Film Review: KLAUS (Spain 2019) ***1/2

Klaus Poster
Trailer

A simple act of kindness always sparks another, even in a frozen, faraway place. When Smeerensburg’s new postman, Jesper, befriends toymaker Klaus, their gifts melt an age-old feud and deliver a sleigh full of holiday traditions.

Directors:

Sergio PablosCarlos Martínez López (co-director)

Writers:

Zach Lewis (screenplay by), Jim Mahoney (screenplay by) | 2 more credits »

From director Sergio Pablo’s animation studios come his feature debut, a toy friendly feature animation that runs like a Santa Claus story.  Serving as a fictional origin story to the myth of Santa Claus, the plot revolves around a postman stationed in a town to the North who befriends a reclusive toy-maker (called Klaus).

Jesper (Jason Schwartzman) comes from a wealthy family in the postal business, and is a selfish brat with no life ambitions whatsoever.  When Jesper’s father puts him in the royal postal academy in an attempt to teach him that hard work pays and being from a rich family is not a shoo in to wealth, he deliberately distinguishes himself to be the academy’s worst student, and so his father comes up with another plan to teach him a lesson: he is stationed on a island above the Arctic Circle by his father, with the ultimatum that if he doesn’t post 6,000 letters in a year, he will be cut off from the family.

Jesper gets into the island’s town of Smeerensburg and is shown around by a sarcastic ferry boat skipper who tricks him into ringing a bell to start the reception, instead revealing that the town inhabitants hardly exchange words let alone letters; they are divided, feuding locals filled with anger, bitterness, hatred and animosity. Trying desperately to come up with a way to get the town locals to send letters, he notices on the map in his office a far off little establishment. Investigating, he finds a woodsman named Klaus (J.K. Simmons), with a skill of woodworking and a house with lots of handmade toys.

The film works in different ways, with charm of a different nature from those expected from the Disney studios.  The film pays a little tribute to the Road Runner/Coyote cartoons in the segments where Klaus has problems with different deliveries – chased by chickens and other assorted animals; climbing up steps.  Charm also occurs with play of the Santa Claus legend.  Klaus delivers toys through chimneys unnoticed by the kids and love cookies.  The wonder of young love: ‘the heart palpitations, the intense looks… ‘ are experienced by Klaus and the female schoolteacher (Rashida Jones).

The humour is strictly of the goofy type, more suitable for children but would also be able to grab a few smiles from adults.  A lot of humour also plays to the Klaus story: “Do you still want to throw that snowball and be on the naughty list?” tells Klaus to a child.  The film also reveals the origin of Santa Claus ‘Ho-ho-ho” laugh.

The villain of the piece is a hunched over old lady (Joan Cusack) with bad teeth.  She is head of a warring clan.  The town’s main two fighting clans have to create peace to destroy the peace of the town, to maintain their clan traditions.

The originals score by Alfonso G. Aguilar is impressive and  the original song “Invisible” writer by Justice Tranter isn’t half bad either.

With a message like “An act of goodwill always sparks another…” it is hard to dislike KLAUS with its over-bearing charm and catchy cheer.  

The animation is an original Netflix feature that opened beginning of November.  It is still available on Netflix for the Christmas season.  KLAUS turns out an over-feel good different version of TOY STORY.

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=taE3PwurhYM

Film Review: BROTHERHOOD (Canada 2019)

Brotherhood Poster

In 1926, a band of teenage boys arrive at Long Point Camp for the adventure of their lives. When their canoe capsizes in a freak summer storm, their holiday descends into a soul-shuddering fight for survival.

Director:

Richard Bell

Writer:

Richard Bell

In 1926, a band of teenage boys arrive at Long Point Camp for the adventure of their lives. When their canoe capsizes in a freak summer storm, their holiday descends into a soul-shuddering fight for survival.

How many and who survives will add in to the film’s suspense.

Based on the harrowing true story that made newspaper headlines across North America in the 1920s, Brotherhood is a taut survival from a bristling piece of Canadian history.  The boys are under the charge of Great War veterans, Arthur (Brendan Fletcher) and Robert (Brendan Fehr) have their own approach to educating and nurturing these boys who are pugnacious with raw personalities.  Arthur and Robert set off across the lake in a thirty-foot Indian war canoe with the unofficial band of brother’s leader Waller and ten of his companions.  (Yes, unlucky 13 in all).  When they encounter a freak summer storm and are capsized in the middle of the churning lake, the brotherhood’s holiday descends into a soul-shuddering fight for survival.

The Brotherhood of St. Andrew leadership group in the movie was out of St. James’ Cathedral in downtown Toronto. The film provokes conversations about thinking less for ourselves, and more for our tribe. A story about bravery, sacrifice, and selflessness.

Despite the earnest intentions of director Bell and the fact that Bell insists that this is a story that needs be told, BROTHERHOOD is a pretty bad movie.  The canoe capsizes in the dark in the middle of the night in the lake.  The scene look like some amateur staging in someone’s backyard pond.  The majority of the shots are close-outs without a realistic look of the landscape.  The film is filmed in non-chronological order.  The first time, the scene appears with the boys struggling in the water, one wonders what has happened.  The decision to film in this order is also a bad one.  It removes the suspense when intercut with scenes before an after the catastrophe.

The lack on material is clear with scenes like Lamden does push-ups   The boys also reminisce of past memories which are likely made up for the film.

The film lacks suspense, thrills or any realistic drama.  The drama on display appear staged and seem unbelievable at best.

The stories of the background of the boys are barely interesting and serve as a time waster.

BROTHERHOOD is very much a male movie.  The only female presence is the mother of one of the more troubled boys, seen only in the film’s flashbacks.  Boys do what they do in thee movie – argue and fight; do sports; and challenge authority.  The young actors do a good job despite the limited material.

Closing credits inform that Balsam Lake was dragged and all the bodies of the dead boys wee found.  Butcher and Lamden wee declared heroes.

The only thing commendable about BROTHERHOOD is the beautiful country landscapes of Ontario, captured in all their beauty by cinematographer Adam Swica and shot on First nations land in Ontario.

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Zcd9_MgqKaM

Film Review: ANTIGONE (Canada 2019) ***1/2

Antigone Poster
Trailer

A modern adaptation of the classic Greek tragedy which falls within a social realism. To the law of men, the young Antigone apposes her own sets of values.

Director:

Sophie Deraspe

Writer:

Sophie Deraspe (adaptation)

Two French language films involving police brutality (in these films, police opening fire causing riots) make this year nomination entries for their country’s Best Foreign Language Film entries.  ANTIGONE is Canada’s entry for the Best Foreign Film.  LES MISERABLES is France’s entry.  Both films are quite different.  The short list has at the time of writing not yet been announced.

ANTIGONE is an ambitious film adapted from the classic Greek tragedy. 

ANTIGONE is the name of a Lebanese immigrant living in Montreal with her grandmother, sister and two brothers.  The film begins with a dinner scene where the audience is introduced to each family member.  Things look rosy for the new Canadian family.  Antigone has a romantic fling with a white Canadian boy whose father is running for politics office.

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.

By helping her brother escape from prison, Antigone confronts the authorities: the police, the judicial and penal system as well as the father of her friend Haemon. The brilliant teenage girl, on a spotless path so far, feels the noose tighten on her. But to man’s law, she substitutes her own sense of justice, dictated by love and loyalty

Director Deraspe always has some new twist in the story, as the film progresses.  Antigone discovers that the brothers are not as innocent as they seem.  The arrested one is part of a local drug gang in which the shot brother held a high position.  Antigone is arced with a dilemma.  Family for citizenship?  The film stresses both the importance of family as well as the need to lookout for oneself and not be bogged down by family.  After all, it is one that is responsible for ones own life.  The decision Antigone takes is revealed in the film’s final shot.

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.  There is always good people out there.  The good people out there in this film turns out to be Antigone’s white boyfriend’s father who goes out of his way to do the right thing and earn back the respect of his son.

ANTIGONE is a film deserving of the distinguished honour of being selected as Canada’s entry for the Bets Foreign Film Oscar.  But LES MISERABLES is the better picture as it is more spectacular and daring in its storytelling, taking more risk than ANTIGONE does.  Still ANTIGONE plays more with conflicting raw emotions.  ANTIGONE starts off slow, but it hits boiling level pretty fast.  Definitely worth a look, the film went on to win the prize of Best Canadian Feature at the last Toronto International Film Festival.

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

Film Review: JUST MERCY (USA 2019) ***

Just Mercy Poster
Trailer

Just Mercy shadows world-renowned civil rights defense attorney Bryan Stevenson as he recounts his experiences and details the case of a condemned death row prisoner whom he fought to free.

Writers:

Destin Daniel Cretton (screenplay), Andrew Lanham (screenplay) | 1 more credit »

Based on a true story – the titles proclaim at the start of the legal drama JUST MERCY.  The film opens on Christmas Day so that it qualifies for the 2019 Academy Awards.

It tells the true story of Walter McMillian (Jamie Foxx), who with the help of young defense attorney Bryan Stevenson (Michael B.Jordan) appeals his murder conviction. The film is based on the memoir of the same name, written by Bryan Stevenson.

As expected, courtroom dramas about civil rights come with a whole lot of manipulation.  Manipulation is recognizably present in JUST MERCY, though director Cretton’s credit, the manipulation is done with some restraint.

The audience needs to feel the horror of death by the electric chair in order to appreciate the trauma prisoners on death row are experiencing.  Director Cretton denotes almost 15 minutes in this manipulative process.  Bryan travels all the way down to witness the election by electrocution of one of his clients, Herbert Richardson (Rob Morgan).  The camera follows the prisoner as he is walked through the corridors, together with the soundtrack of the church hymn “The Old Rugged Cross.”  The other prisoners in the jail clank their tin cups during the ‘ceremony’.    The camera focuses on several witnesses like one of the guards, Bryan, and others.  At least the audience is spared from the gory details of the execution.  The audience only sees the reactions of the witnesses.  But that is enough manipulation for 15 minutes.   The other noticeable manipulative segment is the one whee the D.A. watches the proceedings of the case on TV with his family.  The D.A. insists he is right, despite the McMillian’s innocence.  The camera pans to the D.A.’s wife to show her disapproval of her husband’s actions and behaviour.

Courtroom dramas almost always require elaborate speeches and JUST MERCY delivers the speech during the McMillian’s crucial trial delivered by lawyer Bryan Stevenson.  The speech will undoubtedly make many a critic shrug “humbug” under their breaths while audiences will likely lap it up.  The message of justice and hope appears to come contradictory to the message i another Christmas film 1017 were hope is declared as a dangerous thing.  In JUST MERCY, hope is declared as important as justice.  Both films are correct and the concept of hope  needs be taken in an appropriate context.

Of all the performances combined, that of Tim Blake Nelson as the convicted felon, Ralph Myers whose false testimony resulted in McMillain’s arrest and death sentence deserves mention.  The photograph of Myers looks exactly as that portrayed by Nelson complete with the mouth twitches.  Nelson gets my one or this year’s Best Supporting Actor.

JUST MERCY over dramatizes a real true life event in the typical Hollywood style.  Those looking for a feel-good history lesson might enjoy this, but this film is no TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD.  The film’s most amusing segment is the townfolk insisting that the visiting lawyer, Bryan visit the Mockingbird museum when he is in the town, right where the proud citizen believe that are innocent of their bigoted ways.

Opens Christmas Day!

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GVQbeG5yW78

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

1917 Poster
Trailer

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.

Director:

1917 Poster
Trailer

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.

Director:

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.

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

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.

Director:

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
Trailer

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”.

Director:

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.

Trailer: https://ca.video.search.yahoo.com/yhs/search?fr=yhs-dcola-005&hsimp=yhs-005&hspart=dcola&p=trailer+joker#id=1&vid=b8d5e4cd2b8612f20aaba3cc8156ea6d&action=click