Wednesday, September 20, 2017

TIFF 17 Film Review - Mary Goes Round

An early scene in director Molly McGlynn's Mary Goes Round sets the tone for a series of ironic events that are soon to follow in the films narrative. Following a night of heavy drinking Mary (Aya Cash) is seated on a chair in a circle of an obvious AA meeting. As the viewer expects her to eventually take her turn to tell her story instead it turns out she is the counselor that is leading the group. Mary is on a short leash with her boyfriend then she trashes his car, is charged with DUI becoming the subject of a You Tube video of the incident that goes viral she decides to respond to a Facebook poke from her estranged father and head to Niagara Falls from Toronto on his request to get to know her half sister.

Upon arriving in the Falls she learns that her 15 year old half sister Robyn (Sara Waisglass) didn't know she was coming, claims to not know who she is and that her father Walt (John Ralston) wants Mary to do the dirty work of telling Robyn that he has a terminal disease plus take care of him in his final days having refused invasive medial treatment.

Writer director McGlynn's film is at its heart a story of a 29 year old woman who has to grow up take responsibility for her actions and admit that she has flaws and faults. Mary continues to drink in Niagara Falls where she encounters a friend/ sponsor Lou (Melanie Nicholls-King) who has seen several ups and downs spotting right away that Mary is in complete denial. Her dad also catches on to her current state noting that she is not driving plus as an addict himself has had dealings with Lou in the past.

Aya Cash is in just about every frame of the film as the titular character. She's angry, sarcastic, selfish and sympathetic all under her red striped blue toque. Cash flips easily from being the grownup in one situation to acting as a selfish child in the next. Melanie Nicholls-King supporting role as Lou touches all of the other main character but she is also fallible as an addict herself that can slip from time to time.

Mary Goes Round is a tightly spun narrative that tacked the subjects of addiction, abandonment and reconcillation in a non-heavy handed manner. Given the subject matter here the film could have been weighty, intense and serious. Instead McGlynn injects enough humour, bluntness and lighter moments to tell the tale but not overwhelm the viewer with morbidity. It's an evenly paced entertaining story that I can recommend.

*** Out of 4.

Mary Goes Round | Molly McGlynn | Canada | 2017 | 84 Minutes.

Tags; Alcoholic, Substance Abuse Counselor, AA Meeting, Serenity Poem, Sponsor, Sobriety, Small Cell Cancer, Half Sisters, Sandbanks, Timmins, Niagara Falls, Drunk Driving, Suspended Licence, Frat Party.

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

TIFF 17 Film Review - Custody

A strong narrative combined with understated initial acting beats serve to build the suspense and tension in director's Xavier Legrand's full feature directing debut. The subject is domestic violence starting with a custody hearing in the first few frames of the piece. Miriam (Lea Drucker) her two children Josephine (Mathilde Auneveux) who's about to turn 18 and Julien (Thomas Gioria) the real subject of the hearing have been living in fear of the mental and physical abuse by their hulking father Antoine  (Denis Menochet). Antoine uses the hearing to apparently regain access to Julien but the real aim is to re establish contact with his ex-wife. Antoine demands that she come out to meet him when he arrives at her parent's house to pick up his son. He finds Mariam's number in her son's notebook requesting that she ask him directly if Julien can attend his sister's eighteenth birthday party that falls on a weekend that he has custody.

Director Legrand is a strong advocate fighting to expose domestic violence in France. At the TIFF screening he commented how in a 20 minute hearing a judge can set into a motion a series of events that can lead to a life threatening situation for several parties involved. The director's tactic to take a slow steady approach actually could have some viewers taking Antoine's side especially with the events that occur in the second act.

Denis Menochet as Antoine is the key performer in the film. He has to be menacing in his gestures and movement but not overtly violent for the narrative to work. Lea Drucker is also effective as the not entirely sympathetic Miriam. In the early stages of the film the audience is not sure if the children genuinely do not want to see their dad or are their comments and actions coloured by their mother. Thomas Gioria is highly believable as 12 year old Julien. He is completely fearful that his dad will physically attack his mom so much so that he constantly lies to him about her whereabouts despite the growing possibility that Antoine could take out his anger on him directly.

Custody is a warning to state institutions, law enforcement, the public and the courts that domestic violence is mainly suffered in silence with the psychological scars outweighing the physical ones by a large margin. It may make sense on paper for a parent to re enter a child's life but the effect of reestablishing regular contact with abused partner could lead to catastrophic results.

*** 1/2 Out of 4.

Custody | Xavier Legrand | France | 2017 | 94 Minutes.

Tags: Custody Hearing, Judge, Lawyers, Visitation, The Projects, Birthday Party, Grandparents, Unlisted Number, Apartment Hunting, Shotgun, 911 call.

Friday, August 25, 2017

Fox Searchlight Film Review - Patti Cakes

Patricia Dombrowski (Danielle Macdonald) outside persona is diametrically opposed to her inside one. In her head she's the protege of The Godfather of rap O-Z (Sahr Ngaujah).  In her small New Jersey suburban community she's Dumbo Dumbrowski so nicknamed since junior high daughter of Barb (Bridget Everett) a chronic drunk who lives out her early 20's fantasies as a power rock ballad singer at a dive bar full of bar flies where Patti tends bar. Rounding out her world is her best friend/hype manager Hareesh aka. Jheri (Siddharth Dhananjay) an East Asian Pharmacy assistant who's the greatest believer in her rapping talents introducing her as; Patricia Dombrowski aka Patti Cake$' aka Killa P. Plus the mysterious experimental punk rocker Bob aka Basterd (Mamoudou Athie) an Anarchist who lives in a shack behind the towns graveyard.

Director Geremy Jasper brings the viewer uncomfortably into Patti's personal space in the first frames of the film. The camera is very tight as she wakes up in her dump of a room, hits the washroom, then sits on the toilet as she works through rhymes. It's not any prettier in her mother's room or out in the living room where her Nana (Cathy Moriarty) is perched in her wheelchair watching her favourite courtroom show. Nana however always has time for her granddaughter giving a warm greeting to her superstar before the latter heads out the door.

Patti and Jheri try all avenues to get her on a stage to show her skills. She battles in parking lots, at gas stations, spitting rhymes as she rolls in her red Cadillac sporting pattiwgn tags. On the street her main battles are with small time pizza maker /drug dealer Danny (Patrick Brana) who she's also crushing on hard. They eventually raid Basterd's shack an occult trinketed recording studio where they mix a track featuring a key drop from Nana birthing the group PBMJ and signaling an uptick in our heroine's fortunes. At the same time she lands lucrative part time work for a prestigious caterer company that brings in much needed funds to assist with the Dombrowksi's debts.

Australian Daniella Macdonald is convincing as the suburban plus sized rap princess from her first utterance of Ma with a sharp Joisey accent. Her timing is spot on using strategic pauses as she plots responses in rap battles or before she launches into a set on stage. Siddharth Dhananjay is perfect as sidekick Hareesh. He owns his ridiculousness sending only positive vibes to his best friend. Mamoudou Athie's Basterd is a soft spoken soul underneath the angry hard man scary outward projection. Needy Mother Barb Bridget Everett an established New York cabaret performer sees her daughter as a sister encouraging her to use her god given weapons to get what she wants spending her time  running up a tab drinking shots of Jaeger ending up too often in a bathroom at the dive bar with her daughter holding her hair.

Patti Cake$' is an indie film that champions a down and out marginalized member of society. A topic that indie films excel at when they get the character right. First time helmer Geremy Jasper does so here supported by the fine acting work of Daniella Macdonald bringing Patti to life. The production is gritty, the sets small but functional allowing the dialogue and story to breathe resulting in what could be the best indie film of the year.

**** Out of 4.

Patti Cake$' | Geremy Jasper | U.S.A. | 2017 |108 Minutes.

Tags: New Jersey, Pharmacy, Rap Battle, Spitting Rhymes, Beats, Demo CD, Karaoke, Cadillac, Bartender, Diner, Catering, Chit Chat, Bulling, Cemetery, Recluse.

Sunday, August 20, 2017

Film Review - Detriot

With the current climate in the United States where race relations is front page news, competing factions are fighting in the streets and politicians are obligated to state where they stand. Detroit is a timely film that looks at subject two generations back at the tail end of the sixties. The tension between the black community and the police was a tinderbox waiting to ignite in what was at the time the fifth biggest city in the U.S. That spark was a police raid of a 12th street speakeasy. As the occupants were marched out and lined up the neighbourhood began to circle the area raising the temperature until the last paddywagon filled and left. The police retreat prompted smashing of store windows, looting and days upon days of rioting. The authorities responded with the National Guard, State and local police. Under the declared state of emergency and curfew many liberties were taken culmination with the events at the Algiers hotel that is the centre of the film.

Dismukes (John Boyega) works as a security guard protecting a store. He sets up for the night shift across from the Algiers hotel. Feeling the tension he brings coffee for the guard troops across the street. Into the situation comes the cop trio of Krauss (Will Poulter), Flynn (Ben O'Toole) and Demens (Jack Reynor)who are treating the city like the wild west intimidating, strong-arming and abusing citizens with impunity. The members of the Dramatics are disrupted trying to get home. Two of the crew Larry Reed (Algee Smith) and Fred (Jacob Latimore) end up taking a room at the Algiers to hunker down for the night.

Kathryn Bigelow flanked by her regular writing partner Mark Boal focus on the July 25th, 1967 events at the Algiers building the narrative it out from the Dramatics failing to hit the stage at the Apollo for their audition on earlier in the evening to the three renegade cops heading back out on patrol after a reprimand for an earlier incident that day then over to Dismukes heading out to work that double shift to protect a store. The shooting style consists of very long takes that makes the confrontation at the hotel excruciating physiological terror thats hard to watch.

John Boyega takes top line status as Dismukes. His strategy as a security guard is to use kindness and cooperation with the  authorities in order for everyone to go home safe. Will Poulter another Brit playing American is the off the rails racist cop Krauss. His first instinct is to uphold the law but that soon degenerates to a paranoid delusion that he is being disrespected and deadly force is not out of the question to teach someone a lesson. Look for Hannah Murray another other Brit from Game of Thrones and Skins fame as Julie one of the two white women in the hotel that winds up the cops even further as they would apparently rather spend time with African American males then them.

Detroit is the retelling of significant historical event that may have been the start of several seismic shifts. It could have been the signal that started the decline of the City from 5 to 23 where it ranked last year. The riots, looting and confrontation with police would multiply in the time period morphing to police shooting plus left right violent conflicts that are front page news today leading news cycles on cable TV. Bigelow concentrates on a couple of key events to present a story that brings the audience right into the issues, prejudices and feeling of the time. It's a look at social protest from the past that can be a lesson with value to use in today's society.

*** Out of 4

Detroit | Kathryn Bigelow | U.S.A. | 2017 | 143 Minutes.

Tags: Detroit, 12th Street, Riot, Raid, Algiers Hotel, National Guard, State Police, Trial.

Sunday, August 6, 2017

Fantasia '17 Film Review - A Taxi Driver

The 1980 Gwangju Uprising is the subject of Jang Hun’s new film A Taxi Driver. At the flim opening Kim Man-Seob (Song Kang-Ho) is a struggling taxi driver in Seoul. He's behind in his rent, his fares often short pay him or beg to pay the next day and his 11 year old daughter has anger issues stemming from the untimely death of her mother.  Mr. Kim tries to maintain a standard keep by keeping his cab in good working condition and returning home to have dinner with his daughter each evening by a reasonable hour. When news circulates at the taxi stand that a German Foreigner Jurgen Hinzpeter (Thomas Kretschmann) is willing to pay W100,000 for a ride from Seoul to Gwanju and back before curfew, Mr. Kim steals the fair to take the reporter on his journey.  

The spring of 1980 was a very turbulent time in South Korea. The military dictator Park Chung- hee  had been killed but the military still had a strong hold on the country ad martial law was in place with a strict curfew being enforced. The worst of the conflicts were in Gwanju where the student opposed the paratroopers and plain clothed army in the streets in alleys often being beaten within an inch of their livers or dodging a hail of bullets as they sought democracy.  Peter got word of the events in Gwanju while working in Tokyo grabbed his passport and video camera hopped on a plane and headed to the scene. The government forces had blocked the roads into and out of the city. Had army units stationed on the secondary roads, censored the newspaper and media reports and cut all of the phone lines. To the rest of South Korea and the world, the students were violent protestors, communists and the instigators of the violence that resulted in minor casualties.

Director Jang Hoon tells a story that is violent authoritarian that inhabits a critical point in South Korean South Korean history. The storyline of army soliders shooting  students in the streets is more what one would expect from the neighbours to the North.  In taxi driver Kim Man-Seob the narrative gives the steps in one individual to parallel the nation realization of the truth of the situation. At first he is completely unaware of the events in Gwangju, then having served on the army himself sympathetic to the solders but as his eyes see what's actually occurring moves firmly on the side of the students knowing that the military has to be stopped. Thomas Kretschmann's journalist is the perfect counter balance to the taxi driver. Hinzpeter speaks few words is calm and cool keeping his eye on the task at hand; record the events and get the story out. 

A Taxi Driver recounts historical events that were suppressed at the time by the South Korean government and media. The two lead actors communicate to the audience and each other the urgency, danger and difficulty of the situation despite a hefty language barrier. Its a story which needed an outlet that director Jang Hoon forcefully provided.

*** 1/2 Out of 4.

A Taxi Driver | Jang Hoon | South Korea | 2017 | 137 Minutes.

Tags: Gwangju Uprising, Martial Law, Democracy, Military Dictatorship, Paratroopers, Foreign Reporter, Germany, NDR.

Monday, July 31, 2017

Fantasia "17 Film Review - Night is Short Walk on Girl

Senpai (Upperclassman) has a crush on The Girl with the Black Hair (Underclassman) but he is unable to tell her. Instead he arranges to be where she is and continue to run into her by coincidence. He is hopeful that all of these chance meetings will make her see that they are meant to be together. The film opens with a wedding for a university friend. Senpai's handsome friend who can pass as a girl mocks him for his cowards towards the girl. His other friend Don Underpants so named because he refused to change them until he meets a girl that he saw once and fell instantly in love drinks one beer after another slamming his mug on the table. The wedding is nice but the after party is the main event. Senpai plans to sit next to The Girl there and tell her his feelings. However the pair end up on separate paths The Girl at a drinking competition Ri Haku while Senpai is pants by Ri Haku's henchmen leaving him searching for a replacement pair of underpants.

The narrative is split into four parts: the drinking competition, a book fair, a school festival and a cold outbreak. Director Masaaki Yusa blends the elements of Tomohiko Morimi's novel together to bring a seamless transition into each new chapter.  Each section of the production has a peak the above mentioned drinking competition in the first, the eating of life altering hot food in the second, The final scene of the school musical in the third and The Girl's attempts to get to Senpai's house in the fourth.

Yusa fills the screen with colour, moving pieces and multiples. He seems to have a thing for Carp in this film as they continue to show up repeatedly in the visuals and as part of the narrative. His best work displaying the different elements battling in Senpai's head as he learns that the Girl is coming to his house showcasing his decision making process as what he should do. The story features many comedic moments the pinnacle being the final scene in the student play. Where multiple characters hit the stage professing love for one another including Don Underpants finally learning the truth about his long missing love.

Night is Short Walk on Girl is a musical jaunt through the seedy and fun section of Kyoto. The party is non stop as the nightlife rages leading to the tipping of many classes. The spector of Ri Haku is always present and the device of watches spinning faster the older you are to signify time passing faster is a nice touch.

*** Out of 4.

Night is Short Walk on Girl | Massaki Yusa | Japan | 2017 | 93 Minutes.

Tags: Kyoto, Nightlife, Erotic Woodblock Art, Sophists, Watches, Clocks, Book Fair, Musical, Epidemic,

Fantasia '17 Film Review - Mayhem

Derrick Cho (Stephen Chen) started out as a fresh faced employee at Towers & Smythe Consulting. His firm was responsible for finding a loophole in the law that allowed Nevel Reid to skate on a murder charge because the infectious red eye virus causes victims to loose control of their ID, want to have sexual relations in public and are willing to beat up or kill anyone that looks at them the wrong way. The virus is not fatal and there is a cure but it takes a while for the antidote to take effect,

Derrick is framed by The Siren (Caroline Chizkie) called so because she has the ear of the C.E.O. John Towers (Steve Brand) Derrick is blamed by The Siren for a million dollar error on a file he never touched but was assigned to him in an outdated system. Derrick tries to plead his case but is fired. His last act was to deny an appeal of a foreclosure for Melanie Cross (Samantha Weaving) The CDC descend on the Towers building as reading show that the Red eye virus has broken out in the he building. The antidote has been piped in but the premises are under full lockdown for the next 8 hours. Derrick is thrown into a basement room where he's met by Melanie. As the virus starts to take effect they both realize that they have 8 hours for Derrick to get his job back and Melanie to reverse the foreclosure order.

Director Joe Lynch working off Matais Caruso's script takes a big run at corporate culture, backs up and runs over it again. TSC Legal Structure is literally a corporate elevator (ladder) You need a level card or a key code to get to the 8th Floor then a level three Card to get to the next step then further cleanse to get up to the Penthouse where the Boss and gang of 9 board of directors reside. The virus brings out the hidden emotions to the surface. Co-workers and beating , strangling and stabbing each other. Others are shouting at customers and breaking equipment while out duo load up with hammers, drills, saws and axes in the basement then begin their climb up to the Penthouse to set thing right.

Stephen Chen of walking dead fame is clearly at home in a chaotic situation where a virus effects the general population. As the movie progresses he throughs off his corporate restraint looking to do what right for himself and fixing Melanie's dilemma. Australian actress Samantha Weaver shines as the wronged, no nonsense or mercy property owner with a rage on for all suits as she tries to get her foreclosure reversed. Steve Brand is brilliant over the top billing obsessed, cocaine addict C.E.O. that uses corporate perks to pit employees against each other at they battle to climb the floors at Towers & Smythe.

Mayhem is a dark view of the corporate world. Employees betray each other, treat clients unfairly, cover up their errors and if they can't sweep mistake under the rug find someone junior to take the fall. It's a film for anyone who every worked in a dysfunctional office or wanted to punch a co-worker or boss in the mouth. And since its lawyer tearing each other apart theres some satisfaction for all of you out there who hate lawyers as well.

*** 1/2  Out of 4.

Mayhem | Joe Lynch | U.S.A. | 2017 | 86 Minutes.

Tags: Virus, Foreclosure, Key Card, Termination, Billings, Nail Gun, Code, Elevator, Painting.