Movie Review: PERSONAL SHOPPER (France 2016) ***

Deadlines to Submit your Screenplay, Novel, Story, or Poem to the festival: http://www.wildsound.ca

personal_shopper.jpgDirector: Olivier Assayas
Writers: Olivier Assayas (dialogue), Olivier Assayas (screenplay)
Stars: Kristen Stewart, Lars Eidinger, Sigrid Bouaz

Review by Gilbert Seah

 After the modest box-office success of CLOUDS OF SILS MARIA, director Oliver Assayas (IRMA VEP, CLEAN) and actress Kristen Stewart reunite with a moody ghost story called PERSONAL SHOPPER. The title character, Maureen is as the title implies, a personal shopper for a wealthy German model and designer, Kyra (Nora Von Waltstätten). Maureen also has a ghostly encounter from her recently dead brother who she was quite close with.
The closeness is explained in two reasons – necessary to convince the audience why she is so determined to have a spiritual encounter with him. One is that he is her twin. Second is that the both suffer from the same health issue, though someone could live till a hundred with it. What happened to the brother is explained by the doctor as a rarity. But Maureen cannot indulge in any excessive physical activity.

Within the first 15 minutes of the film’s running time, the only thing established is that Stewart plays a personal shopper and that she has had one ghost encounter. The audience is obvious primed for a slow haul of a movie. Not much has happened except that Stewart has been walking around, mucking around and just looking at dresses for Kyra. The dresses are very glamorous, for those who like to look at dresses. Maureen is forbidden to wear the dresses. But she does, even masturbating in one of the sexier ones.

PERSONAL SHOPPER works off Maureen’s character with a few side incidents. Maureen rides along on a scooter, has a few ghostly encounters (though not fully explained who the apparitions are), runs errands and has an uncomfortable encounter with a stalker on her mobile phone. The film contains a loose narrative but a strong presence in Kristen Stewart’s character. Assayas is in playful mood here milking the most out of his actress.

One side incident involving a murder is done Hitchcock style. Maureen discovers a brutal murder just as in the scene in Hitchcock’s THE BIRDS when the first attack of the birds was discovered.

As a ghost story, the ghost appears as an apparition similar to old ghost films with dust stirred up with blurred figures. The seance scene also looks typical of those in early ghost stories.

In the end, one eventually asks whether this light hearted ghost story is any fun. Well it might be for director Assayas and his star, but it might be too much of a slow and long haul for others. Assayas leaves his film with an open ending that might have some audiences dissatisfied. But on the same hand, PERSONAL SHOPPER is not a film that lends to a Hollywood ending. Having one would have destroyed the entire atmosphere of the film Assayas had so carefully created.

The film is shot in English, with some French and German spoken (and an elaborate German song) with a moody setting in both Paris and London. Interesting but not great!

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7hghXP4F3Qs

 

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Film Review: DONALD CRIED (USA 2015) ***

Deadlines to Submit your Screenplay, Novel, Story, or Poem to the festival: http://www.wildsound.ca

donald_cried.jpgDirector: Kris Avedisian (as Kristopher Avedisian)
Writers: Kris Avedisian (as Kristopher Avedisian), Kris Avedisian (screenplay)
Stars: Jesse Wakeman, Kris Avedisian, Louisa Krause

Review by Gilbert Seah

 DONALD CRIED is a weird title for a movie. The reason it is called that comes clear after half the movie has passed – and it is as weird a movie as its title. But not a bad one. DONALD CRIED is a two handler comedy about two losers. But don’t let what has been said turn you off this movie. Kris Avedisian who wrote and directed the film also stars as Donald and in DONALD CRIED has helmed a very original comedy piece that despite its simple setting, is an absorbing watch from start to end.

The first loser is Peter Latang (Jesse Wakeman). Peter had left his childhood home of Warwick, Rhode Island to reinvent himself as a slick, Wall Street mover and shaker. He is suddenly forced to return home to bury his grandmother. He hates Warwick. When the film opens, Peter arrives at the house and finds that he has lost his wallet on the train and unable to pay the cab driver. Peter is so annoying that the cab driver lets him off with the $15 fare instead of taking him to the train station to try to recover the wallet. Stranded and broke, Peter looks to the only person he can think of to help him out – his next door neighbour and former childhood friend Donald (played by Avedisian).

Then, the audience is introduced to an even greater loser – Donald.
Donald is a man-child who is more annoying than Peter. He speaks too close to ones face, is too much of a hugger and wears really bad clothes. Besides going on and on about things no one wants to hear about, Donald also unknowingly insults the one his is talking too. Imagine the question he asks Peter: “Do you masturbate still?” One scene has Donald at his place, almost naked reminiscing to Peter about old times. But the clincher scene has Peter waiting for Donald to finish playing his video game.

The rest of the film just follows the two ‘friends’ as they try to wrangle some cash that Peter desperately needs. They meet old acquaintances and do odd things like play football in the snow.

There are two segments that show the audience how f***ed-up Donald is. It is discovered that Donald had been impersonating Peter while is grandmother was sill alive. Donald pretended to be Peter so that the late grandmother would think her grandson had not left town. Another has Donald busting into the sex-making of Peter and his crush. These set-ups work well to test the relationship of the two buddies.

DONALD CRIED has begun its Toronto run at the Carlton Cinema from March 17th. The film won the American Independents Audience Award at AFI Fest and was an official selection at the 2016 SXSW Film Festival.

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qc6lSzU5loo

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Film Review: THE SECOND TIME AROUND (Canada)

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the_second_time_around.jpgDirector: Leon Marr
Writers: Leon Marr, Sherry Soules
Stars: Linda Thorson, Stuart Margolin, Laura de Carteret

Review by Gilbert Seah

 
Winner of the Audience Award for Best Feature Film at the Palm Beach Jewish Film Festival, and an audience favourite at numerous festivals such as Whistler Film Festival, U.K. International Jewish Film Festival, and Atlanta JFF, among others, THE SECOND TIME AROUND, the title tells it all, is about a second chance – a second chance at love. This is the kind of film that appears every 4 months or so, catering for the seniors, much like hits like COCOON.

Katherine Mitchell (Linda Thorson), a widowed yet vibrant senior, is not looking for love a second time – not at her age, and certainly not with grumpy Isaac Shapiro (Stuart Margolin). Her first line of dialogue in the film: “I prefer cut flowers to plants. When they die, you just throw them away.” She is entered into a convalescent home by her daughter, Helen (Laura de Carteret) after a hip injury. She is in a wheelchair. Convenient as made so by the script by Marr and Sherry Soules, both are widowed. Isaac and Katherine slowly fall in love, kissing and eventually taking their clothes off to sleep together (Don’t worry, the scene is done in good taste.)
The film moves at a slow pace suitable for the elderly that might be too slow for the video game audience. Director Marr (DANCING IN THE DARK) knows how to work his target audience. He has Mr. Shapiro sing to Katherine while dancing the song “The Second Time Around”. One cannot wish for a more romantic set-up. A few tears are also shed in the scene when the character Ben dies.

An artistically impressive seven is the one doe with shadows on he ceiling. Isaac drink and grumbles while Katherine leaves the room, shown as a shadow on the ceiling diminishing in size.

But as that title implies, the film is about a second chance in other areas as well. Katherine gets to Iive her dream of visiting the Opera House in Milan, Italy. But the film does not shy away from the realities of old age as well. As is the immobility, the intolerance of family members go caring for the elders, sickness an pain like athritis and migraines.

BAFTA Award Winner Linda Thorson (she was the first replacement of Diana Rigg’s Emma Peel in the popular TV series THE AVENGERS) delivers a sympathetic performance showing how dignified an prey her aged character can be. Stuart Margoloin (most famous for TV’s ROCKFORD FILES) also turns on his charm as her love interest. The two leads have good chemistry making the romance believable and charming. The late Don Francks (numerous TV series and the film FINIAN”S RAINBOW) who died last year has a small role as Murray.
The film has a good sweet ending with opera – Katherine’s first love. The soundtrack is full of beautiful music from famous opera pieces like Carmen and La Traviatta.

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ptLJTYw4WEI

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Film Review: Power Rangers (2017)

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power_rangers.jpgDirector: Dean Israelite
Writers: John Gatins (screenplay), Matt Sazama (story by)
Stars: Dacre Montgomery, Naomi Scott, RJ Cyler

Review by Gilbert Seah

Danger! Danger! Really bad and tacky opening sequence that is a forewarning of worst things to come! The film opens with a confrontation fight between two enemies, Zoltand and (yes, ridiculously named) Rita on the planet Earth before a meteor strikes. Voiceover informs that this is the Cenazora Era – whatever that means. Something is buried which, the audience can guess will be uncovered at the present time. All of what just occurred is a warning that the next 124 minutes of running time will be devoted to stupidity. The third POWER RANGERS film, which is actually a reboot by South African director Dean Israelite is an exercise in stupidity – in story, plot, action sequences and characterization. But the film, based on the successful TV series of the same name, is occasionally stupid fun!

The first POWER RANGERS film, MIGHTY MORPHIN POWER RANGERS: THE MOVIE in 1995 made lots but the second, made two years later, TURBO: A POWER RANGERS MOVIE flopped. Director Israelite has said that his new $100 million version will be more edgy, down-to-earth and deal with more human issues. Israelite who became famous with his found-footage film PROJECT ALMANAC shows the same tactic with his camera placed within the car that is being chased at the start of the film. The resulting jittery screen does not really do anything much in terms of excitement for the car chase. In fact, a better effect was created with the camera on he dashboard of the car in the bank robbery escape scene in David MacKenzie’s HELL OR HIGH WATER.

The story follows five teens with attitude (Israelite’s more human characters??) are inexplicably brought together by coincidence or destiny to become the newest generation in a line of warriors known as the Power Rangers. The world rests in their hands as Rita Repulsa (Elizabeth Banks), a powerful witch and former Power Ranger, launches an assault seeking the Zeo Crystal with an army of stone golems called Putties and a giant golden monster called Goldar.

Five is a number too large. The film has to give screen time to each power ranger, with boredom setting in as quickly as an unfunny joke falls flat. The leader is a disgraced football player, Jason Scott (Dacre Montgomery) who steals a bull at the start of the film. The other members are an assortment of different races and disabilities so obviously political correct that the entire enterprise looks downright silly. There is the autistic Afro-American (two in one), Billy Cranston (RJ Cyler), the gay Trini (Becky G), the asian Zack (Ludi Lin) looking after his bed-ridden mother and Kimberly (Naomi Scott) the only other white power ranger.

The special effects and action sequences are cheesy if not tacky. It would just as well to see actors in monster costumes fighting each other. The humour is awful and unfunny. Most of the acting is terrible as well. The high school kids are played by actors over twenty. In fact, Ludi Lin is around 30 years of age. Elizabeth Banks, hardly recognizable in heavy make-up and skimpy outfit, at leasts knows how to camp up her villainous character.

POWER RANGERS is obviously aimed at a kids audience. But children’s films could be really funny and entertain adults as well, as in films like the SHREK and the recent BEAUTY AND THE BEAST. POWER RANGERS is just plain awful and boring from start to end. This one competes with MONSTER TRUCKS as the worst imagined and executed film project this year.

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=J8ezPMcnnyY

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Film Review: LIFE (USA 2017) ***1/2

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life.jpgDirector: Daniel Espinosa
Writers: Rhett Reese, Paul Wernick
Stars: Jake Gyllenhaal, Rebecca Ferguson, Ryan Reynolds

Review by Gilbert Seah

LIFE is a new science fiction horror film directed by Daniel Espinosa, written by Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick (who both penned DEADPOOL and ZOMBIELAND) and starring two of Hollywood’s hottest stars Jake Gyllenhaal as Dr. David Jordan and Ryan Reynolds as Rory Adams. The two are part of a six-member eclectic crew of the International Space Station that uncovers what initially seems to be the first evidence of life on Mars.

LIFE is the scariest horror film so far this year. Espinosa and his writing crew know how to shock people with genuine scares, not using silly tactics like false alarms and the volume of the sound suddenly for no reason going three times as loud. The film is set in space. Space is an unknown entity to human beings. Anything can happen in space. The sight of space with little light and vast endless openness is in itself the scariest notion ever.

The film begins with voiceover and scenes describing an international space station. The film is totally successful in grabbing and maintaining the audience’s attention. Everyone has to listen and pay full attention – or some important fact will be missed. The first thrill of the film involves the capture of a space probe returning from Mars with a sample inside. This task is obviously successful (so no spoiler alert here). The crew is tasked with studying the sample, which may be the first proof of extraterrestrial life. However, the study eventually backfires as the organism displays incredible strength and gains intelligence. The creature becoming extremely hostile and killing them all one by one. Ariyon Bakare’s Hugh Derry is the first casualty in a segment where his pain is matched only by his screaming. Trapped aboard the ISS with the rapidly-growing organism humorously nicknamed Calvin, the crew must find out how to kill it before it manages to escape and destroy Earth.

There are two things going for this horror film – unpredictability and suspense build-up. Director Espinosa builds his film slowly but effectively to a horrifying climax. He knows how to create real terror. The segments in which the victim are attacked by the creature are almost impossible to watch, with the creature’s tentacles entering the mouths of its victims. These start occurring after the first half of the fpm right up to the very end. A little spoiler alert here – anyone of the crew could be done away with. Don’t be fooled by the star billing.

At times, the film feels like other space horror films like John Carpenter’s THE THING or Ridley Scott’s ALIEN films. But LIFE tries and succeeds to be different. For one the ending is totally unpredictable. But one has to probably discuss what actually happened as an explanation is not crystal clear and could be open to different interpretations.

Ridley Scott’s new ALIEN reboot (ALIEN: COVENANT) arrives in a few months.

How it will compare to Calvin is the anticipatory question.

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

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Film Review: WEIRDOS (Canada 2015) ***1/2

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weirdos_poster.jpgDirector: Bruce McDonald
Writers: Daniel MacIvor, Daniel MacIvor
Stars: Dylan Authors, Rhys Bevan-John, Francine Deschepper

Review by Gilbert Seah

When talking about this film last year at the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF), director Bruce McDonald says that he does not go commercial because this way, he gets to make the kind of film he wants. WEIRDOS is an excellent example of an indie film, so uniquely McDonald and East Atlantic (the setting being the province of Nova Scotia) as well being written by East Coast Award winning playwright and film director Daniel MacIvor. MacIvor also won the Canadian Screen Awards this year for Best Film Screenplay for this film.

Bruce McDonald (HARD CORE LOGO, THE TRACEY SEGMENTS) turns down the angst a little while keeping the film just as edgy, with WEIRDOS.

The setting is the town of Antigonish in Nova Scotia on the 4th of July of 1976, the American Bicentennial. Music-loving 15-year-old Kit (Dylan Authors) spends his time either alone in his room listening to Elton John albums, or hanging out with his platonic girlfriend, Alice (Julia Sarah Stone, from WET BUM). Like Kit, Alice feels out of place, and her divorced parents have too many issues of their own to offer much comfort. The film pays tribute to (or copies from, depending on how one wants at look at it) films like Woody Allen’s PLAY IT AGAIN SAM to John Schlesinger’s MIDNIGHT COWBOY. Andy Warhol, played by Rhys Bevan-John advises Kit just as Bogart advises the Woody Allen character. Warhol appears at various points in the film, unseen by anyone except Kit giving silly advice to Kit which Kit never takes anyway. This ploy by MacIvor is remotely funny, but serves no purpose but provide a little humour. The beginning of the film feels like MIDNIGHT COWBOY together with the falsetto part of the song resembling “Everybody’s Talkin’ of me” by John Nilsson.

I did not think too much of WEIRDOS the first time I saw it at TIFF, but this is one film that grows on you. Throughout the entire film, one has the feeling McDonald thinks he is pretty cool and that his film is pretty cool stuff. The film is a little weird, pretty much like its characters and like McDonald himself. WEIRDOS is the perfect title for the movie.

Just like the Oscar winning Best Film, MOONLIGHT, WEIRDOS has an unexpected coming-out gay story. Though gay, Kit has a girlfriend and also attempts sex, though to no avail. In my opinion, the gay subtext cleverer here that in MOONLIGHT.

The young actors Authors and Stone are both superb, innocent and winning. The older actors also stand out particularly Molly Parker as Kit’s slightly crazy mother.

The film also renders a good message for teens. The story has Kit’s dad (Stephen McHattie) drive all the way to pick his son up in Sydney when things go wrong. It shows how much parents love and go all the way out for their kids, even though they don’t realize or appreciate it.

They is arguable Bruce McDonald’s best movie.

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THE SETTLERS (Israel/France/Canada 2016) ***

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the_settlers.jpgDirector: Shimon Dotan
Writers: Oron Adar, Shimon Dotan

Review by Gilbert Seah

 The film begins with the figure shown in the image above of a Rabbi standing and overlooking the land he has settled in. THE SETTLERS are then explained to be Israelis that have settled in the occupied land of the Palestinians. Why? Because these are the lands occupied by their forefathers and the forefathers of their forefathers, down to the Biblical times of Abraham. These are religious people. They believe the land belongs to them. Director Doton shows that some of these people are religious zealots leaning towards terrorist actions. The map of the region is shown on the screen for audiences to understand better the whole picture.

In the press notes Dotan says: “I made The Settlers because, in my view, the Settlement Enterprise has the most dramatic impact on the future of Israel, and the discussion about it, is often misinformed,” Dotan says. “I set out to explore the reality in the West Bank settlements. But it soon became clear that I had to go back to the roots, to where and when the West Bank settlements began.”

A good point about the film is the fact that desire being directed by an Israeli, it offers two points of view. Dotan himself has lived in a kibbutz when young and served in the Israeli military. Being highly educated, not to be biased but to have an educated point of view, his film takes no sides. He allows a Palestinian, a Human Rights expert a lot of screen time to put the troubles into perspective.

The conflict between the Arabs and Jews, the Israelis and the Palestinians is an unending one. This documentary gives a comprehensive history lesson up to the present time. The events unfolds in chronological order. History can be interesting or boring. Students of history often complain on the irrelevance of the past. The history lesson here is clearly the exception. The assassination of ex-President Rabin is also brought into perspective.

Director Dotan is an all qualified director, as stated above, to present the lesson. Dotan was born in Romania in 1949 and moved to Israel in 1959. He himself grew up in Moshav Arugot, an agricultural cooperative. He then served five years in the Israeli military as a Navy Seal before becoming a filmmaker. He went on to get his BFA at Tel Aviv University, where his student films won Israel’s Best Short Film and Best Director Awards twice. Dotan is the recipient of numerous awards including, the Special Jury Prize for Best World Documentary Feature at Sundance Film Festival (Hot House), Silver Bear for Best Actor at Berlin Film Festival (Smile of the Lamb), Best Film Award at Newport Beach Film Festival (You Can Thank Me Later), two times winner of Israeli Academy Award for Best Film and Best Director (Repeat Dive, Smile Of The Lamb) and others. So, THE SETTLERS is a solid documentary filled with archive footage (many grainy black and white), and interviews from rabbis and the first settlers.

Dotan never judges the extremists, though one feels that his film is a bit biased against these settlers, who just enter and occupy Palestinian land. THE SETTLERS ends up more an important and essential history lesson for those that need to know, less understand the conflict that hopefully will come to a peaceful end in the future. What is clear is that there is too much hatred and racism and there is no impel solution.

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gO2LRxXeBr0

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