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.

Saturday, May 13, 2017

Film Review - Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2

If there is an expert in not taking itself seriously or the odd Aunt, crazy Uncle, demented middle child in the Marvel Universe it's the Guardians of the Galaxy.  In volume 2 playtime ratchets up a notch.  Starting with a fierce battle with a gigantic octopus with impenetrable skin that's background noise to baby Groot (voiced by Vin Diesel) dancing as he battles minuscule foes when not hit by shrapnel from the big battle or almost crushed by his fellow Guardians as they are tossed aside by the by the immense creature. The sequence is backed by the dulcet tones of Mr. Blue Sky by Electric Light Orchestra harkening back to the feel good tunes from the soundtrack of the first film.

The meat of the story sets out to answer the biggest question who is Peter Quill's (Chris Pratt) alien dad? We get some clues in a prologue circa 1980 where we see Peter's mom cozying up to a digitally youthened Kurt Russell sporting a super late 70's feathered flow as Looking Glass' Brandy (You're a Fine Girl) blasts through car speakers. Back to the present gold plated the Sovereign that hired the Guardians to defeat the space octopus in exchange for custody of Gamora's (Zoe Saldana) metallic sister Nebula (Karen Gillan) are none too happy that Rocket (voiced by Bradley Cooper) stole their batteries give chase.  They manage to escape aided by a mysterious spaceship piloted by Ego (Russell).

The Art / Set Decoration crews deserve special mention at this point. Starting with Ego's planet a blast of colours and shapes that would make both Willie Wonka and Austin Powers jaws drop to the floor. The snow planet out post where rogue Ravager Yondu (Michael Rooker) is confronted by elder Stakar Ogord (Sylvester Stallone) is perfectly white and barren. It's the perfect setting for perhaps the funniest gag in the film where the Sovereign priestess Ayesha (Elizabeth Debeicki) perhaps the most conceited person ever to grace a movie screen has technical difficulties as she approaches the Ravagers to help her find the Guardians.

The main cast fall easily back into their roles. Pratt leads the line as Star Lord very skilled but stubborn and cocky which usually gets the gang in trouble. Dave Bautista's muscle bound Drax is the definition of literal and judgemental but does it in a way that makes his utterances mainly focuses at Ego's counsellor Maintis (Pom Clementieff) funny and charming. Zoldana's Gamora is serious and competitive as ever. The biggest arc comes from the darker characters Cooper's Rocket , Rookers Yondu and Karen Gillan as Gammora's adoptive robotic sister Nebula. Of the newcomers the Sovereign are the most memorable. Every pore clogged with gold paint and glitter. They are superior, self centred but not the most adaptive or resourceful species in the galaxy.

Guardian of the Galaxy Vol. 2 is the summer popcorn movie you would expect. It's a space rock comedy opera with familiar characters and a timeless storyline of the main hero trying to find out where he came from and why. Director James Gunn is back at the helm of a franchise he continues to push in the right direction. The film is fun action packed with the right amount of tension backed by another strong soundtrack featuring Fleetwood Mac, Cat Stevens and Sweet making it a film I can highly recommend.

*** 1/2 Out of 4.

Guardians of The Galaxy | James Gunn | U.S.A.| 2017 |136 Minutes.

Tags: Marvel Comics, Mixed Tape, Bomb, God, Golden, Princess, Outlaw, Air Armada, Batteries, Theft, Walkman.

Friday, May 12, 2017

HotDocs '17 Film Review - 69 Minutes of 86 days

One image likely comes to mind when a large section of the public thinks of the struggles of Syrian refugees attempting to cross the Mediterranean to get to  Europe. It's the image of 3 year old Alan Kurdi lifeless body being carried up from the shore by a Turkish police officer. The image was broadcast all over the world; the event played a key part in turning a federal election in my home country of Canada.  Director Egil Haskjold 's film starts on the Greek shoreline following a different Syrian family as they embark on a journey from the pebbled shoreline to Sweden where they plan to settle amongst other family relatives.

Haskjold basically sets down his camera at a meter off the ground and lets the action unfold. The opening shots are of the surf followed by life vests and water shoes as the framing moves to a makeshift tent city beside the shoreline. The lens soon finds its way to Lean a three year old girl whose eye line matches the low angle shooting style signaling that a good part of the action will be seen from her point of view.

Over the next 65 minutes the family will spend time in medical tents, food lines, red cross facilities, checkpoints, trains, buses, boats and cars. All though the journey Lean is mostly upbeat raising the spirits of her weary family members clad in a plaid winter jacket along with her ever present Frozen knapsack. The efforts of the parents to keep things normal for their kids despite their struggles is notable. Teddy Bears are ported among other toys for the children to play during downtime, long lines or a delay at a screening facility.

Director Haskjold does not give any direction to the proceedings. There are no interviews, no voice over, no text online to announce to the audience where the family is at any point of the journey. The viewer has to play detective looking for clues. Dialogue where the family mentions a city name or country or looking at road signed or names on transport vehicles throughout the piece.

The low angle perspective is a different approach to shoot the majority of a film and takes a bit of  getting use too. But once the viewer buys into the charming Lean's perspective of the world looking though the tangled legs of adults. The shooting decision makes sense coupled with no translation of dialogue and no location prompts. The viewer is swept up into the whirlwind disorienting trip that it must be for a Syrian refugee forced to grab what they can carry, hop on a rafts to an unsure future on a far away continent where you likely don't speak the language.

*** 1/2 Out of 4.

69 Minutes of 86 Days | Egil Haskjold Larsen | Norway | 71 Minutes.

Tags: Syria, Refugee, Greece, Germany, Sweden, Red Cross, Ferry, EKG, Tent City.

Thursday, May 11, 2017

HotDocs '17 Film Review - City of Ghosts

A black tie affair in New York where Raqqua Is Being Slaughtered Silently (RBSS) a group of regular citizens from the Syrian city turned journalist is receiving the International Press Freedom Award dominates the opening frames of this new Matthew Heineman documentary feature. The group dedicated to documenting the activities of the Islamic State in their hometown risking life and limb to get the truth out to the world. The scene shifts back to Raqqa where the history of the city starting with the 2011 Arab Spring before the arrival of ISIS is recounted then the continuing deteriorating fate of the inhabitants after the religious movement takes hold.

A large portion of the action is filmed outside of Syria. The Islamic State determined to stop RBSS use their network of informers to lean names of the group members and associates killing all that are caught usually publically in the most inhumane manner. The actions of the Religious leaders forced the founding members to flee to Turkey and Germany communicating thorough Skype plus other social media outlets to those members that remained behind to get daily updates on the fate of the city and to be a source receiving the smuggled out reports to broadcast to the world. The reach of ISIS is so great that the exiled members are not even completely safe held up in secret safe houses in the two countries.

Director Heineman clearly developed an extraordinary level of trust with the journalist activist. They are facing the threat of assassination around each corner but allow the filmmaker complete access to their homes, hidden safehouses, families and daily activities.  Heinemen  is allowed to document the methods the reporters use that are still in country, communications with the exiled leaders and their methods to get the story out to the world.

The brutality of ISIS is plainly on display in the film with their propaganda videos often featuring young rifle clad children in military uniform is front and centre. The violent chants coming from there young mouths is disturbing to say the least. ISIS vows to track down these journalist wherever they are in the world to deliver them to the grave. Several segments shows the founding members watching the ISIS propaganda videos on their laptops. One in particular shows two brothers seeing on screen the execution of their father by the terrorist group. The deep profound effect of living under constant fear combined with guilt of being the ones that got out and are living a life with happy moments is an unimaginable balancing act for the ex-pats.  On top of this reality is an important sequence where members of the group are faced with German anti-Muslimism protestors marching demanding that all Muslims refugees should be banished from their country and sent back home.   

City of Ghosts is a study of a new template in activist journalism. Yesteryears tools of a notepad, pencil, personal interviews and open on scene documentation with press markings on clothing are gone. The new social media based practice is masked, undercover, hidden methods to capture footage and smuggle the documentation out of the country for editing and broadcast.  Satellite uplinks are replaced with scrambled phone signals and hushed skype calls. Matthew Heineman presents the story of Raqqa from both inside and outside her borders. The positive results are presented clearly alongside the most brutal and negative events. It’s an important piece of filmmaking that I can highly recommend.

**** Out of 4.

City of Ghosts | Matthew Heineman | U.S.A. |  2017 | 91 Minutes.

Tags: Raqqa, Syria, Journalism, Execution, Assassination, Turkey, Germany, Skype, Propaganda, ISIS, Refugee.

Monday, May 8, 2017

HotDocs '17 Film Review - Ukiyo-E Heroes

The ancient almost lost art of Japanese woodblock printing (ukiyo-e) is explored in detail in the Turu Tokikowa's new documentary. The story revolves around a partnership that spans the Pacific Ocean between a reserved American illustrator and an eccentric Canadian who has spent the last 30 years in Japan. Jed Henry became interested in the 18th century art form in 2010. He looked for an expert and found David Bull. Henry's idea;  use the ancient technique to create prints in the traditional manner to sell to the public. Bull who had become stagnant in his current work jumped at the chance that has lead to artistic and financial success for both parties.

Henry does the design work drawing the image based on the styles of the original masters by brush using subjects that blend well with current, comic, video games popular culture figures. The image is sent to Bull who carves out an outline of the drawing in a wood block, works in colour then uses traditional paper for the finished print. Henry takes the finished product to comic conventions where he sells them for $100.00 each. There is a large market for Japanese woodblock prints as they are a stunningly unique item for a collector to own and display.

The film is at its best when Bull gives his theories on the art alongside his personal manifesto on life. He works often shirtless and always barefoot often twisted into a pretzel as he meticulously chisels the illustration into the wood.  Another set of highlights are the interviews with the craftsmen that make Bull's tools. Their skills from making the paper, to firing the knives, or hand making brushes has been passed down in families for generations. There is also the unspoken fear that when this current generation passes on that these skills could be lost.

The second half of the piece focuses on the creation of one illustration from start to finish. Skype call flow back and forth across the Pacific during design stage.  Once the design is complete the pace slows as Bull sets off to carve the piece.

Ukiyo-e Heroes is a tribute to Japanese Woodblock printing, the craftsmen that surround the art form and to the notion that there is room for a slow steady precise endeavor in today's short attention span disposable world. The production lucked out to find such a complexed character in self taught master woodblock illustrator Bull and it's fitting that he is on screen two-thirds of the time as it seems that he does two-thirds of the work a fact that Henry admits. The subject matter and slow paced nature of the film might  not be for everyone but if you'll not be disappointed if you give David Bull a chance to grow on you as he explains and works at his craft.

*** Out of 4

Ukiyo-E Heroes | Turo Tokikowa | Japan / Canada / U.S.A. | 2016 | 97  Minutes.

Tags: Woodblock Printing, Illustrations, Conventions, Rickshaw, Warrior, Skype, Provo, Tokyo, Kickstarter.

Sunday, May 7, 2017

HotDocs 17 Film Review - Living The Game

Daigo Umehara @daigothebeast is the brightest star in the emerging world of eSports. When he walks to an event venue video game fans whisper in hushed tones there is Daigo. He takes chances with he plays, gets down to 1% power on occasion then rallies back to a dramatic win in his game of choice Street Fighter. Along with Umehara several other elite Street Fighter players are studied and profiled including Yusuke Momochi Umehara's main rival who  employs a conservative stile of play. The piece follows the players to major events, gives a history of the tournaments and documents the rise in prize money cumulating with  2015 EVO in Las Vegas Nevada with a winners prize of $120,000.

The film focuses on three tournaments The Capcom Cup which is where the documentary opens with Daigo's arrival at the San Francisco event to the awe of the spectators waiting on line to enter. The Topanga World League in Tokyo where it seems that Daigo and Momochi are always in the final with the later always loosing and the afore mentioned pinnacle of the sport the EVO Championship. The history of the rise of e-sports is best reflected in the interview of American pioneer Justin Wong who burst on the stage to win at the age of 15 collecting a modest winners cheque. Wong speaks to a sentiment of most gamers that to tell parents, family and friends that they do this professionally is looked down upon. Another top player Luffy from France sites the sigma of being a gamer as the reason that he maintains a full time job at an advertising agency. So his parents can at least tell their friends that their son works in advertising.

Takao Goutsu decision to feature a few gamers giving their background story gives the viewer the chance to choose a player to root for as the tournaments come up on the schedule. The photography decisions work well to deliver the intensity of the live tournament. Cinematographer Kouichirou Miyagawa visuals shift from the dueling players on stage, to the handwork on the oversized joystick, to the action on the regular and big screens  then to the fans going crazy watching the offensive, defensive moves leading to an expected or surprise K.O.

Living The Game is a window into the world of eSports. It's a growing market with rabid fans, superstar players and tournaments with ever increasing prize money around the world. A few of the top Street Fighter players are the films subject. They talk of their strategy, playing styles, practice routines and scouting reports on their main rivals. The film is a satisfying look into an underexposed competition that is defiantly worth a look.

*** Out of 4

Living The Game | Takao Gotsu | Japan/ France /U.S.A. /Taiwan | 87 Minutes.

Tags: eSports, Pro Gamers, Street Fighter, Madcatz, Evil Genius, Monster Energy, Las Vegas, San Francisco, Gamer Bee.

Thursday, May 4, 2017

HotDocs '17 Film Review - Ramen Heads

A quality meal does not have to mean expensive, white tablecloth, suit and tie on fine china at a fancy roped off establishment. A diner can obtain a life altering food experience for $8.00 according to the four time raining Ramen King of Japan Osamu Tomita. Tomita's shop in Masuto, Chiba has only 10 seats a quality that the films narrator finds common to the best Ramen Houses as they are all tiny. Lines start at 6:30 in the morning for the 11 AM seating. But the first arrivals will not be in line for 5 hours instead the meticulous Tomita invented an ingenious system where costumers get tickets that correspond to their seating time. They are told to be at the house 10 minutes before they are too be seated. This system has cut down the lines out from of the shop by three fold.

Director Koki Shigeno takes the subject seriously as he does the history and importance of Ramen to Japan. It was a hearty food that workers could consume quickly when facing long days working to rebuild Japan after the Second World War. The historical tour of the meal starts back in 1910 when Chinese cooks brought the noodles and gamey meats to the island through the changes many that occurred by accident that produced the various forms of the dish that appear today.

The piece visits shops of other Ramen masters around the island but is at its best when Tomito is on screen. He is personally involved in every aspect of the preparation of the meal so much so that the shop is closed if he cannot make it into work. The broth stews for at least three day. He combines 4 different types to make the broth for the day. Only he stirs and pours it at the exact moment of readiness when the colour, density, blend and balance is correct. His witches brew of ingredients simmer for 27 hours. Additives include dry fish, sardines, anchovies, mackerel and pigs head. But the item he most obsesses on is noodles. He uses 4 types of flour, meads by hand looking for a thick firm  strands that will not tear. His noodles are longer than most other shops to give them that slurp ability quality. Tomita wants his noodles to snap like a firecracker in the mouth when slurped.

A couple of the other prominent chefs featured include Inoue who's been running a three mat space in the highest volume Ramen market in Tokyo for 50 years serving the classic soy says based Shoyu version. Hayama is chef in another popular local who's wrinkle is a dried sardine based broth and can be seen in the kitchen pressing his bamboo stocks with a long rolling pins hooked under his knee joint. The third is Fukujo known as the chefs chef who opens at 3:00 P.M. using utensils dating back to the post war era including a wonderful earthenware brazer. He is 74 years old and has worked in the same spot for 64 years. Not a big fan of the current Ramen craze he remembers that the dish is the main food staple for the working class and shakes his head that now Ramen chefs have Michelin ratings.

Ramen Heads is a delicious educational journey into every aspects of a seemingly very simple meal. It's broth; noodles and usually meat but the various and preparation methods for each aspect of the meal are endless. All of the masters featured excel at the craft backed by the best display of food cinematography ever presented on screen. The viewers mouth will be watering as they can almost smell the broth and taste the noodles due to the sharpness of the presentation. It's a fascinating study of several dedicated chefs to their craft making it a film that I can highly recommend.

**** Out of 4.

Ramen Heads | Koki Shigeno | Japan | 2017 | 93 Minutes.

Tags: Ramen, Japan, Pork, Noodles, Broth, Chiba, Tokyo, Apprentice, Slurpability.

HotDocs '17 Film Review - Raise Your Arms and Twist

The team pop idol craze is a phenomenon unique to Japanese culture. A troop of young girls all colour coordinated and choreographed preform whimsical pop songs for their feverous fans that are mostly men. The fans don’t buy tickets to the shows but win them in lotteries before the performances. They are armed with glow sticks, custom designed outfits for their favourite idol and shout out the names when they have a solo line or come to the front of the stage. 

Raise Your Arms and Twist centres on NMB48 the idol group based in Namba, Osaka. The group is made up of 60 girls raging from ages 15-21. They are the least popular of the 4 main groups in Japan with AKB48 out of Tokyo being the gold standard. NMB are kind of a triple A affiliate with a few girls making it up to the big leagues on occasion to perform with the major league squad.
The songs the girls sing and their performances are secondary to the intense battles that go on back stage, between girls and the different teams. The narrative focus on a few of the main members the contrast between the two founding members Captain Sayaka Yamamoto and Vice-Captain Ayaka Okita being the most intriguing. Both girls joined the group at its 2010 start. Yamamoto rocked to stardom being picked for the prestigious Sembatsu team that gives the opportunity to perform in a video for a group single right away.  She also has the longest lines at the groups fans handshake sessions. An odd ritual where fans line up for the chance to hold hands with their favourite idle for 8 seconds (timed by Security) while they tell them how great much they love them.  Okita despite being on the squad for 5 years and a role model for the later generations had never been picked for a Sembatsu team.  Every aspect of life on the squad is scrutinized. If you get lead on a song, make it to the centre of the front row on stage or have long lines at the handshake events.  The competition all leads up to the yearly General Election where fans vote for the best idol in the land by buying CD’s to obtain codes that's punched into your mobile phone to vote.

Director Atsushi Funahashi narrows his vision on the aspects of the pop idol life that really effect the girls mental stability. Many leave home at 15 or 16 to go to these teams. They are drafted based on their skills which can lead to disappointment. Being back row or not selected for a Sembatu team often results in tears from inconsolable team members. Even the ones that make it onto a team and into a video are yelled at by male video directors or team managers for not being happy enough or perhaps for something private in their personal life.

The most intriguing study is that of rising team star Ririka Sutou. The idol game seems to come easy to her as she has a song written for her and is centre stage seeming right away. She open the film on a boat floating on a river in a gritty area of Osaka reading Nietzsche while stating she wants to be a philosopher. She is very self-aware knowing that while she is doing this gig she does not have control of her individual self as she quotes John Stuart Mill.

The Japanese pop idol culture is one that is not scene or translates to Europe or North America.  The team members base their self-worth on where they fall in the hierarchical pecking order of the system.  Top ten in the yearly general election and centre stage of an AKB48 Sembatu group single being the pinnacle.  If you can get there it could lead to Graduation which means potentially television presenter roles, a solo singing career or perhaps modeling.  The most popular idols have endorsement for clothing, food and make up products.  The film could have talked more on where the money all goes considering they had over 3.2 million votes for  the June 2015 General Election which translates to that may CD singles sold or how the girls get compensated.  The production is an in depth look into a unique subject that builds personalities that the viewer truly wants to root for making it a film I can highly recommend

**** Out of 4.

Raise You Arms and Twist | Atsushi Funahashi | Japan | 2016 | 90 Minutes.

Tags: Pop Idol, Osaka, NMB48, AKB48, Nietzsche, Tokyo, Sembatu, General Election, Video, Hit Single, Fans, Handshake Event, Big Sis Saya.  


Sunday, April 30, 2017

Tribeca Film Festival Film Review - Tilt

Joseph Burns (Joseph Cross) should be at a good point in his life. He has just come back from a great vacation in Hawaii with his expectant wife Joanne (Alexia Rasmussen). The documentary filmmaker  is working on a new project entitled Golden Age. His wife works at a medical as she's about to embark on full time medical studies to become a doctor.  Joseph works at home spending a lot of time on his new project then keeping house in his downtime hours.

But Joseph has other activities in mind that take over his being in the late night hours. He has an urge to go outside and interact with the night owls in the city whether his advances are welcomed or not.  His initial nocturnal outings start with errands to pick up items at the local convenience store sneaking a quick smoke on route although he's not supposed to but his nighttime crawls grow from there as he is seeming followed by the presence of a Japanese tourist that has gone missing.

Writer director Karsa Farahani tells a slow steady building story of a man that is loosing his grip on reality. At first he retreats away from family and friends then can't face up to the criticism from his wife that his passion of documentary film making is not enough to provide for the family with a child coming and Joanne's imminent switch to become a full time student. His daylight hours are spent drinking and editing clips while struggling with the voice over on Golden Age production that aims to prove that the American dream is an untrue story.

Joseph Cross is onscreen for just about ever frame of the piece. He captures fully the nature of the underachiever that married up well. Shining particularly brightly in a scene early on in the piece where he is completely uninterested in entertaining his wives friends. Alexia Rasmussen is strong as his supporting wife Joanne defending Joseph to her friends and loyal even as she can see that he is slowly loosing his grip.

Tilt is perhaps the first film to react to the Donald Trump Presidency. The Presidential campaign and his speeches serve as a background to several scenes making his voice a defacto soundtrack to the piece. Joseph spends many an evening on the couch dismissing Trump while his wife remarks if you don't like him why do you watch him all the time. Cinematographer Alexander Alexandrov lens framing of L.A. at night ads a gritty feel to Joseph's nighttime adventures. The production is the story of a man seeing his old life and passions going away due to change in society who's seemingly mentally not able to accept it.

*** 1/2 Out of 4.

Tilt | Karsa Farahani | U.S.A. | 2017 | 99 Minutes.

Tags: Pregnancy, Ultrasound, Hawaii, Japanese Tourist, Documentary Filmmaker, Medical School, Smoking, Convenience Store.

Tribeca Film Festival Film Review - The Endless

Justin Benson and Aaron Moorhead the co-directors and writers of The Endless play the lead roles in the small budget film where a doomsday cult intersects with a supernatural spirit. Justin and Aaron are brothers who escaped from Camp Arcadia that in Justin's mind was a U.F.O end of the world organization. Since their departure 10 years ago the pair have not faired well. They have no money to fix the battery on their car, work at cleaning houses and have little or no regular meals. Their current dining situation consists of sharing a bowl of ramen noodles. Aaron remembers regular meals at Camp Acadia and wants to return. As there prospects are low and this might serve to get the camp out of his system Justing agrees to go back for a visit.

The Camp is on the outskirts of the city and appears unassuming at first. The pair are welcomed back with smiles and hugs. Aaron immediately takes up with Anna (Callie a former crush that appears to now have a steady fella in Camp. But soon strange acts begin to occur the centre of which is a tug of war with an unknown entity juxtaposed to a mysterious elevated shed that no one is allowed to enter.

The story is about relationships between brothers, family and loss. Justin feels guilty that he pulled his brother out of the only situation he knows The narrative gives just enough details on the Camp to make the viewer unsure but balances the vagueness with enough story to hold the viewers attention and make the audience care about the two main characters.

The purpose of the Camp is at the centre of the film. Events unfold that appear to bend with the known rules of the world giving evidence that something different is going on in this corner of earth. Time, actions, life and death appear to run in a foggy loop raising questions as to what's real vs imagined.

The directors cast little known actors in the film. Despite this he cast all settle into comfortable spaces with their roles.

The Endless walks the balance between the elements of this world and the next. The ensemble cast does not put a foot wrong and are backed by a narrative that's simple and compelling.

*** 1/2 Out of 4.

The Endless | Justin Benson / Aaron Morehead | U.S.A. | 2017 | 100 Minutes.

Tags: Cult, Programmed, Leader, Video Equipment, Card Trick, Aliens, Karaoke,  Ramen noodles.

TIFF Kids 2017- Cloud Boy

Niilas (Daan Roofthooft) is very close to his father and lives in the perfect fantasy land setting in Belgium. His dad plays stacking games with him while doing the dishes in the gaps between showering him with love and attention referring to him affectionately as Mister. When he is not with his father Niilas hangs out at the free running park jumping over, under and between structures and objects.  His mother who has remarried and lives very far north wants to reconnect with her son so it's arranged for Niilas to go for a visit against his will to Lapland to see his mom and his half brother and  his mother's new husband's daughter.

Things do not work out for an extended period of time when the scene shifts to Lapland. Niilas is withdrawn often lashes out and just wants to go home. His new sibling Sunna (Ayla Nutti) is the only one that can initially break through his tough shield. It's Reindeer migration season in Lapland when the sun does not set. After an incident leads to the reindeer escaping our protagonist must combine his skills from back home with the new ones he's learned to help locate a vital element for the herd.

Writer director Meikeminne Clinckspoor weaves a story that has several important learning points for tweens in the age range of 12 year old Niilas. How to cope in a blended separated family is extensively explored. the narrative is clear to point out that being withdrawn and angry is not the path to take. Rather different people, cultures, lifestyles and environments give an opportunity to expand you skills and knowledge that can be useful in the new and even your surroundings when you get back home.

The cast are all well suited for there roles with Ayla Nutti being the most memorable in the role of Sunna. She is not a blood relative of Niilas but willing to meet him head on. Not tippy toe around his uncomfortableness. Sara Sommerfeld represents well as the struggling mother Katarina. She wants her son to accept her and her new life but quickly gets to her wits ends on how to reach through to him. Cinematographer Christian Paulussen creates the top of the world set of Lapland as a major supporting character in the piece. The film is filled with panoramic views of the hills, valley, waterfalls and tough gravel landscape of the area.

Couldboy is a straight ahead tale of a young boy taken out of his comfort zone who is reluctant at first but comes to appreciate his new surroundings and extended family. The film is well suited for the 8-14 age range providing lessons and tools to be used when faced with a fractured or blended family situation. The acting fits the narrative with its mainly understated performances leaving room for the natural Norway landscape to fill the void.

*** Out of 4.

Cloudboy | Meikeminne Clinckspoor | Belgium / Sweden/ Norway / Netherlands| 78 Minutes | 2017.

Tags: Reindeer,  Free running, Step Brother, Divorce, Lapland,  24 Hour Daylight, Lasso, Reindeer Pen.

TIFF Kids 2017 Film Review - Room 213

Attending summer camp for the first time is usually a major life event for a child. It's often the first time that a youth spends a significant time away from home. It's an opportunity to make life long friends and possibly a chance for a first romance to spark. It's also typically starts with a kid that does not want go and ends with the same individual not wanting to leave the new found environment at the end.

We first meet Elvira (Wilma Lungren) as her mother is trying to get her out of the house to go to a weeklong summer camp. Elvira doesn't want to go as she fears that she will be split up with her best friend Sibel then she becomes really distressed upon learning that Sibel is sick and will not go at all. Elvira gripes on the ride to the camp that does not lighten until she is introduced to her two roommates Meja (Elle Fogelstrom) and Be a (Elena Hobsepyan). The girls are escorted to their room by counsellor Jennifer but have to change to long abandoned room 213 due to a water pipe burst in their previous quarters. The room is thought to be haunted by the ghost of a girl that had stayed in the room long ago.

Director Emilie Lindblom takes the camp horror genre down a different rewarding path with this film. Easy jump scares, evil spiritual presences or violent deaths are not the subject matter of the film. The adaptation falls in line with the Ingelin Angerborn's source material. The uneasy moments are more subtle and thoughtfully presented. The spiritual presence builds slowly, first thorough a few missing items then moving slowly into the realm of visual and physical signs. The narrative parallels the ghost story with a regular dose of camp pranks that could be responsible for all that's occurring.

The young cast fall easily into their roles with Wilma Lungren fitting well into the female lead as Elvira. Elena Hobsepyan is particularly strong as the third roommate Bea as misfortune hits her character first leading her to withdraw to the room as popular Meja accuses her of several ills isolating her from the group.

Room 213 is a very watchable ghost story that will appeal to a wide range of ages.  It presents horror on an intellectual level rather than a visceral one. The story has all of the elements of summer camp life including mysteries surrounding past attendees, camp games, pranks and adventures that one would expect. However it unique approach to the supernatural element leaning more J-horror than American slasher makes it a film I can recommend.

*** 1/2 Out of 4.

Room 213 | Emelie Lindblom| Sweden | 2017 | 110 Minutes.

Tags: Summer Camp, Ghosts, Ouiji, Mystery, Kittens, Out of Bounds, Summer Crush, Find Me.

TIFF Kids 2017 Film Review - Not Without Us

A child's path and access to education is fundamentally different depending on where you live in the world. G-7 experience ranges from walking across the street to a short bus ride to perhaps a couple to transit changes to complete the act. In other parts of the world kids travel for days to get to school sometimes taking dangerous paths or having to spend weeks at a time away from home to get their education. Lastly there are some that don't even get into the classroom as they have to work to support their family.

Sigrid Klausmann's film looks at kids road to school starting from the moment they get up, their family dynamic before the narrative moves on to their modes of transport to school. The piece touches on all of the subjects hopes for the future, themselves, their family and the planet. The kids are all very knowledgeable of the major stories in the world and have very straightforward solutions. Their frankness leads one to think that adult agendas must get in the way of settling many of the worlds conflicts. The narrative uses exceptional editing and transitions to shift in and out of each child's tale. At one moment your alongside Vincent and his father as they ski down from their Swiss mountain resort to his studies when the scene shifts from ski tracks to a dirt road in the desert where Ekhlas and her siblings are leading a donkey through a steep narrow mountain pass on their journey to school.

While all of the stories are compelling a few bubble to the surface resonating stronger that the rest. Alphonsine from Ivory Coast is at the top of the list. She wakes up on the dirt floor of her family hut each day at 4 AM. Her first task is sweeping as she explains that her parents are dead and she suffers beating from her grandmother if she does not do her chores well. She heads to school but does not attend. She balances pots and pans in a basked on her head that she puts out in the courtyard to serve food. Her foil is Sai in Flushing Queens. Her family moved from India when she was very young to give her the best opportunity to succeed. She attends a gifted school in Manhattan excels in her studies and music and expects to be a brain surgeon when she finishes school. Then the story shifts to Sanjana who is still in India living in the red light district in Forbesganj. She's connected to the area because it's her home but does not like it that the women there are often abused.

The two passages where the children talk about their hopes and their thoughts on how they see the world are the most compelling. Alphonisine heads to the cocoa tree plantation where children younger than 10 swing machetes chopping down cocoa when she comments that she knows they make chocolate with coco but has never tasted it because its too expensive for her or anyone in her village. Perla from Iceland sums up the hopes from the group. Children want someone that they can trust, can help them in life along side family or friends that can take care of them and love them as much as their parents do. The film is a wonderful woven piece with several diverse and compelling subjects that is well worth the watch.

*** 1/2 Out of 4

Not Without Us | Sigrid Klausmann | Germany | 2017 | 87 Minutes.

Tags: Education, Ivory Coast, Austria, Chores, Trains, Subway, Skateboard, Visually Impaired, Avalanche Detector, Donkey.

TIFF Kids 2017 Film Review - The Day My Father Became a Bush

10 year old Toda (Celeste Holsheimer) is lucky to have a dad thats the best pastry chef in her town in an unnamed country. She participates in delivering the pastries while having great fun with her dad in the store. However the threat of war is approaching with the yellow patched Others meaning that her dad may have to go off to fight. As her fellow classmates pack up and leave town Toda  pleads with her dad to hide disguise himself as a bush or piece of furniture so he does not have to go. Shortly there after it's too dangerous for her to stay so she has to head to be with her mom in another country and the balance of the film is filled with the colourful people she meets along the way.

The most lasting of the contacts is with a boy about her age that she nicknames Sticky (Matsen Montsma) because he comes on the bus taking her out of country sits beside her and immediately falls asleep using her as his pillow. He is our typical rough housing young boy who talks bold likely to the horrors he's faced as he has been orphaned due to the war. Toda's journey takes her to the home of a debatable war hero and his wife who show definite signs that they want to keep Toda for their own followed by a dubious group of transporters who are looking for more payment even though her transportation across the boarder has already been arranged.

Director Nicole van Kilsdonk adapts her story from the Joke van Leeuwen book. The narrative is a strong easy to follow commentary on the absurdity of war. The weak reasons to go to war and the real  life consequences of that thinking. Toda's home land is known as The Ones with there soldiers clad in blue markings with the enemy The Others are marked in yellow. These markings and speaking a different language seems to be the only difference between the two sides.

Celeste Holsheimer is in just about every frame of the film as Toda. She is very resourceful and resilient making her a charter that the audience quickly takes a liking to forming a rooting interest that is critical for the film.  He co traveler Sticky is perfect as a representation of all ten year old boys that girls of that age think are dumb, dirty and violent. Look for Jobst Schnibbe and Leny Breederveld as the General and his wife. Toda wonderers into their midst as she preps to head across the boarder. They are inviting and eccentric with an undertone of potential child nappers.

The Day My Father Became a Bush is well suited for its target audience of 9-11year olds. It approaches that theme that's common of a separated home where the mother and father live in different countries. The narratives distaste that boarders on mocking the mechanics of war come clearly through in the piece. The ultimate message is that despite labels and language that people are just abut the same is a good message to pass on to the generation growing up today.

*** 1/2 Out of 4.

The Day My Father Became A Bush | Nicole van Kilsdonk | Croatia/ Belgium/ Netherlands | 2016 | 90 minutes.

Tags: Pastry Chef, War, Evacuation, Bus Trip, Bombings, River Crossing, Language, Divorce.

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