Full Review: THE SQUARE (Sweden 2017) ***** Top 10

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The Square Poster

Trailer

The Square is a poignant satirical drama reflecting our times – about the sense of community, moral courage and the affluent person’s need for egocentricity in an increasingly uncertain world.

Director:

Ruben Östlund

Writer:

Ruben Östlund

 

What is THE SQUARE?  In director Östlund’s (FORCE MAJEURE) new film THE SQUARE, the square is a place of trust and caring where everyone shares equality and obligations.  It is also the name of the newest project of Museum Director Christian (Claes Bang) which he hopes will bring in money for the cutting edge art museum in Sweden he represents.  Christian hires two young TV publicists to spread the word on social media.

The film is made of a number of cinematic set-pieces.  If this method of filmmaking sounds familiar, it is used by Swedish director Roy Andersson (A PIGEON SAT ON A BRANCH REFLECTING ON EXISTENCE, SONGS FROM THE SECOD FLOOR) who happens to be director Östlund’s mentor.  Though these set-pieces appear unconnected on the surface, they upon close examination all tie into the greater scheme of Östlund’s universe.

These set pieces include:

the film’s most brilliantly executed segment set during the museum charity dinner where a wild man (a very scary Terry Notary) is let loose among the guests.  If the guests show any sign of fear or make any sudden moves, the wild animal will turn on the hunter after sensing his/her fear.  This art act ends up going out of control.

the post sex scene in when Christian and Anne (Elizabeth Moss) argue on who will take hold of the filled condom for disposal

the poor kid that confronts Christian on his act of accusing him of being a thief

the museum display of separating visitors into two sections; one that trust and the other that mistrust people.  In the trust section, the guests are supposed to leave their cell phones and wallets behind.

a TV interview gone terribly and embarrassingly wrong

the confrontational scene between Christian and Anne when Anne accuses Christian of using his position of power to attract women, a segment that seems to serve as a prophecy to the current Weinstein sex scandal.

One observable thing is that what happens to Christian after his downfall from museum director.  He is still questioned to no end, and not allowed to at least go into disgrace in peace.  When he decides to seek forgiveness from the boy he wronged, it turns out that he is unable to do so as the boy and family has moved.

One of the film’s best jokes in the film is the scene of the exhibit with the mounds of gravel that goes terribly wrong when the cleaner on the vacuum machine accidentally sucks up the dirt. 

The film is also not without arresting images, courtesy of cinematographer Fredrik Wenzel.  The two most striking ones include the shot of Christian building with escalators and star is rising above him like a maze (see trailer in link below) and the other with Christian in a heap of garbage as he searches for the piece of paper containing an important telephone number.

As in most successful satires on film (Terry Giliam’s BRAZIL), the story follows the downfall of the protagonist.  In THE SQUARE, Christian almost gets his chance to prove himself worthy of being a good human being by apologizing to the boy he has wronged.  But Östlund removes this opportunity in a twist of fate when he discovers the boy has moved with nor forwarding address.

The film deservedly won this year’s Palme d’or Prize. The film is as wicked a wicked satire can be as well as sexy, brilliant, complex and bitingly hilarious.  It is a cruel, absurd and unforgiving world we live in and Östlund has captured it masterfully in his minor-masterpiece.  Clearly the best film I have seen this year – hands down.

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=u77vsmBya2w

 

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Film Review: A BAD MOMS CHRISTMAS (USA 2017)

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A Bad Moms Christmas Poster
Trailer

A Bad Moms Christmas follows our three under-appreciated and over-burdened women as they rebel against the challenges and expectations of the Super Bowl for moms: Christmas.

Directors:

Jon LucasScott Moore

 

Christmas comes early this year with Hollywood’s first Christmas comedy opening on November the 1st.  And it is a nightmare – a nightmare before Christmas.  When Publicity handed out sheets of an embargo to be signed with the embargo lifted at 9 am on opening day, the critics attending knew that something about the film must be amiss.  A BAD MOMS CHRISTMAS is really bad, and a major turn of events considering that BAD MOMS was really funny and that the entire crew responsible for the first successful comedy hit returned for this dud.

Once again, under-appreciated and overburdened moms Amy (Mila Kunis), Kiki (Kristen Bell) and Carla (Kathryn Hahn) rebel against the challenges and expectations of Christmas.  As if creating the perfect holiday for their families is not hard enough, they will have to do it tho time around while hosting and entertaining their own respective mothers (Christine Baranski, Cheryl Hines and Susan Sarandon) when they come to visit.  But in the moms’ own words, they want to reclaim Christmas for themselves, very much the same way they did in the first movie.

When the three moms in the first movie decided to take back their own lives, it was funny and fresh.  Here, the freshness has changed to stale.  All the perkiness and naughtiness, especially with the Kathryn Hahn’s character rubs totally the wrong way – especially in a Christmas movie.  The stripper dance during the Christmas dinner (at the end of the film) with the kids present is the perfect example of humour gone wrong.  Kahn is obviously trying too hard her and the directors Lucas and Moore given her too much to do after her first success.  Waxing too many vaginas in her job at the spa where she works, her foul language, her way with men and her drunkenness and loudness in public have been reduced from funny to annoyance.  The romance element of Carla and her new stripper boyfriend is both unfunny and silly.  Also missing in this sequel is Christina Applegate who played the bitchy head of the PTA who fought with the BAD MOMS.

Also to keep with the spirit of Christmas films, the film has to bring in the expected sentiment of good cheer, with too much material falling into cliched territory.  As expected, each mom is told off by each respective daughter, for whatever reason – not being able to let go of mommy strings; borrowing money and then comes the reconciliation, one of them done in the midst of a church service, as if no one in the congregation minded or noticed.  The worst sentimental crap is Amy’s father (Peter Gallagher) given his daughter the speech on how special her mother is.

Oddly the moms’ moms are funnier.  The only decent scene is the one where Sarandon, Hines and Baranski end up in church as they help each other out with their daughters amidst insulting each other.  But the film ends with the three bad grandmothers  heading for Las Vegas – which makes for a terrible thought – the possibility of two sequels in the making. 

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7ERrTQJkZoA

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Film Review: THE DIVINE ORDER (Switzerland 2017) ***

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The Divine Order Poster
Trailer

Switzerland, 1971: Nora is a young housewife and mother who lives with her husband and their two sons in a peaceful little village. Here, in the Swiss countryside, little or nothing is felt… See full summary »

Director:

Petra Biondina Volpe (as Petra Volpe)

Writer:

Petra Biondina Volpe (as Petra Volpe)

 

There have been quite a few films about women fighting for their right to vote, the most notable being the splashy SUFFRAGETTE that had Meryl Streep in a cameo.  DIVINE ORDER from Switzerland examines the same subject but makes it clear from the beginning that it is taking its study from a different point of view.

When the film opens, archive footage of current events in the world (particularly in the U.S.) – the hippie movement, the rock and roll, the political unrest are displayed on screen with the voiceover emphasizing that the small Swiss village the film is set is still behind the times.    

THE DIVINE ORDER thus makes its stance on a different footing, differentiating itself from films like SUFFRAGETTE, and works in a way, as the film not only becomes more personal but one that people around the world can relate to.  It is no surprise then that THE DIVINE ORDER  was selected as the Swiss entry for the Best Foreign Language Film at the 90th Academy Awards.

The film is set in a small Swiss village in the year 1971. Nora (Marie Leuenberger) is a young housewife and mother, living with her husband and their two sons. The Swiss countryside is untouched by the major social upheavals the movement of 1968 has brought about.  Nora’s life is not affected either; she is a quiet person who is liked by everybody.  But when she finds her niece taken away for ‘retraining’ after having a boyfriend and her refused by her husband from taking a job, she sees the need to fight for women’s rights.  She starts to publicly fight for women’s suffrage, which the men are due to vote on in a ballot on February 7, 1971.

Director Volpe plays her film safe.  Unfolding in chronological order, she  shows the audience Nora’s life, and how she eventually discovers the need to stand up.  An excellent moment is her waking up in the morning with her young son asking her about his breakfast, as is expected by a male from a female, without much thought from the son. This follows with the opportunity for her to make a difference, followed then by her acquaintance with others who feel the same way.

There is always something moving to watch an underdog (Nora in this case) give everything to do what is right.  Director Volpe milks this tactic to the fullest thus making her little film work wonders.

Though the subject has been covered in other films, Volpe’s film is incident driven, which breaks the monotony at many points in the film, when one feels that it is just about to occur.

THE DIVINE ORDER is a quiet and small film but effectively done, clearly executed by the cast, crew and director who are convinced of the importance of its subject matter.  The film is shot in German.

Trailer: https://vimeo.com/204361593

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Full Review: THE KILLING OF A SACRED DEER (UK/Ireland 2017) ****

Steven, a charismatic surgeon, is forced to make an unthinkable sacrifice after his life starts to fall apart, when the behavior of a teenage boy he has taken under his wing turns sinister.

Director:

Yorgos Lanthimos

 

Greek director (DOGTOOTH and THE LOBSTER) Yourgos Lanthimos’ latest feature is a supernatural psychological thriller that is the most difficult to watch despite its bouts of black humour.  The reason the film is titled THE KILLING OF A SACRED DEER becomes apparent at the film’s end and exposing the reason would spoilt the film’s key plot point.

The film follows Dr. Steven Murphy (Farrell), a cardiac surgeon who is first seen at a diner meeting with a 16-year-old named Martin (Barry Keoghan).  The doctor buys the boy an expensive watch as a present.  The relationship between the two is revealed as the film goes on.  Steven introduces Martin to his wife (Nicole Kidman) and two children.  Martin, determined to ingratiate himself into this unfamiliar new family, becomes something like an adopted son.  Strange things begin to happen with the children developing paralysis right out of the blue.  Dr. Murphy and his team of surgeons are unable to put a medical explanation for the illnesses.

Secrets start coming out of the closet.  Director Lanthimos unveils bits at a time, thus keeping the audience in anticipation.  Revealing more of the plot in this review will definitely spoil ones enjoyment of the film, and thus no more of the story will be revealed.

It is safe to say that the film gets more and more serious and ends up becoming quite a disturbing watch.  Lanthimos does not skimp on the violence and language.  The film has a lot of anger and the anger is slowly but surely unleashed by every one in the part concerned.

The humour often comes in the form of inconsequential dialogue, often spoken by the main character, Dr. Steven Murphy (Colin Farrell).  Hunour is also provided in the way drain information, is relayed to the audience.  For example, Steven tells his colleague out of the blue for no reason, that his daughter has begun her menstruation.

The sex scene between husband and wife is as expected a strange one, but sufficiently erotic.  Kidman has an almost perfect body.  Farrell, Kidman and Keoghan all deliver chilling performances.

The film demands the audience sit back and immerse themselves in the environment of horror.  The film is clear a horror film with scary results that resulted in quite a few of the audience at the screening walking out.

The film uses quite a bit of choral music wit a scene of a scene of the daughter singing in the choir.  Sound is also used effectively as when Steven takes off his wife’s panties, like the snapping sound of him taking off his surgical gloves.

The film contains some very scary scenes.  These include the ones with the son and daughter both paralyzed from the waste down, dragging their bodies around the house, up and down the stairs using their arms.  There is also an almost unwatchable scene of Russian Roulette

THE KILLING OF A SACRED DEER is a well executed psychological and emotional horror film.  Not for everyone!

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eOxiMR6aL74

Film Reviews: The films of Johnnie To

TIFF Cinematheque Presents – The films of Johnnie To

Considered one of the greatest Hong Kong directors still working today, Johnnie To has amassed an impressive list of films that include many different genres. To is best known a an action director with films like PTU and THE HEROIC TRIO, both films spurning sequels.  His films have graced Cannes as well as the film festivals in Venice, Berlin and Toronto.

This is TIFF Cinematheque’s first retrospective of To which will include films that have influenced him. One is King Hu’s DRAGON INN one of the best sword sagas ever made.  The climatic battle at the end is unforgettable.  To will be present to introduce that film as well  as a few other screenings.  A real treat!

A total of 19 films are in the series.  A full review of OFFICE and capsule review

For complete listing, venue and ticket pricing, please check the TIFF website at:

tiff.net

The program runs from October 26th right through Christmas, a good well spread out of the 19 films. 

THE HEROIC TRIO (Hong Kong 1993) ***
Directed by Johnnie To

THE HEROIC TRIO stars three of the most famous stars in Hong Kong films of the 90’s – Michelle Yeoh, Anita Mui and Maggie Cheung.  They play action super heroes with super powers battling the ’evil one’ who has a scheme to rule the world forever with his emperor who is to be chosen for kidnapped babies.  Meanwhile, back on earth, the police led by Inspector Lau (Damian Lau) are baffled.  They are not the only ones, as the audience often feels the same way for the way the convoluted story unfolds.  Anything can happen in the film and does with no time boundaries.  There is old fashioned martial-arts combined with machine guns and motorbikes, computers mixed with swords and ancient artifacts.  But at least To’s film is full of energy and invention if one can put up with the nonsense.  The ending with the charred skeleton emerging from an explosion is an un-shamed copy from TERMINATOR 2, but who cares as long as the film is uninhibited fun not meant to be taken seriously.  And the three females stars are exciting to watch.

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pXfNg6NN3C4

ELECTION (Hong Kong 2005) ***
Directed by Johnnie To

The ELECTION in this film refers to the election of the new head of the Triad gangsters in Hong Kong.  The two candidates are Big D (Tony Leung Ka-fai) and Lok (Simon Yam).  Lok is the more stable, even tempered and logicalmone while Big D is flashy, hot-tempered and unpredictable.  When Lok gets elected, Big D threatens to unstable by forming a new group.  The cops want no Wars while Lok agrees to some truce.  There is some fight over the baton, which symbolizes power.  There is more dialogue and story in ELECTION compared to the other To films, credit given to its scriptwriters Yau Nai-hoi and Yip Tin-shing, who seem to somehow know how the underworld operates.  The film premiered at Cannes before opening in Hong Kong and is one of the more successful of the To films spawning a sequel ELECTION 2.

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zEJfx0z8DUc

OFFICE (Hong Kong 2015) ***
Directed by Johnnie To

The story of OFFICE follows the IPO (Initial Public Offering) of shares by a major  company, Jones & Sunn led by the Chairman (Chow Yun-Fat) and his CEO who also happens to be his mistress (Sylvia Chang).  The film opens as two new interns Lee Xiang (Ziyi Wang) and Kat-Ho (Yueting Lang) start new jobs but learn that there are lots of kissing asses and dirty business that need be done in order to be successful.  Lee Xiang is earnest and naive. Two other characters that play a part in the plot are high flyers Sophie (Wei Tang) and David (Eason Chan) who forge financial figures.  OFFICE is pleasant to the eyes – great set decoration and design.  Each office space is designed artistically and modern, often with crystalline and curved shapes.  Wardrobe, especially those worn by Sylvia Chang are haute couture.  The characters break into song at any time but the songs are often clumsily inserted, and break the flow of the narrative.   OFFICE barely succeeds as a musical and satire and runs a bit long at just under two hours.  The novelty of the sets and songs wears off quite soon. 

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hFS1sdkSOwQ

Johnnie To

2017 – Read the best of THRILLER Feature Films

2017 – Read the best of THRILLER Feature Films: part 2