of an audience when she knows the time is right. Betty Gilpin as mom Gloria is the villain of the piece. She pulls C.J. as a toddler away from the loving environment of her grandparents home, forbids any contact and leaves her young daughter home alone often at night forcing a grade school girl to fend for herself for meals and dealing with the bumps and sounds of a home on her own.

A Dog's Journey is a story about the spirit of a family pet that spans three generations. Granddad Ethan's dog Bailey jumps to two other main personas a Beagle and a Yorkshire Terrier to guide his granddaughter. The material is naturally set up to be a tear-jerker, a road that it goes down willingly but along the way,there are a couple of recurring themes in which young and older audiences alike will find valuable.

**1/2 Out of 4

A Dog's Journey | Gail Mancuso | China/ Hong Kong/ India | U.S.A.| 109 Minutes.

Tags: Farm, Great Pyrenees, Inheritance, Reincarnation, Chicago, Beagle, New York, Yorkshire Terrier, Stage Fright Cancer, Friendship, Loyality.

Friday, April 26, 2019

TIFF Bell Lightbox New Release Film Review- Long Day's Journey Into Night

Director Gan Bi returns to his hometown of Kaili in the southwestern Chinese province of Guizhou to craft his second feature following Kaili Blues. Lou Hongwu (Huang Jue) is back in Kaili for his father's funeral. His family owns the Feng restaurant that he wants no part of only demanding that his mother's name stays. The first half of the film jumps back and forth between present day and the turn of the millennium when Lou had a heated relationship with Wan Quiwen (Tang Wei). Much of the early passages take on a dreamlike quality mixing memories of the past and attempts to pursue Wan Quiwen in the present. A secondary thread centres on Lou's friend Wildcat (Li Hongqi) who turns up dead in a mine shaft dispatched by local gangsters with whom Wan is also connected.

Neither the films English title taken from a play by Eugene O'Neill or its Chinese one that translates to Last Evenings On Earth a book of short stories from Robert Bolano has anything to do with the events unfolding on screen. The piece also has a recurring tale within the tale of a mysterious woman who is such a good storyteller that one cannot separate what is real from fantasy. The hook to the piece is the 59 minute one take sequence that occupies the back half of the film. Our protagonist announces the start of the 3D sequence by literally putting on a pair of glasses while seated then falling asleep in a movie theater.

Waking up Lou finds himself in a mine shaft where he meets a young teenage boy who might be a ghost or spiritual guide. The boy leads the lost dreamer to a zip-line fashioned swing that carries the Kaili native on a descent into an improvised town square featuring a pool hall and Karaoke stage fronted by benches and barrel fires. Running the billiards den is Wan Quiwen's double Kaizhen who Lou is immediately attracted, launching the sequence of the extra long take where the pair dance around each other at several checkpoints around the square.

Long Day's Journey Into Night is at its core a film about searching for and trying to recapture moments in time from your past. The mining town a symbol of the thankless pursuit and its effect as the decaying town is filled with rubble at every turn. The trance like first section will draw the viewer in with its non-linear style, dark shadows and elusive green clad femme fatale. The hour long 3D back half pays off the first with the camera steadily pacing the two leads as they roam from point to point around the makeshift square.

*** Out of 4.

Long Day's Journey Into Night | Gan Bi | China | 2019 | 140 Minutes.

Tags: Kaili, Karaoke, Pool Hall, Mine Shaft, Funeral, Restaurant, Prison Visit, 3D, Long Take.

Saturday, April 20, 2019

TIFF Bell Lightbox New Relase Film Review - Fausto

Director Andrea Bussmann wanted to make a film around the subject of Faust, in particular, the themes related to nature and history. She went to Mexico where she has spent a lot of her time but picked a location for the adaptation, the Oaxacan coastal town of Puerto Escondido where she knew no one. She had a structure then and was luckily able to rope in some locals to be in the film. The constant element in the film is the narration meant to be the town itself speaking. Bussmann then came up with some fables of her own told mainly by male interviewees touching on many of the themes from Goethe's work.

The main subjects are Fernando (Fernando Renjifo) and Alberto (Alberto Nunez) who own a cabana that is the centre of local activity as but are disrupted by a Frenchman who comes to stay with nothing to offer but his shadow. The visitor disappears as does the pledged shadow putting the two friends into a spiral searching for both. The pair turn their attention back to the beach where the tide continues to advance threatening the coastline. The men take steps to reverse the process leading to wonderful shots of the tide advancing with one particular shot of a slow-moving wave of water coming to shore like an evenly symmetrical velvet cape.

Bussmann shoots a lot of the project at night in and around the restaurant/bar with the patrons moving in and out of the shadows. There are drawings, cigarettes smoked and drinks consumed by candlelight. Red embers fill the screen amongst the shadows making it intentionally blurry to emphasis the Faust themes of hovering between the conscious and unconscious. The narrative features many stories about animals and perceptions. A horse that has a blind spot four feet out front of its face, Cats with telepathy and the only story with some truth about turtles coming to shore to lay their eggs being confused by artificial light.

Fausto is a film that draws on a mix of themes from Goethe, local supernatural, and anti-colonial mystical and oral history. Shot mainly with a newly minted mirrorless camera that can function in darkness and low light giving the piece its haunting supernatural presence. Gertrude Stein's adaptation of the subject is a strong influence on the writer-director. In that early 20th century version Faust sells is sole for electric light then a new found thing again bringing light vs. darkness and the contrast between the seen and unseen world to the forefront.

*** Out of 4.

FAUSTO | Andrea Bussmann | Mexico/Canada | 2018 |70 Minutes.

Tags: Faust, Goethe, Fable, Mexico, Oaxacan Coast, Cabana Bar, Shadows, Telepathy, The Devil, Colonization.

Friday, April 12, 2019

Universal Films Film Review - Little

Little Jordan Sanders brilliantly portrayed by Marsai Martin was bullied in middle school. She believed in and trusted science taunted as she proved her point at the Windsor Middle school assembly. Her nemesis turned the tables putting her in the hospital and making her a laughing stock. Skip to present day grown up Jordan (Regina Hall) is the CEO of a tech firm with several covers of leading magazines under her belt. Her main goal is to protect herself by being mean to people before they can do the same to her first. Her staff wants to do their best for her but she rules based on fear. No one feels the brunt of her rage more than her assistant April Williams (Issa Rae) who gets an earful if Jordan's slippers are not in the right spot when she goes to get out of bed in the morning or if her coffee cup is a millimetre out of place on the desk in her office.

Enter Mikey Day as Connor, Jordan's biggest client who brings a new meaning to the phrase born with a silver spoon. He wants a new app and is giving Jordan's firm 48 hours to impress him or he is moving his business elsewhere. April has an idea but is afraid to pitch it. Jordan storms off but not before being extra cruel to everyone leading to a confrontation with a kid with a wand who vows to cut here down to size which occurs the next morning when Jordan awakes.

Director Tina Gordon who also shares writing credits with Tracey Oliver backed by the Girls Trip team deliver a story that is heavy on the comedy but has a solid spine anchoring the production. There are lessons to be learned here on how to treat people, the cliff fall of expecting the worse at all times and the weight of always being angry.

As noted above Marsai Martin is perfectly cast as young Jordan. In the prelude, she blindly trusts science to her detriment then when reintroduced after the spell, bonds with the misfits at school imploring them to be themselves even if it looks like they are being set up for ridicule. Regina Hall is strong as always as CEO Jordan Sanders she revels in the role of the bossy bully and tech celebrity. Loving to cut in line for her morning coffee or pulling out of the driveway in her limited edition sports car cutting off traffic knowing that the rules of the road do not apply to her. Issa Rae is the glue that links the two Jordan's' She grows in confidence as the narrative moves along. Gaining the fortitude to pitch her idea live willing to live with the results good or bad. Her comedic timing is excellent especially when dealing with overbearing boss issues, petulant child ones and even more so where there is sexual innuendo hanging in the air.

Little is a comedy that will appeal to both adults and children. It's a film that the whole family will enjoy and don't be surprised if the kids want to see it again soon after the credits role. There are some good lesson here on how to treat people and looking for the best in them. It's an enjoyable time at the movies that I can recommend.

*** Out of 4.

Little | Tina Gordon | U.S.A. | 2019 | 109 Minutes.

Tags: Middle School, Bullying, Science, Tech, Apps, Donuts, Pitch Meetings, School Assembly.

Thursday, April 11, 2019

Mk2 | Mile End Film Review - Mia and The White Lion

Director Gilles de Maistre wanted to make a film about an unbreakable bond between a young child and a lion and was told it could not be done. A 3- year-old lion is an adult and will see any human as prey. The only way around that would be to have the actor bond with a cub from birth so that is what de Maistre did for the film. Daniah de Villiers a youth actor who was familiar with the species was cast to play Mia Owen starting at age 11 growing up with Thor who was a cuddly cub that arrived at Christmas one year at the Owen family breeding farm in South Africa and allowed to live in the family home. Named Charlie for the narrative its Mia's older brother Mick (Ryan McLennan) traumatized by an event in his infancy that has lead to nightmares, psychologists and stunted growth who takes to the cub first. Mia is sulking not wanting to be South Africa but instead back in London with her friends who she skypes cheering on her favourite team Manchester United and her favourite player Wayne Rooney. It's Charlie that pushes the friendship early on. Always coming to her, looking at her from a distance and taking her soccer ball. But its when she goes away to soccer camp and the two are separated both struggling from the distance apart that the bond is cemented once reunited.

Seedy canned trophy hunting alongside the practice of lion breading for conservation is exolored abd examined is in the film. The family-run a breeding farm is promoted as conversationalist with a goal to preserve the species but money is tight and a poacher with rich clients is always lurking about waiving a wad of cash looking to purchase lions for sport. Charlie is very valuable as a rare white lion that will bring in the tourists and be the main draw for the planned bed and breakfast.

The scenes with Mia and Charlie are rare to see on screen. The baby cute cub shots early on where humans feed newborns their bottles are standard fare. But as Charlie grows to 8 months, 1 year then on to two remaining in the family home is unprecedented. The peak is a scene where Mia taunts her mother Alice (Melanie Laurent) doing explicit no no's with the animal. Roughhousing, getting down on the animals level and turning her back as the lion approaches from behind knocking her down from behind for an embrace.

The story travel down a winding route. The adults force the pair to separate, Mia won't, leading the best friends to set out to walk across the country in an attempt to get Charlie to an animal sanctuary where he can roam free. Director de Maistre took a page out of Richard Linklater's Boyhood by having the cast fly in periodically over the three years to film their scenes. Changes in the cast are notable over the time period with the biggest being in the two children Mia and Mick and of course The white lion Thor.

*** Out of 4.

Mia and The White Lion | Gilles de Maistre | France / Germany / South Africa | 2018 | 98 Minutes.

Tags: Lions, Lion breeding, White Lion, London, Skype, Trophy Hunting, Canned Huts, Poaching, Manchester United, Runaway, Manhunt.

Sunday, April 7, 2019

Film Review - Pet Semetary

Directors Kevin Kolsch and Dennis Widmyer alongside writer Matt Greenberg take the Stephen King classic novel down a different path with Pet Semetary. Louis (Jason Clarke) and Rachel (Amy Seimetz) take their children 8-year-old Ellie (Jete Laurence ) and preschooler Gage (Lucas Lavoie) out from the city of Boston to Maine to slow down a bit and give physician Louis a slower pace to spend more time with the family. Upon arrival at their new country home, they are greeted by speeding transport trucks racing down the street inches from their front driveway. Next Ellie wanders into the back yard to see a  procession of mask-clad kids walking behind a deceased dog in a wheelbarrow headed into the woods looking to perform a burial ritual. Curious by the events she heads out later meeting Jeb (John Lithgow) the pair strike up a quick bond with Jeb filling in the new arrivals on some of customs and traditions of the town.

The pace of the film drags to some extent in the opening acts. The parents have a heartfelt conversation with Ellie about death early on in the proceeding Louis believes his eight- year-old daughter can hear the truth while Mom Rachel wants to shield her from the harsher realities of the world.  Things begin to pick up when the family cat Church becomes road kill for one of those speeding tanker.  Jeb helps  Louis to bury the feline up beyond the Pet Semetary that is actually an abandoned Native burial ground where things come back but they are not the same.

Relative newcomer Jete Laurence dominates the frame when she is on screen as Ellie. She is inquisitive, adventurous and challenging to her parents as she approaches her 9th birthday. The young actress has a lot to do in the final act being a pivotal figure in the plot flip in the film. Jason Clarke gets to broaden his acting skills as Louis. He is a medical doctor that is a pragmatic follower of science but when strange events begin to occur at work and outside his bedroom window he jumps in with both feet headed towards the predictable negative outcome. Amy Seimetz who has indie directing, writing and acting credits in her background is dealing with daemons and extreme guilt stemming from to in the. She does not know the full extent of what Jeb and her Husband have been up to in the woods but as a faith-based woman wants no part of it.

Pet Semetary is a different take on the Stephen King novel adapted to the screen. The final third turns upside down the viewers' sense of the film up to that point. Your rooting interest will shift from character to character until it lands on the most unlikely spot at the end of the film. The film finds its legs when it moves away from the obligatory jump scares moving to face to face and hand to hand combat using both sharp and blunt objects to bring the horror down to and below ground level.

*** Out of 4.

Pet Semetary |  Kevin Kolsch / Dennis Widmyer | U.S.A. | 2019 | 101 Minutes.

Tags: Stephen King Novel, Burial Ground, Wendigo, Cat, Birthday Party, Funeral, Procession, Animal Masks, Toy Bunny Rabbit, Dumb Waiter.

Friday, April 5, 2019

Film Review - Shazam!

Billy Batson (Asher Angel) just wants to have a family. He has bounced in and out of foster homes for years after wandering away from his mom at a county fair as a toddler. Since then he has relied on his own abilities, looking out for himself while getting into a mild level of trouble. His main goal  is to try to find his mother who he knows is out there somewhere. Our central figure is down to his last chance when he is taken in by foster parents Rosa (Marta Milans) and Victor (Cooper Andrews) who both were foster kids themselves. The other kids in the home include gamer Eugene (Ian Chen), non stop talker pre-teen Darla (Faithe Herman) and Billy's roommate comic book fan Freddy (Jack Dylan Glazer).

When Billy gets on the wrong side of a couple of bullies at school he escapes into the subway ending up at The Rock of Eternity the resting place of the Wizard Shazam! We have been here before in the prelude when a young Thaddeus Silvana was transported to the same room but found not to be worthy and cast out. Running out of time the Wizard (Djimon Hounsou) transfers his powers to Billy making his alter ego Shazam! an adult male (Zachary Levi) when he says the word. Terrified the transformed Billy returns to the group home employing Freddy to complete filed test to learn more about his new found powers. Meanwhile Silvana (Mark Strong) now a grown up never forgot that missed opportunity in 1974, obsessed he finds an alternate way into The Rock of Eternity lair releasing the evil trapped within then setting out to track down Shazam!

Some of the best moments in the film are between Freddy and Billy/Shazam! They are truly brothers despite not having the same parents. They argue, disappoint each other but when it really matters are there to support. Freddy is the one Billy seeks out upon becoming Shazam and the field tests of the new found powers are a highlight.

Director David F. Sanberg alongside writer Henry Gayden plant a strong message a level below all the humor and fun. The picture is bright in comparison of the unusual dreary tone in the D.C. Extended Universe. However, at the heart of the picture is family. A very poignant refrain repeats in the piece around the dinner table that once you find it you know that you're home. The film is a lighthearted romp that will entertain kids and adults alike. The story moves quickly making the 132 minutes run time zip by. Its a popcorn movie in all the sense of the word and one that I can recommend.

*** Out of 4.

Shazam! | David F. Sanberg | U.S.A. | 2019 | 132 Minutes.

Tags: Wizard, Electricity, Secret Identity, Field Test, Super Powers, Foster Child, Foster Home, Bullies, 7 Deadly Sins, Cumpas

Sunday, March 31, 2019

Film Review - Dumbo

Dumbo is a classic tale that has many strong moral lessons for kids. The little elephant is born with oversized ears leading to ridicule, jeering and shunning from the fellow circus performers and the audience. However, the pachyderm turns that apparent flaw into his greatest strength soaring around the big top the delight and amazement of his fellow performers and sold out crowds abound.

Tim Burton's remake of the 1941 Disney classic has some high points but just as many low ones as the film muddles through several lulls in the middle of the production. A strong opening introduces the main acts in the traveling Medici Brothers circus lead by ringmaster Max Medici (Danny Divito) a cajoler always on the lookout for a deal like the one that brought him Dumbo's pregnant mother for a steal of a price. We meet Colin Farrell (Holt Farrier) a cowboy who returns from the war missing an arm. His kids Milly (Nico Parker) and Joe (Finley Hobbins) have been helped though some rough times by the performers while he was away with their mother and Holt's partner in the western act having succumbed to an outbreak of tuberculosis.

There is a spike in energy when Michael Keaton turns up as V.A. Vandervere owner of the most successful circus at the time permanently set at Dreamland. As Vadervere tells Medici the key is to have the people come to you. He wants Dumbo for his big top alongside his top performer aerialist Colette Marchant (Eva Green) who has stardom and fame but longs for the Farrier's family dynamic. The first meeting of Vadevere and Medici may cause flashbacks to another Burton production where the two faced off against each other as Batman & The Penguin.

Dumbo is a heartwarming tale that will draw ooh's and aww's from the kids as the baby elephant soars around the big top. It also has valuable lessons on mocking others, knowing who your true friends are and if a deal appears to be too got to be true it likely is.  However, the writing is thin, the CGI appearance of the elephant uneven and unstable at times. It will keep the younger set preoccupied for two hours but their guardians may find themselves looking for an opportunity to sneak a quick glimpse or step out into the lobby to check their phones.

** Out of 4.

Dumbo | Tim Burton|  U.S.A.| 2019 | 112 Minutes.

Tags: Disney, Elephant, Circus, World War, Trains, Big Top, Clowns, Strong Man, Mermaid, Snake Charmer, Prosthetic Arm. Feather.

Friday, March 29, 2019

levelFilm Film Review - Firecrackers

Lou (Michaela Kurimsky) and Chantal (Karena Evans) are desperate to get out of their small Canadian town. Lou literally lives on the wrong side of the tracks as first time director Jasmin Mozaffi continually hammers home with several shots of Lou consumed negative thoughts near the ever-present rails. The girls work at the only dive motel in town, cleaning rooms while Lou's mom Leanne (Tamara LeClair) a recovering drug addict who recently found god works the night shift in a video store. The opening frantic scene hits the audience like a punch in the mouth. Lou is in a girl fight with a posh adversary at school ringed by a circle of girls as vulgar insults debasing each other's female body parts are thrown followed by serious punches. After a winning TKO Lou heads home with Chantel greeted by the formers younger brother Jesse (Callum Thompson) who has a propensity for wearing his sister's clothes and donning her make up. Mom is passed out in bed in the middle of the day but none of this phases the pair as they have saved their money from cleaning toilets and changing soiled bed sheets for the last year having enough to head to New York. Their pal Josh (Scott Cleland) just got a pickup truck and is willing to drive mistakenly thinking that he has an in with Chantal.

Jasmin Mozaffi's maiden outing is raw and exposed as a frayed nerve mirroring her lead character. Kurimsky is constantly on high burn. She's combative, angry and impulsive focused like a laser on the moment thinking nothing of the consequences of her current course of action. Mozaffi employs an abundance of handheld camera work. The frame dances around the main characters bouncing and shifting as if its a third member of the crew raging alongside the two female leads. Cinematographer Catherine Lutes displays a rich palette of oranges, greys, and blues especially at night to drive home that eerie deserted small town feel. Karena Evan's Chantal is the introverted foil to her friend Lou. She has suffered both overt and subtle racial abuse as a mixed raced teen in a have not small town. We don't see any of her family or her home during the film and sleeps often to in vacant rooms at the motel.

The original plan crashes starting when Chantel ex Kyle (Dylan Mask) crashes a beach party and literally carries Chantel off souring Josh on the trip. The Kyle/ Lou feud grows resulting in an act that derails their plans further. However, the girls are willing to go to extraordinary lengths to make their plan a reality the results of which will have a long lasting deep-seated impact on the pair.

***1/2 Out of 4.

Firecrackers  | Jasmin Mozaffari | Canada | 2018 | 93 Minutes.

Tags: Girl Fight, Small Town, Motel, BB Gun, Cam Girl, Vandalism, Baptism, Shopping Cart, Car Wash.

Friday, March 22, 2019

Universal Pictures Film Review - US

The year is 1986 and Hands Across America is the big social cause. Young Adelaide (Madison Curry) is staring into a T.V. screen as the film opens then heads out with her Mom and Dad to an Amusement park on the beach in Santa Cruz. There she suffers a traumatic event in a funhouse of which the details are unclear. Jump to the Present and Adelaide (Lupita Nyong'o) is the mother of two, son Jason (Evan Alex) and his older sister Zora (Shahadi Wright Joseph) who along with their dad Gabe (Winston Duke) are headed to her hometown cottage near the beach for a vacation. As they get closer, the trauma from Adelaide's youth begins to rise, hitting dread when Gabe recommends that they go to the beach to meet up with slightly better off family friends' the Tyler's (Tim Heidecker & Elizabeth Moss).

Writer, Director Producer Jordan Peele follows up his 2017 widely revered Get Out with a feature where the acts of horror are more direct but the message hidden in complex layers. The low hanging theory would revolve around ourselves being our own worst enemy as a doppelganger underdeveloped version of the Wilsons' appear at the end of the driveway. However a deeper dive would find a commentary on society as a whole. How it treats the marginalized and others that they quickly brush by on the street or bark at while they perform menial tasks subsiding on the scraps that the affluent toss away.

Lupita Nyong'o leads the cast as Adelaide. She's the connection to these sub dwellers that are coming to the surface to violently rebel. No longer satisfied with being tethered to those up above that see the sunlight. They are ready to announce their presence by any means necessary. Her breakout co-star from Black Panther Winston Duke steals scenes with his comedic timing as Dad Gabe. Shanhadi Wright Joseph is so expressive as Zora she can display annoyance, fear, satisfaction, and defiance with the simplest twitch of the body or facial gesture.

Us falls more traditionally into the horror genre than Get Out. There is violence, golf clubs, bats, fireplace pokers and the red overalls-clad sub dwellers weapon of choice scissors are wielded, swung, shoved and rammed into flesh. The prelude gives us visuals of Eighties tech followed by a shift to  the present with teens handcuffed to their cell phones while their parents play with smart home controllers. It's an ambitious follow up to a hugely successful project that may be a bit harder to grasp at first but will bury deep into your psyche as you find yourself humming Michael Ables' tethered mix of  I Got 5 on it by LUNIZ. Long after you mistakenly believe that your focus on the film has been put aside to move on to other things.

***1/2  Out of 4.

US | Jordan Peele | U.S.A. | 2019 | 116 Minutes.

Tags: Vacation, Beach, Amusement Park, Funhouse, Boat, Home Invasion, Doppelganger, Coveralls, Red, Bat, Handcuffs, Mask, Scissors, Tunnels, Rabbits, Firestarter, Hands Across America.

Thursday, March 21, 2019

Fox Searchlight Film Review - The Aftermath

World War II took the horrors of war to a new level. The fighting fierce, bombings intense and the level of suffering unprecedented. The victorious Allies dictated the terms but learning from the events after World War I did not want to be as harsh on the vanquished. It's in a devastated Hamburg where the story is set. British Colonel Lewis Morgan (Jason Clarke) leads the British forces in the city trying to determine who is a real threat and in his mind help these people to rebuild. To fellow Britain's he is too sympathetic to the German side, as for the Germans many are still staunch Hitler supporter sporting the number 88 on their wrists to symbolize an H for Hitler the 8th letter in the alphabet.

The army requisitions a house for the Colonel owned by architect Stefan Lubert (Alexander Skarsgard) a widower who lost his wife in the Allied bombings living there with his teenage daughter Freda (Flora Thiemann) who sees her dad as a coward as he did not join the Nazi party or sign up to fight to protect the Fatherland. Colonel Morgan brings his wife to town who has been grieving the death of their son who died during the German bombing of Britain 3 years earlier. The couples embrace lack passion, they fight over their different methods of grieving. It's not too long after The Colonel allows the Luberts to stay on at the house that Rachel finds happiness in the German widower's arms.

The Aftermath is a straight-ahead love triangle set against a wartime backdrop. The film, adapted from Rhidian Brooks novel flips between views on where it's sympathies lie. At one point seemingly  towards the Germans as they continue to dig bodies out from the rubble and are near the point of starvation. The British at times appearing to be not much better than their defeated enemies as they mock the starving masses and jeer at the uncovered corpses. Then it switches against the locals as they carry out attacks against the British in the name Hitler.

Keira Knightly who was very pregnant at the time of the filming  the heads the cast as Rachel. She was home when her son Michael died and feels that Lewis blames her for the death but is troubled that he continued to work as if nothing happened. Jason Clarke  represents the British Solider duty to the Crown above all doing his job leading the clean up of the city seeming to be soft but will show his teeth when pushed. Skarsgard's Lubert is curious almost too friendly to the couple that has displaced him in his home representing the military that took the life of his wife. Each of the leads have a few flashes where they shine contributing to making the film one enthusiast of the time period will enjoy.

**1/2 Out of 4

The Aftermath | James Kent | U.K. / Germany / U.S.A. | 2019 | 108 Minutes.

Tags: World War II, Hamburg, Battle of Britain, Bombings, Adolf Hitler, Nazi Party, Reconstruction, Requisition, Protests, Papers, Violent Attacks, River Elbe, Woolen Sweater. Cigarette Case.

Thursday, March 14, 2019

Raven Banner Film Review - Level 16

Vivien (Katie Douglas) is all business as a self-proclaimed Top Girl at Verstalis Academy in her Level 16 or graduating year. We first met Vivien when she was ten-year-old on Level 10 where she made a personal sacrifice to help Sophia (Celina Martin). For that act, Vivien was punished hardening her making her determined not to let that occur again. She is driven, follows all of the rules and can exhort the virtues of the Academy on command. Vertstalis Academy is a boarding school for girls that is at best a military type academy and at worst a prison disguised as a school. The girls have never been outside, are not taught to read but instead are drilled in the need to be clean, obedient and virtuous with the opposite of this being the first vice curiosity. Sophia challenges the schools' structure and authorities. She has information that she has been harbouring for three Levels letting Vivien in on what she knows forcing the later to question everything she has learned since she entered the school at a very young girl.

Writer-director Danishka Esterhazy presents a story that seems outlandish but is not un-similar to events in the recent past where women went to finishing colleges, took HOMECE in school and were taught to be ladylike above everything else. While their boyfriends and future Husbands went to top Universities normally nearby to obtain degrees in science, engineering, law, and medicine in order to be the leaders of the future.

The setting is a utilitarian, barren and colourless where the students are named after movie actresses from the '40s and '50s hence the names Vivien, Sophia, Rita, and Hedy. They are conditions to respond to buzzers and lights that indicate scheduled times to take their medicine, eat their meals or line up for assembly under the piercing gaze of head mistress Ms. Brixil (Sara Canning). They are trained to think that the character of women in the 40's and 50's is the ideal. Wholesomeness that is hammered home on the special treat of Movie Picture Night where they rewatch, all mouthing the words of a black and white feature for the umpteenth time of one of their namesakes.

Level 16 is a dystopian future take on the fate women in a totalitarian paternalistic regimented world that is shocking not out of the realm of being duplicated today. On the mildest level students are directed towards a stream of study quite often based on preconceived factors rather than objective ones. Esterhazy's feature is engaging and suspenseful featuring well-developed characters on both sides of the ledger and to keep the prison metaphor going the audience will be clearly rooting for the inmates over the guards and warden.

*** Out of 4.

Level 16 | Danishka Esterhazy | Canada | 2019 | 102 Minutes.

Tags: Boarding School, Dystopian, Routine, Punishment, Discipline, Head Mistress, Graduation, Obedience, Purity, Virtue, Top Girl.

Saturday, March 9, 2019

Film Review - Captain Marvel

Vers (Brie Larson) is a warrior in the Kree Starforce but she is having nightmares. She cannot remember her life before she was on the Kree homeworld Hala only getting flashes that often end with an alien pointing a laser pistol at her face. Her training officer Yon-Rogg (Jude Law) tells her to let go of the past focus on your training and the need to control your emotions. Vers visits the Supreme Intelligence who appears to a Kree warrior as the person they most admire. For Vers it's a woman (Annette Benning) that she cannot remember at all. Soon Vers gets to fully participate in a mission to rescue a Kree spy Soh-Larr (Chuku Modu) but the mission is a trap designed by the Skrulls to capture Vers as they have noticed something different in her that they want to explore. Vers is poked and prodded by the Kree's mortal enemies evoking more memories before escaping on a ship that disintegrates seeing her fall to planet C-53 into a Blockbuster Video Store flatting an Arnold Schwarzenegger poster a metaphor to announce a new kind of hero for the modern 1990s and the Marvel Cinematic Universe as a whole.

Captain Marvel is an origin story with a twist, Vers has her powers at the outset but there is still a degree of exposition and trials as the hero attempts to understand and harness them. Here Vers finds herself back on her home planet of Earth where she had a life as Air Force test pilot Carol Danvers. Now she's caught between the shape-shifting Skrulls lead by Talos (Ben Mendelsohn), the Kree who are trying to catch up to her and S.H.I.E.L.D. with digitally de-aged Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) alongside rookie partner Agent Phil Coulson (Clark Gregg) who are called to investigate the strange women in a shiny jumpsuit who has just crashed landed through the roof of a Blockbuster.

Indie film Co-directors Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck who both have writing credits on the film hit the audience with a lot of information in the piece that inhabits several galaxies managing to keep the narrative straight. The story is also a strong commentary on today's real politics of the fear of the Others, how refugees are treated and the ongoing struggle that is a theme across the Marvel Universe between the use of technology for good or to better wage war.

Brie Larson is an excellent choice as the first female to lead a Marvel Comics title. She is a rangy Academy-Award winning actress with a dry sharp wit and expressive face that is willing to buck the establishment and make the hard choices in her daily life thus the perfect fit for a character that does the same on screen. Ben Mendelsohn seems to be the current go to bad guy of choice having recent villainous turns in Rogue One, Robin Hood and Ready Player One. Jude Law continues his recent string of successful roles as Vers' Unit Commander and trainer who is looking as he says only for Vers to be the best version possible of herself.

Captain Marvel is the last missing piece of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. She's the one that Fury was trying to page on an odd 1990's device as he was being wiped out by Thanos' Snap at the end of Avengers Infinity War. It's during Fury's adventures with her that we finally learn how he came to have an eye patch on his left eye. The film also includes the feline Goose who has some unique Flerken abilities that are revealed in the third act. It's an enjoyable film about a hero with supreme powers that she has to learn to wield on her own terms without as she puts it the need to prove anything to anyone.

*** Our of 4.

Captain Marvel | Anna Boden / Ryan Fleck | U.S.A.| 124 Minutes.

Tags: Air Force, Test Pilot, Energy Core, Light Speed, Aliens, Shape-Shifters, Galactic War, Refugees, Laboratory, Feline, Binary, Cosmic, Glass Eyes.

Monday, March 4, 2019

All Time Films: Film Review - City of God

Taking its title from one of the most dangerous favelas in the Western outskirts of Rio de Janeiro effectively voiced by Alexander Rodrigues as Rocket; City of God  spans three decades from the end of the 60's to the mid 80's where residents are prisoners in their homes caught in violent battles between rival gangs. The original group the Tender Trio features Rockets brother Goose (Renato de Souza), Clipper (Jefchander Suplino) and the gentlemanly Shaggy (Jonathan Haagensen) small-time hoods at targeting fuel trucks and motels. Entering into the '70's Their antics are quickly replaced by the very hardcore Lil Dice (Leandro Firmino de Hora) kindly Benny (Phellipe Haagensen) rivaled by Carrot (Matheus Nachtergaele) and the former law-abiding Knockout Ned (Seu Jorge).

Rocket is at the centre of the piece. A childhood friend of Lil Dice he has a camera that is always by his side and as a local can get shots of the violent event as they occur in the favela while professionals are afraid to tread, can't get access and even if they could, would not be trusted.

Co-Directors Fernando Meirelles and Katia Lund take the story from the book by Paulo Lins who grew up in the favela. The narrative follows the main characters from when they are little kids, get their first guns in hands, commit their first crime then push the violence beyond the generation before. The champion of this is the above mentioned Li'l Ze aka Li'l Dice as a youth and due to his connection to Rocket allows him into their lair to photograph them with all of their firepower. Rockets photos are noticed by a newspaper photo editor where he delivers papers who publishes them. Rocket expects to be in grave danger for the reveal but instead, Li'l Ze and his crew buy up every copy cheering Rocket when they encounter him next.

The co-directors keep the main themes of the devastating effects of poverty, class warfare, violence begetting violence close to the surface. As cinematographer Cesar Charlone inflects a sharp gold based colour plate for the production. Split screens feature heavily as a device of showing rival gangs committing crimes as the principals barrel along towards each other on a collision course. The directors set up an acting workshop for the locals which gives the film raw authentic energy alongside the basic fundamentals of acting leading to the exceptional performance of Firmino de Hora as Li'l Ze. He has the 1000 mile stare, crooked teeth, dark skin plus short man's syndrome. His solution killing for fun, randomly and not getting attached to anyone or anything. The creators keep the dark humor coming in the 80's the young up and coming crew know as The Runts who were mirrors of Ze to the Tender Trio back in the day but prepared to take things much further than the  Ze/Benny and Knockout Nick battles of the 70's as they rise to power towards the end of the piece as they lay out their death list in the infant stages of the Red Command.

City of God is a film about kids killing kids in an environment where no one in government or with influence cared. Rocket toward the start of his narration notes that there was no electricity or paved streets and the business Elite and Politician could not give a second thought to any of the problems there. It's a fast-paced, ultra-violent gritty look into life in a favela based on real events that are more twisted and harrowing than anything that could be thought up in the word of fiction.

***** A Five Star Film

City of God | Fernando Meirelles / Katia Lund | Brazil / France | 2002 | 130 Minutes.

Tags: Rio de Janeiro, Favela, Slum, Gangs, Guns, Drug Dealer, Newspaper, Photography, Murder, 60's, 70's, 80's.

Sunday, February 24, 2019

Film Review - How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World

How to end a project is a difficult and trying act to accomplish. There has been many a film or Television series that has left their loyal audience that hung in there since the beginning feeling less than at the choice of ending. Writer-director Dean DeBlois'  nine year dragon journey had its ups and downs with whispers that there might not be a third due to the significant drop off in box office from the first to the second. However, the third did get greenlit and DeBlois lands the trilogy in the best possible way.

Hiccup (Jay Baruchel Voice) has turned his home of Birk into a Dragon sanctuary. He and his crew  raid poachers rescuing  captured dragons bringing them back to Birk where they can roam free. The pirates attacked at the films open want their merchandise back bringing in notorious dragon killer Grimmel (F. Murray Abrihim -voice) to track down the Birkians. Gimmel has dragons of his own, drugged to do his bidding and a plan to turn Hiccup's alpha Toothless against his friends.

Deblois delivers a straight forward that is easy to follow while working on parallel levels. There is Hiccup and Astrid (America Ferrera-voice) their relationship moving into adult hood and talk of the new chief taking a bride. Toothless encounters a Light Fury, bait from Grimmel, but a potential partner for the Alpha. The story also touches on themes of self reliance and an unfounded like for those that are not like you.

In the end, How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World ends the trilogy spanning nine years in the best possibly way. The Birkian flock is allowed to self determine making a natural choice. There are valuable lessons here for both children and adults alike. The villain of the piece is dealt with smartly with a coda scene that will have the youngsters oohing and ahhing just before the credits scroll.

*** Out of 4.

How To Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World | Dean DeBlois | U.S.A. | 2019 | 104 Minutes.

Tags: Trilogy, Fantasy, Pirates, Dragons, Homeland, Ruler, Marrige, Set Free.

Sunday, February 17, 2019

Film Review - Alita: Battle Angel

Part Matrix, a dose of Elysium, a sprinkle of Pinocchio, a dash of Running Man and a whole lot of Rollerball are the key borrows that come together to form a true James Cameron project in Alita: Battle Angel. The events take place in 2563 or 300 years after THE FALL where invaders from Mars attacked leaving the earth in the state of a Dystopian wasteland except for the Beautiful floating city of Zalem with the working class plugs and hustlers inhabiting the wild west like Iron City below. Dr. Dyson Ito (Christoph Waltz) is rummaging through the scrapyard for parts for patients that require cybernetic replacement body parts when he finds the head and core of a still alive teenage cyborg girl. He brings her home attaches a body that he had made for other purposes bringing Alita (Rosa Salazar) back to full being status with a clean slate in a position to start a new path.

However, Alita is drawn to violence an imprint from her past then when she follows her adoptive dad out one evening more of her abilities along with some flashes from her past are revealed making her determined to find out who she is. Her search intensifies when she encounters an abandoned 300- year- old ship warship to which she has an obvious connection.

Director Robert Rodriguez under the watchful eye of co-writer and producer James Cameron brings the 90's era Yukito Kishiro Japanese Magna to life. Alita is the best to date application of uncanny valley human simulation. She's a robot featuring those telltale large CG eyes but the movement and micro differences not as unnerving as in the past. Alita blends seamlessly into scenes with her fully human cast members Dr. Ito and her love interest Hugo (Keean Johnson) who brings parts and supplies to the doctor while on the side works for Vector (Mahershala Ali) providing parts for competitors in the cities main sport Motorball sometimes taking them from unfortunate targets that are still using them.

Alita:Battle Angel is an action filled Sci-fi tale of a teenage girl with human frailties trying to find out who she is. It's another in a strong series of young women empowerment films that will show girls a strong positive image of themselves that will culminate with Brie Larson in March's Captain Marvel. The  story is a classic one of rising up that is heavily influenced but that does not take away from the fact that the film is a big production that works despite some early well-documented set backs making it one that I can definitely recommend.

*** 1/2 Out of 4.

Alita: Battle Angel | Robert Rodriguez | U.S.A | 2019 | 122 Minutes.

Tags: Sci-Fi, 26th Century, Dystopia, Cybernetics, Japanese Magna, Teenage Gir, Warrior, Death Sport, Bounty Hunter, Floating City, Class System.

Sunday, February 10, 2019

Film Review - The Lego Movie 2 : The Second Part

Being forced to play with your younger sister can be a terrifying thought to a teenage boy. That is the scenario brought up at the end of 2014's The LEGO Movie. For the sequel, it's five years later. Duplo invaders have come to Bricksburg smashing everything that they find shiny. To survive the city has been abandoned for a desert wasteland known as Apocalypseburg not to attract any attention. All of the main cast is back from the first installment. Lucy/Wyldstyle (Elizabeth Banks) Unikitty (Alison Bree) Will Arnett's superb portrayal of Batman, pirate Metalbeard (Nick Offerman) Benny the Astronaut (Charlie Day) and Chris Pratt as the happy go lucky Emmet the only one keep his sunny disposition from the past. The big simple Duplo invaders return taking a group of the main players back to their planet for a wedding that Emmet as foreseen as an event that will lead to the end for his friends and himself. Emmet sets out to save his friends running into Rex Dangervest who seems to be his doppleganger only with confidence and stubble. Dangervest is a mix of Pratt's biggest screen roles including Star-Lord from Guardians of the Galaxy and Owen Grady from Jurassic World as evidenced by Rex's spaceship and its crew of wisecracking velociraptors.

Women play a big role in the film with Finn's sister Bianca (Florida Projects Brooklynn Prince) leading the way, a strong, fierce and independent Wyldstyle and new character Duplo Queen Waterva Wa'Nabi (Voice Tiffany Haddish). In the real world, Finn and Bianca's Mom (Vera Rudolph) threatens to shut down Lego all together if the siblings are not able to get along. The visuals continue to pop but the material seems not as fresh with some of the repeated cuts to live action becoming tiresome.

Music again is centre stage with the centrepiece song titled Catchy Song used as a brainwashing device that will definitely get stuck in your head. There's also a Will Arnett voiced piece that touches on every incarnation of the caped crusader from Adam West to Ben Affleck. Be sure to stay for the end credits song Super Cool with The Lonely Island Guys, Beck, and Robyn that hits all of the production departments then shifts to the cast the stars that rotate into centre frame Avengers style.

The Lego Movie 2: The Second Part is an entertaining feature that had a hard act to follow in the first installment. There are some valuable lessons her for kids in teamwork, being true to yourself and the dangers of trying to change others. The narrative is an empowering message to girls but the narrative and some gags do get too repetitive making it a build that feels like it's missing a key piece.

** 1/2 Out of 4.

 The Lego Movie 2: The Second Part | Mike Mitchell | Denmark / Norway/ Australia / USA | 2019 | 106 Minutes.

Tags: LEGO, Toys, Sibling Rivalry, Dystopian, Time Travel, Glitter, Wedding, Washing Machine, Dryer, Storage.

Friday, February 8, 2019

Renaissance Media Film Review - The Prodigy

Where do our souls go after we die? Is there empty nothingness? Do they go up to heaven, or could they return to earth inhabiting another being? The possibility of reincarnation is the version that is explored in The Prodigy. Serial killer Edward Scarka (Paul Fauteux) is tracked down, surrounded and killed in the middle of the night in Ohio. Just after his death in Pennsylvania Sarah (Orange is the new black's Taylor Schilling) and her husband John (Peter Mooney) welcome Miles into the world their newborn son who has red droplets of blood in the same locations as where the bullets pierced Scarka's body.

Miles development is advanced landing in a gifted school where violent behaviour begins. The family reaches out to reincarnation specialist Dr. Arthur Jacobson (Colm Feore) who fills in a lot of the plot points on the subject concluding that Miles and the serial killers' soul are battling and now that he is eight Scarka could gain total control.

Director Nicholas McCarthy alongside writer Jeff Buhler bring a fresh spin on the demonic child to the screen. There is no ancient spirit throwing slime at a priest who battles back with holy water. Instead, a sadistic ritualistic killer is battling for Miles body refusing to leave the earth until he can complete one piece of unfinished business. Joseph Bishara's score also helps to build the tension and the adults are smartly written avoiding seeming to do what a reasonable person would at each step of the progression.

Taylor Schilling leads the cast at Sarah. At first, she will not believe that there is anything wrong with her gifted child but as the evidence mounts, she takes actions drifting towards the extreme in order to save her son. Peter Blume is the level headed dad John. He is first to realize that they can't handle Miles on their own at home taking steps to get him professional help. Jackson Robert Scott is effective as Miles. Working well with Paul Fautex mimicking Scarka's mannerism and playing his part in the smooth transitions in control between the two especially in one hallway scene that is the early leader for the most frightening scene of the year.

The Prodigy is an original entry into the possessed child horror genre.  Reincarnation is the vehicle here following a serial killer's soul jump to a newborn biding its time as the child develops to the point that he can use this new body to complete one final task. The team of actors does not make a wrong step with the project. While the film does suffer from some issues with pacing there is enough meat here to keep the audience engaged for its full 92 minutes.

*** Out of 4.

The Prodigy | Nicholas McCarthy | Hong Kong / USA | 2019 | 92 Minutes.

Tags: Reincarnation, Serial Killer, Ritual, Calling Card, Survivor, Pregnancy, Child Birth, Manipulation, Hypnosis, Babysitter, Pipe Wrench, Garden Shears

Monday, January 21, 2019

Netflix Film Review - Bird Box

Malorie (Sandra Bullock) is expecting a child and unsure if she will have a connection to the pending arrival. She is a painter that spends all of her time in her studio not even going out to get groceries as her sister Jessica (Sara Paulson) will do it for her. Her art explores the main subject on her mind connecting with others, which did not happen with the baby's father who was a glorified roommate who is no longer in the picture. Jessica takes her sister to her latest OBNY appointment at the local hospital where upon leaving they encounter a woman banging her head repeatedly against a glass door for no reason. Malorie realizes the disturbance that has been driving tens of thousands to suicide on the other side of the world has come here to her town.

Based on a novel by Josh Malerman Academy Award winning director Susanne Bier helms for Netflix a psychological thriller with a threat that is largely unseen throughout the entire production. The film will undoubtedly draw comparisons to A Quiet Place another psychological thriller about a post- apocalyptic event focused on a group of people surviving in a single location. In A Quiet Place the threat was auditory-based here it is visual.

The narrative jumps back and forth between two time periods. The present where Mallorie and her two children Boy (Julian Edwards) and Girl (Vivien Lyra Blair) embark on a dangerous trip down a river to a safe location where there is a thriving community and five years earlier when the chaos first hit after Malorie's hospital visit. In the earlier sequences a group of strangers that alongside Malorie include, Travene Rhodes (Tom), Jackie Weaver (Cheryl), last years breakout performer from Patti Cake$ (Danielle MacDonald) as Olympia plus a wonderful turn as a delicious cross between asshole and prick by John Malkovich as Douglas. The group struggle in a Lord of the Flies style paranoia fuelled battle for leadership as alliances form with Malorie and Tom aligned, Douglas an island onto himself and police academy trainee Lucy (Rosa Salazar) and impending doom predictor Felix (Machine Gun Kelly) thrown together after a catastrophic event in the home.

Sandra Bullock is in about every frame of the film as Malorie, She is quick to recognize the danger, has to fight her way out of the chaos of the initial arrival of the presence to her town which is the best sequence of the film. She delivers her child without proper medical attention then immediately faces a threat to the newborn and herself. Later she forcefully instructs, trains, toughens and leads the kids on a dangerous journey down a rapid filled river in a new normal where you have to be blindfolded anytime you are outside to avoid the unseen entity. The up and coming Travene Rhodes fresh off of successful roles in Moonlight and The Predator is a solid foil to Malorie as Tom. He is thoughtful, caring, less guarded and willing to pause to imagine and dream despite the current situation.

Bird Box is a psychological thriller that does a credible job of getting the audience to care about these characters through Eric Heisserer's screenplay and two opening scenes of terror expressed in completely different manners. The viewer is with the survivors in the home, weary of every new encounter as some who see the entity do not immediately commit suicide but make it their mission for others shielding their eyes to remove the blindfold and see. It's an entertaining tale that leads to a logical conclusion from a fledgling studio that has promised to invest in and deliver even more features in 2019.

*** Out of 4.

Bird Box | Suzanne Bier | U.S.A. | 2018 | 124 Minutes.

Tags: Netflix, Pregnancy, Safe House, Birth, Mother, Survival, Blindfold, Suicide, River, Rapids, Birds, Strangers, Warning.

Saturday, January 19, 2019

Film Review - Glass

After a string of misfires spanning through 2015's The Visit. Director M. Night Shyamalan's films had long lost must see status. Viewers and critics alike pointed back to 2000's Unbreakable the directors follow up to the phenomenon of The Sixth's Sense the originator of the M.Night twist as the last superior film he produced. However, in 2016 Split was released starring James McAvoy as Kevin Wendell Crumb abused as a child by his mother developing 20 different personalities to hide from the light taking to abducting young girls to sacrifice to his main protector personality The Beast. The film through a slowly built word of mouth campaign brought audiences back to Shyamalan with a twist at the end that whispered middle film of trilogy.

Glass opens with Kevin Wendell Crumb (James McAvoy) referring to his multiple personalities as The Horde in the midst of another abduction. This time it's four chained up cheerleaders at risk with lead personalities Patricia, Hedwig, and Dennis watching over them waiting on the arrival of The Beast. David Dunn 19 years after learning of his special abilities now runs a home security store with his son Joseph (Spencer Treat Clark) reprising his role from Unbreakable by his side and in his ear when Dunn aka The Overseer dons his dark rain slicker to go out on patrol or walks. Dunn hears about the abduction heading out to the suspected location factory area brushing into Hedwig getting a vision of the girls' predicament. The resulting fallout of his intervention lands him in Raven Hill Memorial Psychiatric Hospital alongside Crumb and his old nemesis Elijah Price / Mr. Glass (Samuel L. Jackson). Dr. Ellie Staple (Sara Paulson) treats the trio putting barriers in place to dull their heightened abilities as she tries to rid them of their delusions of grander her research indicates is buried in Freudian psychology's Holy Trinity of  Ego (Price), Id (Crumb) and Super-Ego (Dunn).

Shyamalan goes low tech with his comic book tale with all of the elements present. A hero, a villain and the mastermind pulling the strings. The film also features a team up which is common in the comic book world among heroes and villains alike to take on a common foe. There is no great CGI sequences or out of this world abilities. Instead, DID suffering Crumb/ The Horde and Dunn / The Overseer have more than normal strength, Dunn's intuitive feelings sparked by touch and Mr. Glass a brittle body housing a superior mind.

James McAvoy gets top billing as the multi-personality Crumb. When the credits roll it feels like his different personas make up about half the cast. McAvoy moves seamlessly between characters revelling in the roles of 9-year-old rapper Hedwig and Patricia the most. Each role has very distinct mannerisms. Hand gestures and speech patterns for Hedwig, arches longing for high heals with Patricia and shoulders, chest and neck for wall climbing The Beast. Bruce Willis is understated as David Dunn which strikes the right balance to the mania of The Horde. Samuel L. Jackson does not speak for about half of his onscreen time as Elijah Price. Heavily sedated to dull his mental capabilities he twitches and tremors while slouched in his wheelchair. Look for Anya Taylor-Joy reprising her role as Casey Cooke the girl who survived from Split. Taylor- Joy alongside Charlayne Woodward as Mrs. Price and the aforementioned Spencer Treat Clark play the three main characters respective support person all having a greater impact on the tale than one might expect.

Glass is the conclusion of a trilogy that most would not have known they were in the midst of until the final frames of Split. Shyamalan's comic book rule based franchise is the anthesis to both the Marvel and D.C. Universes. Here the heroes and villains are only a step outside of normal human abilities. Being an M. Night film an ending twist is inevitable but this one ties up the origins of the three in such a complete way that makes the audience wonder if the director had this all in mind since penning Unbreakable; if you can recall a certain throwaway sequence in that film you will have your answer.

*** 1/2 Out of 4.

Glass | M. Night Shyamalan | U.S.A. | 2019 | 129 Minutes.

Tags: Eastrail 177, Multiple Personality, DID, EGO, ID, Super-Ego, Comic Book Rules, Strength, Brittleness, Psychiatric Hospital, Medication, Cameras, Secret Society, Philadelphia, Water, Strobes, Abduction.

Sunday, January 13, 2019

Film Review - Destroyer

Director Karyn Kusama goes deeper than ever into her strong suit of directing nastier than the next female leads with Destroyer. Her feature debut Girlfight introduced us to Michelle Rodrigues playing tougher than nails boxer Diana Guzman. Kusama's follow up Sci-Fi multimedia experience Aeon Flux starred Charlize Theron as the cold precise assassin.  Now we have detective Erin Bell (Nicole Kidman) channeling  Bruce Weitz's Mick Belker from T.V.'s Hill Street Blues as the grubbiest, worst attitude, least hygienic, rule-breaking cop on the L.A.P.D.  Through flashbacks, the audience learns of a deep cover operation where a fresh-faced Bell and her partner Chris (Sebastian Stan) got in too deep with an ultra-dangerous group of drug smuggling, Manson Familyesque, bank robbers in an operation that went bad. She was hollowed out by the experience now getting blind drunk most nights, caring little about her appearance, or what may become of her. She does, however, care about the fate of her 16 -year- old daughter Shelby (Jade Pettyjohn) spending a significant amount of time trying to do right by her but even in this instance, Bell resorts to her twisted methods.

The story centers around the reappearance of Silas (Toby Kebbell) the head of the criminal organization she infiltrated 17 years ago. A body turns up on the side of the road having been dispatched from this world in the trademark manner used by Silas and his crew. Erin rattles the cages of her contacts from the past off book and on her own in order to find Silas and bring him down hoping to find closure.

Writers Phil Hay and Matt Manfredi's script tries to pull off a narrative in the tradition of Dirty Harry or Death Wish but doesn't get there. The makeup department Lola Visual effects and Bill Corso on prosthetics deserve a salute for their work on Kidman plus the Silas gang members on the drastic change between how they look flashbacks and how they appear present day as Erin tracks each of them down. The buzz from the film is the bordering on homeless look of Kidman  The viewers first thoughts will turn to Charlize Theron in Monster but Kidman incorporates gestures, looks, gait and a scratchy barely there whisper of a voice to truly envelop Erin in a cloak of darkness and filth.

In the end, the film is muddled waiting until far too late in the day to get to the crux of what lead to Erin's meltdown. The flashbacks which at first offer insight into Bell's current state are also used as a device to bend time in the present that does not ring true. As the credit roll, the audience will reflect on the last sequences of the film that serves to forfeit much of what has gone before. It's a worthy attempt to show how trauma, P.T.S.D and unresolved guilt can eat away at a person over time leaving a shell in its place. However, this story has been told better before leaving Destroyer outside the category of films I can recommend.

** Out of 4.

Destroyer | Karyn Kusama |  U.S.A. | 2018 | 121 Minutes.

Tags: Deep Cover, Nonlinear narrative,Flashbacks, Bank Robbery, Gang, Los Angeles, L.A.P.D., Detective, Rogue Cop, Alcoholism, Revenge, Money Laundering, Dye Packs.