TIFF 2016 Movie Review: SNOWDEN (USA/Germany 2015) ***1/2

snowden_poster.jpg
SNOWDEN (USA/Germany 2015) ***1/2
Directed by Oliver Stone

Starring: Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Shailene Woodley, Melissa Leo

Review by Gilbert Seah

Renegade filmmaker Oliver Stone knows how to get the blood of an audience flowing. He demonstrated this ability in the Oscar Winning PLATOON, political JFK and the controversial NATURAL BORN KILLERS. One can expect the same from his new film about whistleblower, Edward SNOWDEN (Joseph Gordon-Levitt).

The ads for the film goes… Patriot, dissident, or traitor? But director Stone portrays him as none of the three. At the film’s start, there is a scene that shows Snowden saying that he believes that America is the best country in the world. As the film goes along, he ends up wrestling with his conscience on what is right thing to do. In Stone’s film, the right thing to do is to expose NSA (National Security of America) for violating the rights of not only the Americans but of the citizens of every other country in the world by lying to their Governments. Yes, the NSA can track every single person in the world – the only lame excuse given is the need for prevention of terrorism. To those who actually believe Snowden to be a traitor, Stone’s film will either infuriate you or convert you. Stone lays out the facts, but in a prejudiced way, just as in PLATOON.

But Stone makes Snowden’s story more human by concentrating on his human side – and his love with his wife (Shailene Woodley). The most emotionally charged scenes are the fights he has with his wife. Stone also invokes the audience’s sympathy by showing Snowden’s illness – his proneness to epilepsy.

But the film’s most effective scene is the climax. If Stone knows how to manipulate the audience, this scene shows it. After Snowden’s live speech on the Internet, the live audience gives him a standing ovation. At the same time the image of actor Gordon-Levitt metamorphosizes into the face of the actual Edward Snowden.

The story of SNOWDEN is old news by now and unless one has not been reading he news, one knows that Snowden is presently living in Russia, not coming back to the U.S. as he believes, which is true, that he would not be given a free trail. This is how the film ends, so as to be accurate.

This is not the first film made about Snowden. Documentary filmmaker Laura Poitras made CITIZEN FOUR as she was called by Snowden himself when he was blowing the whistle. Poitras is portrayed by Melissa Leo in this film. CITIZENFOUR lays the facts out straight. The titles at the start of SNOWDEN declares that the film is a dramatization of true events. And that the film is, entertaining as it might be.

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QlSAiI3xMh4

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TIFF 2016 Movie Review: WITHOUT NAME (Ireland 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.

without_name_poster.jpgWITHOUT NAME (Ireland 2016) ***
Directed by Lorcan Finnegan

Starring: Alan McKenna, Niamh Algar, James Browne

Review by Gilbert Seah

Low budget and rather slow moving suspense thriller by first time director Lorcan Finnegan is a moody atmospheric piece set in a dense forest where some secret lies. A land surveyor, Eric (Alan McKenna) is in the throes of a midlife crisis.

His marriage is fractured and his son barely acknowledges him, so he’s more than willing to get away from his family when a mysterious client sends him on a prolonged survey excursion in a dense forest.

By the time his research assistant, Olivia (Niamh Algar), arrives at the remote cottage where he is staying, Eric has become disturbed and beguiled by the woodlands that surround him.

Barely glimpsed silhouettes haunt him among the trees, but he is never able to catch up with them. Trouble really starts when Eric takes too many mushrooms and hallucinates, unable to differentiate reality and fantasy.

The film takes a while to get its footing, with a lot of false scares. The climax also requires the audience to put two and two together. But Finnegan’s no-nonsense film succeeds as a creepy piece about creepy people.

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cd4K6qICqC8

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TIFF 2016 Movie Review: UNA (UK 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.

una_poster.jpgUNA (UK 2016) ***|
Directed by Benedict Andrews

Starring: Riz Ahmed, Rooney Mara, Ben Mendelsohn

Review by Gilbert Seah

Though UNA is based on the David Harrower play and directed by stage director Benedict Andrews, the film does not feel like a play. But it does remind one of the plot of Mamet’s OLEANA, a two handler where a student accuses her professor of sexual assault.

In UNA, Rooney Mara plays Una, and Ben Mendelsohn is Ray, the neighbour who sexually assaulted her when she was 13.

A decade later, Una tracks Ray, now married with a pre-teen daughter, down in search of answers — but she doesn’t find the ones she’s searching for. The reason given is that she has fallen in love with her assailant.

The film is a bit slow moving with a lot of brooding by the players. The film also does not provide all the answers leaving the audience to fill in the blanks, which I assume is the purpose of the film.

Not entirely satisfying as a psychological thriller or mystery thriller but performances are super including Riz Ahmed’s in the support in role of Scott. Ray’s employee caught up in the drama.

Trailer: http://www.movie-trailer.co.uk/trailers/2016/una/

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TIFF 2016 Movie Review: SEARCHERS (Canada 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.

searchers_poster.jpgSEARCHERS (Canada 2016) ***
Directed by Zacharias Kunuk

Starring: Benjamin Kunuk, Karen Ivalu, Jonah Qunaq

Review by Gilbert Seah

Director Kunuk (Atanarjuat: The Fast Runner) returns with this Arctic epic inspired by the classic John Ford western, THE SEARCHERS. though it feels at times like an Inuit version of TAKEN.

An Inuit woman is kidnapped by her own people. A family is torn apart in the vast spaces of the cold barren landscape of the Arctic, when marauding men desperate for conquest break into an igloo with intent to kidnap.

When the husband returns to find his home ransacked, he vows revenge TAKEN style. The husband (with his son) track the kidnappers and finally rescue the wife and daughter. There is not an intricate plot with a twist but it is an absorbing film nonetheless. On wonders how they got the camera and other equipment up there in the cold.

True Canadian filmmaking by the First Nations. The audience gets a dose of Inuit culture as a bonus.

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TIFF 2016 Movie Review: WULU (France/Senegal 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.

wulu_poster.jpg WULU (France/Senegal 2016) ***
Directed by Daouda Coulibaly

Starring: Quim Gutiérrez, Dembele Habib, Ndiaye Ismaël

Review by Gilbert Seah

Malian director Daouda Coulibaly’s debut is a no-nonsense tense crime drama/political thriller that traces the rise and fall of a low-level transit worker turned drug trafficker.

When the film opens, the audience sees Ladji (Ibrahim Koma) advising his apprentice on how to load a bus with customers – to maximize fare. The ambitious Ladji forces himse on his boss who smuggles drugs. Ladji succeeds but more money means more responsibilities and more debt.

Director Coulibaly ties in the political unrest ion the story as well as Ladji’s rites-of-passage. The trial of the film WULU is the dog’s rite, one part of 5 rites, that the audience is to figure out what it is about.

Coulibaly’s film is absorbing but it occasionally attempts to achieve much more than it can chew. Coulibaly always has the audience rooting for handsome Ladji, whether he is doing right or wrong.

The audience will be able to experience drug trafficking in the environment of West African poverty.

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TIFF 2016 Movie Review: LA LA LAND (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.

la_la_land_poster.jpgLA LA LAND (USA 2016) ****
Directed by Damien Chazelle

Starring: Ryan Gosling, Emma Stone, Amiée Conn, J.K. Simmons

Review by Gilbert Seah

LA LA LAND marks the return of the Hollywood musical but done here with a fresh take. The film tells of the conflict between following ones dreams against sacrificing them up for love.

This is what a couple Ryan Gosling, a budding jazz musician and rising play actress Emma Stone face. The film begins with an impressive set up of an extended song and dance number that takes place on a busy highway in Hollywood where the drivers exit their cars to do their thing.

The film offers two alternative endings but the one to be followed is the most likely but not the most obvious one.

The songs especially “City of Stars” are catchy and this song should have one humming in the aisles. Gosling and Stone make a lovely couple.

A few cliched parts like the meeting of the couple (chance argument on the highway and in coffee shop before chance meeting again) mar an almost perfectly executed romantic musical.

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=je0aAf2f8XQ

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TIFF 2016 Movie Review: DEEPWATER HORIZON (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.

deepwater_horizon_poster.jpgDEEPWATER HORIZON (USA 2016) **
Directed by Peter Berg

Starring: Dylan O’Brien, Mark Wahlberg, Kate Hudson, Kurt Russell, Gina Rodriguez, Ethan Suplee, John Malkovich

Review by Gilbert Seah

Based on the true-life worst U.S. oil disaster in history, DEEPWATER HORIZON is nothing more than a super expensive a re-enactment of the disaster using special effects with a cliched story line framed by testimonies of the survivors at a hearing.

Director Peter Berg who made some original films in his time like VERY BAD THNGS and KINGDOM seems to be out of touch here. The film is a complete bore from start to finish with cardboard performances from Mark Wahlberg, Kurt Russell, Gina Rodriguez and Kate Hudson.

Even John Malkovich dishing, out his usual side nastiness cannot save the day. Another disaster film that proves that disaster films (THE TOWERING INFERNO, THW SWARM, both POSEIDON ADVENTURES) are pure disastrous rubbish!

Lots and lots of pyrotechnics but repeated again and again with lots of screaming actors. See it in IMAX for a larger than human headache experience.

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=S-UPJyEHmM0

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TIFF 2016 Movie Review: (re) ASSIGNMENT (USA/Canada/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.

re_assignment_poster.jpg(re) ASSIGNMENT (USA/Canada/France 2016) ***
Directed by Walter Hill

Starring: Sigourney Weaver, Michelle Rodriguez, Caitlin Gerard

Review by Gilbert Seah

From Walter Hill, the director of classics like 48 HOURS, THE LONG RIDERS and THE WARRIORS, (re) ASSIGNMENT is a revenge action thriller with a difference. Michelle Rodriguez plays a lowlife killer put through full male-to-female gender reassignment surgery by a score-settling surgeon (Sigourney Weaver).

The surgeon is first seen straitjacketed in an interrogation room. Calmly, and not without pride, she recounts to her psychiatrist (Tony Shalhoub) how she got there.

The film unfolds in multiple layered flashbacks, one occurring before the previous one. The film is also appropriately framed by comic book graphics.

A lowlife killer named Frank Kitchen (Rodriguez) killed her brother, so she took her ultimate revenge. She captured him and conducted full gender-reassignment surgery. Now Frank is forced to face the world as a woman.

Confused, pissed off, and as macho as ever, she’s out for her own vengeance.

Rodriguez plays both the male and female roles but it is Weaver who steals the show as the straightjacketed surgeon with her extremely snide remarks. Seems that the movie was written for Weaver.

 

 

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TIFF 2016 Movie Review: RAW (France/Belgium 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.

raw_poster.jpgRAW (France/Belgium 2016) ***
Directed by Julia Ducournau

Starring: Garance Marillier, Ella Rumpf, Rabah Nait Oufella

Review by Gilbert Seah

As a first time director of a horror feature, Julia Ducournau gets her facts straight. At the introduction of RAW at TIFF Midnight Madness, she told a full house that when she asked a fellow filmmaker about Toronto audiences, she had been told which she did repeat, to huge cheers, that Toronto has the best audience in the world.

Her film about a new graduate in a vet medical university reminds one immediately of Dario Argento’s SUSPIRA. The vet school environment is fully utilized with the blood of animals constantly splattered on the freshies, sights of bottled carcasses as well party happenings (the music track from the club is amazing!). Shy 16-year-old Justine (Garance Marillier) is following in the footsteps of her entire family when she enrols at veterinary college, where she finds herself in the shadow of her distant and dismissive older sister Alexia (Ella Rumpf ).

To make matters worse, she is thrown into the humiliating traditions of the school’s wild and vicious hazing rituals. A strict vegetarian like her parents, Justine is confronted with a moral dilemma when she must eat a raw rabbit liver as part of an initiation rite.

When she does, her tastes transform to the desire for more flesh including human ones. The film traces her roots and transformation. A neat subplot has her falling in love with a gay Arab. French FX master Olivier Afonso (who was also responsible for Midnight Madness horror favourite À L’INTERIEUR) again does marvellous work.

The paramedics had to be called during the screening. The most gruesome segment is the finger eating scene.

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TIFF 2016 Movie Review: CITY OF TINY LIGHTS (UK 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.

city_of_tiny_lights_poster.jpgCITY OF TINY LIGHTS (UK 2016) **
Directed by Pete Travis

Starring: Riz Ahmed, Billie Piper, James Floyd

Review by Gilbert Seah

The city referred to in the title is London. And Travis’ moody film about a brooding detective is a film noir set in this city.

A down-at-heel private eye, Tommy (Riz Ahmed) is drawn into a dangerous world of religious fanaticism and political intrigue as he investigates a missing persons case. (What other cases are there for Private Investigator film noirs?) One day Melody (Cush Jumbo) walks into his office, like the typical classic femme fatale. Her friend Natasha has gone missing. Tommy helps and the rest is the rest of the story.

Based on his own novel and writing the script, Patrick Neate shows the solution to the mystery is just as important as the atmosphere created of the city. But Travis’ over serious film is too ponderous, with this genre done so much better in countless films. Riz Ahmed’s performance, however is excellent as is Roshan’s Seth’s.

Seth plays Tommy’s cricket obsessed father who saves the day a the climax.

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