Film Review: ALL IS TRUE (UK 2018) ***1/2

All Is True Poster
Trailer

A look at the final days in the life of renowned playwright William Shakespeare.

Director:

Kenneth Branagh

Writer:

Ben Elton

Kenneth Branagh, once touted as the new Sir Lawrence Olivier has had his own ups and downs with respect to theatre and the film industry,  In his latest venture which could be described as filmed theatre, ALL IS TRUE is an admirable and entertaining piece with Branagh himself in the director’s chair giving himself the honour of playing the Bard himself.

ALL IS TRUE is a wry drama depicting Shakespeare, the man, warts, glory and all in his last days with the film’s closing titles educating the audience on the history of his offspring and family.  Unlike the recent biopic TOLKIEN, this film’s subject and his work flow very smoothly into each other.  His words that are written in his plays also flow freely in his daily dialogue with his family and friends.

The film begins with him and a boy who insists that Shakespeare tell his story.  The boy achieves his request as the boy turns out to be the Shakespeare’s re-imagination of his dead son, Hamnet, who apparently died at the age of 11 of the plaque when the father was away on business.  “We are stuff that dreams are made of…. and life is rounded up with a sleep,” one of the most used quotations from THE TEMPEST, is used here in voiceover.

The film follows Shakespeare’s return to Stratford-upon-Avon, where he hopes to reconnect with his family after being pretty much absent for 20 years.  The decision occurs after disaster strikes when his Globe theatre that burns to the ground in London.  Devastated and resolved never to write another play, Shakespeare heads home, where his wife, Anne (Judi Dench), 10 years older than him and daughters (Kathryn Wilder and Lydia Wilson) are hardly pleased to hear that he intends to stay.  Also still haunted by the death of his 11-year son Hamnet a few years back, Shakespeare decides to build a garden in his honour.  Then family secrets and scandals begin to surface.

The film is called ALL IS TRUE for two reasons.  Firstly, it is the alternate name of the play HENRY VIII that was perfumed at the Globe Theatre in London when it was totally burnt down.  The words also imply that all that transpires on the life of the Bard in Branagh’s film is true.

ALL IS TRUE contains some magnificent acting.  Branagh is excellent as the Bard looking like the man in the ‘Chandos’ portrait.  Judi Dench is always superb and she plays his stern wife with hardly a smile on her face.  David Thewlis has a cameo a lengthy scene with Shakespeare.

It is good to know more of the story of Shakespeare’s real life, which many are unfamiliar with.  

The film feels stagey because the actors speak in Shakespearean prose and act as if in the theatre.  Even though Branagh takes the film out in the open many times with stunning cinematography by Zac Nicholson, ALL IS TRUE still feels like a play.  Still this is a film for all Shakespearean fans.  I would recommend it.

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1I5cKmiONDI

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Film Review: YO IMPOSIBLE (Being Imposible) (Venezuela/Colombia 2018) ***

Being Impossible Poster
A young woman discovers she was submitted to several surgeries to correct her intersexual body as a baby. She has to find her own self outside gender binaries.

Director:

Patricia Ortega

Finding ones identity is difficult at the best of times, but what if a critical piece of your history has been kept from you? When Ariel (Lucia Bedoya) has sex with her boyfriend for the first time she experiences intense pain.  Her mother, who is quite ill and in hospital finally hints at the truth.  The mother gives her strict instructions to visit a very specific doctor but will tell her nothing else.  To make matters more confusing, Ariel has developed a strong attraction to her new co-worker, Ana.

YO IMPOSIBLE (BEING IMPOSSIBLE) is a film about intersex.  There have not been many films (The recent Human Rights Film Festival this year in Toronto had a documentary entitled INTERSEX), particularly fictional ones about this human condition, so Ortega’s film makes intriguing viewing, despite its slow pace and fact that it comes in Spanish from South America.

Otherwise, the film’s production values are apt.  The cinematography, particular the night scenes are well lit and certain scenes like the fist lesbian kissing scene is naturally blurred.

It is a slow paced movie that allows the audience to think and contemplate each segment – ow the protagonist feels and how she would react to different situations.

One problem of the film is that those entering the theatre before the film starts know that the subject is an intersex girl who discovers that an operation had been done on her without her knowledge.  The knowledge of this key plot point spoils the otherwise well built up climax to this point of revelation in the film – which takes place close to just after the film’s half way mark.

Ortega’s film is very sexual, but not in an erotic sense.  There are scenes with dildos that are used not for masturbation but for treatment of pain.  In  the sex scenes, Ariel is usually writhing in pain rather than pleasure.  But the pain is not always physical.  In Ariel’s words, when asked what hurts her the most, her reply is “the lie”.

Ortega’s ups the ante by including scenes at Ariel’s work in a garment manufacturing facility.  The other female workers are nothing short of nosy bitches.  Ariels’ s closest colleague turns out to be quite the nasty bitch, minding other people’s business.  When a new employee, Ana arrives and Ariel begins a lesbian affair with her which he closest colleague discovers, all hell breaks lost including a cat fight.  Ana is finally fired from work for being a threat to good morals.  This indicates the unaccepted state of gays in South American society.

The film contains a tacked on happy ending that otherwise spoils the film’s narrative flow.

The film is shot in Spanish.  Warning that the English subtitles are not perfect and arrive with a lot of spelling errors.  The film premiered at the SXSW Film Festival and will also be played at this year’s LGBT Inside Out Film Festival.

Trailer: https://vimeo.com/317169006

Film Review: MEETING GORBACHEV (USA/Germany/UK 2018) ***1/2

Meeting Gorbachev Poster
Trailer

The life of Mikhail Gorbachev, the eighth and final President of the Soviet Union in chronological order.

Directors:

Werner HerzogAndré Singer (as Andre Singer)

Werner Herzog’s documentary MEETING GORBACHEV is an enlightening insightful little film on his candid conversations with Gorbachev, the former Soviet head of state.  Gorbachev was one of the defining figures of the 20th century., a humanitarian and also a very intelligent individual.  More respected abroad than he is at home (where many continue to blame him for the 1991 break-up of the Soviet Union), Gorbachev speaks like a man with nothing to lose, and Herzog applies his own unique perspective and inimitable narration to a deep archive of footage.

The film opens with Herzog’s last meeting with Gorbachev.  He questions him about his impressions of Germans as the Germans devastated the Soviet Union during the war.  But Gorbachev has nothing bad to say about anyone, less of all Germans.  Gorbachev says tithes first neighbours he visited as a child were Germans and they made great cakes and that anyone that cook bake that delicious a cake has to be good people.

There is a lot that many do not know about Gorbachev, myself included.  That is what makes the film more intriguing.  Gorbachev comes from a poor family, his uncle and aunt died on the farm from starvation and he was looked after by very kind grandparents.  He is revealed to be very diligent and a man who studied hard and worked himself up the ranks in a society that followed old rules and traditions.  Obviously the Russian system and government did not work as people were starving and protesting and Gorbachev had to do his thing.

Herzog reveals many outstanding qualities about the subject which pique the film’s interest.  Gorbachev is a man who is basically a good person, and one who intends to do good for his fellow man ie. the Soviet Union.   Herzog trails how thesis accomplished, through his diligence, his intelligence and through perseverance, despite bureaucratic odds, Soviet Union style.  

Herzog has assembled an impressive amount of archive footage, much of it from newsreel, on Gorbachev and also of the Soviet Union under the other leaders before him, tying in his story through voiceover from himself, or the offering his point of view, which often is intelligent, makes much sense and puts his story into perspective,

Herzog is a German director of extreme experience.  He has directed classics like FITZCARRALDO, WOYZECK and STROSZEK as well as documentaries like CAVE OF FORGOTTEN DREAMS in 3D and INTO THE INFERNO.  MEETING GORBACHEV is another impressive documentary from the German Master, that not only reveals the story of a great man, but impresses on the good one ordinary man, rising through the political ranks can do for his fellow man.  The film also shows through archive footage, how other politicians like Margaret Thatcher relate and felt about Gorbachev.

Herzog sneaks into his film several messages – his view on nuclear disarmament; desire for peace and harmony for mankind.  His images on the dismantling of the Berlin Wall are particularly moving.

MEET GORBACHEV premiered at the Toronto Itrnational Film Festival last year and begins a limited run at the Bell Lightboxthis week.  It is the best documentary playing in Toronto at the moment

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZcTWadiv6vI

Film Review: DRAG KIDS (Canada 2019) ***

Directed by Megan Wennberg

DRAG KIDS is a Canadian documentary about drag kids i.e. kids that dress up in drag to perform, just as their adults counterparts – drag queens do.

Director Megan Wennberg’s doc takes advantage of this curiosity  as well as proposes answers to questions like why would kids want to do drag and how their performances affect themselves and their close ones.

Four children are chosen from Canada, Europe (Spain) and the United States.  The children are as diverse as they are drag kids.  The four are: (their stage names used; just as their adults counterparts use) Queen Lactatia, Laddy GaGa, Suzan Bee Anthony and Bracken Hanke.  The climax of the film is their performances, their first time at Fierte Montreal (the new name for Pride Montreal) where they come together and interact, just as their parents do.  Needless to say, they have the times of their lives as in the words of Suzan: “This is the best time in my life – ever!”  Suzan is the only female doing drag.  One the music starts, and the kids go on stage, the remarkable happens!

One encouraging thing the doc exposes is the support provided by the parents of these children regardless of which continent they come from.  The parents speak highly of their children and their ability to do what they want.  One parent makes a good point putting down the fact of the question on whether his child is straight or gay.  My son is only 9, is the valid response.

The doc offers close to equal time devoted to each of the 4.  Which drag kid is the best? The answer is revealed at the end of the competition, but it does not really matter when everyone is having a good time, parents included.

It is also no easy task to perform drag, kid or adult as the film reveals.  The children undergo intense choreography lessons in preparation for their show.

One glaring fact is that Wennberg only skims the surface of drag kids in her doc and fails to go deeper into any connecting issues.  The result is an ok doc, pleasant to watch with a little information on the subject but fails to offer major insight to the its subject.

DRAG KIDS premiered at the Hot Docs in Toronto 2019.  There will be two other opportunities to view the film – one at the LGBT Inside Out Film Festival that runs from the 23rd of May and the other, when it premieres on the Documentary Channel in July of this year.

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZUto5LJ2AmY

Film Review: CITY DREAMERS (USA/Canada 2018) ***

City Dreamers Poster
City Dreamers is a film about our changing urban environment and four women architects, inspiring trailblazers with over 60 years of experience each, who are working, observing and thinking…See full summary »

Director:

Joseph Hillel

Writers:

Bruno BaillargeonJoseph Hillel (co-writer)

CITY DREAMERS is a small little documentary that opens in the equally little cinema complex, the Carlton Cinemas for a limited run.  The doc would appeal to a smaller audience as well, not to the masses.  The target audience in this case, would be architects and city planners, more particularly female ones at that.  

The film celebrates women, inspirational women who have done their fair share of changing the world through their work and city landscapes.  Hillel’s doc is one of information and insight.  Hillel’s doc focuses on four women architects from different cities.  One of them (when interviewed) prefers to use the word aspirations instead of dreams, as what is eventually designed and constructed has to be real and effective not just an unrealistic dream.

The film’s four featured female architects from different backgrounds are:

Phyllis Lambert

Cornelia Hahn Oberlander

Denise Scott Brown and

Blanche Lemco van Ginkel

Phyllis Lambert (who when interviewed speaks in French), who hails from Montreal, Canada has spent most of her career as a city planner advocating for the preservation of historic properties.  She talks of Old Montreal when it consisted of burnt out buildings.  She also aided in the preservation of old historic buildings and the founding of the heritage society that prevented developers from tearing down beautiful old architecture.  The plan of the expressway were also diverted and redone. These are illustrated by looking at the old and new locations of the expressway on architectural blueprints.

Vancouver landscape specialist Cornelia Hahn Oberlander, in contrast, designs elaborate green spaces, which are now vanishing thanks to cities building upward instead of outward.  She talks of the need of parks to complement housing.

In the United States, Philadelphia, Denise Scott Brown talks about Philadelphia’s notably black and low income South Street. There are images of these poorer and dilapidated buildings.  Yet these people fight against change.  The government at the time was afraid of ensuing riots if their buildings were torn down.

Lastly, Blanche Lemco van Ginkel was one of the first female professors of architecture and engineering in the world, and her world renowned firm was committed to creating sustainable, pedestrian friendly environments since 1957.

Each is given equal importance and screen time.  These women talk about their aspirations, their work and what moved them in their respective careers.  One could also see that these architects, now in their senior years, have completed so much in their lifetimes.  They have entered University at a time when females were generally left out of higher education.  They did marry and also talk about their husbands and their influences.  At the time blueprints are literally blue prints, prints on blue paper.

A lot of the doc contains archive footage and home movies provided by the subjects.  The subjects are also interviewed and they speak candidly on camera.

What is lacking in Hillel’s doc is a clearer narrative and to have some direction as to where the doc is heading.  As such, CITY DREAMERS seem loosely strung together, in a way that any order of the presentations of the subjects would not have made any difference.  The positive side of this is that he lets the women tell their stories in an unobstructed way.

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qwWxKhVo8j0

Film Review: JOHN WICK: CHAPTER 3 – PARABELLUM (USA 2019)

John Wick: Chapter 3 - Parabellum Poster
Trailer

Super-assassin John Wick is on the run after killing a member of the international assassin’s guild, and with a $14 million price tag on his head – he is the target of hit men and women everywhere.

Director:

Chad Stahelski

Writers:

Derek Kolstad (screenplay by), Shay Hatten (screenplay by) | 4 more credits »

Keanu Reeves as John Wick is back – uglier and unshaven as ever.  In trouble as ever.  And the film is bloodier and violent as ever – it obeying the rules (not like Wick in the Continental hotel) of being bigger and louder a sequel than the original.  But not necessarily for the better.  The film proves that there can be too much of a good thing – arguably if one wants to count action set pieces as a good thing.

The word Parabellum in the film title mens ‘prepare for war’ though it is arguable that all the assassins in the world vs. John Wick can be defined as one .

Chad Stahelski who also directed the original returns to the director’s chair in the third instalment of the franchise offering more action and violence as the first two John Wick films.  The film is all action based on a loose story line that surprisingly took four screenwriters, Derek Kolstad, Shay Hatten, Chris Collins, and Marc Abram to pen.

The most interesting aspect of the first JOHN WICK1984 film is the Continental Hotel.  As every John Wick fan knows, no one can do away with anyone there – as it a place of solace and amnesty that every criminal or cop has to adhere to.  John Wick broke the rule.  As a result he finds himself on the run for a host of assassins all out to kill Wick to earn the huge bounty of $14 million put on his head.  Being declared as excommunicado after killing D’Antonio on Continental grounds, the chances of survival have never been thinner for Wick. With the aid of old allies, John seeks to turn the tide.

A subplot involves the head and owner of the Continental, Winston (Ian McShane) forced to step down but refuses who also helps Wick by giving him blood markers, whatever that means.

The film was shot in exotic locations like Morocco, Montreal and New York City.  The soundtrack by Tyler Bates who is good for putting lots o signs together in a soundtrack is a winner.

Besides Reeves, other actors in the franchise like Halle Berry as Sofia another assassin but close friend, Laurence Fishburne and Lance Reddick as Charron the continental concierge reprise their roles.

The film is excessively violent.  There nastiest of these is a blade stabbed right into a victim’s eye during fight.  Other stabbings to the head and other body parts happen frequently.

The action flick runs two hours.  After a quarter through the film, one realizes that the film is nothing more than actions set pieces that eventually get really boring and repetitive.  Wick fights his assassins using Martial Arts, knives, motorbikes, guns, hand-to-hand and cars.  All the fight options are too exhausted.  So is the audience’s attention span.  Chapter 3 is clearly the worst of the John Wick franchise.

JOHN WICK 3, as the film is alternatively called hopes to derail AVENGERS ENDGAME  from the number 1 box-office this weekend.

Trailer: ttps://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xBB1whi46QE

Film Review: A DOG’S JOURNEY (USA 2019) **

A Dog's Journey Poster
Trailer

A dog finds the meaning of his own existence through the lives of the humans he meets.

Director:

Gail Mancuso

Writers:

W. Bruce Cameron (book), W. Bruce Cameron (screenplay) | 3 more credits »

How many dog movies can Swede filmmaker Lasse Hallstrom make in his career?  Ever since his claim to fame with his MY LIFE AS A DOG (English translation of its Swedish title), he championed A DOG’S PURPOSE in 2017 and now its sequel A DOG’S JOURNEY.

A DOG’S JOURNEY requires all credibility be thrown to the wind.  Even its lead character, C.J. tells her friend Trent near the end of the story that the dog story is impossible to believe.  One has to believe that:

  1. dogs can be reincarnated from one canine to another right after death
  2. this particularly canine has found and protected its mistress C.J. in 4 different coincidental cases
  3. dogs can sniff and identify cancer in human beings
  4. dogs can sniff and find someone miles away
  5. that people will love this dog movie no matter how ridiculous the plot may be

The film continues in the spirit of the faithful translation of author W Bruce Cameron’s original concept of dogs delivering humorous voiceover narration (here the voice of Josh Gad) that surprisingly got the majority of laughs at the promo-screening I attended.  But the dialogue is amusing and I found myself chuckling at best.  It is at least more respectable than the poo (or  rather dog poo) jokes that abound throughout the film.

The film opens Ethan Montgomery (Dennis Quaid) farming his land with his faithful blubbering pooch, Bailey.  Bailey does tricks, is huge and cuddly and the kind of dog that is impossible to dislike.  Well almost.  The widowed daughter-in-law, Gloria (Betty Gilpin), who is staying with Ethan and Hannah, Ethan’s wife (Marg Helgenberger) thinks Bailey dirty. Gloria has a child, Clarity June (C.J.) (Kathryn Prescott).  One day, as a result of an argument, Gloria leaves Ethan and Hannah taking C.J with her.  Bailey dies vowing to find C.J. to look after her in the next life.  The next life, C.J. grows up and owns Molly, Bailey’s reincarnation,  And the story or the dog’s journey continues.

The dog lives a total of 4 different lives in total, from Bailey to Molly, Max and Toby.  Molly the hound is the most adorable while the happy Toby the most spoilt and annoying.  C.J. grows from toddler to child to teen in the process while Ethan grows old with the faithful reincarnated Bailey by his side.  C.J. is played by n less than three different actresses.

As a family doggie movie, A DOG’S JOURNEY, written by no less than 4 authors, delivers and turns out exactly what fans of the original DOG’s PURPOSE is looking for.   A DOG’S JOURNEY is best looked as a doggie fairytale, very corny and very sentimental (imagine a doggie heaven, as implied at the end of the film).  The best thing about the film, is understandably the trained dogs on display.  Dog lovers are advised to bring lots of Kleenex.

Trailer:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=A2FrrSyyKfA