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Film Review: GAUGUIN (France 2017)

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Gauguin: Voyage to Tahiti Poster
Trailer

Focused on French painter Paul Gauguin’s affair with a younger lady in Tahiti.

Director:

Edouard Deluc

Writers:

Edouard Deluc (screenplay), Etienne Comar (screenplay) | 4 more credits »

 

For those unfamiliar, GAUGUIN is a famous talented French painter of the 19th century.  But Paul GAUGUIN (Vincent Cassel) was a dissatisfied painter tired of the so-called civilized world and its political, moral and artistic conventions.  So he leaves his wife and children to travel to Tahiti, Polynesia on the other side of the world with little money.

For those not well versed in Geography, Tahiti is right in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, plunked right in the middle of lots and lots of water, far away from nowhere.  It is a beautiful place with white sandy beaches (check your Google map) but the country is large enough to nurse a huge jungle.  The cinematography is never too shy to show the beauty of the island.  There are lots of gorgeous landscapes on display with shots of green, rivers, mountains an beaches.  Indeed, it would be a worthwhile place to visit for a naturalistic vacation.  Tahiti is where Gauguin is headed, consumed with a yearning for original purity, and ready to sacrifice everything for his quest. 

Those who criticize me know nothing of an artist’s nature.  These are the words of Gauguin s he rides his horse into the jungle with barely enough provisions for a few days. Impoverished with diabetes, and solitary, Gauguin pushes deep into the Tahitian jungle, where he meets the Maoris and Tehura, his muse, who will inspire his most iconic works of art.  Tehura becomes Gauguin’s wife.  In real life, Tehura was only 13, which means that Gauguin would be stamped a pedophile in today’s standards.

The film traces the two years of Gauguin’s life in Tahiti, which is inspired by Noa Noa (meaning Fragrance) , the travel diary Gauguin wrote after his first trip to Tahiti in 1893.

Deluc’s biography is even in its pacing with no high points with a few dramatized events – the only one or two involving Gauguin’s painting like the difficulty of finding a canvas and the confrontation with his wife Tehura on hi suspicion of her being unfaithful.  Still this charged scene is conducted with restraint.  Deluc trivializes Gauguin’s sickness.  Gauguin is never shown really sick only perhaps a bit of coughing and grumbling about his energy.  But in real life, he did live till he ripe age of 54.

Vincent Cassel inhabits the role of Gauguin, delivering a steering performance showing the artist at his ugliest, unkempt, often sick and tired.  Cassel used to be a hunk and  heartthrob in his younger days with his stunning good-looks and great body as in films like BROTHERHOOD OF THE WOLF and READ MY LIPS.  His age is showing in recent films like MESRINE and GAUGUIN but he continually to do outstanding work, staring out as one of France’s greatest and most under-rated actors.  His chiseled body is still observable many a film’s scene where he has his top off.

GAUGUIN is a no-nonsense biography, told straight forward from start to finish, but praising the artist for more than his worth as a human being.  Nothing is also mentioned with his relationship with his wife and kids when he returned to France.

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3HiCzb2gWo0

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Film Review: SKYSCRAPER (USA 2018)

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Skyscraper Poster
Trailer

A father goes to great lengths to save his family from a burning skyscraper.

 

Silliness is the order of the day!  Universal Studios has given a $125 million budget to writer/director Rawson Marshall Thurber who has been responsible for small films like DODGEBALL, WE’RE THE MILLERS and CENTRAL INTELLIGENCE, the latter also starring “The Rock” Dwayne Johnson.  The Rock has had two recent hits JUMANGI and RAMPAGE.  Is The Rock impervious to failure?  The ultra-silly SKYSCRAPER will put The Rock who plays a one-legged hero, jumper of buildings to the test.

The film begins with FBI agent Will Sawyer (Dwayne Johnson) attempting to save a a man who is willing to kill himself and his son, but ends up with him losing his leg.

Will is now a former FBI agent and amputee.   Will lives in the tallest and “safest” skyscraper in Hong Kong with his family.  The skyscraper itself, known as “The Pearl,” houses several floors that function as their own society, and despite the risks highlighted by Sawyer, who is the building’s head of security, his bosses insist that it is impenetrable.  True to Sawyer’s belief, the building comes under attack by terrorists, forcing Sawyer to take action.  Matters are complicated further when he finds himself framed for the attack, and his family trapped above the resulting fire line.

Among the silliness:

Will hangs from buildings using duct tape.

Will uses his metal leg many times to save the day

Will is able to climb umpteen floors with that leg of his.

Thurber’s written dialogue is just as silly.  At the end when all is over, Will’s wife Sarah tells him “You need a shower.”  “I do” is his reply”.  What a great family,” Inspector Wu retorts.  As the film involves Will also saving his two kids, “Daddy, daddy,” are two words that can be heard repeatedly during the film.

The film is noticeable short of one-liners as Will is more often that not hanging for his life from the skyscraper.

SKYSCRAPER steals shamefully from many other films like TOWERING INFERNO, THE FAST AND THE FURIOUS and most notably, the James Bond film with the mirrors climax, THE MAN WITH THE GOLDEN GUN.   The film expectedly contains lots of CGI and pyrotechnics,

The cast includes lots of Asians, obviously to cater to the Chinese market.  Will Trump slap a tariff on SKYSCRAPER?  Singaporean Chin Han plays the skyscraper’s builder, Taiwanese Hannah Quinlivan plays a sexy Chinese fighter (what is it with her hair?) and Hong Kong’s Byron Mann plays Inspector Wu.  The main villain is played by Dane Roland Møller, a terrorist.  Noah Taylor first seen as a child actor in THE YEAR MY VOICE BROKE makes a cameo as a baddie.

Will’s wife, Sarah (Neve Campbell) is not the usual dame in distress, screaming housewife.  Here, she not only speaks Chinese but can fight her way through any number of villains.  The children are the useless screaming ones that need saving.

The script calls for Will to fight both the fire and the terrorist resulting in a divided film which cannot decide which direction to go.  The fire is then as easily put out as the villain dispatched (not revealed how in the review).

SKYSCRAPER is still watchable for the less demanding moviegoer as there is always something happening (silly or not) in very scene.  At the time of writing, of 91% google users liked the film.  As long as one is comfortable at the one legged jumper, able to leap buildings!

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=t9QePUT-Yt8

 

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Film Review: MARY SHELLEY (Luxembourg/Ireland/UK 2017)

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Mary Shelley Poster
Trailer

The love affair between poet Percy Shelley and 18 year old Mary Wollstonecraft Godwin, which resulted in Mary Shelley writing Frankenstein.

Writers:

Emma JensenHaifaa Al-Mansour (additional writing by)

 

“There is something at work in my soul, which I do not understand,” so says Mary Shelley at the beginning of the film.  We take it that the filmmakers plan to shed some light on the topic of Mary Shelley’s troubled soul, which inevitably resulted in one of the most famous horror novels of all time – “Frankenstein”.

MARY SHELLY is a biographical drama of the famous author who wrote the book “Frankenstein” by the age of 18.  At the film’s start, the audience sees the younger Mary (Elle Fanning) reading and scribbling.  She has trouble at home, particularly in the relationship with her step-mother and sent to live with relatives in Scotland where she meets her suitor Percy Bysshe Shelley (Douglas Booth).

However, 15 minutes into film after Mary meets Percy,  director Haifaa al-Mansour decides to concentrate her film on Mary Shelley’s first love and her romantic relationship with him (full name Percy Bysshe Shelley).  The story turns out to be less a biography of the author than a period love story.  Worse still, al-Mansour’s decision to have her film punctuated with Percy’s poetry distracts the fact that the film is about Mary and not about him or his writings.

The trouble with all this is that director al-Mansour is unable to sway the audience unto Mary’s side.  There is hint of the need for female independence in these times, which is emphasized at the end when she has trouble getting her novel published.  When told by her father (Stephen Dillan) that if she goes with Percy, she would lose the love of her father forever,” one is immediately not on her side, for Mary seems young, impetuous and impertinent.   When Percy finally flirts with the younger Claire (Bel Powley) , things become clear that Percy is not the man Mary had thought him to be.  It is too late as Mary is pregnant with his child.

Elle Fanning is convincing as the independent young lady who falls into hard times, due to her own fault.  Douglas Booth is terribly annoying as the handsome rogue, Percy – but I suppose the character of Percy is supposed to be annoying. Tom Sturridge goes over the top in his portrayal of the even more detestable Lord Byron.

The scene of Mary comforting Claire in the woods under rain and thunder shows the director at her worst, going for cheap theatrics.

Al-Mansour’s film is beautifully created and shot in terms of period atmosphere both in the interiors to the dimly lit cobblestone street and vast green Scottish landscape exteriors.  MARY SHELLEY is Saudi Arabian director Haifaa al-Mansour’s second feature after she became film society’s darling with her debut feature WADJDA.  WADJA was the first film made by a female director from Saudi Arabia and the first film from Saudi Arabia o be screened at Cannes.

` But MARY SHELLEY ends up a story without a strong direction with inspiration behind Mary for her books only hinted at.  One assumes it is due to her hardships – such as the haunting of her mother’s death, her distressful love affair and loss of her in infant child.  In the end, the audience is  still left in the dark as to the understanding of what was really at work in the soul of Mary Shelly. 

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=T-WGaZaojFc

 

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Film Review: SORRY TO BOTHER YOU (USA 2018) ***

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Sorry to Bother You Poster
Trailer

In an alternate present-day version of Oakland, telemarketer Cassius Green discovers a magical key to professional success, propelling him into a macabre universe.

Director:

Boots Riley

Writer:

Boots Riley

 

SORRY TO BOTHER YOU are the words one often hears on the telephone when called by an annoying telemarketer.  Cassius Green (Lakeith Stanfiled) has just landed the job as one after an interview where he is discovered for bringing in fake trophies and prizes.  He is told that one only needs to read and come to work with a smiling face to get a job.  But one has to stick to the script (STTS), the most important motto and one that is pinned everywhere in notices around the office cubicles.

The film is set in an alternate present-day version of Oakland, where Cassius is having a rough life—living in his uncle’s garage with his girlfriend, Detroit (Tessa Thompson) and struggling to find a job.  Strapped for cash and desperate, he lands a position as a telemarketer, but has difficulty getting people to listen to him—until he discovers a magical key (introduced to him by a fellow telemarketer played by Danny Glover) to customers’ attention: using his “white voice”.   David Cross does Cassius’ white voice.  Cash quickly rises to the top of the telemarketing hierarchy, but risks losing sight of his morals as he achieves greater and greater success.

Things get crazier when Squeeze (Steven Yeun) organizes a strike.  But Cassius is singled out to become a power seller.  He gets to meet the big guy, Steve Lift (Armie Hammer) and begins working in a stranger environment when the film becomes weirder and weirder as a satire.  Nods are given to the George Orwell’s “Animal Farm” where Boxer the horse is a hard, tireless worker but eventually turned into glue when unable to work any longer.

SORRY TO BOTHER YOU is a complex satire that obviously had a lot of work put into it.  When Cassius gets to work in his cubicle reading his script to a customer in a home, Cassius literally drops into the homes and catches them in odd positions including making love. 

The film contains no real insightful message of things that people do not already know.  Besides having really impressive sets and art direction, and really hard effort put, the film is a mixed mess.  One has to complement the superb coordination of work by the set and art director and writer/director Boots Riley.  Riley follows the company’s motto of sticking to his script though diverting into surrealism as much as opportunities arise.  One thing to be learnt from this effort is that there need be some order in the creation of a satire on disorder.

For all that has been described this overlong feeling film running at 105 minutes feels really boring for the first 30 minutes or so, as Riley sets up the stage for his satire.  His film then kicks into action and pretty crazy action at that.

Though Riley’s SORRY TO BOTHER YOU might be a textbook example of maximum effort and minimum results, one cannot help but give the man (who is supposed to be an activist, musician and artist) credit for trying.  It is this trying and effort that gives his film the most pleasure.

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=J_5cO6RU3nw

 

 

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Full Review: THREE IDENTICAL STRANGERS (USA 2018) ***

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Three Identical Strangers Poster
Trailer

New York, 1980: three complete strangers accidentally discover that they are identical triplets, separated at birth. The 19-year-olds’ joyous reunion catapults them to international fame, …See full summary »

Director:

Tim Wardle

 

The doc, THREE IDENTICAL STRANGERS opens in the year 1980 when 19-year-olds Robert Shafran and Edward Galland found each other at the same community college and realized they were twins separated at birth.  (Two coincidences here.)  To each other’s surprise, they discover a third.  Triplets at birth finding each other is news.  The surprise triplets became fast friends and overnight media sensations.  When they first found each other, they were wrestling on the floor like puppies.  There are clips of the triplets on television shows and in even a movie, DESPERATELY SEEKING SUSAN.   Media highlight their similarities like their taste in women, sports, likes and habits.  The differences are obviously not mentioned as these are not news-worthy items.  It is a well known fact that if something is constantly brought up, people believe it to be the truth.  They open a restaurant called ‘Triplets’.  They make a lot of funny, enjoy each other’s company and are very happy.  Can the happiness last forever?  Every story eventually has a dark side.  This story certainly has.  This side takes over the film with it becomingly very sinister during its last half.

The dark side involves the discovery at the adoption agency that the triplets (as are other twins) were part of an experiment conducted on human behaviour.

I previewed this doc with my partner as I wanted his input on the subject of twins as he has three good friends who happen to be one of twins.  To my surprise, (there seems to be surprises just jumping out with this doc), he informed me that he did not wish to see the second half of the doc as he has already seen it.  Apparently, according to him, (I could not find any documentation), the second part of the do with the experiment of separation of twins at birth were already screened on TV as part of a CBC documentary series.  This explains the reason the film appearing clearly divided into two parts, each very different with director Wardle never tempting to bridge the two segments or the transition in mood of the two sections at all.   The result is a rather disjointed two sections of film, with the audience feeling elated initially and then disgusted at the goings-on.

The film’s best part is the insight given by a few of the interviewees.  One, a lady who worked at the adoption research centre gives her opinion that it was not considered inappropriate in those days to do experiments of this kind.  Psychology was new and in, and it was a cool subject then, not like today.

Wardle appears to wish to please the audience and the manipulation is clear from the film’s start.  The initial meeting of Robert and Edward when Robert when to college is enacted with all the fake surprise looks of the actors.  Wardle has gone so far as the film a vintage Volvo cruising down the street, the same make of vehicle Robert drove years ago.

As they say, a documentary is often as good as its subject.  A far as Wardle’s documentary goes, what other film could have topped this with a more intriguing subject.  THREE IDENTICAL STRANGERS will eventually be praised as a film despite its glaring flaws.   

THREE IDENTICAL STRANGERS is intriguing fodder but one wishes that more conclusion would have been presented regarding the experiments.

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=c-OF0OaK3o0

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Film Review: WHITNEY (USA/UK 2018) ***

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Whitney Poster
Trailer

An in-depth look at the life and music of Whitney Houston.

Director:

Kevin Macdonald

 

WHITNEY is a household name.  Her song “I will always love you” was the all time number one selling record of any female artist.  Whitney Houston starred with Kevin Costner in the movie hit THE BODYGUARD.  When she drowned in her bath tub from an overdose in 2012, she again made headline news, but not in the best of occasions.  Everyone knows who Whitney Houston and bits and pieces of her troubled life but director Kevin Macdonald (he made the Oscar winning Doc ONE DAY IN SEPTEMBER) bares it all in the warts-an-all documentary of one of the world’s most famous singers of all time.

Director can do nothing but screen Whitney’s performances onscreen (except for maybe her disastrous Danish concert) and still capture the audience’s interest.  Macdonald realizes the potential of her performances and there are many songs played on the film’s soundtrack.  Her most famous song, “I will always love you,” is heard twice with Whitney performing, once in a rousing rendering in South Africa after Apartheid and the second not so arousing during the Danish concert where fans booed her offstage.  Macdonald begins the film with an uplifting note, with Whitney rendering her other famous song “I wanna dance with somebody” with voice over claiming her to be the number 1 pop star.   The film goes down from that high point.

Not long into minutes of that song, Macdonald edits into the picture images on America’s unrest from riots to bombings to angry demonstrations.  One immediately wonders the reason Macdonald is doing this as Whitney’s life has nothing much to do with a all these, except that she was living during those times.  The same thing can be observed in the recent Elvis documentary THE KING, but in that one Elvis was drafted into the military and he was cited as the American dream.  The film then delves into Whitney’s childhood, going on to her rise in the music industry with some reference to her church singing.

After the first third of the film’s 2 hour running time, Macdonald slowly charts Whitney’s downfall.  This encompasses her caustic marriage to Bobby Brown, her drug addiction, her child molestation, her fallout with her father, her failure for a comeback and finally her death from an overdose.  These are depressing topics and mar the life of a celebrity the world loves.   Fans will take offence over this grim look on their favourite idol though it is claimed that this documentary was made with the full cooperation of the Houston family

Macdonald attempts to defend his position during an interview with Whitney’s ex-husband Bobby when he refuses to talk about Whitney’s drug abuse claiming that this was not the cause of her downfall.  Macdonald retorts that she was taking drugs in the last years of life and not to include it in the doc would not paint a true picture of her.  True, but Macdonald also includes a long panning shots as the camera moves in and out of the hotel room to the bathtub where she drowned.  Again, one wonders the purpose for this gruesome and uncomfortable exercise.

The last documentary made about a similar performer was Asif Kapadia’s Academy Award Winning AMY.  Macdonald’s WHITNEY definitely has his audience feeling sorry for her though more good memories could have been included in his grim documentary.  When one loves and remembers Whitney, one wants to remember the good stuff as well as the bad.

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=R0rhC90Z4ok

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