Film Review: 1917 (UK/USA 2019) ***** Top 10

1917 Poster

Two young British privates during the First World War are given an impossible mission: deliver a message deep in enemy territory that will stop 1,600 men, and one of the soldier’s brothers, from walking straight into a deadly trap.


1917 Poster

Two young British privates during the First World War are given an impossible mission: deliver a message deep in enemy territory that will stop 1,600 men, and one of the soldier’s brothers, from walking straight into a deadly trap.


Sam Mendes

Clearly the best film I have seen in 2019 – hands down – in terms of action, cinematography, direction, performances an art direction.  There is no greater pleasure than watching an almost perfect piece and 1917 is a minor masterpiece.

The story or film is based on, according  to the closing credits to stories told by Lance Corporal Alfred Mendes.  It is assumed that these stories were told to director Sam Mendes (SKYFALL, ROAD TO PERDITION, Oscar for Best Picture: AMERICAN BEAUTY) as grandfather to grandson.  The situation is that Blake (Dean-Charles Chapman) and Schofield (George MacKay) are two Lance Corporals – and messengers.  At the height of the First World War during Spring 1917 in northern France, the two young British soldiers (looking very much like boys enlisted before age, as seen in last year’s riveting documentary THEY SHALL NOT GROW OLD by Peter Jackson, an excellent companion piece to this film) are given a seemingly impossible mission to deliver a message from a general (Colin Firth) which will warn of an ambush during one of the skirmishes soon after the German retreat to the Hindenburg Line during Operation Alberich.  They race against time, crossing enemy territory to deliver the warning and keep a British battalion of 1,600 men, which includes Blake’s own brother, from walking into a deadly trap. The pair must give their all to accomplish their mission by surviving the war to end all wars.

Director Mendes and writer Krysty Wilson-Cairns up the angst with Schofiled damaging his hand wth barbed wire at the start of their mission.  In less than 15 minutes, an unexpected explosion (one that will surely cause many an audience to literally jump out of their seats) almost leaves him dead buried under a huge pile of rubble while the shaft they are in begin to collapse under more explosions.  The element of surprise (or shock) is ever present, so do not expect any periods of calm.

The most amazing achievement is the film’s cinematography by Richard Deakens.  The beginning sequence where the two make their way along the trenches is done in seems to be one long take, marvellously and miraculously executed in what is cinematic wonder and grace.  Apparently the effect of the one continuously long take was achieved by both elaborate long shots and choreographed camera movements. The camera is always in front of the two running men, showing their expressions of fear and anxiety where the background reveal the horrid conditions of the trenches and the other soldiers.  Another great feat is the crashing of a German bomber plane almost on top of the lance corporals.  That segment marks not only the film’s best segment but the one that changes the whole course (the spoiler will not be disclosed in this review) of the story.

The horror of WWI is revealed in all its goriness from the dead bodies, the rats, mud, crows and bleak skies.  It is a dystopian landscape that depicts the end of the world as seen by anyone on 1917 Northern France.  The music by Thomas Newman is appropriately scored.

The film’s comes with a message as delivered by Colonel Mackenzie (Benedict Cumberbatch) that hope can be a very dangerous thing.  Ironically, the opposite of this message is delivered in another Christmas film, JUST MERCY.



Film Review: STAND! (Canada 2019) ***

Stand! Poster
In post-World War I Winnipeg, a Ukrainian immigrant and a Jewish woman get caught up in a labour strike.


Robert Adetuyi

STAND! is a new film based on the stage musical of the same name.  I admit that I have not heard of the Canadian musical and neither have many of my friends.  So, the film arrives with a challenge to attract audiences to see this relatively unknown musical that is slotted in between 2 big musicals, the already box-office champ FROZEN 2 and the upcoming CATS at Christmas.  Director Robert Adetuyi (STOMP THE YARD and TROUBLE SLEEPING) has done a decent job.

STAND! is set 100 years ago against a backdrop of civil unrest and a violent general strike that changed Canada’s history.  The story follows an immigrant Romeo & Juliet in 1919 as they battle for love and a better life on the streets of Winnipeg, amid political and social turmoil.  Stefan (Marshall Williams from GLEE and HOW TO BUILD A BETTER BOY) and his father Mike (Gregg Henry) fled Ukraine for the New World, where they struggle to earn enough to reunite the family. Stefan is instantly smitten with the Jewish suffragette neighbour, Rebecca (Laura Wiggins), but Rebecca’s brother Moishe and Mike oppose the would-be couple. Meanwhile, soldiers returning from WWI are angry at the lack of jobs after the war and violently threaten the city’s immigrants, including Emma (Lisa Bell), a refugee from racial strife in Oklahoma.  When a movement develops for workers to leave their jobs in protest, a wealthy lawyer (the villain of the piece) pits all against each other in a dramatic and inspirational final stand.

Though set a century back many of the issues depicted in the film are still relevant today.  Racial tension and fear of losing jobs to foreigners are always relevant issues and so is the concept of evil and power.  The script by Juno-winner Danny Schur and Rick Chafe often falls into cliched territory but the actors perform their duties with such conviction that the flaws can often be overlooked.  For example, Stefan’s obstinate father Mike refuses to join in the strike and even works as a scab but on knows that he will eventually end up in the protest march, which he does in the end.  For a period piece, the art direction, wardrobe and atmosphere are impressive.

STAND! can stand (pardon the pun) very much as a drama on its own without being classified as a musical.  The actors do not breakout into song or dance that often, so that the film does not really feel like a musical.  A few of the songs are also pretty good, tune and lyrics as well.   Despite being small budget, the film looks grand.  The climatic march at the end of the film requires a march of ten thousand people.  This is quite hefty logistics. 

STAND! the Juno-award-winning musical hit set against the Winnipeg General Strike by composer Danny Schur & Rick Chafe’s hit musical opens across Canada on November the 29th.  A small but effective musical, STAND! is worth look.

Trailer: (unavailable)

Film Review: JOKER (USA 2019) ****

Joker Poster

In Gotham City, mentally-troubled comedian Arthur Fleck is disregarded and mistreated by society. He then embarks on a downward spiral of revolution and bloody crime. This path brings him face-to-face with his alter-ego: “The Joker”.


Todd Phillips

It seems unlikely that the director of mostly comedies like WAR DOGS, THE HANGOVER movies and OLD SCHOOL be the one to create this odd but original DC comic Batman villain JOKER.  But is this really the JOKER villain that challenges Batman so many times, or is he the inspiration for the real villain.  The age difference between this joker and  Bruce Wayne appears so, but director Phillips leaves the answer ambiguous.  As such, JOKER is an intelligent enough alternative Marvel Universe movie that concentrates on a villain as the protagonist.  The graphic novel Batman: The Killing Joke (1988) was the basis for the premise.

The joker is a real loser in life.  Born poor with a mental disability, this sorrowful soul (Joaquin Phoenix as Arthur Fleck/Joker) is a mentally ill, impoverished stand-up comedian disregarded by society, whose history of abuse causes him to become a nihilistic criminal.  The illness causes Arthur to occasionally break out into uncontrollable laughter.

Phoenix has starred before in movies with a similar character, a loser as in YOU WERE NEVER REALLY HERE and INHERENT VICE, films that did not make great money but with this character immersed in a Marvel Universe, JOKER has made Warner Bros. an unexpected amount of money.  Arthur’s inspiration is talk show host Murray Franklin (Robert De Niro) who allows Arthur on his show though later berates him causing Arthur to take immense offence and revenge.  De Niro is superb here.  When De Niro and Phenix appear together, De Niro steals the scene from Phoenix ( as evident in the first scene together, showing him to be what can be classified as a great actor.  The script takes De Niro from an early character in Martin Scorcese’s THE KING OF COMEDY where De Niro plays an upcoming comedian stalking successful comedian star played by Jerry Lewis.

JOKER is not a pleasant watch, since the often disturbing film deals with mental illness, depression, violence and the underworld of Gotham City (the film is shot in New York).  But it is a superbly crafted film going deep into the recesses of Arthur’s demise.

The camera work is nothing short of stunning.  Arthur’s chase of the young hooligans who steal his sign down the streets of the city is expertly shot.  The segment where the ambulance carrying Arthur’s mother Penny (Frances Conroy) screeches through a tunnel with the shearing lights doubles up on the madness of the situation and Arthur’s mental state.

Director Phillips gets the audience on Arthur’s side when he kills three yuppie criminals who beat him up on the subway train.  The audience feels sorry for Arthur, a vigilante at this point, but his behaviour also prevents the audience to feel sorry any further.

JOKER won the Golden Lion when it premiered at the Venice Film Festival.  It is also the number 1 R-rated box-office champion of all time.  JOKER is a film that demands to be seen, especially for cineastes.  The film should come away with a few Academy Awards in 2020.


Film Review: MIDWAY (USA 2019) ***

Midway Poster

The story of the Battle of Midway, told by the leaders and the sailors who fought it.


Roland Emmerich


Wes Tooke

It was 1976 when Jack Smight’s BATTLE OF MIDWAY starring Charlton Heston and Henry Fonda opened in the then sensational Sensurroud. Forty years later, INDEPENDENCE DAY’s director Roland Emmerich has another go at making a film on the decisive Pacific naval battle during WWII.  Though both films centred on the MIDWAY battle, the focus of both films are different.  The heroes of the first film were ridiculous fictional characters a father (Heston) and son (Edward Albert) involved with a Japanese/American immigrant while the latter, a clear improvement centred on real life heroes of the War.  Their real portraits are revealed during the film’s closing credits.

Ememrich’s MIDWAY opens a few years before the start of World War II.  The US Naval attaché in Tokyo and his counterpart discuss the US and Japanese positions in the Pacific Ocean during a state function. Isoroku Yamamoto (Etsushi Toyokawa) quietly informs intelligence officer Edwin T. Layton (Patrick Wilson) that they will take action if their oil supplies are threatened.  The film fast forwards to the morning of December 7, 1941with a 15-minute extravaganza on the shocking Japanese bombing of Pearl harbour.  This feels like Spielberg’s D-Day landing in Normandy in SAVING PRIVATE RYAN.  The goal is clearly to get the audience riled up against the Japanese.  Both films show the planning that goes into both the Japanese and American sides, though clearly the prejudice is against the Japanese.

MIDWAY works at both educating on the details of a history lesson that lasts over two hours as well as entertain as a WWII super hero flick.

The superheroes are real life WWII planners and fighters.  These combatants are played by a stellar cast headed by Ed Skrein as LTA Richard Best, Luke Evans, Aaron Eckhart, Nick Nonas, Dennis Quaid, Woody Harrelson and Mandy Moore as Bests’s wife.

Performances-wise, Skrein (GAME OF THRONES) is sufficiently cheesy as the gum-chewing maverick fighter pilot.  Patrick Wilson is the one who steals the show delivering the best performance of a worried but super bright Intelligence Officer.  There are hardly any women in this picture and Mandy Moore has the usual under-written role as the supportive wife.

The history lesson takes the audience through the several battles including the Doolittle Raid and the Coral Battle before culminating with the crucial climatic battle of MIDWAY.  The latest version clearly highlights the progress CGI and special effects have made compared to the 1976’s cheesy Sensurround.

The battles are well executed and exiting enough, though it often looks a video game.

MIDWAY costs Lionsgate a whopping $100 million to make and to date has grossed close to $80 million.  MIDWAY has garnished mixed reviews so far, but MIDWAY is more entertaining because the heroes are real who lived on the Planet Earth and not fictional heroes with made-up superpowers in some alternative Marvel Universe.  Despite a few flaws here and there, MIDWAY delivers the thrills as well as intricacies involved in strategic planning of battles in a war.


Film Review: THE DIVINE FURY (South Korea 2019) ***

The Divine Fury Poster

An MMA fighter helps an exorcist fight evil.


Joo-hwan Kim


Joo-hwan Kim

From both South Korea comes a film combining two genres – MMA action and horror exorcism.  The story can be summed up in one line – an MMA figure helps an exorcist fight evil.  Sounds cheesy and the film is cheesy, but that does not mean it is not entertaining.  Given what it is, THE DIVINE FURY delivers action in a gothic (and Asian) setting.

After losing his father at a young age in a terrible accident, Yong-hu (Seo-joon Park) abandons his Christian faith and chooses to only believe in himself.  Now as an adult, Yong-hu is a champion fighter and has everything he has ever wanted, that is until mysterious wounds appear in the palms (some scary special effects here) of his hands. He solicits help from a local priest Father Ahn (Sung-ki Ahn), hoping the priest can help relieve him of the painful markings only to find himself in the middle of a dangerous fight against otherworldly evil forces seeking to wreak havoc on the human world.

The film runs just over two hours, allowing director/writer Kim not to rush things and tell his story.  The film opens with Yong-hu as a boy.  He has already lost his mother.  In church with his father, he has expressed doubts of his faith.  When the father dies in an accident involving a sobriety check on drunk driving, (his dad is a cop), Yong-hu blames God for it.  The film moves forward in time when Yong-hu is now all grown and a MMA fighter.  He takes out his anger with God on his opponent.

Director Km plants a few seeds of audience anticipation at the film’s start.  When Yong-hu’s father stops the car, the driver has red laser eyes signifying evil.  The tattoo on Yong-yu’s MMA opponent also bears some resemblance to evil.

Sung-ki Ahn who plays Father Ahn is a famous Korean actor who has won many international awards.  Park is also a handsome, attractive actor who should attract the younger crowd.

The film’s special effects especially the make-up are commendable.  The film is not over-violent and most of the violence is implied, which works better.  The fights are well choreographed – e.g. MMA vs. possessed child climbing on walls and ceiling.  For a South Korean exorcism film, there are enough references and quotes from the Bible like the demon crying out: “We are Legion”, from the Gospel of St. Mark.

The film is released in DVD and BluRay formats this past week (Tuesday) from Well Go USA Entertainment.  The DVD comes complete with an English version of the film, the making of the film, the trailer (as well as trailers of other titles) and of course, the original version of the film.  THE DIVINE FURY is well worth a look.  And if you liked THE DIVINE FURY Father Ahn will be back in the next movie called THE GREEN EXORCIST.


Cinefarnco 2019: Un Amour Impossible (Fr 2018) ****

An Impossible Love Poster

In the late 1950s in Châteauroux, France, Rachel, a modest office worker, meets Philippe, a brilliant young man born to a bourgeois family. This brief but passionate connection results in … See full summary »


Catherine Corsini (scenario), Laurette Polmanss (scenario) | 1 more credit »

Don’t let the title put you off.  This is no cheap riff-off of a ROMEO AND JULIET story.  UN AMOUR IMPOSSIBLE is an incredible emotional and intelligent romance so dark yet beautiful that will surely affect many couples for the fact that the story can be or might be more common than expected.  The story follows a couple very much into each other.  The girl, Rachel (Virginia Efira) is very much head over heals in love with utterly handsome Philippe (Neils Schneider).  

The romance is shown from Rachel’s POV as love at first sight, perfect love, with a totally handsome beau with excellent sex.  Until he unloads the bomb on her, that he does not want to be wed.  Worst still, when she reveals her pregnancy, he travels to Italy.  The narrator of the story is the daughter of the couple.  Nothing more should be revealed of the story but this is one remarkable romantic drama that will affect both sexes and the daughter.

  How often than not that we have (myself included) fallen in love with someone who is so attractive that he or she can attract anyone else at any time.  What can one do?  The most emotional part occurs in one scene where she stares at him: He is so abusive to her, but she is so much in love with him that she does nothing. 

 The film runs more than 2 hours, but every minute is worth its time.


Film Review: WAVES (USA 2019)

Waves Poster

Traces the journey of a suburban family – led by a well-intentioned but domineering father – as they navigate love, forgiveness, and coming together in the aftermath of a loss.

WAVES unfolds the drama of a black family of a son trying to connect with his strict father.  It is surprisingly and to the director’s credit that he is white and one would never expect such an emotional tale of black folk be told by none other than non-black folk.

Cracks begin to show in the perfect façade of a young athlete, Tyler’s (Kevin Harrison Jr.) life.  Tyler is a talented wrestler living in a  comfy wealthy residence courtesy of his business oriented father.  He and his sister live wth him and their step-mother after their biological mum overdosed.  But the future is still bright.  Tyler has everything he needs: a wealthy family to support him, a spot on the high-school wrestling team, and a girlfriend (Alexa Demie) he’s head over heels in love with.  Committed to greatness and under intense scrutiny from his father (Sterling K. Brown), Tyler spends his mornings and nights training. But when pushed to the limit, life changes dramatically.

Tyler sustains a shoulder injury forcing him to quit wrestling.  He gets his girlfriend pregnant.  He wishes the baby aborted but she refuses resulting in a huge fight.  It does not help that dad is a real bully but sustains his actions by believing he is doing good.  “I am doing this not because I want to…. but because I have to….”  chastising Tyler.

To the film’s credit, Shults’s film is filled with such visual splendours like the colourful night run through the lawn sprinklers during one night scene, with rainbows visible in the images.  There is one scene with the couple with the camera at chest level that looks like Shults is paying homage to MOONLIGHT.  The scenes in the river with the fish are also stunningly shot.  His soundtrack is occasionally loud and boisterous, obviously made so to be annoying and to display Tyler’s state of mind – but subtlety could also be practiced.  Warning: those susceptible to headaches be best to stay away rom this movie where audibility is set several notches up, and too often in the film.

Shults’s film is a wild ride that initially takes you on and not let you get off.

The message of the film, among other things can be summed up with the statement: “The road to hell is paved with Good Intentions”.  Clearly the patriarch of the family had done what he had though was best, all full of good intentions.  But things do not always turn out the way they should and things can quickly go awry.  Ironically, the same can be said of Shults’s over long 135-minute film.  The film could have been cut 30 minutes instead of  propelling on with he father’s redemption process.  The message has already gone through, hard and clear and there is no need to haul the audience into the redemption process.  Also the switch from the main character from son to daughter disorientates the audiences a great deal.  Indeed, the road to a failed movie is also paved with similar good intentions.

Film Review: THE REPORT (USA 2019) ****

The Report Poster
Idealistic Senate staffer Daniel J. Jones, tasked by his boss to lead an investigation into the CIA’s post 9/11 Detention and Interrogation Program, uncovers shocking secrets.


Scott Z. Burns

THE REPORT is about the alleged report which exposes the CIA for their use of torture on suspected terrorists.  Most of what has been going on is already well known, including the inhuman torture methods as these have since been publicized following the Oscar Winner for Best Documentary, Alex Gibney’s TAXI TO THE DARK SIDE.

Gibney’s film examines the U.S. policy on torture and interrogation, specifically the CIA’s use of torture and their research into sensory deprivation. The CIA re-terms the word torture with the phrase enhanced interrogation.  The film includes discussions against the use of torture by political and military opponents, as well as the defense of such methods; attempts by Congress to uphold the standards of theGeneva Convention forbidding torture; and popularization of the use of torture techniques in TV series such as 24. 

Burn’s film is highly different and employs actors to re-enact real life characters in the true story.  THE REPORT plays as a political thriller that explores matters of vital importance to the present. THE REPORT takes a deep dive into recent revelations that have lost none of their capacity to shock and appall.

Dan Jones (Adam Driver) is the man assigned to research and submit a report.  He is asked twice during the movie. “Did you sleep?” to which he answers.  “I used  to but it gets in the way of my work.”  Jones, a staff member of the US Select Committee on Intelligence, is tasked with helming a Senate investigative report into the CIA’s use of torture after 9/11.  Some $80 million was spent; 119 detainees were interrogated. Hundreds of hours of recordings of those interrogations were destroyed. What happened? Who is accountable? Faced with one seemingly insurmountable obstacle after another, Jones spent half a decade finding out.  The CIA expected Jones to do the study , uncover a few facts but never expected Jones to go through all the extreme lengths to find out the truth and to uncover it to the American people.

Burns elicits excellent performances from his entire cast.   Adam Driver and Annette Benning both deliver award winning performances.  One cannot imagine anyone else playing those two roles.

Some might complain about the film’s talkiness.  It is talky but that is not necessarily a bad thing.  The dialogue from the script, also written by Burns is sharp and witty, and able to carry ones attention throughout the film.  A few of the torture scenes are re-enacted to emphasize the terrible use of torture by the CIA.

Everybody knows the ineffectiveness of torture as a interrogation tool to get information from the enemy.  Which is basically the tortured person saying anything to get the torture to stop.  Most of the information surrendered are either information the U.S. already knows or lies.  The script offers little debate on the matter, as the fact is already well known and stablished inTAXI TO THE DARK SIDE.  The REPORT is an excellent companion piece to that film film and succeeds, despite all the bad stuff the American CIA has done, in extolling the United States as a democracy who can call out its bad people.  If only they would made these people pay for their crimes.


Film Review: FROZEN 2 (USA 2019) ***

Frozen II Poster

Anna, Elsa, Kristoff, Olaf and Sven leave Arendelle to travel to an ancient, autumn-bound forest of an enchanted land. They set out to find the origin of Elsa’s powers in order to save their kingdom.


Chris BuckJennifer Lee


Jennifer Lee (screenplay by), Jennifer Lee (story by) | 4 more credits »

After the phenomenal billion dollar success of 2013 FROZEN, directors Chris Buck and Jennifer Lee return with their sequel that will surely make more money for the already wealthy company Disney.  

The origin FROZEN was much well loved not only for its memorial musical songs but an incredible story – the type typically found in classic fairy tales.  The story involves two close sisters, princesses, Elsa and Anna, Elsa given ice magical powers that she is unable to control.  It is beneficial to recall the story of the first.  Though not necessary, the story of FROZEN II will make more sense thus enhancing ones entertainment.  So, before venturing to see number 2,  do a little homework and read on the original story.  Most of the characters in the original including the much beloved Olaf, the snowman and Sven the reindeer are present, so fans should not be disappointed.  Again, magic is the key and saving the Kingdom Arendelle is the princesses’ quest.

When the film opens, it is three years after the events of the first film.  Elsa (Idina Menzel) starts to hear a strange sound from the north calling her.  Together with her sister Anna (Kristen Bell), Kristoff (Jonathan Groff), Olaf (Josh Gad) and Sven , they embark on a new journey beyond their homeland of the Kingdom of Arendelle in order to discover the origin of Elsa’s magical powers and thus save their kingdom.

Kristoff is the iceman who plays Anna’s boyfriend, providing the romantic element of the story.  The sister-sister antics which made the original so enchanting is ever present in this one with the two girls always looking after each other.  

The songs are present but occasionally not well spaced out – the first two songs appear too close to each other leading to a a rather slow start for the film.  The humour is only slight at best, provided by Olaf, but nothing extremely goofy or funny.  

FROZEN 2 is heavy plodding while the original is heavy plotting.

Song-wise, no song in FROZEN 2 can match the famous “Let It Go”  of the original, though not for want of trying.  Each character in FROZEN 2 appear to have a song of their own from Elsa’s “Into the Unknown” to Olaf “When I Get Older” to  Anna’s “The Next Right Thing” and lastly to Kristoff’s “Lost in the Woods”.

Directors Lee and Buck keep to the successful formula of the first in terms of mood, atmosphere and  animation effects.  But the film, though visually stunning lacks the innovation and fresh ideas of the original thus leaving it, sorry for the pun, frozen in its delivery.


(Cinefranco 2019): LE MYSTERE HENRI PICK (The Mystery of Henri Pick) (France 2019) ***1/2

The Mystery of Henri Pick Poster

An editor discovers a novel that she considers to be a masterpiece, in a library whose particularity is to collect the manuscripts refused by the publishers. The text is signed Henri Pick, a Breton pizza maker who died two years earlier.


Rémi Bezançon


Rémi Bezançon (dialogue), Rémi Bezançon (screenplay) | 3 more credits »

A bold inventive comedy that is ripe for Hollywood to remake.  While conducting a television interview with the widow of pizza restaurateur Henri Pick, who is the posthumous author of a bestseller, talk show host Jean-Michel Rouche (Fabrice Luchini) attracts the wrath of his employer and the spectators by suggesting the book could be a sham. The same evening, his wife leaves him and he is fired from his job at the network. This double disgrace reinforces his desire to prove that he is right.  As Rouche acts not only like a know-it-all proud peacock but an asshole, the audience is only too glad to witness his downfall.  But Rouche is not without charm.

He is joined in his investigation by the late author’s bookworm daughter, Josephine (Camille Cottin), after convincing her the book couldn’t have been written by her father. Echoing Agatha Christie, false leads and literary fun abound in this charming French affair.  There is no romance here not even a little hint, but the story works as both a clever whodunit or rather whowroteit as well as a study of characters in a French literary setting.  Luchini exhibits charm as the disgraced host who eventually redeems himself. A mysterious pleasure of a film.