Sunday, December 31, 2017

Top 10 Films 0f 2017











Film Review - Get Out

Microaggressions, casual racism and black being in and chic are the main topics forced to the surface in Jordan Peele's sublime balance of satire, comedy, and horror in Get Out. The film is perfectly timed for today as the majority feels they have done their part for the moment having elected Barack Obama twice (A topic that's broached in the film) feel free to go back to American values in their leaders and heroes as they strive to Make America Great Again. Peele, infact, got the inkling for the film during the 2008 democratic primaries where you were either in the Hillary or Obama camp meaning you could not be for both women's rights and racial advancement. Chris ( Daniel Kaluuya) is headed to the country to visit his white girlfriend Rose (Allison Williams) parents. He's concerned how it will go as he's not sure she has told them that she's back. Rose senses his anxiety and assures him that there is no need for a heads up. Roses educated parents a doctor (Bradley Whitford) and psychologist (Catherine Keener)  are welcoming to a fault with no hint of any tension until Rose's brother Caleb Landry Jones appears.

Next, the story shifts to a weekend to honour the work of Rose's grandfather where rich guest appear all seeming to know that Chris would be at the event although Rose claimed that she did not know it was to be that weekend. The all subtly watch his very move then when he goes to engage the only other balk person present the reaction is not what you would expect from a fellow African-American in syntax, action or body language. His presence is similar to the two Armitage employees their housekeep and groundsmen who stayed on after taking care of the grandparents.

Peele sees the monster in the film as current society itself. He puts in a subtle clue as a cop asks Chris for ID after Rose has an accident while driving.  She sticks up for him confronting the officer as to the reason why. Peeler sees this category of film as the social thriller. When the plot moves to the crux of the situation Chris has already been effected with little prospect to escape. He's been chosen as a chassy for an aging community member and there's not much he can do to prevent it.

Get Out is a study on race relations in America. It's opening and closing scenes serve as bookends on what breeds anxiousness in minorities that would be totally unexpected by the majority in the same situation. Walking along minding your business on a suburban street or expecting the worst when a police car rolls up on a scene where you have done absolutely nothing wrong.

**** Out of 4.

Get Out | Jordan Peele | U.S.A. | 2017 | 104 Minutes.

Tags: Photography, Family Gathering, Hypnosis, Captive, Brainwash, Brain Surgery, TSA, Teaspoon, Missing Keys.

Film Review - Star Wars: The Last Jedi

Star Wars: The Force Awakens ends with Rey (Daisy Ridley) finally marking it to Luke ( Mark Hamill) on his island and handing him his iconic lightsaber. In the latest installment, Rian Johnson's first act is to blow up J.J. Abrams vision having Luke toss it over his shoulder towards the cliffs. That opening act is a signal that Johnston planned to go after the secret tenants of the Star Wars universe imploring the religious followers of the films to get over themselves. At the opening the resistance is trying to evacuate a base before the First Order can wipe them out. Pilot Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac) leads the charge against the enemy forces with a reckless plan to take down a Starkiller costing a huge price in personnel.  As they jump to a new part of space they are followed by The First Order who have a way to track their movements. Former stormtrooper Finn (John Boyega) teams up with Rose Tico (Kelly Marie Tran)  heading to a casino planet to find a code breaker to get them into the room on the First Order lead ship to deactivate the tracker. Meanwhile back on his island Luke is the reluctant teacher to Rey plus while there she develops a quizzical link to Kilo Ren( Adam Driver) underneath Luke's nose.

The writing in the film suffers from holes in the plot. It's not clear why the main resistance ship puttering along running out of fuel is able to stay out of range of the First Order's Battleships. Nor why Rose who has the ability to disarm the tracker is not able to pick the lock herself to get into the room that houses, said tracker. Considering the second part of that equation is a much large task. Meaning the mission of the casino planet is only there as a social commentary against arms dealing, animal cruelty and a general attack on the top 1 percent. Johnson does turn up the comedic moments starting with the lightsaber toss. Chewbacca's interaction with this generation loveable creatures the progs and Rey's misadventures with the architects during her time on Luke's island.

The most stunning aspect of the film is its visuals. The vistas on Luke's personal chunk of rock, weather coming in off the sea, Jedi fishing and the dark place down below where Rey goes looking for her parents to only find herself. Another attack on the tenant of lineage leading to strong The must-see sequence comes from the Salt planet where the resistance retreats.The ground is salt over a red underpad that shows through when the salt is disturbed. The blood red base cuts quite the visual as the resistance forces head out to face the First Order walkers.

Adam Driver's Kylo Ren/ Ben Solo continues to be the most difficult character to come to grips with. He's supposed to be the most powerful Sith lord since Darth Vader but doesn't seem to have the chops. He's manipulated into a mind meld with Rey and again needs to be saved by her in the main lightsaber battle in the film. But on the other hand, he matches wits with the all-powerful Snoke (Andy Serkis) and has fellow baddie General Hux (Domhnall Gleeson) fearful of his next move. Laura Dern has a memorable turn as Vice Admiral Holdo. She manages to keep Poe Dameron more or less in line. teaching him along with General Leia ( the late Carrie Fisher) the painful lesson to put the long-term benefit of the rebellion ahead of short-term gain.

It must be remembered above everything else that Star Wars is a fantasy story aimed at kids. Therefore if technical aspects don't work or there are holes in the plot or a big McGuffin like Finn and Rose's mission that just doesn't matter as long as the film delivers on the action and this one does.

*** Out of 4.

Star Wars; The Last Jedi | Rian Johnson | 2017 | 152 Minutes.

Tags: Sci-Fi, Sequel, Franchise, Casino, Codebreaker, Training, the Force, Jedi, Sacrifice, Mission, Demotion, Deserter.

Film Review - Lady Bird

Lady Bird your given name? Yeah. Then Why is it in quotes? I gave it to myself; It's given to me by me explains Christine 'Lady Bird" McPherson (Saoirse Ronan) as she auditions for a role in the school play. The fiercely independent, stubborn and opinionated the high school senior would rather fling herself  from a moving car and break her arm over losing an argument to her equally opinionated mother Marion (Laurie Metcalf). Christine attends a Catholic high school in Sacramento longing to get out of California to go where culture is and pursue higher learning on the East coast while her mother knowing the family finances supporting the family on her nurse's salary as her husband is out of work can only afford local community college for her daughter. The film spans the school year circa 2002. Our heroine has two boyfriends during the span Danny O'Neill (Lucas Hedges) the theatre star golden boy from the right side of the tracks and Timothee Chalamet who had a huge year in 2017 with Call Me By Your Name and Hostiles also under his belt as Kyle the brooding leather jacket wearing anarchist. She also has her ups and downs with her best friend Julie (Beanie Feldstein) especially when popular girl Jenna (Odeya Rush) wants to hang out.

The film is very autobiographical of its writer-director Greta Gerwig who grew up in Sacramento, went to Catholic High School, studied in New York and had a mom who was a nurse. Gerwig's manic mannerisms and syntax flow through Ronan as she performs on screen. Her turn of a phrase, nervous ticks and physical movements are reminiscent of Gerwig's characters in Frances Ha or Mistress America. For a first outing Gerwig keeps the project simple sticking to a subject matter she knows on a scale she can control.

Laurie Metcalf does her best attempt to swipe the film as Marion. She is the family breadwinner as warmhearted husband Larry (Tracy Letts) searches for work. Her role is to keep Lady Bird realistic and lower her expectations. The conflict between the pair produces some of the best mother-daughter dialogue on film. The key exchange being Marion's desire for Christine to become the very best version of herself to which Lady Bird counters what if THIS is the best version.

Lady Bird is the classic tale of a teenager finding their voice, seeking their independence as they attempt to step out of the shadow of their parents. Christine McPherson does so first with her name, second with her sexual development and thirdly putting all of her efforts into getting into an East coast school. Her mother takes it as a personal affront but her agonizing attempt to be supportive headlines one of the strongest closing segments in film this year.

**** Out of 4.

Lady Bird | Greta Gerwig | U.S.A. | 2017 | 93 Minutes.

Tags; Sacramento, High School, Theatre, Prom, Anarchy, First Time, Nuns, the Grapes of Wrath.

Film Review - Call Me By Your Name

First love is the subject matter of Luca Guadagnino's latest film Call Me By Your Name. The picturesque northern Italy local is the ideal lazy summer setting for the story to take place. It's 1983 people have to talk to each other you can't text to see where someone is instead you have to wait until they turn up. Each year Professor Perlman (Michael Stuhlbarg)  hires a doctoral student to join the family at their summer home to do research. This year it's American Oliver (Arnie Hamner)  who arrives exhausted from his trip at first annoying the professor's 17-year-old son Elio (Timothee Chalamet) with his arrogance and repeated refrain Later every time he abruptly exits the scene. But Elio is drawn to Oliver, spending as much time as possible with the 24-year-old serving as tour guide mimicking his dress and joining Oliver on ventures into the town square. Oliver seems to have a magnetic effect amongst many of Elio's friends he's a star on the volleyball court and the subject of attention of many of the young ladies summering in the area.

Director Guadagnino brings the contents of Andre Aciman's novel to the screen. Guadagnino uses a light hand with the subject matter seemingly keen to the fact that the story could easily be pushed into the realm of an older man imposing himself on a young confused teen. Instead, there is equal give and take between the pair with the younger Elio more of the aggressor at the outset among his other local dalliances. Oliver is more reserved until things are a definite go then he puts his stamp on the relationship.

Timothee Chalamet is a blur as the hormonally charged teen amongst perfect weather, beauty and willing participants to his sexual awakening. Many sequences of the narrative switch freely between, Italian, English and French. Elio's mom (Amira Casar) even reads a German fable to her son as she holds him close. Armie Hammer is at long last given the chance to expand his acting chops in this film. The first sign of him disappearing into the role occurs when he stops in on a town elder poker game trading barbs in italian with the fellows at an event that Elio did not know existed. Michael Stuhlbarg excels as the welcoming Perlman patriarch. Giving his opening secret grad student test to Oliver, allowing his son to experience all that's out there for him to grasp then delivering perhaps the best piece of advice any parent has given a child on screen.

Call Me By Your Name has all of the elements of a first love. There's discovery, coupling, conflict, and pain as many first loves end in heartbreak. Guadagnino brings this story to the screen at the right time where it can be embraced by a large audience and not marginalized as an LGBT only film. the small town setting serves as a character in the production pinned by superior acting and writing resulting in a film I can highly recommend.

**** Out of 4.

Call Me By Your Name | Luca Guadagnino | Italy/France/Brazil/U.S.A. | 2017 |132 Minutes.

Tags: Northern Italy, First Love, Research, Archeology, Papers, Piano, Books, Swimming, Volleyball, Massage, Sunglasses, Fresh Fruit.

Film Review - All The Money In the World

After seeing All The Money In The World it's hard to understand why Ridley Scott originally cast a highly made up Kevin Spacey over hastily secured replacement Christopher Plummer as John Paul Getty in the first place. Plummer is mesmerizing as the eccentric billionaire who made the majority of his fortune after figuring out how to get oil out of the desert in Saudi Arabia in 1948 then inventing the Oil Tanker to ship it. Spending most of the day looking at stock Ticker to determine how many millions he has made in the stock market in 1973 at Sutton Place his 16th-century English estate. It's in the setting that his grandson John Paul III (Charlie Plummer) is kidnapped in Rome by the Red Brigade then sold to the Italian mob once the idealists realized that Geddy had no plans to pay the ransom. In the patriarch's mind, everything was negotiable even the fate of a grandchild putting his top Middle East deal negotiator ex CIA spook Fletcher Chase (Mark Wahlberg) on the case to get a reasonable price.

Director Scott now in his eighties continues a prolific pace of filmmaking that also included directing Alien Covenant this year along with producing roles on Blade Runner 2049 and Murder on The Orient Express. Scott sets the feel of the era from the opening scene where young Paul wonders through the seedier section of Rome late at night in a relaxed casual pace until a van pulls up beside snatching him off the street. Scott focuses in on the grittier parts of the narrative sourced from John Pearson's book including the treatment of Paul in captivity, the frailties of Paul's dad (Andrew Buchan) or the interplay between both sets of captors. Look for the depiction of the crushing paparazzi in the piece that soak up every ounce of the drama playing out in the eternal city.

Cinquanta (Roman Duris) is the link between the idealists and the mob developing a Stockholm syndrome buddy type bond with Paul. He's the main one on the phone negotiating with the family when not dying to be the voice of reason with the mobsters holding Paul employing them to be a little less intrusive with their methods. Paul's mom Gail Harris (Michelle Williams) is most often on the other side of those calls. Not a Getty by birth but educated smart and willing to face the old man head on to get her son back.

All The Money In the World is a suspenseful telling of a historical event that many viewers will know some of the details heading into the theatre. It's a tribute to Scott and writer David Scarpa alongside strong acting from Williams and the elder Plummer to keep the audience in the narratives grip. It's a rare peek into the generational nuances of a dynastic family that's well worth the watch.

*** 1/2 Out of 4.

All The Money In The World | Ridley Scott | U.S.A. | 2017| 132 Minutes.

Tags: Rome, Kidnapping, John Paul Getty , Getty Oil, Ransom, Art, Antiquities, Stock Market, Stock Ticker, Telephone Booth.

Sunday, December 10, 2017

Film Review - Dim The Fluorescents

Lilian (Naomi Skwarna) is an aspiring playwright working alongside her actor friend and roommate Audrey (Claire Armstrong) unfortunately in the corporate world instead of on stage or in a film.  The roommates have a company that puts on corporate demonstrations of training seminars on topics consisting of how to handle an angry customer, sexual harassment in the workplace or workplace safety. It's very dry but it pays and the friends attack the seminars with their creative passion building elaborate back-stories for their characters then delivering high-end emotion when presenting.

Writer-director Daniel Warth and co-writer Miles Barstead go behind the curtain to show the daily grind. Audrey calls her agent after auditions when she's feeling discouraged or to see where he's submitted her name to be greeted by an answering machine but leaves hopeful messages. Button down Lillian meets with her accountant dad to ensure him that she's O.K. and doesn't need any money. Warth & Barstead's writing is the key to the film. They manage to walk the balance between sarcastic comedy and a farce staying on the right side of the line. The production effectively uses hand shots to bring the viewer into the intimate space of the leads especially on emotional Audrey. The choice of a body camera works well for the final one take climatic scene.

The filmmakers use a unique device of the daily pillbox as an advent calendar type device to count down the days until their big corporate hotel ballroom event; a skit on leadership in times of crisis in the workplace in front of 300 people. The ladies clear their calendar for the month of December in the first of a series of brilliant scenes where we see their creative process. They brainstorm the script, determine VIP attendees, become saddled with their corporate contact's niece in exchange for badges leading up to an elaborate script and rehearsal time for a 7-minute performance on a leader helping a troubled co-worker.

Dim The Fluorescents is a study on being passionate for your art no matter the venue. The two lead actresses commit fully to the material dragging the audience along for the ride. Along the way Lillian and Audrey get to the point to recognize that they need each other. Although the overall story could have been delivered in a tighter package there is a lot of meat on the bone making it a film I can recommend.

*** 1/2 Out of 4.

Dim The Fluorescents | Daniel Warth | Canada | 2017 | 128 Minutes.

Tags: playwright, Actress, Auditions, Corporate Training Seminars, Role-playing, Depression, Smoking, Hotel Conference, Rescue cat.

Saturday, December 2, 2017

Film Review - The Shape of Water

A shadowy government research lab is the setting for Guillermo del Toro return to form film The Shape of Water. del Toro finds himself back in the fantasy sweet spot where his imagination pushes out to the outer edges but he remains colouring within the lines. Elisa (Sally Hawkins) is a mute member of the nighttime laboratory cleaning staff. She is chronically late for her shift absorbed in her world of jazz music and musicals. His friend Zelda (Octavia Spencer) is often saving her by punching her time card. Into the lab comes a mysterious project titled The Asset sealed in a human-sized water filled tank destined to be a scientific test subject. His main handler is Strickland (Michael Shannon) a paint by number suited government goon taking credit for spiriting the amphibian from the Amazon jungle to early 1960's Baltimore.

On the nightshift, Eliza finds herself often alone in the lab with the creature. Due to her heightened senses, they bond through sign language, jazz, and boiled egg lunches. She quickly develops a rapport with the Asset becoming his protector along with scientist Dr. Robert Hoffstetler (Michael Stuhlbard) who also sees the monster as an intelligent sentient being. On the other hand, Strickland whose home life is apple pies and white picket fences is more in favour of dissection and corporal punishment with his handy cattle prod at the ready.

del Toro creates a wonderful tapestry for this film with lush blues and greens being the primary colours. Cinematographer Dan Lausten plays a major part in bringing this world to light especially in his attention to angles, light, and shadows particularly in the scenes set in Eliza apartment or in her close friends Giles (a brilliant turn by Richard Jenkins) space who down the hall. His work fits perfectly in tandem with veteran score writer Alexandre Desplat. The pair produce scenes that are more ballet like than a pedantic procession. As Strickland becomes frustrated with the creature and his bosses with him Eliza and her friends feel the urgency to act before the formers extreme ideas are approved then carried out.

The Shape of Water is a fantasy tale at its best. Sally Hawkins is dialed in as the lonely intuitive cleaning woman who makes a real connection with the Amphibian man. The plot is highly believable through an X-files, Area 51 lens helmed by a meticulous director who took three years to craft his Michelangelo's David of amphibian men. It's this level of filmmaking and vision devoted to creating  a fairytale world for that I can truly recommend.

*** 1/2 Out of 4.

The Shape of Water | Guillermo del Toro | U.S.A. | 2017 | 123 Minutes.

Tags: Government, Military, Intelligence, Creature, Laboratory, Mute, Sign Language, Musicals, Cleaner, Bathtub, Boiled Eggs. Salt.

Film Review - The Disaster Artist

James Franco has been scuffling trying to find the right project to match his creative talents. Neither passion project Child of God nor stories from legendary authors Steinbeck In Dubious Battle or Faulkner The Sound and Fury hit the mark. Franco may have found the vehicle based on a book by the co-star of what is widely known as the worst movie ever known The Room.

The central force of the source material is Tommy Wiseau a mysterious figure of unclear age and background with way more confidence than talent who wrote, directed, starred and financed the 2003 film. Wiseau made the most bizarre production choices ever for a film. Instead of renting he bought the filming equipment. He paid for a special freestanding personal toilet. He built his own alley for a scene when a real one was just outside the studio door. Then to top it off he shot in both digital and 35mm. His spending brought the project's ticket to just short of 6 million dollars-leading to an opening weekend of 200 paying customers.

Franco known for his method acting became Tommy on the set whether the cameras were rolling of not working to master Wiseau's ever changing Eastern European sounding accident despite the auteur's insistence that he is American like everyone else being from New Orleans.  Dave Franco plays Greg Sestero the author of the source material book and a struggling actor who met Wiseau in a San Francisco drama class. Wiseau convinces Sestero to come to L.A. to star in his film. Seth Rogan as the script superior Sandy Schklair is the voice of reason on the set often giving Tommy the "Are you sure you want to do that" warning before he makes another ill-advised step dumping money down a black hole.

The Disaster Artist brings out from the shadows one mans singular effort to put his cinematic vision on the big screen. There are laughs with, laughs at and groans a plenty to go around. It's all due to the eccentricity of the director that the film has gained midnight showing cult classic status.  James Franco has finally found a story fitting his multi-faceted talents producing a piece that I can definitely recommend.

*** 1/2 Out of 4.

The Disaster Artist | James Franco | U.S.A. | 2017 | 103 Minutes.

Tags; Biopic, The Room, Tommy Wiseau, San Francisco, Waiting for Godot, Streetcar Named Desire, Stella, Set, Script, Improv, Water bottle, Babyface.