Film Review: RACETIME (Canada 2018) ***

Racetime Poster
Trailer

A spectacular sled race through the village. Frankie-Four-Eyes and his team, including Sophie as the driver, take on the newcomers: the mysterious and conceited Zac and his athletic cousin … See full summary »

If the Canadian (Quebecois) animated feature’s characters look family, you might have seen the film THE DOG WHO STOPPED THE WAR which RACETIME is based on or SNOWTIME which is its prequel.  RACETIME, as its title implies is a race of sleds. 

The subject is the  spectacular sled race through the village. Frankie-Four-Eyes and his team, including Sophie as the driver, take on the newcomers: the mysterious and conceited Zac and his athletic cousin Charly.  The fantastic sled designed by Frankie disintegrates right before crossing the finish line.  This becomes the most bitter loss for Frankie who refuses to accept that he might have made some building mistakes.  Frankie gets into  a fight with Sophie who blames the sled.  Together with his friends, Frankie manages to prove that Zac cheated during the race.  Frankie demands a rematch; which Zac accepts on condition that Frankie build an entirely new race track. Frankie and his friends build a spectacular race track. Zac realizes he is up against a worthy opponent so he raises the stakes even more by cornering Frankie into betting the barn.  As the two teams prepare for race day, Zac has no scruples about cheating even more to weight the outcome of the race in his favour.  But Frankie and his team have a few surprises of their own in store for him.

The Canadian animation can nowhere be compared to the animation of Disney and Pixar studios.  But RACETIME holds it own.  What it might lack in technology is compensated by creativity.  The animation fo the races, the one at the start and the climatic one are both brilliantly conceived and executed with the sleds soaring into the air, while the sleds turn as if cameras were placed in the real sleds.  The snow in the animated scenes also looked remarkable real.

The film could do with a solid villain or a nastier Zac than one who merely cheats.  The part where Frankie befriends his nemesis treads clichéd territory.  However, this can be forgiven for a family film.

The film contains a few scenes with blurry images and a few where objects are flung out (like snow pellets) of the screen.  RACETIME must have been conceived as a 3-D film at one point.

Of all the voice characterizations, the best one is Frankie’s.  Frankie is voiced, surprisingly by a female, Lucinda Davis, who has to ability to make even the most ordinary of lines like ‘How dare you?’  funny.

For the audience who likes a bit of romance in the story, there is a sub-plot involving the strongest kid in the village, Chuck and Charly, the sister of the cheating Zac.  The film also contains a few messages for the young audience – put in for good measure.

There are a few song and dance numbers -the songs courtesy of Cindi Lauper.  The animated dance sequence at the end to celebrate the winner  of the race is also sufficiently lively.

RACETIME turns out to be an entertaining harmless family romp (never mind the one fart joke), credit to the Canadian and Quebec filmmakers.

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EV5OpotW6S8

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Film Review: VIRUS TROPICAL (Ecuador/Colombia 2017) ****

Virus Tropical Poster
Paola is born in a traditional Colombian family, or at least that is what they try to be. Her father is a priest, her mother is a “psychic” and her sisters are not what their parents … See full summary »

Director:

Santiago Caicedo

Writers:

Entique LozanoPaola Gaviria (as Powerpaola)

This full length animated feature is inspired by the graphic novel by the Colombian-Ecuadorian illustrator Power Paola, and directed by Santiago Caicedo,  TROPICAL VIRUS is so called because when Paolita’s (as Paola is called) mother had her in her womb, the doctors told the mother that she was not pregnant and had contacted a tropical virus.  She conceived anyway going birth to Paolita, the youngest of three sisters.

  The film  a shows us the life of the Gaviria family, seen from the perspective of her, from her unexpected birth to the inevitable journey to reside in another country.  Paolitia faces a series of events that will change her perception of the world that surrounds her.  Caidedo’s film is high spirited, full of keen observations, totally femminist and totally delightful an refreshing.  It is a coming-of-age stay set in a foreign place (Ecuador and Colombia) though the problems encountered by the young protagonist is common to all.  

The animation is simple but stylist offering a different look in an animated film.

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jutDJ3PGBmQ

Film Review: HALE COUNTY THIS MORNING, THIS EVENING (USA 2018) ***

Hale County This Morning, This Evening Poster
Trailer

Composed of intimate and unencumbered moments of people in a community, this film is constructed in a form that allows the viewer an emotive impression of the Historic South – trumpeting … See full summary »

Director:

RaMell Ross

Writers:

RaMell RossMaya Krinsky (co-writer)

This nonfiction documentary debut and  U.S. Documentary Sundance Award winner by RaMell Ross is a minimalist doc about the lives of black people in Hale County, Alabama.  Running just about an hour and a quarter, Ross picks a few people to focus his points on.

The film shows the limited opportunities available to the citizens of Hale.  The film opens with the first subject who specializes in psychology and basketball.  There are extended scenes with subjects practice basketball giving the film the feel of an art movie.  It is for this reason that the film could have got the rave reviews but the capsuled film is lacking in many areas.

For one only the blacks are centred.  Very little is heard or revealed on the white pollution – even whether they are a minority, as if they did not matter one bit.  The film is pessimistic in outlook.  Nothing is mentioned of the decrease in unemployment or the increase in voter turnout in the years following the film being made  The film generalizes from just the few subjects chosen on camera.

There are two main subjects on show.  The other is a black kid called Daniel.  He is shown to be a kind of anti-social wild person that one would stay clear away from.  The film attributes the cause to be his upbringing where his grandmother prevented his mother from raising him.  Daniel is a very angry teen.  Daniel blames his mother, who on camera confesses that it was not her fault.  On one occasion, she tried to get her son back but with little success.  The grandmother called the cops on her.  This intimate section brings some life into the doc.

Having a background in photography, director Ross’s simple film is beautiful to look at, in a simple way, without glamour or special effects.  This suits the mood of the lives of the simple Hale County citizens on display.

It is hard to fault small well-intentioned films like HALE COUNTY which aims low and needs little research, contains no whistleblowing and ruffles few feathers.  It is easier to find faults with larger docs which have more chance of making errors.  HALE COUNTY also provides no answers to the problems of poverty and racial image brought up.  But the film offers a rare look at the African American in small towns in the black belt region of the U.S. instead of big or inner cities.

Narration is minimal and replaced by interwoven images, a few of which are long takes.  One shows Daniel, all sweaty practicing basketball on his own.  This is one long take of a practice that could have lasted hours.

HALE COUNTY THIS MORNING, THIS EVENING is a film the many have not heard of – then suddenly appears out of nowhere for a limited engagement at the TIFF Bell Lightbox.  It is also thanks to Bell Lightbox that small films like this one have a chance at being seen.

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

Film Review: THE KID WHO WOULD BE KING (USA/UK 2019) ****

The Kid Who Would Be King Poster
Trailer

A band of kids embark on an epic quest to thwart a medieval menace.

Director:

Joe Cornish

Writer:

Joe Cornish

The film title THE KID WHO WOULD BE KING is likely used due to familiarity with the medieval hit, John Huston’s 1975 Rudyard Kipling adaptation of THE MAN WHO WOULD BE KING.   Don’t let either the title or the fact that this is a family film discourage you from seeing this picture.  Despite the film’s limitations of targeting a family audience, there is plenty to enjoy for adults. Also ignore the silly ad” “Kids Rule” that would turn off adults. 

The story follows Alex Elliot (Louis Ashbourne Serkis, son of Andy) a young boy who is picked on at school and does not appear to be very special at all.  However, that soon changes when he finds and pulls King Arthur’s famous sword Excalibur in the neighbourhood construction site.  He discovers that he is destined to form a new round table for an upcoming battle with the medieval villain Morgana (Rebecca Ferguson), who summons evil forces to rule the world, after being banished by King Arthur.  All this information is revealed at the film’s prologue – animation style.  The wizard Merlin (Angus Imrie) assists Alex in his quest. He is depicted as a young incarnation of Merlin in the film but capable of transforming to his old self (Sir Patrick Stewart).

If Morgana’s evil forces, creatures made up dark black with infra-red eyes look familiar, these creatures bear an uncanny resemblance to the invading aliens in ATTACK ON THE BLOCK, a small first feature that was a hit.  And with solid reason.  KID is directed by that film’s same director Joe Cornish who has the talent of bringing his films filled with spirit, humour and imagination.

Performances are surprisingly spectacular.  Deserving of mention is relative newcomer Angus Imrie who plays the young Merlin, who suddenly appears as a new student to help Alex in his quest to save the world.  Also delivering a heartwarming and sometimes gut-wrenching performance is Denise Gough, an Olivier Award (British Theatre) winner who plays Alex’s mum.

The location where the fights and setting take place is stunningly captured on film by cinematographer Bill Pope.  The film is shot in the Cornwall area, south coast of England.  The film can also be considered to be a super action hero film, with Alex as the young schoolboy King Arthur type hero saving the world.  The film also has plenty of special effects to go with it – so action fans will be delighted.  The special effects is dished out small doses at a time with nothing much at the first half of the film but then coming out strong at the end creating a solid climax for the film.

Cornish’s clever script contains plenty of messages as if to mock films with messages.  These come on strong even at the beginning of the film.   “Telling the truth and doing the right thing.”  “The world doe not change – you do!”  “You do not need what you already have!”  “Use your enemies as your allies.”

THE KID WHO WOULD BE KING is an often imaginative super hero adventure cleverly blending medieval times with the modern with lots of good messages from the director Joe Cornish who the TFCA (Toronto Film Critics Association) awarded the Best First Feature way back when for his equally impressive 2011 ATTACK ON THE BLOCK.  This film rules!

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cJlxP5P9v9c

Film Review: STAN & OLLIE (USA/UK/Canada 2018) ***1/2

Stan & Ollie Poster
Trailer

Laurel and Hardy, the world’s most famous comedy duo, attempt to reignite their film careers as they embark on what becomes their swan song – a grueling theatre tour of post-war Britain.

Director:

Jon S. Baird

Writer:

Jeff Pope

STAN & OLLIE (or perhaps alternatively called LAUREL & HARDY) is a capsule biographical film of the two of the world’s most famous comedians and a tale of undying friendship.

The film is a biographical comedy-drama film directed by Jon S. Baird (from TV films and a few obscure theatrical films) from a screenplay by Jeff Pope.   The comedy is derived mainly from their acts on stage and Laurel’s s often smart mouths remarks while the drama is the story of their friendship and  Oliver’s illness). Based on the lives of the comedy double act Laurel and Hardy, the film stars Steve Coogan and John C. Reilly as Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy. It already premiered in October 2018 at the BFI London Film Festival.  The film had a limited release in the United States on 28 December 2018 and will be released widely in the United Kingdom, the United States and in Canada in January 2019.

The film is boosted by two outstanding performances.  Besides being impressionists, the actors have to act as well.  Both Coogan and Reilly enable audiences to forget who they really are but for their characters of Stan & Ollie.  It is a tough decision to see who does the better job.  Being American, Reilly earned a Golden Globe nomination for Best Actor (the Golden Globe is more American than foreign press) while Brit Coogan got snubbed.  The other way around for the BFTA (British awards) where Coogan was nominated for the Best Actor award with Reilly up for nothing.

The film is a U.K. co-prodcution as most of the film is set in the U.K.  The film begins with the duo embarking on a gruelling music hall tour of the United Kingdom and Ireland during 1953, and struggle to get another film made – their own (comedy) version of Robin Hood.  There is stop during the tour in Newcastle, though no-one during those segments speak with any Geordie accent.

The film’s narrative is choppy (the script picks up a few incidents in the duo’s lives that mostly affected their bonding) punctuated by the duo’s acts on stage with the dramatic set-pieces.  These acts are at least well performed.  The audience get to see their best acts performed by the impressionists, which shows both how good the acts are and how good the impressionists are as were the original performers.  

The film gets a bit sentimental at times, especially in the last scenes where Ollie is ill from poor health.  But the film’s two best segments are the dramatic confrontation where their friendship is tested and the comedy act where the two are supposed to meet by a change room but fail to see each other.

The shooting of the last performance on stage – the dance number routine by Stan & Ollie must also be commended.  The use of shadows, camera angles and editing to emphasize the talent of the duo is expertly done and watching the sequence is well worth the price of the admission ticket.

The film ends appropriately with the epilogue that Ollie’s health deteriorated after the tour, leading to his death in 1957 and Stan’s eight years later in 1965. Stan continued to write sketches for Laurel and Hardy in the last eight years of his life.

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rlTTsN4JGnU

Film Reviewer: DESTROYER (USA 2018) ***1/2

Destroyer Poster
Trailer

A police detective reconnects with people from an undercover assignment in her distant past in order to make peace.

Director:

Karyn Kusama

Writers:

Phil Hay (screenplay), Matt Manfredi (screenplay)

There is a new super hero in town.  But this is a super hero of a different kind – not a Marvel or DC super action figure hero but a female down to earth cop with the super power of survival.  

As the film opens, LAPD detective Erin Bell (Nicole Kidman) arrives on the scene of a John Doe murder and informs the responding officers that she knows the victim’s identity.   The responding officers clearly dislikes her and unafraid to show their feelings.  She gives them the finger when they ask the identity.

At the police station, Erin receives a $100 bill stained from a dye pack in an unmarked envelope. Using a contact at the FBI, she confirms that the bill is from a bank robbery committed by a California gang many years prior that she and her former partner Chris (Sebastian Stan) were embedded in as undercover officers.  She tells her superiors that she believes the bill and the John Doe murder to be proof that the gang’s leader Silas (Toby Kebbell) is once again active.

Erin is forced to work her way through the remaining members of the gang in order to find Silas. She begins with Toby (James Jordan), who was arrested but is now gravely ill and living with his mother on compassionate release. She manually stimulates him in exchange for the location of Arturo (Zach Villa), a member of the gang who attempts to atone for his past crimes by offering pro bono legal services to immigrants.  Arturo provides Erin with the location of DiFranco (Bradley Whitford), a lawyer who launders the money from the original robbery and from whom Erin deduces that Silas is active again because the money from the heist is almost gone. After threatening him, DiFranco gives Erin the location of the next money hand-off, which is performed by Silas’ girlfriend Petra (Tatiana Maslany). Erin tracks Petra, eventually intervening in a bank robbery committed by Silas’ new gang, and kidnaps Petra.

But the beauty of all this is that there is more than meets the eye.

Via flashbacks throughout the film, it transpires that Erin and Chris developed a romantic relationship while undercover, with Erin eventually becoming pregnant with Chris’ child.  Nothing more will be revealed of the story but that it is a bit annoying at the start for the audience has to piece the puzzle of the story together.  But the work pays off.  The fragmented narrative works eventually.  One also needs to take time after the film has ended to piece everything together to see how the time line has worked.

Kidman is marvellous and the almost unrecognizable Erin who strives for redemption for an undercover operation gone all wrong.  She even stole the money.  Kidman was nominated for a Golden Globe for her performance but lost out to Glenn Close.  The young Tatiana Naslany also proves herself a rising star.

The nitty gritty atmosphere of bars and rundown towns is effectively captured.  Director Kusama (GIRLFIGHT) again proves herself as a strong female presence in films.

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

Film Review: THE UPSIDE (USA 2018)

The Upside Poster
Trailer

A comedic look at the relationship between a wealthy man with quadriplegia and an unemployed man with a criminal record who’s hired to help him.

Director:

Neil Burger

Writers:

Jon Hartmere (screenplay by), Éric Toledano (based on the motion picture “Les Intouchables” by) | 1 more credit »

The film begins one night when Dell Scott (Kevin Hart) is driving Phillip’s (Bryan Cranston) flashy sports car at high speed.  They are chased through the streets by the police and eventually cornered.  Dell claims the quadriplegic Phillip must be urgently driven to the emergency room as he is having an epileptic fit;  Philippe pretends to have a seizure and the fooled police officers escort them to the hospital.  All cliched comedy here,  The story of the friendship between the two men is then told as a flashback with this scene retuned at the end.

THE UPSIDE is the remake of France’s second most successful box-office film of all time, the 1999 LES INTOUCHABLES which cost 10 million euros to make but grossed over $360 euros.

The first paragraph describing the story could be applied to both films as THE UPSIDE is quite the similar film but with a few changes.   The American remake changes parts of the original to make the story more believable and dramatic.

Among the changes:

the American version has a a more realistic but less effective ending

the Nicole Kidman character is expanded though not too credible at the end

the comedy is reduced with more drama added

the setting is changed from Paris, France to the U.S.

the character of Phillip’s adopted daughter is omitted completely in the remake

as the film is based on the true story of these two ‘friends’, the original ending showed the two men in real life, Philippe Pozzo di Borgo and his French-Algerian caregiver Abdel Sellou

     It is debatable whether each the changes improves the film, as what is written on paper might not turn out that well or turn out better on film.  Still, the script by Jon Hartmere is a lazy one that follows most of the original scene by scene.

THE UPSIDE benefits from the three lead performances.  Bryan Cranston (TRUMBO) has first billing.  He plays a quadriplegic, which means he can only act using his neck upwards.  Hart gets to clown around for all that is worth.  When the script allow him to do his thing as in the scene where he is supposed to clean up his boss, (What is an American comedy without its shit jokes?) Hart comes across as quite desperate on trying to get a few laughs out of a script that lives him nothing.  I found this segment unfunny and boring though it did get a few laughs from a few of the audience at the promotional screening.  Kidman plays the prissy role of the personal business assistant well giving a needed boost to the under-written role. 

For a  comedy, the running time of over two hours (126 minutes) is lengthy which explains the film crossing the line into feel-good drama.  Bit cliche upon cliche are piled up, if not identical set-ups from the original film.  The end result is a goofy and unrealistic feel-good movie that is as boring as it is original.

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