Wednesday, April 12, 2017

TIFF Kids 2017 Film Review - My Life As a Courgette

Icare nicknamed Courgette (Zucchini) by his beer guzzling mom is the centre of this particularly dark story directed by Claude Barras. The film features stop motion animation or marionettes sporting big heads, large saucer eyes and small noses.. At the outset 9 year old Icare is staring out of his steeple like window in the attic where he resides. He flies a kite with a masked superhero drawing meant to be his long lost father. Downstairs his mother watches T.V. complains drinking her beer and throwing the cans at the T.V. screen. Icare collects the empty cans to play with in the attic. A mishap occurs causing his mother's death and the need for Icare to be placed somewhere to live.  This is where one would normally expect the story to continue down a dark alley but instead the fortunes of Icare improve dramatically. First he meets a kind police officer named Raymond responsible for his placement directing him to a home with other kids around his age that have escaped varying degrees of difficult home lives. The Adults at the home are all protective and caring.  Madame Papineau is the understanding head mistress, Mr. Paul the children's energetic teacher and Rosy the house mother that takes extra special care of the kids while saving her personal time to spend with Mr. Paul.

The film is based on the novel Autobiography of a Courgette by Gilles Paris. The writer sees his book as a tribute to social workers a narrative that flows strongly in the film. All of the children are dealing with trauma and adversity but they bond together, have each other's backs and make their group residence a real home. Perhaps the most complicated of the kids is Simon. At first glance he comes off as a bully but he is the most protective of his fellow residents from outsiders and in the end all he is looking for is a simple letter from his drug addict mom or dad.

The story truly hits its stride when Camille arrives and sparks special feelings for Icare. She also has a difficult story seeing his father who killed her mother commit suicide right in front of her. She is quiet at first but takes on Simon at the first opportunity and seems to be the only person that can reach Alice who suffered abuse at home. Camille is hounded by her Aunt Ida who only wants the child to live with her in order to collect government money.

My Life as A Courgette is a film that has very strong themes and lessons for kids. It shows that despite traumas you can still move forward and bond with others. It points to the realization that you have to pick your attitude and if it's a positive one surrounded by strong protecting leaders happiness and friendship can be achieved. The Oscar nominated film is a notable first effort by director Claude Barras that will play well with pre- teens making it a film that I can highly recommend.  Lastly, don't skip out early on the credits as a neat Easter egg of Gasped Schlatter's audition for the voice of Icare in stop motion is planted in the middle.

**** Out of 4.

My Life as a Zuccini | Claude Barras | 66 minutes | Switzerland/ France  |66 minutes

Tags; Alcoholic, Kite, Orphan, Abuse, Drugs, Deportation, Arrest, Bed Wetter,Bully, Friendship, Caring, Love, Pregnancy, Field Trip, MP3 Player.      


Friday, April 7, 2017

Fox Searchlight Film Review - Gifted

Frank Adler (Chris Evans) has taught 7- year old Mary (Mckenna Grace) everything he knows. So it's time for her to leave their modest small town Florida home to attend a regular school for grade 1. Frank has put measures in place for his niece to play within the rules but when her classmates receive praise for answering basic math questions she can't hold back revealing her extraordinary mathematical skills leading her teacher Bonnie (Jenny Slate) and school principal to offer a full scholarship to a school for the gifted that Frank turns down. The caring Uncle wants Mary to have a childhood unlike his sister who was focused only on math until she committed suicide when Mary was only 6 months old.

The public reveal of Mary's skills brings Franks mother Evelyn (Lindsay Duncan) to Florida then the family to court as Evelyn battles for custody. She does not want to see her granddaughter waste her talent. Frank does not want his mother to drive Mary the same way that she did to his sister potentially leaving her with no options when she comes across a problem she is not able to solve. Bonnie seeing how the reveal played out takes Frank's side in his desire to have Mary experience a normal childhood.

Director Marc Webb leaves the big budget superhero genre having helmed the two Andrew Garfield Spiderman films to return to his comfort indie zone that saw him come to prominence with 2009's 500 Days of Summer.  Webb presents an easy flowing narrative that changes direction several times featuring a cast that act true to their characters. Tom Flynn's story features a surprising amount of comedic moments vitally needed given the dry subject matter while negotiating the minefield of presenting a genius kid in a leading role skillfully avoiding the annoying child lead zone.

Chris Evans continues to take on compelling roles when he's out of his Captain America tights as Frank. He had a strong academic background working in that field back east but moved to a modest Florida community to shelter his niece while working repairing boats at the marina. Mckenna Grace is a gem as Mary ranging from happy to sad, to betrayed with equal ease. She is brilliant but mostly respectful of her elders while showing a strong sense of what's right. Her strong ability in mathematics could easily make her smug and unlikable but her willingness to embrace and explore areas where she is not as dominant like not knowing the meaning of Ad nauseam gives her performance great depth. Lindsay Duncan escapes the potential one note evil grandmother box,first when she shines on the stand at the custody hearing then later on when key information about her daughter is revealed. Look for Octavia Spencer as Roberta Taylor the superintendent of Frank's cottage community, Friday night/ Saturday morning babysitter for Mary who's weary of the consequences of letting Mary's gift gaining a foothold in the outside world.

Gifted is a warm comfortable tale of an Uncle trying to provide for his niece in the fashion he expects his sister would want. All the while he has to battle with the question is he neutering her gift to give her a normal life. The story is funnier than expected hits the structural plot chords but goes in different directions to get it out of the formulaic web. The excellent main and strong supporting cast do not make a wrong step putting the piece in the category of a film that I can recommend.

*** 1/2 Out of 4.

Gifted | Marc Webb | U.S.A. | 2017 | 101 Minutes.

Tags: Mathematics, Prodigy, Suicide, Guardian, Court Case, Child Custody, Foster Care, Tutors, Scholarship, Grade 1, Bullying.


Sunday, March 26, 2017

Film Review - The Girl With All The Gifts

The Zombie Apocalypse is very mainstream these days.  The resurgence can be traced to Danny Boyle's 28 Days Later right though last years South Korean thriller Train to Busan not to mention Televisions The Walking Dead that is into it's 7th season.  The Canadian government even debated the issue in a 2013 Question Period session. The story always starts with the same premise. A fast spreading virus effects the population quickly. The virus is spread with a bite and the victim turns into an undead entity that craves living flesh particularly brains. Each adapter puts a twist on the narrative. The abilities of the zombies differ, the name for the undead changes but there is usually a military presence and some talk of a potential cure.

When we first meet Melanie (Sennia Nanua) she is in a cell counting quietly as noisy voices shout about transport in the hallway outside. The door opens and Melanie calmly greets the armed soldiers  by name as she is shackled to a wheel chair to be taken to class. There amongst other children her age the group learn mathematics and are told the occasional story that's not on the agenda. One story told by favourite teacher Ms Justineau (Gemma Arterton) is the tale of Pandora and the fate of the world after she opened her box.

Director Colm McCarthy spins a tale based on Mike Carey's script from his novel. The piece has it's own take on the undead world. Zombies are Hungries and they don't move at all unless they catch the sent of live flesh to eat. In an area with no humans they will just stand in place swaying slightly until aroused. A trait that leads to an extremely the suspenseful sequence of the film. Also in the films universe the transformation is almost instantaneous. A bit is followed by a couple of jerky head motions then one is a full hungry.

Melanie and her classmates may be the key to a cure. They were all fetus in the womb of their mothers who caught the virus and ate their way out. They appear human, are ignored by Hungries but do need to feed thus the heavy restraints during transport and while in class. Dr. Caroline Caldwell (Glenn Close) is the lead at the school/ base/ prison experimenting with these kids to see if a cure can be found. Her methods of testing are very intrusive to put it mildly as periodicity students dis spear from class never to return.

Newcomer Sennia Nanua shines in the title role. Her Melanie is very reminiscent of Will Smith Robert Neville in I am Legend. She could be the key to a cure if she will let Dr. Caldwell have her brain and spine. Nanua plays the very smart, polite and resourceful Melanie in the right balance even getting right the over annoying questioning that fits her character.  Gemma Arterton continues a run of strong roles as Ms. Helen. She sees the test subjects as kids and not things as do the majority of her colleagues on the base. She recognizes the unique abilities of Melanie treating her different from the other students leading to constant rebuking from the soldiers and Dr. Caldwell.  Look for Paddy Considine in the hard man role of Sgt. Eddie Parks. He knows these kids are "things" having been out off the base capturing them. He doe not fall for Melanie's intellect being the only person in the film that she speaks ill of.

The Girl With All The Gifts cuts a new path in the crowded Zombie landscape. It has the feel of a cross between  28 Days Later and I am Legend. The production has a different take on the nature, movement and behavior of hungries speaking of adaptations of second and future generations of the species and virus. The story is suspenseful without being gimmicky featuring a plot that unwinds at a comfortable pace making it a film I can recommend.

*** Out of 4.  

The Girl With All The Gifts | Colm McCarthy | UK/USA | 2016 | 111 Minutes.

Tags: Virus, Cure, Military Base, Experiment, Children, Zombies, London, Mask, Restraints, Class.            


Sunday, March 19, 2017

Flim Review - Beauty and The Beast

As the story goes Emma Watson did not appear in La La Land because she was too demanding, insisted that production be moved to London for her scenes ultimately being too overbearing for the films produces to work with. Ms. Watson cleared up the narrative in a recent interview. She had committed to Beauty and the Beast before the La La Land offer, had horse training, dancing and three months of signing classes ahead of her. She just did not have enough time. Ms. Watson ability as Belle riding the white stallion Pierre is central to two key sequences in the film so her proficiency on the horse went to the heart of her credibility in the role.

The live action edition of Beauty and The Beast works very well. The movement and depth of character displayed by the cursed inhabitants bring the Beast's castle to life despite the dreary, dusty cavernous sections and rooms. The choreography of the antiques is riveting along with their gestures and different features that give an outline of their former human forms.

Belle is always happy and inquisitive in her small French provincial town. She loves to read going everyday to the small library with their limited amount of books. Belle sees reading as a chance to escape to faraway lands. She is different from the other townsfolk especially the other young woman as she does not fawn over sought after bachelor Gaston (Luke Evans). When the family horse Pierre returns without her her dad Maurice (Kevin Kline) his annual trip to the City Belle directs the stallion to bring her to him finding the Beast's castle then taking his place to set him free.  

The set decorators and art departments led by Katie Spencer and James Foster are key in bringing the small French town and the Beast's castle to life. The costume design skills of Jacqueline Durran are the third prong of the key elements to bring the audience firmly into the mid 1800's. The design of the beasts castle stands out amongst all of the setting in the piece. The contrasts of the warm and inviting east wing to the cold and desolate west wing to the constant winter setting due to the curse placed by the Enchantress.

Stephen Chobosky and Evan Spiliotopolos screen writing stays faithful to the original tale. There are some changes most notable the different presentation of LeFou (Josh Gad). The other change is the three new songs Evermore sung by Dan Stevens as the Beast, A wonderfully touching How Does This Moment Last Forever performed by Kevin Kline as Belle's loving protectful dad. Emma Watson voices the third new one Days In The Sun and a retake on the timeless Beauty and the Beast title song.

Emma Watson leads the cast as the strong and Independent Belle. Dan Stevens shows great range in the physically challenging role of the beast. Luke Stevens makes the narcissistic self centered braggart Gaston his own. The afore mentioned role of LeFou gives Josh Gad plenty to do in a large supporting roles.

Beauty and The Beast is a timely well produced and presented update to the iconic 1991 animated film helmed by director Bill Condon. The production features plenty of the elements of the original with the correct mix of modern updates to make the production fresh. A well know cast display their finely tuned singing chops backed by superior set, costume and choreography making it a film that I can highly recommend.

**** Out of 4.

Beauty and the Beast | Bill Condon | U.S.A. | 2017 | 129 Minutes.

Tags: Disney, Fairy Tale, France, Remake, Provincial, Paris, Musical, Rose, Plague, Romance,

Friday, March 3, 2017

Fox Searchlight Film Review - Table 19

Weddings can be a tricky thing.  They can be joyous, they can be painful, they can feel like an obligation or you could be working the event. But even worse than any of the former options a wedding could be just there and have no impact at all. Sneaky talented actress Anna Kendrick plays Eloise who was the maid of honor to her oldest friend and had a major hand in the table seating plans until dumped by the bride's brother Teddy (Wyatt Russell) 2 weeks before the event. So when she's bumped from table 1 to table 19 she has a unique perspective of the consequences as that table is the one for people the happy couple felt obliged to invite but expected that the invitees would have the common sense to decline but still send an appropriate gift from the registry.

Here table mates are a bickering married couple Jerry and Bina Kepp (Craig Robinson and Lisa Kudrow) who are business acquaintances of the bride's dad. Two awkward males on the brides side Walter (Stephen Merchant) who embezzled from the brides uncle and is still serving his sentence in a half -way house and Renzo (Tony Revolori) who's hit puberty with a vengeance, lacks control of his urges and is firmly under hism mom's thumb.  The final member at the odds and ends table is the family childhood nanny Jo (June Squibb) who is looking to take a puff of marijuana at every opportunity she can get.

Writers Jay and Mark Duplass ambitious script splinters in two many directions to be totally effective. Eloise is involved in at least 4 story lines. Including one with a mysterious lobby dweller Huck (Thomas Cocquerel) who's intrigued by Eloise becomes a tool to make Teddy jealous on the dance floor before disappearing from the picture as abruptly as he entered. The multiple directions of the plot effect the development of most of the supporting characters with possible the exception of Jo the Kepps.  The other back corner table mates do not escape their one denominational initial impressions.

The piece does have some comedic moments including a running gag aimed at Bina who is accidentally dressed the same as the resort reception serving staff. Another good extended barb is the central part the wedding cake plays in the production. A third are Walters nervous responses when asked what he does considering he is on a weekend pass from a half-way house.

Table 19 is a valiant attempt to focus on that table that no one would miss if they all got up and left a wedding at once. The cast is talented trying to do as much as possible with the material on the page that overflows in some areas but falls short in others. The end product may serve to catch the eye of a director or producer to cast one of the above credit players in another feature which is where I would head to check out their work.

** Out of 4.

Table 19 | Jeffrey Blitz | Finland / USA | 2017 | 87 minutes.              

Tags: Wedding, Maid of Honor, Reception, Table Seating Politics, Wedding Cake, White Collar Crime, Break Up, Diner, Marijuana, Babysitter, Half Way House.      

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

TBFF17 Film Review - Life is Too Short.

The end of the world is a topic frequently revisited in film. It's explored through big budget blockbusters focused on how to stop it like Deep Impact, Armageddon and the recent Interstellar. In other instances a more sublet approach is crafted as in Don McKellar's Last Night or Lars von Trier's Melancholia.  Life Is Too Short takes the subtle route.  The film opens in a barbershop with the local homeless lady giving a frantic warning that the end of days is near. From there the story shifts to 4 independent plots of New Yorkers working through complexities in their lives and relationships unaware that the end of the world is at hand. Marcus (Kazy Tauginas) is trying finally land a recurring role as an actor despite a mountain of rejections. He continues to do his urban gang member routine even if it's unsuitable for the role.  His daughter Krystal (Thatcher Johnson-Welden) is his biggest fan while her mom thinks he aught to grow up and get a real job. Tom (Dory Manzour) is a closeted gay man feeling pressure from his boyfriend Joel (Lester Greene) to tell his priest father the truth.

The most compelling story centres around Jennifer (Nelcie Souffrant) who sees psychiatrist Tracy (Natasa Babic) while she contemplates telling her new steady David (Cengiz Dervis) about a serious issue.

Director Antoine Allen weaves in and out of the trials and tribulation of the ensembles daily lives. The narrative focuses on standard issues in the secondary stories, commitments, work life balance, with a couple of criminal elements mixed in. The piece also addresses moral and societal issues in the major threads mentioned above.  

The end of the world element is a device in the background putting the onus on the individuals to deal with personal and professional relationships head on as tomorrow is promised to no one. Nelcie Souffrant is the standout member of the cast as Jennifer. She has a significant personal issue that she is working through with her psychiatrist professionally while having to deal with the ramifications of it privately.

The story has some segments that rise above the others but the piece as a whole has a valuable message to communicate to its audience. It's best to deal with disputes and hard choices in an active manner. If you don't the moment could pass and you may not be able to get it back.

*** Out of 4.

Life is Too Short | Antoine Allen | USA | 2015 | 73 Minutes.

Tags; H.I.V, Affair, Homosexuality, Psychiatry, Mourning, The Church, Corporate Ladder, Robber,

TBFF17 Film Review- 9 Rides

9 Rides is an ambitious bordering on guerrilla project that follows an Uber Driver (Dorian Missick) as he picks up and drops off passengers on New Year's Eve 2016. He's working that night to earn extra money as he prepares to cover the finances to his wedding to his girlfriend. As one can glean from the title the film is sectioned into 9 different fares. Between trips the driver thinks about his goals, relationship while trying to reach his girlfriend who has gone out for a supposed quiet New Year's with friends.

Director Matthew A Cherry shot the entire film on an iPhone 6 with the acting taking place in or in the close vicinity to Joe's GMC SUV. The narrative runs though conversation between the driver and passengers, telephone conversations or texts displayed on screen. The film will inevitable bring comparisons to last year's Tangerine that was shot on an iPhone 5 and is also quite similar as it follows the main character on a journey through Los Angeles dealing with family issues while meeting a bunch varying personalities.

The story jumps into ride 5 as a prelude to the action. Joe picks up a single female who begins a flirtation through the mirror that leaves an open ended question as to where reality and ends and the driver's imagination starts with this encounter.  A key theme of the piece is how that vibe in the vehicle changes as each fare enters the vehicle. In the fourth chapter he picks up a couple that are obviously in an abusive relationship. What are the driver's obligations? Should he get involved? What if the female does not accept help to escape the situation if offered?  The warmest episode occurs when he picks up a senior couple from the airport. Their trip to L.A. was a surprise sprung by the husband.  As the driver is about to embark on a new life with his fiancee he wants their key to happiness. The answer is open communication no matter if the subject is good or bad.

The director and cinematographer Richard Vialet do an excellent job creating space in a piece that  could easily give the impression of confinement. Firstly they use the exterior around the vehicle on several occasions to extend the area for the actors. Next shadows and reflections using the vehicles mirrors, natural and artificial light of L.A. at night help to enlarge the films environment.  Lastly shooting several shots from the outside edges of the large SUV help to remove any claustrophobic feelings as well.

Dorian Missick is a strong choice as the driver. He keeps his mind sharply focused on his reason for being out there on New Year's Eve. He engages with his fares the right amount given the situation and the story allows for the silences that naturally occur in a vehicle for higher after the initial polite exchange of conversation begins.

9 Rides tells a series of compelling stories over the course of one evening. The film is shot in a manner that gives the viewer a strong sense of Los Angeles at night. The narrative captures a night in the life of a driver for higher. The different characters met ear fare with a story to tell. It's a compelling bit of modern film making that that is definitely worth a look.

*** 1/2 Out of 4.

9 Rides | Matthew A Cherry | U.S.A. | 2016 |  86 Minutes.

Tags: Uber, Driver, New Year's Eve, iPhone, Los Angeles, Wedding, Abusive, Jealousy, Traffic Stop