Film Review: THE KID WHO WOULD BE KING (USA/UK 2019) ****

The Kid Who Would Be King Poster
Trailer

A band of kids embark on an epic quest to thwart a medieval menace.

Director:

Joe Cornish

Writer:

Joe Cornish

The film title THE KID WHO WOULD BE KING is likely used due to familiarity with the medieval hit, John Huston’s 1975 Rudyard Kipling adaptation of THE MAN WHO WOULD BE KING.   Don’t let either the title or the fact that this is a family film discourage you from seeing this picture.  Despite the film’s limitations of targeting a family audience, there is plenty to enjoy for adults. Also ignore the silly ad” “Kids Rule” that would turn off adults. 

The story follows Alex Elliot (Louis Ashbourne Serkis, son of Andy) a young boy who is picked on at school and does not appear to be very special at all.  However, that soon changes when he finds and pulls King Arthur’s famous sword Excalibur in the neighbourhood construction site.  He discovers that he is destined to form a new round table for an upcoming battle with the medieval villain Morgana (Rebecca Ferguson), who summons evil forces to rule the world, after being banished by King Arthur.  All this information is revealed at the film’s prologue – animation style.  The wizard Merlin (Angus Imrie) assists Alex in his quest. He is depicted as a young incarnation of Merlin in the film but capable of transforming to his old self (Sir Patrick Stewart).

If Morgana’s evil forces, creatures made up dark black with infra-red eyes look familiar, these creatures bear an uncanny resemblance to the invading aliens in ATTACK ON THE BLOCK, a small first feature that was a hit.  And with solid reason.  KID is directed by that film’s same director Joe Cornish who has the talent of bringing his films filled with spirit, humour and imagination.

Performances are surprisingly spectacular.  Deserving of mention is relative newcomer Angus Imrie who plays the young Merlin, who suddenly appears as a new student to help Alex in his quest to save the world.  Also delivering a heartwarming and sometimes gut-wrenching performance is Denise Gough, an Olivier Award (British Theatre) winner who plays Alex’s mum.

The location where the fights and setting take place is stunningly captured on film by cinematographer Bill Pope.  The film is shot in the Cornwall area, south coast of England.  The film can also be considered to be a super action hero film, with Alex as the young schoolboy King Arthur type hero saving the world.  The film also has plenty of special effects to go with it – so action fans will be delighted.  The special effects is dished out small doses at a time with nothing much at the first half of the film but then coming out strong at the end creating a solid climax for the film.

Cornish’s clever script contains plenty of messages as if to mock films with messages.  These come on strong even at the beginning of the film.   “Telling the truth and doing the right thing.”  “The world doe not change – you do!”  “You do not need what you already have!”  “Use your enemies as your allies.”

THE KID WHO WOULD BE KING is an often imaginative super hero adventure cleverly blending medieval times with the modern with lots of good messages from the director Joe Cornish who the TFCA (Toronto Film Critics Association) awarded the Best First Feature way back when for his equally impressive 2011 ATTACK ON THE BLOCK.  This film rules!

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cJlxP5P9v9c

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Film Review: STAN & OLLIE (USA/UK/Canada 2018) ***1/2

Stan & Ollie Poster
Trailer

Laurel and Hardy, the world’s most famous comedy duo, attempt to reignite their film careers as they embark on what becomes their swan song – a grueling theatre tour of post-war Britain.

Director:

Jon S. Baird

Writer:

Jeff Pope

STAN & OLLIE (or perhaps alternatively called LAUREL & HARDY) is a capsule biographical film of the two of the world’s most famous comedians and a tale of undying friendship.

The film is a biographical comedy-drama film directed by Jon S. Baird (from TV films and a few obscure theatrical films) from a screenplay by Jeff Pope.   The comedy is derived mainly from their acts on stage and Laurel’s s often smart mouths remarks while the drama is the story of their friendship and  Oliver’s illness). Based on the lives of the comedy double act Laurel and Hardy, the film stars Steve Coogan and John C. Reilly as Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy. It already premiered in October 2018 at the BFI London Film Festival.  The film had a limited release in the United States on 28 December 2018 and will be released widely in the United Kingdom, the United States and in Canada in January 2019.

The film is boosted by two outstanding performances.  Besides being impressionists, the actors have to act as well.  Both Coogan and Reilly enable audiences to forget who they really are but for their characters of Stan & Ollie.  It is a tough decision to see who does the better job.  Being American, Reilly earned a Golden Globe nomination for Best Actor (the Golden Globe is more American than foreign press) while Brit Coogan got snubbed.  The other way around for the BFTA (British awards) where Coogan was nominated for the Best Actor award with Reilly up for nothing.

The film is a U.K. co-prodcution as most of the film is set in the U.K.  The film begins with the duo embarking on a gruelling music hall tour of the United Kingdom and Ireland during 1953, and struggle to get another film made – their own (comedy) version of Robin Hood.  There is stop during the tour in Newcastle, though no-one during those segments speak with any Geordie accent.

The film’s narrative is choppy (the script picks up a few incidents in the duo’s lives that mostly affected their bonding) punctuated by the duo’s acts on stage with the dramatic set-pieces.  These acts are at least well performed.  The audience get to see their best acts performed by the impressionists, which shows both how good the acts are and how good the impressionists are as were the original performers.  

The film gets a bit sentimental at times, especially in the last scenes where Ollie is ill from poor health.  But the film’s two best segments are the dramatic confrontation where their friendship is tested and the comedy act where the two are supposed to meet by a change room but fail to see each other.

The shooting of the last performance on stage – the dance number routine by Stan & Ollie must also be commended.  The use of shadows, camera angles and editing to emphasize the talent of the duo is expertly done and watching the sequence is well worth the price of the admission ticket.

The film ends appropriately with the epilogue that Ollie’s health deteriorated after the tour, leading to his death in 1957 and Stan’s eight years later in 1965. Stan continued to write sketches for Laurel and Hardy in the last eight years of his life.

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rlTTsN4JGnU

Film Reviewer: DESTROYER (USA 2018) ***1/2

Destroyer Poster
Trailer

A police detective reconnects with people from an undercover assignment in her distant past in order to make peace.

Director:

Karyn Kusama

Writers:

Phil Hay (screenplay), Matt Manfredi (screenplay)

There is a new super hero in town.  But this is a super hero of a different kind – not a Marvel or DC super action figure hero but a female down to earth cop with the super power of survival.  

As the film opens, LAPD detective Erin Bell (Nicole Kidman) arrives on the scene of a John Doe murder and informs the responding officers that she knows the victim’s identity.   The responding officers clearly dislikes her and unafraid to show their feelings.  She gives them the finger when they ask the identity.

At the police station, Erin receives a $100 bill stained from a dye pack in an unmarked envelope. Using a contact at the FBI, she confirms that the bill is from a bank robbery committed by a California gang many years prior that she and her former partner Chris (Sebastian Stan) were embedded in as undercover officers.  She tells her superiors that she believes the bill and the John Doe murder to be proof that the gang’s leader Silas (Toby Kebbell) is once again active.

Erin is forced to work her way through the remaining members of the gang in order to find Silas. She begins with Toby (James Jordan), who was arrested but is now gravely ill and living with his mother on compassionate release. She manually stimulates him in exchange for the location of Arturo (Zach Villa), a member of the gang who attempts to atone for his past crimes by offering pro bono legal services to immigrants.  Arturo provides Erin with the location of DiFranco (Bradley Whitford), a lawyer who launders the money from the original robbery and from whom Erin deduces that Silas is active again because the money from the heist is almost gone. After threatening him, DiFranco gives Erin the location of the next money hand-off, which is performed by Silas’ girlfriend Petra (Tatiana Maslany). Erin tracks Petra, eventually intervening in a bank robbery committed by Silas’ new gang, and kidnaps Petra.

But the beauty of all this is that there is more than meets the eye.

Via flashbacks throughout the film, it transpires that Erin and Chris developed a romantic relationship while undercover, with Erin eventually becoming pregnant with Chris’ child.  Nothing more will be revealed of the story but that it is a bit annoying at the start for the audience has to piece the puzzle of the story together.  But the work pays off.  The fragmented narrative works eventually.  One also needs to take time after the film has ended to piece everything together to see how the time line has worked.

Kidman is marvellous and the almost unrecognizable Erin who strives for redemption for an undercover operation gone all wrong.  She even stole the money.  Kidman was nominated for a Golden Globe for her performance but lost out to Glenn Close.  The young Tatiana Naslany also proves herself a rising star.

The nitty gritty atmosphere of bars and rundown towns is effectively captured.  Director Kusama (GIRLFIGHT) again proves herself as a strong female presence in films.

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

Film Review: THE UPSIDE (USA 2018)

The Upside Poster
Trailer

A comedic look at the relationship between a wealthy man with quadriplegia and an unemployed man with a criminal record who’s hired to help him.

Director:

Neil Burger

Writers:

Jon Hartmere (screenplay by), Éric Toledano (based on the motion picture “Les Intouchables” by) | 1 more credit »

The film begins one night when Dell Scott (Kevin Hart) is driving Phillip’s (Bryan Cranston) flashy sports car at high speed.  They are chased through the streets by the police and eventually cornered.  Dell claims the quadriplegic Phillip must be urgently driven to the emergency room as he is having an epileptic fit;  Philippe pretends to have a seizure and the fooled police officers escort them to the hospital.  All cliched comedy here,  The story of the friendship between the two men is then told as a flashback with this scene retuned at the end.

THE UPSIDE is the remake of France’s second most successful box-office film of all time, the 1999 LES INTOUCHABLES which cost 10 million euros to make but grossed over $360 euros.

The first paragraph describing the story could be applied to both films as THE UPSIDE is quite the similar film but with a few changes.   The American remake changes parts of the original to make the story more believable and dramatic.

Among the changes:

the American version has a a more realistic but less effective ending

the Nicole Kidman character is expanded though not too credible at the end

the comedy is reduced with more drama added

the setting is changed from Paris, France to the U.S.

the character of Phillip’s adopted daughter is omitted completely in the remake

as the film is based on the true story of these two ‘friends’, the original ending showed the two men in real life, Philippe Pozzo di Borgo and his French-Algerian caregiver Abdel Sellou

     It is debatable whether each the changes improves the film, as what is written on paper might not turn out that well or turn out better on film.  Still, the script by Jon Hartmere is a lazy one that follows most of the original scene by scene.

THE UPSIDE benefits from the three lead performances.  Bryan Cranston (TRUMBO) has first billing.  He plays a quadriplegic, which means he can only act using his neck upwards.  Hart gets to clown around for all that is worth.  When the script allow him to do his thing as in the scene where he is supposed to clean up his boss, (What is an American comedy without its shit jokes?) Hart comes across as quite desperate on trying to get a few laughs out of a script that lives him nothing.  I found this segment unfunny and boring though it did get a few laughs from a few of the audience at the promotional screening.  Kidman plays the prissy role of the personal business assistant well giving a needed boost to the under-written role. 

For a  comedy, the running time of over two hours (126 minutes) is lengthy which explains the film crossing the line into feel-good drama.  Bit cliche upon cliche are piled up, if not identical set-ups from the original film.  The end result is a goofy and unrealistic feel-good movie that is as boring as it is original.

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

Film Review: SHIRKERS (USA 2018) ***1/2

Shirkers Poster
Trailer

A woman explores the events surrounding a film she and her friends began making with a mysterious stranger decades ago.

Director:

Sandi Tan

Writer:

Sandi Tan (a film by)

SHIRKERS tells the story of Los Angeles-based, Singapore-born film-maker Sandi Tan, whose first feature, made when she was still a teenager in 1992, was stolen before it could be completed. Twenty years later, when she was miraculously reunited with the unseen footage, Tan decided to return to Singapore and revisit the making – and losing – of the film that haunted her for decades.

SHIRKERS is a documentary that arrives with the caption 25 years in the making.  Another film Orson Welles’ THE OTHER SIDE OF THE WIND also debuted this year with the caption 40 years in the making.  The caption is not really true.  What it means is that the film was never completed till 2018.  Both film share this fact but under different circumstances.  WIND was never completed because Welles ran shot of funds, went party crazy and then passed away.  SHIRKERS never got competed because its original director Georges Cardona stole the cans of film and disappeared.  Only after his death did his wife email Sandi Tan who then completed and made this documentary.  While WIND is artistic crap, SHIRKERS is on the contrary, a low budget well thought of film, well ahead of its time when made back way back when.

SHIRKERS are people that get themselves excused from work for whatever lazy reason.  The ‘shirkers’ in the film are Sandi Tan the film’s writer, director and actress and her friends Georges Cardona, Sophia Siddique Harvey and Jasmine Kin Kia Ng.  The original film is a road movie about a serial killer made in Singapore that showcased houses, street and old buildings.  It was revolutionary filmmaking as the film industry was just budding.  This reviewer is from Singapore, who at the time of leaving the island state in 1982, Singapore had no film industry.  This doc has a special place in this reviewer’s heart as Sandi like himself was a teenage cinephile.  But Woody Allen films were never released in Singapore as there was no market demand for them nor do any foreign films for that matter.  The government is also ultra strict (remember the banning of chewing gum?) that films glorifying violence, drugs or freedom were banned.  Examples of films banned include A CLOCKWORK ORANGE , CHINATOWN and even SKATEBOARD because skateboards were banned.  This fact was mentioned by Sandi in SHIRKERS  She got to watch all these films by getting them recorded overseas.  Myself, I saw these films in the British cinemas in the army camps  while doing National (army) Service and learnt French at the Alliance Francais so I could see French films.

But this re-edited and remade SHIRKERS is a doc on what happened when the film got stolen and the events that got it completed.  It is also story of Sandi and her friends.  SHIRKERS at its best captures the spirit of young cinema lovers who would do anything to propel their love for film.  The film also documents the various stages on how Sandi finally got herself into the picture.  She initially did not want to be in it.

SHIRKERS is the film that Orson Welles should have made.  The film has also won many awards in festivals worldwide including Sundance’s prestigious World Documentary Prize.

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=u3wPWCj2L6I

Film Review: THE OTHER SIDE OF THE WIND (USA 2018)

The Other Side of the Wind Poster
Trailer

A Hollywood director emerges from semi-exile with plans to complete work on an innovative motion picture.

Director:

Orson Welles

In the words of Orson Welles himself: THE OTHER SIDE OF THE WIND is a crazy picture.  It is not a documentary.  It is a departure from moviemaking.   Everybody will think the film is autobiographical but it is not.  

THE OTHER SIDE OF THE WIND is a film within a film.  It is supposed to be Welles’ comeback film after being ostracized by Hollywood.  He never completed the film and passed away with the footage locked in  a Paris vault.  Funds were eventually provided by Netflix for its completion.

The film opens by a voiceover describing the final day of Jake Hannaford (John Huston), an aging Hollywood director who was killed in a car crash on his 70th birthday.  The narration is from an elderly Brooks Otterlake (Peter Bogdanovich), who had been a protégé of Hannaford’s. Just before his death, Hannaford was trying to revive his waning career by making a flashy film, laden with gratuitous sex scenes and violence, with mixed results. At the time of Hannaford’s party, this film (titled The Other Side of the Wind) has been left unfinished after its star stormed off the set, for reasons not immediately apparent to the audience.

A screening of some incomprehensible parts of Hannaford’s unfinished experimental film takes place, in order to attract “end money” from studio boss Max David. Hannaford himself is absent, and a loyal member of his entourage, the former child star Billy Boyle, makes an inept attempt to describe what the film is about. Intercut during this, we see various groups setting out for Hannaford’s seventieth birthday party at an Arizona ranch. Hannaford arrives with a young Brooks Otterlake, a commercially successful director with a talent for mimicking celebrities, who credits much of his success to his close study of Hannaford.

The story goes on but the film is all over the place and hardly coherent when one finally figures out what is happening.  The film contains a few stunning segments, the most notable being these two most sexually explicit ones:

 – the beginning graphic lesbian steamroom scene, rapidly intercut, featuring Oja Kodar (the actress at the time was Welles’ lover), which Hannaford is in the process of filming at the start.

the sex scene in an 1968 Ford Mustang fastback. The car takes off in the rainy night, and as the boyfriend drives, the pair have sex in the passenger seat next to him. After a few minutes the boyfriend stops the car, grabs the girl off of Dale (the actor playing the lading character in WIND), and appears to make an attempt to engage her for himself. She rebukes him and the pair is then tossed out. John Dale, with his pants halfway down, lands in a large puddle.

THE OTHER SIDE OF THE WIND is definitely not a masterpiece as Welles hoped it to be.  It is not even a good film.  It is madness personified into a film, with a few absorbing segments as well as unconnected boring parts in between.

THE OTHER SIDE OF THE WIND will be more interesting to cineastes (for example; what does the title even mean?) but for the rest the film is best avoided.

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nMWHBUTHmf0

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