Film Review: QUEEN OF KATWE (USA 2016) ***

queen_of_katwe_poster.jpgQUEEN OF KATWE (USA 2016) ***
Directed by Mira Nair

Starring: Madina Nalwanga, David Oyelowo, Lupita Nyong’o

Review by Gilbert Seah

The film is based on the book entitled “The Queen of Katwe: A Story of Life, Chess, and One Extraordinary Girl’s Dream of Becoming a Grandmaster” by Tim Crothers. The title itself tells exactly what is going to happen in the Disney film – Disney Studios the one being most famous for making formulaic films. Do we need then to watch this movie?
Apparently a lot of people think so. QUEEN OF KATWE has already been selected to premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival and the London Film Festival later in November.

QUEEN OF KATWE is directed by Indian American Mira Nair. She is an odd choice for the job having taken on controversial projects like THE RELUCTANT FUNDAMENTALIST. But she has directed crowd pleasers like MISSISSIPPI MASALA and SALAAM BOMBAY! The public will likely be quite pleased with QUEEN OF KATWE as Nair hits as many right notes as she can in this biographical sports drama.

For sports dramas where the sport involved is football or soccer or boxing, whoever watching the game knows what is happening and who might be winning. The same cannot be said for chess. Even at the crucial moment of a checkmate, by looking at the pieces on the board, no one can tell what is happening. This is a challenge for the director who needs to incite excitement in the game. This is achieved in one vey funny part when one character asks another during a match. “What does it mean?” The answer is jubilantly shouted: “It means she is winning!”
The film begins in 2011 when Phiona is playing in the chess championships. The rest of the film is told mainly in flashback – how Phiona has reached this point in her life and the film carries on from here.

Once can hardly complain about Nair’s direction or William Wheeler’s script. The film is thorough to include everything that an underdog has to go through to become a champion. The girl Phiona Mutesi (Madina Nalwanga) and her family are evicted form her home; Phiona comes into conflict with her uneducated mother (Oscar Winner Lupita Nyong’o) who understands little of the importance of education; she loses an important game; she learns humility etc. etc. etc. By the time the film gets to the last reel with the climatic crucial chess game, the story has stretched out far too long. But for many who love getting their right buttons pushed. QUEEN OF KATWE will likely have them reaching for their tissues. David Oyelowo plays her coach Robert Katende, who always has the right advice for everyone and cannot do the wrong thing.
The best and most important part of the film is the one in which Phiona grows too proud after winning a game and decides she is too special to wash the vegetables for her mother. Her mother pulls her out of bed in the important scene screaming that maybe Phiona needs her feet washed as well.

The film ends well with each actor standing beside the real character their portrayed. There are no photos here, real people with real actors.

The film will be screened with in conjunction with a delightful and inventive animated short called INNER WORKINGS (director Leo Matsuda) – a sort of alternative take on INSIDE OUT. Running just over 5 minutes., this terribly funny film outshines QUEEN OF KATWE. But QUEEN won the runner-up prize for the People’s Choice Award at the recent TIFF.

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=z4l3-_yub5A

TIFF 2016 Movie Review: SADAKO VS KAYAKO (Japan 2016)

Movie Reviews of films that will be playing at TIFF (Toronto International Film Festival) in 2016. Go to TIFF 2016 Movie Reviews and read reviews of films showing at the festival.

sadako_v_kayako_poster.jpgSADAKO VS KAYAKO (Japan 2016) **
Directed by Kôji Shiraishi

Starring: Mizuki Yamamoto, Tina Tamashiro, Aimi Satsukawa |

Review by Gilbert Seah

Two iconic Japanese ghosts are thrown into the ring for a grudge match that’s the ultimate spectral showdown.

A more appropriate title would be THE RING VS THE GRUDGE. University students Yuri (Mizuki Yamamoto) and Natsumi (Aimi Satsukawa) buy an old VCR in order to transfer their home videos to DVD, but when Natsumi watches the dusty old tape found in the machine, she realizes she may have fallen victim to the curse that their urban-legends professor Morishige (Masahiro Komoto) is obsessed with.

Meanwhile, high-schooler Suzuka (Tina Tamashiro) is having dreams about a mysterious house down the street from her new home. Though warned not to enter the house lest she be killed by the Saeki family curse, she is soon drawn inside by the resident ghosts, Kayako and her son, Toshio.

The film is SADAKO VS KAYAKO. But the film does not turn out as well as it sounds. I am not a fan of mash-ups like BATMAN VS. SUPERMAN or COWBOYS VS ALIENS. They turn out too silly and never achieve much, the only exception being the excellent Japanese classic KING KONG VS GODZILLA.

Sadako exists mainly as hair coming out of the TV or video tape so a confrontation of hair against a white crawly ghoul might not amount to much.

Director Shiraishi spends too much time setting the stage for the fight and when it finally occurs, it is a disappointment.

See this only if you must!

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uyLA6nfPvRo

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TIFF 2016 Movie Review: AFTER THE STORM (Japan 2016) ***

Movie Reviews of films that will be playing at TIFF (Toronto International Film Festival) in 2016. Go to TIFF 2016 Movie Reviews and read reviews of films showing at the festival.

after_the_storm_poster.jpg
AFTER THE STORM (Japan 2016) ***
Directed by Hirokazu Kore-eda

Starring: Hiroshi Abe, Yôko Maki, Taiyô Yoshizawa

Review by Gilbert Seah

AFTER THE STORM is Kore-da at his mildest ilmmaking. Don’t expect the drama of LIKE FATHER, LIKE SON or the imagination of AFTER LIFE his two best films. Yet AFTER THE STORM is not without its pleasures.

On the surface it is a simple film, a kind look at a loser. Ryota (Hiroshi Abe) is a failed writer, a third-rate detective, and a hardened gambler. As the film’s title seems to suggest, the salient moments of his life have already passed before the beginning of the story.

He won an important literary award when he was young, but his promising career vanished into thin air. Now, his father has died and his wife has left him. He adores his young son, but seems resigned to his position on the sidelines of the boy’s life.

One night, when a typhoon strikes, the broken family is forced to spend the night together at Ryota’s mother’s home. The ensuing interaction that is both bittersweet and tender forms the film’s highlight. “I never want to grow up to be like you.”, the son says. “I will always love them. They are my family.”

The father says at one point. Great performances here not only from Abe but from Kirin Kiki as Ryota’s mother, who is so funny she steals every scene she is in.

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

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TIFF 2016 Movie Review: Tereddut (Clair-obscur) (2016)

Movie Reviews of films that will be playing at TIFF (Toronto International Film Festival) in 2016. Go to TIFF 2016 Movie Reviews and read reviews of films showing at the festival.

clair_obscur_poster.jpgCLAIR-OBSCUR (Turkey/Germany/Poland/France 2016) **
Directed by Yesim Ustaoglu

Starring: Mehmet Kurtulus, Metin Akdülger, Okan Yalabik

Review by Gilbert Seah

A female director’s film about two females. So expect a lot of feminine perspective to be presented in the story told. Turk director Yesim Ustaoglu offers a parallel study of two women — a psychiatrist with a long-time live-in partner and a wife in a conservative, nearly tyrannical household — in this study of the possibilities and limitations that exist for women in Turkey today.

A third through the film, their paths cross as the psychiatrist treats the other after a catastrophe.

Ustaoglu’s film clearly intends to show women’s hardships in terms of two different imprisonments of the two women. She succeeds in her tale of Elmas, the young abused new wife, but fails in the second tale of the psychiatrist.

The psychiatrist comes along as too smart and her arguments against her husband does not really feel genuine, as her husband could also feel himself used by her, as she did have an affair before the quarrel.

A mixed bag of emotions in this film, though the visuals are arresting.

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

 

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TIFF 2016 Movie Review: CARRIE PILBY (USA 2016) ***

Movie Reviews of films that will be playing at TIFF (Toronto International Film Festival) in 2016. Go to TIFF 2016 Movie Reviews and read reviews of films showing at the festival.

carrie_pilby_poster.jpgCARRIE PILBY (USA 2016) ***
Directed by Susan Johnson

Starring: Bel Powley, Nathan Lane, Gabriel Byrne

Review by Gilbert Seah

Being too smart might be detrimental to ones life. Based on Caren Lissner’s best-selling 2003 novel, CARRIE PILBY is a story of a awkward teen who graduated Harvard at the age of 19 and lives in a small NYC apartment paid for by her London-based father (Gabriel Byrne).

Carrie (Bel Powley) has no job, no purpose and no friends because she actively dislikes just about everyone (rating them “morally and intellectually unacceptable”) as only a teenager can.

Her one regular contact is her dad’s therapist friend, Dr. Petrov (Nathan Lane in rare role of an unfaithful straight man), who after a fruitless series of weekly visits finally sets Carrie some homework: a five-point plan to get her life together. As they say, nothing goes as planned. The plan results in her life turned more upside down. Johnson’s film takes half the film to get its footing.

The first half is really annoying with Carrie spurting out too much clever dialogue and the script getting too smug for tis own good. It treats its audience as simple folk that need a twist in every segment or needing a punch line after a dialogue.

The film gets more tolerable in the second half even turning to winning when Carrie finally gives up on the plan.

Part coming-of-age, part father/daughter relationship and part romance, CARRIE PILBY is a chick flick that finally rises, like is character at the end.

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TIFF 2016 Movie Review: BOYS IN THE TREES (Australia 2016)

Movie Reviews of films that will be playing at TIFF (Toronto International Film Festival) in 2016. Go to TIFF 2016 Movie Reviews and read reviews of films showing at the festival.

boys_in_the_trees_poster.jpg
BOYS IN THE TREES (Australia 2016) **
Directed by Nicholas Verso

Starring: Toby Wallace, Gulliver McGrath, Mitzi Ruhlmann

Review by Gilbert Seah

BOYS UNDER TREES contains an exciting premise – a coming-of-age story with gay overtones set in a small Australian town where the protagonist seeks to leave for the big city. The action takes place during Halloween where goals and Aborigine black magic exists.

The story unfolds over the course of an afternoon and deep into Halloween night, what occurs are also on the border separating the comforts of daytime and the eeriness of twilight. Some of the suburban territories they stumble into seem to contain a parallel realm of supernatural forebodings.

But the parallel universe theme does not really work and serve to confuse than to fascinate. Verso’s film is also so slow moving that one feels that it should have ended long before its short running time. The film also puzzles with a lot of questions like:

Is the snow in one scene real and if false who is supplying it and why is it toxic? Why is the girl in a different place for no reason?
Why is the Aborigine in the white suit appearing for no reason?

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Gfx7L-pXCUg

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TIFF 2016 Movie Review: AQUARIUS (Brazil/France 2016) ****

Movie Reviews of films that will be playing at TIFF (Toronto International Film Festival) in 2016. Go to TIFF 2016 Movie Reviews and read reviews of films showing at the festival.

aquarius_posterAQUARIUS (Brazil/France 2016) ****
Directed by Kleber Mendonça Filho

Starring: Sonia Braga, Maeve Jinkings, Julia Bernat

Review by Gilbert Seah

Filho’s AQUARIUS is again set in Recife, the seaside neighbourhood that he made famous in his last film NEIGHBOURING SOUNDS.

Though that one was mainly set at night, AQUARIUS is mainly shot in bright sunlight for most of the scenes. AQUARIUS focuses on an individual: Clara (ex-Brazilian sex symbol, who still maintains her looks, Sônia Braga), a retired music critic and the sole tenant of an older apartment block being bought up by ruthless condo developers.

After surviving a bout of cancer and the loss of her beloved husband, Clara is hardly about to let herself be bullied by the “generous” offers or insidious charms of Diego (Humberto Carrão), the American-educated scion of a powerful local real-estate firm. Diego tries everything in his power to force Clara out of her home, including (hilariously, but not for Clara) hosting a noisy orgy in the suite above Clara’s — one that leaves a putrid mess in its wake. The second half of the film is how Clara fights back. Filho builds up the suspense right up to the climatic confrontation.

The film also reveals the class system, prejudices and culture of the Brazilian society.

Clip: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-bBcLImYBgQ

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