Movie Review: PERSONAL SHOPPER (France 2016) ***

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personal_shopper.jpgDirector: Olivier Assayas
Writers: Olivier Assayas (dialogue), Olivier Assayas (screenplay)
Stars: Kristen Stewart, Lars Eidinger, Sigrid Bouaz

Review by Gilbert Seah

 After the modest box-office success of CLOUDS OF SILS MARIA, director Oliver Assayas (IRMA VEP, CLEAN) and actress Kristen Stewart reunite with a moody ghost story called PERSONAL SHOPPER. The title character, Maureen is as the title implies, a personal shopper for a wealthy German model and designer, Kyra (Nora Von Waltstätten). Maureen also has a ghostly encounter from her recently dead brother who she was quite close with.
The closeness is explained in two reasons – necessary to convince the audience why she is so determined to have a spiritual encounter with him. One is that he is her twin. Second is that the both suffer from the same health issue, though someone could live till a hundred with it. What happened to the brother is explained by the doctor as a rarity. But Maureen cannot indulge in any excessive physical activity.

Within the first 15 minutes of the film’s running time, the only thing established is that Stewart plays a personal shopper and that she has had one ghost encounter. The audience is obvious primed for a slow haul of a movie. Not much has happened except that Stewart has been walking around, mucking around and just looking at dresses for Kyra. The dresses are very glamorous, for those who like to look at dresses. Maureen is forbidden to wear the dresses. But she does, even masturbating in one of the sexier ones.

PERSONAL SHOPPER works off Maureen’s character with a few side incidents. Maureen rides along on a scooter, has a few ghostly encounters (though not fully explained who the apparitions are), runs errands and has an uncomfortable encounter with a stalker on her mobile phone. The film contains a loose narrative but a strong presence in Kristen Stewart’s character. Assayas is in playful mood here milking the most out of his actress.

One side incident involving a murder is done Hitchcock style. Maureen discovers a brutal murder just as in the scene in Hitchcock’s THE BIRDS when the first attack of the birds was discovered.

As a ghost story, the ghost appears as an apparition similar to old ghost films with dust stirred up with blurred figures. The seance scene also looks typical of those in early ghost stories.

In the end, one eventually asks whether this light hearted ghost story is any fun. Well it might be for director Assayas and his star, but it might be too much of a slow and long haul for others. Assayas leaves his film with an open ending that might have some audiences dissatisfied. But on the same hand, PERSONAL SHOPPER is not a film that lends to a Hollywood ending. Having one would have destroyed the entire atmosphere of the film Assayas had so carefully created.

The film is shot in English, with some French and German spoken (and an elaborate German song) with a moody setting in both Paris and London. Interesting but not great!

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7hghXP4F3Qs

 

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Film Review: Power Rangers (2017)

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power_rangers.jpgDirector: Dean Israelite
Writers: John Gatins (screenplay), Matt Sazama (story by)
Stars: Dacre Montgomery, Naomi Scott, RJ Cyler

Review by Gilbert Seah

Danger! Danger! Really bad and tacky opening sequence that is a forewarning of worst things to come! The film opens with a confrontation fight between two enemies, Zoltand and (yes, ridiculously named) Rita on the planet Earth before a meteor strikes. Voiceover informs that this is the Cenazora Era – whatever that means. Something is buried which, the audience can guess will be uncovered at the present time. All of what just occurred is a warning that the next 124 minutes of running time will be devoted to stupidity. The third POWER RANGERS film, which is actually a reboot by South African director Dean Israelite is an exercise in stupidity – in story, plot, action sequences and characterization. But the film, based on the successful TV series of the same name, is occasionally stupid fun!

The first POWER RANGERS film, MIGHTY MORPHIN POWER RANGERS: THE MOVIE in 1995 made lots but the second, made two years later, TURBO: A POWER RANGERS MOVIE flopped. Director Israelite has said that his new $100 million version will be more edgy, down-to-earth and deal with more human issues. Israelite who became famous with his found-footage film PROJECT ALMANAC shows the same tactic with his camera placed within the car that is being chased at the start of the film. The resulting jittery screen does not really do anything much in terms of excitement for the car chase. In fact, a better effect was created with the camera on he dashboard of the car in the bank robbery escape scene in David MacKenzie’s HELL OR HIGH WATER.

The story follows five teens with attitude (Israelite’s more human characters??) are inexplicably brought together by coincidence or destiny to become the newest generation in a line of warriors known as the Power Rangers. The world rests in their hands as Rita Repulsa (Elizabeth Banks), a powerful witch and former Power Ranger, launches an assault seeking the Zeo Crystal with an army of stone golems called Putties and a giant golden monster called Goldar.

Five is a number too large. The film has to give screen time to each power ranger, with boredom setting in as quickly as an unfunny joke falls flat. The leader is a disgraced football player, Jason Scott (Dacre Montgomery) who steals a bull at the start of the film. The other members are an assortment of different races and disabilities so obviously political correct that the entire enterprise looks downright silly. There is the autistic Afro-American (two in one), Billy Cranston (RJ Cyler), the gay Trini (Becky G), the asian Zack (Ludi Lin) looking after his bed-ridden mother and Kimberly (Naomi Scott) the only other white power ranger.

The special effects and action sequences are cheesy if not tacky. It would just as well to see actors in monster costumes fighting each other. The humour is awful and unfunny. Most of the acting is terrible as well. The high school kids are played by actors over twenty. In fact, Ludi Lin is around 30 years of age. Elizabeth Banks, hardly recognizable in heavy make-up and skimpy outfit, at leasts knows how to camp up her villainous character.

POWER RANGERS is obviously aimed at a kids audience. But children’s films could be really funny and entertain adults as well, as in films like the SHREK and the recent BEAUTY AND THE BEAST. POWER RANGERS is just plain awful and boring from start to end. This one competes with MONSTER TRUCKS as the worst imagined and executed film project this year.

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=J8ezPMcnnyY

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Film Review: LIFE (USA 2017) ***1/2

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life.jpgDirector: Daniel Espinosa
Writers: Rhett Reese, Paul Wernick
Stars: Jake Gyllenhaal, Rebecca Ferguson, Ryan Reynolds

Review by Gilbert Seah

LIFE is a new science fiction horror film directed by Daniel Espinosa, written by Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick (who both penned DEADPOOL and ZOMBIELAND) and starring two of Hollywood’s hottest stars Jake Gyllenhaal as Dr. David Jordan and Ryan Reynolds as Rory Adams. The two are part of a six-member eclectic crew of the International Space Station that uncovers what initially seems to be the first evidence of life on Mars.

LIFE is the scariest horror film so far this year. Espinosa and his writing crew know how to shock people with genuine scares, not using silly tactics like false alarms and the volume of the sound suddenly for no reason going three times as loud. The film is set in space. Space is an unknown entity to human beings. Anything can happen in space. The sight of space with little light and vast endless openness is in itself the scariest notion ever.

The film begins with voiceover and scenes describing an international space station. The film is totally successful in grabbing and maintaining the audience’s attention. Everyone has to listen and pay full attention – or some important fact will be missed. The first thrill of the film involves the capture of a space probe returning from Mars with a sample inside. This task is obviously successful (so no spoiler alert here). The crew is tasked with studying the sample, which may be the first proof of extraterrestrial life. However, the study eventually backfires as the organism displays incredible strength and gains intelligence. The creature becoming extremely hostile and killing them all one by one. Ariyon Bakare’s Hugh Derry is the first casualty in a segment where his pain is matched only by his screaming. Trapped aboard the ISS with the rapidly-growing organism humorously nicknamed Calvin, the crew must find out how to kill it before it manages to escape and destroy Earth.

There are two things going for this horror film – unpredictability and suspense build-up. Director Espinosa builds his film slowly but effectively to a horrifying climax. He knows how to create real terror. The segments in which the victim are attacked by the creature are almost impossible to watch, with the creature’s tentacles entering the mouths of its victims. These start occurring after the first half of the fpm right up to the very end. A little spoiler alert here – anyone of the crew could be done away with. Don’t be fooled by the star billing.

At times, the film feels like other space horror films like John Carpenter’s THE THING or Ridley Scott’s ALIEN films. But LIFE tries and succeeds to be different. For one the ending is totally unpredictable. But one has to probably discuss what actually happened as an explanation is not crystal clear and could be open to different interpretations.

Ridley Scott’s new ALIEN reboot (ALIEN: COVENANT) arrives in a few months.

How it will compare to Calvin is the anticipatory question.

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

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THE SETTLERS (Israel/France/Canada 2016) ***

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the_settlers.jpgDirector: Shimon Dotan
Writers: Oron Adar, Shimon Dotan

Review by Gilbert Seah

 The film begins with the figure shown in the image above of a Rabbi standing and overlooking the land he has settled in. THE SETTLERS are then explained to be Israelis that have settled in the occupied land of the Palestinians. Why? Because these are the lands occupied by their forefathers and the forefathers of their forefathers, down to the Biblical times of Abraham. These are religious people. They believe the land belongs to them. Director Doton shows that some of these people are religious zealots leaning towards terrorist actions. The map of the region is shown on the screen for audiences to understand better the whole picture.

In the press notes Dotan says: “I made The Settlers because, in my view, the Settlement Enterprise has the most dramatic impact on the future of Israel, and the discussion about it, is often misinformed,” Dotan says. “I set out to explore the reality in the West Bank settlements. But it soon became clear that I had to go back to the roots, to where and when the West Bank settlements began.”

A good point about the film is the fact that desire being directed by an Israeli, it offers two points of view. Dotan himself has lived in a kibbutz when young and served in the Israeli military. Being highly educated, not to be biased but to have an educated point of view, his film takes no sides. He allows a Palestinian, a Human Rights expert a lot of screen time to put the troubles into perspective.

The conflict between the Arabs and Jews, the Israelis and the Palestinians is an unending one. This documentary gives a comprehensive history lesson up to the present time. The events unfolds in chronological order. History can be interesting or boring. Students of history often complain on the irrelevance of the past. The history lesson here is clearly the exception. The assassination of ex-President Rabin is also brought into perspective.

Director Dotan is an all qualified director, as stated above, to present the lesson. Dotan was born in Romania in 1949 and moved to Israel in 1959. He himself grew up in Moshav Arugot, an agricultural cooperative. He then served five years in the Israeli military as a Navy Seal before becoming a filmmaker. He went on to get his BFA at Tel Aviv University, where his student films won Israel’s Best Short Film and Best Director Awards twice. Dotan is the recipient of numerous awards including, the Special Jury Prize for Best World Documentary Feature at Sundance Film Festival (Hot House), Silver Bear for Best Actor at Berlin Film Festival (Smile of the Lamb), Best Film Award at Newport Beach Film Festival (You Can Thank Me Later), two times winner of Israeli Academy Award for Best Film and Best Director (Repeat Dive, Smile Of The Lamb) and others. So, THE SETTLERS is a solid documentary filled with archive footage (many grainy black and white), and interviews from rabbis and the first settlers.

Dotan never judges the extremists, though one feels that his film is a bit biased against these settlers, who just enter and occupy Palestinian land. THE SETTLERS ends up more an important and essential history lesson for those that need to know, less understand the conflict that hopefully will come to a peaceful end in the future. What is clear is that there is too much hatred and racism and there is no impel solution.

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gO2LRxXeBr0

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Film Review: THE SENSE OF AN ENDING (UK 2016) ***1/2

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the_sense_of_an_ending.jpgDirector: Ritesh Batra
Writers: Julian Barnes (novel), Nick Payne (adaptation)
Stars: Jim Broadbent, Charlotte Rampling, Harriet Walter

Review by Gilbert Seah

The first thing that should be known when watching the drama THE SENSE OF AN ENDING is that it is based on the 2011 Man Booker Prize winning book of the same name by British author, Julian Barnes. The influence of a writer and the importance of writing are both evident at many points in the film.

The story in the book is told in two parts, narrated by Anthony ‘Tony’ Webster at two stages of his life, the first as a school lad in the 6th form (Grade 12 or Pre-University) and secondly in his elderly retired part of his life. The script by Nick Payne (a playwright with this being his first film script) reverses the process. The film opens with Tony (Oscar Winner Jim Broadbent) in his senior years recounting the past, which is told in flashback. This story-telling better suits a film structure.

The film is the story of how a letter written in anger by Tony in his younger days had affected the girl, Veronica (Freya Mavor) he loved and his best friend, Adrian Finn (Joe Alwyn). The story here emphasizes the importance of writing even as Tony jokes with this line uttered at the start if the film: “No one writes anymore.”

The film is an excellent blend of writing in and direction. The words of the book come alive as the beautiful dialogue is spoken by the actors. Director Ritesh Batra’s (he made the highly successful Indian film THE LUNCHBOX in 2014) English directorial debut is excellent.

Batra plays the film as a mystery with lots of skeletons in the close in addition to false clues to tease the audience. The truth comes out at the very end. Nothing is what it seems. The climax occurs in the pub where a revelation is made to Tony. Batra’s Indian influence can be noticed with the over-excited, chubby Indian postman who delivers the post to Tony’s house.

Despite the seriousness of the story, there is a lot of humour in the film. The humour comes primarily from Tony’s lesbian daughter, Susie (Michelle Dockery). She is a member of the LPL (lesbians impregnating lesbians). When the film opens, she is taking her father to the lesbian baby delivery classes.

But the film, in all earnest, (funny enough) is a coming-of-age story of a senior retired man, disgruntled with his life, as seen as he mutters and grumbles about at the start of the film. After his growing up process, he is shown the kinder gentleman.

Jim Broadbent is again, excellent in his meticulously portrayed Tony without any display of over-acting. Charlotte Rampling (who is always doing roles of frustrated seniors) plays the elderly Veronica while Matthew Goode has a small role as Tony’s teacher in school.

THE SENSE OF AN ENDING is so called because, as quoted from by author Julian Barnes, in life incidents just happen. In books, a meaning to an incident is explained. In the film all events occurring to Tony’s life come with explanations. And very satisfactory ones resulting in a very satisfactory film.

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pYLNTQGpNQ0
 

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Film Review: Goon: Last of the Enforcers

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goon2.jpgDirector: Jay Baruchel
Writers: Jay Baruchel (screenplay), Jesse Chabot (screenplay)
Stars: Elisha Cuthbert, T.J. Miller, Liev Schreiber

Review by Gilbert Seah

Hockey is a Canadian sport with lots of fights and violence. Hockey films have been made when this essential characteristic was removed and looked down upon. This has resulted in the worst films (SCORE: A HOCKEY MUSICAL; HELLO DESTROYER) ever made on the sport. Fortunately GOON captures the violence and rowdiness of the sport and the two GOON movies can arguably be considered the best Hockey films.

When the first GOON was released, the film poster (with the tongue between the two fingers) created an uproar and all the posters had to be taken down in Toronto. Director Burachel who co-wrote and directed the second GOON, taking over the directing reins from Michael Dowse (IT’S ALL GONE PETE TONG, FUBAR) knows hockey and loves to create ‘shit’ like his supporting character, Pat in the movie. In real life, Baruchel is an avid Hockey fan who has worked in raunchy comedies before with the likes of Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg. So, GOON: LAST OF THE ENFORCERS uneven though it may be (as this is Burachel’s directorial debut), is still a good effort.

The story follows the first GOON film, with most of the characters still present. The film begins with a fight that puts the lead character, Doug (Seann William Scott) in hospital and unable to play again. Doug gets a job in insurance even though he (and his boss) know nothing about insurance. The insurance segments are very funny. Doug’s girl, Eva (Alison Pill) is expecting a baby. He promises to stop fighting, a promise he cannot keep. Anders Cain (Wyatt Russell, also seen in the recent TABLE 19), who put Doug in hospital is brought in as the new team captain. During the pro lockout, Doug’s team, the Halifax Highlanders, unites with a bunch of new players. Finally Doug is brought back in. Confrontation and a major fight between the two result.

For a comedy, this film is more violent than any boxing film (taking ROCKY and RAGING BULL as examples). Director Burachel knows how to shoot the fights and they are not easy to watch. Burachel also knows how to film hockey games, and the matches are well executed with all the excitement of a top sports film.

Jay Burachel has a few scenes as Pat, Doug’s best friend. Whenever Pat appears, there is trouble. But there are also laughs. The lead Seann William Scott appears here with full facial hair. Scott is a good enough actor, being in teen comedies like the AMERICAN PIE films and DUDE, WHRE’S MY CAR? This is the actor who plays a character that takes a dump in his enemy’s cooler at a camp fire (one of the AMERICAN PIE sequels), so a lot of toilet humour ca be expected from him. Canadian actor Callum Keith Rennie plays the team owner.

GOON: LAST OF THE ENFORCERS is a male comedy about hockey. So, don’t expect any messages or life lessons. The film is a lot of fun and laughs. It is like the game, very Canadian. I enjoyed it a lot.

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=b4N__jY27zY

 

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Film Review: BEAUTY AND THE BEAST (BELLE ET LA BETE) (USA 2017) ****

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beautyandthebeast.jpgDirector: Bill Condon
Writers: Stephen Chbosky (screenplay), Evan Spiliotopoulos (screenplay)
Stars: Emma Watson, Dan Stevens, Luke Evans, Kevin Kline

Review by Gilbert Seah

Right after two blockbuster films LOGAN and KONG: SKULL ISLAND with lots of killings and dead bodies, comes the musical family fantasy animation/live action to sober audiences back to sugar sweetness.

Having no desire to see a musical live-action Disney re-make of BEAUTY AND THE BEAST, the film proves to be a surprise where magic, music and romance can still charm the hell out of a hardened audience.

It is still the same story, based on the French fairy tale novel BELLE ET LA BETE by Barbot de Villeneuve, most would be familiar with A handsome selfish price is cursed by an enchantress to be a beast forever unless he is saved by falling in love (both ways) before the last petal of her rose falls.

Belle (Emma Watson) is the young woman who is taken prisoner by the Beast in his castle in exchange for the freedom of her father Maurice (Kevin Kline). Despite her fears, she befriends the castle’s enchanted staff and she learns to look beyond the Beast’s exterior to recognize the true heart and soul of the human Prince within. Meanwhile, a hunter named Gaston (Luke Evans) is on the loose to take Belle for himself and later intends to hunt down the Beast at any cost. He riles up the villagers (FRANKENSTEIN style) to invade the castle, burn it to the ground and slaughter the beast. Belle eventually falls in love with Beast and they waltz together in the grand ballroom to the famous Beauty and he Beast song. Romantics in the audience should have lots of Kleenex handy – especially when Beast utters the tear-jerking line to Belle: “You came back!”

Great pains have been taken to make the film look like a fairy tale. The French village of Villeneuve in the film looks something right out of a fairy tale story book. Belle even sings in the morning, just as Snow White sang to the birds in SNOW WHITE AND THE SEVEN DWARFS. There is the icy cold winter surrounding the beast’s castle (like the snow and ice in FROZEN) and the talking tea-pot, cup, candlesticks and clock as in the original animated BEAUTY AND THE BEAST.

Watson is perfect as Belle, the beauty but the film’s impressive cast includes stars Emma Thompson (she gets to sing a line of the famous song), Kevin Kline, Luke Evans, Stanley Tucci, Ian McKellen and Ewan McGregor.

Gay audiences should be pleased with the gay content in the openly gay director, Bill Condon’s (GODS AND MONSTERS, two TWILIGHT films) film. Josh Gad plays Gaston’s gay sidekick, LeFou (obvious to all except to Gaston) who sings and prances about to no end. During the fight at the Beast’s castle, one of the invaders is given a ‘pretty bad boy make-over’ and he is last seen dancing with LeFou in the grand closing dance scene.

BEAUTY AND THE BEAST is more a musical than LA LA LAND with most of the songs being memorable and catchy. See it! You will not be disappointed!

Interesting fact: the animated version cost $25 million while this live-action cost $160 million to make.

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OvW_L8sTu5E

 

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