Film Review: THE TRANSFIGURATION (USA 2016)

Deadlines to Submit your Screenplay, Novel, Story, or Poem to the festival: http://www.wildsound.ca

the trasfiguration.jpgWhen troubled teen Milo, who has a fascination with vampire lore, meets the equally alienated Sophie, the two form a bond that begins to blur Milo’s fantasy into reality.

Director: Michael O’Shea
Writer: Michael O’Shea
Stars: Eric Ruffin, Chloe Levine, Jelly Bean

Review by Gilbert Seah

THE TRANSFIGURATION premiered in the Un Certain Regard section at Cannes last year, apparently coming out of nowhere just like the film’s odd protagonist, a black bullied teen called Milo (Eric Ruffin).

Milo lives with his brother and they share an odd obsession with vampires. Milo actually drinks blood, as is observed in a very compelling and disturbing but well-shot opening scene set in a public toilet stall. The camera follows Milo as the audience learns more about the little man. He is bullied by other black teens, lives in a small apartment, collects and watches vampire videos, breaks into houses, stores a bag load of cash, drinks blood very few days and leads a non-existent lifestyle. When Milo meets Sophie (Chloe Levine), a white teen neighbour, the two fall in love.

Director O’Shea obviously drew his inspiration from Murnau’s vampire film NOSFERATU. Milo and Sophie are seen watching the 1922 classic NOSFERARU and O’Shea’s film is filled with similar sounding music. When Sophie is asked by Milo what she liked about the film, music was her answer. O’Shea also captures the same creepiness in his film.

The vampire is clearly used as a metaphor for bad people. O’Shea makes the point very clear – in act too clearly, in the one scene at the end of the film when Milo’s brother preaches to him that people in the world also suck blood from each other – figuratively.

O’Shea’s film is not without flaws. The main flaw is that it is only occasionally engaging. It is hard for the audience to connect with a black teen with no life, who breaks into people’s houses and has no redeeming qualities. Thee is also no explanation for the reason he dislikes the TWILIGHT films and only the real serious vampire films. The audience is also supposed to believe that a normal human being can eventually drink blood as a normal way of life.

Despite the flaws, O’Shea can draw the audience into a scene when he wants to. The best examples are the toilet scene at the film’s start and sporadically at various parts of the film. He uses light, sound and edition to create a moment.

The romance between Milo and Sophie works as a first love kind of romance. Milo gives it all up for her while she has reservations after finding out more about him. Newcomer Eric Ruffin is quite young and a risk as O‘Shea’s lead actor. But Ruffin is convincing and a fresh face which are good things.
One has to hand it to O’Shea for trying. But his film misses for its failure to totally engage, with its too weird premise and too obvious metaphor of a human vampire that lives among the living.

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sLXiyMbLR30

 

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Film Review: BAYWATCH (USA 2017)

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baywatch.jpgDevoted lifeguard Mitch Buchanan butts heads with a brash new recruit. Together, they uncover a local criminal plot that threatens the future of the Bay.

Director: Seth Gordon

Stars: Dwayne Johnson, Zac Efron, Alexandra Daddario, Priyanka Chopra

 BAYWATCH is the latest edition of films based on a successful TV series that has very little to do with the series – like the JUMP STREET films. But it the marketing works. BAYWATCH is a modern re-working of a popular TV series of the same name. It cost $40 million to make and is estimated to gross $45 million the opening American long weekend.

BAYWATCH is an action-comedy film directed by Seth Gordon (HORRIBLE BOSSES) starring with Dwayne Johnson and Zac Efron with a list of general unknowns Alexandra Daddario, Kelly Rohrbach, Jon Bass, Ilfenesh Hadera, Priyanka Chopra and Indian actress Yahya Abdul-Mateen II as the villain. David Hasselhoff and Pamela Anderson are present with cameos and excellent ones, coming as neat surprises in the film.
The film concerns Mitch Buchannon (Johnson), the gung-ho leader of the elite Baywatch lifeguard squad. He believes he is making a different in the world, clashing with the local police as he outdoes his duties by trying to stop drug trafficking at the same time. Matt Brody (Efron), a washed-up pro athlete is brought in as the new face of the organization. However, when a dead body is recovered from the ocean, the two must put aside their personal differences and work with their team to stop a criminal mastermind’s drug trafficking operation. Mitch gets relieved of his post while Matt ends up saving the day with the help of Mitch’s crew. The film is at least smart enough not to make any preachy statement, but just let the comedy/action takes its course.

As an action comedy, the film devotes an equal amount effort to both comedy and to the action. The special effects especially the underwater segments (during he fire rescue) are impressive. It is rare when the action and comedy come together. The best and most hilarious segment occurs at the film’s start (which cannot be matched), when the logo BAYWATCH appears on the background accompanied by three synchronized choreographed dolphins after Dwayne Johnson saves some babes on his watch.

Dwayne Johnson has proven himself apt as an actor comfortable in both action and comedy. Zac Efron is however not that funny when portrayed as a victim. He is at his hilarious best (as in the film DIRTY GRANDPA or in NEIGHBOURS) when he is the instigator or the super drunk or drugged up super hunk. This best scene in BAYWATCH is when he punches out his supervisor and when his muscles are flexed doing the obstacle course. Jon Bass is given a lot of screen time doing the funny fat guy. All his antics – the co-ed shower, the beach CPR, the disco dancing are lame. Bass comes across as more annoying than funny. Audiences are not going to be happy paying good money to watch an amateur comedian fail on the screen.

BAYWATCH could have been better for all the effort put in, especially the fantastic special effects on display. Still, it is relatively entertaining, for those not expecting much from an evening at the movies.

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TDteZ0YrhSU

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Film Review: POPULATION ZERO (USA/Canada 2015) ***1/2

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population zero.jpgIn 2009 three young men were killed in a remote part of Yellowstone National Park. The only thing more shocking than the crime itself are the bizarre events that followed.

Directors: Julian T. Pinder, Adam Levins
Writer: Jeff Staranchuk
Stars: Duane Murray, Julian T. Pinder, Jonathan Potts

Review by Gilbert Seah 

 There is much to appreciate in watching POPULATION ZERO. The least one knows about the film, the more enjoyable and eerie the film will be. I went into it knowing absolutely nothing and ended up totally absorbed and bedazzled by the piece. So, if one has the intention of watching the film, DO NOT read this or any other review of the film.

That said, the film is a mockumentary. This fact in itself spoils the film’s enjoyment as co-director Pinder introduces himself as a documentarian in the film, and one (if unaware of the film being a mockumentary) will naturally assume all that will occur on screen be true. Wrong – though the film is based on a true incident, the fact that the story telling of the film unfolds in found footage form and documentary style, one tends to believe everything seen on screen.

The filmmakers were inspired to make the movie after learning of the existence of the “Zone of Death”, a small portion of Yellowstone National Park that under the Sixth Amendment’s Vicinage Clause, would enable “The Perfect Crime”.

Bring in the murder of three young men in the Park’s worst crime in history committed by Dwayne Dwayne Nelson (Duane Murray)and one has quite the story. In 2009, Nelson confessed to the shooting of three men in Yellowstone National Park. Despite his confession being accurately detailed, he was not convicted of the crimes because the crime occurred in an uninhabited area and as such, there is no chance of finding a jury to hear the trial. This is the loophole in the law that resulted from the POPULATION ZERO of the title. All is clearly explained in the film. But it is years later that Julian T. Pinder (playing himself, a documentarist) examines the crime and the legal loophole that allowed Nelson to walk free. As the film progresses Pinder begins to receive strange and frightening items, evidence of Nelson’s crime.

Directors Pinder and Levins are good storytellers. What begins as a real life murder eventually evolves into a totally concocted tale that is made so credible that one would believe it to be true. And it could very well have been true. The film’s pacing is close to perfect with the suspense and shock level building to an exploding climax towards the end.

The film also comes with a neat message delivered to big companies doing bad things to poor people. The film also scarily lets the audience unsuspectedly take the murderer’s side. For whatever had been done to him, he deserves the right to take his revenge. When it is revealed that Nelson could have masterminded the entire crime including his freedom using everyone including the Pinder for his cause, one cannot help but applaud the man.

POPULATION ZERO works as it is horrific yarn based on a true event, told convincingly in found footage documentary style. Made in 2015, it world premiered at the Newport Beach International Film Festival on April 26, 2016 and finally makes it debut. See it!

Trailer: https://vimeo.com/161531094

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Film Review: TOMMY’S HONOUR (UK 2016) ***

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tommys_honour.jpgIn every generation, a torch passes from father to son. And that timeless dynamic is the beating heart of Tommy’s Honour – an intimate, powerfully moving tale of the real-life founders of the modern game of golf.

Director: Jason Connery
Writers: Pamela Marin, Kevin Cook
Stars: Ophelia Lovibond, Sam Neill, Jack Lowden

Review by Gilbert Seah
 
Where did golf originate? Not too many people know that the game originated from Scotland. TOMMY’S HONOUR celebrates both Scotland and golf, a film that is an eye-opener on golf as seen from the eyes of Tommy, a champion golfer with the humble beginnings of a
greens-keeper’s son/caddy.

TOMMY’S HONOUR is a 2016 historical drama, a proudly Scottish film depicting the lives and careers of, and the complex relationship between, the pioneering Scottish golfing champions Old Tom Morris and his son Young Tom Morris. The screenplay, written by Pamela Marin and Kevin Cook, is based on Cook’s 2007 book, Tommy’s Honour: The Story of Old Tom Morris and Young Tom Morris, Golf’s Founding Father and Son It is a well known book in golfing circles as it won the Herbert Warren Wind Book Award as the best golf book of 2007’ It was also one of the five books that Sports Illustrated selected as the “Books of the Year” in 2007. One can expect high hope for the film adaptation.

The period piece is set in St Andrews, Scotland in 1866. Tommy Morris (Jack Lowden) is presented as an avid golfer like his legendary and pioneering father, Tom Morris (veteran actor/director Peter Mullan). “Old Tom” is greens-keeper for The Royal and Ancient Golf Club of St Andrews, as well as the town’s club- and ball-maker. He is the two-time winner of the first major golf tournament, The Open Championship, which he founded in 1860. He also established golf’s standard of 18 holes per round. But Tommy is beginning to chafe at his father’s dictates, especially in the rapidly changing world they live in.

Father and son repeatedly clash over the unwritten rules of social class, and this culminates when Tommy marries his sweetheart Meg (Ophelia Lovibond), a woman of lower standing with a shameful secret in her past. But there is more in the story with a big father and son relationship makeup.

The film includes a few competitive golf tournaments. But TOMMY’S HONOUR is not specifically a sports film. It also serves as a biography of the Morris’s. The golf tournaments are well shot to capture the excitement of the game. The beauty of the Scottish landscape is also celebrated.

With Pamela Marin co-writing the script, the film contains a strong feminine perspective, despite golf being mostly a male sport. Meg who is shunned by the church for having a bastard child in the past is offered a second chance for happiness in the film. One of the film’s highlights is the mother/wife confrontation. Tommy’s resistance to the class structure is rendered more sympathetic with his true love for Meg.
The film has a good pace that builds dramatically towards its climax.

What initially seems like a commercial light comedy finally ends up tackling a few solid social issues.

The film ended up opening the 2016 Edinburgh International Film Festival on 15 June 2016 as well as winning Best Feature Film at the 2016 British Academy Scotland Awards.
Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ur8_04V9_4E

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Film Review: TANNA (Australia) ***

 

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tanna.jpgSet on a remote Pacific island, covered in rain forest and dominated by an active volcano, this heartfelt story, enacted by the Yakel tribe, tells of a sister’s loyalty, a forbidden love affair and the pact between the old ways and the new.

Directors: Martin Butler, Bentley Dean
Writers: Martin Butler, John Collee
Stars: Mungau Dain, Marie Wawa, Marceline Rofit

Review by Gilbert Seah

 Tanna is the first film shot in the South Pacific nation of Vanuata, based on a true story that happened there in 1987 as interpreted by the Yakel tribe. Hardly a word of English is spoken in the film. The dialogue is totally in the tribal language which all the tribes in the story appear to be able to speak and communicate with each other with.
The film plays like a Romeo and Juliet story. The story centres on doomed, star-crossed lovers. There are two warring tribes but the lovers belong to the same tribe. The bride, Wawa (Marie Wawa) of the Yakel tribe is betrothed to the enemy Imedin tribe as a peace offering. But Wawa is in love with the grandson of the chief (Mungau Daen) and they have slept together already. The lovers escape to another part of the island. The chief (Chief Mikum Tainakou) of the Imedin tribe is furious and sends his men to find the lovers – to kill Daen the boy and bring Wawa back to be wed. Wawa’s father, Lingai (Lingai Kowia) also travels to find Wawa to bring her back and to warn Daen. And so the story goes.

When the film opens, the audience is immersed in a fairy tale land. It is interesting to see the customs and living practised in another country. The film works like a fairy tale just like African films made of their tribes such as the excellent 2004 film, MOOLAADE by Ousmane Sembène. The people are clothed with straw skirts and mostly topless. The children play unfamiliar games. The people live in strange-looking huts and they speak in a different language. Unfamiliar sights are displayed on screen – like a big black sow with piglets sucking from her nipples.

Directors Butler and Dean love to use the smoking volcanoes in their film – both as a metaphor and for its landscape beauty.

Though the story is set in a different land, the human problems encountered are not different. Love is once again restricted by social culture. The lovers are unable to show their love for one another in public. Wawa is forced to decide between the fate of her tribe and her personal desire for happiness.

The directors choose to tell their story from two points of view, from Wawa and from her younger sister Selin (Marceline Rofit). Selin is the prepubescent younger sister of Wawa who though still playing childish games like hide-and seek is aware of what is going on. She eventually helps her sister by aiding her tribe find Wawa and Daen. The audience sees as a result, how Wawa’s decision will affect the lives of Selin and the later generations.

The directors were reported to have spent 7 months living with the Yakel tribe to understand the tribal customs and to capture them accurately on the screen.

TANNA works as the perfect combination of an ageless romantic story of true love set in a fresh never seen before setting.

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=di2cHkHrPwg

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Film Review: BAD RAP (USA 2017) ***

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bad_rapFour Asian-American rappers run into tough obstacles as they try to make it big in Hip Hop, a genre rooted in black culture.

Director: Salima Koroma
Stars: Awkwafina, David Lee, Richard Lee

Review by Gilbert Seah

 Asian hip-hop is what director Salima Koroma’s odd but occasionally insightful documentary is all about. In this review, hip-hop music and rap music is considered to be the same, as is considered so by the majority.

Rap has got quite the bad rap so far. Of all the music out there, Rap is known for its use of foul language, use of images of violence, sex and guns. It is everything parents do not want their children to listen to. And with reason. Rappers talk shit half the time with the word shit coming out in almost every few sentences. If the word shit or other vulgar four letter words are not heard, the word ‘like’ is used. Poor grammar and mis-spelling is common. The subjects in this film are not like the subjects of other documentaries like CITIZENFOUR where the subjects are often people (Edward Snowden in this case) who have changed the world for good. So, one has to hand it to director Koroma for capturing the energy of these young Asian rappers and creating a film that is an absorbing watch.

The film follows the origin of hip-hop. Hip-hop culture has transcended many racial and cultural boundaries after its founding in the ’70s by African-American and Latino youth in the South Bronx. Since then, rappers have emerged as legitimate pop culture stars around the world and hip-hop’s global movement has become increasingly more diverse. Yet the face of rap in America remains primarily black, brown, and white. This film looks at Asian rappers.

BAD RAP follows the lives and careers of four Asian-American rappers trying to break into a world that often treats them as outsiders. Energetic too, are the dynamic live performance footage and revealing interviews.
The four rappers on display are Dumbfounded, Awkwafina (a female), Rekstozzy and Lyricks.

Koroma shows a side of the rapper seldom seen. Lyricks is revealed as a filial son, helping out in his parents very hot steam cleaning factory. He acknowledges his parents who work very hard for him. And Rick goes to church. His mother on interview, talking about her son forms the film’s most amusing segment.

The film’s dose of brilliance comes when the video of each of the 4 rappers are played to 4 different promoters to judge their reactions. It is here that the audience sees more to rap – as the experts voice their opinions on each song and performer.

Also partly in view for a shooter span is the Chinese rapper Jin the MC. Jin is the most charismatic of the Asian rappers on display and one wonders why Koroma did not give him more screen time. His video “Learn Chinese”, a big hit is funny and unforgettable.

Koroma’s film concludes neatly with a look at the 4 rappers 2 years after their interviews – showing where each of them are, and with them talking about how they have grown.

Will BAD RAP will turn the most skeptical critics into believers?
BAD RAP is available on VOD on all major platforms May 23rd. Warning: Lots of could language and graphic content!

TRAILER: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7ROfSpDfa70

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LGBT Inside Out Festival: THE HANNAS (DIE HANNAS) (Germany 2016)

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the_hannasANNA and HANS belong together; all their friends simply call them the HANNAS: a well-balanced long-term couple in their sleepy thirties united by a cooking obsession.

Director: Julia C. Kaiser
Writer: Julia C. Kaiser
Stars: Julia Becker, Tim Blochwitz, Till Butterbach

Review by Gilbert Seah

The Hannas are Hans and Anna, a long married couple who have been together so long that they are basically the same person. Friends refer to them as THE HANNAS rather than calling them by their individual names.

But there is trouble in paradise as each falls victim to cheating on each other, Anna for Kim (a lesbian relationship) while Hans for Nicola. Nicola is later revealed to be Kim’s sister. There are more twists in the relationship of the 4, revealed as the film progresses.

Everything in this story turns out too well than in real life. Hans and Anna are too forgiving and loving, and in real life it doesn’t happen that others will give up everything for someone who is already married. The film has a more feminine point of view being directed by a woman, such as more emphasis on Anna than on Hans.

Anna is shown at work as a massage therapist while little or nothing is shown of Hans at work. The film has a good start but eventually Kaiser’s quirky film tends to be more annoying (like her characters) than funny.

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MzuIHmyYTU8
_________

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