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.