Film Review: THE AFTERMATH (UK/USA/Germany 2018) ***

The Aftermath Poster
Trailer

Post World War II, a British colonel and his wife are assigned to live in Hamburg during the post-war reconstruction, but tensions arise with the German who previously owned the house.

Director:

James Kent

A few years ago, a sprawling war romance TESTAMENT OF YOUTH captured the heart and awed moviegoers.  Its acclaimed director, James Kent  has understandably been handpicked for another war themed romantic drama entitled THE AFTERMATH.  THE AFTERMATH is based on the novel of the same name by Rhidian Brook.  It should be noted that the novel was written after Brook’s screenplay was commissioned by one of the producers, BLADE RUNNER’s Ridley Scott.  The script is written by Joe Shrapnel and Ana Waterhouse.

The story is set in postwar Germany in 1945.  The film begins with an aerial scanning in black and white of a war torn city that is revealed to be Hamburg of 1945.  It is later stated that more bombs landed in Hamburg one day than all the bombings in London.  

Rachael Morgan (Keira Knightley) arrives in the ruins of Hamburg in the dead of winter, to be reunited with her husband, Lewis Morgan (Jason Clarke), a colonel charged with rebuilding the shattered city.  Germans in Hamburg are angry as evident in the violent protests around the city.  Many of the more determined citizens are willing to sacrifice their lives to do away with the British.  But as they set off for their new home, Rachael is stunned to discover that Lewis has made an unexpected decision:  they will be sharing the grand house with its previous owner, a German widower, a past architect, Stefan Lubert (Alexander Skarsgård) and his troubled daughter, Freda.   It does not take genius to guess that Rachel will start a tempestuous affair with the architect.  In this charged atmosphere, enmity and grief give way to passion and betrayal. 

The film is clear to emphasize the differences in the attractiveness of both men, Morgan and Lubert.  Morgan is ruffled, disheveled and makes frequent comments angering Rachel.  Even Morgan’s military uniform is not smart or pressed but wrinkled.  This is compared with Lubert’s attire.  Lubert is always shown smartly dressed, always wearing a shirt and tie even at leisure in the house.  His immaculate white sweater (who wears a white sweater to a dirty cottage in the middle of winter?) in the cottage scene looks ridiculous.

All actors carry their eclectic roles well.  Knightley is British and Clarke, Australian has proven he can carry other non-Australian roles well.  He was excellent as Ted Kennedy in CHAPPAQUIDDICK  and is more than in apt in this role that demands more from him than required from the other actors. Swede Skarsgard has the distinguished German look and is sufficiently hunky to sweep any married woman of their feet.

The production design is worthy mention from the vehicles to the interior setting of the architect’s  stunning residence.  The period atmosphere with cinematography by Franz Lustig is worth the film’s price of admission.

Kent’s film ends up as a sprawling romantic drama that could have been more effective if the film emphasized certain parts instead of playing everything with uniform importance.

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FPv3e2FZOgo

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Film Review: GHOST TOWN ANTHOLOGY ( Répertoire des villes disparues)(Canada 2019) ***

Ghost Town Anthology Poster
In a small and isolated town, Simon Dubé dies in a car accident. The stunned townspeople are reluctant to discuss the circumstances of the tragedy. From that point on time seems to lose all meaning, and the days stretch on without end.

Director:

Denis Côté

Writers:

Denis CôtéLaurence Olivier (loosely based on novel by)

Before appreciating the small budget pensive drama GHOST TOWN ANTHOLOGY, a bit of background on its writer/director Denis Côté should be worthy of note.

Denis Côté is a Quebecois direct born in New Brunswick.  He is known as an experimental filmmaker with five of his previous film with no scripts and 5 with scripts.  In films like his documentary BEASTAIRE, he had lots of footage he shot at the zoo and wondered what to to with the footage before assembling the footage into a coherent film.  The films of  Denis Côté have been respected over the years and a number of cinematheques around the world have already organized retrospectives of his work.  Personally, I  admire Denis Côté‘s work.  They are pensive, meticulously crafted and intelligently conceived.

His latest work, GHOST TOWN ANTHOLOGY has its experimental roots but is arguably his most accessible wok to date.  The film bears  his trademarks like carcasses of dead animals that are frequently found in the story – in this case a dead deer.  The film can be described as a different kind of zombie (or ghost) film.  Zombies appear in the film but no one is hurt.  No one attacks the zombies and as a result the zombies do not attack the town folk either.  But they appear and the villagers recognize them as being previous dead residents.  If all this sounds too weird or feels that this is not your kind of  movie that stay away – but the film definitely has its rewards.

The film is set in the small town of Sainte-Irénée-les-Neiges, Quebec with a population of only 215.  The film opens with a car on a road that swerves to the side hitting stacks of hard objects casing the death of its driver, revealed soon to be a leading respected citizen of the town who everyone loves.  The town is shocked and speechless.  They claim the death as as suicide but from the scene, it looks more like the car took a deliberate turn, implying a suicide.  Suicide or accident?   The inhabitants of the town struggle to cope with the death of Simon Dubé, the teenage son of the family.  The odd thing is that two figures wearing masks witness the crash and are seen running away from it after.   More figures wearing these ‘ghostly’ masks appear later in the film as well.  It is a small town where everyone knows everybody as she does, prides the mayor, Simone Smallwood (Diane Lavallee) who becomes visibly upset when the county sends a stranger to her town to help the people cope with the tragedy of a death.  Director Cote knows how to grab and hold the audiences attention despite the film’s slow pace.  More odd incidents occur as well as more characters are introduced into the story.  A welfare teen is the first to see the zombies.  The dead Simon appears to both his brother and mother.

GHOST TOWN ANTHOLOGY is another of Cote’s pensive teasers, so don’t expect any resolutions to the zombie crisis.  Also: great sound effects and occasionally great gothic atmosphere.

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

Human Rights Film Festival Capsule Reviews: NO BOX FOR ME. AN INTERSEX STORY (France 2018) ***

(French title: Neither Eve, Neither Adam: An Intersex Story)
Directed by Floriane Levigne

“Intersex” is a general term used for a variety of conditions in which a person is born with a reproductive or sexual anatomy that do not seem to fit the typical definitions of female or male.   It is estimated that 2% of the population are born with some kind of gender variation.  For example, a person might be born appearing to be female on the outside, but having mostly male-typical anatomy on the inside.  This doc is abut Intersex people.  The main issue is to decide for the intersex person whether to be male or female and in many cases, an operation done at an early age to fix the gender.  However, as the body develops, the chromosomes might turn out the opposite.  NO BOX FOR ME examines this problem with 3 intersex subjects, letting them have their say.  Animation is used to illustrate the problem they go through.  The film though running just around 60 minutes, will be an eye-opener for many, myself included for the one reason that I do not know any intersex people.  The films best line is uttered by an intersex man to an intern lady, of the people that have insulted him because of his condition: “I pity them.  They will always be normal.  We will always be different.”

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lZ0mW1OQaK4

Film Review: THE MUSTANG (France/Belgium/USA 2017) ****

The Mustang Poster
Trailer

MUSTANG tells the story of Roman Coleman, a violent convict, who is given the chance to participate in a rehabilitation therapy program involving the training of wild mustangs.

Credited as a 2019 American-French-Belgian production, the film’s end credits list 2017 as the year of production.  Regardless, THE MUSTANG is a pretty solid dramatic film and a textbook example of how following formula can still work to create an excellent film.  

THE MUSTANG is basically a film about a boy and his horsie which in this case is really about a wild horsie and a wild boy.  As these stories go, the wild can never be tamed and has to be set free.  The horse teaches the boy in his case a man or rather tames him as he tames the horse and as expected the horse is awarded his freedom.

The film begins with the rounding up of wild horses in the U.S.’s west.  The segment emphasizes the open spaces and the wild animals having their freedom taken away.  The scene is contrasted by a prison interview in establishing the character of the film’s protagonist.  The man is an unrepentant and violent convict named Coleman Roman (played by Belgium actor Matthias Schoenaerts).  In an interview with his worker, he loses it while claiming the understatement that he has a problem of not getting along with people when asked whether he values his freedom.  He is reluctantly and accidentally put into a program (called the wild horse inmates program in some states in the U.S.) where convicts train and tame wild horses to be later auctioned.  The man in charge of the program is Myles (Bruce Dern) a cynical but not necessarily a good man.  Myles knows and loves horses.

The serious nature of the film’s subject does not mean the film is without humour.  When Roman has a surprise visit from a young woman, he sits at the wrong table with another young lady.  A plaque of Myles reads: “If my horse doesn’t like you, I won’t either”.

The film benefits immensely from two outstanding Academy Award worthy performances by Schoenaerts and Dern.  Dern, who has been nominated many times might see his first win.   Schoenaerts is also extremely good and carries the film but the Academy is not one to give an unfamiliar name especially a non-American the award.

Besides Roman’s violent nature, the script which was co-written by the director with Mona Fastvold and Brock Norman Brock subtly reveals the sensitive side of the violent Roman with one scene showing him breaking down with tears and another of him showing loyalty to his co-trainer.  The film is able to connect the audience with the material, so important in any movie.     The film keeps key plot points from the audience revealing them as necessary thus heightening the audience anticipation factor.  Who the young lady visitor is and what crime Roman committed are only revealed later on in the film.  

But the film’s absolute prize and delight lie in the film’s surprise closing and extremely moving shot.

To emphasize the authenticity of the film’s story, the end credits show images of convicts and their horses: Dan and Pete, Jason and Jessie, Luis and Smokey among others.

THE MUSTANG is a well-made film in all departments, entertaining at the same time and garnishing a 100% approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes at the time of writing.  The film was obviously made with great pride and respect for horses, and it is executively produced by Robert Redford famous for a related film, THE HORSE WHISPERER.

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6W0KFTj50zI

Film Review: FIVE FEET APART (USA 2019) **

A pair of teenagers with life-threatening illnesses meet in a hospital and fall in love.

Director:

Justin Baldoni

FIVE FEET APART is an American teen weepie based on a script written and sold (they paid for this?) by Mikki Daughtry and Tobias Iaconis.

FIVE FEET APART belongs to the genre of teen romantic comedies, the type I used to avoid when I was a teen movie-goer.  Films like LOVE STORY with corny dialogue like “love means never having to say you’re sorry,” or S.W.A.L.K. (SEALED WITH A LOVING KISS) with Bee Gee songs gave me goosebumps.   I hate goosebumps! Now after all these years, arrive 5 FEET APART, a film about two kids suffering from C.F. (cystic fibrosis) falling in love that is supposed to tug (and perhaps break) ones heartstrings arrives.  The film will be a bit too much to take in for many but still there is a healthy market for these teen tearjerkers.  The film also comes filled with cliches including that dreaded one of the gay best friend.

The film centres on Stella (Haley Lu Richardson from COLUMBUS and SUPPORT THE GIRLS) who has made a home in the hospital – comfortable and friends particularly for her caring nurse (Kimberly Hebert Gregory).  She meets another C.F. patient. Will (Cole Spouse from RIVERDALE) who has a bacteria that requires him to stay at least six feet apart from anyone one else with C.F.  Death will and has resulted in the past, according to the nurse who insists the rule be maintained.  Of course, the lovers break the rule, 1 foot at at a time.  She gets a stick 5 feet long to keep herself and the now true love apart.

There are a few but too many coincidences in the story.  One is the nurse who has already experienced an identical situation that resulted in death.  “It won’t happen again, not on my watch,” she insists.  Stella has a dead sister, from a diving accident who will make her guilty with the sister appearing in her dreams to bring up the tears several notches.  The parents are conveniently left out of the story.  So obvious is this fact, is that when Stella’s father suddenly appears at the end of the film, audiences will likely wonder: “I never knew Stella had one.”  The parents never visit.

Actors Richardson and Spouse do what they can with the limited material and fare quite well, all things considering.

The film’s soundtrack is filled with indie songs.  But it is so manipulative to observe the way these tunes are drummed into the audience.  In the hospital scene, the nurse and others move in slow motion so that the song on the soundtrack can be finished by the time the scene ends.

To the film’s credit, it reveals a few points of awareness of the disease.  The film is also too obvious in being politically correct, which includes a nurse that has to be black.

Stay hundreds of feet apart from this one.

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ClVX0_9rV8c

Film Review: WOMAN AT WAR (Kona for i strio) (Iceland/France/Ukraine 2018)***

Woman at War Poster
Trailer

1:54 | Trailer
Halla, a woman in her forties, declares war on the local aluminum industry to prevent it from disfiguring her country. She risks all she has to protect the highlands of Iceland-but the …See full summary »

Those who have visited Iceland (myself included) will find extra pleasures in watching the Icelandic film WOMAN AT WAR shot in Icelandic.  The residential shots are typical what one would see around Reykjavic and the heroine moves into the countryside where the landscape shows typical Iceland – the barren outcrop, the moss and the hills.  Iceland is known as in other Scandinavian countries to be ultra-modern and more ecologically and environmentally friendly so a film that centres on an eco-terrorist is totally appropriate.  And a woman at that, makes the film even more politically correct.

The film opens with lots of promise.  A middle aged woman later revealed as Halla (Halldóra Geirharðsdóttir) who conducts the local choir, is in the mountains with a bow and arrow (the modern kind), taking refuge from the police.  She takes down a huge transformer pole carrying key power lines causing havoc in outages.  Funnily, a Latino tourist nearby gets arrested and blamed for a terrorist act.  The story is quite simple, revolving around he woman and later with her new-age twin sister (also played by the same actress).  Both sisters are intent to adopt a girl from the Ukraine which explains the film as a Ukrainian co-production.

The only complaint of the film is its predictability, particularly in the story’s main twist.  It does not take a genius (I guessed it) to figure what happens when the sister visits Halla in prison, but not everyone is like me, who sees about 400 films a year.

The script co-written by the director with Ólafur Egill Egilsson pokes fun often at Iceland.  There are scenes with Halla with her face on moss, common in Iceland’s vegetation.  The part about the population of Iceland being so small that everyone is somehow related to each other is used in the film when Halla meets a farmer who hides her.  He claims that he could somehow be related, tracing verbally all his ancestral roots.  The country’s many sheep is also used to hide Halla from the cops in one scene.

The Chinese are the main villains in the film.  They are the lot to blame, taking away the blame from the Icelandic government for the anti-environment projects that Halla is so angry about.

Director Erlingsson utilizes a band of musicians and singers (in Icelandic and in Icelandic native garb) in the background of most scenes to deliver the soundtrack, which gives the film a surreal (Greek Chorus) look, adding to the film’s quirkiness and bit of humour, though the tactic is a bit distracting.

The film premiered at Cannes and won Geirharðsdóttir the Best Actress prize at Montreal/s 2018 Festival of New Cinema.  The film was Iceland’s Official Entry for the Best Foreign Language Oscar though it did to make the short list.  Worth a look for its quirkiness and topicality but nothing really out of the ordinary.  But the film won 10 Edda Awards (Icelandic Film Awards) including the coveted Best Film, Best Actress and Best Director and Best Cinematography prizes.

Trailer: https://www.imdb.com/title/tt7279188/videoplayer/vi2484779545?ref_=tt_pv_vi_aiv_1

Film Review: WONDER PARK (USA 2019) ***

Wonder Park Poster
Wonder Park tells the story of an amusement park where the imagination of a wildly creative girl named June comes alive.

Writers:

Josh Appelbaum (screenplay by), André Nemec(screenplay by) | 3 more credits »

One must wonder how the filmmakers decide on whether the main child protagonist in their animated feature is going to be male or female.  Males have been highly successful in the  TOY STORY franchise while females in the FROZEN franchise.  For WONDER PARRK, creating rides and using mechanical expertise to tune up the rides would be more suited for a male child and his father rather than a girl and mother.  Girls do not generally engage in races either.  But in this age of gender equality, anything goes.  The female protagonist works well in this story to show more gender equality, credit to he filmmakers.

A young imaginative 10-year old girl named Cameron “June” Bailey (voiced by newcomer Brianna Denski) spent her childhood days constructing an amusement park filled with fantastical rides and inhabited by talking animals called Wonderland with her mother (Jennifer Garner) and her friends, but she lost her sense of imagination and wonder after her mother leaves home for an illness not mentioned and growing up, until she finds the real Wonderland in the woods while at math camp.  She needs to team up with the animals to stop the destruction of Wonderland by Chimpanzombies and bring it back to life.  Simple story, simply executed. The film obviously suffers from the lack of a single evil villain.  The cute chimanzombies do not really cut it as scary villains.  Even their name sounds cute.  But the weight of worry on a sick mother on a child can be devastating.  Credit to the filmmakers and scriptwriter to include a more serious note in an otherwise fun film.  But this sad weight does anchor down the fun atmosphere of the film.  The audience also pities the poor father who now has to look after June and do the household chores which June does not believe the father is capable of. The dialogue is sufficiently corny but doable. The characters try to put back the wonder in WONDER PARK when the park is breaking down.  The animals  also frequently chant: “We are the Wonder in Wonder Park”.  The characters con up words like ‘splendiferous’ and ‘wonderiferous’, words that children can pick up and constantly annoy their parents with after the movie.  The park also encompasses some ingenious rides that the script has churned out, rides that could perhaps work in a real amusement part, but deemed too dangerous.

Other voice characterizations from more famous actors include the ones from Mila Kunis, Ken Jeong and Matthew Broderick as June’s father.

The part of the story of twin worlds existing makes a good concept.  When June whispers into the ear of her toy chimpanzee, the chimpanzee in WONDER WORLD, Peanut (Norbert Leo Lutz) hears her ideas and implements the suggestions.

WONDER PARK is the third animation feature from Nickleodeon Pictures and Paramount Animation Studios after JIMMY NEUTRON: BOY GENIUS and BARNYARD.  It was reported that the filmmakers hope the film turns out as big as Disney’s COCO.  Both films share the voice of a newcomer for the main child protagonist.

WONDER WORLD is no COCO but it is still not without its pleasures but for mostly kids. 

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5MRSBuQt51A