Full Review: DO DONKEYS ACT? (Canada/Ireland/UK/USA 2017) ***

Do Donkeys Act? Poster
Donkeys inhabit and communicate with each other – and the filmmakers – in a Sanctuary.

Directors:

David RedmonAshley Sabin

Star:

Willem Dafoe

It has to happen eventually – a documentary on donkeys from the donkey’s point of view.

 

One might complain as the poetic prose narrative voiced by actor Willem Dafoe.  It might seem really silly, but after a while, one might accept the directors’ decision and play along with this somewhat funny poetic play.  Sample proses:  “These donkeys have a wind of curiosity on their side.”  “When donkeys walk to a dead end… They have several ways in but no way out.”  Dafoe is the ideal choice as the narrator of such sayings/

 

The film begins with words on the screen saying how other animals communicate without words but with song or rhythm.  It then goes to say that still others communicate by gestures in the shadows – whatever that means.  So, DO DONKEYS ACT? invites the audience to “step into their shade and to listen closely” as the audience attune to a series of dramatic performances in which one can eavesdrop on donkeys speaking amongst themselves.

 

The film elicits the audience’s pity of donkeys.  The film is quick to point out that these donkeys are often abused and neglected.  One was stabbed many times be teens playing stab the donkey with a knife while another is blind.  One was shown in neglect with long curved nails ingrown due to its hoofs.  The nails are removed by cutting using clippers.  Still, the directors show that these are still beautiful creatures with their thick manes and loud and distinct braying.  Hee-haw, hee-haw!!! 

     Among the film’s highlights are:

 

the donkey at the dentist (a live dental experience like an alien encounter;)

 

a beautiful and moving sight of donkeys freely running around in the open after a long winter confinement

 

the birth of a new foal

 

the feeding of a foal

 

Directors  David Redmon and Ashley Sabin have worked before on films like GIRL MODEL and KINGDOM OF ANIMALS as well as several other documentaries.  DO DONKEYS ACT? clearly shows assured work, quirky though it may seem, but still thoroughly entertaining.

 

Though it might seem trivial to learn more about donkeys, curiosity eventually has its day in this occasionally fascinating portrayal of the neglected animal who is still part of God’s animal Kingdom.  Everything you wanted to know that happens inside a donkey sanctuary. The film was shot in several docket sanctuaries in the U.K., U.S., Ireland and Canada including the one in Guelph, Ontario.

 

The film played to rave reviews at the Hit Docs Festival this year in Toronto.

 

Trailer: https://vimeo.com/200043031

 

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Film Review: THE TIME OF THEIR LIVES (UK 2017)

 

The Time of Their Lives Poster
A former Hollywood star enlists the help of a new friend in order to journey from London to France for her ex-lover’s funeral, with the various mishaps en route making the trip unforgettable.

Director:

Roger Goldby

Writer:

Roger Goldby

THE TIME OF THEIR LIVES is a road trip comedy starring Golden Globe-winner Joan Collins, Academy Award-nominee Pauline Collins and Italian film star Franco Nero.  Cineastes should be pleased to see there stars of the 70’s and 80’s now in their golden years.

 

Joan Collins plays a character reminiscent of one of her better known films THE BITCH while Pauline Collins one reminiscent of SHIRLEY VALENTINE. 

 

This is a film about escaping and breaking free – and how it’s never too late to have another chance at life.  Determined to gatecrash her ex-lover’s funeral on the glamorous French hideaway of Île de Ré, former Hollywood siren Helen (Joan Collins) escapes her London retirement home with the help of Priscilla (Pauline Collins), a repressed English housewife stuck in a dwindling marriage.  Helen is not shy to remind everyone she encounters that she used to be a famous star.  And she is bitchy at that and especially even more bitchy that no one remembers who she is.  Priscilla, like her SHIRLEY VALENTINE (she was in both the one-woman Scottish play at London’s west-end and in the film – both of which I and seen) character is one who has spent her entire life as a housewife looking after her husband,  She finally decides enough is enough and she has to take sometime for herself.  The plot of that film is incorporated in Goldby’s script. 

 

  In THE TIME OF THEIR LIVES Helen and Priscilla pool their limited resources, they hit the road like a senior THELMA AND LOUISE in a race to get to Île de Ré, becoming entangled in a love triangle with a reclusive Italian millionaire, Alberto (the still dashing Franco Nero, real life husband of Vanessa Redgrave) along the way.  On this journey, they find true friendship in one another – and of course, have the time of their lives.

 

If all this sounds exciting, the film is not.  It is ridden and bogged down by cliches of similar countless films centred on old people.  While it is tedious to watch a re-hash of the Shirley Valentine, Pauline Collins almost pulls it off.  She is one of my and many others’ favourite actresses and she still manages to elicit sympathy, respect and admiration for a familiar character.  On the other hand, Joan Collins’ Helen character is annoying and as said, bitchy. 

 

Goldby’s script includes two subplots – one involving Helen seeking her daughter and the other Priscilla’s drowned son that gets too sentimental.  The Hollywood ending is too far-fetched for credibility.

 

Writer/director Goldby falls into all the traps of films about senior where they think too much of their glorious past youth and think that they are always pretty enough.  Worst still, these films always bring the embarrassing topic of sex into the equation.  Helen and Priscilla act like teenagers most of the time, creating mischief.  Both women want Antonio, just as teens want the handsome young hunk.

 

THE TIME OF THEIR LIVES despite having three famous older stars ends up as another old farts movie.

Trailer: https://www.theguardian.com/film/video/2017/jan/27/joan-collins-the-time-of-their-lives-trailer-video

THE TIME OF THEIR LIVES

1997 Movie Review: COP LAND, 1997

COP LAND,  MOVIE POSTERCOP LAND, 1997
Movie Reviews

Directed by: James Mangold

Cast: Sylvester Stallone, Harvey Keitel, Ray Liotta, Rober De Niro, Peter Berg, Janeane Garofalo, Robert Patrick, Michael Rapaport
Review by Jarred Thomas

SYNOPSIS:

The sheriff of a suburban New Jersey community populated by New York City policeman slowly discovers the town is a front for mob connections and corruption.

 

REVIEW:

Writer/director James Mangold creates a film that examines the underbelly of corruption among New York City cops who reside in New Jersey, bending the rules to fit their needs while hiding a dark secret about a recent murder. Sylvester Stallone plays the morally straight New Jersey cop who suffered an ear injury that has relegated him to only work small time crimes. He has become something of joke among most of the residents, in particular NY cops led by Harvey Keitel who reside in the community.

Stallone’s understated performance plays against type and he does a wonderful job in his role. Stallone gained weight for the role and it adds to the character as he appears slow and out of shape. He looks like a real person and not some caricature. It’s a quiet performance unlike his previous films and one that gained Stallone critical praise from critics and peers.

Freddy Heflin (Stallone) is the sheriff of a fictional town called Garrison in New Jersey. When he was a teenager he jumped into the river to save a girl who plunged in from the bridge. In doing so, he damaged his ear making him unable to become an officer on the streets. Now, he’s relegated to perform small deeds such as preserving the peace, scolding rowdy children and check parking. His authority is limited, if he has any at all.

Cop Land is a look at big city corruption in a small town. Harvey Keitel as Ray Donlan does a nice job in his role playing a corrupt officer who acts with more authority in town then he really has, but when he speaks, people listen out of fear. Donlan has ties with the mob which have allowed him to have certain cops placed in his town, giving the name “Cop Land.” Many of the houses in town were bought through dirty money and the depravity doesn’t end there.

Ray’s nephew, Murray (Rapaport), a young cop, unintentionally kills to two black teens after his car side swipes them. Out of fear of racial incident, Ray tries to fake Murray’s suicide. However, when Moe Tilden (De Niro), an Internal Affairs investigator comes investigating, he smells a cover up. Not willing to get caught, Ray tries to have Murray killed, but the job doesn’t go as planned leading Murray to seek the help of Freddy. Can Freddy stand up against the corruption in town or is he simply out of his league?

Robert De Niro and Harvey Keitel both provide a well needed boost of energy in this film because although Stallone does a solid job as the slow witted sheriff, there’s really not much to speak of with the other actors. Liotta plays a good/bad cop whose conscience is starting to get the best of him and his loyalties come into question. But it feels clichéd like most of the other characters who hit only one note.

Cop Land has its strong moments, most coming from the three actors De Niro, Keitel and Stallone, but it’s not entirely enough. Towards the middle of the movie, it meanders a bit like Freddy does, maybe even more. Perhaps Stallone being out of his action element too draws attention to itself, and when he finally picks up a weapon the action scene is far too predictable to be even remotely believable. There’s just not enough to recommend this film despite the standout performance of Stallone.

 

1997 Movie Review: THE CASTLE, 1997

THE CASTLE,    MOVIE POSTERTHE CASTLE, 1997
Movie Reviews

Directed by Rob Sitch
Starring: Michael Caton, Anne Tenney, Stephen Curry, Anthony Simcoe, Eric Bana
Review by Jay Radosavljevic

SYNOPSIS:

The Kerrigan family live happily beside an airport, beneath a pylon. They are a close family with strong morals and traditions. A man from the local council comes by to do a routine valuation of the property which father, Darryl thinks is great. Little does he know that the council are preparing to kick the Kerrigans out of their home to expand the airport. Darryl goes on a crusade to stop the council and protect his family home.

REVIEW:

A low-budget underground cult hit from Austrailia, ‘The Castle’ will go down (under) in history as one of the funniest films ever made but still suffers from under-exposure and is eclipsed in popularity by any number of the traditional (yet wholly inferior) American follies into comedy.

‘The Castle’ is the Kerrigans’ family home – it is right next door to the airport (which would be handy if the family ever needed to fly anywhere) in a small and scarcely populated cul-de-sac, High View Crescent. Their neighbours comprise a female divorcee, a poor old man and a Lebanese immigrant who prefers the planes that fly overhead here than the ones that drop bombs back home.

The Kerrigans are the happiest and sweetest family you would ever have the pleasure of meeting: the father, Daryl (a tow truck driver) has principles and just loves his wife’s cooking – the mother, Sal is devoted to her family and to prettying up the house with her own unique tastes – the youngest son, Dale is lovely but dim (he can dig a good hole though) and narrates the story – the middle son, Steve is an ideas man with a keen eye for a bargain in the trading post – the oldest son, Wayne is in prison for his part in a robbery but it wasn’t his fault … he fell in with the wrong crowd – the daughter, Tracey is the only member of the family with a tertiary education (beauty school) and was once on ‘The Price Is Right’. Tracey is engaged to Con (played by a young Eric Bana) who is an immaculately dressed and overly polite keen amateur kick-boxer.

All the family members have ridiculously bad haircuts (mullets for the boys and a frizzy bouffant adorns the heads of the girls) – their sweaters are amazing too. Check them out!

Now, something terrible happens to disrupt the family bliss and the harmony of the whole neighbourhood. The airport wants to expand and build another runway – the Airport Authority are too cheap to fill in the old quarry and build there so decide to compulsorily acquire all the houses in High View Crescent to build there instead. Darryl is incensed into action – after all, its not a house, it’s a home and a man’s home is his castle.

The film follows Darryl’s attempts to have the compulsory acquisition order overruled by the courts. He hires a big-shot (how do you write with sarcasm?) lawyer (the same one that represented Wayne in his trial for the robbery) and they hit the legal trail of the Airport Authority’s dastardly desires.

It feels and acts like a true story: compulsory acquisition really does displace people against their wishes. It is all the more poignant when you consider the film’s location, Australia where the Aboriginal first nation people were displaced by the ruling authorities from the moment the country was discovered. Darryl even says he now knows how the Aborigines feel – their home is like their ancestral land – it holds their memories and no one deserves to have that taken away from them.

It may seem like a dull plot with not much funny going on at all for a comedy (how do you find ground breaking laughs in a court-room drama?) but this film truly has it all: tension, twists, turns, great one-liners, hair-raising hair cuts, floundering fashions, memorable catch-phrases, horrific hair cuts, a tightly refined all-round quotable script … and did I mention the hair?!

You really have to watch ‘The Castle’ three, maybe four times before you fully see and understand the many layers of the comedy. On your first view you will laugh at all the obvious stuff and miss other obvious comedy simply because you are laughing too much to catch the next gag. The second viewing will remedy this. On your third and fourth viewings you will really start to notice the detail and minutiae of the comedy: you will take in all the elements of the set dressing, the wardrobe department, the hair and make-up – all important cogs in the machine that when put together create one of the most intelligent combinations of comedic essentials ever seen on the silver screen.

This is a big statement to make but believe me, when you are up to your twentieth viewing (or even thirtieth, like me) you will be a staunch advocate of this film too. It never gets boring, it never gets tired and it will never get old.

 

1997 Movie Review: BREAKDOWN, 1997

 

BREAKDOWN MOVIE POSTERBREAKDOWN, 1997
Movie Reviews

Directed by: Jonathan Mostow

Cast: Kurt Russell, JT Walsh, Kathleen Quinlan, M.C. Gainey, Kim Robillard
Review by Jarred Thomas

SYNOPSIS:

After their new Jeep conks out on a desolate stretch of Arizona highway, a well-heeled Massachusetts couple accepts the help of a kindly, honest-seeming trucker, who drives the wife to a diner while the husband stays behind to “protect” the vehicle. After saying goodbye, the husband gets two surprises: the Jeep starts, and his wife never actually arrived at the diner, and the trucker doesn’t recollect having picked her up at all…

REVIEW:

An exciting and compelling thriller that star Kurt Russell as a husband desperately trying to find his wife who may or may not have been kidnapped by some desert locals. What’s great about this film in particular is the suspense which in many films try to capture it, only to come up with nothing. But here Mostow and Russell work well in conveying husband’s anguish and the looming tension.

Jeff and Amy Taylor are moving to California and must drive across the country. While driving the jeep starts to breakdown, or at least appears so. When they find themselves stranded in the middle of a desert with hardly anyone or anything around, their trip comes to a sudden halt.

When a truck driver pulls up he offers the two a ride to the nearest diner, 60 miles away. Jeff however wants to remain with the jeep, believing that the jeep might have just overheated, which is what the trucker suggested. But Amy reasons that if it’s not overheated they may be stranded for a lot longer.

So, they agree for her to take a ride with the trucker to the diner where she can call for a tow truck. She leaves. But after a long time with no tow truck, Jeff becomes worried.

The jeep starts working again, and he heads off to the diner where he finds that no one in the diner has seen or heard from his wife. When he finds the trucker who gave Amy the ride, the trucker swears he has never seen her. Now Jeff must attempt to find his wife, who has been kidnapped and is being held for ransom.

There are a few twists that pop up throughout the film which actually adds depth to certain characters. JT plays the villain but there’s more to his story than simply a one note bad guy. He has a family, and a son who admires him greatly.

Kurt Russell has always been solid actor and many of his roles, and here he’s no different. It’s nice to see him again since nowadays he’s rarely seen in films. But here he shows us why he was such valuable commodity in the business. Maybe he’ll show up some more in future movies.

BREAKDOWN1.jpg

1997 Movie Review: THE BOXER, 1997

 

THE BOXER,  MOVIE POSTERTHE BOXER, 1997
Movie Reviews

directed by: Jim Sheridan

Starring: Daniel Day-Lewis, Emily Watson, Brian Cox, Nye Heron, Jer O’Leary
Review by Virginia De Witt

SYNOPSIS:On the eve of peace being declared in Northern Ireland, Danny Flynn is released from prison after serving 14 years for his youthful involvement with the IRA. Danny’s former girlfriend, Maggie, married his best friend, Tommy Doyle, and had a son, Liam. Tommy is now in prison himself and Maggie is watched vigilantly by the local community as she is now a prisoner’s wife and must be above reproach at all times. Danny sets out to start his life anew, and continue with his boxing career which had been interrupted by his prison term. He begins by initiating a training program for young boxers in the youth centre where Maggie also works. They reconnect even though it is dangerous for them to be seen together. At the same time, Danny begins to fight professionally again. Events spiral out of control as Maggie’s young son, Liam, is furious over his mother’s attachment to Danny. As well, Danny’s newfound commitment to the peace process sets him on a collision course with members of the local IRA.

REVIEW:

This third collaboration between writer/director Jim Sheridan and Daniel Day-Lewis is the least well known. It was shot from an original screenplay co-written by Sheridan and Terry George. Their main object in telling the fictional story of Danny Flynn was to dramatize the culmination of the peace process and the consequences of it in the lives of ordinary people living in Belfast. In an interview on the DVD, Sheridan says the idea for the story came to him while he was living in New York in the ‘80s watching the news from Ireland, which was all bad. Then one night, a young Irish boxer, Barry McGuigan, was featured and said, “Leave the fighting to McGuigan.” Sheridan relates how he found it “… kind of innocent and naive a little bit, but great. Here was a guy in a violent profession saying stop fighting. That contradiction interested me.”

It’s that contradiction that is at the heart of the drama Sheridan and Geoge have crafted here. It is a thoughtful and intelligent take on the sometimes painful and dramatic progress of the peace process in Northern Ireland, which however, lacks some of the focus and tightness of storytelling that distinguished “My Left Foot” and “In The Name of the Father.” The tension that drives the story comes from the split on the republican side over whether to accept the terms being offered by the British to achieve peace, ie decommissioning weapons, etc. Danny (Daniel Day-Lewis), his friend and boxing mentor, Ike Weir (Ken Stott) and Maggie’s father (Brian Cox), an IRA chief, are all on the side of negotiating. They are each, in turn, confronted by Harry (Gerard McSorley), a break away IRA member, in violent episodes meant to sabotage the peace process. In the midst of this political drama, Sheridan works in a love story that is affecting and simply drawn.

Sheridan is ambitious here, attempting to combine what initially seem like too many elements for a small film. He does manage, however, to keep the political story, the love story and finally the boxing narrative of Danny’s attempted career comeback, balanced for most of the film. It is not until well into the last act when Sheridan cuts to Danny’s big fight in a London hotel that the film loses its momentum and bogs down. The London sequence is unnecessary dramatically as it doesn’t show us anything we haven’t already seen in Belfast regarding the peace process. It does, however, allow the filmmaker to make his point about violence by having Danny refuse to keep fighting a man who is clearly in distress. This scene is also an emotional nod to Barry McGuigan (who worked on the film as Daniel Day-Lewis’s trainer). McGuigan relates in an interview on the DVD how, when he was a professional boxer, he had fought a man in London, who had died later of head injuries. As admirable as all of this is, the point has already been made about Danny’s desire to use his boxing skills for peace in the earlier Belfast scenes. The result is that the build up to the final confrontation between Danny and Harry at the end of the film has been crucially interrupted.

Despite this lapse, overall the film works well. As usual Sheridan, and his actors, are wonderful at capturing the nuances of Irish life believably and dramatically. In the extended wedding scene that opens the film or in the depictions of the daily interactions at the Holy Family Boxing Club, the rhythms of language, the pleasures and pressures of family life and social obligations are all caught knowingly, and yet seem completely natural in their context.

The cast is crucial in this process. Daniel Day-Lewis is intense, but quiet, as Danny Flynn, displaying a barely acknowledged sadness just beneath his surface that is moving. This is a man who is aware of what he has lost by virtue of his earlier decisions and has now grown used to being alone. It is easy for us to understand how Danny now only wants to start his life again. As an important part of that new life, Emily Watson, as Maggie, displays a disarming simplicity. Maggie is quiet too, but it is a quiet strength. We come to know that in her world to talk too much is dangerous. Maggie learned long ago how to navigate her way through the byways of a life lived in proximity to violence. Watson lets us know subtly that this endless process, both personal and political, is now wearing her down. As well, she has a nice rapport with Daniel Day-Lewis in their scenes together. Ken Stott, as Danny’s trainer, is memorable as an older man who, like Danny, is desperately trying to begin again but knows the odds are against him.

The original music by Gavin Friday and Maurice Seezer is eery, evocative of tribal chants, mixed with Celtic sounds. The cinematography by Chris Menges has a sometimes strangely blueish tint to it, but is clear and sharp and captures the dark world out of which these characters are struggling to emerge.

The ending of “The Boxer” lacks the joyous completion of “My Left Foot” or the triumphal vindication of “In The Name of the Father.” There is, instead, an air of quiet resolution about it, and the film overall. Nonetheless, “The Boxer” deserves its place alongside these other two excellent films and should be revisited

 

 

1997 Movie Review: BOOGIE NIGHTS, 1997

BOOGIE NIGHTS MOVIE POSTER
BOOGIE NIGHTS, 1997
Movie Reviews

Directed by Paul Thomas Anderson
Starring: Mark Wahlberg, Julianne Moore, Burt Reynolds, John C. Reilly, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Don Cheadle, William H. Macy
Review by Cathryn Naiker

SYNOPSIS:

A famous porn director discovers a young man in a nightclub. He is soon thrusted into the pornography scene of the late seventies and early eighties. They enjoy great success together and are looking into crossing over into mainstream film. However, the year 1980 along with being wired on cocaine and the introduction of videotape turn their worlds

About:

This was director Paul Thomas Anderson’s sophomore feature film. Anderson had been researching this film since the late eighties and based a lot of the characters on real life accounts. The film was picked up by new line cinema who was constantly in battle with Anderson over length and content of the film. The studio was disappointed with the film until critics started praising it. Burt Reynolds, in arguably his best work as Jack Horner, won a Golden Globe for best supporting actor. The film was also nominated for a few Oscars, but no wins.

Highlights:

Boogie Nights was the movie that turned “Markey Mark” into Mark Wahlberg. From pop music (“Good Vibrations”, anyone?) to infamous Calvin Klien tighty whitey ads, Mark was able to somehow make the transition from a pop-star to a serious actor in an era where singer/actor transitions were not so common or successful. I think that the role of Eddie/Dirk Diggler for Mark was a great role for him at the time since so much of the film focuses on his “package” and that was also the cause for a lot of his publicity in real life. Another outstanding performance came from Julianne Moore who plays Amber Waves. Amber is the main starlet in Jack Horner’s films. She is the maternal role model in a house full of lost souls. In the mist of a custody battle for her son, we see her being motherly towards Dirk Diggler at the same time we see her introduce Dirk (and presumably other characters) to cocaine.

Review:

When this film first started being reviewed most people were expecting a comedy about the porn industry of the 1970’s. Instead, there was a very long dramatic ensemble piece about sex, drugs and not enough disco or rock and roll. This film came at a time where 90’s chic became a crossover between the “heroin look” and bellbottoms. The 70’s made a huge comeback in 1997 in fashion and in films like “54” and “Austin Powers”.

I feel where this movie fails is at telling the story of all the characters they portray. Then again, if it did tell such a story, it would be five hours long. All the characters are strong but there are just too many of them. Some key players don’t even get introduced until halfway through the film. The movie got very muddled with too many story lines but was eventually tied together in the end. For example, Don Cheadle’s character, Buck Swoope, has a great story line about a porn star that wants to open his own speaker and electronics store. But what does his journey have to do with Dirk Diggler? After watching the film again I can’t even remember if they share any dialogue together. I’m not saying Buck Swoope shouldn’t be in the film (because he’s fantastic in this movie) but his character is just an example of why there is just too much going on at once. On the flip side, it’s the charm of these characters that make the film what it is.

Overall I thought this film was highly entertaining, full of energy and impulse and kept me on the edge of my seat for an ending that was worth sticking around for (in more ways than one!).
boogie nights.jpg