Film Review: GLASS (USA 2018)

Glass Poster
Trailer

Security guard David Dunn uses his supernatural abilities to track Kevin Wendell Crumb, a disturbed man who has twenty-four personalities.

Writers:

M. Night ShyamalanM. Night Shyamalan (characters)

GLASS is a superhero thriller written, produced and directed by M. Night Shyamalan. The film is a sequel to Shyamalan’s previous films UNBREAKABLE (2000) and SPLIT(2016), cumulatively forming the Eastrail 177 Trilogy.  All the main stars are present – Bruce Willis, Samuel L. Jackson, Spencer Treat Clark, and Charlayne Woodard who reprise their Unbreakable roles, while James McAvoy and Anya Taylor-Joy return as their Split characters.

The premise is the fight between good and evil, the good being the super hero David Dunn (Willis) and the bad the McAvoy split characters.

The film opens two years after the events of SPLIT.   David Dunn (Willis) works with his now adult son Joseph (Clark) in using his superhuman abilities to protect people from criminals under a new alias known as “The Overseer”.   This part is incredibly silly and unbelievable.  David learns from Joseph that Kevin Wendell Crumb (McAvoy), who suffers from dissociative identity disorder, has a group of cheerleaders held up in a warehouse.  David goes to free them after discovering the fact out of pure coincidence but encounters one of Kevin’s personalities known as “The Beast,” and the ensuing fight spills out into the streets.  The Philadelphia police department are called leading to the eventual capture of both David and Kevin.  Why David is brought in is never really explained as he has done no harm. The two are sent to a mental institution where Elijah Price (Samuel L. Jackson), David’s sworn enemy, in another wild coincidence, is being held.

Shyamalan introduces a new character into the story.  Dr. Ellie Staple (Sarah Paulson) is the head doctor of the mental institution and works with patients who claim to have special powers. In order to have them suppress those thoughts, she tries to persuade them that there is no such thing as superhuman powers and that they actually have a mental illness. Meanwhile, Elijah (Jackson) is secretly working with Kevin to unleash “The Beast” and expose the world to the existence of superheroes. With the help of “The Beast,” Elijah escapes but he is soon pursued by David, who again battles Kevin on the institution’s grounds.  The Dr. Staple character is the silliest of all the characters – coming off as a  pompous dumb bitch know-it-all who will obviously be roved wrong, cliche-wise at the end of the story.

At this point, the film appears to have gone through full circle with nothing at all accomplished.

GLASS is a trilogy of two UNBREAKABLE, SPLIT and this one.  A word of warning that one must be familiar with the other two films or end up completely lost in following the plot or characters in GLASS.  Director Shyamalan makes no attempt to update his audience to the current proceedings of GLASS.  

One point of observation.  This is the rare film where the actor Samuel L. Jackson’s character does not utter the ‘mf’ word.

Shyamalan make a guest cameo at a store in the film.  He sees David Dunn and mentions that he recognizes the man from the stadium where Dunn used to work security, stating that he used to do shady things when younger.  Those familiar with UNBREAKABLE will recall that Shyamalan gave himself a cameo in UNBREAKABLE selling drugs at the stadium.

There are many reasons that the word ‘split’ would apply to GLASS.  One is the main character from SPLIT portrayed by Jame McAvoy who is also one of the lead characters in GLASS.  Second, the film splits between the thriller and super action hero genres though unfortunately not blending well.  The fight scenes are minimal and the thrills and suspense are also unimpressive.  As GLASS contains two main characters, one from SPLIT and the other, the Bruce Willis superhero from UNBREAKABLE, there was debate regarding the film’s distribution.  Distribution is now split.  Universal now distributes the film in North American while Buena Vista (UNBREAKABLE was from Touchtone Pictures) internationally.  Willis’ performance is stoic while McAvoy’s is downright crazy as he switches from one personality to another instantly.  Director Shyamalan films often splits between the excellent (SIGNS, THE SIXTH SENSE, UNBREAKABLE, SPLIT, THE VISIT) and the duds (LADY IN THE WATER, THE LAST AIRBENDER, AFTER EARTH).  Unfortunately, GLASS belongs to the latter category.  Audiences will undoubtedly be split on whether liking or hating GLASS.  But GLASS is long, boring, too dead serious on its subjects despite the general silliness overall.

At the promo screening, a fair portion of the audience stayed to the end of the closing credits as in SPLI there a was a surprise appearance of Bruce Willis at the ed of that film signalling the sequel GLASS.  No such luck in GLASS.

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Q7ztHi9ejp4

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Film Review: WILDLIFE (USA 2018) *** Directed by Paul Dano

Wildlife Poster
Trailer

A teenage boy must deal with his mother’s complicated response after his father temporarily abandons them to take a menial and dangerous job.

Director:

Paul Dano

Writers:

Paul Dano (screenplay by), Zoe Kazan (screenplay by) | 1 more credit »

Paul Dano, in his early 30’s  is an excellent actor who has been seen in a diverse range of films from COWBOYS AND ALIENS to 12 YEARS A SLAVE.  He has delivered outstanding performances in his films, the best of which is with Daniel Day Lewis, holding his own with the multiple Oscar Winner in P.T. Anderson’s THERE WILL BE BLOOD in which a troubled teen learns of life.

Having proven his active chops, Dano has now taken on directorial reins in a new film again centring on a troubled teen.  Dano also co-wrote the script with his partner Zoe Kazan, this giving the film a female point of view.  It is familiarity that Dano has dealt with and it is of no surprise that the actor he has chosen to play the 14-year old protagonist, Joe looks somewhat like a younger version of himself.

The film is set in 1960, Montana.  Jeannette (Carey Mulligan) and Jerry Brinson (Jake Gyllenhaal) have recently moved to Great Falls, Montana with their teenage son Joe (Ed Oxenbould).  Tensions build after Jerry is fired from a low esteemed job as a golf pro at a country club.  He is offered his old job back but refuses out of pride, and instead of looking for work, he sleeps in his car and watches the local firefighting efforts against a forest fire raging in nearby mountains.  To support the family as Jerry looks for a job, Jeannette takes a job as a swimming instructor, while Joe works at a local photography studio.  One day, Jerry decides to take a low-paying job fighting the forest fire, which upsets Jeannette and worries Joe.  Jeannette speaks openly about her strained marriage with Jerry to Joe, and the stress of the situation takes a minor toll on Joe’s school life.  

While Jerry is away, Jeannette becomes romantically involved with one of her students, Warren Miller (Bill Camp), a rich older man who owns an automobile dealership.  Fireworks begin when Jerry returns and Jeannette announces that she is moving out – all this inferno of and to Joe’s dismay.

WILDLIFE s a simply told family drama but one told with conviction.  The mountains and icy landscape look stunning in  the background, reflecting the loneliness of people in  the vast surroundings.  Dana connects the audience with both points of view, that of the mother and the father but it is the story of the young son.   “I surprised myself and had a good time.  Did you?”  asks the mother to Joe and one point int he film, illustrating how the film looks from the woman’s point of view and then when there is no answer from the son, switches perspective back to the son.

The desperation of the mother is what propels the family woes.  She tells Joe after Joe catches her making out with Miller.  “He wants to make it better.  Maybe you got a better plan.  I wish I was dead.”

It is a common story of father leaving home to get a decent job while mother becomes restless.  There is really nothing Joe can do.  He wants to keep the family together, but all he can do is to say how each misses the other.

Dana keeps his film on track as Joe’s coming-of-age passage as he is forced to navigate the complex dynamics of adult relationships and figure out what to make of the woman who used to be just Mom.   A well paced family drama with real characters from Paul Dana. 

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=q77YXl_ujBM

Film Review: ASH IS THE PUREST WHITE (China 2018) ****

Ash Is Purest White Poster
A story of violent love within a time frame spanning from 2001 to 2017.

Director:

Zhangke Jia

Writer:

Zhangke Jia

The first 15 minutes of ASH IS THE PUREST WHITE shows the difference between China and the western world.  Everyone is smoking in the train that gos into the city.  Smoking is still allowed everywhere in 2001, China.   When Qiao arrives at a mah-jong parlour. she hits several men who tease her hard on the back.  Hitting is tolerated.  A debt argument in the parlour results in a firearm pulled out and pointed at the debtor.  This is clearly a China or country one is unfamiliar with, which would make a good intriguing story for a film.  The first half of the film is set in 2001 and the second half in 2006 after Qiao has served a 5-year jail sentence for firing an illegal gun.  She did it to protect her gangster boyfriend, who leaves her when she gets out of jail.

The story follows Qiao, a strong willed woman who survives the changing environment of cultural progress and her relationship changes.  Qiao never break down.  The film begins in Shanxi, a dying coal town, where Qiao, a modern, feisty local beauty spends her time with her boyfriend, Guo Bin, a local gang boss.  Qiao takes care of her father, who insists on fighting for the coal workers’ rights, although in an embarrassing fashion.  Qiao is not Bin’s woman, as she carries herself as an equal among gangsters. When a group of young thugs starts making noise in the town, the clash with Bin’s gang is inevitable, and in the film’s most violent scene, Qiao ends up saving her boyfriend by shooting a gun, in a series of events that lead her to prison.

Five years later, and during the fourth phase in the evacuation of the Three Gorges Dam Project area, Qiao is released and tries to reconnect with Bin, who is is avoiding her.

ASH is a female dominated picture.  The protagonist, Qiao is a survivor.   When she is robbed, she pursues and cares her thief and retrieves the stolen I.D. and money.  When sex affronted by a motorcyclist, she steals his bike.  The film is told from Qiao’s point of view.

Jia’s sprawling film can hardly be classified as a particular type of genre.  It is a character study while the protagonist undergoes changes in her life as society progresses as well.  New cities have sprung up and adapting is difficult.  Jia’s shows that one cannot always control destiny.  Qiao and Bin begins as a  decent couple, not overtly loving but not in an abusive relationship either.  Bin’s gangster connections lead him to trouble. One can see and pity Qiao.  She loves him and sacrifices 5 years of her life for the man she loves, spending it in prison and still helping him along when Bin loses everything while becoming a cripple.  One can see Bin’s bitterness.  Bin also cheats on Qiao with another woman.  “I don’t hate you.  I do not have any feelings for you,” Qiao tells Bin at the end.

The film’s message is revealed during early in the film.  Bin tells Qiao, “Enjoy the moment.”

Jia’s film is never short of surprises.  The surprises propel the narrative and are not without reason.  One of these involves Qiao on a train where she meets, by chance a loud man trying to recruit others for his UFO-tourism company.  “Yes, I have seen one.” Qiao quips.

ASH IS THE PUREST WHITE  is a moving story, one so deep in emotional content that it should keep audiences fully glued to the characters and the story.

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

Film Review: LE GRANDE NOIRCEUR (THE GREAT DARKENED DAYS) (Canada 2018) ***

While a world war rages, Philippe, a draft-dodger from Quebec, takes refuge in the American West, surviving by competing in Charlie Chaplin impersonation contests. As Philippe makes his … See full summary »

Director:

Maxime Giroux

Writers:

Simon Beaulieu (co-writer), Maxime Giroux (co-writer) | 1 more credit »

If there is a weird Canadian film of 2018, LE GRANDE NOIRCEUR must surely be the one.  Writer/director Maxine Giroux’s last film was Félix et Meira — which won the Best Canadian Feature at TIFF in 2014, but the two films are worlds apart.   LE GRANDE NOIRCEUR makes no sense at all, in setting, theme, structure, but it is this weirdness that makes Giroux’s film so fascinating.  And frustrating.  The film feels like a Kafka horror movie.

The setting could be the dystopian future, or during the World War II or even World War 1.  The film hints of the Trump-era  where things are about or already gone to shit.   Still there is the General Patton’s famous speech heard on the radio at one point in the film.  “No bastard ever won the war by dying for his country  He won the war by making the other poor dumb bastard die for his country.”  There is the unseen fascistic leader eerily conjuring the idea of “the other” currently playing out in the real world.

The film’s protagonist is Philippe (Martin Dubreuil), a would-be Québécois actor.  When the film opens, the audience see him dressed as Charlie Chaplin amidst a sea of other Chaplin impersonators.  Apparently, Philippe wins this contest and the money.  It is also revealed that Philippe has dogged the draft and escaped from Montreal to an unnamed southwestern American state.  He is robbed, stuck there and forced to deal with crushing poverty, a collapsing moral order, and persecution, all sparked by an ongoing, vaguely outlined war and the odious ethics of an unseen leader whose rants over the radio touting success at all costs.  Yet all around him, Philippe only sees abject squalor and a fearsome propaganda machine recalling 1930s-era Germany.

This is Philippe’s horror road trip.  Philippe meets an aloof, proud woman (Sarah Gadon) who lives in a cave/abandoned basement.  She introduces another girl as her dog.  Philippe also meets a nasty ringmaster (played by French actor Romain Duris) who tortures the weak to force them to become informants.  Already an outsider because of his  (French/Quebecois) accent, Philippe jumps from the frying pan into the fire.

Giroux’s film is filled with surprises or rather shocks.  His film gets really nasty at times.  The girl dog gets her tongue cut out by her mistress at one point.  Philippe is covered in mud shoulder down and tortured with his face dunked in the mud.  These are not pretty sights and hard for audiences to stomach.  One also wonders of the purpose of all this surrealistic horror.  At times, nothing makes any sense.

Near the end, Philippe wakes up from all the hour and finds himself in the midst of a desert.  He meets a Lucky Strike cigarette salesman with his briefcase full of Lucky Strike packages.  The encounter is weird and occasionally homo-erotic,

See THE GREAT DARKENED DAYS if you dare!  The film guarantees a really dark experience!

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?time_continue=9&v=seUDYmbbn0s

Film Review: WHAT IS DEMOCRACY? (Canada 2018) ***1/2

What Is Democracy? Poster

The National Film Board of Canada (NFB)’s WHAT IS DEMOCRACY? just nominated for Best Canadian Documentary by the Vancouver Film Critics Circle is the kind of educational film made for students to watch in schools where lots of information is provided on the subject as if coming directly from a textbook on democracy.  The origin of the word is also explained in the film, to illustrate the amount of detail going into its research.

The film questions what it means to want to live in democracy.  Therefore the question asked is what the word even means.  WHAT IS DEMOCRACY? is an idiosyncratic, philosophical journey spanning millennia and continents: from ancient Athens’ groundbreaking experiment in self-government to capitalism’s roots in medieval Italy; from modern-day Greece grappling with financial collapse and a mounting refugee crisis to the United States reckoning with its racist past and the growing gap between rich and poor.

Celebrated theorists Silvia Federici, Cornel West, Wendy Brown, and Angela Davis are joined by trauma surgeons, activists, factory workers, asylum seekers, former prime ministers and others, in a film speaking to the camera or interviewed by Taylor, that connects past and present, the emotional and the intellectual, the personal and the political, to provoke critical dialogue about our future.

Though not really a feminist film, it should be noted (not a bad thing) that most of the interviewees and those involved in the making of the film including the director (who doubles her function as interviewer) are women.

  Trump is given screen time. Surprisingly Trump is not dismissed as a bad President but given due respect as well as reasons he got elected.  An identical situation can be applied to Brexit.  The masses are fed up with the elected who have forgotten the people. The Democrats have forgotten the people, says one American.  So when Trump goes down to the people at their level, he won their confidence.

An eye-opener is also revealed on how Americans are cheated on democracy in voting, especially the poorer and black parts of the United States.

Also interesting is the segment on Greece.  Greece has been in financial crisis and has to be bailed out by the other European Union countries that claim that Greece have lived beyond their means and now they have to pay. The film reveals another side that does not reflect well on the banks and the authorities.

There are lots in the film that will titillate the mind.  After all, it is the philosophers who had a big deal to do with the concept of democracy, as the film implies.  The film’s best segment has young students talking about democracy.  They talk about the results of their complaints in school, one in articular that resulted in the school taking away the vending machines.  They claim that the teachers say that they get paid regardless what they do and that the students need to go to college to success and be happy.  Yet they do not set the example.  It is a very moving and realistic situation that touches the heart.

The film summarizes democracy simply as justice – the right to self rule.  The film also demonstrates selective democracy and that real democracy is practically unattainable.  

The film will be back in the city on January 26 at Ryerson University at the DemocracyXChange Summit—a new annual event co-founded by the Open Democracy Project and the Ryerson Leadership Lab—where Taylor will deliver a keynote address, followed by an evening screening of her film.

Trailer: https://vimeo.com/266692157

Film Review: PUGLI: A PUG’S LIFE (Canada 2018) ***

Pugly follows the triumphs and struggles of 3 rescue pugs, and explores the current craze for flat-faced dogs.

For dog lovers, especially pug lovers, arrives this lovable documentary of the lives of 3 rescue pugs together with some insight on the world of pugs.  Even for those who are unamused by pugs, PUGLI is an enjoyable if not educational doc on the subject.

The film explores the current craze for flat-faced dogs and follows the trials, tribulations and triumphs of three pug dogs as they journey from rescue, to foster care, to their forever homes.

The first pug is Gunner.  Gunner is a two-year-old pug in the care of Pugalug, Toronto’s pug rescue network led by self-professed “Crazy Dog Lady” Blanche Axton.  As she prepares Gunner for adoption, we meet a growing community of “squishy-faced dog” devotees with big personalities, and follow their stories of heroism, humour and heartbreak.  Dogs are not allowed for adoption until they are at least well and adopters are made aware of the new pet’s ailments as pets medical bills can come out to the thousands.  Gunner is adorable and his medical problems do not show.

Next, the audience sees the glamorous side of the pug life, as cover girl Miss Pickles the Pug wins the Now Magazine (the Toronto few news and events weekly) prize for Best Instagram account.   

There is Helmut, superstar of the monthly “Pug Grumble” at Toronto’s Trinity Bellwoods Park, as he takes a break in his busy schedule for a photo shoot for the Canada Pooch clothing company. 

Other minor pug stars include red-carpet movie star Igor Pugdog and his little brother Zombie are featured in their very own yearly calendar – a Pugalug Pug Rescue fundraising initiative driven by motorcycle-riding pug-lover Tracey Silverthorn.

The film also pays special attention to the owners.  Yes, there are dog ladies as well – but with supportive husbands.  These people are revealed to be committed owners who must nurse their pugs through the myriad medical problems that can plague flat-faced dogs.  Titus is a half-blind pug crippled by a congenital condition but he will not give up barking and chasing after speeding trains.  His doting owner Erin carries him everywhere he goes, and ensures that he gets his meds and his thrice-daily catheterization. As a result, for the past three years, these two have never been apart. And then there’s Tawnie, the “sassy bitch” with a lengthy list of maladies, beloved by Blanche, Sigrid and the rest of the Pugalug team, but whose continual (and costly) vet visits have made her adoption prospects doubtful.

Movie pieces frequently feature villains.  What is a good movie without one?  In this case the villains are the breeders.  The breeders are shown to be obsessed with breeding the perfect pug – which means a smashed nose and a curly, short tail.  The nose means difficulty breeding with lots of pugs with respiratory problems.  The shot tail entails spinal problems as well.  As they keep breeding those with short tail or pug noses, the pups face medical problems on growing up.

The audience sees Jessica Kelly, dog behaviourist and Todd Kaufman, a psychotherapist who works with emotional support animals who both express their dislike for breeders who aim for the “smushiest face”, the highest tail, and other extreme features.   The film shows Jim and Mary Lou Dymond, an older couple who have spent 30 years trying to breed the healthy “perfect pug.”

  The film has a especial screening on on Sunday, January 6, 2019 at 1:00pm- Hot Docs Ted Rogers Cinema before opening on different platforms.

Assorted clips: 

https://www.dropbox.com/sh/z4qlh2grh4jhfy3/AAC5U__naEb5juf4iAFlg7_Ua?dl=0

Film Review: OUT ON STAGE (USA 2018) ***

Out On Stage (Movie Version) Poster

Something different for the New Year?  The stand-up comedy “OUT on Stage: The Series” hosted by Zach Noe Towers, releases Jan. 17th on the usual streaming platforms.  Produced by Comedy Dynamics and Dekkoo, “OUT on Stage: The Series” features an eclectic lineup of renowned LGBTQ stand-up comedians.  

It is so rare that a grouping, let alone a series of all queer stand-up comics even exists.  The host is Zach Noe Towers, an LA-based comedian, actor, and writer who was recently named one of Time Out Magazine’s “2018 Comedians to Watch.”

OUT ON STAGE is comprised of 6 episodes, each episode with 3 gay stand-up comics, all introduced by Towers.  Towers gets to do his routine in Episode 2.  Needless to say, not all episodes are of the same standard.  A few are funnier, just as a few others are better than others.

Host Towers can get a bit annoying with his infectious laughter, but one has to give him credit for trying.   He does even give the worst jokes (the trans-ginger joke and the corny ‘all the comedians here suck’) a go.

All the comics share a few things in common.  They all make fun of themselves being gay.  The jokes also get dirty and the language occasionally foul, though one may argue there is no need to be.  As with all comics, timing is of the essence.  As all the comics come on stage one after the other, one would automatically make a list of the favourite ones and the ones who really suck, and not in the sexual way.

Here are the episodes:

Episode 1:

The first episode is quite hilarious, setting the tone for the other 5 to be watched.  The first is Jared Goldstein who demonstrates expert timing in the delivery of the material.  The second one, Ranier Pollard is the best of the three.  He is black, muscular and comes on stage with super-tight pants.  These muscles are just for show, he quips, they are for my ‘instagram’ followers.

Episode 2:  This, to me is one of the most mediocre of the episodes.  The host Towers is the first comic in this episode.

Episode 3:  The first comic Gloria Bigelow is the best of the lot, generating the most laughs of the episodes.  She, the first one one, makes fun of being gay, black and a woman while tackling topics like hairy bears.  The third comic is a butch lesbian, A.B. Cassidy, who could have been funnier.

Episode 4: The first comic in this episode cracks jokes mostly on drugs, completely omitting gay humour.  He could very well be a straight comic for all that matters.  The drug jokes come out awkward and are not really funny.  Funny however is the second comic, Chris Bryant, whose infectious good nature helps the audience love him.  He demonstrates expect comic timing.  He is the one who cracks the dirtiest of all the jokes and gets a good laugh from it.  Joe Dosch, the third comic does more jokes on South Dakota where he is from than gay jokes, but the South Dakota jokes are funny.

Episode 5:  Julian Michaels, the second comic proves again the black comics are the funniest.  The majority of his jokes are ‘coloured’ ones.

Episode 6:  The final episode leaves one wanting for more.  The last 2 comics are quite funny, particularly Eric Hahn who makes fun that he is now middle-aged and no longer looks gay.  The last one in contrast is a flaming queen making his delivery all the more flamboyant!

Trailer: https://vimeo.com/304184058