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Film Review: Once Upon A Time...In Hollywood/www.nightfilmreviews.com
Once Upon A Time...In Hollywood is one thing and one thing only; Quentin Tarantino's beautifully crafted dreamy love letter to cinema!
With his newest feature, the current master of cinema's vision reminds us why movies are cool again. For the first time, in a long time, there's a film that begs to be seen, not in the comfort of your own home, not on your Netflix cue on an airplane, but in front of a silver screen, with an audience and you're right...some popcorn. Once Upon A Time is less a film and more an experience; one where the bustling hot summer days are corrected by the high intensity air conditioning of the multiplexes; one where the theatres are a safe haven for summer love and first kisses, an experience where going to the movies is as magical as popping your cherry. That's what a Tarantino film is like; just like when I first went to go see his Grindhouse experience for the first time, Tarantino is a visionary old soul, hell bent on sharing his memorable cinematic experiences of his past, with us today.
If you are a cinephile and don't know about Quentin Tarantino's work, most, if not all people will tell you that you should just quit now, but I digress. Tarantino worked at a blockbuster in Hollywood, California in his early years, consuming as much cinema as possible. One of his most revered quotes to date about film is his famous line that "When people asked me if I went to film school I tell them no. I went to films". Funny enough, this quote captures the essence of Tarantino and his canon; an individual who entered the world of cinema out of the sheer love of watching films, just like myself.
As an artist myself and lover of film, I never went to film school also. Hopefully, as someone who would eventually love to make their own films one day, I feel that this is one of the many reasons why I admire, as well as, so heavily identify with Tarantino. I also learned about films by watching them. Just like myself, the influence in Tarantino films is wide ranging. His largest inspirations draws from the New Wave Gangster pictures of France, crafted by the likes of Jean Pierre Melville, Francois Truffaut and Jean-Luc Godard. All of the names listed are absolute giants in celluloid and contributed in my opinion the most to modern cinema that features, as Godard would say, "A girl and a gun". According to Godard, that is pretty much all that is necessary to making a good motion picture. Other notable Influences on Tarantino would be essentially any film from the 1970's because that is the era when he began to understand and study cinema, an era of films by Don Siegel, Sergio Leone and George Roy Hill.
Yet while many are quick to label QT as a scam artist and artistic thief, I feel like it is my duty to rectify that notion. Before continuing on, it has to be said that art copies art, inspiration inspires and according to Mark Twain, there is no such thing as originality, only levels of authenticity. Therefore, it is my extreme pleasure to introduce and name QT a master of authenticity for his cinema. Just like when Sergio Leone remade a Kurosawa picture and developed it into the Dollars trilogy, or when Christopher Nolan gave his interpretation of the Dark Knight recently, or when Martin Scorsese won his first Oscar for remaking a Japanese film and later naming it The Departed, art is not our subject, WE are its subject. Once Upon A Time...In Hollywood is the iconic director's masterful indulgence in everything that he loves about movies and everything we should love, too!
Aside from Taratino, Once Upon A Time...In Hollywood isn't just one man's magnum opus, but a collection of so many talented artists, starting with its cast. The film opens with Leonardo DiCaprio and Brad Pitt going for a cruise to a watering hole. Dicaprio stars as Rick Dalton, a good ole' boy from Missouri who drinks for hydration and smokes for oxygen. Once the leading man in television and film, appearing in western serials, one aptly titled Bounty Law, Dalton is on the tail end of his acting career. The Midwestern-American cowboy style Dalton knew all too well, is being suffocated and changed, no thanks to the foreign influenced, free-loving hippie movement. While DiCaprio's Dalton emits a certain swagger that charms many, the audience comes to realize that this 'swagger' is less a personality trait and more a clearly stubborn, unchangeable style and resilience to the conforming of the times around him. According to Rick, Rick Dalton is still big; it's the pictures that just got small. While it may be hard to argue this notion, DiCaprio's riotous as the comedic force of the film. Blending well with Tarantino's signature writing style for a second time, DiCaprio's Dalton stutters, stammers and then collectively pulls himself together in front of a camera. DiCaprio shows vulnerability constantly through induced breakdowns which is such a breath of fresh air from the usual leading roles we have seen DiCaprio play, yet also portrays the perfectly balanced and well-to-do movie star, we have come to expect from the actor, and all his character thus far.
Yet, as good as DiCaprio is, the clear cut favourite of Once Upon A Time...In Hollywood is easily the most underrated actor work today...and that's Brad Pitt. Pitt plays Cliff Booth, Dalton's best friend, stunt double and, essentially, life coach. Keeping Rick on an even keel on the daily, Cliff also serves as Rick's driver thanks to many of Rick's drunken nights that end at the end of a street lamp. Booth opposite to Dalton emits something Dalton never could, and that's an unaccepting Hollywood confidence. You know that confidence where "you're a movie star but don't want to be a movie star, but no matter what you do to deny it, you're still a movie star" type swag? The type of swag where you kick the heck out of Bruce Lee and live to tell the tale? Yea, that's Cliff Booth. Booth's swagger is a type of cool that cannot be tampered with or broken; essentially playing the type of friend that any person and everybody would want to have. Yet, the contrasts between the two can't be any more cinematically indulgent. In one of the best and most gratifying scenes in the film, is seeing the contrast of living between the two pals. Dalton, who lives in the Hollywood Hills, in a beautiful mansion, with a pool and famous neighbours in a well to do neighbourhood is pitted against Booth's lifestyle, a lifestyle that involves living inside of a Drive-in trailer, having an adorable yet deadly dog, and wearing a Hawaiian shirt as if its the most iconic costume design of 2019.
While Booth and Dalton are both a duo one may soon not forget, Tarantino was quick to point out that Pitt and DiCaprio were going to be a duo similar to the likes of Robert Redford and Paul Newman, who were ironically dominating cinema around the time that Hollywood takes place. Thanks to the release of Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid in the late 60's and The Sting released in the early 70's, it was no doubt that the two were a match made in heaven. Yet, while this was a self-proclaimed statement made by Tarantino himself, perhaps just as a form of publicity for the film, or just pure Tarantino bravado behaviour, its hard to disagree with his statement at all. Pitt and DiCaprio are a cinematic dream team!
Yet, despite all its male glory, the true hero of Once Upon A Time...In Hollywood is Sharon Tate played elegantly by Margot Robbie.
While many casual moviegoers may go into Once Upon A Time...In Hollywood without knowing much about the history of Hollywood, Sharon Tate or the Manson family murders, they may come out quite upset, disappointed or underwhelmed with the film. Aside from the fact that first half of the film is basically an elaborate introduction to all the characters, Tarantino takes his time with the process obviously dragging it out for the sheer pleasure of it, a la Once Upon a Time in the West by the masterful Sergio Leone. Yet, his story is glued and always will be linked to Sharon Tate, the late actress who faced an unfortunate, real world fate early on in her life. Yet, despite all this tragedy and grief, Tarantino's Once Upon A Time...In Hollywood may easily be recognized as a love letter to cinema, but deep down, the film is a love letter to a lost star who never really was given her opportunity to share her true potential, and left the world much too early. The Valley of the Dolls actress was a clear inspiration to the auteur, and it is no doubt that, this one was clearly for her.
Once Upon A Time...In Hollywood continues the trend of exercising the idea that, this is Tarantino's world, and we are all just living in it. Constant pushing the boundaries of the medium, and rigorously pushing the limits of reality, truth with fact or fiction, grit and pulp, Tarantino creates his own elaborate world with whomever he chooses, however he fashions it to be. Luckily for us audience members, we are able to take a glimpse of some amazing performances, even if it is for mere second, of actors we love and appreciate regularly. Like any good Tarantino film, the likes of new faces and familiar ones flood the screen, including Al Pacino, playing Marvin Schwarzs, a movie producer who sees Rick as a diamond in the industry who simply needs a good polish and update with the times. Marvin proposes that Rick goes to Italy to film a spaghetti western, paralleling the real life history of Hollywood at the time with Clint Eastwood shooting the Dollars films in Rome with Sergio Leone that catapulted Eastwood to stardom.
Film Review: Ghost Town Anthology/www.nightfilmreviews.com
Do you believe in ghosts? Do you believe in other dimensions? Do you believe in reincarnation? Ghost Town Anthology is a film that brings questions like this to the forefront of your consciousness. The film opens with a frigidly framed car crash, that appears to happen out of nowhere, finding a way to sneak between sounds of the wind blowing and the trees creaking. The driver of the car was Simon Dube played by Phillipe Charette, leaving behind his distraught parents Romuald played endearingly by Jean-Michel Anctil and Gisele played by Josée Deschênes. His older brother Jimmy played with skill by Robert Naylor picks the film up from his brother's death, beginning a search for his brother because in his mind he could not have just left him like that even though the audience can see that Jimmy knows the true cause of his brother's death and it was not accidental, making Jimmy's search for signs of his brother all the more heart wrenching. The father, Romuald, tells his wife Giselle he is going to buy cigarettes, ultimately leaving a note explaining that he needs time and space to mourn the death of his son. Personally the scenes that followed of the father Romuald and his grieving process were some of my favorite moments of the film and the director makes no attempt at making it clear if the father is ever going to actually return.
The director of Ghost Town Anthology, Dennis Cote has quite a vision and understanding of spiritual imagery and feeling, the sound design is something that is so unique and unnervingly special. The brilliance of it is chiefly noticeable in the fathers grieving scenes. Cote masks bleak desolate moving landscapes shot as if the camera has been mounted in a 1987 pickup truck, with sounds of wind, static, and crackling; the only difference being in the patterns the sounds play in is completely different from anything I have heard before. The film was shot in 16mm and in these brief moments the 16mm film looks much closer to 8mm film, clearly having been scratched and tampered with by the creators of the film and then developed in black and white to add to the lo-fi feelings being heavily transmitted through the film. The camera movements in these very vague almost elusive scenes is all the more interesting, if it doesn't feel like it's been mounted to a pickup truck, it feels as if it's been mounted to a wounded animal walking its way to its demise, trudging along the bare landscape.
The death of the boy sends shockwaves through the small town, ultimately becoming the sole focus of the town's mayor Simone Smallwood, played by Diane Lavallée, who appears to have one sole mission in life and that is to ensure that her town carries on its daily life, every day, with no change or help from outsiders. As a reaction to the boy's death, a political official known to Smallwood sends a psychiatrist from the "big city" to assist with the psychological effects of the boy's death in the town. The new face is quickly dismissed by the mayor who claims that the towns people is made up of "grown ups" and they can "handle themselves", leaving the story to the isolation of the few faces the audience has seen. One of the faces that is most intriguing is a woman named Adele, played by Larissa Corriveau. Adele is the type of character whom simply steals the camera because she has a look that is so unusual and uncanny. Her character is a supposed newcomer to the town, making it all the more interesting due to her severe social anxiety. Dennis Cote captures how one feels when they have social anxiety with swift minimalism, particularly in a scene early on in the film where he utilizes a tracking shot. The camera tracks Adele from the washroom of a New Year's Eve party, in the middle of a pep talk nonetheless, all the way through the party until she encounters Jimmy and his best friend Andre. The way Larissa Corriveau walks through the party, making sure to never once look in place, avoiding physical contact and eye contact is beyond an accurate depiction of social anxiety and she hits her marks perfectly. The dialogue between Adele, Jimmy and Andre is innocent and naturally dry, a true contender for the most cringe worthy moment in cinema this year.
As strange people begin to arrive in the town including Jimmy having an encounter with his recently deceased brother with no explanation and more and more of the townspeople beginning to see the people themselves the film shifts its gears to more serious questions. There are multiple scenes with supremely high tension in the gradual revealing of these strange arrivals to the town. The town's people begin to almost show frustration to their attendance, not because they are ghosts but because it further punctuates their isolation by having these people show up. What more of a reason to move to the big city than having the dead walk your neighbourhood, right? This commentary of life and death, and exposure versus isolation become very focal themes in the film and it makes for truly different cinema.
Overall the film is quite good, although at times disorganized and scattered with the plot and character development. Dennis Cote has made primarily documentaries and experimental films, having Ghost Town Anthology be considered as his first official feature film. The application of 16mm film and shaky cam prove effective in not only the setting and story but mesh perfectly with Cote's eye and style. The film feels as if it is a short film that has been extended and obviously this can be attributed to Cote's former projects. It would be interesting to see him apply his eye for human nature and psychology to something slightly less experimental. In the end Ghost Town Anthology raises lots of questions about life, death, reincarnation and having enough time, and it is a quality contribution to the supernatural genre.
Happy Death Day 2U (2019)
Film Review: Happy Death Day 2U/www.nightfilmreviews.com
When thinking about the comedy-horror genre, there are very few and far in-between films that come to mind. While it may be hard to conjure up a large number of films which remain memorable for quality and not for overall lewdness, gross out gags are born and raised in these types of films. While more often than not, many of the films born in this genre have made, for the most part, a mockery of the genre, thankfully there are a few gems to carry the cultish torch; gems like Sam Raimi's Evil Dead, Mel Brooks' Young Frankenstein, or Edgar Wright's Shaun of The Dead and Scary Movie from the lively Keenen Ivory Wayans remain some of the few films that come to mind right away. All notable and truly brilliant contributions to the genre, these films possess the impressive ability to walk the proverbial tightrope between the equally difficult threshold of outlandish yet effective comedy and frightening and truly terrifying horror. The natural benefit of combining the two is that both commonly rely on similar mechanics for the pay off or climax of scenes. The pacing is similar; you find the same tension that gets built up for a laugh but could easily shift gears and become build up for a gasp, and for both respectable genres, it's all about the revealing of what we the audience have been waiting for, the killer behind the shower curtain or the perfectly timed punchline.
Happy Death Day 2U is directed by Christopher Landon, a filmmaker who jumped in on the train that was Paranormal Activity after the massive success of the first indie surprise hit. Yet, as devoted Landon is to the genre itself, directing and writing many entries in the comedy-horror subgenre, including 2015's Scouts Guide to The Zombie Apocalypse, Death Day 2U is a fresh and invigorating take on genre but also on romance, mortality and even includes a dash of science fiction.
The brilliant, even outstanding advantage Death Day 2U has over films before it of its kind is its show stopping leading lady who is larger than the film itself Jessica Rothe. Death Day 2U is a sequel and we see Jessica reprising her role as Tree Gelbman, the time looped slasher victim of all slasher victims from the first film. This time around she gets caught in the Groundhog Day/Halloween type scenario once again. Let me just say that Rothe plays the role like an ace; funny, down to earth, beautiful and well-timed as a comic, she also crowns herself a worthy scream-queen next some greats.
While the film uses the reviving or reincarnating premise to the fifth degree unabashedly, luckily for the audience, it never feels tiresome; the cinematic gimmick stays fresh. The main plot device is primarily governed by the films main comedic power Phi Vu playing the character of Ryan Lin, a friend of Tree's who ends up getting stuck in the same "loop" or dimension that Tree was stuck in. With this new dilemma and multiple dimensions in the film, it never feels boring or cliché. One of the dimensions has Tree's recently deceased mother alive and well, along with her boyfriend Carter Davis played by Israel Broussard dating Tree's arch enemy from the original first dimension the film started in, these scenes provided surprising and truly moving emotional weight to the film, giving insight to relationships and life overall.
I can honestly say that I was completely thrown off by the films ability to include so many different scenarios and ways for Tree to be murdered with some truly hilarious scenes. Yet all at the same time hold any kind of weight emotionally, the side plot involving her mother being alive is truly heartbreaking to see and did not feel melodramatic or forced. All of the side characters in the film held there weight and served there desired purpose and honestly the entire film is simply good fun. Popular culture references are present and the riffing on Inception and other dimension based works brought belly laughs out of the audience. The horror aspect of the film was designed with what I believe to be simplicity in mind, simple side plots including an affair between a young Nurse who is a friend of Tree's and a doctor set stage for some awesome suspense sequences. The killer possess zero qualities other than mild athleticism and a brilliantly designed school mascot mask that he dons as he attempts to satisfy his blood thirst, paired with a Michael Myers style kitchen knife as his weapon of choice. The mask is perfect and Landon does a good job at offsetting the usual jump out and scare tactics to actually be effective and a hell of a fun ride.
Happy Death Day 2U is a destined to fail concept, with so many genres and feelings thrown into one mix, it takes quite the perfect storm to turn said mix into a good Manhattan, and let me tell you, Christopher Landon was the perfect bartender for this party. Taking the audience on a roller coaster of emotions yet never feeling jumbled or overwhelming, and with Jessica Rothe stealing the show with her innocent yet punkish university girl charm, Happy Death Day 2U is a well-balanced and tasteful venture into science fiction, horror, comedy and romance, and a guaranteed good time at the cinema.
The Prodigy (2019)
Film Review: The Prodigy/www.nightfilmreviews.com
Horror films have a unique way of having the ability to be wonderfully entertaining while tackling some very important and often sensitive topics that come to surface on a regular basis in our society. Take Jordan Peele's Get Out as an example; the critically acclaimed and perfectly balanced cocktail of suspense, humor and social commentary about a very absurd yet very real perception in modern day America. The film drew heavily on society and the racial trials and tribulations that many ethnic groups face on a daily basis, camouflaging the blunt nature of said beast with talented filmmaking. With The Prodigy, a new horror film directed by Nicolas McCarthy, sets its aim chiefly on childhood, parenting, marriage and the idea of mental health while hitting all its targets like a blunt hammer. The film opens with credits to its distributor Orion Pictures, a nostalgic logo flashes across the screen bringing back memories of The Terminator or Wolfen from 1981, two classics that were distributed by the company; setting the tone for a film with McCarthy successfully taking classic horror film devices and applying them in a modern setting.
Nicholas McCarthy's filmography is no stranger to the supernatural, in fact all three of the feature films in his repertoire deal with supernatural material. With his career peaking and a very minimalist approach to undertaking projects and simplistic horror style, its hard to draw comparison within the world McCarthy captures on film. One thing that is for certain is that the world in his newest film The Prodigy is quite spine tingling.
The Prodigy revolves around Miles (Jackson Robert Scott), a child who at first, seems to be somewhat of a mad-genius. As Miles' behaviour begins to become more alarming, his parents Sarah and John (Taylor Schilling and Peter Mooney) begin seeking answers, going as far to believing that Miles may be a reincarnation of a soul who has unfinished business, according to the unconventional advise of Dr. Arthur Jacobson (Colm Feore). McCarthy begins turning the film from a story of a young new family into something more reminiscent of The Omen, a Richard Donner classic, a film dedicated to the idea of youthful deviance. The 1976 film is clearly a loved homage by McCarthy and most likely used as a visual example to Jackson Robert Scott during shooting of the film.
While The Prodigy doesn't stop with just The Omen as a clear homage, McCarthy's film also pays heavy tribute to William Friedkin's undeniable and most certainly unforgettable horror masterpiece The Exorcist. Using the year 1973 as its reference point, a valiant year in horror cinema, producing cult classics like The Wicker Man, Don't Look Now and The Vault of Horror, the film's title makes it quite clear just exactly what it wants to be and how much these films mean to the filmmakers involved.
As cinema and the horror genre begins to evolve in 2019, one of its more interesting and affable characteristics is how it blends plaguing real-world issues into a fun, sometimes spooky yet always entertaining and devilish good time. While many horror films have had sadistic and possessed children, one of my favourite parts of The Prodigy is how it begins with the questions of mental health, learning disabilities (or extreme learning abilities in this instance), and how parents or people would deal with these things. One of the scariest aspects of The Prodigy is imagining this happening to you as a parent? How would you react? What would you do? It is no surprise that many test audiences were so scared and disturbed during the test screenings that the studio had to dilute many of the interactions between Miles and his mother, especially the sequence of scenes where a suspecting Sarah allows Miles to sleep in her bed. As she tenses up and allows her son to climb into bed with her, Miles' hand behind slithering over her shoulder as he whines the words, "Mommy, will you always love me? No matter what I do?" I mean, come on, creepy stuff!
Conclusively, The Prodigy can stand up in the supernatural, more specifically child supernatural horror movies genre with great pride and valour. A quirky sub-genre that has few bodies of work yet many of the film seem to have certainly left their mark on cinema and horror genre specifically, The Prodigy is a worthy addition to the bunch. Showing immense love to other classic films, The Prodigy uses past techniques in a modern minimalistic setting with superb effectiveness, making the film a familiar but altogether fresh and chilling choice for a film to watch at the multiplexes.
Film Review: Glass/www.nightfilmreviews.com
The time is 2019, and as an audience member and lover of film and cinema in a contemporary world, one has to understand and come to terms with the fact that superhero films are here, and seem to be here to stay for an unforeseen future. While many claim to be tired and exasperated with the not so recent trend of the superhero genre, it seems that the numbers don't really reflect the attitudes. While sighs are heard every time a new trailer for a Marvel or DC Universe film is revealed from a majority, the box office for these films just keep getting bigger and bigger with each new character, entry, sequel or prequel.
Yet, while Marvel and DC aren't the only ones pumping out superhero films, and well before the Marvel Cinematic Universe became nomenclature for many, it seems that M. Night Shaymalan was well ahead of the curb when it came to creating his own universe of superheroes and villains, we just were not aware of it at the time.
While Split revealed a very exciting fact in the closing credits scene, it seems that the secret is out on Glass, Shaymalan's newest film. Less of an emotional twist ending and more of a narrative one, Split revealed that the film existed in the same universe as Shaymalan's highly applauded and loved origin superhero film Unbreakable.
Yet, while many believed that Shaymalan's golden days were behind him as a director, Split seemed to have revived the once untouchable then plagued director back into the spotlight. After the massive success of Split and the idea to connect his two creations into one universe and have them collide in Glass, was a risk the studio was willing to make, especially given the director's modest budgeting range. While Unbreakable was made on an unusually large $75 million dollar budget back in 2000 (which was unheard of then, but thanks to the immense success of The Sixth Sense, studios were hopeful), the film only brought in only $250 million worldwide, which only paled in comparison to the director's hit The Sixth Sense, a film that brought in almost $700 million on a miniature $40 million budget. Yet, after a string of massive critical failures, including Lady In The Water, The Happening, The Last Airbender and After Earth, with only one of those films being a box office slump in Lady In The Water, Shaymalan went from critical darling and wonder-kid, to a running gag within the film industry. Yet, after almost a decade of making terrible films, Shaymalan resilience brought him a return to form, thanks to his comeback film and going back to his horror roots with the low-budget indie film The Visit, thus resurrecting the once ostracized filmmaker.
With new life and his origin intentions of creating a trilogy based superhero universe well before Marvel and Kevin Feige was even in the picture, Shaymalan began extending his superhero world with Split, unknown to audiences at the time. With a budget of only $9 million dollars, Shaymalan focused less on spectacle and created a superhero universe grounded in character study and depth; focusing more on 'what' makes a superhero/villain as opposed to the challenges they face once they are fully evolved. For Glass, another modest budget of $20 million shows just how little faith the Hollywood studios have in the once dominating director, especially when that amount of money barely pays for a headlining actor or a marketing budget. Yet, nineteen years later, here we are with Glass, the finale of what's being called the East Rail 177 trilogy.
Dissecting Glass for too long, one may very well make the whole film shatter; but as fragile and tempered the film really is, the ambition behind an almost two decade long dream, is quite remarkable, especially during a time where superhero films are pumped out faster than human life is. One of the many satisfying factors of Glass is Shaymalan's ability to round-up characters from the first two films, and each character never skipping a beat in Glass; the performances are easily the best parts of the film.
Picking up right where Split left off, David Dunn (Bruce Willis) and his sidekick son and tech savvy partner, providing Dunn with his eyes and ears, Joseph Dunn (Spencer Treat Clark, the original son in Unbreakable which was great to see) use the internet, social media and surveillance technology as tools towards capturing the troubled Kevin Wendell Crumb (James McAvoy). After successfully tracking down Crumb before he takes the lives of another innocent group of teenage girls, Dunn and Crumb engage in a very muted and underwhelming face-off, until they are both captured by the authorities, accompanied by "comic-book therapist" Dr. Ellie Staple (Sarah Paulson). Brought to a psychiatric ward where Dr.Staple is keen on giving realization that both men are in fact not superhuman, they both soon realize that Elijah Price aka Mister Glass (Samuel L. Jackson) is in the same hospital following his terrifying acts in Unbreakable. As the plot plays out, Elijah's still obsessive motive to prove to the world that super good guys and sinister bad guys exist, Mister Glass schemes up an elaborate plan to get Dunn and Crumb fight it out, for all the world to see.
While Glass is no where as superior to Unbreakable or Split, kudos needs to be given to Shyamalan for transforming a genre of popular film by focusing less on the action set pieces and more on the characters with these amazing and unique abilities. Now, whether or not this is because of his lack of budget, because we all know what he did with the $150 million budget of The Last Airbender, perhaps this is Shaymalan's niche after all? Shaymalan delivers what we like to call, grass-roots super hero films, and he does it with elegance and grace, except when he is trying to tying them all together as he does with Glass.
While Glass is the third (and perhaps final) entry of the East Rail 177 trilogy, the film feels more like a condensed sequel. Although Shyamalan ties in references to Unbreakable in Glass, there is no question that the filmmaker has a hefty job of juggling so many important characters into a very respectable comic book runtime. Yet, the more and more we get with McAvoy and his highly tormented character, the more and more we are engaged with Glass. It comes without question that all three male leads are exceptional in the film, but McAvoy shines as always, juggling multiple personalities, in an instant, almost effortlessly. Since it is no surprise now, given Shaymalan's extensive filmography, that the director is highly influences by the likes of Hitchcock, Shyamalan has an affinity for the renown filmmaker just in McAvoy's character alone, sending reminders of a very familiar Norman Bates in Psycho, specifically Kevin's personality known as Patricia, proving a clear homage to one of his great idols.
Yet although Shaymalan is directly influenced by some of the most respected, it comes to no surprise that his writing always seems to be some of the critics toughest pill to swallow. Oozing with constant comic book references as well as heavy-handed pop culture references, the film's tone suffers from dark, nightmarish comic book noir feels to goofy limited actioner film mess; especially given the large and hugely promising idea of the final square off between Dunn and Crumb, which hardly and almost never comes. Instead, Shyamalan employs the use of interminable drawn out Average Shot Lengths (ALS) with his ALS striking comparison with films circa 1940 to the 1960's. Now, whether or not this stylistic choice again alludes to the directors need to praise his admirers, or due to a lack of budget, but the film's action set pieces seem all too restrained and something left to be desired of audience members.
Glass stills has great moments and aspects that really become effervescent within the comic book genre. From West Dylan Thordson magnifying score, blending heavy violin stabs and eerie buildups scream similar to the work of the late great Bernard Herrmann, to some truly fantastic ideas of the film starting off as a comic book film set in a real world where medicine, science and fiction collide, Shaymalan offers a lot of meaty and thoughtful material with Glass.
Glass then becomes a culmination of a Roman drama; crisis and sovereign Shyamalan plot twists make the finale something unique and different, for comic book films today. Essentially, Shyamalan does exactly what we want him to do; provide us with characters we know and love, build up tension, drama and action, and knock our socks off with some mind-bending and twisted surprise ending.
Glass, as a thriller hits all of the right notes. As the director basks in his passionate territory of cinema- Glass makes one thing clear, and that's M. Night's love for comic books. Glass allows the director to geek out on his truly cerebral first love.
Glass is fresh, supernatural, dark yet at times comedic look into the world of heroes and villains, the ideas of mental illness and the expectations of society, our expectations as an audience and a genre of cinema that will live on far longer than us, in the cinematic history books for generations to come.
Film Review: Capernaum/www.nightfilmreviews.com
In the early chapters of my life, Lebanon was an elusive figure of my imagination. Being born and raised in Toronto, I would hear stories of my homeland from my cousins, uncles and grandmothers. From their descriptions of the countryside, my homeland played in my mind like a fantastic Wild West; the stories always had an underlying sense that the country was a type of Eden, a magical place with magical people, a gem placed perfectly in the midst of chaos.
When I made my first trip to the country I was twelve years old. My familial roots trace back to the northern part of the country to a town called Joub Janine in a region known as the Beqaa Valley which is nestled right below the currently devastatingly war-torn Syria. My experiences were life altering; a colossal shift to my consciousness occurred about the world we live in and how that sucker spins, how you can enter a world so electric and alien to your own world with just a 12 hour flight by plane.
My first visit due to age was made up of primarily the country's decadent cuisine and visits to my family.
I went back at the age of seventeen with my brother for three weeks, and it was then that my Wild West fantasy began to take true form in reality. Streets cross each other making a labyrinth of life, electric lines lay over and under and all around each other, looming above the streets like a friendly spider's web. The youth is passionate and wild, full of life and wisdom gathered from their surroundings complete with beautiful flowing hair and beautifully wrapped Hijabs rest on the woman as they socialize, smoking tobacco out of hookah pipes that give off the most fragrant of aromas. This aroma follows you, like the sun that stays on your shoulders with strength, or the full flavored tobacco that wafts through the streets and barber shop. The barber shop that is run by a man who's lost his tongue in the war yet he still knows just what you want from your hand signals. Lebanese like to use their hands when they talk, they throw them down towards the floor like they are letting go of weights and point as if they were being cut from a Tintin comic strip. Firearms are readily available and commonplace yet no one ever shoots each other, they are carried for their destined use of protection, and perhaps the occasional couple of discharges in the many farm fields of the country. Seatbelts are ignored and so are road signs, if any, yet everyone seems to get along just fine. Some ride in German automobiles while some entire families ride on one motorized scooter, newborns and all.
Capernaum, the newest film by Nadine Labaki shows just how exceptionally talented the renowned Lebanese auteur is at capturing that land that holds my heart, and hers as well. Her style is, if comparable, reminiscent of the flavour of Larry Clark's Kids, with a dash of Paul Greengrass's Green Zone, and many hints of Vittorio Di Sica's brilliant Umberto D. The film is poignant; revolving completely around the world of a twelve-year old boy named Zain (Zain Al Rafeea). He lives in a steamy, crammed apartment with his band of siblings, and neglectful mother (Fadi Yousef) and father (Kawsar Al Haddad) in a war-torn neighborhood in Beirut. His parents out of devastating desperation give their daughter to the landlord of their building in hopes of leniency with their payment of rent, an act that naturally enrages Zain, causing him to run away from his family into the abyss of Beirut.
In his journey of self-preservation destiny he meets an Ethiopian migrant worker Rahil (Yordanos Shiferaw). Rahil has an infant child of her own name Yonas (Boluwatife Treasure Bankole), who gives such a contribution to the organic documentary inspired style that is truly remarkable. Rahil takes Zain under her care for some time providing some of the most beautifully shot scenes of intimacy in cinema over the past little while. The film's heart is transcended through Zain and Yonas; their acting is so poetic, watching these two children interact, with the slightest of movements, give elusive kinetic energy that never feels premeditated in the slightest.
Drama ultimately knocks on the films door and heartbreak occurs with Zain climatically commits a violent act causing him to stand in court with his parents. He declares hatred for his parents and seeks justice for them giving him life when they have no intention to properly love or care for him, as well as his siblings. This embodies the idea of Capernaum which is according to Libaki "to give a voice to children who otherwise do not have one."
I have watched a select couple of brief scenes from Labaki's previous films, yet never have I seen one in its entirety and this was quite the film to start me off. The opening sequence is melodious; we see Zain with a number of other children, horse playing through the tangles of flights of stairs and street corners of the neighborhood. Labaki takes this moment to transport the audience above an electrical wire of neighbourhoods to a bird's eye shot, tracking the kids as they gallop down streets in true Federico Fellini 8 ½ fashion, already showing Lebanon for what it is, a very dreamlike place. The delicate cocktail of human perspective documentary styled shots and sweeping wide-panning crane shots is absolutely fascinating and more than simply tasteful to the eye, it is transcending. The editing is psychedelic, completed masterfully by Konstantin Bock and Laure Gardette. During the introduction to the screening of the film it was said that filming had taken a year, and the editing process had actually taken the same amount of time. After watching the film it is quite obvious as to why it is such, it plays so naturally and voyeur in nature yet the story is absolutely engaging and just as strong as a destined plot driven production with seamless cutting from one physical place to another or one action to another in the more energized scenes. The palette of colours is gorgeous, with the sandy browns and vivid greens of the country effortlessly gracing the lens, operated by the very talented Christopher Aoun. The occasionally shaky yet simultaneously delicate sweep of Aoun's camera paired with Labaki's eye for the absolute accurate atmosphere of the country is where the film truly finds its class. Her method of seeming to let Lebanon function as a society while around her, and simultaneously filming these occurrences, in true fly on the wall filming style, is so effective at showing the beauty and despair this country harbours. The pair do not sensationalize, they simply observe.
Although Labaki and Aoun absolutely shine in this film with their talents, we have seen films with similar concepts of documentary inspired emotion driven pictures, the real ultra-light in Capernaum comes from the films lead Zain. During my second visit to the country, I recall sitting on a roof one star-lit evening and looking to the north of us to Syria where we could see rockets and artillery punishing the land, the embers and matter from these vehicles of death flaring up the sky. I thought to myself at that moment how it would be to if it was me in that situation; if my family were only that much more north how devastating my life could have been.
Zain Al Rafeea is actually a Syrian refugee, making his performance all the more impactful, genuine and tear summoning. Zain is the rarest portrayal of passion; through his depiction, one can easily see the infinite wisdom that has been added to his soul through his eyes as he stares into the camera, the natural wisdom given to those who have seen the hellish things he has seen. It is quite heartbreaking while brilliant all in the same; his bravado and way with words put him right up to par if not past his much older and experienced peers in Hollywood, an absolute diamond in the rough of an actor who took my expectations and surpassed them tenfold.
Capernaum is an emotional wave that washes and continues to wash over you. I walked out of this film like I had witnessed a ghost. The epiphany of raw, no-holds-barred talented filmmaking. Capernaum is passion, Capernaum is struggle, Capernaum is love, beauty, and chaos. Capernaum is Lebanon.
Welcome to Marwen (2018)
Film Review: Welcome To Marwen/www.nightfilmreviews.com
If you couldn't think of a better example where Hollywood puts its hands on something and made it boom, pop and explode like never before, Welcome To Marwen is the film to prove all of your theories correct.
Based on the 2010 documentary Marwencol, the film is a fictional and glamoured retelling of a documentary feature film that showcases the triumphs of a man who was severely and brutally attacked that left him with irreversible brain-damage. Mark Hogancamp is undoubtedly a survivor. After the attack, the once established and successful artist began creating a 1:6 scale world where he finds therapy, healing and redemption from the horrors of his past.
In the 2018 fictionalization feature film, Steve Carrell plays Hogancamp, a man whose hyper-fantizies sex, violence and victory in Marwen. While the city of Marwen is inhabited by Captian Hogie, a miniature version of himself, as a ruthless and brave military captain, the only other residents are the women of Marwen, each represented by strong and kind women in Mark's life. While many of the women's stories become as interesting as Mark's, we come to fall in love with the women of Marwen, no matter how treacherous they are to the "Nazis" that constantly threaten their home.
Although Welcome To Marwen is the story of Hogancamp, the direction quickly shifts to his feminine rebellion; GI Julie (Janelle Monáe), Carlala (Eiza González), Anna (Gwendoline Christie), Suzette (Leslie Zemeckis), a group of influential women that help Mark recovery from epic tragedy. Even though each of the women are a representation of the women in Mark's reality, he quickly makes them sexy and tough-as-nails heroes of Marwen, constantly standing by and protecting Hogie, no matter how hocus the narrative really is.
The shift in Mark's life comes with the introduction of a new neighbour across the street, Nicol (Leslie Mann), who has her own story of tragedy and strife. Together, Mark and Nicol, as well as all the other women in Mark's life face the many challenges of their lives head on, and without apologies.
Welcome To Marwen is a story about pain; embracing the pain, loving the pain and dealing with the pain and using it as fuel for recovery and successful. Yet, while the themes of Marwen are very strong and incredibly inspiring, one cant help but notice just how painful the film really is. Mixing stop-motion capture technology for the fictitious world of Marwen, and integrating the fantasy with reality, really symbolizing real life issues with action figures, the themes in Zemeckis' newest feature get lost in over-ambition. One of the biggest disappointments of Marwen is the poor use of such a talented and great cast, and under utilizing the fantastic actors for pure spectacle.
While, at first, the animation becomes quite charming and humorous, it quickly overstays its welcome. Zemeckis, a master of story-telling and innovating the medium of cinema and motion-capture technology (as seen in The Polar Express), it's over stylization here gives Marwen a bloated and bizarre entrance; and instead of getting lost in a world, the audience feels more like they are stuck in Marwen with no exit for the film's two-hour runtime.
While hate and discrimination spark the world of Marwen, love and determination save it. Yet, authenticity is lacking within every frame of Welcome To Marwen, especially when a filmmaker like Zemeckis is at the helm; it truly becomes an example of the expectations of film-lovers and how they react to film that's poorly made or executed with such dissatisfaction.
Based on the true triumph of a man who used his tragic story into a story of success and glory, Hogencamp's pictures of his figurines of Marwencol were featured in a New York gallery in 2006, and eventually made into a documentary in which this film is based on. While Hogencamp still suffers very severe forms of post-traumatic stress following the incident and violent hate-crime that nearly left him dead, his story is one that inspires so much hope and strength to others who have had near-death experiences, or even just need a little hope in the everyday and mundane difficulties of life. Unfortunately, Welcome To Marwen isn't the film to illicit many of those feelings.
Isolated from the outside world, threatened by everyday acts and routines and surrounded by endless love and kindness, Mark Hogencamp is the real deal when it comes to overcoming your demons and facing your fears. Sadly, Welcome To Marwen comes short on proving to being a story to ignite emotions of inspiration, hope and new beginnings.
Mortal Engines (2018)
Film Review: Mortal Engines/www.nightfilmreviews.com
The latest contrivance from Peter Jackson, Mortal Engines is a post-apocalyptic action thriller on wheels. The film was penned and produced by Jackson with newcomer Christian Rivers making his feature film directorial debut under Jackson's wing. The concept of Mortal Engines is set thousands of years ahead of our time. After what was known of the "Sixty Minute War", the Earth's crust has shattered resulting in a large loss of the earth's surface area and natural resources. The loss of resources is the main motivating factor behind entire cities transforming their societies into moving war machines. Their only goal; strategizing towards conquering one another for resources. These concepts do not stray far from our own political climate in its current state. The amped up and glamorized special effects make these concepts of moving beasts of cities a fantastic steam-punk fuelled spectacle that gets your gears going.
The story of Mortal Engines centres around a young apprenticing historian Tom Natsworthy played by Robert Sheehan. The young aspiring aviator unwillingly becomes involved in the attempted murder of the main monopolizing figure of London and Head of Guild of Historians, Thaddeus Valentine (Hugo Weaving). The would-be assassin, Hester Shaw (Hera Hilmar), is a masked and mysterious femme fatale figure with some of the new world's darkest and deepest secrets. After being mostly unsuccessful with her assassination attempt, no thanks to Tom, Hester and Tom find themselves exiled off of London and into the Great Hunting Ground. Left to face the bleak landscape of the new destructed world alone, a world that director Rivers and the set designer Rosie Guthrie decorate with numerous memorable cinematic set pieces, including a southern bayou style encampment vehicle that rolls and crawls through the landscape with clay formations on its back resembling armour similar to something you would see on an ancient dinosaur or armadillo.
After being captured and sold as slaves, Hester and Tom are lucky enough to be saved by top world assassin Anna Fang. Korean pop star and actress Jihae plays Fang, pilot and leader of the anti-establishment force known as the "anti-tractionists" who oppose the mobilization of cities and subsequent warfare that comes with the capitalist nature of it all. Opposing the idea of what the predator cities adopt as "Municipal Darwinism", Fang steals Hester and Tom as well as the slave market scene from the movie commanding attention. Donning a red leather trench coat tat resembles something out of a colourful parallel world Matrix, Fang saves our main protagonists without a hair falling out-of-place from her Presley style pompadour. this among many others scenes in the film are hard to ignore for its blatent yet often times crazy imitation type scenes. Typically, while films with this type of budget and nature, tend to pay great tribute and homage to some of the films it get inspiration film, Mortal Engine tends to spill a little too much grease on its mirroring scenes.
In addition to this array of fresh new faces of actors, the supporting cast also includes Leila George D'Onofrio, playing Katherine Valentine, Thaddeus Valentine's daughter and at least in portions of the film seeming love interest to Tom. Stephen Lang plays the role of Shrike, a Metal Gear Solid styled undead soldier from a battalion called The Stalkers. While Shrike is made mostly of metal and being undead, Shrike and Hester provide the film with the most emotional parts of the film and perhaps the film's best subplot, Lang and Hilmar give the majority of the film its beating heart, no matter ow cold the subject material really is.
While Mortal Engines will be a hard sell in a jam-packed holiday schedule of films, this dystopian future feature film does some provide audiences with amusing portrayals of the future. Both Rivers and Jackson create a world that is both terrifying to imagine, yet fascinating and hard to look away from. Although the film tries a little too hard on being a Mad Max imitation the film is peppered with popular culture references touching on everything from minions, to Apple products (specifically iPhones) and toasters; displayed and spoken about as if they were ancient relics that providing us humans with some essential and crucial nourishment. One of my favourite and probably the most humorous scenes in the film was when we see Esther pull out a Twinkie to eat. Tom makes a remark at how old the Twinkie is and in a cheeky jab towards the food industry, she diffuses his worries by claiming food from the past even if it is a thousand years old in their case of story and time, "never goes bad".
Ultimately, even with some structural voids in the story and certain points where the plot loses the wind in its sails, Mortal Engines does its best job at being overtly entertaining. Its portrayal of a distant future was surprisingly humorous and time dwindling in the realm of apocalyptic filmmaking.
Manbiki kazoku (2018)
Film Review: Shoplifters/www.nightfilmreviews.com
Shoplifters by Hirokazu Koreeda is one of the most beautiful portraits of the family household and its elements ever graced on-screen, and yes, that is how I am starting this review. While the last little while has been an array of firsts, experiencing a Koreeda film, I found myself recalling immortal auteurs like Yasujiro Ozu with his "seasons" series of melodramas, chiefly revolving around domestic trials and tribulations of man and humanity itself. At times I found it played like a Vittorio De Sica film, sprawling with driven poverty and poetic synthesis, proving on being a companion piece to his infamous Bicycle Thieves. While this film is already in the company of great films, winning the Palme D'Or at this year's Cannes Film Festival, Shoplifters is absolutely spellbinding! It's a film that is reviving the idea that modern cinema can move and transcend audiences in the most simplistic and organic of settings and motions.
In my humblest and sincerest personal opinion, classic French, Italian and Japanese cinema produces truly spiritual, dreamlike cinematic material. Works from these countries articulate family, love, and spirituality through a lens that is equally transformative yet daringly raw and different from Western cinema. Ringing true to the genuine human condition than anything I have seen from Hollywood, Shoplifters is a film that has shifted my opinion on modern directors and modern cinema as a whole. With Shoplifter's we are truly drawn to a familiar world where the lens provides a gaze though the eyes of a real auteur. While I always disregarded the notion that anything shot with a modern camera in modern settings could materialize into the type of work that Kurosawa or Ozu have created, I have always believed filmmakers like these have unmatched qualities, until now. Koreeda's extreme sense of self-awareness and implementing a strong social dynamic, the characters and narrative of Shoplifters blossoms into a truly hearty cinematic experience.
Although the story and narrative of Shoplifters really has no real importance, this is a film that truly draws from its actors and their interactions, to create a family that really delves into the depths of complex moral issues, bonds of love and the ideas of nature versus nurture, that hasn't been seen in film for many years. Yet, the casting in the film is perhaps, and although this may be a wholly bold statement, the best casting I have seen in at least a decade. Ranging from young child actors to older and respected Japanese acting icons, each familial role is worked and managed into broken down fibres of relatable family members we have in our own lives.
The film tells the story of the Shibata's. Osamu Shibata, played by Lily Franky, the real patriarch of the family, provides the film with the majority of its humour, especially when he is teaching his 'children' the fine 'art' of theft. Early on, we see that he passes on his skills to his 'son' Shota played exceptionally well by Jyo Kairi. Relentless and effortless, the two are shown to be very close and possessing so many of the dynamics seen between a father and son relationship we have come to expect in film. Shota's mother, Nobuyo (Sakura Hando) works at a dry cleaners providing her share for the family, also engaging in forms of theft. Nobuyo's sister Aki (May Matsuoka) works at a soft-core gentlemen's cyber club performing for her dividend. All of the finances rendezvous at the flat the family stays in tucked away in an extremely quiet neighborhood. A large chunk of the rent that comes along with space is paid for by the true matriarch of the household, Grandmother Hatsue, played tirelessly by Kirin Kiki, who recently passed at the tender age of seventy-five.
While each character's role is paramount in expressing the moral teachings in Koreeda's perfectly woven story, there is a firm affinity for Koreeda's sense of family and togetherness that does not go unnoticed. Each family member play each of their respectable roles honestly, spreading words and dialogue that ceases to shy from the harsh realities of such a lifestyle, yet brilliantly completely shatter society's belittling and scoffing nature towards them by being individual embodiments of humanity at all stages and ages of life.
The family begins to change its dynamic when Osamu and Shota walk home one evening from a routine shoplift, and find Yuri (Miyu Sasaki), a small child left in the barren waste of her broken family's home. Together, the two males bring Yuri back home, and the family agrees to keep her safe and make her one of them, a Shibata, due to their parents physical, emotional and mental abuse that can be heard from the open windows of their home. Once Yuri becomes a Shibata, the unravelling of a strong family unit begins, and in the most beautiful and gut-wrenching of fashion, even if what we are experiencing on-screen can easily be argued as kidnapping. Yet, one of the strongest questions in the film remains, is love experienced by strangers better than no love at all experienced by the people you call family?
To call Shoplifters unequivocally beautiful is an understatement. Shot by Kondo Ryuto with a diamond touch in 35mm, an utilizing a medium shot style of filming, which gives great emphasis to the family's dialogue, action/reaction shots and allows for actors to truly embody their characters, with each one of their quips to be internalized. With amazing attention to detail, Akiko Matsuba, set designer to the film, allows his vision combined with Koreeda's small yet meaningful narrative acts, magnify the characters powerful revelations onto the screen.
Although the main use of 3D in film, back when the medium was in its infancy, was implicated for the further immersion of audiences into the films they are watching, with films like Shoplifters, the true immersion audiences experience are into feelings of true warmth, a sensation that radiates from every scene and frame of Koreeda's Shoplifters. Shoplifters is a film that immerses the immersion of the soul. Focusing less on the actions happening around them and more of the facial, boldly and emotional reactions of his actors, the film is a true testament to the beauty of simplicity and minimalist cinema. One of the film's most powerful scenes, and easily my personal favourite, was a scene where we see the Shibata family collectively hang out of an open panned window, looking into the sky and stars, listening to the sounds and explosions of nearby fireworks. Hovering over the family like a precarious object, the camera captures the colours of its characters wonderment and marvel, as opposed to the fascinating and beautiful array of flames and fire in the sky. This shot alone showcases the very real and adorning obsession with Koreeda's skill and his fascination with human beings. Shoplifter's becomes a film who's universal look and bodily acting skills transcends language, countries, sects, cultures and religious beliefs. This scene alone had my heart fluttering with pure joy and happiness; a feeling that has been voided for me since seeing Akira Kurosawa's High and Low.
To describe how simply sensational and dynamic Shoplifters is as a film is similar to trying to describe color to a blind person; it isn't a simple task and perhaps, in the end, no words or description may do a colour justice. Shoplifters is similar to this feeling and sensation; no matter how much I try to articulate my feelings towards it, nothing can prepare you for the level of hypnosis and the mesmerizing nature of a film that really only features people and the truly genuine emotions they express. Hirokazu Koreeda's Shoplifters is easily the best film I have seen in 2018 and it is my highest recommendation to all lovers of cinema and lovers of people; It is a film that should be seen and embraced because, simply put, the film will steal elements of your heart...forever!
Mary Queen of Scots (2018)
Film Review: Mary Queen of Scots/www.nightfilmreviews.com
As the clouds roll onto the waving and knotting hills of Scotland, a haze of insecurities, betrayal and bloodshed awaits two powerful Queens; two women whose blood lines and loyalties are blurred by the manipulative and convoluted men in their lives. Yet although history always tells us that men have been at the forefront of politics and royalty, Mary Queen of Scots is a highly dramatized account of the 16th Century events surrounding Queen Mary (Saoirse Ronan) and Queen Elizabeth I (Margot Robbie), two of the most powerful and influential women, not only of their time, but of all time.
As cousins, the two share a very respectful and adorning attitude and relationship, although never meeting according to the pages of history books, Mary Queen of Scots amps us drama for a fateful face-to-face between the two. Young Mary, widowed and eighteen by the time she claims her position as Queen in Scotland, is free-spirited, understanding and audacious. Embracing the many facets of a colourful and diverse world, including homosexuality, Mary's beliefs and perspectives may be a little too liberal in a 16th Century world, yet we are manipulated into believing anything, especially when Ronan is playing the title role. On the other end, Queen Elizabeth I is a reserved, alienated and scorn barren woman whose fate was almost succumbed to smallpox. Embarrassed and hidden underneath the many layers of white make up to hide her smallpox scars, Elizabeth is riddled with sadness and tragedy, who confidence is hidden underneath elaborate and grandiose dresses that retracts men, even the tenderness and love of a man in desperate search of her love, Robert Dudley (Joe Alwyn). While both actresses are faces of beauty in Hollywood, Ronan's Mary is the only Queen noticed for her divine and unpaired magnificence. Mary Queen of Scots is just another role to add to Robbie's recent fascination of diving into roles of women lacking much physical, emotional or mental beauty, despite the actress' undoubted charm and elegance. Robbie's interpretation of Elizabeth I is just one more notch under Robbie's belt solidifying her devotion and passion to her craft.
While it isn't much of a spoiler to know that Mary's fate is found on the chopping block in 1587, the film begins with her demise, focusing on just how she got their. The film, directed by Josie Rourke and written by Beau Willimon based on a book by John Guy, historians may very well disregard Mary Queen of Scots because it becomes clear that the film is less fascinated with shedding historical and real light on the life of these two reigning women, and play more like a dramatic narrative, very similar to the style and narrative flow of The Other Boleyn Girl a decade prior. While that film features two of Hollywood's most promising young actresses then, Mary Queen of Scots showcases two of the strongest young female actors of today.
Both Robbie and Ronan are magnificent in their respective royal roles. Overshadowing all of their male counterparts, even with the likes of David Tennant, Jack Lowden and Guy Pearce gracing the screen, Ronan and Robbie are acting forces, elevating the material of the screen, regardless of how potent it every really becomes. Mary Queen of Scots is a masterclass of acting for two very deserving actresses today.
Both actresses, nominated for Academy Awards the year prior, Ronan for Lady Bird and Robbie for I, Tonya, are in a class of their own, Ronan may reign supreme however between the two budding actresses, after all, the film is called Queen of Scots. Ronan carries the brunt of the film's heavy story material, constantly dealing with betrayals, death and obscenities beyond her control, despite her position of Queen. Ronan's delicate portrait of a scourged historical figure is riveting.
Sadly, as the film's story unfolds and the ruse of each woman's power is displayed in glorious fashion, the film is still bounded by the approval of men, fertility and virginity. Lines like "How did it come to this? Wise men servicing the whims of women", or "Worse than a plague is a woman with a crown", the content of the film is wholly vexed by the presence of men. While the royal women have a clear path to attain their goals, the men provide the women and the film with the majority of the narrative's twists, turns and rivalries to unfold. Emotions, notions of privilege and family drama are the driving forcing for Mary Queen of Scots, proving the line in the film "the matters of the heart dictate the outcomes of countries" unequivocally.
United and strong, Mary Queen of Scots gives audiences a ponder-some conclusion and climax, basically setting up a narrative film for a fictitious meeting between the two Queens. Decorated and flooded with white sheets to separate the two and set in place to avoid any direct face-to-face contact, the film seems to be one big lead up to this grand moment. Yet, while each actress elevates their acting and skills for their respective roles, when this meeting finally arrives, there is a placid and anticlimactic feel that pours water between two fiery performances.
Born from blood and separated by their beliefs and religion, Mary Queen of Scots does one thing right through the duration of its runtime, and that is setting an excellent example of just how religion and faith proves to be another void and obstacle between men, women and human beings worldwide.
Stylized in high Victorian fashion, and picturesque in its foggy presence, Mary Queen of Scots is a satisfying tale of heirs, thrones and the actions of anyone who is willing and wanting to attain such high order and power. While one may cherish these historical figures and their contributions to the pages of history books and today's way of life, Mary Queen of Scots gives birth to a new, exciting and dramatic take on two unapologetic firecrackers.
The Favourite (2018)
Film Review: The Favourite/www.nightfilmreviews.com
"Favour is a breeze that shifts direction all the time."
Lathimos' third English language film following The Lobster and The Killing of a Sacred Dear is an exploration of the absurdities of the rich, powerful and bored.
Yet no matter how many clever indications one my make about the film's title or the various tongue-in-cheek references that could be used to describe the film, or even Lathimos' canon as a whole, it comes as a surprise to many that the director's most tamed and least ghastly and disturbing film to date, is by far his most ravishing yet.
While the specific genre of the film has yet to be determined, Lathimos' The Favourite is a hodgepodge of cinematic tropes; part black comedy, part period piece, part love story, part cat-and-mouse thriller, part buddy comedy, part completely insane, the film deconstructs everything that you expect from all of these categories of film and throws them completely on their head with immense style, fashion and perfection. To say The Favourite will be like anything you've ever seen, is a direct and misleading understatement, much like the characters it presents.
Written by Deborah Davis and Tony McNamara, The Favourite marks the first film Lathimos has not written a script he has directed since making his big splash at Cannes in 2009 with his highly unconventional and controversial film Dogtooth. Yet, as much as we appreciate the auteur's uncanny ability of making people feel uncomfortable using the eeriness and awkwardness of other people by simply interacting with one another, this is one script that feels more Lathimos than any of the ones he has written in the past.
While the film is made during a prominent and very loud #MeToo movement in Hollywood, The Favourite is set in 18th Century England, a land where Queens rule and Kings drool, especially when the Queen is Mrs. Morley Anne (Olivia Colman) ruler of Scotland, Ireland and England and currently waging war against France. While the Queen is surrounded by men, including her military commanders and parliamentary leaders, Queen Anne proves that at the end of the day, the women make the rules and own the house. Yet, as important and iconic Queen Anne is, it becomes clear quickly that Anne is no more of a mere mortal with a crown next to her life-long friend and council advisor, The Duchess of Marlborough, Sarah Churchill (Rachael Weisz). While Sarah is able to wholly intimidate, scoff and insult the Queen right to her face, it seem that Sarah is only looking out for one person and one person only, despite her illusions and deceit. Occasionally giving accord to Queen Anne or her husband for that matter, military commander of the Queen's army, Lord Marlborough (Mark Gatniss), Sarah is one a one-way ticket to riches, power and most importantly her, affection.
As Sarah seems to seemingly pave a path of success for years to come, things come to a steady halt with the arrival of her cousin, Abigail (Emma Stone). Although Abagail arrives in a heap of mud, discontent and stalked by tragedy, she quickly hardens up and wilts to the whim of her commanding cousin, only to quickly gain her affection and take her opportunity for the Queen's admiration, following a natural herbal remedy for the Queen's disgusting gout infested legs. Once Abigail becomes the Queen's own personal leg-rubber, she begins plotting her dominance over the Queen and her affections, overshadowing her own cousin, proving that Sarah's protegé as quickly become her biggest and most intimidating rival.
Where Sarah adorns the Queen with her brazen honesty and harsh truths, including advising when the queen looks like a badger, Abigail's approach to the affections of the Queen include lies, deceit and endless compliments, making the Queen feel unlike anything Sarah never has. Often times eroticizing the Queen and her mundane and bizarre daily routines with her bunnies and while eating, Abigail and Sarah begin to duel for Anne's love, doing whatever it takes to be her favourite.
As it turns out, each woman is capable of much unpleasantness, not only to one another, themselves but also to the poor saps surrounding them. Manipulating every man, woman and child around them for their own personal gains; both in search of security, status and nobility, Abigail and Sarah turn the conventions of a chessboard on its head, and make the queens, rooks, bishops and knights all of their pawns in their sick and twisted little kinky game of pleasure.
Attacking one another like vipers and wolves, jealousy becomes the weapon of choice for both women, who's use of men only intensifies their sadistic little game of mitral destruction and decay. Taking no prisoners, Abigail and Sarah create alliances, forms admirable teams with many of the men occupying the palace on a daily basis. Abigail learns quickly that her most valuable alliance is the head of parliamentary opposition Harley (Nicholas Hoult), despite his every opportunity to throw Abigail to the gutter. Although many of the men in The Favourite seem to hold their own against the two duelling cousins, it becomes clear with every ridiculous pastime that the men engage in, that the women, no matter how fragile or understated they are, truly hold the men in the palm of their hands. Where we see the men engaging in ludicrous activities of whipping food at each other while naked, duck races and ridiculous forms of dance, women are the only ones seen holding the guns, aiming and killing their prey and having their faces splattered with blood. The men in The Favourite are covered in make-up, wigs and fancy dress, while the women are stripped of their beauty and shown with the scars, bloody noses and battle wounds. Lathimos makes the gun range backyard the common area for Abigail and Sarah's verbal competitions, while the rest of the days, they leave their most valiant and best efforts on the line by exhausting the very people they claim to love.
While the war against the French is always a constant plot within the castle, Lathimos and his talent crew uses the palace as a stomping ground for much haste and ugliness, never showcases physical battle rather the coyness and sneaky actions of each woman's slithering jabs. The trickery of each woman's constant blows are embellished in absolute pleasure thanks to the captivating fish-eye lens tracking shots of Robbie Ryan's camera. Shooting tracking shots from an ant's eye view, upside down, tilting and swinging the camera in every which way and direction, Ryan gives a sense of banishment and fleeting optics to a completely farce security in a castle where allegiance switch at the drop of a pin.
The Favourite may very well be a perfect film and one of the most unexpected pleasures of 2018, but none of that would ring true if it wasn't for the performances of our three female leads. Constantly engaging in the moral destruction of one another's characteristics and pushing the limits physically, mentally and most of all, emotionally, our three leading ladies are at the top of their acting games, proving that the Academy may be in favour of royalty. Weisz is as cunning, sharp and ruthless as can be as a woman who utilizes history as a weapon towards establishing a future. Looking as sly as ever, Weisz is bound to be recognized for her performance that transform her soft eyes into sharp diamonds with razor-sharp edges. Stone, although she isn't singing or dancing, gives the best performance of her career, stripping down her clothing and girl-next door image for a woman capable of anything; including beating herself with a book and bloodying the battlefield of war. Stone's highly misunderstood pouted lips conceal her snake-like tongue and vicious bite. Yet, both women pale in comparison to Colman, an actress who has probably appeared in something you've watched before, but completely and unapologetically demands attention with Queen Anne's constant eccentricities. Whether dunked in mud, on the floor, covered in absurd make-up or having food hang from the very ends of her mouth, Colman gives a favourable performances that will no doubt take attention during the Awards Season and give new meaning the bondages of portraying a matriarchal Queen. Colman is nothing short of godly.
Self-interest and selfishness is the goal and while casualties are expected, Yorgos Lathimos delivers one of the best movies of 2018. The Favourite favours bold acting, incomparable shooting styles, a magnificent score and one of the most unexpected and gruellingly enjoyable movie experiences of the year, and it asks for no apologies. One may be hard pressed to find something else within the year and may side with The Favourite, because Lathimos proves once again that the deconstruction of human values, is much more fun than building it up. Even though parents always avoid picking their favourites, when it comes to 2018, it'll be hard to choose a monstrous extravagance as good as this one.
The House That Jack Built (2018)
Film Review: The House That Jack Built (Unrated Director's Cut)/www.nightfilmreviews.com
My relationship with Lars von Trier can be described best in one word; boundless. Luckily for myself, although my relationship only began a few days ago with this passionate and highly cynical director, I'm sure glad that a relationship flourished at all. While his name had been mentioned to me in passing countless times, I never really sat down and truly experienced a von Trier film, that is, until I watched The House That Jack Built. Yet, not like most, I experienced von Trier on a different level most people would, attending a very exclusive and rare unrated director's cut of Jack. To say the least, it is with all honesty and truth, I can say that it wasn't until I watched this film that I truly understood how far the boundaries of cinema can be pushed.
Typical discussions regarding von Trier's work usually touch mostly upon the controversies surrounding his films, as well as his unprecedented style, and his penchant for making viewers feel so uncomfortable that their only natural reaction is to walk out of their theatre seat, or turn off the film altogether. While von Trier's career is ladened with controversy, including a "persona non grata" at Cannes, that was lifted this year for The House That Jack Built, as well as controversy for basically each one of his film's release since the beginning of his Depression Trilogy, starting with AntiChrist, von Trier seems to be the poster child for auteurs with a
While very few directors can truly call themselves truly provocative filmmakers, and while it seems that von Trier spends more time debunking this notion that trying to prove himself otherwise, it isn't hard to reign him as the clear champion of this title. Yet, aside from the controversy, von Tirer has a plethora of qualities that he brings to filmmaking and cinema all together. Always pushing the boundaries, von Trier likes to smear the lines drawn by rating boards and society alike, and Jack is a testament to the very boundaries set by such films and people. While his content is often disturbing and brutal, von Trier also has a sadistic way of implementing a stark sense of humour within the frames of his work. Yet knowing all of these from a true vanguard of cinema, nothing could prepare me for a work made a man hated but loved by many so many people inside and outside of the film industry, and whose work is often misunderstood yet a direct companion piece of the man that is Lars Trier (he added the von himself).
The House That Jack Built is quite elementary narratively speaking; the story follows Jack, an architect who has a severe case of OCD. Jack is played passionately by Matt Dillon, a role since The Outsider that many believed he was born to play, especially given his heavy encrusted facial expressions and naturally demonic and piercingly intimidating look. Yet, the more we get to know Jack, we realize he is a serial killer. Okay, maybe that's a lie; we know right away and before anything that Jack is a serial killer before he is anything else. So in proper von Trier fashion, the film is presented using chapters, over the course of twelve years, and within those twelve years, we are introduced to Jack and five murders that have shaped the man he is and becomes by the end of the film.
Yet, as rudimentary the narrative of von Trier's film is, it becomes clear quickly that nothing is square about this auteur and his films. Jack's devilish narrative is a twisted odyssey into the depths of hell and a psychosis where guilt, empathy and compassion is voided. Yet, after these five incidents are displayed in bloody von Trier fashion, the journey of Jack's path leads to Verge (Bruno Ganz), a 'spiritual' figure who appears and disappears throughout Jack's life, proving truly von Trier'esque exposition; but keep in mind, von Trier exposition is quite different from Hollywood exposition. Presented in poetic and encrypted fashion, von Trier's dialogue is nothing short of enigmatic. And while Ganz is a formidable and heavyweight actor, Ganz's performance, no matter how insightful or mysterious it is, merely serves as a counterweight to the heavy hitting and aggressively spot-on performance given by Dillon. Jack is without question, Dillon best and quintessential role ever, and he will never be better in a film in his life.
While Ganz and Dillon provide the film with some its most analytical, contemplative and philosophical dialogue, speeding through words in a rhythmic yet glaringly sophisticated way, as if written in iambic tetrameter, von Trier's dialogue still has an incomparable way of showing facets of the director and the many dark and disturbing pieces of himself, in a way that makes the film so personal and reflective. The director, as he does with all his films, shows a piece of himself and gives us a vulnerable look into the demons of his mind, heart and soul as well as exploring the deepest and darkest corners of his psyche. To witness a von Trier film is truly a journey into a disturbed and complex mind.
Luckily for von Trier, there are many talented actors who are willing to explore these dark corners with him. Aside from Ganz, Jack also features some amazing performances from fresh new von Trier faces, as well as familiar ones. Siobhan Fallon Hogan, Sofie Gråbøl and Riley Keough give some of the best performances as murder victims we have seen in recent memory, as well as the always reliable and true von Trier muse Uma Thurman. With each death, comes a new fact about Jack and the past and current present of his mind state, as well as an audience understanding as to why he is a serial killer, the actions towards his choosing of his victims, and most importantly, what we find and share and familiarize ourselves with, a character so horrifying and grotesque, we try to reject the similarities. While many of the women featured (and eventually killed off, this is surely not a #MeToo sensitive film), have no back story or history, they do give Jack some of his most revealing moments. Yet, for almost three hours, its hard to just choose a hand few of moments in the film where we are truly blown away, because the majority of the film is an onslaught of memorable and truly immersive cinema. Simply put, The House That Jack Built may very well be von Trier's most audacious film to date.
Narratively speaking, von Trier is unmatched by any of his cinematic peers. Yet, while most filmmakers may only have the style down-pact or the narrative touch, von Trier has easily be posed as a double threat. Stylistically, von Trier is a true visual talent, sometimes creating this notion that watching his films and not such beauty, even admits all the blood and gore, is a crime in itself. We build appreciation for his visual pallet quickly. Building off the violence and darkness, von Trier still finds a way for allowing audiences to build a sense of familiarity with his images and characters. Although perhaps, with Jack, our sense of familiarity may not be with the antagonists or victims, but perhaps with the world von Trier creates; a world plagued with violence, grisly news headlines a world sometimes completely spiralling into chaos and out of control.
While von Trier's film can easily one pegged as 'fetish filmmaking', each one of his films themes all have their own harrowingly surrealist aspect to it. While Jack is focused around death and murder, von Trier's expectations to chew out crowd churning, drawn out, horrifying images is absolutely expected. Sprawling with close-ups, realistic special effects and terrifying make-up, the horror that Jack is manifesting is a manifestation of the real horrors plaguing our own world. Hazy, nightmarish and feverish, von Triers style of shooting in Jack, as well as his use of color, and lighting add a dash of hyper realism into our bloody cocktail lives.
It is without question that Jack is a trouble man, yet throughout the whole runtime of the film, his intention is not to understanding a murderous mind. His actions aren't meticulous, despite his best efforts, he is not immortal any means, yet, unlike we've seen in many films before it, Jack plays upon the idea that maybe, sometimes, the bad guys get lucky too. Often avoiding the authorities, despite many meetings, the audience, often times, laughs at Jack's terrible blunders and crowning victories. Is this something we are proud of, I mean, if it wasn't von Trier, probably not, but its easy to root for the bad guy in a von Trier film I guess.
While symbolism and music is a huge part of von Trier's world, von Trier never says away from his inspirations and images, including using one of his favourite artists in the soundtrack harmoniously, with David Bowie's song Fame providing the film with an unofficial anthem, even though one can't help but think that Bowie's I'm Afraid of Americans may very well be a more appropriate song choice, it just very well be too explicit for von Trier's liking. The auteur also surely gets inspiration for his zooms from a George Sherman film from the 1970's, von Trier never feels apologetic for honouring his idols and mentors, as well as an infamous and timeless Bob Dylan pop culture reference.
With The House That Jack Built, von Trier proves many things, including that Cannes can easily change their mind, granting "persona grata" status now to the filmmaker, even if Jack had a reported hundred people walk out of the Cannes premiere. Lars von Trier also proves that you do not need to make films that people want to see, but make films that people need to see, slashing his way into the hearts of film-lovers, enthusiasts and cinephiles everywhere; cementing his position as an absolute cinematic genius, in the purest form.
The House That Jack Built is a brilliant analytical look into the mind of a serial killer with little to hardly no answers, but a lot fo questions for its audience. Dealing with themes of identity, self-consciousness, insecurities, mora
Film Review: Clara/www.nightfilmreviews.com
Science fiction is a highly inventive and audacious genre of film to tackle, especially at the indie level of filmmaking. For the most part, successful science fiction films with bold visuals, even bolder visions and stories, as well as ballsy revelations are either done with huge budgets backed by studios who's deep pockets help drive narratives and give life to outer world creations or are given to established filmmakers to see through their visions of the greater unknown. With the likes of Christopher Nolan and Steven Spielberg saturating the science fiction film market, indie filmmakers rely heavily on interesting, unique and mind-blowing narratives to help their science fiction dreams become a reality. In recent memory, some of the more memorable indie science fictions films to come in the last decade have come from independent wonders like Make Cahill, who's low-budget science fiction films I, Origins and of course Another Earth shook Sundance and the independent society on their head thanks to never before realized stories of identity, mortality and space set in world's not too far from our own. With Clara, our very own Cahill-esque filmmaker Akash Sherman, hailing from our native Toronto, Canada, tackles the very tricky indie/science fiction territory with love, grace, and an emotionally driven narrative. Sherman, who at twenty-three years old, thought of the story of Clara while in class with a friend, fleshed out the basis of his sophomore feature film on the basis of two polar opposites falling in love, even despite the fact that each of their worlds is crashing right before their eyes.
To say the least, Clara is not the last great Canadian indie science fiction film to come out recently. Thanks to balls-to-wall, gonzo inspired filmmaking style, Matt Johnson gave audiences Operation Avalanche in 2016, a totally risky and savant mockumentary style film about how NASA hired filmmakers to create the moon landing as opposed to actually pioneering astronauts to traveling to the moon. While Operation Avalanche could be a close comparison to Clara's origins in terms of country and overall cinematic potential, Clara excels not for its minor cosmic theories, paint like portrait of space, nor does it lift-off because of its unique scientific claims, Clara gives clarity to the reality of love and the cience fiction elements that make it so wonderful yet unbelievable.
First and foremost, Clara is a love story, which, one can only imagine, is perhaps the hardest notion to grasp right next to questions about existence and dare I say the notion of God. Yet, what makes the film such a success is its hard-pressed ideas of science and astronomy gravitating between these two unlikely characters.
Dr. Issac Bruno (Patrick J. Adams) is an astronomer who's head is spent more in the stars than on Earth. Following the devastating breakup with his true love, fellow astronomer Dr. Rebecca Jenkins (Kristen Hager) as well as a personal loss that Bruno sees as unsalvageable, he begins dedicating his life to his work as a teacher, but even more-so, devoting his time to a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to contribute to the discovery of new life within the vast and misunderstood depths of space. Measuring volumes of mass, temperature, and density, Bruno jeopardizes his job by obsessively becoming too close to his passion and dreams of a discovery, which creates a strain on his personal life, as well as his relationship with his best friend and colleague, Dr. Charlie Durant (Ennis Esmer). Packing his bags out of his office, Bruno decides to begin his own science lab, using illegal means of satellite time. Hopeless and without any real assistance, Bruno posts an add for help. As luck and fate would have it, after returning home after a friendly sympathy "sorry for getting fired drink" with his best friend Charlie, Bruno stumbles home to find Clara (Trioan Bellisario) at his doorstep. With no real scientific experience or without any real place to live, Clara is sympathetically hired by Bruno, despite his better judgment.
Teaching Clara the basics of science, space, and astrological knowledge, the two begin a very professional relationship that slowly unravels and puts to questions their past, including; Clara's health and her upbringing, as well Bruno's obsession with a discovery. While many may oppose to the very exhausting and roll your eyes to the idea of another successful, predominantly white male and his angst towards love when a free-spirited, beautiful young woman comes crashing into his galaxy, I ask you to take a step back and think about your own personal experiences with heartbreak. Mourning the loss of someone you love does funny things to the heart, and while Adam's character Bruno may be a paint-by-number depiction of a successful white man yearning from love loss, I can assure you that the yearning and loss people feel is as real as the cliches get. Clara is no more a descent into the painful truths of past relationships and the hurt one feels when betrayed, not only by others but also, by life. The film is a recognition to the chances for hope and second chances of love.
While Bruno and Clara begin to meddle with conversations about God, religion, existence, the human condition, space, time, luck and the stars, the two begin a very troubled romance that is embedded in tragedy. While Bruno believes there are no accidents among the billions upon trillions of opportunities and scenarios in the universe, Clara's hipster personally slowly convinces Bruno of the possibility of fate and chance. Clara provides some opaque answers to questions one may be asking. But the point of the film isn't to sugar-coat answers of one's own purpose nor is it to deepen one's confusions, the film is a sign of hope; a hope that new love is out there; a hope that life has a funny way of showing us our true potentials, but most of all, the film is an exploration of the wonderment of being found.
Despite its strong performances from Adams and Bellisario, who are a real-life couple outside of the film, as well as a tamed comedic turn by Esmer, who provides the film with some of the best and most required light-hearted moments of the film, Clara still may not be the most original independent science fiction film you may see. Probably described best as a humanistic exploration of the cosmos, with variant hints of cliched love tropes throughout, Clara is like Contact meets Interstellar, but will hundreds of millions of dollars less to make.
Clara does its best to be ambitious and ambiguous by never really relying on freakish CGI or far-fetched theories on whether or not something is truly out there. Instead, the film constantly pulls on your heartstrings and takes you on an emotional rocket-ship towards notions of love, friendship, compassion and companionship with a subjective yet objective eye. While the film's true grit and wide potential may be lost by the time the credits roll, the film does one thing that truly should be applauded for; being lost, if only for an hour and forty-five minutes, from the world where heartbreak, love loss and tragedy plagues human beings every day. Clara gives truth that even if this crazy world and ride that we call life is as bumpy as the film suggest, we can only hope that we are fortunate enough to spend it next to friends and loved ones who are always in our minds and in our hearts to make it durable.
At Eternity's Gate (2018)
Film Review: At Eternity's Gate/www.nightfilmreviews.com
In today's film landscape, we are exposed to countless awe-inspiring special effects showing sculpted celebrities in too-good-to-be-true settings discussing life flawlessly and inadvertently though the trials and tribulations of their individual character's lives. Such films focus on why and how things happen; never placing the blame on certain people or scenarios, but for the most part, many of these stories become disposal, at best. Luckily, every now and again, there are artists who push beyond popular molds and constructs; they are the artists who breathe new life into films, true auteurs. At Eternity's Gate, starring Willem Dafoe and directed by Julian Schnabel, is one of those special artists and films. Schnabel parts his focus from the nature of why and how things happen, towards the feeling one gets when things do. He seems to find delight in things that cannot be explained.
Gate is a film about Vincent Van Gogh, played brilliantly by Willem Dafoe, as he lives out his final tumultuous days in France struggling to find peace and solace in a hostile and rapidly developing world. The film opens in Paris as Vincent fights to paint his way out of a world awash with people who dress and think in the same aristocratic manner. Yet, as much as this is a biopic of the late great painter, it is by no means formulaic, or paint-by-numbers.
As Vincent exhausts his visions in Paris, seeming to be too mechanically grey, Vincent meets the infamous Paul Gauguin, who encourages Vincent to "head south" because "the light is better there". As Vincent makes his way south, the entire pallet of the film begins to change. Mr. Schnabel has an impressive way of stimulating the audience's senses as he thrusts his viewers into an artist's perception, whether it be into the mind of a madman or not, is to be determined.
With masterful use of camera techniques, color, and sound, we are able to embody Vincent and see the world the way he envisions it. Dafoe communicates the clear message of art being Vincent's utopia; his Eden from the blunt, and greyscale world. We feel his artistry grow as he walks through rough and open landscapes filled with beautiful instances of nature, but also harrowing depiction of baroness. Mr. Schnabel and his cinematographer, Benoît Delhomme, fill the frame with lush greenery and the most vibrant and golden yellows, but also show us a terrain of earthy tones and neutral views. As the colours and seasons change, the story of Vincent is propelled through the use of Tatiana Lisovskaya vibrant, lush and organic score. Her long ballads of drawn and aired out piano keys are fitting for Dafoe's chiseled and cracked face, creating a seamless fluid strokes of cinematic brilliance.
There is an extensive use shaky cam shooting style which adds to the raw and natural feel that the film embodies. Mr.Schnabel also constructs shots that are drastic and dramatic, adding to the feeling of anguish that Vincent emits throughout the film.
While we generally weren't aware of Vincent's mental ailments, Vincent decent into madness was a reflection of his dissatisfaction with the world. as well as his experiences within it, therefore painting onto canvas, and finding the beauty in life. Some could even argue that painting was his sole motivation to live, as he could only live. The erratic camera behavior is crucial in capturing Vincent's manic genius and the film's organic aesthetic. Mr. Schnabel and Mr. Delhomme utilize extreme Sergio Leone-style close-ups transforming the stellar cast's faces into canvases as you catch yourself studying each of them as if carrying an easel. The close-ups are contrasted with ultra-wide angle shots with magnificent one takes and wide screen tracking shots. Vincent was a master at capturing the natural world and these shots provide the time and scope to appreciate just that. The director's brilliant use of color is one of the highlights of the film. Being used as a type of mood ring that helps us understand Vincent's mental state, Mr. Schnabel utilized numerous techniques with his lens to give the audience emotion. Schnabel use of lens blurring, depicting the imperfection of vision, as sunlight and small angel furs floating through the country breeze, gives the audience a sense of truism to Vincent.
While we can all appreciate that Vincent was well ahead of his time, it resonated deeply with me how this message during times of misunderstanding and constant tests of self-worth, At Eternity's Gate is a testament to the passion and power of art. Vincent's fellow painters and people in the society of Arles, France, where the film concludes, ignore his brilliance. Vincent's methods and habits perplex the public as they discarded the artist due to their inability to follow the popular formula for paintings during this era. While Vincent's paintings consisted primarily of portraits and paintings based on realism, Mr. Schnabel sums up this tragedy of being ahead of your time as somewhat of a curse and a gift, for a tormented character and odd soul. While Schnabel decorates his film with scenes of immense poignancy, including a scene where Vincent is seen laying in a coffin appearing to be dead, juxtaposing idea of how genius and talent can only be appreciated only after death.
At Eternity's Gate is a stunning mark of artistry. Director Julian Schnabel utilizes an arsenal of brilliant cinematic techniques, carefully placed scenes and powerful camera work to helm one of the most memorable biopics in recent years. It becomes clear both in physical form and embodiment that Dafoe was always born to play the late tormented artist, in a role that could easily earn him a nomination and perhaps a win at this year's Oscars. Let's just hope that, if he doesn't win, both his ears stay intact.
A Private War (2018)
Film Review: A Private War/www.nightfilmreviews.com
There are names that you hear growing up while studying journalism, reagrdless of the specific area or field of journalism you decide to station yourself in. In entertainment journalism, although hardly ever really dangerous (with the exception of some volatile celebrities), the truth matters almost as much as our opinion, after all, film is art; and art is as objective as, well, perhaps the most objective thing in the world. Yet, studying journalism in any field, its hard not to come across the name of Marie Colvin, one of, if not the most celebrated war correspondent in the world.
A Private War is less an autobiography about an exceptional human being and a real fearless woman, and more of an account of a decade of absolute fear, anger, war, terror and true, nonfictional horror. The film follows Colvin from 2001 to 2012, following her journey from Sri Lanka, Iraq, Iran, Chechnya, Kosovo, Libya, East Timor and fatefully, Syria. While the story is basically set in warn torn countries, showcasing Colvin being shot at, exploded next to, or her constantly dodging or covering herself with her hands, the setting of war somehow doesn't become desensitized to the audience. Instead, the setting of war becomes this harrowingly afflicted journey of truth and understanding as to why this motherless, companionless woman still willingly decided to venture into the most dangerous parts of the world, for a story.
Yet, it becomes clear that the story is far from Colvin's objective as a journalist. Instead, Colvin was interested in one thing and one thing only, and no, its not the truth as the trailer so confidently suggests. Colvin's obsession was always about the individual stories of people who were given first row tickets to seeing the terrorizing events taking place in and around their homes and right in their backyards, literally; their experiences. Whether it be wailing mothers mourning the deaths of their husbands, children, sisters or brothers, or men sharing their lose to Colvin, or children bleeding next to her on dried blood-soaked hospital beds, Colvin learns the truth of so many of the vicious dictators and government officials through the truths of civilians, contrasting them next to the lies of these 'civilized' officials of government and members of parliament.
A Private War has many contributing factors that make it a success, beginning with the strong and commanding performance by Rosamund Pike. Although I've never seen interviews of Colvin before watching this film and only have read about her and her stories in the past, watching YouTube videos of her and comparing her mannerism and voice to that of Pike's is almost uncannily scary. Pike takes her raspy, smoked voice, and fills each line, scene and war with the same level of intoxicating force similar to Colvin's approach to alcohol. While the film makes its own assumptions of Colvin's private and personal life, including her escapades as a sexual savant, one fo the aspects of the film that I truly wished had more time was the focus and concern for Colvin's quite apparent post traumatic stress disorder. Again, director Matthew Heinman as well as screenwriter Arash Amel collectively decided to not make the film about Colvin's life, trials and tribulations, but more man account of the inhumanity she catapulted herself in willingly. Yet little remarks here and there about Colvin's overall sanity and health, especially by her longtime collaborator and friend Paul Conroy (Jamie Dornan) claiming that 'she has seen more war than some soldiers', is a small yet unsatisfactory decent into the questioning concerns of Colvin's well being.
Aside from Pike, Dornan gives a capturing performance as Conroy, elevating his acting chops and expectations, despite his renown turn as Christian Grey in the Fifty Shades series. In addition to Dornan, Tom Hollander gives a magnificent moral or immoral turn as Colvin's editor Sean Ryan, a man who, as Colvin's longtime friend and professional advisor, pushes her to pursue these stories, despite the inherit danger he willingly knows he puts her in, year after year. Their final confrontation is awards caliber stuff, reminiscent of colleges bickering in Boyle's Steve Jobs film between Michael Fassbender and Jeff Daniels, a performance that gained Daniels and Fassbender acting nominations in their respective categories.
While A Private War will be hard-pressed to gain any Academy Award nominations this season, not because of the film itself or the content, but more-so due to its very heavy handed realities as well as factual depiction of war, governments and the negligence of international aid, the film may be a little too gritty and bleak for any nominations at all. The perils of war, the dangers of journalism and the humanistic touch of Colvin's journalistic work ethic may be something the Academy choose to overlook, despite the the war correspondent herself being killed while covering the Syrian government's 2012 siege in Homs. And no, this is not a plot point twist or spoiler; Colvin's life is a notable one and the story and courage of her coverage is one that should be explored greater and in a wider capacity, despite her tragic fate.
A Private War evolves with each and every passing scene through its very substantial runtime. The evolution of a cynical and perhaps suicidal journalist glimmers through two hours of filmmaking that is intent of showing the true calamities of war, and none of the glamour of its rage. Pike excels as Colvin, in an awards worthy performance. Whether she be crouched over avoiding death at every turn, sipping down copious amounts of bourbon, or bedding her next victim to mask all the fear encapsulating each moment of her world, Pike gives us chills as a war correspondent who writes about people and not about bombs, explosions or violent spectacle, and wears designer caliber bras.
Suffering, death, pain, anger, fear, is the story Colvin writes about, but hope, intellect and knowledge of our pasts is the final product of her legacy. Colvin's writings inspires journalists everywhere with her bravery, unflinching attitude towards sharing people's stories and most of all, with uncovering the realities of war and grotesque nature of violence and chaos. As compelling as Colvin's story is, as well as her attitude towards her profession, it comes as no surprise that her need to be in war-torn countries was not only an addiction, but obligation for her. Her desire, respect and duty to her craft is an inspiration to not only journalists everywhere, but people also. To believe in something so deeply, is to be so alive. No one in their right mind has done or will ever do what Marie Colvin has done for journalism, let alone for war coverage also.
It comes to me that, even when I write this review, while I sit at the bar at my local Starbucks coffee shop, to ponder the significance, weight and importance of my craft, my art, and my words and how/what they may actually mean to others. Colvin cared for the people she interviewed, she saw the worst but made the best of all her brutalities, but at what cost? At the cost of her life? Her life's work? The term 'normal life' can have many meanings to many different people, and although getting married, having children and having a steady job may define the outline of what is normal against what isn't, the one constant that A Private War showcased to me as a 'normal' viewer was that, no matter what you do, as long as you do it with conviction, passion and heart, even if it is writing a review for such an affecting film, about an equally afflicted life, doing what you love is far more important than doing nothing at all.
The Grinch (2018)
Film Review: The Grinch/www.nightfilmreviews.com
There are some Christmas traditions that are non-negotiable for a vast majority of people; gifts, excessive spending, eggnog, mistletoe and of course, watching some of your all-time favourite Christmas movies. While everyone has their own personal favourites, I can easily bet that one of those holiday tradition films, thats easily labeled as a 'required viewing' for the festive season is the 1966 Boris Karloff TV special How The Grinch Stole Christmas! Growing up and even today, its hard to flip through the channels without catching the original special. Yet, no matter how many times we've seen it before, or what part the special is on once you flip onto it, you can sure bet that the special will more than likely be watched until its heart-warming ending. Too bad, I'm sure the same can't be said with the 2000 live action remake starring Jim Carrey.
Luckily, 2018 has brought us a new, brighter and greener Mr.Grinch. From Illumination, the studio that brought us those adorable little minions we can't get enough of, The Grinch is a vast, richly coloured, fun and most importantly, loyal addition to the Dr. Seuss canon; proving that sometimes, changing too much of a good thing, isn't always better. Instead, Benedict Cumberbatch's newest interpretation of the Grinch is loyal to the Boris Karloff original, channeling his wicked sense of humour, dark and twisted hate of a joyful holiday and its gleeful spirit and most of all, some exceptionally great voice work.
While almost everyone knows the basic narrative of the original story, this version pits us in a similar Whoville that we are all used to, but this time, the Mayor of Whoville, Mayor McGerkle (Angela Lansbury, yes the mayor is now a woman) declares Christmas be three times bigger; kind of ironic for a guy who's heart is three times smaller than the average heart.
At an hour longer than the original film, you would think that screenwriters Michael LeSieur and Tommy Swerdlow would dabble deeper into the past of a cute and small little fella, yet, despite brief flashbacks of a baby grinch in an empty orphanage, these questions aren't really relevant in a child-friendly animation film in 2018 thats main intent is to cash in on cute and memorable commercial products for the 2018 holiday market. Even with very short and quick flashbacks of The Grinch's Christmasless past, our miserable antagonist cannot seem too shake off these awful memories, no matter how much people around him, including the most cheerful who-of-them-all, The Grinch's neighbour Mr.Bricklebaum (Kenan Thompson) tries to cheer our foul smelling greenie; nothing seems to glow his cold, cold heart.
Although its been over fifty years since the original aired, and almost two decades since the live action remake, there is something special about experiencing such an iconic cinematic character being cherished by children for the first time. Luckily for myself, despite all the genuine laughs, gags and jokes that I found myself chuckling to, one fo the best parts of experiencing The Grinch was hearing the cheers, laugher and questions of the kids around me in the theatre. Asking their parents why he is so mean, why is our titular character is so green when everyone is 'normal', and if the movie is done with every fade out. Despite the endless kicks to the back of my seat from the youngster behind me, nothing melted my heart more than hearing their little chuckles with every thrown snowball and sight-gag involving The Grinch.
Illumination, who luckily decided to really modernize the original story, and add its signature flare of whacky colours, vibrant animation and silly humour, does a fantastic job of staying true to the original, without ever compromising the fresh and radiant look of this 2018 version. Keeping many of the original characters was also a great choice, including the girl who challenges the grumpiness of favourite animated Scrooge, Cindy Lou Who (Cameron Seely), as well as, one of my loyal favourites, Max, the Grinch's trusty yet sweet and loyal sole companion. Max warms your heart with each smile, wag, bark, drool and use of his powerful puppy-eyes.
Yet, while the 2018 Grinch is a faithful interpretation, there are a few additions that we cannot help but fall in love with, including a yack-like looking reindeer Fred. Fred may be a tad overweight, have a slight obsession with whipped cream and pretty well eat anything in his sight (including Grinchie's hair), Fred is a fantastic addition to the world of Dr.Suess, especially this adaptation of The Grinch. Along with Max, the two front-runners to guide the Grinch's sleight that night, give the audiences the majority of the laughs to a newly vamped up Christmas classic.
While The Grinch's message of warmth and wonder is simple and never really changes between fifty years and three adaptations, it seems like each and every year, all of us need a real reminder of what the holidays are all about. Changing the ending slightly to fit in a much more grounded and relatable holiday setting, especially for children, 2018's The Grinch is a warm and welcomed addition to our holiday traditions.
Can You Ever Forgive Me? (2018)
Film Review: Can You Ever Forgive Me?/www.nightfilmreviews.com
Many of the greatest writers to have ever lived wrote their stories and ideas whisked under the heavy smoke of dive bars and speak easy's in New York City; basked in the heavy odour of dried gin, bourbon and whiskey, some of the world's literary genius' stories have been told on the silver screen over the last few decades. Can You Ever Forgive Me?, I can assure you, is not one of those stories.
Yet, even though Lee Isreal (Melissa McCarthy) isn't one of those writers, her story is just as entertaining and captivating as one of the greats.
Isreal, played masterfully by McCarthy, is a frumpy, miserable biographer who has profiled some iconic subjects, including Katharine Hepburn, Tallulah Bankhead, Dorothy Kilgallen and Estee Lauder; the later who was easily responsible for destroying her career due to a less than favourable depiction. After her biography of Lauder, Isreal quickly declined into a life of alcoholism, wage labour and loneliness. Can You Ever Forgive Me? picks up right at Israel's multitude of misfortune; showcasing her inability to pay rent, live in less than sanitary living conditions and barely being able to support herself and her sick cat, Jersey.
After being fired from her job for drinking while working, Isreal coincidentally runs into an old acquaintance Jack Hock (Richard E. Grant) at a local bar. While the two reminisce of 'pissing' off some guests at a recent party, the two share some stories, drinks and laughs together, and quickly become drinking buddies and eventual friends, much to Isreal's surprise. The chemistry between McCarthy and Grant, although not romantic, is reminiscent of some of the best Bonnie and Clyde type pairings in film in recent memory. While the duo are both very different personalities, thanks to the forceless acting of both nuanced and comedic actors, Lee and Jack bounce off one another's miscreant behaviour as if they were two hyenas; starving on the streets of New York, drunk with possibility, old memories and wonderment. Watching Can You Ever Forgive Me? just for the promise of getting some of the best buddy-con comedy moments of 2018, would be an understatement.
Yet, no matter how many good times and stiff drinks the two share, the realities of the real world comes crumbling down on them in disarraying fashion, especially onto Isreal. Threatened with eviction and the possibility of losing her cat at any given moment due to its declining health, as fate would have it, Isreal stumbles across a genuine letter written by Fanny Brice during her research at a local library. Thinking of it more as a meal ticket than as a collectors piece, Isreal sells the letter to a local bookstore collector Anna (Dolly Wells), thus giving her the brilliant idea to embellish other letters by prominent celebrity figures for monetary gain. Visiting local archives and stealing original letters, embellishing her own letters out of thin air or adding her own flair to already existing letters, Isreal's escapades amounted to over four-hundred forged pieces of work.
While the real-life Israel passed away in 2014, the author's most infamous works still remain to be her criminal activity and the embellishment of these letters, as well as the confessional novel in which this movie is based on. While upon its release, many critics, publishers and the literary community found the novel to be overtly tongue-in-cheek, and merely another form of a meal ticket for Isreal following her criminal activity. Yet, the film itself is a very sombre and lumpy depiction, very carefully avoiding as much spectacle, glamour and embellishment of its own, telling a very straight forward story of a woman who is down on her luck and who's back is against the wall, left with no other options.
Can You Ever Forgive Me? wouldn't be able to exist without the quite exquisite performance of McCarthy; its clear she wasn't copying anyone else while portraying an unpleasant woman with not much positivity in her life. McCarthy, who was recommended to the director by her husband Ben Falcone, already being cast in a role, following the departure of Julianne Moore, puts to rest any unease one may have about a dramatic career for the infamously notorious comedienne, who's rise to fame came quickly and almost unexpectedly in 2011 following a star making performance in Bridesmaids. McCarthy showcases a range of excellent sleight and dry comedic demure with her negativity, slightly giving the audiences glimpses of her dark wit and using it towards an unlikable character whose moral compass isn't very aligned with the realities and expectations of the world.
Alongside her partner in crime, McCarthy's performance is so nuanced yet gripping, it elevates the performances of everyone around her, including Dolly Wells, a naive and charming inherited bookstore owner who also shows some interest in Isreal's talent and personality. Isreal's interaction, including a very emotionally closed off 'date' with Anna at a restaurant are among the most memorable scenes in the film. Luckily for the tone of the film, none of these interactions are overtly showy, which sits respectfully next to the tone of film. Sadly, as we've seen too many times in the past, Academy Awards voters aren't always easily convinced with very subtle and quietly ingenious performances. It's without question that the studio and actress herself will be campaigning for a Best Actress Nomination come this holiday season, but only time will tell whether voters will respond to the actress's transformation.
While Can You Ever Forgive Me? could be a hard film to recommend to others, due mostly to the fact that mentioning McCarthy's name may give general audiences' some sort of physical, goof-ball level comedic performance expectations, no thanks to horrid roles for McCarthy in The Boss and Tammy. Yet, McCarthy proves she is not to be underestimated. Can You Ever Forgive Me? may not prove to be the best performance by an actress in 2018, but it sure as heck may be the most pleasantly surprising; a type of performance audiences can clap and root for come Awards season and for many other comedy actresses in the near future. Here is looking at you Kate McKinnon.
Johnny English Strikes Again (2018)
Film Review: Johnny English Strikes Again/www.nightfilmreviews.com
In a world filled with serious and kick-ass James Bond's and Ethan Hunt's, especially after the expectedly explosive summer blockbuster season and approaching the very serious fall award season fair, one man and one film aims to give audiences the laugh-out-loud moments and gags everyone deserves. Johnny English Strikes Again may be a Rowan Atkinson vehicle for a once applauded physical-comedy actor to cash a cheque in a cultural landscape where audiences are obsessed with uber realism and knock-your-socks off action, but the placement of the newest English film may be the spy's most daring mission yet.
What is the third (and perhaps final) entry of the spoof spy series, Atkinson returns in his second most memorable role as a spy with no clue as to what he is actually doing. Call it luck or being surrounded by the best company possible with his reliable and witty sidekick Bough (Ben Miller), Johnny English Strikes Again is one heck of an entertaining, silly and gratuitous time at the movies during a heavy hitting awards filled season.
Approaching sixty-four years of age, Atkinson still proves that he still looks dashing in a suit and willing to fill the spy shoes once again, maybe not giving Cruise a run for his money for his physical stunt work, but surely showing that his elastic face and comedy acting chops are surely not a thing of the past. Yet, the film's plot of a cyber hacker infiltrating all the knowns agents within the British Intelligence agency, is the main focus of the film, English must use as little tech as possible, to track down a villain who's biggest threat, is technology itself. Refusing cellphones, glitzy gizmos and gadgets, English and Bough track down their nemesis using good old fashion guns (that require them to fill out health and safety forms), skeletal armour suits and of course, their most reliable tool...pay-phones.
While the premise of Strikes Again couldn't be more spot on for a spy-spoof film in 2018, its English's interactions with the high-tech gadgets that truly get the best laughs throughout the course of the film, most notably, a hysterical virtual reality simulation scene that finds English wandering, crawling and scaling the streets of London, sporting a virtual reality mask and imaginative tools and weapons, to defeat his virtual enemies.
While it may be hard to believe that these films has any sort of cult following or intense built-in audience, the last two entries in the franchise, which more than quadrupled their production budgets, prove that the Johnny English franchise and trademark is alive and kicking, even if those kick aren't too painful or threatening. Atkinson proves that English is most effective when the actor so effortlessly spoofs his British humour, along with his signature elastic facial expressions and slippery unknowingness.
Whats most impressive of the English franchise, especially when thinking of the newest entry is the unexpected star-power in front of the camera. Emma Thompson, who plays the very naive and bewildered Prime Minister, brings some of the films biggest laughs purely from dialogue and delivery, showcasing Thompson's comedic chops which may surely be unexpected coming from such a renown British actress whose focal comedic chops come in the form of British romantic comedies and family friendly films. The film also boasts cameos from acting greats like Michael Gambon, Charles Dance and Edward Fox, as well as making a very tongue-in-cheek casting with Olga Kurylenko, a former Bond girl in the most recent Daniel Craig era.
While many may think that slap-stick comedy may very well be a thing of the past, Johnny English Strikes Again shows that during a very crowded and formal season of movies, a few strikes of comedy wit, hilarity and fun may be exactly what audiences may be craving after all. Even if those strikes are more inclined to deliver tickles and giggles, Johnny English Strikes Again with exactly what you might expect, and that may very well be not so bad after all.
Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again (2018)
Film Review--Mamma Mia: Here We Go Again/www.nightfilmreviews.com
So...here we go again!
After nearly ten years since the original Mamma Mia, the hit Broadway musical and box office hit film (generating over $600 million at the world wide box office), returns for another dose of ABBA inspired music and sing-alongs that fun for the whole...rather female family.
Acting as both a sequel and prequel, Mamma Mia: Here We Go Again continues from the first film, showing us just how Sophie (Amanda Seyfried) plans to re-open Hotel Bella Donna in the beautiful Greek Islands while being pregnant. With the help of only one of her three fathers Sam (Pierce Brosnan), Sophie does everything in her power to give the best grand opening party ever. Yet, for the first time in all her life, she has never felt closer to her mother Donna (Meryl Streep).
While Here We Go Again is such as silly and absurd as its predecessor, the truly best parts of the sequel, aren't the sequel aspects at all, but the prequel aspects. The majority of Here We Go Again. showcases a young Donna (Lily James) and how she came about to Greece and how she came to meet (and fall in love) with the three influential men in her life, including a young Harry (Hugh Skinner), an young Bill (Josh Dylan) and a young Sam (Jeremy Irvine).
While Here We Go Again is surely meant to be Sophie's story, especially given Sophie's pregnancy with Sky's (Dominic Cooper) baby, the move never quite allows Sophie to being the star. Always in the shadow of her mother and what an amazing woman and presence she was, both in a narrative sense and reality sense, Seyfried's Sophie is constantly overshadowed by both Meryl Streep's Donna, and now, Lily James' Donna. Both Donna's are shining examples of just how exuberant, vibrant and lively Donna really is; a soul who leaves her friends on a whim, travels the world with no regrets, and gets into bed with any cute man that puts in any effort to sweep her off her feet. Whoops!
Its in Here We Go Again where the audience can truly appreciate the amazing absence of the amazing Meryl Streep and her interpretation of Donna, and James is more than up to the task and does an incredible job of brining to life a beloved character.
One of the more disappointing features of Here We Go Again is the void of Streep on-screen. While much of the marketing and promotional advertising promises Streep in the newest film, her return is not for quite long, and overshadowed greatly by her mother, Ruby, played by the queen of glam and glory, Cher. While the queen of disco only shows up very late in the film, she does what Cher does best, providing the film with its fair share of sass, attitude and divine diva-ness that capsules the film into queen like status, yas!
While Mamma Mia: Here We Go Again isn't the most spectacular musical you'll watch, especially after such genre-defining work on La La Land, you can sure bet that this latest instalment of the popular ABBA pop group's discography, will one a huge hit amongst women, mothers and inspire an onslaught of mother/daughter dates for the remainder of summer 2018.
Film Review: Skyscraper/www.nightfilmreviews.com
Whatever you do, don't look down!
Hope that you aren't scared of heights, because if you are, Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson's newest film might be a little hard for you to swallow and watch.
The hardest working actor in Hollywood is back, and this time, teaming up with the man behind the hit cult comedy Dodgeball: A True Underdog Story and We're The Millers. But instead for opting for a straight up comedy, the two team up to deliver a Die Hard inspired and overly-stylized The Towering Inferno film that is meant to be the ultimate summer movie. Skyscraper is blockbuster, Hollywood entertainment like we have never seen before. Taking cues from the best and worst summer blockbusters before it, Skyscraper is a non-stop, high octane, adrenaline filled popcorn flick for everyone.
Like any movie Dwayne Johnson does in his career at this point, he adds his undeniable charm and heart into each and every project, and the same could be felt with his newest. What makes Johnson's Will Swayer so likeable, aside from the fact that he is the ultimate family man, who will back down to no challenge involving his family, is the fact that he is modelled like any family man before him. Relinquishing his duties form the military following a rescue mission gone wrong, Will is faced to live the rest of his life with only one leg. Luckily for him, with every painful path in life, comes beauty. Sparking a romance with the doctor who saved his life, Will finds his life ten years later in Hong Kong, as a security assessment official, who must now give his expertise and knowledge to the largest free-standing building in the world, The Pearl. With a little help from an old friend Ben (Pablo Schreiber), Will pitches his small-business motto to Zhao Long Ji (Chin Han), the architect behind The Pearl, only to land the biggest deal of his life. Excited to share the news with his family, Will celebrates his big accomplishment with his best firmed Ben, only to find that The Pearl has been taken hostage and set ablaze, with his family still in it.
From the first day of production, Skyscraper was always hailed as a homage to so many high-rise tension filled films before it. While no one ever believes anyone will be able to replace John McClane, Johnson is easily a very comparable action star with massive commercial appeal. Oozing with charisma and charm, Johnson's character will not only becomes likeable for his personal quality traits and his unpardonable love for his family, but I'm sure that one of the biggest selling points of this film, was the fact that Johnson's character is in fact, disabled. It is almost unheard of that action stars are in fact, disabled ex-military personnel who are still capable of kicking butt and beating bad guys. Not only does Johnson play Sawyer with class and bravado, but the film also highlights many times where his prosthetic legs becomes a tool for rescuing his family, as opposed to a weakness. This narrative driving force, and this one alone, is one of my favourite and most enjoyable, as well as respectable character traits, in recent memory in the summer blockbuster genre.
It is no surprise that Hollywood loves Johnson right now, inflicting him into, practically, every franchise available at the moment. With that said, it has come to a surprise to me that Johnson has not been inducted into the MCU yet, but I am sure time will tell.
While many would be surprised to seer Neve Campbell cast as Sarah Sawyer, Johnson's wife in the film, it only goes to show how powerful Johnson's presence is on screen, even when actors who have been absent from the silver screen are able to come back to revive their careers for smaller roles like this one. While the only name that matters on the movie posters may be Johnson's, one of the best actors cast in the film is a person favourite of mine, Roland Møller, the certified baddie in Skyscraper. While Møller's Kores Botha doesn't have much intent, fibre or much to do or say within the film, but it is always great seeing foreign actors breaking through into Hollywood films. Møller was astonishing in one of my favourite foreign films in the last couple years in Land of Mine.
Skyscraper surely will have many palms sweating, many hearts racing and people forcing themselves to cover their eyes thanks to some very crazy and absurd stunt work and visual effects of Will Sawyer jumping, dangling and racing in and around the fictional largest building in the world. Skyscraper is the typical escapist summer blockbuster film of the year, and one that, for maybe two hours out of your summer, will be a satisfying retreat into the air-conditioned theatre away from the heat that is outside, even if more than half the action in the film is borderline ridiculous.
Skyscraper is just another entry into the very expansive filmography of Dwayne Johnson, further reinforcing just how wonderfully suave and likeable he really is. If you don't like Johnson now, you better, because by the looks of it, he isn't going anywhere for a long time.
Buckle up, fasten your seatbelts and enjoy the ride because Skyscraper will have your face melting by the time the end credits roll, thanks to all the gravity-defying, absolutely absurd action and set pieces that will surely have you squirming in your seat.
The First Purge (2018)
Film Review: The First Purge/www.nightfilmreviews.com
"Think of all the good the purge does."
In 2013, the world was introduced to a small little independent horror film called The Purge. The basis of the film revolves around the idea that, for a twelve hour period, one day out of the year in the United States, citizens, residents and all Americans are able to do whatever it is that they like, without any punishment or laws, including and not limited to; violence, vandalism, theft, rape and of course murder. While the first purge film in the series was revolutionary and kick started a franchise that is now in its fourth entry, the first film unfortunately limited itself to being, quite simply, a thrasher home invasion film with the world of the purge harrowingly surrounding it; the potential for the series was behemoth. Thankfully, the film gained steam and momentum, and more films followed, with the original director and writers on board. With the second entry, the world of the purge was explored to the streets of Los Angeles, where motives of revenge and redemption were explored and showed how regular people handled the deadliest night in America. In The Purge: Election Year, the purge got more political (not that it never was), especially since the looming potential of a somewhat clueless President was on the verge of being elected (he didn't actually win, did he?).
Politics and tongue-in-cheek social/economically charge commentary is something that the purge series isn't stranger to, especially within the last two entires in the series. But like any good planned B-Movie film series, the fourth entry in the series is also, technically speaking, the first movie in the series, a prequel. The First Purge is an interesting cinematic approach in terms of shock value, only because, the build up of whether the purge is a successful experiment is answered within minutes of the first film, so what is the point of this film?
Writer and original director of the first three entries, James DeMonaco, who's love child is basically this series, decides to use the first purge film to show the divide between people and their thoughts on this "experiment". Sanctioned by the New Founding Fathers of America, the newest political party, who is coincidentally backed any the NRA (National Rifle Association), and developed by scientist Dr.Updale (Marisa Tomei), "the experiment" (the initial name for the purge) was only taking place on Staten Island, one of America's lowest income and poorly populated cities (coincidence). If you stay on the island, you get paid $5,000. If you participate in the experiment, you get monetary compensation; if you kill someone, well then you get compensated generously. These are all incentives for the residents of Staten Island.
While we quickly become familiar with the main inhabitants of Staten Island, we are also introduced to all the family drama happening on the island as well, for instance, the main protestor and the purge's biggest rival is the educated and powerfully independent Nya (Lex Scott Davis), whose ex boyfriend Dimitri (Y'lan Noel) is Staten Island biggest gangster, and who's brother Isaiah (Jovian Wade) is secretly joining in the purge's festivities, to get back at a local crack addict for nearly cutting open is throat. While the streets belong to Dimitri, his heart still belongs to Nya, despite their past and current relationship woes.
As the experiment commences, we quickly see that many of the people involved and brave enough to withstand staying, spend most of their time praying, socializing or partying on the island. With the exception of the freaky looking crack head Skeletor (Rotimi Paul), who fashioned himself his own Freddy Kruger inspired claws made out of needles, Staten Island and its residents aren't really purging as expected, unless you consider trap-music inspired street festivals as purging. So, like any good social/political experiment gone wrong in the United States, the government intervenes and sends out their own "citizens", ex-mercenaries to kill and rid of low-income residents on Staten Island and cleanse the American genome. You can imagine, Dimitri, the only resident on Staten Island who profits from other people's misery, isn't happy when the government decides to take out his clientele, so, like any good business owner, who goes out himself to rid of his corporate competition.
There are many things wrong with the First Purge including the film's main antagonist and protagonists. Perhaps thats the point, I mean, even the woman who developed the purge has her own scene of redmeption, but then again, how is a person redeemed of concieving such a diabolical experiment, especially when she sells it to the most corrupt clients in the world, the American government? Dimitri is hailed as the films main hero by the times the credits roll, but no matter how many "baddies" are killed by his hands, and no matter how many friends he saves, Dimitri is basically the purge 364 days in the year, so making him a hero for a day is less than convincing.
While The First Purge had the potential to be one of the stronger films in the series, it is by far one of the weakest and easily the most B-Movie of them all. While the residents of Staten Island truly inherit a mess of a political system and all its whacky ideas, The First Purge film, inherits a very poorly constructed and thought-out prequel foundation that suffers from surface level thought, relevance and most of all, excitement. While much of the film is lathered Uber-violence, blood and extreme gore, The First Purge is easily the most violent and has the least amount to say.
While the film has many redeeming qualities, including Dimitri, a certified bad-ass and Rambo inspired anti-hero, as well as some very harrowing ideas and thoughts that are revealed with regards to the current status of civil divide and racist plaguing America as this review is written, it is clear that director Gerard McMurray wanted to make a purge film that pushed the idea of "black power" into the purge series. Not only does it work effortlessly, but the film also succeeds at showing just how not far off what we see on screen is happening in real life.
The First Purge is an excruciating film experience; not because what is seen on screen at the multiplexes, but whats seen on screen in our own homes on news channels each and every day.
Film Review--Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom/www.nightfilmreviews.com
In an age where narratives of superheroes, animation and science fiction rule the box office, there is one fossil amongst the great big box office contenders that audience just can't quite enough of. In Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom, the park may be gone, but dinosaurs are definitely here to stay.
Fallen Kingdom is the fifth entry in the Jurassic Park film franchise and the second within the Jurassic World trilogy, and while it features the most amount of dinosaurs out of all the previous films, don't be fooled because the film takes place in only a few very specific locations and features the least amount of dinosaur action out of all of the movies. Yet, despite the very minimal action, the permanent set pieces and of course its fair share of charm and charisma, Fallen Kingdom is a Jurassic film unlike any we have seen before.
Much of this might have to do with the inclusion of the franchise's newest film director, Spanish filmmaker J.A. Bayona. Bayona, who has previously directed The Orphanage, The Impossible and A Monster Calls, has quite an imaginative and generous eye when it comes to offering the embellished perspective of children, which, for many people such as myself, would warrant well for a refreshing take on a franchise that has been around for almost twenty-five years and on its fifth entry. Also, given the fact that many people who were first introduced to Michael Crichton's world of dinosaurs with Steven Spielberg's Jurassic Park in 1993 were only just children or young adults, really plays well with an audience that is all grown up. Luckily for audiences, Bayona allows all of us old, matured, geeked out, nostalgia driven cinephiles to indulge in a film that is both the epitome of blockbuster/popcorn entertainment film, as well as a self-aware and respectable ode to some of our favourite monster movies.
What makes Fallen Kingdom so consuming is the fact that Bayona treats the dinosaurs like monsters for just a couple minutes, but like any good classic monster movies, Frankenstein for example, the monster begins to resonate with audiences and become much more than just visual and visceral entertainment set pieces. For the first time in the cannon of the Jurassic series, the dinosaurs gain as much empathy as any if not more than the human characters we know or have grown to love.
This love for the dinosaurs sets up the very relevant narrative in very pleasing fashion, especially since, the newly created dinosaurs of Jurassic World are threatened by a recently active volcano on Isla Nublar. And while political and government officials all over the world are trying to figure out if these creatures are actually worth saving from extinction...again, this threat allows a chance for redemption for our characters from Jurassic World.
In comes in Claire Dearing (Bryce Dallas Howard), the former honcho of the recently closed Jurassic World Amusement Park, who now has a career for the preservation of the dinosaurs species. So when the world decides that they are going to watch and allow the creatures to face their deadly fate, Claire is unexpectedly contacted by Benjamin Lockwood (James Cromwell), the silent partner to John Hammond's original Jurassic Park. Lockwood's extraction plan for the dinosaurs is headed by the idealistic pretty-boy Eli Mills (Rafe Spall), whose sharp suits heavily contrasts the safari inspired outfits of all the other human characters. Lockwood, who entrusts Mills with the whole operation, informs Claire that in order for the extraction to be fully successful, it is essential that they retrieve the second smartest creature on the planet next to human beings, Blue the Velociraptor. Yet, as much as they have already tried, capturing Blue seems close to impossible without the help of our Indiana Jones inspired hero Owen Grady (Chris Pratt), who aside from being the best dinosaur wrangler on the planet, also has the advantage of raising blue from infancy.
While Owen, Claire and a few more new faces travel back to the Island, and face dinosaurs, active volcanoes and the basis of Murphy's law, their efforts to retrieve all the animals from the island are never what it seems.
While Fallen Kingdom does take the dinosaurs our of the park, or in this case the fictional island of Isla Nublar, the looming doom and impending danger of the park is never absent and much of this danger is thanks to the wonderful vision of Bayona as well as a masterful score by Michael Giacchino. Giacchino, who elevates the original John Williams score in ways no one would ever think possible, raises the stakes and sonically charges the world of human eating creatures into a glorious manifestation of wonder and beauty. Fallen Kingdom really allows the composer to stretch his muscles and show why he is one of the best contemporary composers in film today.
Thankfully for Bayona, a director who feature film debut is a horror film and a director who realizes the potential the franchise has adding terror and genuine scares to it, allows the newly popular horror genre (thanks to films like Get Out and The Shape of Water) to have such a large impact on a tentpole blockbuster film franchise. Implementing gothic elements of horror to the final act of the film, as well as feeding off his signature motifs of children nightmares and realities blending into the world of creature features, and of course not forgetting his admirable talent to honouring some of his favourite films, Hitchcock's Rebecca is the obvious one here, Bayona gives us the most deeply embedded, nerdy cinephile Jurassic picture to date.
While many might see it bizarre that the director of Jurassic World was only a screenwriter for this film, Colin Trevorrow along with Derek Connolly (who were both screenwriters on the previous film), allow the narrative to go in many directions but find a nice intersection amongst the plot to tie everything together. Garnishing social/economical/political points into the script at every turn, including issues between the dinosaurs and human beings concerning "animal cruelty" or dino-cruelty if you will, as well as allowing the dinosaurs on being protagonists instead of antagonists, and of course showing snippets of good-old dinosaurs chomping, Fallen Kingdom easily goes down smoother than its predecessor despite some obvious missing plot points.
Bayona's direction is easily the most visionary and artful of all the previous directors within the Jurassic franchise, really allowing the world to grow and explore new heights without much effort. While the real stand outs in Fallen Kingdom are the dinosaurs themselves, the only other honourable mention for human characters is the only child in the film, Isabella Sermon, who plays Maisie in the film, Lockwood's granddaughter. Not only is Maisie an integral part of the film's narrative and some of the biggest surprises in the film, but Maisie is also Bayona's secret weapon. Through Maisie, the director is able to effortlessly show the nightmares of a child and how they bleed into the world of adults, as well as glorifying disastrous world events with such ease and childhood innocence that, even amongst all the bloody dino violence, human sacrifices and inhumane treatment of such creatures, the loss of innocence and fear of a child is what makes the driving force of Fallen Kingdom so believable, so entertaining and most of all, so spectacular. Fallen Kingdom is easily one of the best entries to the franchise since Jurassic Park and one we cannot wait to explore in the third and final film.
Breaking In (2018)
Film Review: Breaking In/www.nightfilmreviews.com
The #MeToo movement is surely proving itself, showing quite the impact it has made and continues to make in Hollywood in 2018 so far. Thanks to a much-needed rise of female directors making feature films, as well as female-centric storylines including kick-ass heroines and action stars, Breaking In is contributing to an increasing canon and genre of films where girls can have as much fun as boys beating up the bad guys. Don't get me wrong, audiences luckily have had some of the best female action heroes thanks to actresses like Uma Thurman in Kill Bill, Chloë Grace Moretz in the Kick Ass action film series and of course, Marvel's own female protagonists with the likes of Scarlett Johansson as Black Widow, Evangeline Lilly as The Wasp, Elizabeth Olsen as Scarlet Witch, to the upcoming and anticipated Brie Larson as Captain Marvel. With Breaking In, Gabrielle Union joins a long list of strong women who never take no for an answer and fight back, even when the going gets tough.
Aside from being added to a list of female action stars, Union joins the prestigious ranks of Taraji P. Henson, Pam Grier and other prolific African-American women who have placed their names in the history books of women who fight back. Yet, with Breaking In, one of the more interesting factors of Union's hero is the fact that she is also a mother! While the film is programmed specifically for the Mother's Day weekend in North America, Union's character Shuan Russell, demands much attention, for the simple fact that, unlike many of the other names mentioned previously, Union's Shuan is no hit-woman, super hero or spy. Instead, Breaking In is a film that showcases the great lengths a mother will go to protect her family in the face of danger and violence.
What seems as a clichéd take on the home invasion action genre, quickly becomes a very meticulous and thought-out showcase on a very raw concept. Breaking In shows its strengths by being as embedded into reality as possible; an action film that really doesn't over glamorize the conflict; never exploits the spectacle to Michael Bay heights, instead Breaking In shows the very talented ability to exercise its restraint in being a very realistic actioner.
While Breaking In is not a perfect film by any means, suffering from various guilty continuity errors, as well as not really developing any of the antagonists and their motives and methods as well as criminal backgrounds, it does a very good job of allowing Union's Russell to use her common skills and knowledge in defeating a very menacing and threatening group of evil men.
Billy Burke, a face many would recognize in the Twilight trilogy as Bella's loving father, plays the mastermind behind the robbery, Eddie. Elaborate and cunning, Eddie's plan unfortunately doesn't go as planned once Shuan and her children decide to spend the weekend at her father's house after his death. Joining the sinister Eddie are Sam (Levi Meaden), Duncan (Richard Cabral), and Peter (Mark Furze), three criminals who agree to rob the old man's home in search of a hidden fortune.
While Shuan travels to the home with her two unwitting children Jasmine (Aijona Alexus) and Glover (Seth Carr), the children quickly get held hostage by Eddie and his gang, forcing Shuan to take desperate measures and actions that push the boundaries of fear to desperation, and challenge Eddie's very strategic plan.
Breaking In is a popcorn film in its entirety. With a brisk runtime, to very fundamental action set pieces to two-dimensional character development, along with some very surprising twists in the narrative, the film doesn't offer too much new and fresh material to the genre, yet engages its audience with hurdles of thrills and suspense. Union shows her star-power as a desperate mother who is willing to give up everything and anything to ensure the safety of the people she loves the most.
Breaking In may not be breaking any records or limitations, but does a masterful job of showcasing Union and her very physical action role with poise and elegance, truly allowing the audience to believe that when a mother has her back against the wall when it comes to her children, she is capable of anything; and in 2018, I really don't think that there is a more relevant message to tell young woman and mothers all over the world right now than that. Breaking In really keeps its promise and pushes the film's tagline that revenge really is a mother...
Truth or Dare (2018)
Film Review: Truth or Dare/www.nightfilmreviews.com
Imagine if Willem Dafoe and Jack Nicholson's the Joker had a baby and was captured with that disturbing and oddly sinister SnapChat filter that embellishes your mouth. Now imagine that offspring haunted and followed you around declaring you choose "Truth or Dare" in a twisted game of survival, untimely death and mutilation. Well, if you've pictured that perfectly in your head, then you've visualized the type of disturbing and demonic visions torturing a young group of teenagers who have played a deadly game of truth or dare in Mexico.
Aside from the film adding to a long list of reasons why young teenage Canadians should NOT visit Mexico during spring/march break, Truth Or Dare is the latest low-budget horror film to come out of the infamous and highly profitable Blumhouse production house, spearheaded by Jason Blum.
Blum, who has gained quite the reputation in Hollywood for profiting big on low-budget horror films for the last decade, on film series like The Purge, Paranormal Activity, Insidious, Sinister as well as the extremely well received and Oscar winning film Get Out, seems to still has a soft spot for B-level teenage horror films based on simple premises.
With his latest, Truth or Dare, a film that was pitched just from its title and an opening scene that was thought-up of on the spot between director Jeff Wadlow and Blum in a meeting room, Blum surely doesn't intend on showing much originality or any intent on following up with his highly praised Get Out, even if Truth or Dare doesn't even compare to his last film Happy Death Day, a fun film that spins the very familiar Groundhog Day narrative motif on its head, adding the right amount of blood and gore.
"Do the dare, or you die. Tell the truth, or you die" are really all the rules you need to know when it comes to the game, although the game does make its own rules as the film progresses, making it really hard for Olivia (Lucy Hale), Lucas (Tyler Posey), Markie (Violett Beane) and Brad (Hayden Szet0) to come out of the game with their lives.
While many of the truths that are revealed between the young group of friends, there isn't much revealed that would be worth losing your life over. Sure, there are some confessions of crushes surfacing, as well as sexual preferences being forcefully admitted to and true loves being named, but other than that, the stakes of their virtues and truth really aren't that menacing. Director Jeff Wadlow, who has had experience in the horror genre with his much better debut feature film Cry Wolf, shows the lack of originality and the dependency of jump scares and cheap thrills that fall flat.
While I have always been terrified of menacing faces, the demon Calax, who is possessing this group of teenagers, shaping their faces to those eerie smiles, is lacklustre at best. Looking more like a cheap SnapChat filter, the frights (like the $3.5 million budget) are low in Truth or Dare.
While I dare you to find any real character development in these paper thin teenagers who suffer from what would be the definition of 'first-world problems', one cannot help but noticed just how daringly bland Truth or Dare really is. Taking cues from previous horror films whose main demonic entity is completely invisible, like The Final Destination series and dare I say the immaculate It Follows, Truth or Dare seems to emulate too much without offering much else to the genre. Most of all, not that anyone was expecting a film like this to be an Oscar contender in 2019, but these types of films rely heavily on one of its most important qualities, and that is being a fun time at the movies. But like any crappy dare you need to fulfill, watching Truth Or Dare is more of a chore than a pleasure.
Truth Or Dare is teenage horror fare looking to cash in on mediocre first week numbers, and a film that will quickly disappear without ever being remembered. Hypocritical from start to finish, boasting way too much exposition from the opening scenes in Mexico to an ending that was way too sinister for its own good (which also one of the few redeeming factors of the film), Truth Or Dare is a film that we hope doesn't inspire a horror film franchise series aptly titled "spin the bottle" or "seven seconds in heaven".
Isle of Dogs (2018)
Film Review: Isle of Dogs/www.nightfilmreviews.com
Audiences around the world go to see a Wes Anderson film for many reasons; imagination, creativity, wonder and most of all, amazement. A man who has crafted and added to, not only a branch of the film industry within the independent market, but an individual who arguable has his own genre of film, proves with his latest that you are able to make an independent success, commercial darling and fading animation style feature film revolutionary. After eight feature films which enrich the medium as a whole, Wes Anderson delved, for a second time, into the stop-motion foray with his ninth future film, and quite possibly his best yet with Isle of Dogs.
You heard the rumours right? About Isle of Dogs? Sure, there are a ton of rumours, controversy and discussions about the auteur director's latest film, both positive and negative (which we will discuss further into this review) including some fun facts that if you say the film's title fast, it's actually the equivalent of saying "I Love Dogs", as well as arguments about cultural appropriation, hmmm.
The fact of the matter is, first and foremost, Isle of Dogs is a film that pays tribute and homage to so many of the things that Anderson loves and hold very dear to his heart. From his love to canines, to his homages to legendary filmmakers and vanguards Hayao Miyazaki and Akira Kurosawa, to his love of stop-motion animation; Anderson's second venture into stop-motion animation is a film anchored by his passions, as well as a TRUE film for dog-lovers everywhere. DISCLAIMER: NO ACTUAL dogs were harmed during the making of this film-fact!
Nevertheless, don't let the animation fool you, Anderson's Dogs is as convoluted a story and themed complexly as any other of his films.
A true underdog story, the film follows a young Japanese boy Atari (Koyu Rankin) and his odyssey to save his beloved guard dog Spots (Liev Schreiber), a short-haired Oceanic speckle eared sport hound, who so happened to be the first dog to be sent to Trash Island, a fictional land outside of Japan's fictional Megasaki City twenty years in the future, although the story seems more relevant now than it may in twenty years. Trash Island was sanctioned by Atari's mayoral uncle, Mayor Kobayashi voiced by Anderson collaborator, who also served as one of the screenwriters, Kunichi Nomura. Kobayashi, following an age old dynasty that transgresses from his farthest ancestors, with strong pro-feline beliefs, sets course to sanction a law to deport all dogs to Trash Island, blaming "snout-fever" and "dog-flu" as an incurable disease for its people, despite two scientists (Ken Wantanabe and Yoko Ono) on the verge of a medical breakthrough with the cure.
"What ever happened to man's best friend?" indeed becomes one of the driving forces of the film. While Atari steals one of his uncle's jets, the mayor himself Kobayashi, who serves as the boy's ward following his parents tragic death years before, become family members and foes overnight. Questions arise as to why Atari on a quest to save Spots and deliberately chooses to throw his comfortable life away, despite Spots being one-helluva cute dog? It hurriedly becomes apparent that not only was Spots Atari's loyal companion, but the pup also served as Atari's loyal and trusted doggie-gaurd, despite Atari's hesitations at first. Fast forward some time and Atari's crash landing onto Trash Island, a desolate, ugly, grungy and garbage-filled wasteland inhabited only by dogs, populated with the brittle bones of animal carcasses, leftover waste, as well as spoiled and half-eaten food of Japan's Megasaki, the journey becomes a young man's ode to self-discovery and his ultimate moral fibre. Anderson, who so wonderfully, brings to life fantastical worlds in true Wes Anderson-esque fashion, seemingly chooses this story to showcase a very different side of his of his visual, truly allowing garbage, trash and waste to serve as a beautiful and poetic backdrop to his newest canon of films. Adding signatures such as Anderson's symmetrical filming style, the use of pans and deep zooms, and Trash Island as well as the overly-populated Megasaki City fit right in with the rest of Anderson's highly staged universe's. It also becomes quite easy to see that Anderson is also pioneering himself into cinematic prestige; using Isle of Dogs as his Avatar, progressing and improving stop-motion, maturing the visuals of the medium as well as mastering the ways of its presentation, especially comparing it side-by-side to his first venture with the form in The Fantastic Mr.Fox.
Once on Trash Island, Atari comes into contact with five courageous dogs who unflinchingly help the young boy; the koy and spoiled celebrity dog King (Bob Balaban), the bumbling team mascot Boss (Bill Murray), the dextrous gossiper Duke (Jeff Goldblum), the rationale Rex (Edward Norton), and of course, the leader of the pact and mangy stray Chief (Bryan Cranston). Together, the six travel to the depths and deep dark corners of Trash Island to find Spots. But like any other ferociously Wes Anderson film, on their way, they encounter a plethora of obstacles, including; a crew of cannibal dogs, some violent, Kobayashi made robotic replacement dogs and other outcasts sentenced to the depths of an unlawful prison. All of these challenges between Atari and his rag-tag bunch of scoundrels push the limits of what they all thought they were capable of, paying special attention to the relationship between Chief and Atari in compassionate fashion.
There are many beauties that encapsulates a Wes Anderson film, especially with each and every new entry to add to his exquisite filmography. The director/writer extraordinaire is truly evolving in his craft, experimenting with style, tone, narrative and themes like he has never done before in his earlier work. Sure, it can be argued that Anderson has difficulty with female protagonists and female characters in general, but luckily enough, he never tries to mask this; his confidence with unfolding strong male characters suffering with strong familial mis-steps never miss a beat.
Anderson also has this sensible touch to integrate real-world current issues into his films, without ever really spending too much time analyzing or harping extensively on these issues. With the quarantine that all the dogs must face upon being banished to Trash Island, it becomes clear that Anderson's allegory of real life politics, not just American, but worldwide, is being painted on, reflecting the state of these lovable human companions, to the current problems of immigration. Anderson's subtle yet explicit subject matter in Isle of Dogs advances towards his cinematic style, sheding a light and 'throwing-a-bone' to a light-hearted yet extremely relevant subconscious audience that is never ever really acquitted of, but coerced towards enjoying a highly stylized and whimsical feature film experience with real-world issues surfaced.
Visually, there is no exception to a Wes Anderson film. Never opting out or showing his films in 3D to gain extra profit, Isle of Dogs is a 2D feature film with NO two-dimensional characters; whether they have a tail or not. While the film itself is an ode to dog-lovers everywhere, its also a human narrative about the perseverance and endurance of the spirit of goodness and selfishness and the labours of love. As Rex points out in the film, Atari is the first human to come to Trash Island to find his dog, hence why the raggedy group of dog misfits agree to help the young boy find Spots, including Chief, even though he has never been with a family or owner long enough to know what love is. As Chief proclaims, "I am not a violent dog, I don't know why I bite", it becomes clear that Chief's void for love for humans doesn't stem from hatred, but rather from a lack of affection. Once Chief and Atari begin their journey together and share progressive moments with each other, the narrative truly showcases the wonders of companionship that make all other dog-films seem cliche by comparison.
Isle of Dogs is one of the first neat perfect films of 2018, undoubtedly. Right there beside Black Panther, the film is a true testament to the goodness of excelling cultural awareness and showcasing diversity.
Yet, the day before the limited release date of the film, beloved and respected film critic Justin Chang wrote a review on Isle of Dogs speaking about the insensitivites of cultural appropriation in the film. While I am in no position to talk about the beauties of the Japanese culture since my ancestry doesn't steam from any parts of Japanese, nor have I ever been to Japan, I can offer my opinions based on the simple fact that I am also a film critic, dog lover, cultural enthusiast and human being. In Chang's review, he speaks about Anderson's 'highly selective, idiosyncratic rendering' of East Asia, as well as a failure of sensitivity. Furthermore, Chang goes on to discuss Anderson's 'weakness for racial stereotyping', deeming Anderson's take of the Japanese culture hurtful and somewhat violating. Other critics, upon Chang's review, have questioned as to why Anderson set the film and Japan, and why certain characters speak Japanese with no subtitles, while the dogs ONLY speak English if they are in fact suppose to be from Japan, and why there is an American translator (Frances McDormand) only for the political segments of Isle of Dogs. Is this all too convenient and superlative to Anderson's story being told?
Firstly, it is in my sincerest opinion that, Anderson, who wrote the script of Isle of Dogs, with Japanese actor/writer Kunichi Nomura, as well as Roman Coppola and Jason Schwartzman, had no intention of the film being cultural insensitive or offensive. Nomura, who is of Japanese decent, had an integral part of the script's fruition, as well as providing the voice of a major character in the film.