Film Review: FRANKIE (France/Portugal 2019)

Frankie Poster

Three generations grappling with a life-changing experience during one day of a vacation in Sintra, Portugal, a historic town known for its dense gardens and fairy-tale villas and palaces.


Ira Sachs


Ira Sachs (screenplay), Mauricio Zacharias (screenplay)

Clearly playing a role written specially fro her, Academy Award nominee French actress Isabelle Huppert play a famous French actress like herself, who gathers her extended family for one last summer vacation.  

The film is set in Portugal’s Sintra, made even more beautiful by cinematographer Ruiz Pocas, with repeated scenes of idyllic mountainside town with lush forests.  The characters move around on cobble-stoned pavements in an ancient looking town.

There is not much story or purpose in the film except to glorify Huppert who probably does not need any more glorification.  The simple story unfolds over a day, when the audience learns around the film’s half way mark that Frankie (Huppert) has only a few months to live.  This is likely an excuse for Frankie to put her family affairs in order, which includes sorting out her son and other family members.  

Frankie’s husband (Brendan Gleeson) loves her dearly.   Director Sachs (LOVE IS STRANGE and LITTLE MEN) includes an uncomfortable love scene where Gleeson and Huppert embrace with their clothes off in bed.  (She is too slim and tanned while he too pale and large.)  To add to Frankie’s afflictions, she has other family problems.   Her ex-husband (Pascal Greggory) has moved on, her stepdaughter (Vinette Robinson) is contemplating a divorce and Frankie’s son (Jérémie Renier one of the best looking young French actors here sporting the ugliest moustache) is at loose ends.  Frankie thinks her son would be a good match for her hairdresser (Marisa Tomei), except the latter shows up with her boyfriend (Greg Kinnear).  There is nothing really urgent about these family matters, and the script by Sachs and co-writer Mauricio Zacharias does not attempt to edge the audience either.

Sachs past films have all been made or centred in New York.  This is his first film in Europe.  In one scene, the characters talk about New York when it is mentioned that the city is not what it used to be as most of the favourite restaurants have closed except for one.  Maybe you can just keep going to that one is the reply.  Maybe that is one of the reasons Sachs have ventured to Europe for this latest offering.

The film could do with more and much needed drama as well as humour.  Humour is light.  When Frankis is admonished for swimming topless in the pool, she says not to worry as she is photogenic.  Nothing really funny nor amusing about this line of dialogue.  There are lots of these going on in the movie.

Performances are best described as relaxed.  Audiences have seen Huppert and Gleeson in better films that showcase their talents.

There is no death scene or any hint of Frankie’s cancer suffering, which makes this her illness hard to believe.

The lack of material can be best observed in the closing segment where character slowly walk down a hill – the segment lasting a full 5 minutes or so.

FRANKIE debuted in competition at Cannes this year but failed to garnish much fanfare.


Cinefranco film fete 2019: VENICE N’EST PAS EN ITALIE (France 2018) ***1/2

Venise n'est pas en Italie Poster

An adaptation of the novel Venice is not in Italy by Ivan Calbérac, published by Flammarion in 2015: Emile is fifteen. He lives in Montargis, between a sweet-crazy father and a mother who … See full summary »


Ivan Calbérac


Ivan Calbérac (novel), Ivan Calbérac (screenplay)

Based on the 2015 novel ‘Venice is not in Italy’ by Ivan Calbérac, VENICE N’EST PAS EN ITALIE (English title VENICE CALLING) follows the coming-of-age adventures of teen math geek Emile who lives with his struggling but over-loving parents in a caravan falls for ultra wealthy girl in his class. 

 When she invites him to her orchestra performance in Venice, he promises to attend, if his parents can afford it.  They agree to let him attend but decide to come along as well, together with caravan in tow and his elder cool brother who suddenly shows up.  VENICE has all the charm and nuance of a French comedy that is both funny and entertaining with a message to boot.  The film’s best part has the mother giving Emile a smack across the face for being ashamed of her.  

The truth is almost every child is ashamed of their parents for some reason or other, for being not rich enough, for dressing odd, for showing affection in public etc.  At the same time, the boy grows up learning more about life (including sex, courtesy of his elder brother) and what counts in life.  The film is a total delight!

Trailer: (ver Fr)

Blood in the Snow (BITS) film festival 2019: PUPPET KILLER (USA 2019) **

Puppet Killer Poster
While celebrating Christmas at a cabin in the woods, a group of high school students are stalked by a psychotic killer obsessed with horror movie icons.


Lisa Ovies


Kevin Mosley (screenplay by), Kevin Mosley (story by) | 1 more credit »

The premise: While celebrating Christmas at a cabin in the woods, a group of high school students are stalked by a psychotic killer obsessed with horror movie icons. There might be serious continuity problems with this film that surprisingly have won quite the few award at various horror festivals around the world.  

For one, the titles go ’10 years later’  which shows Jamie clearly in his late forties while 10 years back was a mere kid with a puppet.  (But this could be deliberately done, as all the actors playing the high school students are in their forties or thirties!)  

But for sheer cheesiness and violent gore and bloodletting, director Ovies knows how to dish out the goods.  As a child, Jamie is given a puppet by his mother that he adores.  When mother dies of cancer, the evil new father’s girlfriend (termed stepmother again, continuity problems) tears down all the posters and things Jamie loves.  

She is mysteriously bludgeoned tp death, horror-movie style which means it is likely a PUPPET KILLER is on the loose.  The best way to enjoy this horror flick is to ignore all logic and enjoy the cheesiness – which there is plenty of.  Director Ovies shows promise but her film is all over the place.


(Reel Asian Film Festival 2019): LOVE BOAT: TAIWAN (Canada/Taiwan 2019) ***

Love Boat: Taiwan Poster
LOVE BOAT: TAIWAN looks at the Taiwan Love Boat, where college-aged Taiwanese Americans get closer to their history, their culture and each other.


Valerie Soe


Valerie Soe

Thee is no boat in LOVE BOAT TAIWAN.  That is the nickname given to the Taiwanese program designed to attract young Taiwanese and Chinese visitors from abroad to spend a few weeks in Taiwan to be immersed in Taiwanese culture.  A typical daily routine involves a flag raising ceremony, Mandarin language lessons,

Chinese brush painting and martial-arts training before being taken on a bus for an afternoon excursion, often to visit Chang-Lei Check monuments.  The program is not totally successful as the young ones , being youthful are rebellious are out for a good time, often breaking curfew to go partying.  

The film is comprised of interviews of past visitors who lend both their humour and points-of-view on what they experienced.  Director Soe knows that her doc is to be taken in with a grain of salt, resulting in an entraining while enlightening documentary on her bananas.  

These visitors are called bananas as they are yellow on the outside and white on the inside.  


Film Review: THE IRISHMAN (USA 2019) ****

The Irishman Poster

A mob hitman recalls his possible involvement with the slaying of Jimmy Hoffa.


Martin Scorsese


Charles Brandt (book), Steven Zaillian (screenplay)

Arguably the most powerhouse of all films made this year, THE IRISHMAN features the film industry’s biggest names that include multiple Academy Award Winners in its cast and crew.  Director Martin Scorsese directs high profile stars seldom or never seen together in the same frame in a movie.  Robert De Niro stars alongside Al Pacino (both of whom shot to fame after Francis Ford Coppola’s THE GODFATHER II films) with Joe Pesci, Ray Romano, Bobby Cannavale, Anna Paquin and Harvey Keitel.  

But the full title of the film, as seen in the opening and closing credits is THE IRISHMAN, I HEARD YOU PAINT HOUSES, based on the book of that name by Charles Brandt.  The main protagonist of the film is the Irishman of the film title, Frank Sheeran played by De Niro who is obviously Irish by blood.  When the film opens he and pal, Russell Bufalino (Pesci) are having a road trip with their wives on way to attend a wedding.  As they stop their car for their wives to have s smoke, Frank realizes that it is the same spot he and Russ had first met. Through flashbacks it is revealed that the wedding is a disguise for them performing  a peace mission that ends up as a vicious killing.  How and why the situation had come to reach this stage is the film’s story.  And it is not a pretty story.

The Irishman is an epic saga of organized crime in postwar America told through the eyes of World War II veteran Frank Sheeran, a hitman who worked alongside some of the most notorious underworld figures of the 20th century.  Spanning decades, the film chronicles the disappearance of legendary union boss Jimmy Hoffa (Pacino) — which remains unsolved to this day — and journeys through the hidden corridors of organized crime: its inner workings, rivalries, and connections to mainstream politics.

THE IRISHMAN clocks in 3 and a half hours.  Director Scorcese remarked that when he Scorcese has been quoted to say that the people at Netflix are excellent.  The rest is a film that Scorcese can indulge in.  Though the film is a long haul, Scorcese gets to tell the story his way, his style.  When one analyzes many of his set-ups, one can see his attention to detail and the brilliance of Scorcese’s craft.  He tells a story while impacting emotions in the larger realm of things, and told with dead pan humour with the added bonus of a great soundtrack, put together by Robbie Robertson.  Never mind that the film turns a bit difficult to follow at times – Scorcese doesn’t care, but continues his passion of telling his story.  The result is a crime story told from one person’s point of view – Frank Sheeran’s and one very effective one at that.  The effect of the man on his family particularly on his daughters notably Peggy (Paquin) who refuses to talk or see him is devastating and the only thing that makes him regret his life.  The final scenes showing him speaking candidly to a priest (shades of Scorcese’s SILENCE) trying to extol himself from the sins committed in his life.

Th film uses CGI to ‘youthify’ De Niro, Pesci and Pacino for their character in their younger days.  This de-ageing process looks effective enough to enable the 75 year-old actors to play their younger years.

De Niro and Pacino are superb playing off each other.  Pacino’s Hoffa is volatile, loud, insulting and gregarious compared as compared to De Niro’s Frank who is smart, cunning, silent but deadly.  It is pure pleasure to see both De Niro and Pacino together in a single scene and there are quite a few of these in the film.

THE IRISHMAN is a must-see crime drama, not because it is true or could be true, but for Scorcese’s craft with the Master is still at his peak.

THE IRISHMAN opens for a limited engagement at the TIFFBel Lightbox before streaming on Netflix.


Film Review: ANTHEM OF A TEENAGE PROPHET (USA 2018) ***1/2

Anthem of a Teenage Prophet Poster

Anthem tells the story of Luke (Monaghan) a teenager who foresees the death of his new best friend Stan (MacNicoll), the most popular guy in school. When this premonition becomes reality, … See full summary »


Robin Hays

The film (based on the novel of the same name) opens with its setting in a small fictitious American town of Stokum (with fake car license plates to go with it) where apparently lives suck.  The film is actually Canadian passing off as an indie American film.  Lives probably suck more for a teenager where success in life looks dim and worse of all, if the teenager does nothing to improve him or herself but smoke pot, skateboard, play video games and do lousy at sports.  These are typical teenage losers who have as much to blame themselves as society.  So who is this teenage prophet, where does he come from and what can he do to improve the situation?

Anthem tells the story of Luke (Cameron Monaghan) a teenager who foresees the death of his new best friend Stan (Alex MacNicoll), the most popular and buffed guy in school. When this premonition becomes reality, Luke must deal with the trials and tribulations of being dubbed “The Prophet of Death” and being titled a freak by the entire town. The town really begins to suck for Luke now.  It doesn’t help that he’s fallen in love with Faith (Peyton List) who just happens to be Stan’s girl or that he’s on the outs with his childhood best friend Fang (Grayson Gabriel) or that the premonitions just keep coming.

The film takes a bit of time to get it footing.  A little patience is required.  The first 15 minutes or so shows here annoying small town teenagers just slacking around, annoying the adults and the audience included.  It is only when it is realized that Luke has these fainting spells that allows him to see who is abut to die next that the film becomes more interesting.  In fact, this is a clever and original premise.

Monaghan looks and acts like Kevin of the hit British skit of Kevin and Perry, but a more serious version.  But he is a good actor and presence to be reckoned with.  Juliette Lewis absolutely steals the show as Luke’s super cool mother who thinks the world of her supposedly loser son.

Messages on life are dished out as funny as they arrive.  Luke is given solid advice by a midget truck driver.  “I spend my entire life diving this truck looking out this window driving along these lanes.  I cannot swerve like a madman when a deer or tree falls into my lane.  Or I will be certifiable.  One cannot control was comes into our lane.  You can’t!  You hear me?”

The film’s subplot of Luke’s weird acting gay best friend, Fang (Grayson Gabriel) shows Luke’s worth and the strength of their friendship which anchors the film.  Brilliantly, this subplot also proves the truck driver’s message wrong.

The film won accolades at the Vancouver International Film Festival.  An interesting enough film that just reaches its potential, ANTHEM OF A TEENAGE PROPHET has sufficient nuance and innovation to keep audience interest piqued.  

ANTHEM is an earnest film on teen’s angst and survival in a world that seems both strange and cruel.  It is funny, occasionally brilliant, observant and entertaining.


Film Review: MOTHERLESS BROOKLYN (USA 2019) ***1/2

Motherless Brooklyn Poster

Set against the backdrop of 1950s New York, Motherless Brooklyn follows Lionel Essrog, a lonely private detective afflicted with Tourette’s Syndrome, as he ventures to solve the murder of his mentor and only friend, Frank Minna.


Edward Norton


Jonathan Lethem (based on the novel by), Edward Norton (screenplay)

Acclaimed actor Edward Norton returns to the director’s chair (this is his second directorial effort) with his passionate MOTHERLESS BROOKLYN based on the book which he read way back when, when he was starring in AMERICAN HISTORY X.  It was his long time goal to bring it to the screen and this 140 minute effort often displays his passion in the making of it.  Though by no means flawless, the 140-minute long haul moves pretty fast, thanks to the strength of the film’s source, the multiple award winning 1999 novel by Jonathan Lethem of the same name.

Norton who also penned the script made several changes to the book.  As he thought the film’s theme lent to more of a noir setting, he moved the 1999 modern setting to a 1959 one, move obviously requiring greater effort in filmmaking, because of not only period atmosphere, pros and sets. but in dialogue as well.  The cinematography by Mike Leigh’s favourite, Oscar nominated Dick Pope is to be commended.  His best scene is the one where the water on the sidewalk reflects a beautiful picture similar to the one where the refection of water reflects a plane flying overhead in Alfonso Cuaron’s ROMA.

The film follows a private investigator with Tourette’s syndrome, Lionel Essrog nicknamed MOTHERLESS BROOKLYN (played by Norton himself) who must solve the murder of his mentor.  Lionel Essrog, has Tourette’s, a disorder marked by involuntary tics. Essrog works for Frank Minna (Bruce Willis), a small-time neighbourhood owner of a “seedy and makeshift” detective agency, who is shot (stabbed to death in the novel) to death.  Together, Essrog and three other characters—Tony, Danny, and Gilbert— solve the case.  The reason for the deduction is that Frank looked after these 4 in the orphanage when they were kids.

It is best to know about the Tourette’s (tics) syndrome as the protagonist has the affliction and director/actor Norton makes sure his audience does not forget it.  It is a nerve disorder with onset in childhood, characterized by multiple motor tics and at least one vocal (phonic) tic. These tics characteristically wax and wane, can be suppressed temporarily, and are typically preceded by an unwanted urge or sensation in the affected muscles. Some common tics are eye blinking, coughing, throat clearing, sniffing, and facial movements. Tourette’s does not adversely affect intelligence or life expectancy.  In the film, Lionel is supposed to have heightened memory capabilities because of the syndrome.  Another fact is that adults suffering from this syndrome is a rarity, as they go away with adolescence.

The draw of he story is both the solving of the murder and the subplot involving the corruption of power.  Norton introduces the new character of Moses Randolph (Alec Baldwin) a city planner who is so obsessed with port ta he would do anything to gain it.  Baldwin has a field day with this role, that includes a long speech of what power is, and what it can do for people and how he craves and has it.  No one can stop me…. he boasts.  All this brings the more reason for Lionel to take the man down.

Because of the setting, the film looks and borrows from Roman Polanski’s CHINATOWN though understandably never reaching the heights of that classic.  But MOTHERLESS BROOKLYN is a totally enjoyable watch, with Norton giving full respect to his source material while never downplaying the syndrome for cheap laughs, but offering his audience intelligent look at the rare disease.


Film Review: TERMINATOR DARK FATE (USA 2019) ****

Terminator: Dark Fate Poster

Sarah Connor and a hybrid cyborg human must protect a young girl from a newly modified liquid Terminator from the future.


Tim Miller


James Cameron (story by), Charles H. Eglee (story by) | 8 more credits »

A few things are best known before watching the new TERMINATOR film or reading its review.   So, here are a few facts (source: Wikipedia) to get the logistics out of the way.  TERMINATOR DARK FATE is a 2019 American science fiction action film directed by the director of DEADPOOL Tim Miller making his second feature, with a screenplay by David S. Goyer, Justin Rhodes and Billy Ray from a story by James Cameron, Charles Eglee, Josh Friedman, Goyer and Rhodes.  Cameron and David Ellison are the film’s producers.  It is the sixth installment in the Terminator franchise and the direct sequel to THE TERMINATOR (1984) and TERMINATOR  2: JUDGEMENT DAY (1991), while the other films occur in alternate timelines.

DARK FATE has the benefit of franchise creator Cameron involved.  The film stars Linda Hamilton and Arnold Schwarzenegger returning in their roles of Sarah Connor and the T-800 “Terminator”, respectively, reuniting after 28 years.   The film also stars newcomers Mackenzie Davis, Natalia Reyes, Gabriel Luna and Diego Boneta portraying new characters. 

The plot involves a Terminator, the Rev-9 (Luna), travelling back in time to kill a young woman, Dani Ramos (Reyes), whose fate is connected to Sarah Connor and her son John’s legacies, which made Dani a target. The Human Resistance sends an enhanced soldier, Grace (Davis), whose existence is also depending on Dani’s survivals, back to protect her.  Grace and Dani’s only hope for survival against the Rev-9 depends on them joining forces with Sarah and a T-800 Terminator.

It is best to remember that DARK FATE is a terminator action flick and should be treated as one and not as a serious drama with an all important life altering message.  The message “we make our own fate” thrown into in this movie is as corny as any silly one-liners can be and should be taken at face value.    The story’s time travelling paradox is also played to its fullest. The setting of a border with scenes of illegal Mexicans being held at an overcrowded detention centre with together with trains carrying hordes of illegal immigrants should also be taken with a grain of salt.  Whether making a statement or not, all this is cheesiness at its best.

It is good to have Schwarzenegger and Hamilton back, both garnishing cheers at their first appearances (in the film) from the audience at the prom screening I attended.  The other players including Mackenzie Davis and Gabriel Luna as the new terminator provide excellent support.

All the action set-pieces are solidly executed, especially the fight and chase segments that will have many at the edge of their seats.  The  humour is also dead funny, the funniest delivered  by straight faced Schwarzenegger,   The most hilarious segment is the meeting of Schwarzenegger as Carl who serves his visitors Coronas in a bottle complete with a slice of lime.

Work in  other departments are also top notch.  The cinematography is also crisp and clear, evident from the very first scene where the waves of the sea reveal pebbles followed by the skulls of human skeletons.  The special effects are also magnificent from the transformation of human to terminator and vice versa to the little leaves blowing in the wind when the jeep drives away in the film’s closing sequence.

Director Miller is  disciplined enough not to make DARK FATE look like a DEADPOOL movie.  DARK FATE acknowledges the success and keeps to the feel and atmosphere of the first two original TERMINATOR films.  Fans will not be disappointed, as evident by the loud applause given at the end of the promo screening I attended in IMAX.  And see the film in IMAX!


Film Review: SYNONYMES (SYNONYMS) (France/Israel 2019) ****

Synonymes Poster

A young Israeli man absconds to Paris to flee his nationality, aided by his trusty Franco-Israeli dictionary.


Nadav Lapid


Nadav Lapid (screenplay), Haim Lapid (screenplay)

SYNONYMS is director Nadav Lapid’s new film after THE KINDERGARTEN TEACHER which to me was mediocre but there are segments in SYNONYMES, supposedly based on the director’s own experiences that blew me away.  I describe two in the following paragraphs that absolutely blew me away.

The film follows young Israeli ex-soldier Yoav (played by newcomer Tom Mercier, in an incredible performance), who moves to Paris hoping to escape his national identity.  This where the film opens.  After his first night, Yoav wakes up naked in an empty apartment with all of his belongings gone, and is soon taken in by a neighbouring, young, wealthy couple.  Armed with a pocket-sized French dictionary, Yoav refuses to speak his native Hebrew as he desperately tries to immerse himself in French society.  Living on only a few francs a day, he bounces from job to job on a wildly erratic journey, attempting to assimilate into a seemingly impenetrable culture. 

SYNONYMS plays occasionally like a French version of Martin Scorsese’s TAXI DRIVER.  Yoav’s character is incredibly vague and the film hints of his possible outbursts just as they occurred in the Robert De Niro taxi driver character. 

The strength of Lapid’s film lies in its unpredictability, in Yoav’s character in particular.  Does Yoav’s character end up violent and fucked up as in TAXI DRIVER?  Or is he something else.  In one of the film’s best moments set in a bar, Yoav witnesses Jewish abuse at a stranger but says nothing.  He then relates the story of his hero Hector of Troy and his battle against Achilles when Hector ran around nine days before facing Achilles.  Then you are a coward, retorts his friend.

The film’s other best scene is the seductive sexual scene between Yoav and Emile.   Director Lapid also blurs Yoav’s sexual preferences.  Yoav is already shown at the film’s start to be an incredibly sexy ex-soldier as depicted in full frontal nude scenes in the empty apartment where he douches.  They almost indulge in an erotic embrace while listening to classical music.  The beauty of it all is that the music is inaudible to the audience as the scene has Yoav and Emile wearing headphones.  But they moan in ecstasy for hearing the beautiful classics music which sounds also like two men having a sexual encounter.  Before anything can really happen. Caroline calls out to Emile.

Director Lapid realizes the power of musical numbers in film.  This he demonstrates in  two of the film’s energetic moments.  One is the rendering of the song by two women of “Hallelujah”  during  military funeral and the other, a hilarious segment (great camera work and editing by the director’s mother here) where Yoav steals food in a club amidst beautiful ladies dancing to “Pump Up the Jam”.

SYNONYMS is one of the most spirited films of the year – never mind the theme or message, and a great pleasure to watch!

Trailer: (en franca is sans sous-titres anglaises)

(ReelAsian Film Festival 2019): COME DRINK WITH ME (Hong Kong 1966) ****

Come Drink with Me Poster
A group of bandits kidnaps the governor’s son and demands their imprisoned leader to be set free in exchange.


King Hu (as King Chuan)


King Hu (as King Chuan), Shan-Hsi Ting (as Ye Yang)

Undeniably the best film to be shown at the Asian Film Festival this year and free as well, COME DRINK WITH ME a must-see if you have not already seen it.  This is the film that sprouted the wuxia swords sagas and the film that catapulted its director King Hu to fame.  King Hu went on to make DRAGON INN and A TOUCH OF ZEN followed by classics like the stunning RAINING IN THE MOUNTAIN and THE LEGEND OF THE MOUNTAIN. 

 COME DRNIK WITH ME,a Shaw Brothers production stars starlet Cheng Pei-pei as Golden Swallow, 20 at the time of the making of the film, as the swords lady extraordinaire.  Golden Swallow’s task is to free her captive brother from bandits led by an evil Abbott.  It all sounds terribly delicious. 

 All the elements of a classic sworsdsaga are present, including a fight at an inn, unparalleled sword fights and incredible acrobatics.  COME DRINK WITH ME influenced Ang Lee’s CROUCHING TIGER, HIDDEN TIGER that also featured Cheng as an elderly fighter named Jade Fox.  Free screening November 1st at the Innis Town Hall at 8 pm.

Trailer: (unavailable)