Film Review: NEVER SAW IT COMING (Canada 2017)

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Never Saw It Coming Poster

 

The film centres on con-artist Keisha Ceylon (Emily Hampshire), a mother trying to etch out a ‘decent’  living for herself and her young son.  She offers psychic services for a prominent fee in missing person cases.  When she reads in the news of a missing person, she shows up.  NEVER SAW IT COMING focuses on one of her cases gone foul.

One trouble with the film is that the audience is treated like idiots having to have all the plot points explained to them.  This is evident from the film’s first scam that the found missing son is in cohorts with Keisha in fooling his parents to pay her so that they can split the cash.

Eric Roberts (star of the 70’s and 80’s and brother of Julia Roberts) gets star billing for a minor part.  He plays Wendell Garfield who is in the film’s most problematic scene.  This is the one in which he is approached by Keisha after his wife’s death, she proposing to help him with her disappearance using her psychic powers.   He is initially shown as a strong skeptic only to become a believer in a few minutes.   She uses the word child and then he uses the word baby and she re-uses the term baby for child so that he starts believing her.  All the dialogue is too obvious for a psychic to use and the segment is totally unbelievable less silly.  Without much warning, a plot wist (not to be revealed in this review) occurs which stretches more of the story’s credibility.

The script or source material contains a few plot holes.  The most glaring one is the detective revealing all the case details to Keisha.  In real life, these things are kept from the public, especially when the investigation is not yet complete. 

The film is advertised s a comic thriller though there are hardly any laughs.  As a thriller, the violent acts occur suddenly, without warning so that there is little suspense or thrills either.  The film contains more violence than necessary and director Harvey is not shy to show to blood and gore.

To Harvey’s credit, he shoots a few solid scene like the ones at the start with the car breaking into the ice and then slowly sinking into the frozen lake.  

The film picks up whenever the story focuses on Keisha’s family life.  The abusive relationship with her boyfriend is the more interesting topic.  They represent the typical quarrelling couple that can no longer get along for the main fact that they have lived with each other for too long and are not willing to give love a second chance or sacrifice their own interests for the other.  The boyfriend is a loud-mouthed idiot who is interesting to watch.  What she sees in him initially is a complete mystery.  But Keisha still  manages to get him to do some of her dirty work.

NEVER SAW IT COMING makes good material as pulp fiction material.  As a film, it gets bogged down with implausible scenes and sub-par dialogue.  One can only shrug whenever a new plot twist occurs.

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VO1FX778RtE

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Film Review: JULIET, NAKED (USA/UK 2018) ***

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Juliet, Naked Poster
Trailer

Juliet, Naked is the story of Annie (the long-suffering girlfriend of Duncan) and her unlikely transatlantic romance with once revered, now faded, singer-songwriter, Tucker Crowe, who also happens to be the subject of Duncan’s musical obsession.

Director:

Jesse Peretz

Writers:

Evgenia Peretz (screenplay by), Jim Taylor (screenplay by) | 2 more credits »

JULIET, NAKED is a British/American production set in both London and the U.S. based on the best selling novel of the same name by Nick Hornby.  The novel is described as a sensitive modern tale illustrating the effect the internet can have on a romantic relationship.   The film gets that message across, though it feels like a romantic comedy without a happy Hollywood ending, which means that audiences might have difficulty liking this film.  JULIET, NAKED is not half bad, but it is not barely half good, falling flat and dragging along for a major part.

The story centres on Annie (Rose Byrne) who when the film opens, has relationship problems with long term boyfriend, Duncan (Chris O’Dowd).  Duncan, a professor at a local university has an obsession with singer-songwriter Tucker Crowe (Ethan Hawke).  He is head of the Tucker Crowe website and knows all the works and songs of Crowe.  When a packet of Crowe songs arrives in the mail that Annie opens and listens to, Duncan becomes clearly upset that she has not only opened his mail but listened to Crowe before him.  Duncan also begins an affair with a new professor, that he confesses to Anne.  This is total wishy-washy behaviour and the audience is only too glad to see Annie kick him out of the house.

As the story goes on, Annie meets Crowe in person and begins an affair with him.  The brown stuff hits the fan when Duncan finds out.  Not only does Duncan accuse Annie of doing this to get back at him, but he begins disagreeing with Crowe about his work.

If all this sounds too serious, the film is not, and a lot of humour is injected into the story so that the film can still be labelled as a romantic comedy.  But it is one with a difference as it does not follow the beaten path of the Harlequin-styled story.

All three actors are excellent in their roles.  It is always a pleasure to watch Rose Byrne (NEIGHBOURS and NEIGHBOURS 2) who is always good in anything she is in.  Ethan Hawke, known for his fondness in blues and music gets to sing a few of the songs featured in the film.  O’Dowd who has proven himself proficient in drama (CALVARY) and in comedy (BRIDESMAIDS) makes an unlikable character both likeable and sympathetic.

The film has a few odd segments.  One is the problematic hospital segment where all of Crowe’s children from multiple partners all show up at the hospital when he suffers an unexpected heart attack.  How would they all show up together when they were so difficult to even meet is one question.  They argue and bicker to no end and then are never seen again during the movie.  Annie first meets Crowe at the hospital too and any logical person would have left Crowe or any such person with so much baggage.

JULIET, NAKED is at least good for a few laughs with a few well timed jokes.

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

Film Review: SKATE KITCHEN (USA 2018) ***

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Skate Kitchen Poster
Trailer

A teenaged skateboarder makes friends with a bunch of other skateboarding girls in New York City.

Director:

Crystal Moselle

Writers:

Crystal Moselle (story), Crystal Moselle | 2 more credits »

 

The Skate Kitchen is the name of a group of female skateboarders first featured in director Moselle’s THE OTHER DAY (a short film created for fashion designer Miu Miu).  Moselle first gained attention with her documentary about her siblings 

THE WOLF PACK that won the U.S. Grand Jury Prize/Documentary at Sundance 2015.

SKATE KITCHEN, Moselle’s debut full length feature also featuring the skateboarders, begins really well but unfortunately fades away to a sappy Hollywood happy ending despite many bright moments.  The opening shots with the camera following the main subject as she skate boards in a skate park gliding as confidently and smoothly set the stage for an excellent film.  The high expectations are indeed tough to meet.

This is could be what movie making is all about – taking the audience into a fantasy world (in this case the world of skate boarding) and bringing them to a new exhilarating high.  The film best moments are when the skaters are just goofing around on the street, music blaring (a few good tunes courtesy of D.J. Khaled) and they just dancing and goofing around.  It shows their world, oblivious to the problems of adults and their outside world, a world of beauty and wonder, an Utopia and state that one wish to be, a pure high and without the use of drug or alcohol.

Camille (Vinberg) is a shy 18-year-old living with her single mother (Elizabeth Rodriguez) in Long Island.  After a scary skate accident (shown all bloody and gross at the start of the film), Camille promises her angry and disturbed other that she will hang up her board.  But  as expected, the urge to skate is too great – so she responds to a social media post about a “girls skate sesh” in New York’s Lower East Side.  Finding the camaraderie she’s been missing all her life, Camille falls in with the crowd and falls out with her mother.  But when she falls for a mysterious skateboard guy (Will Smith’s son, Jaden Smith), the relationship proves to be trickier to navigate than a kickflip.

The kids speak in their own lingo.  But when director brings The main lead’s world into reality – romance, an over-wring mother, a boyfriend, drugs and team loyalty, the movie high dissipates slowly.

One wishes there would be more depth in each of the characters in the film.  Except for the main character, Camille (Rachelle Vinberg), no one knows any of the family of the other skaters.  Even for Camille, nothing is mentioned of her father and her troubled relationship with her mother is sketchy at best.

The film plays like a documentary though it is clearly scripted.  Quite a bit of improvisation goes into the making of the film a evident in the many candid scenes.  Playing fictionalized versions of themselves are The Skate Kitchen (an all-female skateboarding crew in New York), including co-founder Rachelle Vinberg who has a main role in Moselle’s film.

SKATE KITCHEN when working, is a wonderfully different female film.  It makes a feminine statement by showing how much fun it is to be a human being with no penis.

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iT1izrIxoos

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Film Review: NICO, 1988 (Italy/Belgium 2017) ***1/2

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Nico, 1988 Poster
Trailer

The last year of singer Nico’s life, as she tours and grapples with addiction and personal demons.

NICO, 1988 is as the title implies, about Nico during her last years before 1988.  Nico is Christa Päffgen (an outstanding performance by Dane actress Trine Dyrholm), known to the world by her stage name “Nico”.   Nico was one of Warhol’s muses, a singer of The Velvet Underground and a woman of legendary beauty.  But expect a different person portrayed in the film, as Nico says in the film: “Don’t call me Nico.  My name is Christa.”  She admits she does not want to talk about The Velvet Underground followed by confessing that she thinks she is ugly.

The film follows Nico as she lived a second life after the story known to all, when she began her career as a solo artist.  Nico, in the time prior to 1988 is the story of Nico’s last tours with the band that accompanied her around Europe in the Eighties: years in which the “priestess of darkness”, as she was called, found herself again, shaking off the weight of her beauty and rebuilding the relationship with her only forgotten son.   The son, Ari (Sandor Funtek) appears at exactly the half way mark of the film.  Besides the story of an artist and her tour, the film is also the story of a rebirth, of an artist, of a mother, of the woman beyond the icon.

One problem with NICO, 1988 is that the many people familiar with her would have high expectations for this biography, since Nico is a larger than life personality and hard to replicate.  Getting the audience interested and caring for Nico is another thing –  an important task for the director making the film..  

As in most films on music performers, the drug problem needs be addressed.  Nico is no stranger to drugs.  It gets ugly.  She uses the hard stuff – heroin and is not afraid to state it.  In one  disturbing scene set in a Prague restaurant, she goes ballistic when she cannot get some, blaming the communists for stealing her passport.

The last half hour of the 90 minutes film is a powerhouse where director Nicchiarelli

turns up the film full throttle.  The audience sees Nico performing her songs.  One can see the reason she got so popular.  The film ends in the year 1988, which the audience can predict as her end.

The film’s best segment is the one Nico performs at her illegal concert in Prague.  Before she goes on stage, she curses her manager for arranging the gig.  But when the spotlight shines on her on the stage and she starts crooning, director Nicchiarelli captures the singer’s anger, regret and finally respect for her audience.  It is a powerful, unforgettable and rare moment beautifully captured on screen.

What is also interesting is Nico’s despicable personality.  She calls her band members amateur drug addicts.  She springs her drug addicted son, Ari from the sanatorium and drags him on tour believing herself that she is doing good, loving her son.  She also accuses her manager (John Gordon Sinclair who played the main role of Gregory in GREGORY’S GIRL, way back when) of devising different ways of stealing from her.  In one rare mement though, she unexpectedly thanks him.

NICO the film, (like the artist herself), can be best described as an exhilarating feel-bad biography.

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=38RBdHtWkWo

 

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Film Review: EL ULTIMO TRAJE (THE LAST SUIT) (Argentina/Spain 2017) ***

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El último traje Poster
Abraham Bursztein, an 88 year-old Jewish tailor, runs away from Buenos Aires to Poland, where he proposes to find a friend who saved him from certain death at the end of World War II. After…See full summary »

Director:

Pablo Solarz

Writer:

Pablo Solarz

 

When Hollywood makes a movie about old people, they normally turn out to be old fart fantasies where old people live forever (COCOON), win some competition (FINDING YOUR FEET) or find love again.  Often the actors playing the old farts try to outdo each other in looks and cosmetic get-up so much so that watching these movies have become so cliched.  In this Argentine/Spanish co-production about an 88-year old man, the subject is not the  search for the fountain of youth.  Abraham Borsztein runs away from his home in Buenos Aires for survival.  His daughters not only want to put him in a nursing home but amputate his and leg.  Armed with the little money that he has managed to save, he bolts for dear life off to Poland.

Why Poland?  Apparently some guy there had saved him from certain death at the end of World War II.   Abraham has made a promise to bring him a suit (THE LAST SUIT of the film title) and he aims to keep that promise.

The journey does not run as smooth as expected.  Abraham misses his train and gets his money stolen.  But the adventure has only begun.  He meets Maria (Angela Molina) who also has a few dreams of her own.

Director Solarz has his audience sympathize with Abraham.  The camera is not shy to reveal an awful looking bad leg, all white in colour and might in need to be amputated to prevent the poison from spreading throughout he body.  Details are not mentioned.

THE LAST SUIT is a nicely made (pardon the pun) film that may be described as a coming-of-age story of a senior 88-year old man.  His journey of escape and fear for his last days is a real one for many seniors who cannot help themselves but fall to the mercy of their sometimes uncaring and insensitive children.  One thing Abraham still has are his wits.  He is sharp as can be.

The story also reveals that there is some good in man.  The rude musician that Abraham first meets on the plane who first has his feet upon the chair turns out to be a really kind man after Abraham reluctantly helps him at customs.

THE LAST SUIT would be a film that targets the older demographic.  The film’s pace suits an elderly crowd as its good intentions.  It is a good natured as many of the characters Abraham meets during his journey.

Despite its lightness in tone, THE LAST SUIT gets serious at the end, with a message that replaces a climax.  Abraham searches for the friend that saved his life, mainly through his memories.  Through flashbacks, the audience is brought back to the war and the injustice committed against the Jews.  The film offers redemption in the form of a very kindly Germany lady that Abraham meet who helps him along the way.  Though this is enlightening, the audience is manipulated in a way.

The film brings the thought that without memories, nothing else matters.  One feels sadder for those with dementia and have nothing else when they reach that demise.  THE LAST SUIT ends up a sad film about old age, but at least it is a realistic one about certain hardship that seniors can never escape.

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BLZVMgJoo-k

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Film Review: DOG DAYS (USA 2018)

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Dog Days Poster
Trailer

Dog Days follows a group of interconnected people in Los Angeles who are brought together by their lovable canine counterparts.

Director:

Ken Marino

Writers:

Elissa Matsueda (screenplay by), Erica Oyama (screenplay by) | 1 more credit »

 

The logo at the start of the film “Life is better with a dog” implies what director Manrino’s film sets up to prove.  It is not a very subtle message and not a very subtle film too.  DOG DAYS is a family oriented movie about humans and man’s best friend.  Unfortunately the word dog can also be used to describe the movie.  DOG DAYS is sporadically funny at best with a very low joke hit/miss ratio.

The film contains four humans stories – all silly and uninteresting.  The first is a TV host who ends up interviewing Jimmy Johnston a sports star only to end up arguing on set.  The cliché ridden script would mean that the two will fall in love, which they do, and lo and behold, what a surprise – it also turns out that they each own a cute dog.  The next story begins at a Starbucks style coffee shop where a regular customer meets an employee who falls for Mr. Hots, a dog doctor who owns a fabulous car.  The customer, as geeky as they come owns a dog shelter that, yes, any 2-year old can guess is going to have trouble financially.  She helps him out with a fundraiser but is dated by Mr Hots.  A one-year old can guess what happens next – yes, she discovers Hots to be an a-hole and realizes true love might be Mr. Geeky himself.  Then there is the musician who babysits sister’s dog while she is having twins.  The dog is a huge but cute one who changes Mr. Annoying’s life.  My Annoying is not only annoying buy terribly unfunny. The last story involves a sad man who ha substituted the love for his past wife with a dog he has lost due to Pizza boy.  The dog is found and looked after by a couple who adopts a little girl.  

Director Marino clumsily intercuts these stories with weak links.  For example, Johnson’s dog is brought to the clinic owned by Mr. Hots.  The lack of a villain in the story means that each story meanders around with no purpose except to display the cuteness of different dog breeds.

The film has no shortage of cliches.  A girl ditches her not-that-good-looking friend to date Mr. Hots only to find Mr. Hots an idiot and then dates back her not-that-good-looking friend who is actually in love with her. A lost dog found by a family who needs the dog more than the owner is eventually given the dog by the owner and so on.

The human stories are weakly linked to each other like an excuse.  The stories are predictable and unexciting.  No one really cares. 

As if cliches are not enough, director Marino aims to pull at the heart strings with no signs of stopping  A lost dog is re-united with its owner; an owner learns about life lessons from his canine friend. It is as if Marino has discovered that his humour is to working and trying for tears as a last resort.  

Containing more cliches than dog tricks, DOG DAYS makes one wonder who let this one out of the dog house?  This is just a very bad dog of a movie.

Warning!!  Make sure you leave before the closing credits.  There are extra takes of the actors cracking more unfunny jokes that will guarantee to make your skin crawl.  

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zEilmeGeVXY&t=5s

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Film Review: THE BOOKSHOP (Spain/UK 2017) ***

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The Bookshop Poster
Trailer

England 1959. In a small East Anglian town, Florence Green decides, against polite but ruthless local opposition, to open a bookshop.

Director:

Isabel Coixet

Writers:

Isabel Coixet (screenplay), Penelope Fitzgerald (novel)

 

The underdog trying to keep his or her land against insurmountable odds like high authority and the government has been a solid premise for films.  Two routes may be taken – the comedy or drama.  One of the most successful Australian films THE CASTLE saw a country bumpkin fighting to keep his house (a castle is a man’s home) from being taken way to build an airport runway.  In best selling novel adapted into the film THE BOOKSHOP, a widowed woman attempts to fulfil her dreams be opening a bookshop in a small English town which the town wants to take away from her.

Though looking quite the ordinary film Isabel Coixtet’s THE BOOKSHOP , based on Penelope Fitzgerald’s acclaimed novel arrives in Toronto of a special engagement run after winning 3 prestigious Goya Awards including Best Film and Best Director. Director Coixtet is Spanish.  The film stars Patricia Clarkson as the ‘baddie’ who has previously worked with Coixtet in LEARNING TO DRIVE as well as stars Emily Mortimer and Bill Nighy.

This is the second British film this year to tout reading books in a period setting, the other being the yet to be released Mike Newell’s THE GUERNSEY LITERARY AND POTATO PEEL PIE SOCIETY.  Both films involve the rendering of personal resolve, tested in the battle for the soul of a community.

The setting is England, 1959.  Free-spirited widow Florence Green aka Mrs. Green (Emily Mortimer) risks everything to open a bookshop in a conservative East Anglian coastal town.  While bringing about a surprising cultural awakening through works by Ray Bradbury and Vladimir Nabokov (who wrote the controversial LOLITA which Mrs. Green intends to promote and sell in the bookshop), she earns the polite but ruthless opposition of a local grand dame (Patricia Clarkson) and the support and affection of a reclusive book loving widower (Bill Nighy).   As Florence’s obstacles amass and bear suspicious signs of a local power struggle, she is forced to ask: is there a place for a bookshop in a town that may not want one?   

Coixtet’s film unfolds at such a leisurely pace, it might turn out too slow for some audiences (just as people might nod off during reading a book, as one character in the film says). .  She spends a good third of the film introducing the film’s main characters.  Clarkson is only seen for a few minutes during the first half the the film and Nighy only speaks after a third of the film.  

Based on a book by a female author and directed and starring a female, the film naturally extols female independence.  Unfortunately, the film falls into the familiar trap of containing weak or dislikable male characters, the exception being the Bill Nighy character despite revealed of a timid nature.   All other male characters like the General (the grand dame’s husband), Mr. North and Mr’s Green’s solicitor are all spineless detestable beings.

THE BOOKSHOP opens Aug 24th, but being British and already released n Europe, is also readily available on disks through Amazon and other similar platforms.

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3KgMW3rowXY

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