Film Review: MIDNIGHT FAMILY (Mexico 2019) ***1/2

Midnight Family Poster
Trailer

In Mexico City’s wealthiest neighborhoods, the Ochoa family runs a private ambulance, competing with other for-profit EMTs for patients in need of urgent help.

Director:

Luke Lorentzen

MIDNIGHT  FAMILY can be described as guerrilla filmmaking.  Which makes it more current and exciting.` 

The film begins with the camera following (literally behind the heads of the paramedics) an ambulance as it races to the scene of various accidents as the paramedics hear of them on the radio.  They arrive and do their medical work, often saving lives and preventing further duress but often earning no reward, monetary-wise.  If lucky, they might get some grateful thank you, but often than not, many of the victims refuse to pay and threaten them ungratefully.  It turns out that the paramedics are the males of the Ochoas family, private paramedics, who run a crucial, unregistered and underground act of saving and helping lives suffered from an accident.

It is then revealed that in Mexico City, less than 45 government emergency ambulances operate for a population of 9 million people, resulting in a loose system of private ambulances taking care of the emergency healthcare.  The film follows the Ochoa family as they operate one of these vehicles.   But the job is riddled with police bribes and cutthroat competition as evident in one scene where their ambulance races against another to the scene of one accident, beating its competition only to have the victim claim that she has no insurance or money to pay for the service.  Worse of all, her apparently wealthy family refuses to pay either.

The main character of the film is the 16-year old handsome son, Juan who drives the ambulance.  MIDNIGHT FAMILY could be classified as documentary though it hardly feels like one as  the incidents occurring on screen seem so exciting that it looks like fiction.  The film also focuses on the Ochoa family which have problems of having ends meet.  They need proper licences plates for their vehicle so that they will not be harassed by the police and these cost money.

The film has a distinct sense of humour as depicted in the opening scene where a T-shirt can be read “It is not easy being cool, but I manage.” when the camera also reveals the wearer’s crack from his low rise jeans.  The film is playful as the family members, who kung-fu kick each other or argue about food.

MIDNIGHT FAMILY,  a well made little gem ends up a cinema vérité styled pretty cool take on the pressing realistic emergency health system in Mexico City.  Pity that there is no solution to the problem – but awareness of the film, provided by the film is a good start.  The film has already, at the time of writing won some 24 awards and various international film festivals around the world.  A solid piece of filmmaking that demands to be seen.  The film is filmed in Mexico City in Spanish.

Trailer: https://www.imdb.com/title/tt6010976/videoplayer/vi2632498969?ref_=tt_pv_vi_aiv_2

Film REVIEW: THE BODY REMEMBERS WHEN THE WORLD BROKE OPEN (Canada/Norway 2019) ***

The Body Remembers When the World Broke Open Poster
Trailer

After a chance encounter on the street, a woman tries to encourage a pregnant domestic abuse victim to seek help.

Directors:

Kathleen Hepburn (co-director), Elle-Máijá Tailfeathers (co-director)

Writers:

Elle-Máijá Tailfeathers (story by), Kathleen Hepburn (co-writer) | 1 more credit »

THE BODY REMEMBERS is a low budget 2-handler about two indigenous women.  It has a simple premise and directors Kathleen Hepburn and Elle-Maija Tailfeathers go to great lengths with details.  

The film opens with Rosie (Violet Nelson) riding a bus.  A woman with a child gets on, dropping a plush toy that Rosie picks up.  It is hinted that she likes children an it is soon revealed that Rosie is expecting.  Also seen boarding the bus in the background is Aila (the film’s co-director and writer, Elle-Maija Tailfeathers) who later encounters Rose crying not the street, but not before the audience is given some background of her.  Aila is 31 and wants a baby but has had problems having one despite hers trying.  Aila has had an abortion before.

Áila then encounters again Rosie, barefoot and crying in the rain on the side of a busy street.  She soon discovers that this young woman, Rosie, has just escaped a violent assault at the hands of her boyfriend. Áila decides to bring Rosie home with her and over the course of the evening, the two navigate the aftermath of this traumatic event.  Not much in terms of the story but Aila tries to convince Rosie to stay at a safe-house to protect herself and the baby.

This is one extremely slow moving film saddled with details.  If one loves details, then this film will be a pleasure to watch.  The directors ensure that one feels for each character down to every moment.  Every movement or action have repercussions.  Rosie at one point takes something from Aila’s handbag.  It does not register what it is till much later in the film that it is her wallet.  Rosie is particularly rude and ungrateful  despite Aila’s care.  Credibility comes into the picture.  

As far as Aila’s patience for Rosie despite her rudeness and swearing, one might attribute it to Aila’s not being able to have a baby.  Other than that, her patience is quite beyond belief.  Any normal person would have given up on Rosie.  The scenes in the taxi are overlong and demands a lot of patience.

Though one might sympathize with the pregnant and abused Rosie, Rosie is depicted to be an independent person who thinks she knows what she wants, regardless of  her being right or wrong.

THE BODY REMEMBERS is definitely a difficult watch, for its attention to detail, its slow pace and sombre and depressing story.  To the directors’ credit, this is an uncompromising tale that celebrates the the resilience of women, regardless whether the film works or not.

The TFCA has nominated this film as one of the three nominees for this years Best Canadian Feature that carries a big cash prize.   It has just been selected as Canada’s Top 10 for 2019.

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8l3WC4wl-SY

Film Review: Top 10 Canadian Films of 2019

TIFF revealed its Canada’s Top Ten list of features and short films of 2019.  This list is compiled by TIFF’s team of programmers in collaboration with film experts, the list showcases a richness of voices, perspectives, and insights from some of Canada’s finest established filmmakers, as well as emerging directorial talent from coast to coast to coast.

Capsule reviews are provided of the films I have seen:

And the Birds Rained Down (Il pleuvait des oiseaux) Louise Archambault | Quebec

Anne at 13,000 ft Kazik Radwanski | Ontario

ANTIGONE (Canada 2019) ***1/2

Directed by Sophie Deraspe

Antigone Sophie Deraspe | Quebec | (Film opened at TIFF Bell Lightbox December 6)

ANTIGONE is the name of a Lebanese immigrant living in Montreal with her grandmother, sister and two brothers.  Things take a turn one day when cops show up unexpectedly at a playground.  One brother is shot and the other arrested.  Because the arrested brother has got a record, he likely will be deported.  Antigone having a clean record and not yet an adult figures she can pose as her brother and get him out of prison by pretending to be him.  This she does.  But nothing is what it seems.  ANTIGONE is a rough watch and is meant to be so.  It is a film that reveals the hardship of immigration in an extremely cruel world.  But director Deraspe shows that there is hope.  ANTIGONE is a film deserving of the distinguished honour of being selected as Canada’s entry for the Bets Foreign Film Oscar.

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Eo5os3XbZC4

Black Conflux Nicole Dorsey | Newfoundland/Quebec

BLACK CONFLUX (Canada 2019) ***
Directed by 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

The Body Remembers When the World Broke Open Elle-Máijá Tailfeathers, Kathleen Hepburn | British Columbia | Film opens at TIFF Bell Lightbox December 13

THE BODY REMEMBERS WHEN THE WORLD BROKE OPEN (Canada/Norway 2019) **

Directed by Kathleen Hepburn and Elle-Maija Tailfeathers

THE BODY REMEMBERS is a low budget 2-handler about two indigenous women.  It has a simple premise and directors Kathleen Hepburn and Elle-Maija Tailfeathers go to great lengths with details.  This is one extremely slow moving film saddled with details.  If one loves details, then this film will be a pleasure to watch.  The directors ensure that one feels for each character down to every moment.  Every movement or action have repercussions.  Rosie at one point takes something from Aila’s handbag.  It does not register what it is till much alter in the film that it is her wallet.  Rosie is particularly rude and ungrateful for Aila’s care and credibility comes into the picture.  THE BODY REMEMBERS is definitely a difficult watch, for its attention to detail, its slow pace and sombre and depressing story.  To the directors’ credit, this is an uncompromising tale that celebrates the the resilience of women, regardless whether the film works or not.

Matthias & Maxime Xavier Dolan | Quebec

Murmur Heather Young | Nova Scotia

One Day in the Life of Noah Piugattuk Zacharias Kunuk | Nunavut

The Twentieth Century Matthew Rankin | Quebec

THE TWENTIETH CENTURY (Canada 2019) ***1/2
Directed by Matthew Rankin

In Mathew Rankin’s feature debut THE TWENTIETH CENTURY, he draws his inspiration from the old movies in terms of German impressionism and from more recent fellow Winnipeg filmmaker Guy Maddin’s gothic films.  The film has a refreshing humour and it a laugh-out loud moment every minute or so, that one does not want the film to end.  In short, the film is a bizarre biopic of William Lyon Mackenzie King (David Beirne), which reimagines the former Canadian Prime Minister’s early life as a series of abject humiliations, both professional and sexual.  Though cartoonish in its looks, beware as there are segments of S&M, violence, sex, humiliation and other assorted nasties that should all be taken with a grain of salt.  The film is set in Toronto and likely with too Torontonian references like the Baron of of Mississauga and Ossington Apartments that might be over the heads of audiences not living in Toronto.  Still the film is a most original delight.  

Trailer: (unavailable)

White Lie Calvin Thomas, Yonah Lewis | Ontario

Shorts

Acadiana Guillaume Fournier, Samuel Matteau, Yannick Nolin | Quebec

Cityscape Michael Snow | Ontario

Delphine Chloé Robichaud | Quebec

Docking Trevor Anderson | Alberta

I Am in the World as Free and Slender as a Deer on a Plain Sofia Banzhaf | Ontario

Jarvik Emilie Mannering | Quebec

No Crying At The Dinner Table Carol Nguyen | Ontario

The Physics of Sorrow (Physique de la tristesse) Theodore Ushev | Quebec

Please Speak Continuously And Describe Your Experiences As They Come To You Brandon Cronenberg | Ontario

Throat Singing in Kangirsuk (Katatjatuuk Kangirsumi) Eva Kaukai, Manon Chamberland | Quebec

 

The Canada’s Top Ten shorts will be screened at TIFF Bell Lightbox in a programme format, on January 26, 2020.

THE TORONTO FILM CRITICS ASSOCIATION AWARDS 2019

Every year, the TFCA which I am a member of sit down and debate the best of the best in all the various film categories.  It is an exhaustive voting and nomination process.  The debates are always lively though they can get quite heated as well.

My main concern is that not every member has seen all the good films to vote.  My favorite two films this year LES MISERABLES and 1917 was were not nominated for this very reason.  Nothing one can do about that, so as they say, it is what it is.  

The best film is PARASITE afar a lively debate between it and THE IRISHMAN.

Christmas sees a release of a dozen or so more films, many not on the prize winning list.  BOMBSHELL, CATS, RICHARD JEWELL are late entries that again, missed the nominations.

Below is the complete list of 2019 nominees and winners.  The Winners are indicted with an asterisk.

 

BEST PICTURE:

The Irishman

Marriage Story

Parasite ***

 

BEST ACTOR:

Antonio Banderas, Pain and Glory

Adam Driver, Marriage Story   ***

Adam Sandler, Uncut Gems

 

BEST ACTRESS:

Scarlett Johansson, Marriage Story

Lupita Nyong’o, Us 

Renee Zellweger, Judy

 

BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR:

Willem Dafoe, The Lighthouse

Joe Pesci, The Irishman 

Brad Pitt, Once Upon a Time … in Hollywood    ***

 

BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS:

Laura Dern, Marriage Story   ***

Julia Fox, Uncut Gems 

Florence Pugh, Little Women

 

BEST DIRECTOR:

Noah Baumbach, Marriage Story

Bong Joon-ho, Parasite    ***

Martin Scorsese, The Irishman 

 

BEST SCREENPLAY:

The Irishman   ***

Marriage Story 

Parasite 

 

BEST FIRST FEATURE:

Atlantics 

Booksmart  ***

Queen & Slim 

 

BEST ANIMATED FEATURE: (there was a tie for 3rd)

How to Train Your Dragon…

Frozen 2

Missing Link   ***

Toy Story 4 

 

BEST FOREIGN-LANGUAGE FILM:

Pain and Glory

Parasite    ***

Portrait of a Lady on Fire 

 

BEST DOCUMENTARY FEATURE:

American Factory

Apollo 11   ***

The Cave 

Film Review: I LOST MY BODY (France 2019)

I Lost My Body Poster
Trailer

A story of Naoufel, a young man who is in love with Gabrielle. In another part of town, a severed hand escapes from a dissection lab, determined to find its body again.

Director:

Jérémy Clapin

Writers:

Jérémy Clapin (screenplay), Guillaume Laurant (screenplay) | 5 more credits »

This is animated feature follows a hand that journeys across Paris (particularly at night under the starry skies) encountering danger after danger in search of a quest that is kept from the audience till the very end of the film.  The hand travels by its walking fingers, finding its way without sight, since the hand has no eyes.  The exercise feels like ‘the hand’ in THE ADDAM’S FAMILY, but not in the horror sense.

Director Jeremy Clapin’s I LOST MY BODY went on to win the Critics’ Grand Prize at this year’s Cannes becoming the first animated feature to have done so.  It much have charmed the critics which is beyond my understanding.  The film is co-written by Guillaume Laurant who helmed charming films like AMELIE and A VERY LONG ENGAGEMENT with Jean-Pierre Jeunet.  I found the entire exercise exhaustive, uninteresting and a little boring, making little sense at all.

Clapin’s film tells twins stories of the hand and a young man named Naoufel (Hakin Paris) who lives with his uncle and his supposedly cool brother who gets all the girls.  During a botched pizza delivery, he encounters a young lady named Gabreille (Victoire Du Bois).  In what developed into a romance, he stalks her to the library where she works.  

At one point she loans him a book entitled THE WORLD ACCORDING TO GARP, which must have some significance to the film, which I determined is related to new existence.  The other story is about the hand trying to find the lost bBDYy.  How the two stories connect will not be disclosed in the review, but the revelation occurs near the end.

It is clear that the film has a weak narrative and both stories just float around, with with no real purpose.  Arguably, this could be directors’s Clapin’s purpose – to surprise and maybe charm from its free-flowing structure.

The film has some disturbing scenes like the one where the hand is down in the metro tracks with huge size rats sniffing the hand.  The rats sniff out the hand which pulls back before they attack it, biting viciously.  

The musical score by Dan Levy deserves mention, which creates the mood and atmosphere of the film.  The score is more appreciated for the fact that the film contains minimal dialogue.

The film is not about Noaufel’s romance or about the hand ultimately finding its body.  It is more about existence or perhaps the search for happiness and satisfaction.

But the film is generally uplifting despite the fact that it sparely about a hand trying to find its lost body.  One has to (pardon the pun) hand it to the filmmakers for making a whimsical fantasy on the subject of a severed hand.  At times clever, I LOST MY HAND has gone on to win many awards worldwide including the Annecy Film Festival.  There is a strong possibility I LOST MY BODY will be nominated for this year’s Academy Awards for Best Animated Feature.

Trailer: https://www.imdb.com/title/tt9806192/videoplayer/vi1391771417?ref_=tt_ov_vi

Film Review: RICHARD JEWELL (USA 2019) Top 10 *****

Richard Jewell Poster
Trailer

American security guard Richard Jewell (Paul Walter Hauser) saves thousands of lives from an exploding bomb at the 1996 Olympics, but is vilified by journalists and the press who falsely report that he was a terrorist.

Director:

Clint Eastwood

Writers:

Marie Brenner (magazine article), Billy Ray (screenplay)

From the film’s trailer that’s been playing everywhere, it does not take a genius to guess the film’s entire story.  But the film’s pleasure lies not in the story, that many are already aware of, from the news articles, but in the way the events are re-created on film, courtesy of veteran director Clint Eastwood (UNFORGIVEN, MILLION DOLLAR BABY), screenwriter Billy Ray and a stellar cast delivering winning performances including relative newcomer Paul Walter Hauser as the titular Richard Jewell.

The film was based on an article “American Nightmare” published by Vanity Fair in 1997 and chronicles the life of Richard Jewell during the events that led to a bomb attack at the 1996 Summer Olympics in Atlanta, Georgia.  Jewell then heroically saves lives after a bomb was detonated during the 1996 Summer Olympics. However, the FBI identifies him as one of many suspects and this leads to his unjust vilification by journalists and the press.  The FBI cleared  him after 88 days.

Everyone loves an underdog.  When a film shows the underdog finally winning, it becomes a winning movie.  But this movie takes things one step further.   The underdog is persecuted.  Richard Jewell who discovers the bomb is suspect of bringing in the bomb and has to clear his name.  “Put eyes on him.”  the FBI is told. 

Eastwood’s talent for music and fondness for country music can be witnessed in the enlivened scene in the Park where singer Kenny Rogers delivers an arousing song.  Eastwood did deliver one of his best films of his career (sadly a flop at the box-office), directing and starring him and his son, Kyle way back when in HONKYTONK MAN.

Eastwood’s film probably contains what is arguably the funniest segment in a film this year.  This occurs when the entire spectator group at the Kenny Rogers concert doing the ‘macarena’ much to the chagrin of FBI agent Shaw (Joe Hamm).

The film also probably contains the best message in a film this year. “This is what you got.  Go do you job, son!” says mother to son, Richard Jewell.

It is just simply endearing when a director takes the advice given in a movie script to heart.  When Jewell is pulled in the office for a pep-talk by the campus Dean on taking his security duties too seriously, like stopping kids on the road for drugs testing, Jewel replies that he was told by him at a punch bowl during a party “I don’t want no Mickey-Mousing on these campus grounds.”  Director Eastwood has taken this advice to heart.  No Mickey-Mousing in this film with him taking the material in all serious earnestness, in creating on of his better movies in his career.

To director Eastwood’s credit, he has inserted into what can be considered to be a male oriented story strong female presence.  The first is the well written and performed character of Jewell’s mother played by Oscar Winner Kathy Bates (MISERY).  Bates delivers magnificently in what could be a small under-written role.  Her one scene where she delivers a plea to the President of the United States to clear person’s name is proof that she deserves another Oscar for Best Supporting Actress.  Having downloaded the screener from the Warner Bros. site, I watched this segment 3 times as it was that awesome.  I cried all three times from Bates’ performance.  In what could be described as a hero without a  (human)villain piece, the villain is  the media as embodied n Scruggs, a reporter played with gusto by Olivia Wilde.  Wilde’s character is one that changes from pure greedy evil to person with a conscience.

RICHARD JEWELL is the story of a hero, not a fictitious one found in perhaps the Marvel alternative universe but one that lives, suffers and experiences life as a human being does on the Planet Earth.  This is the reason RICHARD JEWELL should be seen, as perhaps a sign of redemption for the human race that there is still much good to be found in the human race, especially during the Christmas season.

Trailer: https://www.imdb.com/title/tt3513548/videoplayer/vi1837612825?ref_=tt_ov_vi

Film Review: BOMBSHELL (USA 2019) ***1/2

Bombshell Poster
Trailer

A group of women decide to take on Fox News head Roger Ailes and the toxic atmosphere he presided over at the network.

Director:

Jay Roach

The film’s premise is simple enough that it can be stated in one line.  Women previously sexually harassed by Fox News CEO Roger Ailes  stand up and expose Ailes for his crime.

BOMBSHELL is a no-nonsense drama.  It gets right to the crux the matter with little humour and with no side-stories.  The film therefore turns out an uncomfortable and occasionally   gut-wrenching watch (even if one is a male) but this is a story that needs to be told – for the women and others to stand up and make a difference so that what has happened in the past will never happen again.

The script by Charles Randolph details the pure hell the abused women have to go through to attack Ailes.  “You must be prepared when Ailes summons everything and goes all out to destroy you,’ warn the lawyers taking up the case.  The truth can be seen in how the career, family and personal life have been made a living hell.

While most of the characters in the film are real-life characters, the film clearly states at the start that a few fictional ones have been added to dramatize the events.  One such character is a Fox worker, Kayla played by Margot Robbie, a victim who comes out to tell the story and cries why others have not done ether duty.

The single best performance belongs to Charlize Theron as Megyn Kelly.  Besides looking like a dead ringer for Megan Kelly, she totally inhabits the role.  Those who have followed the news on the subject will likely find it difficult to distinguish between Theron and Kelly.  This is how good Theron is and her performance has been praised widely by critics everywhere.  The other best performance belongs to John Lithgow who is daring enough to put on prosthetics to look even  more disgusting and older that Roger Ailes.  Ailes has passed away sine the movie had been completed.

Director Jay Roach known especially for his Austin Powers movies tackles BOMBSHELL with dead seriousness and little humour.  The one funniest punchline in the film is uttered by Roger Ailes when accused of sexually harassment of the women: “I never used to be this ugly.”  Roach has made political films before, as in TRUMBO (blacklisted screenwriter Dalton Trumbo)and the TV dramas such as GAME CHANGE and RECOUNT.

The success of BOMBSHELL might see the emergence of the similar sexual harassment case of Harvey Weinstein, which would likely have juicier bits.  

The film ends with titles informing certain events that have happened since the making of the film.  The titles mention the settlement amounts the sexually harassed victims obtained which is just as much as Ailes’ severance pay after his resignation.  The second statement is meant to anger the audience so that more can do their part to ensure sexual harassment and bullying stops, once and for all.  BOMBSHELL is a film about real life events that needs to be told.  The heroes in this movie are the victims who risk all to do all that needs to be done.

Trailer: https://www.imdb.com/title/tt6394270/videoplayer/vi2331492121?ref_=tt_ov_vi