Fim Review: TIGER (USA/Canada 2018)

Tiger Poster
Trailer

A practicing Sikh is banned by the boxing commission for refusing to back down from his religious beliefs. Through racial profiling and stereotypical threats, he does what any strong American would do, fight back.

Director:

Alister Grierson

TIGER tells the story of a boxer (based on true events) who also had to contend with battles outside the ring – for his Sikh religion.   He was not allowed by the American Boxing Corporation to box unless he shaved his beard claiming that they held the best interest of boxers in mind for cuts and bruises might not be seen underneath the facial hair.

The film is inspired by the true story of Pardeep Singh Nagra (Prem Singh) aka Punjab Tiger, a practicing Sikh man who was banned from the sport of boxing.   Pardeep fights back with the support of his coach and mentor (Mickey Rourke), family and a community lawyer (Janel Parrish) who he falls in love with.   Obstacles faced include racial profiling by public officials, overtly racist threats, jealous rival boxers and pressure to change from loved ones.  It is within the course of these challenges and at his weakest moment that he discovers love.

One wonders the reason the film is entitled TIGER instead of PUNJAB TIGER, which would be the more appropriate title.   One might think that for an anti-racist film, dropping the PUNJAB word might be taking a prejudiced view that the title might put off general audiences.  On the other hand, one could also argue that the simple TIGER will fetch a larger audience and likely the ones to learn a lesson or two about racism.

Good intentions aside, TIGER feels like a poor man’s version of ROCKY.  There are similarities between the two boxing films.  Both are based on real life characters and both do not qualify as a true biographies.  Rocky Balboa’s character emphasized his Italian background while Pardeep Singh his Sikh background.   Both rely on the expertise of their experienced coach, who were real boxers, Mickey Rourke in TIGER.  There is also the romantic element in both films that show the boxer also as a human being.

Prem Sing delivers as the feisty boxer.  It is good to see Mickey Rourke (Academy Award nominee for Best actor in THE WRESTLER) again on screen though the man is definitely showing his age (and his glass eye).  A photograph of Mickey Rourke int he film shows the boxer/star in his hey day.

The film’s climax is expectedly the middleweight championship fight between The Tiger and the racist bully, Bryan Doyle (Michael Pugliese).  (Pugliese and the real Nagra wrote the script for this film.)  Everyone loves a good boxing match.  The camera work is sufficiently effective, well cut to the fight, the spectators’ reactions and the agony on the fighters’ faces.  Director Gierson cannot resist using the roar of the tiger on the soundtrack during the final bout.

TIGER ends up a predictable and cliched though relatively entertaining part-biography of boxer Nagra who discovers that winning a fight need not always be in the boxing ring.  The film won the Best Film at the San Diego International Film Festival.

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=E2KnrqtAnEE

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Film Review: DEAD IN A WEEK: OR YOUR MONEY BACK (UK 2018) **

Dead in a Week: Or Your Money Back Poster
Trailer

After his ninth unsuccessful attempt on his own life, a young man outsources his suicide to an ageing assassin. “If you’re serious about ending it, you need professional help”

Director:

Tom Edmunds

Writer:

Tom Edmunds

DEAD IN A WEEK (OR YOUR MONEY BACK) follows the sad life of William (Aneurin Barnard, the Welsh actor from DUNKIRK), a failed writer who has tried to take his life 9 times without much success.  These attempts are sad, not because they failed but because they are shown briefly on screen as attempts at comedy but simply failing at getting any laughs.  The hanging results in ceiling breakage.  The electrocution leads to a blackout.  Yes, not funny.  And neither is the rest of the film.  The premise might have looked good on paper but what transpires is only mildly funny comedy at best and a whole lot of predictable fare.  

William hires a contract killer who needs him to be his last killing to make his quota.   The contract killer, Leslie (Tom Wilkinson) gives William his calling card at the bridge where he attempt his 10th suicide.  William jumps off but no prizes in guessing that he lands on a passing boat below.  William signs a contract for his own death.  The predictable catch is that he falls in love and his next book looks like a success.  So, he now wants to live.  But the killer is not going to stop what he is paid to do.

The worst thing about the film is when it attempts to offer life lessons advice to the audience.  The speech by William just before he is about to be shot is something  everyone could do without.  The contract killer, Leslie is supposed to be super efficient so the scenes in which he shoots and keeps missing William is totally unbelievable.  The running joke of Leslie’s wife supporting her husband in his job  (“Maybe this will help”, she tells him at one point handing him a kitchen knife, sending him off to work) outstays its welcome.

Punch lines like: “Killing is the only thing I live for,” as uttered by the hit man is typically expected from a film like this.  Or “I am an assassin, that is what I do, that is what I am.”  The script also has to resort to foul language, a sure sign of desperation.  The Ennio Morricone-type soundtrack (Clint Eastwood used to play similar lone ‘Man with no Name’ killers)  is an obvious choice for music.

The Aki Kaurismaki film I HIRED A CONTRACT KILLER, by inevitable comparison, that treaded similar territory is more effective on a different level.  Kaurismaki’s film was deadpan comedy which means  that one could watch the weirdly funny film and still not laugh.  The film was depressing but I have seen it three times.  The closing credits have the cheek to claim that DEAD IN A WEEK is based on an original idea by writer/director Tom Edmunds.  Both films has the protagonist change his kind and both have them falling in love.  CONTRACT KILLER had him fall in love with a flower girl with added a nice touch.

The film has an odd rather original ending that does not qualify as a Hollywood ending.  Unfortunately it makes no sense at all.

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=d-HKbDkqpqY

Film Review: AT ETERNITY’S GATE (UK/USA/France 2018) ***1/2

At Eternity's Gate Poster
Trailer

A look at the life of painter Vincent van Gogh during the time he lived in Arles and Auvers-sur-Oise, France.

Director:

Julian Schnabel

There have countless films/biographies on Dutch painter Vincent Van Gogh.  So the question is why would any filmmaker want to make yet another?  

The reason is hinted at during the closing credits when it is mentioned that writings in a journal n Van Gogh had been discovered in 2016, the year before production of this film began.  Director Schnabel also said on the making of the film which is written by himself and French screenwriter Jean-Claude Carrière, quote: “This is a film about painting and a painter and their relationship to infinity.  It is told by a painter.  It contains what I felt were essential moments in his life; this is not the official history – it’s my version. One that I hope could make you closer to him.”

The film is set during the final years of Van Gogh’s life.  As most are aware of, the famous painter was mentally institutionalized at Auvers-sur-Oise, France.  He died from complications from a gunshot wound to the stomach and he had also cut off his ear in Arles in the south of France.  Making a film about madness is a difficult task which is often not rewarded with a crowd pleasing film.  The result is as expected, a film very difficult to take in as director Shnabel personalizes and ups the angst on the painter’s decent into madness.  Schnabel is no stranger to mental torment and suffering. His best picture to date THE DIVING BELL AND THE BUTTERFLY how a paralyzed writer completed his memoirs is a near-masterpiece in film endurance and suffering.  Unfortunately AT ETERNITY”S GATE does not reach the same heights.

For one, the Van Gogh story is one that everyone is familiar with.  To re-think that his suicide is something unexplainable might not please everyone.  Watching a person’s decent into madness is not anything entertaining or pleasant to watch either.  The film understandably lags in the middle with quite a few boring parts.

But the film is magnificently shot by cinematographer Benoît Delhomme in colours identical to the colours of the Van Gogh paintings painted in the open.  In the film, Van Gogh was advised by fellow painter, Paul Gauguin (Oscar Isaac) to go to the south of France to paint as it is so beautiful there.  So Van Gogh travelled to Arles.  Being to Arles myself, for the reason Van Gogh cut off his ear there, I never found Arles as pretty than the present after watching this film with the beautifully shot scenes.

The film also benefits from the cameos of Mads Mikkelsen as the priest, Mathieu Amalric (in THE DIVING BELL AND THE BUTTERFLY) as Dr. Paul Gachet who Van Gogh painted, Emmanuelle Seigner as the Woman from Arles, Niels Arestrup as a fellow inmate and Vincent Perez as the director.

What is marvellous to watch is Van Gogh at work painting his masterpieces.  These scenes look really authentic.  The display of dozens of his work on screen is a bonus for those who love Van Gogh’s work.

AT ETERNITY’S GATE is undeniably a difficult watch due to its madness theme but the film is by no means not without its pleasures.  Just don’t expect the normal Van Gogh biography.

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=T77PDm3e1iE

Film Review: THE BALLAD OF BUSTER SCRUGGS (USA 2018) ***** TOP 10

The Ballad of Buster Scruggs Poster
Trailer

An anthology film comprised of six stories, each dealing with a different aspect of life in the Old West.

Directors:

Ethan CoenJoel Coen

Writers:

Joel CoenEthan Coen

Made as a Netflix original movie, THE BALLAD OF BUSTER SCRUGGS is the title of the first of six the Coen Brothers stories set in the American frontier.  It is also the best of the six stories.

Written and directed by the Coen Brothers (the name that is synonymous with solid entertainment), the film is comprised of six chapters that present a different story with a different attitude from the wild frontier.  

The odd thing is that instead of the best reserved for the last, the first chapter, and the title of the film is the best of the anthology.  Anthology films, so popular in the past are now not so common.  Each chapter lasts about 20 minutes or so, and stars a complete different cast of actors.

The first episode – The Ballad of Buster Scruggs-  tells the story of a sharp-shooting songster played by an unforgettable Tim Blake Nelson.  It is hilarious, unpredictable and fun from moment one.  Nelson shows up as the fastest gun in the west while breaking into song and dance unexpectedly as well.  Though predictable as to what will happen to him at the end, this is one chapter that one does not want to end.  And to watch again and again!

The second is called “In Near Algodones’, in which a wannabe bank robber (James Franco) gets his due and then some.  The bank clerk the robber has to deal with is someone totally unexpected, coming out a-shooting with his armour of pots and pans.

Meal Ticket is a gothic tale about two weary travelling performers with Liam Neeson.  This is the least strong of the stories and my least favourite.

Al that glitters is definitely gold.  All Gold Canyon is a story about a prospector mining for gold, with Tom Waits as the elderly prospector.  The scenes of him panning the sands for grains of gold nuggets are priceless with Waits eagerly waiting to strike the mother lode.  The next is a wagon trail in which  a woman finds an unexpected promise of love, along with a dose of life’s cruel irony, across the prairies in the chapter entitled The Gal Who Got Rattled. 

Finally, ghostly laughs haunt The Mortal Remains as a pompous Lady (Tyne Daly) rains judgment upon a motley crew of strangers undertaking a final stagecoach ride.  This is the most talky of the stories and clearly shows the film deserving of the Best Screenplay Award it won at the Venice International filmFestival.  The monologue by the uneducated trapper, played by Chelcie Ross in simple but and the superbly well-written prose is unforgettable.  

The common thread in all the 6 movie is the unforgettable central character.  Each story has one that stands out and each are performed by a famous actor trying on something completely different.

One can only wish for more of these priceless uniquely Coen Brothers stamped  stories.

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_2PyxzSH1HM

Film Review: RALPH BREAKS THE INTERNET (USA 2018) ***1/2

Ralph Breaks the Internet Poster
Six years after the events of “Wreck-It Ralph”, Ralph and Vanellope, now friends, discover a wi-fi router in their arcade, leading them into a new adventure.

Writers:

Phil Johnston (screenplay by), Pamela Ribon (screenplay by) | 5 more credits »

One can observe more and more formulaic flow in the Disney movies.  Even for their December Christmas animated features, one year features a male and the next a female young protagonist.  This year sees a young female (as it is the lady’s turn) but she dabbles in stuff that more males would be interested in – car racing.   Her character, Vanellope (voiced by Sarah Silverman, who recently got her Hollywood Walk of Fame) is however, in a video game and her best friend is WRECK-IT RALPH (John. C. Reilly), who in this film breaks the internet.  Her dream is to win races.  The film questions the importance of friendship against chasing ones dreams.  No prizes for guessing the answer!

The film begins with something quite different.  While a lot of scripts begin with  some dream that needs to be reached from poverty, this story begins with Ralph and Vanellope having the perfect life.  They enjoy what there doing, are best friends and want nothing to change.  The film questions this status quo.

The setting is six years after the events of the first film (also in real time as the last RALPH movie was 2012).  The steering wheel controller on the Sugar Rush arcade game console breaks, forcing Mr. Litwak (Ed O’Neill) to unplug the machine.  Wreck-It Ralph and Vanellope von Schweetz evacuate all of the Sugar Rush residents to other games before it is shut down, placing the racers in the care of Fix-It Felix Jr. and Sergeant Tamora Jean Calhoun.  Ralph and Vanellope then use the arcade’s new connection to the Internet to go looking for a replacement steering wheel.

The script uses fully all the quirks that can be found in the internet.  Those who are unfamiliar (maybe none in today’s audiences) will find a few things strange but the filmmakers make the solid assumption that everyone is aware of the concept of viruses, search engines and social platforms.  A few new internet characters like eBoy and  Mr. Knowsmore ( the man who knows everything in charge of a search engine) sprite up the list of characters.

The film also contains a few totally entertaining imaginative numbers like the tap dancing on the car hoods and the animated Busby Berkeley sequences.  The film’s funniest segment is Ralph’s visit to the virus Master, Double Dan (Alfred Molina in his British accent) and told never to look at his little brother, which of course, he cannot help but do, while making comments about him all the while.

John C. Reilly has an unmistakable voice and one can only expect him to do his goofy, sympathetic tones, especially in the scenes where he is pleading for Vanellope’s friendship.

Two lively songs ‘Zero’ and ‘Place Called Slaughter Race’ enliven he festivities.  (There are also a few songs in the other December Disney animated features).

RALPH BREAKS THE INTERNET is no FROZEN, TOY STORY or COCO.  But it does have its moments and its inventiveness.  The most inventive of these involve the coming together at the film’s end of all the past animated movie characters (the Disney Princess lineup with The Muppets, Star Wars, Disney Animation, Marvel Comics, and Pixar characters)

together.

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lX71_Jcm4po

Film Review: THE CHRISTMAS CHRONICLES (USA 2018)

The Christmas Chronicles Poster
Trailer

The story of sister and brother, Kate and Teddy Pierce, whose Christmas Eve plan to catch Santa Claus on camera turns into an unexpected journey that most kids could only dream about.

Director:

Clay Kaytis

Before dismissing this new Christmas family Netflix original as boring fare, one should give the film directed by the director of the ANGRY BIRDS animated feature a chance.  THE CHRISTMAS CHRONICLES is actually surprisingly watchable though it rehashes many of producer Chris Columbus earlier films like HOME ALONE, GREMLINS and ADVENTURES IN BABYSITTING.

Kate (Darby Camp) is a 10-year old who still believes in Santa.  Her brother, Teddy (Judah Lewis) is having doubts.  When they decide to cam-record Santa on Christmas eve, trouble begins when they sneak a ride on his sleigh resulting in lost toys and Santa arrested.  It is up to the two to save Christmas.

The story is cliché ridden.  The premise is that Christmas needs to be saved. The audience is led to believe that without the presents, good cheer will be lost resulting in unhappy angry people with lots more crime in the streets.

The script contains original ideas.  As the three search for the missing reindeer, they meet strangers – all of whom Santa knows (whether good or bad) since he had delivered presents to everyone when they were children in the past.  This idea provides ample opportunity for jokes and comedic set-ups.

For a silly movie based on a silly premise, THE CHRISTMAS CHRONICLES is quite endearing and funny, making it light and enjoyable entertainment for the undemanding moviegoer.  Take the scene where the two ids first meet Santa Clause (played amicably by Kurt Russell).  “Alive and In Person one night only!”  He jokes.  “Disappointed.  Yes, I am not what you expected?  I get fat after all the cookies I eat.”  hen asked to go; “Ho-Ho-Ho.”  His reply: “I don’t do that.  That is a myth.  Fake News!”  The notion is the that the filmmakers know wheat this film is, never aim that high and take it for what it is.  This little film has more laughs than the dismal recent DR. SEUSS’ THE GRINCH based on the Christmas classic that audiences expect much more from.

The main character is Kate played by a young Darby Camp.  Camp is sufficiently endearing and cute, delivering her one-liners like a pro.  When Santa loses his magic hat, he questions Kate: “How do you think I am able to leap from one rooftop to another?  “Pilates?” replies Kate who decides then to help Santa so that she can remove herself from his naughty list for life.  Her brother Teddy plays second fiddle to her.

The film also contains an animated segment featuring the elves in Santa’s workshop and a musical number performed in a jail cell.

What is a Christmas film without a Christmas message?   The corny message delivered by Kurt Russell’s Santa feels at least, sincere.  The best thing about this film is actually Santa i.e. Kurt Russell.  Whether crooning the song “Santa is Back in Town” in shades or trying to convince everyone that he is the real thing, this is Russell’s movie.

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

Film Review: FANTASTIC BEASTS: THE CRIMES OF GRINDELWALD (USA/UK 2018)

Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald Poster
Trailer

The second installment of the “Fantastic Beasts” series set in J.K. Rowling’s Wizarding World featuring the adventures of magizoologist Newt Scamander.

Director:

David Yates

Writers:

J.K. RowlingJ.K. Rowling (based upon characters created by)

The sequel to FANTASTIC BEASTS AND WHERE TO FIND THEM and the prequel to the HARRY POTTER movies, THE CRIMES OF GRINDELWALD sees the entire original cast here performing more of the same, or in other words, marking time with nothing really to show for it.

The film continues where the first film ends.  The powerful dark wizard Gellert Grindelwald (Johnny Depp) was captured by MACUSA (Magical Congress of the United States of America), with the help of Newt Scamander (Oscar Winner Eddie Redmayne).  But, making good on his threat, Grindelwald escapes custody again and has set about gathering followers, most unsuspecting of his true agenda: to raise pure-blood wizards and witches up to rule over all non-magical beings.

The film’s best sequence is the beginning with Grindelwald’s (Johnny Depp) escape from jail custody.  Still, the action sequence is confusing with too many blurry special and CGI effects.  It sets up the beginning of events Grindelwald sets up to gain power and hopefully destroy human beings. 

It is best to get familiar with all the characters in the story before heading out to see the film, as it gets confusing and confusing very fast.  First and foremost is the main character, Newt.  

Newt is a British Ministry of Magic employee in the Beasts Division of the Department for the Regulation and Control of Magical Creatures, as well as a self-proclaimed magizoologist.  This explains his suitcase containing all his magical creatures.  The creatures are cute-weird to look at, but they do not do much to propel the story, except to provide a few of the lighter moments, which can lead to boredom fast.  He played a part in remedying the events of a violent attack on the City of New York in December 1926 (the time when the film opens) involving dark wizard Gellert Grindelwald. He is a confidante of Albus Dumbledore (Jude Law), despite being an outcast from certain circles of British Wizarding society due to his checkered past.  

Newt’s on and off romantic interest is Tina Goldstein (Katherine Waterson), a promoted MACUSA (Magical Congress of the United States of America) Auror.  Thankfully, the romance is kept to a minimum with hardly any face sucking.  One of the story’s most interesting written characters is Creedance, the disturbed adopted child of Mary-Lou Barebone, violently abused and downtrodden. Enraged by people’s treatment of him and Grindelwald’s betrayal, he set his Obscurus parasite loose on the City of New York.  Menacingly portrayed by Ezra Miller (WE NEED TO TALK ABOUT KEVIN), Creedance is one character one wishes had more screen time.  On the other end of the spectrum, the most annoying character is the plumpish and goofy baker, Jacob Kowalski (Dan Fogler).  Thankfully, he is given less to do than in the first film.  His romance with Queenie (Alison Sudol) undergoes some tests in the film. 

The film has a period setting of Paris and London and the film looks great, courtesy of cinematographer Philippe Rousselot.  At least, he knows what to do with the $200  million production cost. Special effects are equally stunning.  But the problems of confused storytelling, muddled twists and turns and too many characters to keep track of, lead to an irrelevant and boring middle FANTASTIC BEASTS film, preparing for the next instalment.  

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8bYBOVWLNIs