Film Review: ORDINARY DAYS (Canada 2017) ***

Ordinary Days Poster
Cara Cook is a bright, athletic, college student who disappears without a trace. Five days play out three times from a trio of perspectives; her spiraling parents, the troubled detective assigned to her case and finally, Cara herself.


Kris BoothJordan Canning 

A 3-act film based on a script written by one person with the three acts directed by 3 different directors, ORDINARY DAYS looks at an event from three different points of view.  The fact that each act is directed by a different person offers the film different perspectives, though a disadvantage means a kind of disjointed storytelling.  Whether the tactic works is arguable but credit should be given to the filmmakers for the idea where different timelines also intersect, a tactic used before though not that often in films.

A spill on ORDINARY DAYS is given by the lone character in the second act which explains one reason the phrase was chosen as the film title.  The event the three acts examines is the mysterious disappearance of a bright somewhat rebellious teenage college student over the course of 5 days.

The film is bookended with the student (Jacqueline Byers) jogging along the road.  Each act is entitled by the main character in the act.  The first act is titled Marie (Torri Higginsson), the worried mother of the disappeared daughter.  The second is called BrightBill (Michael Xavier), the bright detective who uncovers relevant clues of the case and the third Cara, the missing teen.

The first act deals with the parents, who is clear still love each other tremendously though a few problems exist in their relationship.  (Which couple never has problems?).  When the  mother Marie fails to hear from the daughter, she suspects something odd.  The father (Richard Clarkin) brushers the worry away but is blamed later for not doing anything when they had a chance.  Marie calls a detective, Bill who slowly but effectively covers relevant clues.  The last act follows Cara as she drives her car into a ditch which explains what has happened.

The first two acts are quite good and both absorbing watches.  The first proves that the drama in the parents relationship is more interesting than the mystery of the missing daughter, credit to director Canning.  The second act takes off at a tangent with a new look at the detective and his life.  The last act that resolves the mystery is the least absorbing one and is a let down to the tension built in the first two acts.  The third act shows Cara stuck in the crashed vehicle for 5 days.  One can hardly blame director Jeyapalan as this is limited material.  How interesting can you make a 30 minute segment with a person trapped in a car?

What is impressive about the film is the script that is often filled with layered dialogue.  A the lines are spoken, emotions between the speakers are revealed when one reads between the lines.  For example, when the husband apologizes, the words “I am sorry,” show both his sincerity and regret as well as the ups and downs the marriage goes through.  This must be just one of many incidents as the husband appear to have gone through the situation may times.

The film’s ending requires once agin the viewer to read between the lines.  ORDINARY DAYS is a more than an interesting film, well put together and ultimately satisfying and entertaining.


Film Review: RED JOAN (UK 2018)

Red Joan Poster

The story of Joan Stanley, who was exposed as the KGB’s longest-serving British spy.


Trevor Nunn

RED JOAN (based on the real life Melita Norwood) is inspired by true events, but what is true and what is fictionalized are never made clear in the movie.  The fact allows the script by Lindsay Shapiro to take certain liberties with the story.  The romantic element is strengthened as well as the main character’s reasoning for her actions.  “No other atomic bombs have been dropped, have they?” Red Joan insists, implying her spying allowed two countries to be able to scare each other instead of using the bomb if only one country had one.  This again is a one-sided argument subject to debate.

The film opens in the year 2000 where an unsuspecting Joan Stanley (Dench), then living a quiet retirement in suburban London is arrested by MI5.  She is charged with treason as being a spy leaking atomic secrets to the Russians.

The story flashbacks into the past with a teenage Joan attending Cambridge University.  Her chance meeting with a communist (Tereza Srnova) leads her to meet her cousin Leo (Tom Hughes).  Leo and Joan begin an affair till he asks her for atomic secrets.  Joan has a first class degree in Physics which gives her employment and contact with her lab mentor, Max Davis (Stephen Campbell Moore) who designs the atomic bomb.  Joan also has an affair with the then married Max.  Torn between her love for Leo (who wants her to betray the project’s secrets) and her growing love for her lab mentor (Stephen Campbell Moore), Joan must make a decision of what she thinks is right for her country.  

The script and film put Joan on a high pedestal of doing what is right.  Even her lawyer son is on her side, defending her at the end, though it is thoroughly unconvincingly why he has changed his mind as he had initially spurned his mother’s act.  “Is anything you ever told me ever true?”  he questions her at one point.  The answer to an important question is also left out.  A reporter asks Joan on the day of her arrest, “How much did the Russians pay you?”   She as the film does deliberately ignore the question.  It is apparent that the film wants the audience to take her side, which is a difficult task to achieve, given that she has allegedly continued to spy for at least 40 years.

The two important questions left unanswered are whether she received monetary gain for her deed and whether she had leaked other information besides the atomic bomb, which makes her argument false.  The fact that the government never prosecuted her due to her old age of 90, (she passed away a few years after) means the truth never fully came out.

Dench has done this kind of role before – that of an old lady where her past catches up on her, as in Stephen Frear’s PHILOMENA, the much better film.  Both films also featured a different actress to play the younger Dench character, as Sophie Cookson plays, who does a fair job at that.  But Dench does not get to do much here but to sulk and look guilty.  Dench performs better when she plays a headstrong character as in PHILOMENA or as M in the James Bond films.

RED JOAN is a muddled romantic espionage story based on true events that leads nowhere.


Film Review: LONG SHOT (USA 2019) ***1/2

Long Shot Poster

When Fred Flarsky reunites with his first crush, one of the most influential women in the world, Charlotte Field, he charms her. As she prepares to make a run for the Presidency, Charlotte hires Fred as her speechwriter and sparks fly.


Jonathan Levine


Dan Sterling (screenplay by), Liz Hannah (screenplay by) | 1 more credit »