Film Review: SORRY FOR YOUR LOSS (Canada 2019) ***

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When a new dad (Justin Bartha) has to return home to bury his estranged father, things take a turn for the complicated when the dead man’s final wish is to have his ashes scattered on the field of his favorite professional sports team.

Director:

Collin Friesen

SORRY FOR YOUR LOSS is an acclaimaed small Canadian film that makes its debut this week and can be seen in Toronto.

When the SORRY FOR YOUR LOSS begins and rolls on, it takes a while for the audiences to establish that the film being watched is Canadian.  Everything looks American at first sight, including the familiar face of the main actor, Justin Martha who has been seen in THE HANGOVER.  Suddenly, as his character takes a plane to attend his father’s funeral, song with the lyrics “I hate Winnipeg” is heard on the soundtrack.

Marking Collin Friesen’s directorial debut, this heartfelt comedy follows exhausted new dad Ken (Justin Bartha) as he heads home to bury his own estranged father.  Ken leaves his wife and baby behind to attend the funeral.  Ken is talked into fulfilling his father’s dying wish, in order to claim his inheritance  – to have his ashes scattered on the playing field of the local pro football team. It is a task that proves tougher and funnier than it should be but with the help of his lonely, hippy mother (Lolita Davidovich, best known for BLAZE) and his father’s old golf buddy, Jeff (Bruce Greenwood, who gets star billing for the role), Ken learns a little about himself, his marriage, and most important, that there is nothing about dying that makes you a saint.  The father’s last words on video makes one fo the film’s funniest parts.  The script sneaks a few messages about life as well.

The film takes a few cheap racial shots – at the Koreans and China.  Have to admit that these are quite funny, not that I or the scriptwriters are racist or anything.  And as such as the script goes, the film cracks quite a few black humoured jokes at death, funerals and dying wishes, which are again hilarious.  If these are not laugh-out loud (as it would seem in bad taste to laugh too hard at these), they are at least good for an audible chuckle.  Jokes are original to say the least.  To the scriptwriter’s credit, there has never been so much humour generated from unfunny jokes, as evident in the funeral service segment.

The trouble starts when director Friesen attempts at getting serious.  After Ken has spent some time away, he gets into a bit of trouble and the wife gets visibly upset, especially after having to look after their baby all by herself.  The tension rises and Ken, who is no saint has started hanging around with a divorcee next door nieghbour who convinces him to  quit his job over the telephone.  This is when the film starts treading on predictable territory.  After a few laughs, the audience is in no mood to get serious.

The film is nominated for three Canadian Comedy Awards, including Best Feature Film, Best Writing and Best Performance in a Feature.

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?time_continue=5&v=wLlf_Z8wji4

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Film Review: ROCKETMAN (UK/USA 2019) ****

Rocketman Poster
A musical fantasy about the fantastical human story of Elton John‘s breakthrough years.

Director:

Dexter Fletcher

Writer:

Lee Hall (screenplay)

You got to love it when a subject executively produces his own biopic.  And even more when the subject is Sir Elton John.

Elton John is world famous and known for his outrageous performances, flashy costumes an controversial remarks.  His biopic, directed by Dexter Fletcher and written by Lee Hall who wrote BILLY ELLIOT) opens with him in bright orange gear, entering a bright light, which the audience assumes is going to be a grand stage, but turns out hilariously to be the room for an Alcoholics Anonymous gathering.  As the orange clad figures discusses his life, the biopic relates the story of one of the world’s best signer/songwriter from little boy to the present.

The film’s next scene has Elton as a little boy in a song and dance number that is immediately reminiscent of Ken Russell’s THE WHO musical TOMMY where little Tommy is inserted in a number called “Bernie’s holiday camp”.   Russell’s TOMMY has important significance to Elton John as he had a cameo role in the film as the pinball wizard, with the popular song later performed in its full entirety by John in the biopic.

By inevitable comparison to the recent BOHEMIAN RHAPSODY (Director Fletcher was named the replacement director for BOHEMIAN RHAPSODY and helped finish that film though only Bryan Singer received director’s credit) which won 4 Oscars including the Best Actor prize for Rami, ROCKETMAN is more enjoyable to this reviewer for 2 reasons.  This reviewer is a true Elton John and not a Queen fan, and so every song crooned in ROCKETMAN brings both nostalgia and joy.  The film is also splashy and more daring (the sex scene that was left intact in the film, according to the Daily Mail article, compared to RHAPSODY where there were no sex scenes).  The sex seen in ROCKETMAN, with John and his lover doing the nasties both butt naked in bed is sufficiently eye-opening though no intercourse is actually on display.

Both Tagor Egerton as Elton John and Jamie Bell (BILLY ELLIOT and THE ADVENTURES OF TINTIN) as his lyricist and friend, Bernie Turpin are close to perfect in their roles.   Elton John has himself praised Egerton’s performance in the film.  What could be a better complement?  Egerton also gets the Elton John mannerisms down pat to a ‘t’.

Certain songs in the film add a certain resonance not realized by many.  One prime example are the lyrics of “Goodbye Yellow Brick Road” crooned by both Bernie Turpin and Elton John.  ‘….going back to the howling old owl in the woods, hunting the horny black toad, I’m going back where my future lies, beyond the Yellow Brick Road”.  This segment is not only the most moving but most powerful part of the film which effectively forms the climatic moment of the film.

ROCEKTMAN which clocks just over the two hour mark reveals both the genius and demons of this talented individual.  Owing to the nature of the subject, the downward spiralling of John is still glamorously displayed and neither dismal looking nor dull.  One prime example is his diving in the pool fantasy sequence where John meets his boy-self at the bottom playing ROCKETMAN on is toy piano.

A few facts on his life are missing on the screen most notably his spat with Madonna and his knighthood.  These would have added even more spice to the otherwise heavily layered dessert.

ROCKETMAN has been chosen as the Opening Night film for Toronto’s 2019 LGBT Inside Out Film Festival.  This weekend the film goes head-to-head competition with two other blockbusters, GODZILLA 2 (Ugh!) and MA.  Elton John fans around the film should (their numbers alone) make ROCKETMAN the number 1 at the box-office.  ROCEKTMAN deserves to be, anyway.

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=S3vO8E2e6G0

Film Review: PHOTOGRAPH (India/Germany 2018) ***

Photograph Poster
Trailer

A struggling street photographer in Mumbai, pressured to marry by his grandmother, convinces a shy stranger to pose as his fiancée. The pair develop a connection that transforms them in ways they could not expect.

Director:

Ritesh Batra

Writer:

Ritesh Batra

Writer/director Batra has risen to fame with his Mumbai hit THE LUNCHBOX which allowed him to direct two English language films (OUR SOULS AT NIGHT and THE SENSE OF AN ENDING).  Batra is back to his Mumbai roots with his new modest film, a sort of Indian romantic comedy of manners or Indian manners rather, entitled PHOTOGRAPH.

As the title PHOTOGRAPH implies, a love affair begins with a photograph, in this case, the photograph taken of a pretty girl at the Gateway of India.  And the romance begins from there.  For those unfamiliar with India or Mumbai for that matter, PHOTOGRAPH delivers an insightful look of the city and the continent.  Mumbais smoke ‘bidi’ too, their slang word for joints.  The Gateway of India is no less than Mumbai, so called because it is a beautiful city by the waters and a tourist spot for both foreign and local tourists was well.  Mumbai is not only the busy overcrowded city as depicted in other films like Danny Boyle’s SLUMDOG MILLIONAIRE.  In PHOTOGRAPH, director Batra shows both the beauty and bustiness of the Indian city.

PHOTOGRAPH is a light romance, so there is not much that the audience needs to concentrate on or figure out or meditate on.  But there are lot of Indian cultures and mores built into the story.  India is known for its caste system.  In the story the male and female come from different classes.  The girl Didi or Miloni (Sanya Malhotra) is Muslim with a maid (who she can confide with) and a stricter mother who has arranged Miloni’s mirage with another Indian who is about to get his MBA from the United States.  The running joke is that the man has been fat and has lost weight and now thin and the fear is that he might get fat again.  When Didi meets him for the first time, he offered her cake and refrains from having any himself saying that he is watching his weight.

The love which blossoms between Didi and Rafi (Bollywood icon Nawazuddin Siddiqui) takes its time to unfold.  The affair is sped up by the arrival of Rafi’s grandmother, Dadi
(Farrukh Jaffar), a fiesta old woman who is not afraid to make her thoughts known.  She also puts in a bit of bite into the story.  Director Batra is in no rush to have them kiss or have them do the nasties in the bedroom.  Which is a good thing.  But romantic comedies are romantic comedies and one big flaw of rom coms are that they are predictable and are filled with cliches.

Director Batra overcomes the predictable clichéd romantic comedy by parody, lifting the film a few notches.  This he does in the movie theatre where Rafi takes Didi to see a movie for the second time.  Didi leaves the auditorium at one point, the reason given being a scurrying mouse beneath her feet.  When Rafi goes out to get her later on, they discuss the predictability of romantic comedies.

If one does not expect too much, PHOTOGRAPH is a satisfactory romantic comedy with a Mumbai touch that enlivens the action.  

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

Film Review: ASAKO I & II (Japan 2018) ***

Asako I & II Poster
Asako lives in Osaka. She falls in love with Baku, a free-spirit. One day, Baku suddenly disappears. Two years later, Asako now lives in Tokyo and meets Ryohei. He looks just like Baku, but has a completely different personality.

Writers:

Tomoka Shibasaki (based on the novel by), Sachiko Tanaka (screenplay) | 1 more credit »

The film’s title ASAKO I & II may be misleading.  It implies two chapters or two films entitled ASAKO 1 and  ASAKO II, which is what I thought.  But the film is about two different characters in the love life of Asako.  Both are played by the same actor, Masahiro Higashide. 

The plot can be summarized in one line: One day Asako’s first love suddenly disappears. Two years later, she meets his perfect double.

When the film opens, Asako and Baku meet for the first time, love at first sight style.  They kiss compassionately and begin a relationship.  They have another couple as friends, who turn up at the end of the film.  One evening while Baku goes out to get food, he does not return till the next morning to Asako’s dismay.  But she is glad when he is returns.  As they hug the voiceover announces that Baku will do his disappearing act again when he goes out to get shoes, this time never to return.  Asako moves to Tokyo where she meets his look alike though a different person.  Ryohei and Asako begin a relationship.  They grow strong as a couple till the inevitable happens.  Baku, now a male model and famous personality appears again in Asako’s life.  No more of the story should be revealed at this point of the review.

The film has been described in the press notes as a story of love initiation at the edge of fantasy and a reflection on the importance of first love in post-Fukushima Japan.

Director Hamaguchi (HAPPY HOUR) also displays his serious side in one of the film’s more engrossing segments.  After watching Maya’s performance on a Chekov play on TV, there is a debate on her performance from cheap and praise seeking to earnest and moving.  One member brutally criticizes her performance while giving a false pretext to leave the gathering before being brought to his senses.

The young actors are believable.  It is interesting to see actors in Hollywood movies compared to their Asian counterparts.  The male actors here are not buffed or muscle bound but slim and looking much still like teens.  Higashide does well playing two different roles, the audience differentiating the two characters from their haircuts.

The film covers several genres like teen first love, coming-of-age, corporate business, mystery and friendship.  The film’s lightness in tone, however leads to a weak narrative meaning that a lot of issues are left hanging.  It does pick up during the last 15 minutes as director Hamaguchi tightens the pace and story.  A little patience is required in a somewhat initial rocky and frustrating start.  The weird music heard of the soundtrack supports the film’s feel.

The film was selected in official competition at the 2018 Cannes Film Festival and presented at the last Vancouver International Film Festival, the feature film is an adaptation of the best-selling novel of the same name by Japanese author Tomoka Shibasaki.

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HaZV7rhBRBE

Film Review: A NIGHT OF SWITCH ’N’ PLAY (USA 2019) ***

Directed by Cody Stickels

SWITCH ‘N’ PLAY is a drag show/Burlesque that takes place regularly at a Bar in Brooklyn. Tickets are modestly prices between $10 – $12.  Audiences will be for a time of a grand night.  But the audiences there are always respectful of the performers.  The performers are part of an LGBT collective.  hey claim the audiences is very good and they have never been heckled .  A NIGHT OF SWITCH ‘N’ PLAY documents a night out with the show, with various performs doing their thing.

All of the performances, hosted by Femmecee Miss Malice are spicy, hilarious and inventive.  But beware that a few of them are sexual in-your-face. 

The film begins with the introduction of Miss Malice as she opens the show with her aide Zoe Ziegfeld.  Ziegfeld is dressed so that her pubic hair can be seen through her costume, which she keeps pulling (the hair not the costume).  Ziegfeld performs again later on during the film, including a part where she does a hand stand on one of the audience’s chest.

Other performers on display include Divina Grans3parkle (with her Twinkie the Dik costume), Pearl Harbor, Max Satisfaction and Drag Kings, Vigor Mortis (Brooklyn Nightlife’s Awards Drag King of the Year 2017) and K. James.  Beside the regulars (not everyone feared in the doc), the show also features guest performers.  Two of them Qualms Galore and Veronica Viper are featured in the doc.

Of all the performances, the most outrageous belongs to Nyx Nocturne.  The reason will not be revealed in this review – but thus performance is the most shocking and outrageous and the audience loves it.  Warning – be prepared to be utterly shocked for this one.  But my favourite performances are the two done by the Drag Kings.  The striptease by K. James as a milkman is both sexy and entertaining.

Besides the performances, the performers also talk how their drag characters have developed, how they chose their drag names and the reasons they do what they do (besides having a great time).

A NIGHT AT SWITCH ‘N’ PLAY ends up more entertaining that it actually deserves.  Sit back, enjoy the infectiously enjoyable show and ignore all the shit that is otherwise happening around the world.  This doc is playing at the LGBT Inside Out Festival that runs this week.  And a few of the drag performers including Miss Malice will be present at the screening.

Film Review: GORDON LIGHTFOOT: IF YOU COULD READ MY MIND (Canada 2019) ***

Gordon Lightfoot: If You Could Read My Mind Poster
Musician Gordon Lightfoot reflects on his life and career.

“If you Could Read My Mind”, the only Gordon Lightfoot song that made it into the dance clubs that demonstrated the wide appeal of this gifted Canadian singer songwriter is arguably the most loved of all his songs and thus selected as the title of this comprehensive doc on the man.  The film arrives after a very successful world premiere at this year’s Hot Docs.

The film begins with the song heard on the soundtrack “That’s what you Get for Loving Me,” followed by shots of other famous singers like Peter, Paul and Mary and Johnny Cash also performing this song.  It is a chauvinistic song, as Lightfoot himself admits, which he wrote while he was married to Kim (also shown on camera later on).  But it is a beautiful song, followed then by many of other famous works including “If You Could Read My Mind”.

It is the best time to make a doc on a subject when the subject is still alive and able to be interviewed and talk about his own life and work.  Audiences are fortunate as there is plenty of Lighfoot insight.  Martha Kehoe and Joan Tosoni have unprecedented access to the artist and his work.

The film takes the audience from high school auditoriums in straight-laced small town Ontario in the ’50s, to coffee houses of Yorkville and Greenwich Village in ’60s Toronto, through the turbulent substance-fueled arena shows of the ’70s, to present day.  With an intimate and emotional examination (with his accompanying songs) of the artist’s profound relationship to his music and Canadian roots, IF YOU COULD READ MY MIND chronicles Lightfoot’s evolution from Christian choirboy in Orilla to troubled troubadour to international star (starting work in a bank when first moved to Toronto) and beloved Canadian icon.

On docs on singer celebrities, there is always a  considerable portion that tracks he subject’s downfall be it drugs or drink and perhaps coming back.  For this doc, Lightfoot’s only vice happens to be his drinking and partying.  But though he drinks to some excess, it made him fun to be with while going into a drunken rage occasionally. As the film reveals, Lightfoot would drink a bottle a day.  But all things considered, Lightfoot could handle the stress through his drink and it did not destroy his career though he did hit a bit of a low point.  But Lightfoot finally realizes that he was not in a good place, especially when his girl walked out with his kid, and quit drinking cold turkey.  And he went on to his canoe trips (10 trips in the bush) while rehabilitating.

Even if you are not a truly a Lightfoot fan, this film will have a strong lasting effect.  It is a relaxing easy-going doc, with lots of yes, wonderful Gordon Lightfoot songs.

  The film will also be broadcast on CBC and doc Channel in late 2019.

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EQneUY7od-c

Film Review: ALADDIN (USA 2019)

Aladdin Poster
A kind-hearted street urchin and a power-hungry Grand Vizier vie for a magic lamp that has the power to make their deepest wishes come true.

Director:

Guy Ritchie

Writers:

John August (screenplay by), Guy Ritchie (screenplay by)

Disney takes a risk at hiring British writer/director Guy Ritchie for their live action remake of their classic animated ALADDIN with Robin Williams as the genie.   

ALADDIN is a Persian tale from the 1001 Arabian Nights stories, but the film somehow comes across as mixed Bollywood (Indian) , which is really strange considering that most of the actors are from Iran or Egypt.  It does to help that the dance sequences where the actors ham it up during the closing credits looks typical from a Bollywood musical.

What is expected from an Arabian Nights film is provided with no surprises.  There is a chase through a busy bazaar, a villain who wishes to usurp the throne, a King who wants to marry his daughter to a prince, unsuitable suitors, a poor beggar who turns up to be the handsome prince and so on.

Aladdin is a street thief in the city of Agrabah who falls for the princess who is never allowed out of the palace grounds.  The King fears for her safety.  The villain of the piece wants the throne and knows of the existence of the lamp and the genie.  Aladdin finds the lamp and the genie grants him three wishes.  The genie wants to be free and this would be Aladdin’s last wish: to free the genie.  In the meantime, there is the boring romantic affair between Aladdin and the princess amidst some dancing and silly songs, with some fight scenes included.  It also feels that director Ritchie is looking for any excuse to insert his special effects action sequences.

The two young leads Mean Massoud (a Canadian with Egyptian background) and Naomi Scott (British) as Princess Jasmine are quite the perfectly looking couple.  Marwan Kenzari Marwan Kenzari fares better as the conniving villain Jafar, the nefarious and deceptive sorcerer, and Grand Vizier Agrabah and the Sultan’s chief advisor whose name precedes him.

ALADDIN is here a musical, with songs that are indistinguishable from one another.  The film has nothing new up in terms of tricks or story.  The supposedly plot twist in tricking the villain with his last genie wish does not make any sense if one considers the logic behind the reasoning.  The addition of the new character, Prince Anders (Billy Magnussen) – the foreign suitor from Skanland is as ridiculous as his character.  ALADDIN comes more than a predictable romantic comedy which lasts two hours – too long for a typical rom com.  The part with the Will Smith telling a fable on a ship to his two children is also totally predictable from the start where the story was leading to.  The magic of ALADDIN is truly gone.  

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=foyufD52aog