Monday, March 28, 2016

Warner Brothers Film Review - Midnight Special

The film opens in the middle of a tense situation. Roy Tomlin (Michael Shannon) and Lucas (Joel Edgerton) are held up in a hotel room with a young boy (Jaeden Lieberher) oblivious to his surroundings wearing goggles and playing with a flashlight under a sheet. The windows are all backed out while the television gives more information . The boy Alton Meyer has been abducted and is the subject of an Amber Alert then a picture of Roy Tomlin flashes on the screen.

As the action progresses we learn that Alton is a child with special talents. The goggles protect eyes that produce white beams of light. He can effect objects with his thoughts and speak in incomprehensible languages. Soon the trio come across people looking for Alton other than regular law enforcement. NSA analyst Paul Sevier (Adam Driver) leads the charge from the Federal government. The leaders of a religious sect that Tomlin and Alton were former members are also hot on their trial.

Writer Director Jeff Nichols had a vision of a road film with a subtle sci-fi element for this film. His first image was of two guys driving down back roads in the American south with no lights on. Nichols was also heavily influenced by sci-fi chase films like E.T, Close Encounters and Starman. He also wanted to make a father and son picture but focus on how fragile a young child can be and how a parent can be fearful of that fragility. But that fear needs to change to helping your child reach their potential.

The troika arrive at Alton's mother (Kristen Dunst) house to avoid detection and a vehicle change.
Sarah is very happy to see her son but knows that he is on a journey that neither she, Roy or Lucas fully understand. Soon the group are back on the road where they are confronted and Alton falls into the hands of the government that see him as a National Security threat.

Michael Shannon dominates the action as Roy the protective father that is determined to let his son reach his destiny. Joel Edgerton delivers another in a series of strong performances as Roys childhood friend Lucas who has a law enforcement background and is willing to follow this family to the end of the road.  Adam Driver role is understated as the NSA operative Paul Seiver. He is fascinated by Alton and not sure if prodding and poking in government custody is the best place for the boy. He also wants to see the child fulfill his destiny.

Midnight Special is a sci-fi road film with mainly understated effects that force the audience to fill in the gaps with their imagination. Director Nichols once again presents a story though a child where the audience has to think and participate in the narrative. Its' a different take on science fiction and a chase film that I can recommend.

*** Out of 4.

Midnight Special | Jeff Nichols | U.S.A. | 2016 | 111 Minutes.

Tags: Amber Alert, NSA, Fugitive, Alien, Transcend, Father-Son, NSA, Religious Cult.

Sunday, March 27, 2016

HRWFF Film Review - Inside The Chinese Closet

TIFF® and Human Rights Watch co-present the 13th annual Human Rights Watch Film Festival in Toronto, running from March 30 to April 7, 2016 at TIFF Bell Lightbox.

INSIDE THE CHINESE CLOSET -  Screens Wednesday, April 6 at 6:30 p.m.

Andy is a gay man that lives in Shanghai. He's come out to his dad but it is unsure how much his mother knows. His parents do not to live in Shanghai so he gives his dad updates on his current situation by phone. Andy tells director Sophia Luvara in an early confessional that he is well liked in some circles of the gay community. He is known as a bear because he is stocky. His dad's reaction to his announcement was that Andy still has to provide a grandchild. His family cannot lose face in the community. In order to do this Andy will try to find a lesbian to form a fake marriage.

Zhouying / Cherry Blossom (Cherry) lives in Shanghai as well. She is a lesbian but has only hinted at her feelings for other women to her mother. She did however have an incident in grade school where she was expelled for a time for having a girlfriend. Cherry's parents want a grandchild as well and have looked into pricing for buying abandoned babies illegally at the local hospital. Cherry's parents are already the subject of ridicule in their village because their daughter Cherry was married and did not produce a grandchild.

Director Luvara follows these two Shanghai residents as they try to take steps to please their parents. Andy has dates or meetings with lesbians where they discuss a potential fake marriage. They talk about adoption or artificial insemination. There is no consideration to have a child the natural way. The dates are a question and answer sessions mainly about each others parents. How they would have to act around the parents, are they expected to take care of a potential in-law if they become sick?Andy's dad demands that Andy sends photos of the women, he asked about ages, education and whether or not the girls are fat like his son.

Both protagonist attend the same fake marriage meet and greet where they each get a chance to tell the group a bit about themselves. Each attendee has a number for identification. Some attendees The criticized the event because they believe that the participants should be truthful to their parents. Others feel that they are protecting their family reputation by seeking out a fake marriage.

Director Sophia includes one scene shot with a hidden camera where a gay person visits a psychologist who believes that he can cure the patient of their affliction. She also tends to shoot hand held especially during the confessionals with Andy who can converse with her in English. At one point due to his frustration with finding a wife and arranging for a child he asks the director if she wants to get married. She responds positively then the discussion turns to the logistics of living in Rome.

Inside the Chinese Closet is a study of an intriguing subject and hidden Chinese sub culture. The films two protagonists both appear flat lacking a spark to carry the production. The film does capture the intense need of Chinese youth to please their parents. As one subject remarks we come out of the closet to our parents then they go in. The feature also suffers with pacing in the final third nor does not resolve either of the main subjects situation. The viewer is left with Andy and Cherry in transit to separate destinations ahead of the final credits that don't provide any post production update of the fates.

** Out of 4.

Inside The Chinese Closet | Sophia Luvara | Netherlands / China | 2015 |  72 Minutes.

Tags; Gay, Lesbian, Bear, Fake Marriage, Shanghai, Adoption, Baby Market, Saving Face.

HRWFF Film Review - The Pearl Button

TIFF® and Human Rights Watch co-present the 13th annual Human Rights Watch Film Festival in Toronto, running from March 30 to April 7, 2016 at TIFF Bell Lightbox.

THE PEARL BUTTON -  Screens Thursday, March 31 at 6:30 p.m.

A block of ice 3000 years old with a drop of water is the opening image of Patricio Guzman's The Pearl Button. Water is the vehicle that drivers the film. Guzman points to his country of Chile's 2600 mile coastline and wonders why his people did not take better advantage of its maritime opportunities. The director focuses on the Patagonia region and two significant events in the country's history that are linked by an unassuming object.

The opening discussion is on the native peoples of Chile whom paddled along the countries waterways freely until the settlers arrived in 1883. The settlers were accompanied by gold hunters and missionaries who in trying to help the natives by moving them to Dawson Island and dressed them in western clothing exposed them to foreign diseases wiping out a good portion of the indigenous peoples. Guzman highlights the Selk'nam peoples who believed that their forefathers spirits ascended to the stars. The tribe painted their bodies as starry skies in a tribute to their ancestors.

In the 19th century British Captain Fitzroy came to Chile to map the coastline. He considered himself a humanist and took 4 natives home with him to civilize them. Among the four was Jemmy Button who agreed to go in exchange for a mother of pearl button giving inspiration to the films title. Fitzroy brought Button back to his country years later but Yagan teen spent the rest of his life living between two cultures.

The other topic is the fate of the followers of Allende under the 16 year Pinochet dictatorship. Guzman investigates the fate of those imprisoned and Pinochet torture practices. One seen has a group of former Dawson Island detainees putting up their hands and shouting out their interment times. One voices yells 3 years 3 months, another 444 days a third 4 years 4 months. However the chilling part of this section is a detailed enactment of the regime practice of dumping bodies into the ocean. The sequence goes over the method of wrapping the body, the drugs used to terminate a life and the practice of placing a railway tie on the chest of the victim to weigh the body down. The government decided to retrieve these rail ties in 2004 and discovered one with a pearl button as the only remnant of the executed detainee.

The Pear Button is a selected history lesson of Chile. It points out the importance of water as the films opening quote stats that we are all streams from one water. It speaks to the time of the natives when the paddled freely amongst the waterways of the region. Native languages that are just about lost but telling have no word for god or police. The link to the treatment of Pinochet dissidents is flimsy at best however the studio of the native peoples and the visual displays of the Patagonia region make the film with the watch.

*** Out of 4.

The Pearl Button | Patricio Guzman | Chile / Spain / Switzerland / France | 2015 | 82 Minutes.

Tags: Water, Paddling, Yagan, Selk'nam , Kawesqar, Dawson Island, Pinochet, Dissidents, Railway Ties, Captain Fitzroy.

HRWFF Film Review - Frackman

TIFF® and Human Rights Watch co-present the 13th annual Human Rights Watch Film Festival in Toronto, running from March 30 to April 7, 2016 at TIFF Bell Lightbox.

FRACKMAN - Sunday, April 3 at 1 p.m. Featuring a live video Q&A with Dayne Pratzky.

Dayne Pratsky spent his twenties hanging out at the beaches in Sydney chasing girls and having a great old time. He reached thirty and realized that he had no possessions or anything to show for his life. So he moved to Tara near Chinchilla in Queensland bought some land and planned to build a home. Then one day a representative from the Queensland Gas Company came to his front gate to tell him that they planned to sink a gas well on his property and that there was nothing he could do about it. He told the rep in colourful Australian phrasing that he would not agree to the well then hopped on the internet to start his research into coal seam gas, fracking, the Australian government involvement and the customers for the finished product.

Director Richard Todd filmed Dayne Pratsky for four years as the central figure of the production. Often gorilla style as the camera follows Dayne as he sneaks onto gas company sites to obtain samples of tracking fluid or measure contaminant levels in water reservoirs on gas company property.
The narrative also features first person interviews with other Tara Blockies who live in the shadow of the gas plants. Some tell stories of their young children who suffer from regular headaches and nose bleeds others like Wayne Dennis who's farm has been in the family since the 1920's and signed on for a few wells on his property only to see that number multiply without his permission.

The main message of the production is to educate Australia and other communities on the workings of the coal seam gas industry. The companies obtain government friendly deals with the promise of jobs and profits. Land owners learn that they only own the top 6 inches of their property. The government keeps control of the rest. Government is invested at all levels therefore they allow the companies to self regulate. Their inspectors that check for gas leaks and contamination of the land tend to find levels of heavy metals that are within acceptable standards. Locals who buy simple gages and check venting spouts on their own find a vastly different results. The environment effect spans from those on land right beside the plants to those out at the harbour where the gas is packed up for transport. Those inland find dead frogs in their abandoned water wells while fisherman catch crabs and sharks that are diseased by the heavy metal residue. Meanwhile the politicians call the business the best thing that has happened to the local economy or admit that they have not idea what heavy metals are being deposited into the Australian bush.

The cinematography shines in the aerial shots of the Australian countryside. While the terrain is spectacular it's increasing dotted with rectangular drilling sites. As Dayne describes it the first thing that you notice when the gas company comes to town is the noise. Heavy transport trucks dominate the dirt roads and run 24 hours a day. The next thing is the increase in rental cars in town at the shopping malls and stores.  The third is the smell of the leaking gas and chemicals. The chemicals are used for fracking. Again Dayne gives a simple description of the process. Many wells that are drilled fail. The best well will only last 50 years. Fracking is a process by which water is sent under pressure into a failed well. Sand and a mixture of chemicals are injected that fracture the rock below to release the gas. At issue is the makeup of the chemicals.  The gas companies and government would have you believe that it's the same chemicals found under you kitchen counter. Environmentalist and activists would instead say that fracking fluids are riddled with heavy metals that include lead and arsenic. But to top it off the Gas companies do not have to declare their mixture of chemicals as they are classified as a proprietary formula.

Frackman is a film that looks at an important topic the Coal Seam Gas Industry. The film incorporates the flair of its lead subject Dayne Pratzky and his in your face do what it takes attitude. The film points out several good points that can be applied to any situation where governments focus on and become heavily invested in the expected short-term success of an industry. A great example of this is the new phenomena of bubbling water in ponds in Tara. The government calls it a natural occurrence and not caused by leaking gas. The locals disprove this when they light the water and it catches fire. The film is a cautionary tale that unless headed will repeat in many communities across several industries around the world

*** 1/2 Out of 4.

Frackman | Richard Todd | Australia | 2015 | 90 Minutes.

Tara, Chinchilla, Queensland, Queensland Gas Company, Halliburton, Fracking, Fracking Fluids, Lock the Gate.

Monday, March 7, 2016

levelFILM Film Review - Glassland

John (Jack Reynor) is a taxi driver that applies his trade in the dreary, dark, bleak night time streets of Dublin Ireland.  He does makes little money but enjoys spending time with his best mate Shane (Will Poulter) and visiting his mentally challenged younger brother Kit ( Harry Neagle).  However John has another chore that occupies the rest of him time taking care of and tracking down and locating  his alcoholic mother.

John returns home from a night of driving to a messy kitchen with dishes and bottles everywhere. He checks the bedroom to find his mother Jean (Toni Collette) passed out in bed with vomit splattered all over the pillow and sheets and appearing to have no vitals.  He rushes her to hospital to learn that her liver can't take much more and he has to get her help.

Writer Director Gerard Barrett takes a different approach to the self-destructive alcoholic.  In his feature Glassland, the alcoholic character occupies a small part of the plot. The focus is on the son John, the city of and Dublin and the Irish countryside play a bigger part in the presentation.  The production also narrows in on shooting using natural light especially from or through windows which add to the blown out look of the film.

John realizing that he has to get his mother into a clinic takes whatever path available to collect money whether the action he is forced to complete is dubious. He even attempts to in a key scene in the film join in with his mothers activities leading her to lay out as plainly as possible why she is the way that she is and the reasons why she has not seen Kit for an extended period of time.  

Jack Reynor is the centre of the film as John. He is in just about every scene and occupies many different roles in the production. He's happiest as a young guy hanging out with his best friend messing around. Later he is the catalyst for an important event for his pal Shane. He switches from son to friend to parent to partner for his mother Jean. He is also very supportive of his developmentally challenged brother Kit. Toni Collette is memorable in the small supporting role of Jean. She shines brightest in the exchange with John where they are drinking as peers. She lays out her reasons for her drinking and lack of feelings for her youngest son Kit in a clear, believable and detached manner.

Glassland approaches the devastating effects of alcoholism from a different angle. The production shows but does not dwell on the heavy negative aspects but instead focus on a sons struggle to do what he can to help a parent out of a deep hole. the film uses the natural elements of Dublin as a big factor to set the tone and mood. Its more on the serious side but not too emotionally craning to put it in the category of a hard watch.

*** Out of 4

Glassland | Gerard Barrett | Ireland | 2014 | 93 Minutes.

Tags: Alcoholism, Addiction, Disease, Dublin, Taxi Driver, Human Trafficking, Treatment Centre, Down Syndrome.