Film Review: WEXFORD PLAZA (Canada 2017) ***

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Wexford Plaza Poster
A misunderstood sexual encounter unravels the life of a lonely female security guard and her deadbeat paramour.

Director:

Joyce Wong

Writer:

Joyce Wong

The strip mall setting matches director Joyce Wong’s sad and sympathetic comedy of two low paid workers.  There seems to be little hope for both the shops and Wong’s characters.  Betty is the newly hired security guard and Danny serves in the pub.  The pub there is closing.  The strip mall is described by the security patrolling the premises as a shit hole. Losers hide there with their girlfriends for blow jobs.  The place is filthy and the only big outstanding thing there is the huge garbage dumpster.

The story is told in two chapters, Chapter One called Betty and Two called Danny.  Instead of intercutting the stories, Wong unfolds them sequentially, Betty’s story first. As the two stories concern the two characters in the same period of time, there are intersecting identical segments that are repeated.  (I thought the film had rewound to the start when one of these were repeated.). The repeated segments include both  Betty and Danny going for a smoke and a make-up sales session.

Both stories are equally Interesting. The decision to keep the two stories separate allows each story to flow smoothly without distraction.

Betty is depicted as a lonely girl.  She is a little on the heavy side but is pretty with a good size of breasts as she is proud to both admit and reveal to Danny.  She is desperate for a boyfriend as well as company.  Her other two male security guard colleagues join her for the occasional drink but they are assholes, as she slowly discovers.  She has an encounter with Danny a night when he is drunk.  She has hopes for maybe him as a boyfriend.

The story switches to Danny . It is revealed that he is living with a girl, a steady but Wong never reveals whether they are married.  They very well could be as she complains of wanting a bigger apartment.  It is clear that Danny loves her.  When Danny is laid off from his job, he keeps the fact from her.  He becomes the Avon Lady but has not much luck in direct sales mainly because he knows nothing about cosmetics.  A sad story.  When his girl finds out three weeks later about his job loss, she is furious.

Wong’ s characters are likeable.  She even shows a few redeeming qualities of Betty’s security colleagues.  But her film is too scarce in characters.  There are 5 people in total. Nothing is known of Betty’s family.  Her character is not that unlikable that she has no friends. The same can be said for Danny.  His boss is only shown for a fleeting moment.

WEXFORD PLAZA is produced by a friend of mine, Harry Cherniak.  This is his first full length feature, after producing a string of excellent shorts.  Congratulations to him on his interesting and well made first movie.  The film has been nominated by the Toronto Film Critics Association for the Best Canadian Film.

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hE9FVohQBkQ

 

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Film Review: THE GREATEST SHOWMAN (USA 2017) ****

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The Greatest Showman Poster
Trailer

Inspired by the imagination of P.T. Barnum, The Greatest Showman is an original musical that celebrates the birth of show business and tells of a visionary who rose from nothing to create a spectacle that became a worldwide sensation.

Director:

Michael Gracey

Writers:

Jenny Bicks (screenplay by), Bill Condon (screenplay by) | 1 more credit »

 

Films about circuses have been popular having taken many different genres form blockbuster (Cecil. B. Demille’s THE GREATEST SHOW ON EARTH) to cheap 1966 horror (CIRCUS OF FEAR).  THE GREATEST SHOWMAN aims at being both a biopic and a musical.

Hugh Jackman is a shoo-in for the role of singing P.T. Barnum, obtaining a Golden Globe nomination for Best Actor in a musical or comedy in the process.  Heart-throb Zac Ephron also eases into musical mode as smooth as in three HIGH SCHOOL MUSICAL films.  He plays Barnum’s friend and business partner..

THE GREATEST SHOWMAN is a true musical at heart.  Within the first 10 minutes, there are two songs performed already.  The film also boasts to be an original musical, not to be confused with “BARNUM” that played on Broadway decades back.  The songs are catchy with “This is Me”, largely performed by the bearded lady nominated for the Best Song Golden Globe.  But the other songs (by the guys who wrote LALA LAND) are just as catchy (there have been few musicals these days with all good songs) with others just as good, if not better than “This is Me”.  The choreography is also quite spectacular, and one cannot complain that there is not a full all out musical.  It is a feel-good movie, so those wanting hard drama and musical-haters, be advised to stay away.

The story contains two romances, between P.T. Barnum and Charity (Michelle Williams) and the other between Phillip Carlyle (Ephron) and Anne Wheeler (Zendaya), the acrobat and trapeze artist.  The romantic chemistry is not all there, though Barnum’s and Charity’s is more believable.

Though the film traces how American showman P. T. Barnum became the founder of the circus that became the famous traveling Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus, there are also subplots like the romance as well as the diversion of the employment of famous Swedish singer Jenny Lind (Rebecca Ferguson) who almost destroys both his business and his marriage.  Her singing performance is astonishing though Loren Alfred provides Lind’s singing voice.  Ferguson lip syncs and fakes it quite well.

The film side steps certain points, like how Barnum suddenly obtained all the circus animals.  The business aspect of the circus is only briefly mentioned in passing.  It is quite hard to believe that the circus made it this big with so few acts and with no clowns at all in the film.

Director Gracey seems fond of emphasizing the fact of equality among performers.  The protests in each visiting town of the residents against the circus ‘freaks’ finally conclude with a huge fire that destroys the circus building.  In Demille’s THE GREATEST SHOW ON EARTH, it was a train crash that almost destroyed the circus, here compared to the big fire. 

The film should have more circus acts on screen time, so the audience can really feel the atmosphere of a circus.  What is clearly missing in this circus film is the excitement and danger of a circus.  Still, THE GREATEST SHOWMAN, though is not the greatest show in 2017 still makes appropriate Christmas entertainment.

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AXCTMGYUg9A

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Film Review: HOSTILES (USA 2017) ***1/2

In 1892, a legendary Army captain reluctantly agrees to escort a Cheyenne chief and his family through dangerous territory.

Director:

Scott Cooper

Writers:

Scott Cooper (screenplay), Donald E. Stewart (manuscript)

HOSTILES opens with a statement by D.H. Lawrence on how hostile the west was – and how the heat of the west can never be melted.  Scott Cooper’s (BLACK MASS) film attempts to prove otherwise in his brooding western, interspersed with action sequences that are enough to jolt any audience from thought.

The setting is 1892.  The film opens with a tense and well executed sequence of the massacre of the Quaid family by Indians, the only survivor being the widow (Rosamund Pike).  Director Cooper makes sure the audience feels for her, and for her hatred towards the Indians.  

The film then introduces its main character, an embittered and battle-hardened US Cavalry officer, Joseph L. Blocker (Christian Bale) ordered to accompany a Cheyenne war chief and his family back to their tribal lands in Montana.  Captain Blocker (Christian Bale) has seen more than his fair share of violence and bloodletting on the frontier and will obviously see more by the end of the film, but this mission, which he is forced to accept, is a particularly bitter pill to swallow: Chief Yellow Hawk (Wes Studi) has been his mortal enemy for years due to a conflict that killed many of Blocker’s friends.  On the other hand, the Chief has also lost friends in the conflict.  To make matters worse, the widow, Rosalie Quaid joins in the journey.

Blocker is a racist, a man who harbours a deep hatred towards the former prisoners now placed in his care.  As the challenges mount, Blocker is forced to confront his own bigotry while carrying out his orders.  But there are no long monologues or cheap theatrics to get the message across.

But in the final scene, Blocker says goodbye to Rosalie at the train station, her hand holding the young orphaned  Cheyenne boy.  “You are a good man, Joe Blocker.”   These are Rosalie’s farewell words to Blocker.  These are unexpected words resulting in events that show that reconciliation is possible, despite how hopeless things appeared at the start.

Christian Bale is almost perfect in the title role of the racist with a conscience.  It is not a cardboard character but one that undergoes development.  Bale does a lot of brooding, but the changes in him come from the vents that flow his journey through the hostile land.  Pike is also good as the storm-willed suicidal widow.  Adam Beach (SUICIDE SQUAD) is surprisingly not given much to do while Wes Studi (DANCES WITH WOLVES, LAST OF THE MOHICANS) has a few lines that emphasize his strong character as the Indian chief.  Ben Foster is sufficiently menacing as an escorted criminal.

Coopers action scenes are well orchestrated and lift the otherwise slow moving film that at times almost sinks too low.  The film is quite lengthy, running at over the 2 hour mark.

HOSTILES is a quietly powerful film, difficult to watch but nevertheless gets its message across with the hopeful ending.

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1M5cj4UmscE

Film Review: THE POST (USA 2017) ****

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The Post Poster
Trailer

A cover-up that spanned four U.S. Presidents pushed the country’s first female newspaper publisher and a hard-driving editor to join an unprecedented battle between journalist and government.

Director:

Steven Spielberg

An ideal time for a picture such as THE POST to be released is this day and time when the majority of Americans are dissatisfied with the Trump Presidency.  No matter how much President Trump tries to make it right or criticize media, he is still made fun of every night on the talk shows, and especially on SNL by Alec Baldwin.  

The timing is also relevant for two reasons.  The film is Meryl Streep’s comeback at Trump after he made the remark of her being the most over-rated actress.  he demonstrates her acting prowess at taking down the Nixon Presidency or any other Presidency for that matter.  The second is the banding of critics and other publications to take down Disney when the studio decided to ban the L.A. Times in retaliation for a scathing article written against them. 

Spielberg, director of 50 or so films as of date, goes for theatrics, clearly from the start of the film to the end.  Meryl Streep is given the grand theatrical entrance in the bedroom scene where she coughs and papers get thrown on the floor.  The camera concentrates on the performances on both Hanks and Streep, as if it were begging them to be noticed for Oscar nods.  The actual crime, the incidents of the coverups of the four governments are only briefly mentioned, with hardly any details.  The opening sequence of one failure attack in Vietnam is supposed to do the trick.  

THE POST is the drama about the unlikely partnership between The Washington Post’s Katharine Graham (Streep), the first female publisher of a major American newspaper, and editor Ben Bradlee (Hanks), as they race to catch up with The New York Times to expose a massive cover-up of government secrets that spanned three decades and four U.S. Presidents.

The script goes on to push all the right buttons to give the audience a feel-good feeling of elation.  “The Government has lied about the Vietnam War for 30 years.  The way they lied has tone brought out into the open.” says  Bradley. The government is then pursuing the security breach.  The announcement of the result of the court as to whether the Washington Post would be acquitted is grandly staged.  Even the words of the judge are quoted as coming from there American fore-fathers.

It is interesting to compare Spielberg’s other political entry on American Presidents – LINCOLN.  In that film, President Abraham Lincoln was treated with respect and grandeur while in THE POST Nixon is considered nothing more than two-faced rat.  Nixon invites no Washington Post press for his daughter’s wedding as a result apart incident and later bans the Post from the White House showing him not only guilty of being a sore-loser but one craving for revenge.  His revenge is shown at the closing of the film as he Watergate scandal begins, as everyone knows.  But the scene is still a satisfying one.

THE POST and the upcoming THE GREATEST SHOWMAN are 20th Century Fox’s Oscar hopefuls, both opening at Christmas.  Both are crowd pleasers and it will be interesting to see what happens.

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nrXlY6gzTTM

 

 

 

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Film Review: ADVENTURES IN PUBLIC SCHOOL (Canada 2017) ***

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Public Schooled Poster
A socially awkward home-schooled kid forces his way into public-school against his suffocating but loving mother’s wishes.

Director:

Kyle Rideout

 

The film delivers exactly what the title says – it is a boy’s adventures in public school.  

But it should be noted that this boy is different.  And he is only in public school for 3 months as he is home schooled by his possessive but loving mother.

Educated by his fiercely enthusiastic mother, Claire (Judy Greer), teenage Liam (Daniel Doheny) is the quintessential über-nerd, a wannabe physicist who is about to take his equivalency exam and head off to Cambridge, England – with his mother in tow.  At the exam he spots Anastasia (Siobhan Williams), an enigmatic beauty who lost a leg to cancer.  Instantly smitten, he changes his answers, hoping to flunk and have to redo his final semester in public school. Liam is given a crash course in high-school dynamics, ranging from bullying to hallway flirting, as he timidly pursues Anastasia.  Mamma is livid!

The film gives home schooling credit with Liam learning everything and becoming a genius in all his subjects.  This would imply the mother to be a genius as well.  The film also acknowledges the shortcomings of home schooling, but only one of them – the social aspect.  Home schoolers are socially impaired as they miss out one of the best things in school – playing with other kids and getting into trouble and having a greater perspective look on life.  Other problems of home schooling are largely ignored such as how the home school teachers are only the mother and father and they can be fucked up.  Whatever happens if their break up?  The father figure of Liam is completely ignored in the film.

The film’s saving grace are its two lead actors who not only are credible in their characterizations but ease into their roles really well.  Greer managers to be winning while possessive while Doheny captures nerdy and smart at the same time.  One hope to see more of this rising star in the future.  The confrontation scene between mother and son (inevitable, obviously, given the film’s theme) is kept smart and funny.

Rideout uses up beat music with dance beats to liven up his movie.  The sequence with mother and son dancing together also reveals the bond both have for teach other despite their problems.

The film ends with a segment in a classroom in Cambridge, England.  There is one exterior shot of the university and it is not a very convincing shot, myself having visited the University in Cambridge twice.

The question ultimately arises on whether one would believe home schooling works. Rideout’s film cleverly never takes any clear side.  

ADVENTURES IN PUBLIC SCHOOL is a simple yet funny and interesting film that thankfully avoids all the toilet jokes normally found in films of this genre.  Recommended!!

Adventures in Public School screens publicly on Friday, January 12 at 8:30pm and on Saturday, January 13 at 12:00pm at the TIFF Bell Lightbox as part of Canada’s Top Ten Film Festival, running January 12 to 21.

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PCq7HlhybOg

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FERDINAND (USA 2017) ***

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Ferdinand Poster
Trailer

After Ferdinand, a bull with a big heart, is mistaken for a dangerous beast, he is captured and torn from his home. Determined to return to his family, he rallies a misfit team on the ultimate adventure.

Director:

Carlos Saldanha

Writers:

Munro Leaf (based on the book by), Robert Lawson (based on the book by) |6 more credits »

 

FERDINAND, the bull charges into theatres just a few weeks after Pixar’s COCO.  FERDINAND is no COCO but it makes its mark, based on the ever poplar book with more humour and laughs than COCO.

FERDINAND is a CGI animated feature based on the classic 1936 Munro Leaf and Robert Lawson book.  The Lawson drawings have been translated to more than 60 languages including the 1938 Disney featurette.  Ferdinand loves flowers not fighting but finds himself in a bull training camp, the Casa del Toros where he escapes to a farm and is brought up by little Nina (Lily Day) who loves her little bull.  The little bull is not little forever, and grow into a huge monster of an animal, now also possessing the voice of towering John Cena.

The trouble (or fun, depending how one wants to look at it) starts when Ferdnand is prevented from going to the Festival of Flowers, which the flower loving bull cannot resists.  Nina is forced to tell him to stay home though Ferdinand thinks she still wants him to go.  Ferdinand ends up convincing himself (in many funny ways) that to go is the right thing to do.  He gets stung a bee, roars in pain and scare the townsfolk leading to his capture.  He is forced to go into fighting again, this tie against the famous bullfighter El Primero (Miguel Angel Silvestre).

Ferdinand plans his escape.  His sidekick and assistant is a buck-tooth hyper talking goat called Lupe (Kate KcKinnon) together with three comical hedgehogs, appropriately named Uno, Dos and Cuartro (Gina Rodriguez, Daveed Diggs ad Gabriel Iglesias).

The filmmakers cannot resist (I doubt no one can) but put Ferdinand the bull in a chain shop.  Yes, an accident waiting to happen.  In that scene, Ferdinand is hiding from his pursuers.  To make it even funnier, there is an old woman with a feather duster dusting the china.  And a bull with huge nostrils?  Another accident to happen, for sure!

Blue Sky Company who makes FERDINAND all made the ICE AGE movies that are too cute for my liking and RIO.   Th squirrel antics of ICE AGE looks similar to the cute bunny sequence in FERDINAND.

The film has many prized comedic set ups among them being the dance off,

(choreography by Carlos Saldanha) with the three horses (Robert L. Baird, Tim Federle and Brad Copeland).  If not prancing around, they are out-talking everyone else with their Swedish accent right out of an IKEA commercial.

The film contains three original songs but nothing hispanic.

FERDINAND might face stiffer competition with the animated THE STAR, also about goofy animals with the birth of Christ than with COCO.  FERDINAND does come up on top in terms of laughs.

Trailer: https://video.search.yahoo.com/yhs/search?fr=yhs-adk-adk_sbnt&hsimp=yhs-adk_sbnt&hspart=adk&p=ferdinand+trailer#id=1&vid=b6f1c0de7b88754d0d9158fd19b83482&action=view

 

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Film Review: STAR WARS: THE LAST JEDI (USA 2017) ***1/2

Having taken her first steps into the Jedi world, Rey joins Luke Skywalker on an adventure with Leia, Finn and Poe that unlocks mysteries of the Force and secrets of the past.

Director:

Rian Johnson

Writers:

Rian JohnsonGeorge Lucas (based on characters created by)

When the film begins, the titles are clear to remind the audience that it is Episode VIII that they are watching.  It is also the second in the Star Wars sequel trilogy after THE FORCE AWAKENS.  Long time again a galaxy far away….. read the lines in normal word setting from right to left, then humorously followed by an introduction to the story in the normal STAR WARS type set from bottom to top of the screen.

At the press screening, the Disney representative begged those attending not to reveal any plot points or twists so as not to spoil the entertainment of those yet to see the film.  That, of course, will be respected in this review, but it is safe to say that there are quite a few of these twists to keep audiences on their toes.  But the main story is very simple and basically told in words at the film’s start.

The First Order reigns.  The rebels are planning their escape.  Princess Leia (Carrie Fisher) is evacuating the rebel base while they are under attack.  It appears wherever the rebels go, they can be tracked.  So the aim is to board the Order ship that contains the tracker and destroy it.  Rey (Daisy Ridley) is recruited to get Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) out of his self-imposed exile on the planet Ahch-To (which looks a lot like Ireland because it was shot there) to help.  That is all one needs to know about the plot.  Of course, there are the villains, pretty good ones who can come across as quite funny or nasty as in the case of Ben Solo (Adam Driver).  And not to forget, there is the Supreme Leader (Andy Serkis), whose title seems to invoke laughter, just from the name of how it sounds.

All of what is expected in a Star Wars epic is there.  Fans should not be disappointed.  Original characters like Luke Skywalker and Princess Leia are there as are the old characters like Rey, Ben Solo, General Hux (Domhnall Gleeson), the Supreme Leader, Finn (John Boyega) , Poe (Oscar Isaac) together with c3p0, Chewbacca and r2d2.  The are lots of well executed fight scenes with exploding star ships and bases, light sabre fighting, pyro-technics  and CGI.  Fond sayings like “May the Force be with You,” or “May the Force be with Us” and a few new ones are there to prod the audience on the good fight alongside the Rebellion.  A few new creatures are added like the puffin-looking birds and icy type canines.  The film also has an eclectic cast which shows that all races work well in the Rebellion for a good Galaxy of beings.

THE LAST JEDI is marked with humour with some very funny lines.  This is what distinguishes this episode from the rest – it is the funniest.  The humour works as the film knows how to keep it both funny and smart with the film still serious in the fight against the First Order.

The film’s best line appears at the end credits.  The film is dedicated to our Princess Carrie Fisher.  THE LAST JEDI is a worthy tribute to the princess, for sure, being her final film before she passed away in 2016.

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TYRy5bCsWF8

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