Film Review: WHERE’D YOU GO, BERNADETTE (USA 2019)

Where'd You Go, Bernadette Poster
Trailer

 

A loving mom becomes compelled to reconnect with her creative passions after years of sacrificing herself for her family. Her leap of faith takes her on an epic adventure that jump-starts her life and leads to her triumphant rediscovery.

Writers:

Richard Linklater (screenplay by), Holly Gent (screenplay by) | 2 more credits »

The answer to the question of the film title: WHERE’D YOU GO, BERNADETTE? is Antarctica.  Bernadette (Oscar Winner Cate Blanchett) is seen at the film’s start kayaking along in waters with icebergs in the background.  What led to this scene?  The film flashes back the story 5 weeks earlier to explain the series events leading to this.

WHERE’D YOU GO, BERNADETTE is a mystery comedy drama that has two things going for it.  First is the film’s director Richard Linklater (BOYHOOD) who has made quite the name for himself as a filmmaker to be reckoned with.  Second is its star Cate Blanchett who is the main reason to see the movie.  Blanchett is nothing short of excellent, supported by an equally apt Kirsten Wiig playing Audrey her woman-made enemy.

The film is based on the recent bestseller of the same name by Maria Semple – with a few changes.  The novel could be described as unfilmmable as it consists of a series of emails and texts, so to Linklater’s credit, he has done an excellent job with his script.

The book is mostly narrated by Bee who is the daughter of Bernadette but the film makes Bernadette the main character.  Bernadette is an agropbobic architect  who after considerable success winning the prestigious architecture award in L.A. has moved with husband, Elgin (Billy Crudup) and daughter Bee (Emma Nelson) to Seattle where Bernadette never leaves the family home.  Elgin is an important designer at Microsoft.  All of Bernadette’s chores are done through her cell phone via Anjuli.  When Bee convinces both parents to go on an Antarctic cruise, Bernadette tries to come up with any excuse not to go – as she hates people and seldom leaves the house.   There is much more in the plot which should not be disclosed in the review.  But it s safe today that Bernadette runs into a big fight with her neighbour Audrey (Wiig).  When her husband suspects that his wife is having psychological problems, he and assistant, Soo-Lin (Zoe Chao) arrange a meeting to have her committed. This is the Bernadette escapes ending up in Antarctica.

In the book,  Soo-Lin is impregnated by Elgin, but this is not the case in the film.  Bernadette suspects he husband of liking Soo-Lin but that is it and there is no infidelity unless one can argue that it could be implied.  This simplifies the story which is already quite complicated with too many subplots.

The script is a little too heavy on the dialogue.  The voiceover, and dialogue from all the characters appear too perfect for the typical American, though one can argue that one character is an architect and the other a Microsoft genius.  The script sneaks in quite the few world issues like environmental conservation, climate change and feminine presence.  As in recent films such as Alfonso Cuaron’s ROMA and the recent THE KITCHEN where it is said: “we women have to stick together.”, the statement is realized in the segment when the enemy Audrey bonds and ends up aiding Bernadette when her husband plans to commit her.  A woman is also in charge of the Antarctic Station.

Stay for the ending credits where the design of the Antarctic station comes alive in front of he audience’s eyes.

WHERE’D YOU GO, BERNADETTE ends up an over-bloated dysfunctional family drama that is ultimately resolved in a somewhat entertaining film.

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Em1onUCArxs

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Film Review: LIGHT OF MY LIFE (USA 2019)

Light of My Life Poster
Trailer

Parent and child journey through the outskirts of society a decade after a pandemic has wiped out half the world’s population. As a father struggles to protect his child, their bond, and the character of humanity, is tested.

Director:

Casey Affleck

Writer:

Casey Affleck

LIGHT OF MY LIFE is the love a father (Casey Affleck) has for his daughter, Rag (Anna Pniowsky).  When the film opens, the father (with no name) tells the story of Noah’s Ark, his version with foxes who are cunning enough to save the world.  The story takes close to 15 minutes to be told, the camera all the while on the two figures lying down, about to sleep.  The story is sort of appropriate as it is soon revealed that the world has for some reason never explained cursed with a plague that has removed most of the female population.  For again reasons unexplained, Rag survives.  It is he father’s duty to protect the daughter’s virginity in as early as in films lie Ingmar Bergman’s THE VIRGIN SPRING.  So, the father is living with his daughter in isolation away from possible predators and the rest of the world.  In the mean time, the daughter is growing up.  Mother (Elisabeth Moss in a largely wasted role) is only shown in flashbacks and with a comical rash not he side of her body signifying ‘disease’.

The premise is nothing new as seen in films like last year’s Debra Granik’s LEAVE NO TRACE where A father and his thirteen year-old daughter are living an ideal existence in a vast urban park in Portland and in John Hillcoat’s 2009 THE ROAD where an ailing father defends his son as they slowly travel to the sea in a dangerous post-apocalyptic world.  LIGHT OF MY LIFE fails to reach any of those heights.

It does not help that the script puts in any silly premise without any explanation to propel the father/daughter relationship. Not only is credibility thrown to the wind but it is difficult to care for characters inserted in an unbelievable made-up situation.  In the case of LIGHT OF MY LIFE, anything can happen.  Strangers can appear out of the blue, as a house that no one dwells in or other probabilities.

LIGHT OF MY LIFE walks the tightrope between intense drama and dystopian sci-fi thriller.  The one film that blended the two genres successfully was the Alfonso Cuaraon’s 2006 CHILDREN OF MEN.  LIGHT OF MY LIFE misses.  One wonders what the purpose is of his effort.

There could be two reasons actor/writer/director Casey Affleck might have made this film about a father protecting his young daughter against male predators in a world largely without females.  One is to redeem himself as a female protector after sexual harassment allegations arose against him.  The other is that most film producers will not touch actors with such a reputation (prime example Oscar Winner Kevin Spacey) which means that his only chance is to make a movie (Woody Allen has a new movie out, Roman Polanski has continued to make movies).  Regardless the reason, LIGHT OF MY LIFE is a terribly boring film that leads nowhere.

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PoHADU7Oe-g

Film Review: GOOD BOYS (USA 2019) ***

Good Boys Poster
Trailer

Three sixth grade boys ditch school and embark on an epic journey while carrying accidentally stolen drugs, being hunted by teenage girls, and trying to make their way home in time for a long-awaited party.

Director:

Gene Stupnitsky

Right on the heels of Olivia Wilde’s incredibly smart BOOKSMART arrives the male gendered version of kids trying to be cool while keeping their friendships intact.

The three kids in the film are ironically, never referred to as GOOD BOYS but as BAD BOYS (two other films have already used that title) and other names.  The trouble starts when the three are invited to a kissing party, though they have no idea how to kiss.

The film begins, with 12-year old Max caught watching porn on his lap top in his bedroom by his father.  Instead of being chastised, his dad is proud that Max is coming of age and tells the mother.  It is a funny situation that makes a good start for a pubescent comedy about growing up.

After being invited to his first kissing party, 12-year-old Max (Jacob Tremblay, a Canadian who is also 12 years of age, best known for ROOM) is panicking because he does not know how to kiss.  Eager for some pointers, Max and his best friends, Thor (Brady Noon) and Lucas (Keith L. Williams), decide to use Max’s dad’s drone, which they are forbidden to touch, to spy on a teenage couple who are making out. But when things go ridiculously wrong, the drone is confiscated by two teenage girls.  Desperate to get it back before Max’s dad gets home, the boys skip school and set off an odyssey of epically bad decisions involving some accidentally stolen drugs, frat-house paintball, and running from both the cops and terrifying teenage girls.

GOOD BOYS prides itself as being an adult film about kids.  Thus, as expected, there is quite a lot of swearing, even coming out of the mouths of the 12-year olds.  Director Stupnisky seems desperate to elicit laughs at any cost.

GOOD BOYS contains a few unforgettable segments involving the growing up process like trying to drink one first beer (remember how awful the first taste was?), trying to cope with adult problems like a parent’s divorce and bullying.  Director Stupniksy delivers a very funny ANANBELLE (as in the horror franchise) sequence.  Whenever the three boys are having a bonding moment, one of the younger sisters named Annabelle suddenly appears just as in the ANNABELLE movies to scare them out of their wits and invade their privacy.  Another has a kid character called Atticus (poking fun at TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD).  These two parts got the most laughs out of me.  The comedic set-up of the boys crossing a busy highway is also terrifying hilarious.

The kids parents are also given the token nod and not ignored in the film.  They are, thankfully, not treated as complete idiots as in many kid-oriented films.

GOOD BOYS, though funny enough is inferior, by inevitable comparison to BOOKSMART which contains funnier jokes, more inventive comedic set-ups with more cinematic surprises (the underwater swimming pool sequence).  Still, Stupnisky’s GOOD BOYS contains a few good memories about adolescence.

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zPXqwAGmX04

Film Review: 47 METRES DOWN: UNCAGED (USA 2019) **

47 Meters Down: Uncaged Poster
Trailer

Four teen girls diving in a ruined underwater city quickly learn they’ve entered the territory of the deadliest shark species in the claustrophobic labyrinth of submerged caves.

Director:

Johannes Roberts

Back in 2017, a low budget survival horror film that cost only $5 million to make earned a whopping $62 million worldwide at the box-office despite mixed reviews. The plot followed two sisters who are invited to cage dive while on holiday in Mexico.  When the winch system holding the cage broke and the cage plummets to the ocean floor with the two girls trapped inside, they must find a way to escape, with their air supplies running low and great white sharks stalking nearby.

A new survival horror sequel arrives this week with a similar title 47 METRES DOWN: UNCAGED.  The first part of the title 47 METRES DOWN will tend to be confusing but the uncaged signifies that the film is also about sharks, and this time about girls attacked by sharks unprotected by a cage.  The film was supposedly to be set in Brazil but moved to Yucaton, Mexico.  Principal photography for the film took place in the Dominican Republic, Pinewood Studios, Dominican Republic, The Underwater Studio in Basildon and Pinewood Studios, UK.

Four teenage girls scuba diving in a ruined underwater city quickly find themselves in a watery hell as their adventure turns to horror when they learn they are not alone in the submerged caves.  As they swim deeper into the claustrophobic labyrinth of caves, they enter the territory of the deadliest shark species in the ocean.  The species is supposed to have developed heightened senses for the silly reason that these sharks need to survive in deep underwater without sight, as there is no light in the far depths of the ocean.  Yet, the sharks keep missing their prey.

Mia (Sophe Nelisse) and Sasha (Corinne Foxx) are two half sisters who do not get along- till of course they bond after their encounter with the sharks – no surprise here.  They are led by Alexa (Brianne Tju), followed by troublemaker Nicole (Sistine Stallone), the latter take risks at the expense of others to satisfy her curiosity.  Needless to say, she is the first one to go.  The cast is eclectic enough with a white, a black and an asian forming three of the girls.  Surprising for a film set in Mexico, there is hardly a Mexican to be seen on the screen.

Nothing much happens for the first third of the film, where director Roberts takes his time to establish the relationship between the sisters, Mia and her schoolmates that eventually lead nowhere.  The action and mishaps are all too predictable.  When all the thrills appear exhausted, the sharks suddenly appear – not one but many. The underwater photography is impressive.

The music is a hash of old hits including the Carpenters’ song “We’ve Only Just Begun”, which is an odd choice for the movie.

The film is obviously a cash grab banging not the success of the original 2017 movie, providing much more of the same which in other words, ends up quite the bore, even at 90 minutes.

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BhOJXUmvLQ8

Film Review: THE RED SEA DIVING RESORT (USA 2019)

The Red Sea Diving Resort Poster
Trailer

Israel’s Mossad agents attempt to rescue Ethiopian Jewish refugees in Sudan in 1979.

Director:

Gideon Raff

Writer:

Gideon Raff

A Netflix original movie inspired by remarkable true life rescue missions,  THE RED SEA DIVING RESORT is the incredible story of a group of Mossad agents and brave Ethiopians who in the early 80s used a deserted holiday retreat in Sudan as a front to smuggle thousands of refugees to Israel. 

It all sounds good on paper and the fit looks like it might be another Netflix hit.  But what looks good on paper or based on a true story need not necessarily translate into an excellent film. Unfortunately, this is the case for Israeli born  Gideon Raff’s effort.  To give him a bit of credit, there is nothing really original one can do with the material but follow the story.

The undercover team carrying out this mission is led by the charismatic Ari Kidron (Chris Evans from CAPTAIN AMERICA) and courageous local Kabede Bimro (Michael Kenneth Williams) with a host of others that generally complain about a lot of things least of all Ari’s attitude.

The film begins with one successful mission, a close call which the audience is led to believe is true.  The operations are to be closed down owing to excessive risk to the people involved till Ari has an idea – to lease an abandoned diving resort, and set it up as as the smuggling front.

The resort unexpectedly attracts tourists that show up unexpectedly for a diving holiday.  Ari and friends have to accommodate them to keep the front.  Director Raff is unable to milk any humour from the incident except to elicit more incredibility,  The audience is led to believe that the tourists are fooled by aerobic classes, diving lessons and  tour guiding.  Really?  Where did all the equipment come from?

The Ari character is more annoying with him taking risks at the expense of others.  His only defence is that it is his nature and when he gets an idea he goes all out for it and gets everyone in trouble.  The questionable thing is why his crew keep  working with him and encouraging this unacceptable behaviour.  Chris Evans does not put that much into his role, while being hardly recognizable with facial hair throughout the film.  What is not understandable is the reason of hiring a famous super action hero star and then make him look totally unrecognizable in the role.  On would only wish perhaps Ari’s good friend the doctor would die and perhaps he learn a lesson o two about putting people close to him at risk.  His wife had already left him.  But no such luck.

Most of the suspense created in the film has been seen in other movies before.  There are lots of false alarms as well.  The climatic scene where the refugees barely escape in the nick of time is nothing exciting.

For a real life rescue mission with lots of risks and danger involved, THE RED SEA DIVING RESORT is an incredibly cliched and frustrating film that leads nowhere and offers little insight to the refugee problem.  A truly Netflix unoriginal. 

THE RED SEA DIVING RESORT is currently playing on Netflix.

Trailer: https://www.imdb.com/list/ls025720609/videoplayer/vi4008950553?ref_=tt_vd_ce_sc_i_1

Film Review: Cold Case Hammarskjöld (Denmark/Norway/Sweden/Belgium 219)

Cold Case Hammarskjöld Poster
Trailer

Danish director Mads Brügger and Swedish private investigator Göran Björkdahl are trying to solve the mysterious death of Dag Hammarskjöld. As their investigation closes in, they discover a… See full summary »

Director:

Mads Brügger

Writer:

Mads Brügger

At Sundance 2019, the World Cinema Documentary Directing Award went to Mads Brügger’s Cold Case Hammarskjöld.  The doc traces the murder of the then Secretary of the United Nations in 1961, Dag Hammarskjöld, through supposedly a plane crash.  Did this actually happen or is this part of a conspiracy theory?  The doc plays like a whodunit with lots of clues (actually too many that the story becomes confusing and long).

The doc does not open too impressively.  Within the first 10 minutes, the doc jumps through half a dozen diverse places and times.  The director Mads Brügger (THE RED CHAPEL, THE AMBASSADOR) is dressed in white apparel while in a hotel room dictating to his black secretary.  The members of a clandestine organization SAIMR all dress in white.  There is absolutely no reason for Mads Brügger to wear white except to step into character.  But the fact emphasizes the director’s attention to detail, which is the sort of thing delivers of conspiracy theories get into.

Danish filmmaker Mads Brügger and his Swedish sidekick Göran Björkdahl investigate the mysterious 1961 plane crash that killed United Nations secretary-general Dag Hammarskjöld.  As their search closes in, they discover a crime darker than they could have imagined.  Hammarskjöld had sympathized with African nations that were forging independent identities – a stance that made him a lot of enemies among old colonial powers.  When his plane went down in Northern Rhodesia (now Zambia), Hammarskjöld was en route to cease-fire negotiations during the Congo Crisis.  His body was found with the ace of spades
(the Death Card) tucked in his collar.  For decades rumours have swirled around the cause of the crash.  Was it murder?  If so, who would benefit?

  Brügger and Björkdahl spent six years travelling all over Europe and Africa, conducting interviews and roaming through archives.  Their path led to stories of Belgian mercenaries, tales of evil men who dressed in white and rumours about a secret African society.  Just as Brügger is
wondering if the film will have an ending, a brutal secret emerges, which thankfully enlivens the story which is beginning to descend into depths of boredom.

It is fascinating to watch how one man Brügger can go all out to search for clues like a sleuth in heat.  Armed with two shovels and a metal detector, he and Björkdahl dig up the remains of the crashed plane.  They also interview old people dug up from the archives who might have slight knowledge to contribute.  They do not seem to get tired though the findings may be slow and meagre.  This is a case where the search for the truth is more interesting that the truth itself.

The film is shot in many different languages – in English, French Bemba, Danish and Swedish.  One cannot complain about the film’s attention to detail except for the fact that it become a little too much at times.

Trailer: https://www.imdb.com/title/tt9352780/videoplayer/vi2838281241?ref_=tt_pv_vi_aiv_1

Film Review: BLINDED BY THE LIGHT (UK 2019)

Blinded by the Light Poster
Trailer

In 1987 during the austere days of Thatcher’s Britain, a teenager learns to live life, understand his family and find his own voice through the music of Bruce Springsteen.

Director:

Gurinder Chadha

BLINDED BY THE LGHT is inspired by the life of journalist Sarfraz Manzoor and his love of the works of Bruce Springsteen.  Manzoor co-wrote the script with director Chadha and Paul Mayeda Berges.  It is based on Manzoor’s acclaimed memoir Greetings from Bury Park: Race, Religion and Rock N’ Roll.  In real life, Springsteen told Manzoor he loved the memoir which inspired Manzoor to move forward to eventually have the film made.

The story is set in the town of Luton in 1987 Thatcher’s Britain.  Javed (an impressive first performance by youthful Viveik Kalra) is a British-Pakistani Muslim teenager whose life is troubled.  His father has just been laid off and his family has to cope with expenses.  Being Pakistani, he and his family are subject to racism.  His quest to become a writer, however is encouraged by his English teacher but discouraged by his father.   He yearns for a girlfriend.  It is at this point his life where he discovers the music of Springsteen.

African born British Asian Gurinder Chadha has got two commercial hits under her belt – 1993’s BHANJI ON THE BEACH  (Indian women on an excursion to Blackpool) and BEND IT LIKE BECKHAM (female talented soccer player within a close knitted Indian family), which is likely the reason BLINDED BY THE LIGHT got made.  She championed the cause of the film being made based on the memoir her friend Sarfraz Manzoor gave her to read. 

BLINDED BY THE LIGHT had initial troubles in funding but after being made and premiering at Sundance this January, earned a standing ovation as well as a $15 million sale to Want Bros. who is releasing this film.

Like BEND IT LIKE BECKHAM, BLINDED BY THE LIGHT is a manipulative crowd pleaser set in Britain in this case the town of Luton in 1987 where unemployment and racism was present in Thatcher’s Britain.  Ironically during one racial riot scene, a poster of Thatcher “Britain Unified’ can be seen in the background.

The film is heavily laden with Pakistani stereotypes from the rebellious son to the patriarch father to the quiet all-knowing mother.  The young immigrant faces formidable obstacles in his quest to become a writer as well as a romance with a white Brit.  The father is down on the son before reconciliation.  All this have been seen before, as most recent as in Danny Boyle’s YESTERDAY.

There are certain difficulties with translating the story into film.  Foremost is to show how the lyrics of Springsteen’s songs affect Javed.  This director Chadha accomplishes by having the lyrics done as subtitles appearing on the screen as Javed listens to the songs.

Despite being a male dominated story, Chad infuses the strength of the female in the Pakistani family.   She shows the father crying at his failure at one point.  In another scene, the mother makes a distinct influence on the fathers decision by telling him that she would never forgive him if Javed leaves the family.  Yet anther shows Javed’s sister also having a good time partying and is therefore also an individual voice in the family.

Despite director Chadha and the film’s good intentions, the film bows to white commercialism stereotyping minorities, providing no insight to the problems but dishing put easy feel good set-ups like the unbearable ending speech Javed delivers at his graduation ceremonies.

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=f1YFA_J5JBU