Film Review: A SWINGER’S WEEKEND (Canada 2017)

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A Swingers Weekend Poster
Seemingly perfect couple Lisa and Dan plan a steamy swingers weekend. However things go wrong when a third couple drops in unexpectedly.

Director:

Jon E. Cohen

The relationships of three couples come under examination in the debut feature of writer/director Jon E. Cohen with co-writer Nicola Sammeroff.

The audience is first introduced to what seems to be the perfect couple, Dan (Randal Edwards) and Lisa (Erin Karpluk).  Dan is exceptionally pleased in the car on the way to a gorgeous property by a lake when Lisa closes a house sale.  “I am the happiest man in the world,” Dan quips.  This means that this couple is going to have problems.  At the house, they are met by the second couple, their younger friends, Teejay (Michael Xavier) and Skai (Erin Agostino) who reveal their recent engagement.  Teejay and Skai are a mixed couple, so that the film can be current with the times.  Skai and Dan had an attraction in the past, so one can expect more trouble.  The third couple is Geoffrey (Jonas Chernick) and Fiona (Mia Kirshner), one with marital problems.  Lisa is unaware of the couple’s invitation by her husband and Fiona is unaware of the purpose of the weekend.

The purpose of the weekend is revealed to the audience 10 minutes into the film.  Lisa and Dan want to swap sexual partners.  It is Lisa’s idea as she wants to try something different, and one can see Dan has the hots for Skai.  Each individual has his or her own reasons for participating in the partner sharing in what is termed A SWINGER’S WEEKEND.  A list of rules are laid out, like no true affection, just sex and confidentiality.  It turns out that the couples are not really swingers but ordinary folk with jealousies and weaknesses trying to be hip.  The girls draw like a lottery to see who sleeps with whom.

It is interesting to see how each person reacts to the assigned sex partner.  But the film is no BOB & CAROL & TED & ALICE, Paul Mazursky’s film with a similar theme that was a hit way back when.  One problem is the story’s predictability.  It does not take a genius to guess which couple will benefit from the weekend.  (Cohen has his key to the success of a couple’s relationship.)  Cohen’s film cannot decide whether it should be a drama or a comedy.  As a drama, the story is too predictable and for a comedy, there are insufficient comedic set-ups.  Cohen appears too confident with the humour.  In one scene, Skai suggest yoga and Lisa retorts: “Can we drink wine with the session?”  The camera fades way as if allowing the audience to have time to take a good laugh.  The house, furniture and food served are more interesting than the couples.  The film contain a musical interlude that somehow fails to uplift the proceedings.

It is surprising though that the sex scenes turn out quite erotic.  The segments of Skai putting her arms around Dan while water-boarding and Geoffrey sneaking into the bed naked with Lisa get the blood flowing.

If Cohen meant the film to be a character study, it hardly works with couples the audience does not really care about.  Every person turns out too selfish (except for maybe Geoffrey) at the end.

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-R771KctpE8

 

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Hot Docs 2018: DIE NACHT DER NACHTE (THE NIGHT OF ALL NIGHTS) (Germany 2018) ***

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Die Nacht der Nächte Poster
Together. For a lifetime. Who can manage this? And who still wants this? What seems to be an oddity for us nowadays was the norm for the generation of our grandparents. This generation still experienced it – a traditional wedding night.

 

Likely the most charming documentary at Hot Docs 2018.   Together for a lifetime?  Who can manage this?  And who still wants this? What seems to be an oddity for people these days was the norm for the generation of our grandparents.  The doc follows four separate lifelong couples from different countries as they experience and talk about their traditional wedding night.  The couples are elderly couples from Japan, Germany and India including a gay couple from Pennsylvania in the United States.  The film is shot in Japanese, Hindi and German with English subtitles  and in English.   This is a simple documentary not requiring much research. What it lacks in terms of content and history is compensated by the amusing observations on human behaviour.  Of all the couples on display, the Indian one is the most endearing.  The segment where the husband and wife describe their first ‘touching’ encounter in a cinema is unforgettable and in itself is worth the price of admission.

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=N_Dg-py6X_U

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Film Review: LA TERRE VUE DU COEUR (EARTH: SEEN FROM THE HEART) (Canada 2018) ***

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La terre vue du coeur Poster

 

This new documentary that celebrates our Planet Earth opens in Toronto with competition from the Hot Docs Film Festival currently on at the same time.  If one wants to take a break from the Hot Docs crowd, this fascinating documentary serves to celebrate, educate and warn human beings of the delicate nature of the planet.  LA TERRE VUE DU COEUR (EARTH: SEEN FROM THE HEART) is a French documentary from Quebec subtitled in English with narration by well-respected scientists.

Having lived for 40 years on an old farm in northern Burgundy, Quebec astrophysicist Dr. Hubert Reeves has observed the deterioration of nature around his property.  Faced with this threat to the Earth’s ecosystem, the scientist shares his concern in regards to the imminent possibility of a sixth extinction of animal and plant species on the planet.  Reeves and French sociologist Dr. Frédéric Lenoir team up with a variety of experts in various fields to propose possible solutions to stop the overexploitation of natural resources and the erosion of biodiversity.

The doc begins like a science lesson.  Water is the source of life, the audience is reminded, and it comes from depleted stars.  How water came to Planet Earth is a subject of scientific debate  Nevertheless, there is life.  The theme of water is kept throughout the film, coming back to the importance of water regardless of the current topic.

The biggest enemy to EARTH is oil, which director Cadrin-Rossignol attacks fiercely.  The unethical drilling of oil without any permission by TransCan in the St. Lawrence estuary is enough to infuriate anyone.  The drilling is eventually halted after the company is brought to court by the locals protesting the Harper Government and the company.

The film in its attempt to be exhaustive covers too many issues on the health of the earth.  Issues covered include global warming, the melting of he icebergs and opening of the NorthWest Passage, death of corals in the oceans (coral bleaching), permaculture, deepwater illumination,  overfishing, just to name a few.  One needs to learn more on each of the subjects put forward.  For example, Jeff Orlowski’s documentary CHASING CORAL would be a good film to learn more about coral bleaching.

As far as educational values go, the film excels.  There are many issues examined here that audiences will likely be unaware of.  The most important thing is that there is hope for the planet, hope in the form of the tireless activists that volunteer their time and money for an urgent course.  The film ends on a high note that cities are beginning to do their part.  Rosemont in Quebec are widening pavements for planting trees and shrubs while roofs in the neighbourhood will all eventually be changed to white to reflect heat to keep the neighbourhood cooler.  When one turns on the tap in NYC, the water that come out is filtered by natural means.

Ergüven’s doc also talks about the importance of animals.  Donkeys are monkeys are mentioned with some esteem.  Hunting is also brought into perspective.  It is explained hat animals eat others in order to survive and it is part of the cycle of life.  When wolves were eliminated from the American National Parks, the elk population expanded too fast which resulted in vegetation eaten too quickly.  Nature was rebalanced when wolves were brought back into the equation.

Director Ergüven has recruited a wide range of talents from many disciples to narrate his feature and to give it clout.  Among them are a cinematographer, a botanist, a conservationist, an entomologist, a biologist, an astrologist, an environmentalist and even a philosopher.

In the film, a narrator mentions that a person could be remembered as a party person or someone who makes a difference to the planet.  Oddly enough, this also points the finger at people going to see films like A SWINGER’S WEEKEND which also opens this week or this one about the planet.  The film opens coinciding with the celebration of EARTH Month.  

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sOpOaxZBeww&feature=youtu.be

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Film Review: AVENGERS: INFINITY WAR (USA 2018) ***1/2

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Avengers: Infinity War Poster
Trailer

The Avengers and their allies must be willing to sacrifice all in an attempt to defeat the powerful Thanos before his blitz of devastation and ruin puts an end to the universe.

Directors:

Anthony RussoJoe Russo

Writers:

Christopher Markus (screenplay by), Stephen McFeely (screenplay by) |9 more credits »

 

The first of two AVENGERS INFINITY WAR films, this is the most anticipated super action hero movie of the year and most expensive Marvel/Disney film with an estimated budget of $300-$400 million. But much of the filming had been done back to back with its sequel.

The film boasts all the marvel superheroes led by Stark/Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.).  The Avengers combine forces with the GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY, Peter Quill/Star-Lord (Chris Pratt) and gang to fight the most evil of all villains, Thanos (Josh Brolin) who wants to control the Universe.  In order to succeed, he has to possess 5 infinity stones, stones that were formed with the creation of the universe during the Big Bang, whatever sense this makes.  The stones are space, reality, power, should, mind and time.  There is no need to question the names or reason for these elements but the script by Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely takes the story very, very seriously.

The Guardians of the Galaxy have never met the Marvel fighters, so their first meeting is done tongue-in-cheek, resulting in some humour.

There is no messing around with the Marvel superheroes, unlike the mess Warner Bros. created with the D.C. comics i.e. Batman’s identity known to everyone; Superman dying and returning to life.  Comic book and super hero fans should not be disappointed with the treatment of their super heroes in this film.  Almost every Marvel hero is present, the list too long to mention.  Of all, a few appear more (Captain America, Thor, Black Panther, Spiderman, Dr. Strange) than others (White Wolf, Heimdall).  Humour is provided by one-liners and banter resulting from enmity among the Super Heroes, like between Dr. Strange and Iron Man.  Some emotion is provided during the Thanos/daughter confrontation.

For the most expensive Marvel production, the film is stunning to look at and there is no shortage of CGI and special effects.  Needless to say, it is best to pay a bit extra to watch the film in the best viewing environment be it in IMAX or 3-D.

A satisfactory action film always depends on a good villain.  Credit is given to the impressive performance of Josh Brolin who plays Thanos, the intergalactic despot from Titan who longs to collect all of the Infinity Stones in order to impose his will on the Universe.  Thanos is in the most scenes in the film, even more than Iron Man, Dr. Strange or Thor.  Thanos is so powerful that his size towers over all the super heroes.  He does not have to wear armour and his strength and might grows as he acquires more of the infinity stones.

At the press screening, reviewers were reminded to preserve the magic of movie storytelling by not revealing any surprises and plot twists in any coverage.  The film does not have as many as in the STAR WARS films, but there are a few, including some deaths and story surprises.

This film paves the way for the final part of the storm, which judging from this film should be a hit critically and at the box-office.

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6ZfuNTqbHE8

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Film Review: THE SCENT OF RAIN AND LIGHTNING (USA 2016) ***

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The Scent of Rain & Lightning Poster
Based on the novel THE SCENT OF RAIN & LIGHTNING by Nancy Pickard. When a young woman learns her parents’ killer has been released from jail, she is forced to revisit old wounds while …See full summary »

Director:

Blake Robbins

Writers:

Nancy Pickard (novel), Jeff Robison (screenplay) |3 more credits »

Is there a scent to rain or lightning?  There really isn’t but in the film torrid sex is happening during a storm.  There is clearly a scent of trouble as a killing is about to happen, a killing that is the subject of this moody, atmospheric film.

With a title like THE SCENT OF RAIN AND LIGHTNING, one would expect a good atmospheric thriller. The film does look stunning, courtesy of cinematographer Lyn Moncrief, where his lightning is often just sufficient enough for the audience to see only what is necessary in the plot.  The film is beautifully shot in Oklahoma with steers and cows roaming about in a ranch, the setting of the story, though not much work is shown with the animals on the ranch.

The film begins with a bearded inmate released from prison with the opening credits appearing on screen.   It is a 5 – 10 minute. long opening that could have been cut shorter.  The audiences is primed for a slower paced thriller than the norm of the thriller genre.  It appears that a young woman’s parents’ killer has been released from jail.  The woman is Jody Linder (Maika Monroe).  Word in her small town suggests he may be innocent.  Jody is also approached by the killer’s son that he is innocent of the murder.  Jody begins questioning the police investigation and witnesses, and uncovers her own family secrets to piece together the shocking truth.  

The film is based on the bestselling novel The Scent of Rain & Lightning by Nancy Pickard with a script written by two males, Jeff Robison and Casey Twenter and directed by a male director, Robbins (who gives himself a cameo as Sheriff Don Phelps).  The film has therefore both a strong male and female point of view of the proceedings.  This is a good thing, something rare in films these days with many a narrative leaning way too far towards either the female or male direction.

Director Robbins’s narrative is difficult to follow.  There are many reasons for this unfortunate state of affairs.  For one, all the females are blondes with long flowing hair.  It takes a while to distinguish that one is the Linder mother, another the Linder daughter and yet another the grandmother.  The flashbacks, a few too many flow into the main narrative at any time, making it difficult to tell which is which.  The casting of Meg Crosbie as the young Jody and Maika Monroe as the older Jodie while all other characters undergoing age differences are performed by the same actor is also disorienting.  The many dimly lit scenes do not help either.  As the adult Linder pieces the puzzle of her father’s death so the audiences have to piece together the sense of the film’s plot.

As the title implies, the film might be more satisfying to the artsier crowd.  The film also contains a non-Hollywood ending.  The question of ‘what will Jody do after she discovers the truth of her father’s murder’ is not satisfactory answered.  As such, it really makes no sense in the driving force of the narrative, whether she succeeds in her quest or not.

Trailer: https://vimeo.com/254204096

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Film Review: SPACEMAN (USA 2016)

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Spaceman Poster
Story of former MLB pitcher Bill ‘Spaceman’ Lee following his release by the Montreal Expos.

Director:

Brett Rapkin

Writer:

Brett Rapkin

SPACEMAN is the biographical film on former Major League baseball pitcher, Bill Lee (Josh Duhamal from TRANSFORMERS) nicknamed SPACEMAN.  Lee is given the nickname for his drug use and hence constantly being ‘spaced out’. 

The film is written and directed by Brett Rapkin.  SPACEMAN is not the first film Rapkin has made of baseball celebrity eccentric Bill Lee.  He made the documentary on Lee SPACEMAN: A BASEBALL ODYSSEY in 2006, a film much better than this one.

This new Bill Lee film made in 2016 took 2 years for its release.  The question is the film’s target audience.  Who would likely be interested in watching Lee’s biography  He is not super famous or super talented though he can pitch very well on a good day.  Non-sports fans like myself have not interest in watching a film on Lee, and neither I guess of many baseball fans either.  Being executively produced by Ron Shelton who directed Kevin Costner in BILL DURHAM, one can assume the film financiers are counting on all baseball fans (and maybe the other peripheral sports fans) to be the target audience.  The trouble is that Bill Lee is not really a winning character.  Lee is more a troublemaker and a loser that no one waned to hire or to be on their team.

The film first shows Lee making pancakes for breakfast.  He sprinkles green stuff on them, so that they end up as marijuana pancakes.  The film follows the man as he also gets drunk, and high and often!  But he stands up for his baseball mates, to the point that he gets let go, in one rare but very hilarious scene with his manager/boss.  He is now out of the major league.  The man loves baseball and is willing to go into the minor league to keep playing.  Hoping to get hired by other clubs, or be selected by talent scouts, he never ever makes good again.  The film reveals one major truth about baseball – it is a business.  No businessman wants to hire a player who has a drug problem.  That is a bad business decision.  Lee ends up losing his family too.

With the above bad stuff going on for Lee, the same goes for the movie.  The movie does not have any upside, except for comedic moments.  The segment where the audiences is supposed to be on Lee’s side, when he convinces his team to just loosen up and get high, works against the film’s favour.  The audience is not on Lee’s side but sees the problem in his actions.

The only positive thing about the biography appears to be Josh Duhamel who is delivering a fine performance regardless of how the film turns out.  Duhamel is sufficiently spirited in the role and able to elicit sympathy from the audience for his character’s poor behaviour. 

SPACEMAN ends up a let down just as the Bill Lee character that it portrays.  That might have been the film’s aim, but it turns out not to be a very entertaining watch.

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

 

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HOT DOCS 2018: THREE IDENTICAL STRANGERS (USA 2018) ***

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Three Identical Strangers Poster
Trailer

New York, 1980: three complete strangers accidentally discover that they are identical triplets, separated at birth. The 19-year-olds’ joyous reunion catapults them to international fame, …See full summary »

Director:

Tim Wardle

The doc, THREE IDENTICAL STRANGERS opens in the year 1980 when 19-year-olds Robert Shafran and Edward Galland found each other at the same community college and realized they were twins separated at birth.  To each other’s surprise, they discover a third.  Triplets at birth finding each other is news. 

 The surprise triplets became fast friends and overnight media sensations.  Can the happiness last forever?  Every story eventually has a dark side.  The dark side involves the discovery at the adoption agency that the triplets (as are other twins) were part of an experiment conducted on human behaviour.  The film’s best part is the insight given by a few of the interviewees. 

 One, a lady who worked at the adoption research centre gives her opinion that it was not considered inappropriate in those days to do experiments of this kind.  Psychology was new and in, and it was a cool subject then, not like today.

A documentary is often as good as its subject.  A far as Wardle’s documentary goes, what other film could have topped this with a more intriguing subject.  THREE IDENTICAL STRANGERS will eventually be praised as a film despite its glaring flaws.   One wishes that more conclusion would have been presented regarding the experiments

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=c-OF0OaK3o0

 

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