Friday, January 20, 2017

Film Review - The Founder

Ray Kroc (Michael Keaton) is a struggling milkshake mixer salesman traveling the Midwest in 1954. He goes from Drive-in to Drive-in giving his: What Came First speech The Chicken or The Egg ending by asking the restaurant owner if he can see that more volume will mean more sales only to be rejected time after time. After a particularly bad rejection he checks in at the office to hear of an order for 6 multi mixers from a couple of brothers in San Bernardino, California. Thinking it's a mistake he calls to hear chaos on the other end of the phone and confirm that it was a mistake they need eight  instead of six. Curios he looks at the map, finds route 66 and takes it from Missouri to California to check out the restaurant himself.

Ray Kroc McDonald's story is similar to many that came before and will be repeated again and again. The person who is most associated with a hugely successful enterprise is not always the originator or  the genius that came up with the concept. It's often the person who saw the true potential of the endeavour that ends up sitting across a table from the originator in a room full of lawyers striking a deal for an amount that would fill a thimble compared to the ultimate earnings of the company. The visionary normally gets a few helpful hints from like-minded individuals along the way that make the expansion even bigger.

Mark Zukerberg saw a computer based yearbook; Facebook having to grudgingly pay off the Winklevoss twins and getting two pieces of key advise from Napster inventor Sean Parker send the idea out to Stanford students and drop the "THE" in The Facebook. Bill Gates saw the real gem was controlling and licensing and owning the software on the personal computer and not running the computer business itself. Therefore he split from working with IBM to form Microsoft. Steve Jobs rose above more talented colleagues at Apple seeing iPods overtaking Walkmans, iPhones over flip phones, iTunes replacing record stores and iPads overshooting notepads, charts and books.

Before the McDonald Brothers knew what was coming Ray Kroc had literally bought the land out from under their feet with the help of smart businessman Harry Sonneborn (B.J.Novak). He also found a partner in Joan Smith (Linda Cardellini) who could see the big picture as opposed to his wife Ethel Kroc (Laura Dern) who seemed to stunt his creativity more often than not.

Director John Lee Hancock and writer Robert Siegel do not stray far from the standard narrative of the McDonalds story. Ray Kroc swoops in gets a foot in the door and through his main driving quality of persistence pushes the brothers further and further off to the sidelines. Michael Keaton is gloriously slithery in the lead role while Linda Cardellini is the other notable performer in the film as Minnesota franchise owner Joan Smith who also grasps where the McDonald's franchise could go.

The Founder is a standard biopic on a topic that everyone knows that the production team could have pushed the boundaries to tell a bigger story but does not to do so. The early part of the film laid out markers that could have fostered an intriguing tale but except for the few and far between scenes featuring Kroc's interactions with Cardellini's Joan Smith the balance of the piece does not do enough to hold the viewer's attention. The film is not about genius or invention its message is persistence conquers all with business being more rat eat rat over dog eat dog unfortunately storytelling falls into the same category as eating a McDonalds sandwich. The first few bites are wonderful but by the time you're halfway through you regret your food choice as the inevitable bellyache begins to take hold.

** Out of 4.

The Founder | John Lee Hancock | USA | 2016 | 115 minutes.

Tags: Salesman, McDonald's, Fast Food, Biography, Franchise, Loan, Greed, Corporation, Handshake Deal, Illinois, Minnesota, Divorce, California.

Sunday, January 15, 2017

Film Review - Tampopo

Opening by breaking the fourth wall Juzo Itami's Ramen Western Tampopo signals early that it will be unlike any other movie experience the viewer has scene. 1930's style gangster (Koji Yakusho) and his girl (Fukumi Kuroda) storm into a theatre and occupy the front row. The gangster looks at then starts talking to the camera remarking that the audience is about to view a film as is he then goes on a rant on the thinks he does not like at a screening especially patrons fumbling with bags of chips. Right on cue a man in the second row tries to open a bag leading the gangster to almost strangle him. His last comment is about watch alarms going off. The scene plays like the current day warning to turn off your phone. Itami was right to note up front that nothing should distract the audience from this film.   With that prelude complete the screwball action is off and running.  The main thread is the story of Tampopo and her quest to make the perfect bowl of ramen to save the noodle shop of her late husband with regular large lines out front of the store. She begs regional Milk trucker Goro (Tsutomu Yamazaki) and his co-driver Gun a very young Ken Watanabe to help thus beginning a quest that's heavily western based, part Rocky with a dash of Avengers Assemble thrown in for good measure.

As if the two main plots are not enough to keep the audience engaged writer director Juzo Itami tosses in several non-sequitur interludes into the proceedings. One sequence in particular shows Itami's outstanding transition skills. Starting with a cat and mouse showdown between a shop owner and an elderly female customer who is obsessed with pinching foodstuff, moving to the shop owner locking eyes with an elderly distinguished gentlemen also eating Peking duck wrapped in pancake   then concluding with a man running home to his wife suffering from karoshi at a critical moment.

However the central ingredient in the narrative is food. The starts and stops of the struggle to get the ramen broth right, a decadent scene in a hotel room with the gangster and his girl featuring egg yokes and prawns to a young girl catching oysters and feeding them to the gangster right out of her hand. Food is a symbol to bring the characters together, a sexual aid, a reason to seek out a sansei and a cause for a high noon showdown with a rival ramen house after insults are hurled back and forth.

Cowboy hat wearing Tsutomu Yamazaki leads the cast as Goro. He is determined to make Tampopo a successful ramen chef and grows to have feelings for her that he will not admit. He is knowledgeable on the good qualities of a ramen house and staff especially on how they need to pay attention to their customers. Nobuko Miyamoto is very effective as the meek, timid but resilient Tampopo. She is obsesses with crafting the classic recipe creating a bowl of ramen that will have her customers daring the last drops of broth from the bowl. Miyamoto shines brightest when she shows a bit of an edge demonstrated best when she chips in insulting a rival noodle house setting up the Western equivalent of a high noon duel the following day at her shop.  Looks for a boyish Ken Wantabe as Gun. He differs to Goro most of the time but does have some of his own ideas to add in the groups quest for success.

Tampopo is a piece of comedic originality. Just when the audience things the story has gone as close  as possible to the edge another large leap follows. The strong cast excels especially with how seriously they take the subject matter. The team battle challengers to the shop like high noon showdowns in the Wild West. The food is mouth watering and an essential part of the narrative making the viewer compelled to hit their favourite ramen house moments after leaving the theatre to slurp down noodles respect the pork and drain the bowl of all its broth.

***** 5 Star Film.

Tampopo | Juzo Itami | Japan | 1985 | 114 Minutes.

Tags: Ramen, Noodles, Broth, Mik Truck, Con-man, Room Service, Theatre, Eggs, Prawns, Oyster, Toothache, Dentist.

Friday, January 13, 2017

Film Review - The Red Turtle

A shaggy haired main is tossed about in a vast sea of water. A wooden lifeboat and pieces of wood the only items in the vicinity. As his struggle continues he begins to sink below the surface but eventually ends up wash up on a beach of a small island. The unnamed man lying on his stomach is first met by a small crab that crawls up his pant leg, jolting him to life sparking his exploration of the island. The apparent facts, he is alone, there are many sources for food, a lush treed forest lies just off the beach, dangerous crevasses lurk amongst the rocks and from the island's highest point ocean dominates for all the eye can see.

Dutch director Michael Dudok de Wit becomes the first non-Japanese to helm an animated feature for Studio Ghibli with The Red Turtle containing nary a spoken word instead inaudible yells, gestures, sometimes peaceful or deafening sounds of nature permeate the narrative's soundtrack. The man may not have human companionship but a troop of small crabs are on hand to observe his every act, along with a mixture of birds, turtles and fish. After his initial exploration of his surroundings our hero builds a formidable raft in an attempt to sail off to rejoin humanity as he gets out past the break water his craft is met with bangs from below then torn apart. The culprit is a giant red turtle starting a continuing dance with the castaway until coming to shore and losing a confrontation with the sole frustrated inhabitant.    

From here the piece moves into fable land as the relationship between the turtle and castaway shifts dramatically with the new form of the turtle becoming companion as the man as he moves through the stations of life. Studio Ghibli throw the might of their animation prowess behind Dudok de Wit for the project. The feel of a Ghibli animation comes through clearly on the screen. No aspect of the film is neglected by the production team from the several large natural challenges to the man's survival to the minute intricacies of the small crabs moving in formation to transport branches into the tiny hole on the beach leading to their home.

The sound department lead by mixer Fabien Devillers and editor Alexandre Fleurant are worthy of special mention. In a film with no dialogue natural sounds have to fill the void; chirping of the birds, scurrying of the crabs, the ebb and flow of the ocean and wind rustling through the trees fill in the gaps. The department's work domination two scenes in particular. The opening storm where the castaway struggles for his very survival against the sea and a high wire large scale weather event mid- way through the piece that once again puts our hero's survival in serious jeopardy.

The Red Turtle is a poignant study of a life's journey thrown complete off course by a significant event. It also explores what the human mind will construct to keep the body going under extremely trying circumstances and where the loss of hope and building despair could overwhelm leading to simply give up.  Director Dudok De Wit took 9 years to craft his first animated feature bringing it to Studio Ghibli at a critical time as it's necessary for the studio to expand with the retirement of the master Hayao Miyazaki.

*** 1/2 Out of 4.

The Red Turtle | Michael Dudok de Wit | France /Belgium/ Japan | 2017 | 80 minutes.

Tags: Castaway, Deserted Island, Tsunami, Animation, Fantasy, Fable, Turtle, Crabs, Hallucinations, Nature. Raft.  

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Film Review - Silence

Father Ferreira has not been heard from since he sent his last letter filled with atrocities targeted at details priests in1630's Japan. Father Ferreira was on a mission speaking mostly to peasants spreading the gospel of Deues as the locals call it. The Tokugawa Shogunate saw Christianity as a danger therefore they took extreme measures to stamp it out declaring an Edit of Expulsion in 1614.  Featuring the authorities main tactic of going directly after the priests themselves. If they apostatize (renouncing faith) the effect is significantly greater then creating peasant Martyrs. Fathers Rodrigues and Garrpe hear the contents of Ferreira's letter back in Portugal, don't believe the rumours that he apostatized so they are released to go out to find their mentor.

The pair encounter Kichijro (Yosuke Kubozuka) possessor of a dubious relationship with Christianity who will grow to be intertwined with Rodgrigues. They are lead to a village of the truly devoted hidden Christians lead by Ichizo (Yoshi Oida) and Mokichi ( Shin'ya Tsukamoto) the authorities soon arrive at the village looking for the Padres. It's during this time that the peasants demonstrate the true depth of their faith.

Writer Director Martin Scorsese presents a study of faith based on the 1966 novel by Shusaku Endo separating the true believers from the tourists. The narrative shows in several instances that the truly faithful may not be the ones you'd expect A light moment of foreshadowing occurs early at the first dinner for the priests in the village where the peasants offer what they can to the visiting Padres Rodrigues and Garrpe rip into the food while the villagers take the time to do a proper grace that the sheepish Priest eventually join.

Cinematographer Rodrigo Prieto work shines bright in the production. The use of fog and shadow as the Priest are transported by boat to and from village locations is the epitome of eerie given the fact that there is a standing 300 piece of silver bounty on the head of any Padre turned over to ruling dynasty.

The best acting work comes from the Christian peasants. Starting with Yoshi Oida and Shin'ya Tuskamoto as Ichizo and Mokichi respectively and later Nana Komatsu as (Monica) the villagers show that they are willing to endure all manner of hardship, strife and torture to be true to the faith. They meet all punishment from the Authorities willingly almost with a smile as they believe if their life comes to an end in this world the next step promised to Christians is paradise where there is no suffering or hunger. The story is told from the perspective of Andrew Garfield's Rodrigues who has several tests of faith as he sees the horrors thrust upon the peasants and only receives silence in response to his prayers to God. Yosuke Kubozuka is both friend and foe as Kichijiro. He's always on the scene, struggles with weakness and sins also serves as a useful resource to Rodrigues journey in Japan.

Martin Scosese has crafted a deep prodding examination of faith that succeeds on all levels ironing out the imperfections of his earlier faith centric features Kundun and The Last Temptation of Christ  there is no hard rock backing soundtrack here or quick edited jump cuts. Instead quiet stoic contemplation rules the screen as the missionaries and the converted fight to spread the word of the gospel in a land that the enlightened describe as a swamp where no new roots will ever take hold.

**** Out of 4.

 Silence | Martin Scorsese | Mexico/ Taiwan/ U.S.A. | 2016 | 161 minutes.

Tags: Japan , 17th century, Priests, Sacrifice, Portuguese, Dutch, Apoptoses, Martyrdom ,torture, Step.  



Sunday, January 1, 2017

Top 10 Films of 2016

On the first day of 2017 we look back at 2016 which was a very strong year for film. It was a suprisingly good year for comedies with several making a large impression. Horror films also rose to the fore along with several emerging voices coming forward to tell stories.  Now to get to the point here are Flick Hunter's top films of 2016:

10., Hunt For The Wilderpeople

9.,  Manchester by The Sea

8., Rogue One

7., The Arbalest

6.,  Under The Shadow

5., Toni Erdmann

4., The Wailing

3., Moonlight

2.,  Mina Walking

1., Maliglutit (Searchers)

Saturday, December 31, 2016

Film Review - Elle

Underneath the opening credits the audience hears the sounds of glasses and dishes breaking followed by screams and signs of an obvious struggle.  Paul Verhoeven's frame settles on a black cat then shifts to an ongoing rape ending with the accoster fleeing from the scene. The victim Michele Leblanc (Isabelle Huppert) picks herself up, cleans up the mess then goes on about her evening as if the event never occurred.

The next day she arrives at work where her gaming company is behind schedule on a major game release. Michelle reads the riot act pushing for the game to be more violent, more graphic, more explicit gaining praise from most of her programmers. She returns home greeting her neighbours Patrick (Laurent Lafitte) and Rebecca (Virgine Efira) who are working on their Christmas decorations. Her son Vincent (Jonas Bloquet) who's being dominated by his manipulative girlfriend drops by for a visit looking for money for an apartment for the pair and soon to be born child of questionable lineage.

Director Paul Verhoeven takes the Philippe Djian novel and cranks up the perversity meter to fourteen with his first foray into French language filmmaking. Huppert is not a participant but rather the driver of the twisted action as she is in control in every relationship despite how it may appear some times on screen. The narrative's other subplot involving Michele's father explains our heroine's reluctance to trust the police or go them to report the assault. The piece lays out multiple complex relationships for Michele that Huppert navigates smartly.

After her attacker begins to stalk her wanting more contact; Michelle goes to a hardware store making purchases to protect herself leading to the most comedic scene in the film where her ex husband suffers the wrath of the new found defensive measures. Back at work the game progresses slowly leading to confrontations with her staff. As her mother pushes her to attend a major upcoming legal event for her father. While her son seems to be entangled with a woman that's an unappreciative bully while he works a minimum wage job to support a child bearing no resemblance.

Isabelle Huppert once again shows her mastery of the craft and a willingness to tackle the most challenging roles. Her work is physical, emotional and psychological shifting throughout the film. Judith Magre is very strong as Michele mother Irene. She is desperately trying to hang on to the last embers of youth spending time with men that Michele fears she may be paying for thier company.

Elle is a psychological thriller that is worthy of a capital P and a capital T. Verhoeven camera does not flinch at the violent exchanged but instead leads audience in closer for a better view. The story is nimbly paced featuring enough twist to through the viewer off track of the assailant but not to many to make the narrative seem staged. It's a unique production featuring one of the greatest actors working today making it a film despite its graphic depictions at times well worth the watch.

**** Out of 4

Elle | Paul Verhoeven | France/ Germany/ Belgium | 2016 | 130 Minutes.

Tags: Rape, Gaming, Violence, Pregnancy, Prison, Bail Hearing, Dinner Party, Stroke, Coma, Midnight Mass, Nativity Scene.

Film Review - Hidden Figures

A green broken down Chevy Impala sits at the side of the road, Dorothy Vaughan (Octavia Spencer) is perched below trying to get the car to start as a local police officer pulls up to access the situation. Once the women show him their NASA badges he provides an escort to Langley after Dorothy completes a quick fix on the car. The women Dorothy, Mary Jackson (Janelle Monae) and Katherine Johnson (Taraji Henson) are human computers. They work in cramped quarters in an outbuilding basement on the NASA labeled the Coloured Computing Group. The calculate manually the geometry to project the launch and landing for the Mercury 7 astronauts. The Americans are in a race with the Soviet Union who have put Sputnik into orbit and are close to doing a manned mission into space.

Director Theodor Melfi tells an important story however the screenplay written by himself and Allison Schroeder does not deep enough into the dirty areas of the subject matter. The racial reality of Virginia in 1961 is displayed in several scenes but the passages are brief and could have used a longer look to give the sequences more impact and meaning. The script more often that not plays up the comedic aspect of racial injustice as in the running gag of Katherine's need to run back to the West Computer Building to find the only coloured women's washroom on campus when can't hold it ably longer and has to relieve herself.

The narrative does hit the main parts of the women's stories Mary Jackson's struggle to become the first NASA female engineer having to go to court for the privilege of attending night engineer courses at a local high school. Dorothy Vaughan knowing the meaning of the arrival of the IBM machine learns FORTRAN and teaches her girls to code the IBM mainframe to protect their jobs. Katherine's struggles external with her all male Space Task Force colleagues and internal with herself to trust that she's the best with numbers in the room.

The three female leads present their real life counterparts well. Singer Janelle Monae who was also very strong in this years Moonlight seems to get all of the best comedic lines and is the most assertive of the three. Octavia Spencer's Dorothy Vaughan is the most thoughtful of the three while Taraj Henderson leads the cast as the mathematical genius Katherine G. Johnson. Kevin Costner provides a steady hand as department head Al Harrison and look for Jim Parsons and Mahershala Ali in his third notable performance of the year in vital supporting roles.

Hidden Figures tells the story of important contributors to the golden age of the American Space program that were not allowed to put their names on reports, were hidden away in a basement out building but did key work for NASA getting their rockets off of the launch pad and back for a safe splashdown. The women faced many obstacles to do their work many of them put in place by the laws of their country and their colleagues. The battles fought deserved more screen time but the subject matter of the piece makes it worth a watch.

*** Out of 4.

Hidden Figures | Theodore Melfi | U.S.A. | 127 Minutes.

Tags: NASA, Langley Virginia, Computer, Coloured, Mercury 7, Sputnik, John Glen, Alan Sheppard,