Film Review: SHERLOCK GNOMES (USA/UK 2018) ***1/2

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Sherlock Gnomes Poster

Garden gnomes, Gnomeo & Juliet, recruit renowned detective Sherlock Gnomes to investigate the mysterious disappearance of other garden ornaments.


John Stevenson


Ben Zazove (screenplay by), Andy Riley (story by) | 9 more credits »


SHERLOCK GNOMES is the 3D animated sequel to the 2011 successful animated GNOMEO AND JULIET.  In case one is wondering what Sherlock Gnomes has to do with the original characters, SHERLOCK GNOMES the sequel has Gnomeo and Juliet in it, as two of the main characters, once again voiced by James McAvoy and Emily Blunt respectively.  Michael Caine and Dame Maggie Smith reprise their voice roles (immediately recognizable) as gnomes Lord Redbrick and Lady Bluebury.

When the film opens, gnomes are being stolen from gardens in London, England.  They will be smashed and destroyed within 24 hours unless Sherlock Gnomes (Johnny Depp) and Dr. Watson (Chiwetel Ejiofor) foil the culprit who turns out to be Professor Moriarty (Jamie Demetriou).  He is foiled in the London Museum of Natural History and presumed dead.  The film then switches to the garden of Gnomeo and Juliet where Juliet is given the task of making the garden work by spring, the next season.  But gnomes start disappearing once again and Sherlock establishes that Gnomeo and Juliet’s garden is next.  It is!  All the gnomes go missing except for Gnomeo and Juliet who happen to be out of the garden at the time.  The four solve the mystery and save the day – and the garden!

Stevenson is no newbie to animation having directed KUNG FU PANDA and worked in the art department of the SHREK films.  SHERLOCK GNOMES benefits from his experience as evident in the humour that caters to both kids and adults.  For one, the bond between Holmes and Dr. Watson and enmity between between them and their arch enemy Moriarty as in the Sir Conan Doyle novels are kept respected.  The villainous Moriarty is fashioned after Batman’s joker in his laughter and antics, he even saying like in the BATMAN film, that there is a love affair between him and his enemy.  Jamie Demetriou does a marvellous job voicing the cartoonish villain, as do his animators.

Sir Elton John executively produced the film and his songs are featured in the film.  There is even an Elton John gnome playing a sparkled piano.  Immediately recognizable is “Don’t Go Breaking My Heart” that is played during the opening credits.  The song is relevant to the film’s message.  The story involves the respect between Holmes and Dr. Watson and between Gnomeo and Juliet.  Both couples are having relationship problems that need to be solved.  These are serious issues dished out for the adults while the younger audience can relish the childish gnome dances.

The animation is impressive especially of the gargoyles that guard the kidnapped gnomes.  The gnomes are also sufficiently detailed in their 3D looks.  Of the voice characterizations, Ejiofor and Demetriou stand out.  Johnny Depp gets away with his British accent as Holmes.

SHERLOCK GNOMES’  budget comes just under $60 million compared to GNOMEO AND JULIET’s $36 million.  It is still a bargain considering Disney’s expensive animated features.  The almost perfect family film!


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Full Review: JOURNEY’S END (UK 2017) ****

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Journey's End Poster

Set in a dugout in Aisne in 1918, it is the story of a group of British officers, led by the mentally disintegrating young officer Stanhope, as they await their fate.


Saul Dibb


Simon Reade (screenplay), R.C. Sherriff (novel) | 2 more credits »


JOURNEY’S END about soldiers (Officers and enlisted men) during an offensive in the trenches during the First World War is a story that is already too familiar to us.  Still, it is a story that needs repeating, to remind the world of the futility of war and that orders coming down from the top brass would ultimately be executed often to the death by the men of lower ranks, who has loved ones and families back home.  JOURNEY’S END is based on the 1928 play and filmed two years later by James Whale which starred Sir Lawrence Olivier as Cpt. Stanhope now played brilliantly convincingly by Sam Catlin.  The updated screenplay be Simon Reade is by no means flawless, (words like a person needing to be sorted’. the word never used at that time; an offbeat change of scenery back to England for the reading of a letter) but serves the fiilm’s purpose.

The film begins like any war film.  There is news of the war and word of fighting in France against the Germans.  Things get real only when the audience can put a face to the goings-on.  The face in this case belongs to green 2LT Laleigh (Asa Butterfeld) who wishes to join the battalion of his old school mate Cpt Stanhope who used to be his house monitor and good friend of him and his sister.   Stanhope is found to be changed due to the strain of war.  In the trenches are Lta Osborne (Paul Bettany)  veteran who is the most stable of the lot and apparentlythe one who keeps everything together.   

When the men are ordered to attack the Germans in two days time in an effort that seems pointless, casualties increase and things come to a boil in this realities tale of men caught in the war apparently to fight in what they believe for their country. It is made clear at one point, that the assault is to take place at 5 pm so that the higher ups can discuss the results over dinner.

Despite the film’s seriousness in tone, Reade’s script is not devoid of needed humour, which is provided by stiff faced Toby Jones as Mason, the men’s cook.  If not describing his cutlets as new in shape or the yellowness of the soup to entice the blandness of his meals, the on running jokes on the meals are nothing short of hilarious.

The narrow trenches emphasizes the claustrophobia of the location complete with mud rats though only one is shown) and worms oozing out from the mud during a meal.  To Dibb’s and the production designer’s credit, the film never feels like a play.

Though one might wonder at the film’s aim, it is clear that Dibb’s message is that one is never to forget that human beings are the ones fighting the war, and there are casualties on both sides as the end credits remind both sides of the millions that have died in WWI.


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Pacific Rim: Uprising Poster

Jake Pentecost, son of Stacker Pentecost, reunites with Mako Mori to lead a new generation of Jaeger pilots, including rival Lambert and 15-year-old hacker Amara, against a new Kaiju threat.


Steven S. DeKnight takes over the director’s reins from Guillermo del Toro making his directorial debut in the sequel to the 2013 hit PACIFIC RIM.  PACIFIC RIM is del Toro’s most successful film at the box-office making over $400 million worldwide at the box-office.  UPRISING costing $150 million aims to do the same.

The premise of the first film which is the backdrop for uprising is summarized in voiceover at the start of the film by Jake Pentecost (John Boyega from STAR WARS).  That film was set in the future, when Earth is at war with the Kaiju, colossal sea monsters which have emerged from an inter-dimensional portal on the bottom of the Pacific Ocean.  To combat the monsters, humanity united to create the Jaegers, gigantic humanoid machine robots, each controlled by at least two pilots, whose minds are joined by a mental link.  The Jaeger was championed by General Pentecost, Jake’s father played by Idris Elba.  Jake was partying it up when the film opens.

UPRISING is set ten years after the Battle of the Breach, the oceans have become restless once again, but the Jaeger program has evolved into the next generation for the PPDC.  However, a mysterious organization has reopened the Breach for the Kaiju and a Jaeger has gone rogue.  Jake Pentecost, son of Stacker Pentecost, rises up to stand against the evolved Kaiju and the mysterious rogue Jaeger, Obsidian Fury, to prevent humanity’s extinction and preserve his father’s legacy.

The film is divided into two parts.  One is the action sequences, which with its $150 million budget are executed with all the pyro-technics, metal crunching and noise expect from a Hollywood blockbuster.  The film will also be released in iMAX which boasts – “See a movie, or be a part of one.”  Regardless, be prepared to get a headache.  This is a very loud film.  The second is the camaraderie among the Jaeger group.  Jake Pentecost bonds with Mako Mori to lead a new generation of Jaeger pilots, including rival Lambert (Scott Eastwood, Clint’s son) and 15-year-old hacker Amara (Madeleine McGraw), against the new Kaiju threat.  The pilots are all buffed and ideal specimens of the human race.  The script by Steven S. DeKnight, Emily Carmichael, Kira Snyder and T.S. Nowlin displays the normal enmity as well as camaraderie of the Jaeger fighters.  But dialogue like: “…not how you perform but what people think how you perform…” are meant to be taken tongue in cheek, playing with typical cliched lines.  The banter between Dr. Newt Geiszler (Charlie Day) and Dr. Hermann Gottlieb (Burn Gorman) works better.

As the first film was huge hit in China, UPRISING has a few scenes shot in China, as observed by the Chinese on the streets running away from the monists, looking like old monster movies.

Despite the efforts for making PACIFIC RIM UPRISING rise above the first PACIFIC RIM and TRANSFORMER franchise, UPRISING turns out to be a big bore with too much noise and CG effects.



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Film Review: THE DEATH OF STALIN (UK/France 2017) ***

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The Death of Stalin Poster

Follows the Soviet dictator’s last days and depicts the chaos of the regime after his death.


Armando Iannucci



Steve BuscemiSimon Russell BealeJeffrey Tambor

Joseph Stalin dies unexpectedly turning his ministers into panic.  There is a re-balance of power and power grabbing, a state funeral and other un-niceties.  The premise appears perfect for a black comedy.

THE DEATH OF STALIN, as the film is appropriately called can be divided into three parts, with sufficient chaos devoted to each.  The first part of the film establishes who is who around Stalin.  The  second is the passing of Stalin and his funeral.  The third is what happens after with Stalin’s ministry.  The film is described on film sites as a ‘comedy’.

Among the who’s who is Nikita Khrushchev (Steve Buchemi) who starts taking charge after Stalin’s passing.  Lavrentiy Beria (Simon Russell Beale) receives the worse end of the death, being accused of murder, execution, torture and yes, multiple rapes of little girls, of which Beria demands a fair trial.  Other well known actors Michael Palin (of Monty Python), Rupert Friend, Paddy Considine and Jeffrey Tambor add to the impressive cast making up ministers of various departments like defence, agriculture and so on.

Unlike his previous hit IN THE LOOP, Iannucci ’s THE DEATH OF STALIN, treads on the same grounds of political humour bordering on satire but turns out more crass and desperate for laughs.  The word ‘fuck’ is uttered too often and sounds out of place in a setting where the real Stalin and his men actually should be speaking Russian.   Example: When Stalin’s son is its on making a speech at his father’s funeral, Khrushchev’s response is: “and I want to fuck Grace Kelly.”  The questions: “What the fuck is going on?” is uttered many times.  The running joke of enemies of the State executed, tortured or imprisoned is fondly used.  When Stalin suffers a hurt attack and a doctor needed urgently, it is remarked that all the old doctors have been sent to he Gulag.

The film feels artificial with English spoken throughout, instead of Russian with subtitles.  The spectrum of accents is distracting.  While Buscemi speaks as if an American, the majority including Stalin speak with a strong British accent.

Despite the variety of accents, the performances are quite convincing.  Each actor could pass of as a Stalin comrade.  Buschemi is particularly hilarious, though the use of vulgarities could be toned down a little.  Jason Isaacs is also memorable as the Russian field marshall who is very fond of punching those he does not like right in the face, and then joke about it.

The sets, costumes and production design is to be commended for an authentic period Russian piece. 

In THE DEATH OF STALIN, which premiered last year at TIFF, cheap jokes and crass humour with lots of vulgarity appear the order of the day!  But these still bring in the laughs.  Just don’t expect classy black satirical humour but crass black satirical humour.  The ending is superb though with a shot of Leonid Brezhnev watching over the new proceedings like a cunning fox.



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Catwalk: Tales from the Cat Show Circuit Poster

People can grasp the concept of a dog show.  But people cannot grasp the concept of  a cat show.  This is the film, CATWALK’s premise and mission to put cats on the film map just as the successful dog show film BEST IN SHOW did for canines.

One difference between BEST IN SHOW and CATWALK should be noted.  BEST IN SHOW was a mockumentary that followed 5 different dogs with their owners as they showed off their dogs in different shows while CATWALK is a real documentary.  This does not mean that a real documentary is less funny that a mockumentary as the film occasionally proves.

The cats are judged by a panel according to:

what cat perfection is (agility; intelligence etc.)

the best of the breed (example: if the exhibitor does not comb out the knots of his/her long haired cat, a whole lot of points will be lost

The main cat that has won the most points by touring the catwalk circuit in Canada, when the film opens, is a white playful cat named Bobby owned by Kim. The other, is a Red Persian breed full of fluffy fur named Oh-La-La by owned by Shirley.  The film shows that the cat owners are just as interesting to observe than the cats.  When Oh-La-La is showcased on stage, the camera locks on the face of Kim, showing how jealous she is that her cat, Bobby might be upstaged.  Bobby and Oh-La-La are completely different cats.  The former loves to play, winning the hearts of the judges from its friendliness as compared to Oh-La-la who just sits proudly, unconcerned of the surroundings.  There is a scene whee the two cat owners are seen joking with each otter.  Deborah says to Kim: “I don’t think evil of you…. just of your cat.”

The film takes a distraction with a segment on Kim taking scuba diving lessons and having a new group of friends she considers her family.  There is no purpose this segment serves with regards to cats except as a time filler.  CATWALK runs at a brisk 75 minutes.

The film interviews two main cat owners/exhibitors and a few breeders while featuring a few of the show’s judges.

The main owner is Kim Langille who shows off her pride a white Turkish Angora.  Kim is also a show organizer and her enthusiasm for cats rubs off n her audience.  She as a wise pick to be the doc’s main character.  The other is her competitor, Shirley McCollow who spends hours grooming her Red Persian for the show.  There is a sweet moment of an autistic cat owner who overcomes her disability by devoting her efforts on her cat.

CATWALK is made more colourful  by the titles that appear on screen, one on purple or green or orange background.

CATWALK the film does not offer any advice to cat showers or messages for the audience.  (Oh, maybe just one message from a cat breeder: Good things come to good people who do good things.)   It is just an entertaining fun picture about cats, even for non-cat lovers like myself.




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Film Review: LOVE, CECIL (USA 2017) ***1/2

Love, Cecil Poster
Lisa Immordino Vreeland directs this documentary about Academy Award-winning costume designer Cecil Beaton. A respected photographer, artist and set designer, Beaton was best known for … See full summary »

LOVE, CECIL is a love letter by director Lisa Immordino Vreeland on two-time Academy Award-winning costume/set designer Cecil Beaton.  Cecil Beaton won Oscars for Best Costume and Set Design for MY FAIR LADY (a clip is provided of Audrey Hepburn and Rex Harrison at the races from the film illustrating the gorgeous costumes included)  and GIGI.  Cecil was also a respected world renowned photographer, artist and set designer.

When asked whether to describe himself as a painter, a photographer, an author or even a dandy, Cecil has no particular one to choose from.  Cecil is in is own words, fascinated by the labyrinth of choice so does not undertake a single path like most people.  Much of the film’s narration comes from his personal diary, as voiced in the first person by Rupert Everett.  “Hundreds of thousands of words and pictures to describe fleeting moments.”

“I started out with so little talent but was tormented by too much ambition…”  The film also contains interviews with photographer David Bailey, artist David Hockney, designer Isaac Mizrahi, and Beaton’s biographer Hugo Vickers.

Like the subject itself, the doc is filled with beautiful narration (with many quotables) and visuals so that the audience is completely immerse in Cecil’s personal world.  The camera is often on Cecil himself, courtesy of archive footage and the audience gets a good glimpse of the man, from his ‘pretty young things’ age to his older years.   It is funny that Cecil was bullied at Health MountSchool by Evelyn Waugh who wrote “Pretty Young Things” that was also made into a film by Stephen Frears.

Cecil’s career is intimately traced by Vreeland.  As expected, it is not entirely a bed of roses.  Cecil has a bad spell when he played a joke by means of a photograph in American Vogue.  He had the word ‘kike’ scribbled obscurely in the photograph.  The word could still be seen by its Jewish owners  This was an act that got Cecil fired and perhaps humbled the man.  It took a while during the war when he finally redeemed himself by taking sympathetic shots of the devastation of War.   Many said that his work influenced America to aid Britain in the War effort.

What is most impressive and invigorating about Vreeland’s film is that she excites the audience to see the beauty that Cecil himself sees, the beauty captured in his photographs and his work.

LOVE, CECIL is an intimate portrait of an artist by Vreeland.  She makes no attempt to convince her audience to like Cecil.  She provides a detailed documentary of the man showing his openly gay life, dandy and all.  She lets Cecil’s work speak for itself, that the audience can see the genius in the man’s work – visually and verbally.  If one is not drawn by art, film, photography and words, which is rare, LOVE, CECIL might a total bore and the document of the life of the man would mean nothing.

Still, LOVE CECIL is a beautiful biography of Cecil Beaton and many who have not known him will at least now be able to appreciate his 60 years of work.


Film Review: FOXTROT (Israel/France/Germany/Switzerland 2017) ****

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Foxtrot Poster


FOXTROT as most people know is the name of a dance, which is performed a third through the film by a bored soldier at his deserted outpost.  It is also known in the military to stand for the letter ‘F’ when spelt out as taught in signalling courses to prevent confusion in communication.  (Alpha is for ‘A’, Bravo for ‘B’ etc.)  In the film it is also the name given to a military operation.

The film is divided into 3 parts, each almost equal in running time.  The opening sequence is reminiscent of Steven Spielberg’s SAVING PRIVATE RYAN when a mother faints after hearing the news of her son’s death during WWII.  The story begins at the home of Michael Feldman (Lior Ashkenazi) and his wife Dafna (Sarah Adler), where an army detail arrives with the news of their son Jonathan ((Yonatan Shiray).  Dafna faints and is sedated.  Meanwhile Michael spirals from anguish to anger.  He even kicks his poor unsuspecting dog.  Nothing new here, the film seems treading on water.  The film picks up when he begins to suspect that he has not been told the whole story when the army refuse to let him see the son’s body in the coffin during the military funeral.  Not soon after, there is news that the boy is alive.  Apparently, there is another Jonathan Feldman and it is this other Jonathan that died.  Michael freaks out and demands that his son be returned home right away.  Michael and Dafna have an argument, she accusing him of being nasty, he of her being too nice being sedated on drugs.

The film ends on a bright note, with a touch of surrealism.  The second section begins with the narrator describing the foxtrot dance followed by a very uplifting and amusing dance sequence.  The musical interlude jumps out of the blue and is a fantastic surprise.  The audience then learns of Jonathan’s mundane military duties at the check post, identifying everyone that drives through.  The soldiers also let a camel through.  Writer/director Maoz pulls another trick up his sleeve with a twist in the plot.  When  a passenger in a car tosses out an empty drink can, the soldiers open fire thinking it to be a grenade.  There are been more twists in the plot but they will not be mentioned in the review to prevent to many spoilers.   A few of these twists could be reduced for the film to be more effective.

The film works as a very different film audiences have never seen before.  FOXTROT is a  surrealistic film set in the midst of the israeli/Palestinian conflict, a very unlikely setting, which makes the surrealism work even better.  Maoz’s story also shows that fate plays games with people’s lives – and there is nothing one can do about it.  Michael and Dafna try to make sense of what is happening.  At their best moment, as their daughter, Alma tells them: “You two look beautiful when you are together.”  Perhaps, that is the only thing human beings can hang on to, each other in the midst of the quirky hands of fate.

The film won the Silver Lion (Grand Jury Prize) at the 2017 Venice Film Festival.  FOXTROT is definitely worth a look.


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