Saturday, July 22, 2017

Film Review - Dunkirk

A group of British solders are walking through the cobblestone streets of an empty town. A hose is picked up hoping for a few drops of water. A window opened at the site of an ashtray then rummaged through for a smokable cigarette butt. Then the bullets start to fly whipping through the sky piercing flesh. Soon only one is left Tommy (Fionn Whitehead) to hop a fence fire back before disappearing behind the sandbag line manned by the French protecting the path to the sea. On the beach the solders link up a half mile long 8 feet deep on the Mole waiting for evacuation but also serving as sitting ducks for the German planes circling and dive-bombing the position from above.

The narrative focuses on three sections, the above noted Mole, the sea and the air. The mole part is a desperate struggle  to get off the continent and back home made all the more aggravating by the fact that they can see home from the breakwater wall. The solders on the beach are shot at by German snipers, constantly ducking for cover on the sand and the mole, climbing on then jumping off rescue ships as they are struck from above. Even a momentary pause for nourishment eating a bread and jelly sandwich is thrown into chaos when a torpedo strikes the  rescue vessel. The Air portion is perhaps the most intellectual. Two spitfire pilots Farrier (Tom Hardy) and Jack Lowden (Collins) engage the Messerschmitts at sea undermanned as the Germans have air superiority plus High Command have decided to save their resources for the inevitable battle for the homeland to the disappointment of the stranded rank and file on the beach.  The Sea centres on the call to local boats and pleasure craft from the homeland. Commandeered to head out with a sense of duty to get the boys back home. The Moonstone piloted by Mr. Dawson (Mark Rylance) His son Peter (Thomas Glynn-Carney) who are joined by Peter's friend George (Barry Keoghan) who jumps on board last minute declaring that he would be useful.

Nolan as he always does did his research for this project employing historian Joshua Levine for the fine details of the 400,000 troop evacuation between  May 26-June 4 1940. The uniforms, coats, life jackets guns and distinctive helmets are all accurate for the time. The hum of the Rolls Royce engine Spitfires communication devices and analogue dials of the planes are all from the period. The script is heavy on action. The solders only speak a few brief words which comes to the fore in a pivotal scene 3/4 through the picture when the audience realizes that one of the main characters has not uttered a single word up to that point. The tension of the subject matter is naturally there but longtime Nolan collaborator Hans Zimmer cranks up the score featuring an audible tick tick tick of a stopwatch in the undercurrent. The story is very British as the participants weave from one catastrophe to the next but seem to not move above a resting heart rate. In pone particularly tense moment a ditched pilot is rescued from his sinking plane as the water rushes in to drown him. His only words to his rescuers are "Good Afternoon".

The ensemble case do not set a foot wrong portraying the roles of the calm Englishmen doing their duty inside and outside of the Service. Fionn Whitehead, Harry Styles and Aneurin Barnard are the prominent highlanders trying several methods to get off the beach and into a vessel that can take them to England. Nolan regular Hardy is notable as Farrier the Spitfire pilot taking calculated risks to potent the troops and boats below. Mark Rylance stands out as the compassionate father taking his youngest son across the sea with a storage room full of lifejackets to do what every they can to help with the evacuation.

Dunkirk is a significant World War Tow film. It highlights the selflessness of past generations driven
by the readiness to act without question when a nation requires your service. Nolan brings home the helplessness of the troops sitting on the Mole or on the beach waiting for hours or days to be rescued. It's an epic piece of filmmaking that has to be scene on the big screen.

***** Star Film.

Dunkirk| Christopher Nolan | U.K. /Netherlands/ France U.S.A. | 2017 | 106 Minutes.

Tags: Dunkirk, France, Evacuation, World War II, France, Spitfire, Messersmith, The Mole, Drowning, Oil, Survival.

Fantasia '17 Film Review - Free and Easy

Soap Salesman comes to a small northern seemingly abandoned town in winter time. He meets a young man (Chen Xi) upon arrival. The young man displays his athletics and talks about his Kung Fu ability. The Salesman opens his briefcase to offer a free bar of soap so he can spread the word around town. The Salesman encourages a smell test as the bar is unique having a different scent on all four  sides. After a few sniffs the young man falls to the ground unconscious allowing the salesman  the opportunity to empty out his pockets. After coming to youth meets a Monk (Xu Gang) who claims that his temple has just burned down offering a blessed talisman for a donation. Ncxt he heads to the police station to report the crime. There he finds two officers identified only by number that are more interested in taking the latest pill rather than solving a crime.

Director Geng Jung brings together a cast of small minded criminals mixed with down and outers to form a bumbling group of the downtrodden in an abandoned. Cinematographer Wang Weihua gets the most of the desolate environment using an abundance of natural light as it flows over and through decrepit structures reflecting off of the thin layer of slow. Viewers could find issue with the pacing of the film. Scenes are simply composed measuredly highlighting the mundane.

Zang Ziyong heads the cast of part time actors as the Salesman. Xu Gang is next prominent as the Temple less Monk. Xue Baohe occupies the most thoughtful role as the arborist fighting a series of tree thefts that it's unclear if they are real or imagined.

Free and Easy is a farcical tale set in a remote location. Pacing may be an issue for some but Director Jung has something to say about elements of Chinese society plus the hustler grifter in general. As the one pure character Gu Benbin a Christian looking for his long missing mother puts it you reap what  you sow.

*** Out of 4.

Free and Easy | Geng Jung | China | 2016 | 90 Minutes.

Tags: China, Winter, Soap, Flyers, Talisman, Robbery, Scam, Gun, Christian, Buddhist.

Sunday, July 16, 2017

Fantasia '17 Film Review - Abu

The average father son relationship can be complicated. The son who is at the outset totally dependent on his mother is confronted jarringly with this other large figure vying for her attention in a foreign way. As he grows he battles for his independence sometimes leading to minor or major conflicts with the older male figure in his life. Then he grows to appreciate his father's role bringing the relationship to a new level. If you add into this mix a military made devout Muslim parental figure, forced migration from India to Pakistan after the Partition then to Canada post his working prime with an artistic, free spirited, western culture loving gay son who's devoted to his Mother and worships his eldest sister the conflicts will lean more to the major than minor.

Director Arshad Khan's Abu is a multi pronged documentary telling his families story. Before he can delve into who he is he has to first speak to his homeland and his parents background. The piece starts with an animated recounting a dream of a monster on a lonely road that provides a non verbal foreboding message. From there Khan talks of his parents diametrically opposed upbringings then on to his seemingly happy youthful childhood with his 6 brothers and sisters. Every so often he shows through 80's VHS video technology the conflicts and clashes with Dad.

The history of Pakistan plays a prominent role in the film.  The 1947 partition, the lengthy dictatorship of Muhammad Zia-ul-Haq during which with his father found wealth and prosperity through the election of Benazir Bhutto leading to a change in family fortune and move to Canada. Parallel to this Khan speaks to loving art and fashion, being dressed up by his sisters and family or household abusers who will as his sister Asha states pounce on a child seemingly because they feel that a child who does not know what is going on will forget the event.

The helmer mixes in video footage, family photos, first person interviews, music and film to build the narrative. The editing and choice of music and film clips are very effective to set the mood of the moment throughout the production. One sequence where a memorable relationship comes to the end is punctuated first with the Roxette song It Must Have Been Love but then replaced with a cultural piece from Reshma. It's a prime example of how the director switches back and forth from South Asian to Western influences.

Abu is the personal story of a filmmaker whose life is deeply entwined with that of his fathers. They are opposites in just about every way but continued to try to connect throughout the elders' life. Although tackling the heavy subjects of religion, migration, history, sexual orientation and abuse the project is at its heart about family relationships. As the father responds to the son at a critical moment  when asked the ultimate question of a child - I love all of my children.

***1/2 Out of 4.

Abu | Arshad Khan | Canada | 2017 | 80 Minutes.

British Partition of India, 1947, Pakistan, India, Muslim, Hindu, Activism, Islamabad, Homosexuality Canada, Mississauga, Acrylic Sweaters, Montreal.

Sunday, July 2, 2017

Film Review - Baby Driver

Edgar Wright much publicized split from Ant-Man in 2015 made the full circuit of trade magazines as the events unfolded. The British director best know for working with his muse Simon Pegg in Shaun of the Dead, The End of the World and Hot Fuzz instead moved to Baby Driver as his next project and every gear head action fan should be very happy that he did.

Baby (Ansel Elgort) is an accomplished wheelman. He lost his parents at a young age and started boosting cars before he hit double digits. One of his joyride outings targeted the wrong vehicle belonging to crime kingpin Doc (Kevin Spacey)who tracked him down seeking reimbursement for the value of the items in the dumped vehicle. Instead of breaking his legs and killing his deaf wheelchair bound foster dad Joseph (CJ Jones). Doc makes him the driver for all of his robbery jobs. Doc organizes, Baby drives while the other three members of the crew shuffle through.

The action sequences and soundtrack are the standout items of the piece. The opening frames features a chase where baby plays a red Subaru shell game with a police helicopter hovering overhead. Wright's writing quickly establishes our hero's quirks. The ever present ear buds to block out tinnitus "hum in the drum" effect of a childhood injury and the interaction between Baby and the rotating robbers that do the job's heavy lifting. Juxtaposed to his criminal activities is his mastery of sign language and lip reading from years of living with and taking care of his foster dad. His iPods with recordings to match his mood and his burgeoning relationship with Debora (Lily James) a waitress in the diner where his mom used to work who shares his love of song titles based on peoples names.

The makeup department featuring special tattoo artist Rick Stratton play a major role in topping off the criminals riding shotgun with Baby. The work done on Jamie Foxx's Bats and John Hamm's Buddy are especially effective additions to their menacing personas.

Ansel Elgort steps out from tweener heartthrob roles to essentially play the lead in an musical masquerading as an action film. Elgort doesn't actually break into song but he does lip sync pantomime, car dance and won't make a move until he has the proper song keyed up on one of his ever present iPods. The supporting cast is outstanding lead by the afore mentioned Jamie Foxx, Kevin Spacey and John Hamm. John Bernthal continues to pick winning scripts playing Griff a member of the opening job. Look for Flea as a toughie (Eddie) in the middle robbery. He's involved in the funniest exchange in the film along side Lanny Joon as JD and Jamie Foxx as they argue over Halloween masks.

Baby Driver is fast paced, beat driven thrill ride for the senses. The high level cast do not put a foot wrong backed by strong writing and direction from Edgar Wright. It's Wright's first outing with an A-level American cast but judging by the rythm and rhyme of this production it won't be his last.

**** Out of 4.

Baby Driver | Edgar Wright | U.S.A. / U.K. | 2017 | 113 Minutes.

Tags: iPod, Sign Language, Lip Reading, Playlist, Bank Robber, Debt, Diner, Post Office, Sunglasses.

Friday, June 23, 2017

levelFilm Film Review - The Colossal Failure of the Modern Relationship

The Colossal Failure of the Modern Relationship brings together four essential elements of the human experience: Food, Wine, Sex and Music.  In the opening frames sex takes centre stage. Cat (Krista Briges) is in the middle of an afternoon romp with Richard (David Cubitt) both know the relationship has to end when they are interrupted by Cat’s husband Freddy (Enrico Colantoni) sudden return home forcing Richard to scramble and make his escape. The physical distance between Freddie and Cat is immediately apparent.  Freddy announces that he has to go on a business trip to Niagara Wine country, Cat decides to tag along which sparks the interest of Richard (Freddy’s publishing boss) to make the trip along with his 20 something girlfriend Amy (Brooke Palsson).

The Niagara Wine country experience is the backbone of the film.  All of the sights and sounds of the region are prominently on display. As the foursome arrive into town down the main drag they pass the Historic Prince Edward Hotel, several wineries are featured prominently along with tandem biking and even the cracking sound amongst the vines to keep birds away from the grapes. The helicopter overhead shots of the rolling vineyards are full of colour capturing the undulation of the land below.

The narrative itself is a tale that has been told many times before. Relationships get stale, face a crisis that either strengthens or destroys them. Freddy is absent in his with Cat. He is focused on his food critic work a world in which he is a highly respected player. Meanwhile Cat who had a shot at being a prominent musician is home teaching piano lessons to fourth graders.   

The supporting players that fill out Freddy’s food critic circle produce the most notable performances in the production. Kristina Nicoll as the recently widowed open to new experience hard drinking Heddy. Alongside Alvaro D’Antonio and Tony Nappo as Max & Darren a couple from Rochester that took their vows in Niagara 5 years ago add energy to the film. Nappo supplies the best comedic moments of the piece as he has a some knowledge not known by all of the weekend attendees that he struggles with whether to reveal or not.

The Colossal Failure of a Modern Relationship is a tourism’s board dream. The wine, food, ambiance skillfully presented under the watchful eye of cinematographer Peter Benison will lead hoards of viewers to Niagara On the Lake in the very near future. The film itself does not break new ground in the relationship field neither does the story stand in as a blueprint for all modern relationships. But if you’re looking for a light watch in a beautifully shot setting the film is worth a look.

** ½ Out of 4.  

The Colossal Failure of the Modern Relationship | Sergio Navarretta | Canada | 103 Minutes. 

Tags: Cheating, Affair, Food Critic, Wine, Cheese, Winery, Niagara, Tandem Bike, Piano   

Sunday, June 11, 2017

Fox Searchlight Film Review - My Cousin Rachel

Sourced from the 1951 novel by Daphne du Maurier and adapted to the screen by director Roger Mitchell. My Cousin Rachel is a period piece with a very dark side.  The  Mitchell film is the second adaptation of the material following the 1952 version with Olivia de Havilland in the role of Rachel and Richard Burton's debut as Philip. Sam Claflin is Philip this time an orphan adopted by his older cousin  Ambrose (also played by Clafin). The narrative makes a specific point to mention that Philip has grown up with no feminine influence unless you count the female dogs on the Cornwall estate.   His benefactor heads south to Florence for his health and to escape the cold weather where he meets and falls in love with his cousin Rachel (Rachel Weitz).

Letters come back to Cornwall expressing Ambrose joy then the correspondence turns to terror and dread as the benefactor speaks of a meddling Italian Rainaldi (Pierfrancesco Favino) and the real thought that his new wife was trying to poison him. Philip goes to Florence to investigate confronts the Italian but is too late.

Back in Cornwall word comes that the widow Ambrose will visit the estate. Philip is angry, wants nothing to do with her blaming her for his parental figures death.  However, upon her arrival the widow’s feminine charms enchant the local community especially Philip as he bends to Rachel’s every desire both spoken and unspoken.

Rael Jones’ score underpins the piece. It’s the vehicle that builds the tension as all of Rachel’s desires are answers then Philip falls ill being spoon fed the widow’s special herb tea that may be hurting more than helping. The script is wonderfully vague with character’s shifting from victim to villain with each turn of the page.

Rachel Weisz despite not appearing for the first 20 minutes of the film commands the screen as the widow.  She uses glances, dialogue, smiles, sophistication and highly tuned nonverbal skills to dominate the locals who have never seen anyone like her. Sam Claflin expands his Hunger Games chops in a dual role of Ambrose / Philips.  He flips easily between lovely boy and Master of the estate as he slips further into paranoia wondering if events in Florence are repeating themselves in Cornwall.  Holliday Grainer is strong as the quick witted Louise. Daughter of Philips godfather she has had unreturned feelings for Phillip for years. She helps him to figure out the Rachel question and seems to be the only person that does not fall under her spell.

My Cousin Rachel is a historical psychological thriller. The characters are complex backed by a story that features the right sprinkling of twists and turns. Rachel Weisz thrives in the perceived villain role. The costume and set design teams also play a part setting the tone for an enjoyable movie going experience that I can recommend.

*** ½ Out of 4.

My Cousin Rachel | Roger Michell | UK / USA | 2017 | 106 Minutes. 

Tags; Orphan, Cornwall, Florence, Cousin, Letters, Brain Tumour, Guardian, Widow, Tisane, Will, Horses, Carriage, Trail. 

Saturday, May 20, 2017

Film Review - Alien:Covenant

The original 1979 Ridley Scott directed Alien is among my favourite films of all time. It was unlike anything I had seen before. The film reached new heights for terror, tension, suspense and gore. Not to mention the inclusion of a high level functioning synthetic crew member and the birth of the notion that the last man standing could be a woman. Skip ahead to the series reboot Prometheus in 2012. The film was highly anticipated by fans but the cerebral finished product lacked the signature Alien elements disappointing many; not enough Xenomorphs, acid splatter, chest bursts or frothing alien teeth extending painfully slow before striking their victims. Scott along with writers John Logan and Dante Harper heeded their base cranking familiar imagery to eleven but losing story, character development and originality in exchange.

The year is 2104 10 years after Elizabeth Shaw and her crew went missing. The Covenant is on a colonization mission headed to Origae-6 with 2000 colonists, more than a thousand embryos plus an all couple crew. After a weather event part way through the trip synthetic Walter (Michael Fassbender) think David from Prometheus with upgrades wakes the crew to complete repairs. Before the Captain can get out of his pod it malfunctions causing his death putting devoutly religious Oram (Billy Crudup) in charge. Out on a spacewalk they pick up a message from a nearby planet emitting human music. A scan shows the planet to be potentially habitable. Not keen to go back into the pods for another 7 plus years to get to Origae-6 the crew decide to investigate. The only naysayer is Daniels (Katherine Watertson) the wife of the slain Captain now second in command who sees a planet that the expansive mapping before their voyage failed to identify but dropping into their laps as too good to be true.

One of the enduring features of a Ridley Scott film is eye pleasing aesthetics. The landscape shots from the moment the landing party touch down are breathtaking especially when viewed on an IMAX screen. Clear running water, green mountain foliage and rich colourful vegetation leap off the screen. The attention the production pays to the planet's ecosystem serves as an important foreboding plot point. Despite the abundance of natural resources and habitat there is no animal life to be seen or heard.

Katherine Watertson leads the cast as Daniels channeling Ripley 18 years before the timeline of the original Alien film. She's smart, resourceful, quick on her feet and very adaptable. The other key performance is that of Michael Fassbender in the dual role of Walter and David. The scenes where both synthetics occupy the same frame are truly a work of movie making magic. Look for seasoned comedic actor Danny McBride toned down as Tennessee a skillful pilot willing to bring the Covenant to the brink of harms way to aid of his fellow crew when things go to pot on the planet surface.

Alien: Covenant is a bridge film. It's a detour to an uncharted planet unwittingly picking up some essential elements that will feature in future films. There was a plan to produce a film telling the post Prometheus story of Elizabeth and David but it was abandoned. Flashbacks of the dropped project are seen here along with little snippets of David's creative work. The return to familiar ground will make this sequel appealing to the 18-34 multiplex crowd. However the lack of philosophical elements, injection of new beats and underdeveloped characters will leave those that liked the new ground Prometheus explored underwhelmed.

** 1/2 Out of 4.

Alien: Covenant | Ridley Scott | UK / Australia / New Zealand / U.S.A. | 2017 | 122 Minutes.

Tags: Colonization, Hyper Sleep, Pods, Crew, Couples, Creation, Extinction, Virus, Spores, Host, Incubation, Neomorphs, Xenomorphs.