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.

Thursday, November 30, 2017

levelFILM Film Review - Wexford Plaza

Lonely 19-year-old Betty (Reid Asselstine) takes a job at a Security guard at a strip mall that has more stores shuttered then open. Here workplace poisoning boss Rich (Francis Melling) gives her the orientation tour advising her that she’s to check the ally behind the store on a regular basis. As part of the tour, she meets Danny (Darrel Gamotin) The bartender at the mall’s restaurant with very few patrons.  After a couple of drunken encounters between the pair, Betty perceives wrongly that there is more between them leading her to pursue Danny hard.

Director Joyce Wong brings a story to the screen that is close to her heart. She is a native of the Toronto suburb of Scarborough where the action takes place. Wong wanted to focus on the underdog with her main characters and also with the Strip Mall format itself as today Walmart, Home Depot and Multiplexes anchor Big Box centres cutting out the mom and pop local feeling of the 70’s & 80’s staple shopping environment.  Joyce tells the story in two non-linear halves. The first is entitled Betty as we meet her on her first day on the job, see a bit of her home life and get her encounters with Danny and the spaces in between from her point of view.  Part two is focused on Danny we go right back to that first encounter then many beats are revised through Danny’s eyes.

Reid Asslestine is delightful as Betty. Due to her appearance and lack motivation her prospects aren’t great She active on a Tinder pseudonym Winder where guys want to meet her 10 minutes after a match. However, she’s equipped with a captivating smile and willing to give as good as she gets. Darrel Gamotin is effective as the friendly money strapped Danny. He has a live-in girlfriend that wants to move out of their basement apartment but he's in a low paying job struggling with 12k  credit card debt.  

Wexford Plaza is a bare bones tale of minimum wage workers that dwell on the fringes. They spend their times talking smoke and weed breaks drinking in suburban watering holes where bottle service and velvet ropes would never think to tread. Social media plays a prominent role in the piece and Wong flips back and forth between showing text messages up on screen or on the screen of the smart phone itself. It’s an engaging tale that delves deeper than expected making it a film I can recommend.

*** ½ Out of 4.

Wexford Plaza | Joyce Wong | Canada | 2016 | 80 Minutes.

Tags: Strip Mall, Security Guard, Bartender, Direct Sales, Karaoke, Basketball, YYZ.

levelFILM Film Review - Suck It Up

Dealing with a terminal illness and the grief after the inevitable death can affect people in many different ways. Some can’t handle seeing a loved one in extreme pain as they wither away pain while others are present giving as much care and comfort as they can. It’s even more challenging when one of the two special people to the patient completely withdraws from the scene.  That’s the case here in Jordan Canning’s sophomore effort Suck It Up.

Ronnie (Grace Glowicki) and Faye (Erin Carter) are two former best friends and principals of the film. Ronnie has been on a self-destructive downward spiral since her brother’s Garrett’s death of cancer drinking and drugging constantly while spending time hanging out in her brother’s room wearing his clothes.  Faye who also happened to be Garrett’s ex-girlfriend is trying to land a job as a teacher having been estranged from the family since Garrett broke up with her a year ago to save her the fate of seeing him deteriorate. After a mishap with a lawnmower, Ronnie’s mom Dina (Nancy Kerr) calls Faye to come and help noting that her stepdaughter had hit rock bottom. At first, Faye tries to help Ronnie in the family Calgary home but then she takes a bold step of loading the passed out Ronnie into Garret's vintage Mustang for a road trip to the family Invermere  B.C. cottage for a change of scenery. The pair clash along stereotypical lines at first but soon revert more to the centre as they interact with several colourful locals.

Director Canning tells a story that has almost universal appeal. Just about everyone has suffered loss  and been in a situation where they felt that they had contributed more than someone else. The summer events chip away at Faye’s prim and proper exterior while Glowicki devours the role of wild child Ronnie taking the opportunity to breathe in all the goodness that the Columbia Valley can provide. Cinematographer Guy Godfree lens adds depth and context to the production displaying the Mountain ridges and lush valleys of the territory.

Suck It Up shows that millennials to have some depth responsibility and are willing to look out for each other. Especially taking into accounts today’s climate it was refreshing to see how often Ronnie’s friends and acquaintances looked out for her when she was in vulnerable positions. The film also had a strong message for those that have a health or physical issue that they can manage it and get on with life.

*** ½ Out of 4.

Suck It Up | Jordan Canning | Canada | 2017 |101 Minutes.

Tags: Cancer, Bender, Black Eye, MDNA, Invermere, Asthma, Diabetes, Stuttering, Canada Day, Mustang, Skype, Interview. Mud Wrestling.    


Sunday, November 26, 2017

BiTS '17 Film Review - The Child Remains

Taken from the true account of the Butterbox babies dating from pre -1950's Nova Scotia. Native son Michael Melski builds out from the source event to create a narrative about a 42-year-old expectant first time mother Rae (Suzanne Clement) and her husband Liam (Allan Hawco) who arrive at a newly opened small town Inn to celebrate Rae's birthday. Rae was a crime reported but the violent events and imagery of the job affected her psyche forcing her to step away from the profession. Her Liam husband set up the weekend to help his expectant wife clear her mind as part of her recovery.

The pair meet their proprietor Monica (Shelly Thompson) the daughter of the original owner Rose. It turns out the inn has just reopened so they will be the only guest during their weekend stay. Melski titles the chapters by day. On the Friday arrival, Rae senses that there is something not right with the place. She has flashes of distressed mothers, babies crying and blood smeared on doors.  She goes for a walk coming upon a barbed wire fence with warnings that seem to try too hard to keep people away from a seemingly benign wooded area. Meanwhile struggling jingle writer and self-described hack Liam finds musical inspiration in an upper-level suite in the Inn where a mysterious device indicates that there is another presence in the room.

Writer-director Melski's narrative is full of ebbs and flows embedded in a complex challenging plot that pays off for the attentive viewer. Everyone featured has a connection to the house. Rae feels connected as she senses that the house like hers left is suffering from PSTD from all of the horrors its scene in the past. Melski underpins the piece with a fitting score inspired by his favourite genre films from The Shining to The Changeling.

Canadian award-winning actress Suzanne Clement leads the cast as Rae. She's compelled to dig into the Inn's past even though it could upset her delicate mental state, effect her marriage as her husband is running out of patience plus if her suspicions are correct could be dangerous to her self and unborn child. Shelly Thompson disappears into the role of Monica. Her devotion to her mother who sent her away for most of her life is unusual. She's quick to gain leverage on Liam shielding him from a past dalliance and allowing him to use of a space where he can finally grow as a musician.  Look for veteran Canadian actor Geza Kovacs as Talbot. He is a keeper of the Inn's secrets that has a soft spot for Rae.

The Child Remains title alone is a clever source of clues as to where this production is headed. The four main actors handle the material well as each character shifts dramatically from where they start at the outset of the film. The story is proof that the actions of people in real life outstrip any imagined thought of fiction. It's a story from an era that has hopefully gone by but with the growing religious zealousness today bad acts could be excused if you present as a good religious person.

*** Out of 4.

The Child Remains | Michael Melski | Canada | 2017 | 112 Minutes.

Tags: Butterbox Babies, Adoption, PSTD, Unwed Mothers, Faith, Prudence, Country Inn, Elixir, Ghosts Box, Gods Will.

BiTS '17 Film Review - Darken

Karisse (Gabrielle Graham) challenges Priestess Clarity (Christine Horne) on her pronouncements about Darken. It's not immediate death and peril if you leave this dark, grimy desolate place but instead, there is sunlight, water, and trees. Clarity banishes her with a parting gift sending Karisse into the unknown into the light to the horror of her partner Taro (Jon McLaren). Upon the wounded  
Karisse wonders Eve (Bea Santos) a nurse suffering from guilt over patients she cannot save. She renders assistance then upon hearing that there are others behind a door of an apparent abandoned building enters only to have the door lock behind her sealing her in.

Audrey Cummings helms a piece that is centered in a parallel labyrinth full of chambers, crawl spaces and tunnels. The exits aren't evident but lead to multiple alternate worlds depending on when you step through. The citizens are split between disciples who are loyal to Clarity and devoted to the creator Mother Darken and outliers forced to hide in the shadows who question Clarity's reign. As Eve explores deeper into the world she encounters Kali forcefully portrayed by Olunike Adeliyi and mute Mercy (Zoe Belkin) who introduce her to the exiles plight.

The desire to be free from a despotic leader is a theme that's permitted society and films for generations. The fear disseminated by these regimes keep their populations in place afraid to venture into the unknown or rising up due to openly advertised consequences. Survival and escape are the driving forces of the exiles. They struggle to tell what is truth versus fiction about Mother Darken and if they and disciples receive the true message from the creator as everything funnels through Clarity.

Darken is a hopeful story despite the pain and suffering endured by a good portion of its people. The citizens struggle with the dark dangerous environment run by an iron-fisted despot with some being more intuitive than others. However, when a crucial moment faces the devotees their decision is one that strengthens the viewer's faith in humanity.

*** Out of 4.

Darken | Audrey Cummings | Canada | 2017 | 85 Minutes.

Tags: Dystopian, Disciples, Sanctuary, Outsider, The Keeper, Haven, Exiles, Key, Doorway, The Light.

BiTS '17 Selected Short Film Reviewed

BESTIA - Director Gigi Saul Guerrero

A sole figure (Mathias Retamal) dressed in furs comes too on a patch of sand surrounded by water and the most magnificent setting of stumped trees imaginable. He awakes with a start remembering the terror that faded him before he passed out. Off camera, there are the growls of a very large beast. As our hero tried to get his bearings the sound seems to follow him as he enters the woods. More clues turn up to explain what went wrong before. As a bad situation progressively gets worse the protagonist must make a harrowing decision on what to do next.

*** 1/2 Out of 4

FUN - Director Greg Kovacs

Greg Kovacs is a 7-time alum of The Blood in The Snow Film Festival. His latest Fun asks the question what if when the hyper-positive children show host received a NO answer to her questions asked to the viewing audience. Pigtailed Anna (Tiffany Hunter) the host of Poppyseed place is untangling a skipping rope. Into the frame comes muppet like Ellery (voiced by D. Campbell MacKinlay)y to assist with days topic FUN. Ellery is invited to play jump rope but the audience has other more sinister suggestions on what would be FUN to do with the rope and to Ellery.

**** Out of 4.

CONSUME - Director Michael Peterson

The timely topic of residential schools is explored in this short based loosely on true events.  Former Resident school student Jacob Wematim (Julian Black Antelope) is facing losing his land and the break up of his family. He is visited by mythical wendigo spirit in the form of a female elder (Wilma Pelly). She directs him to provide meat for his family, which in his desperate state morphs into a final solution for Jacob.

*** Out of 4.

ITCH - Director Sean Patrick Kelly

John Smith (Sean C. Dwyer) is watching an infomercial for an itch remedy lotion that he's already purchased. After it ends he develops an uncontrollable itch on his right hand. He tries to scratch it then rub it with the cream. Still unable to find relief he moves on to increasing physically scarring measures to scratch that itch.

*** Out of 4.

SCRAPS - Director Christopher Giroux

Billy (Jordan Gray) and Jessica (Emily Alatalo) are leaving a bar after hitting it off on the first date. As they walk back to his place the journey seems to be taking longer and longer. The guy who seemed nice at first looks like he's leading his date astray. Soon the pair is confronted muddying the issue as to who is actually leading whom into a trap.

*** 1/2  Out of 4.