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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TIFF 2016 Movie Review: ARRIVAL (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.

arrival_poster.jpgARRIVAL (USA 2016) ****
Directed by Denis Villeneuve

Starring: Amy Adams, Jeremy Renner, Forest Whitaker

Review by Gilbert Seah

Finally arrives a sci-fi futuristic alien film without the blow ups, collapsing buildings and end of the world scenario. Well, all of the above might still happen but it is up to theoretical physicist, Ian Donnelly (Jeremy Renner) and linguistics expert, Dr. Louise Banks (Amy Adams0 to find out the purpose of the landings.

The landings occur at 12 different locations around the globe and there is a reason for that. Director Villeneuve (PRISONERS, ENEMY) builds up the suspense carefully aided by Jóhann Jóhannsson’s captivating score, unique set design by Patrice Vermette and cinematography by Bradford Young. But it is surprising that the best part of the film is the simple shot segment of Dr. Louise’s explanation of what it means to communicate the question: “What is the purpose of your visit?” to the visitors.

Every word and even the question mark and the pronoun you (singular or collective?) might have different meanings. The non-linearity of time is also a neat concept that is also examined.

The title ARRIVAL in the film, could also refer to two things – the arrival of the visitors or the birth of Dr. Louise’s baby.

ARRIVAL is a fascinating film on all counts.

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tFMo3UJ4B4g

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

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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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