Film Review: GIANT LITTLE ONES (Canada 2018) ****

Giant Little Ones Poster
Trailer

Two popular teen boys, best friends since childhood, discover their lives, families, and girlfriends dramatically upended after an unexpected incident occurs on the night of a 17th birthday party.

Director:

Keith Behrman

Writer:

Keith Behrman

GIANT LITLLE ONES is the second feature from Vancouver filmmaker Keith Behrman (FLOWER & GARNET) that has already won accolades including three DGC (Directors Guild of Canada) nominations and the Vancouver Film Critics Circle’s BEST Screenplay for a Canadian film.  It also made this year’s Canada’s Top 10.  It is a film about youth – and one that captures the bullying and expectations of both upon youth.  The film has a gay slant and one that straight youth cannot accept, even in these days of gay acceptance.

The film opens with the protagonist, Franky Winter (Josh Wiggins) riding his bicycle around his neighbourhood.  It is a great scene that celebrates writer/director Behrman’s love for filmmaking.  The plot and story is not yet established and the camera just spans and moves around in  exhilaration as if to celebrate the joys of filming.  And the joy is catching.  The audience gets to enjoy this spanning of the landscape before the story settles on a more serious subject.  What is seen on screen could very well be a suburb of a Canadian or American city – but the setting is left ambiguous.  But one would wish that since it is a Canadian film, that the setting would be more deliberately stated as Canadian.  Money talks – and an American setting means a bigger target audience.  

The story is about labelling.  A straight swim team member is labeled as gay and the story concerns on what he does to survive the labelling.  Things do not help that his father (Kyle MacLachlan of BLUE VELVET) has recently come out gay and his mother (Maria Bello who also co-produced this film), has written the book “Whatever… Love Is Love: Questioning the Labels We Give Ourselves”.

It all started off at Franky’s 17th birthday party when his girlfriend, Natasha (Taylor Hickson) leaves after the incident in which they both fail to lose their virginity.  Her brother, Ballas (Darren Mann) also on Franky’s swim team spreads the rumour that Franky may be gay.  That is when all the trouble starts.  And continues through the film.

Behrman is brave enough to attempt certain daring lines in his script.  In one key family scene, when Frank is told his visiting gay father has been told of the incident, he storms out of the room screaming: “I am not f***ing gay!”  The words that might offend a portion of the gay audience are left intact to emphasize the emotions Franky is undergoing.  Credit to Behrman.  The film also shows the teens behaving maturely, as adults thug still dealing with teen issues.  This aspect of the film shows that teens demand more respect as adults.

Excellent performances are delivered by all the young performers aided by Bello and MacLachlan.  MacLachlan does not have many scenes but he creates quite the impact in those he is in.

So how does it all end?  Is there a message for the audience?  Revealing more would definitely be a spoiler to what is an excellent paced and remarkably moving film about coming-of-age, acceptance, family acceptance and a whole lot more issues.

Trailer: https://www.imdb.com/title/tt4481066/videoplayer/vi1848097561?ref_=tt_pv_vi_aiv_1

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Film Review: THE QUIETUDE (LA QUIETUDE) (Argentina 2018) **

The Quietude Poster
Trailer

Two sisters, as close as they are different, find themselves after a long separation.

Director:

Pablo Trapero

Writers:

Alberto Rojas Apel (collaborating writer), Pablo Trapero

THE QUIETUDE is the name of the sprawling ranch in Argentina where a wealthy Argentine family resides.  The quiet ranch will be shown to be not that quiet or restful by the time the film ends.

The film begins with a beautiful young lady in Buenos Aires, Mia (Martina Gusman) entering the house and interrupting a nasty argument that is heard but not seen, which is likely all for the best, as the audience gets the picture.  Mia follows the father to the D.A,’s office where he suffers a stroke and is bedridden.  This brings back to Buenos Aires the other member of the family – Eugenia (Berenice Bejo, the actress and wife of the director of the Oscar Winning Best Film THE ARTIST.)

With every member of the family at home, trouble ensues, as expected.  It is revealed that the two sisters have an unhealthy sexual incestuous relationship, as can be witnessed in the 5-minute or so oral sex scene that should keep many an audience aroused.  The two main actresses are both Argentine and they look so alike, they could pass on for twins.  This is a bit confusing during some parts of the movie when one needs to distinguish Mia and Eugenia, unless their names are used in the dialogue.

The events take place during the political unrest of the country due to the brutality of the current dictatorship.

But Trapero’s film, apart from the sexual scenes are boring for the fact that they are hardly credible.  It seems that anything goes for drama, and Trapero puts in any event convenient to create high drama, like the father’s stroke, the sex between two females and then male and female.   A bit more detail would have been helpful to aid the story’s credibility.  Nothing is mentioned of how the family’ wealth is achieved or the reason Eugenia went away to Paris or he reason father and mother stayed together despite huge disagreements.

Though shot on a ranch, most of the film’s scenes are interiors, with not much seen of the animals or in the farming. But the exteriors and production sets are quite good to look at courtesy of the cinematographer and production designer.

Trapero does not do anything to connect the audience with his characters.  The audience do not care if the father passes away or not or whether the two sisters will earn their happiness.  It appears that all Trapero is interested in doing is to titillate or shock his audience – as in the sex scenes and the oddities of behaviour of the family. 

The end result THE QUIETUDE is a rather boring family affair which could be quietly  dismissed.

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=e23SQyvTfcA

Film Review: THE HUMMINGBIRD PROJECT (Canada/Belgium 2018) ****

The Hummingbird Project Poster
Trailer

A pair of high-frequency traders go up against their old boss in an effort to make millions in a fiber-optic cable deal.

Director:

Kim Nguyen

Writer:

Kim Nguyen

Canadian Kim Nguyen (EYE ON JULIET, WAR WITCH) directs his most commercial film to date based on a script he wrote.  

The film is about THE HUMMINGBIRD PROJECT.  This project will enable one of the characters, a bespectacled nerdy telecommunications fibre genius named Anton (the hardly recognizable Alexander Skarsgard) to earn millions in order to purchase a cottage in which hummingbirds abound and sing.  It also refers to the saving in timing provided by the fibre which is equivalent to a fraction of the flapping of the hummingbird wing.  

Young entrepreneur, Vincent Zaleski (Jesse Eisenberg) dreams of making millions by saving a millisecond of communication speed by building a direct fibre link involving drilling under ground beneath personal residential property as well as protected natural parks.  He succeeds in getting finance.  He just has to make it happen  This is what the film is all about – capitalism, done is a clever, entertaining and largely humorous way.  Vincent gets the aide of a telecommunications genius, his cousin Anyone (Alexandre Skarsgard) and buddy, Mark Vega (Michael Mando) to do the project.  The villain of the piece is Anton’s former employer, Eva Torres (Salma Hayek).  Vincent had to have Anton quit his job and Eva Torres is furious and killing to sabotage the project.  Another complication arises – Vincent is diagnosed with stomach cancer and requires immediate treatment.  All this craziness ceases more mayhem or vine and everyone.

The film’s best segment captures Trump’s white racist American to a ‘T’.  In the scene, the Eisenberg character and his driller approach the owner of a house whose property they need to drill under.  The driller, clearly of some non-white background asks the owner permission, who then asks the driller where he is from.  When the driller says he is American, he is questioned again  where he came from before arriving in America.  Eisenberg steps in, saying, clearly white American saying he is proudly American and explains, in sweet talk how the drilling would financially benefit the owner.  “You have this all on paper?”  A contract is immediately pulled out.  Similarly, Trump has fooled his whole America and promised benefits if he gets the vote, and he succeeded.  If you are offended by what is written, you are likely one of these people.  Hopefully, you are able to appreciate a little self-conscious humour.

Eisenberg reprises his sweet taking millions of words a minute sweet talking role he had in THE SOCAL NETWORK.  He is not able to convince the people in the film to accept what he says but also able to have the audience on his side rooting fro hi character.

THE HUMMINGBIRD PROJECT, which premiered at last year’s Toronto International Film Festival to general favourable reviews.  What is also impressive is the turn the story takes towards the end where the project turns into complete mayhem (beautifully created) and then everything closes in compete synchronicity with nature.

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3-IlhKbakFA

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

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