Saturday, March 14, 2020

Mongrel Media Film Review- I Still Believe

Based on the real-life story of Christian rocker Jeremy Camp (R.J. Apta) and the love of his life Melissa (Britt Robertson) that he meets when he leaves his Indiana home to go to bible college in California. The story opens in 1999 with Camp leaving home to head off to school. His younger brother (Nicholas Betchel) is tethered to his phone while the youngest disabled sibling Josh (Reuben Dodd) is having a hard time with the departure of his big brother. Jeremy arrives on campus after the long bus ride with only one bag and his guitar over his shoulder. He is soon at The Kry amphitheater, the centre of campus life catching the eye of Jean -Luc (Nathan Dean) a former student that has made it but still comes back to his roots to play a gig and keep an eye on Melissa who he also has a thing for.

Directors Andrew and John Erwin who go by the moniker of the Erwin Brothers use the source material of Camp's print version of his story. The film starts out light in the realm of any new student on campus burgeoning romance but moves to something more as the faith-based participants put in natural boundaries then the rug is swept out when Melissa is diagnosed with cancer while Jeremy is back in Indiana on Christmas break.

The strength of the film is in the three lead performances of Apta, Robertson, and Dean. They are in a love triangle but all are so kind and friendly there is truly no villain. The audience feels happy for each of them when they hit a high point and a kinship with any of the trio on a low whether it be small, moderate or in Melissa case large when a lump the size of an orange is discovered in her stomach.

I Still Believe is a bright, wholesome eternal love story despite the turn to stark reality at the opening of the second act that later dominates the third. The lead actors keep the audience engaged in a story that has some good hard lessons on positivity, friendship, forgiveness, and following your heart as you pursue your dreams. It's a real tear-jerker that at the end has the audience leaving with a smile on their face.

*** Out of 4

I Still Believe | Andrew Erwin /Jon Erwin | U.S.A. | 2020 | 115 Minutes.

Tags: Christian, Bible University, Singer, Cancer, Love Triangle, Demo Tape, Wedding, Funeral, Second Chance.

Sunday, March 1, 2020

Vertical Entertainment Film Review - Blood On Her Name

Leigh (Bethany Anne Lind) has just made a catastrophic mistake. She is in her auto repair shop Tiller's Auto with blood on her that's not her's staring at a body by the car hoist as a growing pool of blood forms. She is not unaccustomed to trouble. Her husband is in jail, her son Ryan (Jared Ivers) has to meet regularly with his parole officer and pee in a cup plus her dad works for the Sheriff's office but has fractured a serious rule on more than one occasion. Leigh grabs her cell phone to call 911 but stops. Deciding instead to get rid of the body sets in motion a series of events each making it harder to escape her inevitable fate over the likely result if she had made the call.

Director Matthew Pope who along with Don Thompson wrote the story of a series of desperate people living on the fringes in flyover country. Money is tight, prospects are worse and the players seem doomed to follow the behavioural patterns of the generation that came before. The writers put a sharp edge on the narrative that gives it bite. The wardrobe is mechanic grease and sweat-stained with the beverages of choice being domestic beer and whiskey.

Bethany Anne Lind gives a strong physical performance as Leigh. She does a lot of heavy lifting but has an underlying sense of justice that can lead her astray. Will Patton is cut straight through to quick as Sheriff Department Officer Teller. He sizes up a situation ready to act whether the intended course adheres to or is against the law. Elizabeth Rohn is drawn into this conflict late as the victim's wife holding her wits well against the seasoned foes opposing her.

Blood on Her Name is a story that will hold interest throughout its brisk 85 minutes run time. It starts in the middle of the central event then introduces the well-composed core group of characters who have depth seemingly from the moment they appear on the screen. It's a weighty presentation by a first-time feature director that I can recommend.

*** Out of 4

Blood On Her Name | Matthew Pope | U.S.A. | 2019 | 85 Minutes.

Tags: Running Cars, Mechanic, Auto Repair Shop, Murder, Shrinkwrap, Parole, Necklace,  Colorado.

Friday, February 28, 2020

Universal Pictures Film Review - The Invisible Man

Bullying, women losing their voices, not being believed and gaslighting are the central themes of Australian writer-director Leigh Whannell's The Invisible Man. Opening with a prologue of Cecilia Kass (Elizabeth  Moss) sneaking quietly out of an expansive isolated home that seems more like a prison. The story jumps ahead two weeks where the still shell shocked Cecilia is seeing her abusive controlling husband Adrian Griffin (Oliver Jackson-Cohen) from whom she escaped around every corner. Cecilia is staying with her good friend cop James Lanier (Aldis Hodge) and his daughter Sydney (Storm Reid) with her sister Emily (Harriet Dyer) who drove her to freedom close by.

Suddenly Emily brings news that at first seems to solve all of Cecilia's problems. Adrian is dead and Cecilia only has to attend a reading of the will at her brother's in law Tom Griffin (Michael Dorman) law firm to receive a windfall. After the reading, Cecilia begins to sense Adrian's presence at James' home. Could he be still alive, has he invented a way using his vast skill and knowledge of optics to be invisible? Was the stipulation that she attend the reading in person simply a ruse for Adrian to find her exact location?

Elisabeth Moss gives a physical emotionally charged performance as Cecilia. She catches on to Adrian's scheme tires to communicate her findings to others but she is not believed. Adrian slowly works to isolate his prey until Cecilia is in an impossible spot but that is where she takes a stand and fights back.

The Invisible Man is a modern take on H.G. Wells' 1897 novel. Its main themes are very timely today speaking to the need to believe the testimonies of victims and a cautionary tale on a slow steady descent towards becomming trapped in a controlling abusive relationship. Strong performances lead by Moss and a memorable supporting turn by Aldis Hodge as Detective James Lanier plus nimble  camera work from Stefan Duscio and Benjamin Wallfisch's driving score make it a tense thriller that's definitely worth the watch.

*** 1/2 Out of 4.

The Invisible Man | Leigh Whannell | U.S.A./Australia | 2020 | 124 Minutes.

Tags: Optics, Abuse, Violence, Control, Security, Escape, Suicide, Inheritance, Hoax, Stalking, Invisilibility, Knife, Murder, Psychiatric Hospital, Ladder, Diazepam.

Sunday, February 16, 2020

Ultimate 2010'S Blogathon Film Review - Holy Motors

We first meet Monsieur Oscar as he leaves his home at the crack of dawn dressed in a business suit headed for the office.  His wife and family send him off with good wishes and armed guards occupy the rooftops of his family compound as he walks down the driveway towards a white stretch limo. He is greeted by his female driver and settles into the back of the vehicle for the drive into the city. Monsieur Oscar discusses business deals and the need for an upgrade in weaponry for his guards during the drive. His driver (Edith Scob) then hands him a folder that prompts Monsieur Oscar to undergo a transformation the back of the limo emerging as a beggar woman complete with cane and cup to panhandle for money in a busy downtown square. After a while, Mr. Oscar returns to the limo to prepare for his next appointment as a motion capture actor. These are the opening sequences of Leo Carax's Holy Motors the director's first feature in thirteen years since 1999's Pola X.  Carax himself has a brief part in the film billed as the sleeper. He wakes up up a room with a wall featuring a forest mural. A screwdriver appears extending from one of his fingers that he uses to enter the balcony of a movie theatre above an audience full of sleeping patrons.

Carax has evidently built up a lot of material in the period between films. The plot of many of the film's appointments could have stood alone as subjects of their own films. When interviewed Carax indicated that he came up with the concept of the film while wandering around Paris mulling over his problems obtaining financing for other projects. He noticed an abundance of limousines and always came across the same elderly female panhandler those early elements were the seeds of the film.

Carax's regular muse Denis Lavant is mesmerizing as the central character. He switches from one character to the next in the back of the limo that resembles a theatre dressing room. Throughout the day he reviews the folders passed back by his driver Celine ahead of each appointment, completes his own elaborate makeup in a large movable dressing room mirror and his wardrobe options cover the  back two-thirds of the limo.

The film serves as a low tech take to Cloud Atlas on a multiple character feature. Lavant plays 11 different roles in the film including one where he plays both ends of a deadly encounter.
The film is rich in dialogue the day-long banter between Monsieur Oscar and Celine serves as it's backbone. Along with being his driver Celine plays confidant, motivator, assistant, shrink, mechanic  and there are hints that their relationship has or may grow intimate throughout the film.

Music is thoughtfully chosen and adds to each scenario.  It has a particularly telling impact in the scene where Lavant assumes the role of Merde a sewer-dwelling goblin that bursts through a cemetery and into the middle of a Paris fashion shoot harkens back to the silent era of monster films.  Then there is the iconic Rock and Roll accordion sequence to R.L. Burnside's Let My Baby Ride in an old church billed as the films interlude.

Part-way through the film Oscar returns to the limo to find a mysterious older gentleman sitting in the far end of the vehicle. A discussion ensures about Oscar's motivation and commitment to his role. Oscar responds commenting on how in the beginning the cameras were large and evident, then smaller and hidden and now he is not sure if there are any cameras at all regardless he continues his tasks for the beauty of the Act.

Holy Motors is why we go to the movies. It's captivating, breaks entirely new ground and is a fresh take on movie making it my number 1 film of the 2010's.

A Five Star Film

Holy Motors | Loes Carax | France 2012| 115 min.

Friday, February 14, 2020

Film Review - Portrait of A Lady on Fire

Waves break across the bow of a rowboat in 1760 France as cinematographer Claire Mathon's lens captures the rich blues of the water, Green of the land and grey of the rocks as the boat's passenger Marianne (Noemie Merlant) makes her way towards a distant island. The rough waters pitch the vessel tossing overboard tossing Marianne's precious supplies. She has been commissioned to paint the portrait of Heloise (Adele Haenel) A younger sister stepping in for her older recently deceased sibling to marry and the portrait will be sent to the expected suitor. Marianne learns the details of her assignment from Helosie's mother La Comtesse (Valeria Golino) before she departs the island including the fact that her predecessor a male painter failed as Heloise refused to sit. Marianne is officially on the island as a walking companion for her daughter. She will have to sketch her in secret during the day then translate those images into the portrait at night.

Director Celine Sciamma was looking to make a film that focused on the female gaze between two equals in this film. For the first several frames on screen the audience does not see either Heloise hair or faces as the walks tightly bound across the wind stripped Island terrain.  Slowly the betrothed grows more comfortable with her new companion soon discovering the former's her true purpose, agreeing to sit and be painted then the pair develop an even greater bond.

Noemie Merlant is perfectly cast as the fiercely independent passionate painter. She starts out as an outside observer of her subject and slowly transforms into an active vested participant in Helosie's fate. Adele Haenel's portrayal of Heloise swings in many directions. She is reserved at first having been called home from the Nunnery to take her elder sister's place who may have fell or jumped to her death at the Brittany Island where she now resides. She then connects with Marianne first learning how to smoke a pipe then more deeply and intimately ultimately forced to make a decision to do what is best for her or for her family. The film is beautifully written, directed acted and shot love story that even though it is early days may still be remembered at the time when best films of the current decade are chosen.

**** Out of 4.

Portrait of A Lady on Fire | Celine Sciamma | France | 2019 | 121 Minutes.

Tags: 18th Century, Brittany, Commission, Painter, Pipe, Wedding Portrait, Gaze, Glance, Fire, Love Affair, Island, Cliffs, Sketching.

Thursday, February 13, 2020

Fox Searchlight Film Review - Downhill

Pete Stanton (Will Ferrell) is grieving the loss of his father eight month prior. To get away from familiar surroundings he brings his family, Attorney wife Billie (Julia Louis-Dreyfus) and sons the sporty Finn (Julian Grey) and more sensitive Emerson (Ammon Jacob Ford) on a ski vacation in the Austrian Alps. The first sign of the family's jarring vibe occurs in the very first scene when they are having their pictures taken on the mountain by a local photographer who seems to be mocking them. Later it appears that Finn and Emerson are the only children at the resort with there being a more kid friendly option down the road. Why didn't dad Pete pick it and why didn't attorney Billie know about it? Plus Pete is distant from his family taking every spare moment to check the Instagram exploits of his no agenda having younger co-worker Zach (Zach Woods) and his free spirited girlfriend Rosie (Zoe Chao) who are blazing their way across the region.

The key event of the film is a not so controlled avalanche that buries an outdoor eating area where the Stantons are having lunch. Billie and the kids trapped between the railing and the picnic table are forced to shelter in place while their last vision of their father is him jumping up fleeing the scene only to return after the event acting as if nothing happened.

Julia Louis-Dreyfus does her best to rescue this muddled offering that based on its casting made a concerted effort to be different than its dark inspirational predecessor Ruben Ostlund's 2014 Force Majeure. However, the Nat Faxon and Jim Rash directed remake doesn't go far enough to the comedy side resulting in a film that is stuck in the non-committal middle. Miranda Otto offers some minor laughs as the Stanton's oversexed resort liaison Charlotte. Will Ferrell seems caught between being dramatic going though grief for his dad then guilt for abandoning his family at a time of need. Then in the next moment playing the goofy dad bearing down on his more sensitive son ruining the boys one day at the kid-friendly resort.

Downhill is a misfire attempt to Americanize the emotionally tense Swedish source material that was one of the more beloved films of 2014. The Stantons come across often as the ugly American tourists throwing their weight around expecting local Austrian culture, traditions and practices to be exactly the same as back home.  The narrative is often telegraphed offering no new insightful twist on the original making it a film that outside of Louis-Dreyfus and some pleasing shots of the Alps from cinematographer Danny Cohen's lens having not much else to draw an audience to this production.

** Out of 4.

Downhill | Nat Faxon / Jim Rash | U.S.A. | 2020 | 86 Minutes.

Tags: Austria, Alps, Remake, Skiing, Vacation, Avalanche, Instagram, Chairlifts, Grief, Morning, Hashtags.

Tuesday, December 31, 2019

Top Ten Films of 2019



3, U.S.

4., 1917



7., HER SMELL