Film Review: BEFORE YOU KNOW IT (USA 2019) ***

Before You Know It Poster
Clip

A pair of sisters find out that the mother they thought was dead is alive and starring on a soap opera.

Director:

Hannah Pearl Utt

Warning that BEFORE YOU KNOW it is almost totally a feminist movie.  When the film opens, two women are seen making small talk as they cross streets before one of them, the protagonist, Rachel Gurner (Hannah Pearl Utt) stops outside her place of residence, an apartment above a theatre.  The two women share an intimate kiss.  Rachel returns home where the audience sees she lives with her sister Jackie (Jen Tullock) and niece, Dodge (Oona Yaffe).  Jackie is complete opposite from rachel, who is the more stable one.  The only male in the picture is the father Mel (Mandy Patinkin) who is comically passed on so that the women’s world is complete.  As if there are not enough females in the story, the sisters learn that their supposed deceased mother is alive.  They seek to find her.  BEFORE YOU KNOW IT strangely enough has got no director credits just writing credits for both actresses Tullock and Pearl Utt.

Even the dialogue emphasizes ‘women’.  Example is the only line of dialogue uttered by the mother: “I have a very low tolerance for controlling men.  I will run screaming the other way.” The daughter’s response. “I feel exactly the very same way.”  There are only controlling women in this movie.

The dialogue is very New York City’s as evident from the ladies’ small talk at the film’s start.  The target audience for the film is thus quite narrow.  Audiences not in theatre or live in the city would find it difficult to relate and connect with the characters.

The film picks up a little when the sisters finally find and meet their long-lost mother who is a thriving soap-opera star.  She is quite the personality. But no one can beat Jackie who is hilariously running around with big bunting boobies.

Director Utt elicits family dysfunction with ease.  The trouble is that she does not know what to do with it.  Mother and Jackie are both equally weird while Rachel is the more rational one.  Utt’s film is extremely talky so expect to be listening to dialogue from start to finish, more than what normal people articulate to each other.

It is difficult to sympathize with the three women when they all behave as if the each suffer from PTSD.  It one thing in one instant and another the next.

As they say in moviemaking, make films about subjects one is familiar with.  Director Utt looks extremely comfortable as her film sails merrily towards its ending.  Trouble is that nothing much really happens not to mention the co-out happy ending that has nothing much to do with the street hand except to bookend the activities.  If only one could say the film ends BEFORE YOU CAN KNOW IT.

BEFORE YOU KNOW IT caters to a select target audience.  So as they say, one man’s or woman’s meat os another woman’s poison.  Myself, I am tolerant with these kind of films, though I find the exercise  boring and un-affecting.  So the rating of 3 stars would apply for the film’s target audience – mostly the old term yuppie female.

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Cj3pOkFWFBI

Film Review: KUNG FU LEAGUE (HK 2018)

Kung Fu League Poster
Fei Ying Xiong, an indigent comic book artist, is romantically interested in Bao’er, but the head manager of their company, who also has a interest in Bao’er, prevents that from happening. … See full summary »

Director:

Jeffrey Lau

Aptly titled KUNG FU LEAGUE director Jeffrey Lau’s Kung Fu comedy action extravaganza hopes to capitalize on the success of the Justice League Hollywood blockbuster.  The league in the reviewed film is comprised of 4 well-known martial-arts heroes (at least to the Chinese).  They are: Wong Fei Hung (Vincent Zhao), Wing Chun champion Ip Man (Dennis To), martial artist Huo Yuan Jia (Andy On) and fictional character Chen Zhen, who was played by Bruce Lee in Fist Of Fury (Danny Chan).  Western audiences will recognize Bruce Lee and maybe IP Man, from the IP Man films, a total 4 in all.

The story centres on super geek Fei Yingxiong (Ashin Shu), a comic artist who is in love with his colleague, Bao Er (Madina Mamet.)  This love is the catalyst of the troubles that bring into his present time the 4 Kung Fu experts.  Bao Er is also fancied by silly acting Zhang Peng (Steven Zhang), the President of the company that Yingxiong works at.  Frustrated, Yingxiong makes a wish, summoning the masters on his birthday.

So the four masters are summoned.  The film takes a while for the 4 to figure out what is going on and that they have ‘time travelled’.  The film takes even more time for the 4 to meet with Yingxiong, which is the purpose of the summonin g.  So Yingxiong trains with the 4 with the sincere hope of winning over the girl of his dreams.  Whether he does so or how he actually does will not be revealed in this review.

The trouble with this plot is that the silly romance is insufficient a reason for the film to have any urgency.  There is romance betrayal and a kung fu competition at the end.  The fight scenes are well choreographed, most notable being the one at the film’s start in the pouring rain.

Lau’s film is action slapstick but do not expect the madcap antics found in Stephen Chow’s classic 2004 KUNGFU HUSTLE.  The comedy and laughs all nowhere close.  At best, KUNG FU LEAGUE is good for a few chuckles.  Though the premise of the film is superior, Lao lacks Chow’s madcap sense of humour and fast camerawork, though Lau has made comedic hits like ALL FOR THE WINNER and ANOTHER PANDORA’S BOX.

So with the most well-known characters of Chinese martial arts saga, each portrayed by a promising young action star, and putting them on screen together in a comedy-action blockbuster looks like a good idea but here proves that good ideas do not always workout.  The film will still entertain Kung Fu fans and the not so demanding viewer.  

The film is available on digital, VOD, DVD and Blu-Ray September 17th, 2019.  The video and film are released by Well Go USA Home Entertainment that specializes in a lot of commercial Chinese and Hong Kong movies.  They have a lot of other titles that are worth a look at.

Trailer: Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ny72LxO_oKA

Film Review: AD ASTRA (USA 2019) ***1/2

Ad Astra Poster
Trailer

Astronaut Roy McBride undertakes a mission across an unforgiving solar system to uncover the truth about his missing father and his doomed expedition that now, 30 years later, threatens the universe.

Director:

James Gray

The concept of AD ASTRA began with director James Gray’s (THE YARDS, THE LOST CITY OF Z) idea which he announced in 2016 of making a  realistic depiction of a space travel movie.  The baby of both Gray who co-wrote, produced and directed and star Brad Pitt who also share producing credits, AD ASTRA is a very serious, if not always realistic depiction of a space movie.  For example, there is one scene where astronaut Roy McBride (Pitt) closes the hatch of his spaceship in the deeps of outer space and the audience can still hear the latch bang shut when one clearly knows that there is no sound in the vacuum of outer space.  But some minor complaints aside, AD ASTRA lives up to Gray’s ambition.  AD ASTRA has so far been positively reviewed by film critics and is quite a serious and authentically looking space drama.  Note that this is not an action movie but a thriller that plays around with other classic space movies.

Astronaut Roy McBride travels to the outer edges of the Solar System to find his missing father (Tommy Lee Jones) and unravel a mystery that threatens the survival of humans on Earth.  A surge has been received from the Neptune project near Neptune where the father had worked.  The surge might destroy earth and all in it.  Roy’s journey will uncover secrets that challenge the nature of human existence and its place in the cosmos.

To list a couple of important space moves in the past, Gray’s AD ASTRA draws from 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY and GRAVITY while sharing common traits with APOCALYPSE NOW and his LOST CITY OF Z.

Gray attempts to show the marvels of space technology as in Kubrick’s 2001.  The modern look of the spaceship including its exterior shots are stunning, thanks to the expensive production design.  The rest mishap with the unexpected surge takes place on the exterior of a space antenna is one fo the film’s most exciting scenes.  There are not that many, but when they arrive, they are a knock-out.  The zero-gravity and the re-entering into the spaceship share common thrill elements with Cuaron’s GRAVITY.  Gray’s zero gravity fight with the two battlers tumbling around is a new set-up not seen (or seldom seen) before.  The crazy and obsessive father in AD ASTRA reminds one immediately of the Marlon Brando character in Coppola’s APOCALYPSE NOW and the traveller IN LOST CITY that lost himself reminds one of the protagonist in AD ASTRA.

The story is somewhat predictable with it set primarily on astronaut Roy McBride and his human condition.  For most part of the film, Roy is in acceptable psychological state but when he goes into ager mode, he is in trouble.  Director Gary anchors his story on Roy’s mental state.  There is little information provided on Roys personal life, with his wife played by Liv Tyler showing up for just a brief token moment.

Credit to 20th Century Fox on financing an thinking adult space movie.  It is a big gamble and hopefully it will do well at the box-office with Brad Pitt’s name to help.  Disney that bought Fox have expressed concerns on Fox’s slate of movies on making money like this one and Fox’s upcoming FORD V FERRARI. 

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ykC_wu6ffOU

2019 TIFF Movie Review: DEVIL BETWEEN THE LEGS (Mexico/Spain 2019) ***

Director:

Arturo Ripstein

An Arturo Risptein film can always be expected to be different – to put in mildly.   The appropriately titled DEVIL BETWEEN THE LEGS, shot in shiny black and white is the drama of an ageing couple.  Beatriz (Sylvia Pasquel) and the Old Man (Alejandro Suárez) have been together for too long.  

A retired homeopathic pharmacist, the Old Man now divides his time between their Mexico City home where he shuffles around in his housecoat, raging against Beatriz, and paying secret visits to his mistress. Beatriz, when not bearing the brunt of the Old Man’s tirades, sneaks out to take tango lessons — and to proposition her younger dance partner (Daniel Giménez Cacho).  Ripsein’s film is 3-hours long and moves at a snail’s pace unlike his others like DEEP CRIMSON and BLEAK STREET.  There is only so much patience one can have in watching two old folks go at each other, or have affairs outside their marriage.  DEVIL is too slow for its own good.  Ripsten is good at this kind of stuff, but a more tightly edited 90 minute movie would have been perfect.  

Beware!  There are scary scenes of ageing flesh having sex.  Yet, Ripstein’s occasionally moving film still captivates despite its flaws.

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=auAFhn_tit4

2019 TIFF Movie Review: SORRY WE MISSED YOU (UK 2019) *****Top 10

Sorry We Missed You Poster
Trailer

A hard-up delivery driver and his wife struggle to get by in modern-day England.

Director:

Ken Loach

Writer:

Paul Laverty

Ken Loach’s (I, DANIEL, KES, MY NAME IS JOE) latest film centres once again on the common man facing injustice in the working system.  The film begins laying out the structure of employment at a parcel delivery company.  As such, it becomes apparent offering freedom to the worker is an excuse for the company not taking responsibility for work accidents. Set in Newcastle, Ricky (Kris Hitchen) is a former construction worker who lost his job and home in the 2008 financial crash.  

Eager to make a go at being his own boss, he takes a quasi-freelance delivery gig, though it means punishing hours, working under a ruthless manager, and making a substantial investment up front.  Ricky convinces his wife, Abbie (Debbie Honeywood), a home-care nurse, to sell her car in order to buy the van he needs for the job.  Complications mount as Ricky starts to discover the harsh realities of supposedly autonomous labour, his son Seb (Rhys Stone) courts trouble in his new-found, semi-politicized vocation as a graffiti artist.  One knows, from previous Loach’s films that things are not going to go smoothly for Ricky and family.   Loach goes deep into emotions and makes his audience feel the agony faced by both Ricky and Abbie. 

 The results are astounding.  The audience at the screening wept and cheered.  This is a remarkable and fully charged emotional ride.  Make sure you are not sorry to have missed this one.  Loach’s best since KES.

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ysjwg-MnZao

2019 TIFF Movie Review: EMA (Chile 2019)

Ema Poster
Trailer

A couple deals with the aftermath of an adoption that goes awry as their household falls apart.

Director:

Pablo Larraín

EMA and her husband have just ‘returned’ their adopted son after he, (the adopted son) set fire to to his aunt’s face and the house.  They apparently regret the decision and go to great lengths to find the boy again.  At the same time, their marriage is on the rocks.  They are both in the dance scene, the husband a choreographer and she in his troupe, so there is plenty of dance choreography.  EMA is a total mess and so is Larain’s film.  

The film makes little sense though it looks great courtesy of his D.P.  Larrain includes scenes of orgy when Ema begins indulging with multiple sex partners including her lawyer.  Larrain directed the Oscar nominated JACKIE.  That film has a perfect segment when the camera roams the White House with the song Camelot playing in the background.  

There is a similar segment in EMA with a catchy song played as the camera roams around.  But the film still ends up a boring and pretentious artistic waste of time.

Trailer: https://vimeo.com/357724067

2019 TIFF Movie Review: GREED (UK 2019)

Greed Poster
Satire about the world of the super-rich.

Writers:

Michael Winterbottom (screenplay), Sean Gray (additional material by)

Director Michael Winterbottom (THE TRIP, WONDERLAND, and his best film JUDE) and Steve Coogan have worked together many times and they seem too comfortable in this latest offering that tackles too many subjects. 

 The fashion industry, celerities biographies, Bangladesh garment manufacturing, the Greek commercial collapse, refugees are all targets that Winterbottom cannot decide which he should deem the most important.  His film is centred on a court inquiry of a retail fashion billionaire Sir Richard MCreadie (Coogan) nicknamed Greedy for short.

  His ex-wife (Isla Fisher) and dutiful subordinate (Sarah Solemani) aid him on the way.  While all this is going on, biographer (David Mitchell) puts in his two cents worth, but turns out more annoying than funny. 

GREED is indulged in expensive looking production sets and exotics locations and appears to be going against all the film is supposed to be fighting against.  Coogan prances around in this role like a wealthy peacock.  The entire result is less than impressive, like the amphitheatre being built by the refugees.

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7NNZHlIoA4U

2019 TIFF Movie Review: A GIRL MISSING (Japan/France 2019)

A Girl Missing Poster
Ichiko is a care-giver and a nurse. She provide home-care to the Oishos’ elderly woman and is almost considered part of the family as she visits and performs her tasks routinely. What is … See full summary »

Director:

Kôji Fukada

A nurse, Ichiko (Mariko Tsutsui) goes to a hair salon and asks for a particular Kazumichi Yoneda (Sosuke Ikematsu) to cut her hair, while introducing herself using a different name.  He asks her if it is her first time and she says that he had never cut her hair before.  

The explanation she tells him later on in the film is ‘revenge’  an act thought out similar to Lina Wertmuller’s 1972 excellent satire THE SEDUCTION OF MIMI.  But this film has none of the wit or bite of Wertmuller’s film.  

Instead of being suspenseful and mysterious, Fukada only bores and confuses with its dual time-line story.  It takes a while before the audience can figure out what is really going on.  The story and message is how an incident in the past – a child kidnapping can affect ones future.  But isn’t this not the case for most incidents? 

 Ichiko also has a romance and an engagement with a doctor but this is one relationship that is the most unaffectionate in any film I have seen this year.  Apparently director Kukada has his heart missing in the making of this film.

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FzaXgx2tVuY

BEST of TIFF 2019. Films. Awards.

by Gilbert Seah

 The results are in:

In general this year had a super crop of films at both Cannes and the Toronto International Film Festival.

The movement of increased women in films is working. I noticed than close to 50% of all the films I had seen at TIFF had a female protagonist, female director or strong feminine content.

At this year’s TIFF, I have seen a total of 70 feature films, and I have picked out the best of the 70 though I had not seen PARASITE or THE TRAITOR which wee on most critics top films list.

These are listed below in order of my picks.

1. Les Miserables

2. Sorry We Missed You

3. The Whistlers

4. So Long My Son

5. Beanpole

6. There’s Something in the Water

7. The Twentieth Century (also won the Canadian First Feature Award)

8. JoJo Rabbit (also won the People’s Choice Award)

9. Marriage Story

10. Portrait of a Lady on Fire

Below are the TIFF Awards (and the paragraph preceding describing the jury).

The short-film awards below were selected by a jury comprised of Chelsea McMullan, Léo Soesanto, and Andrea Roa.

IWC SHORT CUTS AWARD FOR BEST CANADIAN SHORT FILM The IWC Short Cuts Award for Best Canadian Short Film goes to Chloé Robichaud for Delphine. The jury remarked, “By presenting its main character’s unique point of view through another character’s perspective, Robichaud’s Delphine boldly utilizes an original narrative device to offer a refreshing twist on the coming-of-age genre. This evocative, mysterious, yet sensitive short film brings up powerful feelings of nostalgia and memory, leaving an impact that lingers with the viewer long after its all-too-short run time comes to a close.” The award offers a $10,000 cash prize, made possible by IWC Schaffhausen. The jury awarded an honourable mention to Theodore Ushev’s The Physics of Sorrow for its impressive filmmaking and detailed craftsmanship.

IWC SHORT CUTS AWARD FOR BEST SHORT FILM The IWC Short Cuts Award for Best Short Film goes to Lasse Linder for All Cats Are Grey in the Dark. The jury noted, “Blurring the line between narrative and documentary, Linder’s All Cats Are Grey in the Dark simultaneously observes its main character — and its topic — with both empathy and absurdity. This unexpectedly touching, exceptionally composed, and tender tale of a man’s love for his cats (along with the best employed use of Alexa) surprised the jury with its observational filmmaking and memorable feline performances.” The award offers a $10,000 cash prize, made possible by IWC Schaffhausen. The jury gave honourable mention to Federico Luis Tachella’s The Nap for its brave exploration of age and sexuality.

The Canadian awards below were selected by a jury comprised of Magali Simard, Devyani Saltzman, and Alicia Elliott.

CITY OF TORONTO AWARD FOR BEST CANADIAN FIRST FEATURE FILM The City of Toronto Award for Best Canadian First Feature Film goes to Matthew Rankin’s The Twentieth Century. The jury remarked, “Rankin’s debut feature is superb in its imaginative wildness, taking an otherwise staid historical Canadian figure and propelling him into the heart of one of the most creative, visual, and compelling experiences of the Festival.” This award carries a cash prize of $15,000, made possible by the City of Toronto.

CANADA GOOSE ® AWARD FOR BEST CANADIAN FEATURE FILM The Canada Goose ® Award for Best Canadian Feature Film goes to Sophie Deraspe’s Antigone. The jury said that “Antigone stands out on its own as an electrifying piece of cinema. Tackling with vigour contemporary realities of immigration in Canada through the framework of Greek tragedy, Deraspe created magnificent onscreen humanism. It is imperative to point out Nahéma Ricci’s performance, reminiscent of Renée Falconetti’s Jeanne d’Arc.” This award carries a cash prize of $30,000 and a custom award, sponsored by Canada Goose ® . The jury gave honourable mention to Elle-Máijá Tailfeathers and Kathleen Hepburn’s The Body Remembers When the World Broke Open.

NETPAC AWARD Selected by a jury from the Network for the Promotion of Asian Pacific Cinema (NETPAC), the NETPAC Award goes to Oualid Mouaness’ 1982. Jury members include Chairperson Beckie Stocchetti, Kanako Hayashi, and Albert Shin. The jury remarked that this film was selected “for its adventurous, imaginative style and subtle, confident filmmaking, bravely juxtaposing and framing the universal innocence and charm of youth within harrowing historical context.”

GROLSCH PEOPLE’S CHOICE AWARDS

This year marked the 42nd year that Toronto audiences were able to cast a ballot for their favourite Festival film for the Grolsch People’s Choice Award. This year’s award goes to Taika Waititi’s Jojo Rabbit. The award offers a $15,000 cash prize and a custom award, sponsored by Grolsch. The first runner-up is Noah Baumbach’s Marriage Story. The second runner-up is Bong Joon-ho’s Parasite.

The Grolsch People’s Choice Midnight Madness Award goes to Galder Gaztelu-Urrutia’s The Platform. The first runner-up is Andrew Patterson’s The Vast of Night. The second runner-up is Jeff Barnaby’s Blood Quantum.

The Grolsch People’s Choice Documentary Award goes to The Cave, directed by Feras Fayyad. The first runner-up is Garin Hovannisian’s I Am Not Alone. The second runner-up is Bryce Dallas Howard’s DADs.

TIFF is over for 2019. Preparations begin or 2020.

Reported by:

Gilbert.

2019 TIFF Movie Review: BLACK CONFLUX (Canada 2019) ***

Black Conflux Poster
Trailer

The seemingly separate lives of an anxious, disillusioned teen girl and a troubled, alienated man converge fatefully in this haunting exploration of womanhood, isolation, and toxic masculinity, set in 1980s Newfoundland.

Director:

Nicole Dorsey

Writer:

Nicole Dorsey

BLACK CONFLUX tells the dual stores of two disillusioned people set in 1980’s Newfoundland.  The film could very well be set in the present in Toronto close to where director Dorsey earned her film degree and lives. 

 The seemingly separate lives of an anxious, disillusioned teen girl and a troubled, alienated man converge fatefully in this haunting exploration of womanhood, isolation, and toxic masculinity.  Fifteen-year-old Jackie (Ella Ballentine) is navigating from vulnerable adolescence to impending adulthood. Dennis (Ryan McDonald) is a socially inept loner with a volatile dark streak and delusional fantasies of adoring women at his beck and call.  Director Dorsey loves to play with symbols.  

There are two scenes involving bugs, the significance only realized after a bit of deep thought at the end of the film.  Dennis’ story is more interesting as his character as an ambiguous creepy characters that could explode at any instant is more intriguing.  he film has a solid ending when the two stories eventually converge and the two meet making.  A very assured debut feature from Dorsey again enforcing the power of women.

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=auJvUxFK1TE