Movie Review: CAROL (USA 2015) Top 10 *****

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carol_posterCAROL (USA 2015) Top 10 *****
Directed by Todd Haynes

Review by Gilbert Seah

CAROL, first screened at Cannes to rave reviews and winner of the TFCA Award for Best Film, is the slow moving pensive subtle new film by helmer Todd Haynes that tells the sad tale of the love affair between two women, a rich wife, Carol Aird (Oscar Winner Cate Blanchett) and a store clerk, Therese Belivet (Rooney Mara). The film is based on the ahead-of-its-time 1952 novel called “The Price of Salt” by Patricia Highsmith.

Therese wants out of her hum drum life. Her job as a store clerk is leading nowhere just like her relationship with her overeager boyfriend, Richard (Jake Lacy). Her dreams include a career in photography and a more comfortable richer lifestyle with Carol who she meets at her store. Carol is facing problems of her own. Her separated husband, Harge (Kyle Chandler) is denying her daughter’s visitation rights. Harge is using her past lesbian affairs to deem her an unsuitable mother. This is the obstacle. Carol has to choose between her love for Therese and her daughter.

Haynes’ film moves extremely slowly. Not much is conveyed, for example in the first 15 minutes of the film, as the setting and introduction of the characters slowly come into focus. Even the ending is slow as the audience wonders what the final outcome of the relationship will be. But it is still a rewarding drama, all things considered. The set design, wardrobe, props and costumes are almost too perfect – like the departmental store Therese works at and the clothed and jewellery worn by Carol. The look of the film is similar to Haynes’ FAR FROM HEAVEN where the family lives in a gorgeous neighbourhood with perfectly manicured lawns.

Blanchett delivers another Oscar winning performance, the best sequence occurring during the lawyer and husband’s meeting when she is forced to have a final say. Her character is a very intelligent one – one who knows the stakes at hand, the risks involved with her relationship and what she has to do in order to survive. This contrasts with Therese’s character. Therese does to know exactly what she wants regarding her heterosexual relationship, her career and her current romance. It is Therese’s naiveté contrasted against Carol’s planned actions.

For a film about a lesbian relationship, sex scenes are necessary. It is quite uncomfortable to watch Mara and Blanchett having a go at it, in the nude, in bed. After all, this is the actress that played Queen Elizabeth, and winning an Oscar in the process. The sex scenes are long and could be shortened without much damage to the story.

2015 has seen two high calibre lesbian films, CAROL and FREEHELD, both with superb performances, yet both are highly different films with different themes. CAROL is dead serious, but not without humour, and more of the subtle variety.

CAROL is Todd Haynes (FAR FROM HEAVEN, SAFE, VELVET GOLDMINE), still in top form in terms of uncomfortable drama. Just as Ang Lee’s BROKEBACK MOUNTAIN broke taboos with male stars in a male homosexual drama, Hayne’s CAROL will do the same with the female gender. It is great to see two stars give their all for the craft of cinema.

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Movie Review: ANOMALISA (USA 2015) ***** TOP 10

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ANOMALISA_posterANOMALISA (USA 2015) ***** TOP 10
Directed Charlie Kauffman, Duke Johnson

Review by Gilbert Seah

Charlie Kauffman outdid himself and almost everyone else for that matter with the script of FINDING JOHN MALKOVICH, made into a film so inventive, entertaining and fascinating, that one can hardly imagine anything topping that. ANOMALISA comes close if not succeeding.

As the stop-motion animated adult comedy drama unfolds, slow enough to allow the audience to think over many of the film’s details, the immediate question that comes to mind is why animate this story. The question seems more relevant since the animation appears to copy the actual human being and their everyday work as accurately as possible. The characters are animated but the settings like hotel room, cab and props are not. A non-animated film could have served the identical purpose. The answer to the question might be that the story could have been told in either format, but the stop-motion animation serves to highlight certain aspects of Kauufman’s ingenious story. For one, the story has surreal elements that are best highlighted in a surreal looking animated film resembling the real thing. Secondly, the artificiality of life is emphasized. And thirdly, the whole enterprise looks like a dream – a Kafka-ish world like an animated cartoon.

The apparently ‘normal’ story concerns Michael Stone (David Thewlis), an author of books on the subject of customer service, struggling with his inability to connect to people. Michael, born in England and married with a son lands in Cincinnati on a routine business trip. He meets a stranger, Lisa (Jennifer Jason Leigh) who changes his world view as he falls in love with her.

The film appears really odd at the start. All the female characters are voiced by males (except for Lisa) and soon it becomes apparent that all the voices are done by one male actor – Tom Noonan. The reason becomes clear later on in the film.

Kauufman’s film works on various levels. It is one of the most human films that is animated. The world as seen by its protagonist is exactly the way it actually is. The most important person is oneself and everything else is secondary. In the same way, to Michael Stone, the only person that matters is himself, which he realizes and that there is only one other person in the world that matters, the one he has fallen in love with and the one that really would make a difference. This is the one that will de-normalize his life and hence he renames her ANOMALISA from Lisa. The film also captures the boredom or everyday life in a most exciting way – a feat Kauffamn achieves, at apparent ease.

The stop animation is a marvel – complete with its accuracy in details. The animated sex scene complete with gentials should be seen to be unforgotten. An old movie seen on TV by the characters is also animated ANOMALISA has won accolades and prizes where it has been shown. It currently, at the time of writing, hold a 100% rating on Rotten Tomatoes.

ANOMALISA is an almost perfect film in every way, down to the closing song and music. The film is a rare treat that celebrates life and the best of what it has to offer, ironically, without having a happy ending. Not occasionally but frequently brilliant, ANOMALISA is that rare movie, yes out of the ordinary that is definitely a must-see, a near-masterpiece of originality!

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Top 10 Films of 2015 by Gilbert Seah

TOP 10 FILMS OF 2015

The end of the year arrives with the best 10 lists of everything.  As for films, it is always the same each year.  For the first 11 months of the year – nada.  Almost nothing good is screened and come December, a host of excellent, inventive and entertaining films arrive.  Guess it is Santa’s reward for filmgoers pumping good old fashioned money into the economy.

My best 10 films are listed below (in alphabetical order).

TOP 10 (in alphabetical order):

ANOMALISA (USA 2015) ***** 

Directed by Charlie Kauffman

Animated feature about a lone soul (voice of David Thewlis) who finally finds the love of his life.  The entire film is narrated by only three actors because there are only three people in Michael Stone’s life.  Himself,  Anomalisa (Jennifer Jason Leigh) and the rest of the world (Tom Noonan).  A most interesting film about the most boring person on the planet.

THE BIG SHORT (USA 2015) *****

Directed by Adam McKay

A smart, hilarious look at the housing mortgage bubble burst in the U.S. and the few people that benefited from it.  An all-star cast joins in the fun with cameos from Salena Gomez and Robbie Margot who help explain some financial jargon.  

CAROL (USA 2015) *****

Directed by Todd Haynes

Openly gay director Todd Haynes delivers another first class gay drama about the love affair between an older wealthy woman (Cate Blanchett) and a  struggling store clerk, Carol (Rooney Mara).  Set in the 50’s when gay relationships were taboo, CAROL is nevertheless moving, disturbing and ultimately still relevant.

THE FORBIDDEN ROOM (Canada 2015) ****

Directed by Guy Maddin

The Best Canadian film of the year and another weird and wonderful film by Guy Maddin with co-creator Evan Johnson – and one of Maddin’s best and most structured, which is not saying much.  And the film is in colour instead of black and white.  The film begins, humorously with a man in a bathrobe giving lessons on how to draw a bath.  This vignette is linked to another concerning a submarine crew in dire distress.  The captain is missing and the air supply is running out.  They chew on flapjacks to utilize the oxygen bubbles in the batter.  Does not make sense?  It does not matter.  All this is part of the weird pleasure that is abundant in a Maddin film. 

Directed by Quentin Traction

Shit-disturber Tarrantino’s latest film, a western is another winner.  Bounty hunters and an assortment of characters are put up at Minnie’s Haberdashery during a winter blizzard.  They do not come here without a reason.  Chaos ensues.  The film runs 3 hours with a 6-minute longer version in 70mm, complete with overture and intermission.

HOUSEBOUND (New Zealand 2014) ***** Top 10

Directed by Gerard Johnstone

HOUSEBOUND is my guilty pleasure.  The film came out of nowhere turning out to be the biggest surprise of the year.  This is the story of story of Kylie Bucknell (Morgana O’Reilly), an ill-tempered delinquent forced to return to the house she grew up in when the court places her on home detention.  Her punishment is made all the more unbearable by the fact she has to live there with her crazed mother Miriam (Rima Te Wiata) – a well- intentioned blabbermouth who’s convinced that the house is haunted.   Horror comedy at its best, all neatly explained at the end.

JOY (USA 2015) *****
Directed by David O. Russell

Joy is indeed a great joy!  David O. Russell’s latest family/business drama sees desperate housewife Joy (Jennifer Lawrence) take on the business world with her invention, the miracle mop with the help of her immediate and extended family.  Hilariously satirical at times, this movie belongs to both Russell and Lawrence who delivers the best performance this year.

LEGEND (UK 2015) ****
Directed by Brian Helgeland

LEGEND is about the notorious Krays, the gangster twins that terrorized London the 50’s and 60’s.  The Kray twins in LEGEND are both played by Tom Hardy.  Written and directed by Brian Helgeland (L.A. CONFIDENTIAL his best film) and based on the book The Profession of Violence: The Rise and Fall of the Kray Twins by John Pearson, the film is told from the point of view as well as narrated by Frances Shea (Emily Browning) the wife of Reggie Kray, making it part crime and part love story.

THE REVENANT (USA 2015) ****
Directed by Alejandro Inarratu

A tracker (Leonardo DiCaprio) is mauled by a bear and left for dead by his fellow travellers.  The man survives and after a long track, gets his revenge.  A great wilderness adventure with a very strong performance by DiCaprio, this violent  \film might not be for everyone but it is quite the unforgettable movie.

Directed by J.J. Abrams

The most anticipated film of the year lives up to the hype and expectations.  Abrams pumps new blood into the series with characters like Rey, Poe and Finn joining the legendary Star Wars characters Hans Solo, Luke Skywalker and Princess Leia in taking down the Dark Side.  Great special effects, action sequences and musical score add to the the best that this series has to offer.  The Force has awakened and is here to stay!

Movie Review: 3 1/2 MINUTES, 10 BULLETS (USA 2015) ***1/2

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3_minutes_ten_bullets_poster3 1/2 MINUTES, 10 BULLETS (USA 2015) ***1/2
Directed by Marc Silver

Review by Gilbert Seah

An altercation begins over loud rap music at a gas station parking lot. 3 1/2 minutes and 10 bullets later, a black teen, Jordan Davis is shot dead by a white man in a car. The totally absorbing documentary is a courtroom drama, made even more real because what transpired is not only true but relevant in the perception of homicide and race in America.

The facts of the case: In 2012, a middle-aged white man, Michael Dunn, was arrested after fatally shooting a young black man, Jordan Davis, outside a gas station in Jacksonsville, Florida with his gun in the glove compartment of his car. It was a case of loud music. While Dunn’s fiancé went into the station for wine, loud music from a car with 4 black youths caused Dunn to ask them to turn the ‘rap crap’ down. The altercation escalated to the shooting of Jordan while the youths’ car pulled away.

The jury of 12 is to determine the verdict of the 5 counts of murder. What is so different about this doc is that director Silver puts the audience in the position of the jury. All the facts are presented in disturbing detail. The audience hears both sides of arguments of the two attorneys, examines the faces of both Dunn, the accused and the parents of the victim, and each the enactments. As the jury enters closed doors to make the decision, the audience is also forced to come up with his or her decision on the case. It is a very good tactic that works well to keep the audience focused on the facts and absorbed in the film at the same time.

The interviewees include Lucia McBath and Ron Davis, Jordan’s parents. The court proceedings focus often on the reactions of accused Michael Dunn, often in closeups, as if the man can be in scrutiny by the audience. The mother is often shown in tears while the father peaks fondly of his son, like his last time holding the boy in his arms in the hospital. As for Dunn, the camera allow him to tell his side of the story, how he loves his fiancé and how he feels he is the victim who should not deserve life imprisonment. In his own words, he just wants to go home to make love to his wife and then sleep. Director Silver makes his story a very personal and emotional one. On the other side, the audience also sees how good each lawyer is, each able to manipulate the evidence and testimonies to the side’s favour.

The attorneys make it clear that the case be treated as a nonracial crime, and one that resulted in antisocial behaviour and loud music. But this turns out to be another very high profile trial, very similar to the Trayvon Martin killing, in which a young black man in Florida was killed by a white community-watch volunteer. The demonstrations outside the court indicate the people want to know if the shooting young black men is something white people can get away with. It is clear thy do not want the truth, they want a guilty verdict regardless. But for Canadians and other non residents in the States, the case is more about guns – whether the right to bear arms in the States is still worth the mindless deaths of so many.

From the testimonies, it is clear that someone is lying. Dunn could be lying that he saw a weapon and acted in self define. or the youth could have discarded the weapon before the cops arrived. But self defense or not, Jordan did not deserve to die.

Silver’s documentary is both timely in its subject matter and absorbing in its execution. These are two good reason to put this doc on your must-see 2016 list.

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Movie Review: THE BIG SHORT (US 2015) *****

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the_big_short_posterTHE BIG SHORT (US 2015) ***** TOP 10
Directed by Adam McKay

Review by Gilbert Seah

Based on the best-selling novel of the same name by Michael Lewis, THE BIG SHORT describes several of the key players in the creation of the credit default swap market that sought to bet against the collateralized debt obligation (CDO) bubble and thus ended up profiting from the financial crisis of 2007–2010. But the film mainly highlights the eccentric nature of the type of person who bets against the market.

It should be noted that many of the characters in the book have their names changed – to protect the innocent or the guilty, as the case may be. The Jared Vennett character played by Ryan Gosling and the Mark Baum character played by Steve Carell have been changed from the Greg Lippmann and Steven Eismann characters respectively. Others like Dr. Michael Burry (Christian Bale) have remained unchanged while Brad Pitt’s Ben Rickert has been changed from Ben Bockett. It is also strange that Adam McKay, a director known for his outlandish comedies like ANCHORMAN and THE OTHER GUYS be chosen to make this film based on such a serious topic. The housing credit bubble burst cost millions of Americans their jobs and houses. But it is a good bet. No ordinary person would like to see a depressing film about the Ameggedon of the U.S. housing market. McKay makes the whole enterprise hilariously off-beat, so unless one has actually been burnt, severely by what has been described, THE BIG SHORT is one hell of a ride!

For those not well versed in the world of finance, THE BIG SHORT might be too technical. But the film is not without its entertainment value. McKay explains certain terms with great humour. If one is uncertain on what mortgage credit is, he uses Margot Robbie (playing herself) to explain the term while drinking champagne in a bubble bath. McKay also uses Selena Gomez (again playing herself) to explain the various type of CDOs (Collateralized Debt Obligation) while handed a ten and a seven at a Blackjack table in Las Vegas.

There are characters in the book left out in the film. No complaint here, as the film already runs over two hours. But now wonders what magic can be added with the interesting character of Eugene Xu, a quantitative analyst who created the first CDO market by matching buyers and sellers.

The filmmakers have assembled a more than apt and impressive cast. For one, Burry’s character, a true one is an ex-neurologist who created Scion Capital despite suffering from blindness in one eye and Asperger’s syndrome. One can see what attracted Christian Bale, who appears to be having a field day, to accept this role. Brad Pitt, barely recognizable with glasses and a goatee plays the anti-hero admonishing his two proteges that they should stop dancing after making so much money for the fact that people have lost their jobs and homes a s result. Carell and Gosling also add to the festivities.
For a film based on the worst financial disaster, director Adam McKay and gang might even make the losers shed a tear or two of laughter. An amazing film with an amazing treatment of the material.

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Movie Review: HE NEVER DIED (USA/Canada 2014) **1/2

he_never_died_posterHE NEVER DIED (USA/Canada 2014) **1/2
Directed by Jason Krawczyk

Review by Gilbert Seah

HE NEVER DIED is an odd movie with a theme that counters the good cheer of the Christmas festivities. It is everything the festive season isn’t, so if one is fed up of friends and family and want something completely different, HE NEVER DIED might just be the film to satisfy.

The film is an off-beat one with an equally off-beat character. When the film opens, Jack (Henry Rollins) answers a knock on the door. It is his landlady. Paying cash from a suitcase full of money, he asked her for the time, date and day of the week. He then goes to his usual restaurant and orders the same stuff – hot tea. Things get weirder.

Apparently, he discovers he has a daughter, Andrea (Jordan Todosey).
People are trying to get to him and kidnap Andrea as a result. Jack is shown to display super human strength. Though he gets hurt, bullets do not kill him. And Jack plays BINGO to kill time. (See photo inset of Jack with his dabber.)

So what is the explanation? It comes right at the end of the film. It does not make much sense, but at least it is an explanation. A few things are left unexplained, such as how he got the suitcase of money and how he got some woman pregnant.
But the entertainment of the film comes from Rollins’ performance. He is simply the best thing of the film, delivering a deadpan performance, full of one-liners while constantly sneering. Rollins is no newcomer in film, but he has never landed a leading role before.

His credits include bit parts in Michael Mann’s HEAT, JACKASS: THE MOVIE, BAD BOYS II and LOST HIGHWAY. The supporting cast do not fare badly either. Booboo Stewart plays a native student, Jeremy, capturing the perfect slacker loser character while Steven Ogg plays the villain, Alex over-the-top in contrast to Jack’s character. Kate Greenhouse plays Cara, the waitress who tries to date Jack, though one cannot see any reason to do so.

Krawczyk’s film is exceptionally violent but deserves to be so. Without it, the film would lose the audience’s attention. The violence feeds into the audience so that more and more is wanted. It is human nature to root for the underdog who is trying to survive no matter what reason. So when Jack clips off a victim’s finger or breaks another’s foot to prevent him from escaping, one can only winch and watch.

The film is a U.S. and Canadian co-production shot in Toronto. The setting of the film is never mentioned but judging from the American notes in Jack’s suitcase and one reference to Jack being in the Civil War, it is assumed that the film is set in the States.

But the one-joke one-gimmick film is unable to sustain the 90-minute length. Despite the violence and super-dry dead pan humour, HE NEVER DIES would be deemed too slow for most audiences.

Movie Review: THE REVENANT (2015)

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the_revenant_posterTHE REVENANT (USA 2015) ****Top10
Directed by Alejando G. Iñárritu

Review by Gilbert Seah

Mexican director Alejandro Iñárritu’s (AMORES PERROS, 21 GRAMS, BABEL and last year’s BIRDMAN) THE REVENANT is a no-holds barred almost 3-hour wilderness adventure complete with all the violence of the wild west frontier set in the 1820’s. If one does not have the stomach for the grisly, avoid at all costs.

The film is based on the life of frontiersman Hugh Glass (Leonardo DiCaprio) based on a 2002 novel of the same name by Michael Punke. The plot of the film can be summarized in one line, remarkable considering the length of the film. Hugh Glass is left for dead by his fellow travellers after a vicious bear attack and subsequently seeks revenge on them for abandoning him.

The story contains a few subplots, like the one involving his quest for revenge. One of his fellow travellers is John Fitzgerald (Tom Hardy), a vicious, hardened criminal who ends up killing Glass’s son. Another youth, Andrew Henry (Domhnall Gleeson) is a good hearted drawn into the drama.

The film begins with a 15-minutes attack of the Indians on the fur trappers. It is an extremely violent segment, inspired no doubt by the similar lengthy beginning segment of the D-Day landing in Steven Spielberg’s SAVING PRIVATE RYAN. Both sides suffer heavy casualties. Glass, Fitzgerald, his son and Andrew escape with a few others before the crucial bear attack.

The bear attack sequence is no less violent and occurs not once but twice in all its horror. Silly rumours by some press describe the scene as a bear rape but one thing for sure is that there is no love in this attack.

Despite the simple plot, there are a few details that occur so fast that they are difficult to follow. But these are not essential to appreciating Iñárritu’s film.

Director Iñárritu is a well respected artist who have proven himself apt at working with different genres including Hollywood drama as in last year’s acclaimed BIRDMAN. In THE REVENANT, he workers with cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki, together creating some of the most stunning images seen on screen this year. One has the men crossing the top of a water fall, another running across the shallow waters of tall trees and another at the film’s climax during a chase when an avalanche can be observed in the background. One can question the purpose of these, as the waterfall and avalanche have nothing to do with the story. But Iñárritu has earned his artistic licence to indulge in such excesses. But a few of his traits like the beginning chase camera shots used in AMORES PERROS are duplicated here in the chase scenes in THE REVENANT.

The performances of the entire cast is nothing short of superb. DiCaprio and Hardy excel, and credit should be given to these artists for working under the extreme conditions as shown on screen.

THE REVENANT succeeds admirable in being a stunning looking violet wilderness adventure. The film comes complete with a satisfactory ending, a fight between hero and villain with some spiritual highlights thrown in for good measure.

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Movie Review: SON OF SAUL (2015, Hungary)

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son_of_saul_posterSON OF SAUL (Hungary 2015) ***

Directed by Laszlo Nemes

Review by Gilbert Seah

SON OF SAUL, this year’s Cannes Grand Jury Prize Winner might not be the film for everyone. Lazlo Neme’s film has no narrative, is minimal in structure and is difficult to follow in terms of logic or story. But still, it is a gruesome watch.

Nemes’ film, with cinematographer Matyas Erdely, like the Dardennes Brothers filming with a hand held camera about head level on the side of the protagonist following him using a protagonist’s-eye view makes all the action feel more real.

The protagonist is part of a squad in a Holocaust concentration camp with the duty of herding in the prisoners for gassing and then cleaning up. As the titles indicate, they too will normally have their turn (being gassed) after a few weeks. The hero sees a boy that survives the gassing but consequently killed.

He takes it upon himself to find a Rabbi to say the prayers for the boy at all costs. This is where the film fails in terms of credibility. He is able to find a Rabbi, not get caught, find all the right connections and keeps the boy’s body – all a bit too much to believe.

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Movie Review: The Lady in the Car with Glasses and a Gun (2015)

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the_lady_in_the_car_posterLA DAME DANS L’AUTO AVEC DES LUNETTES ET UN FUSIL (France 2015) ***
Directed by Joann Sfar

Review by Gilbert Seah

This is a remake of the 1970 Anthony Litvak British film with the same title starring Samantha Eggar and Oliver Reed. I have not seen the original but do not remember it as a particular famous film despite the reputation of Litvak. The film is an adaptation of the Sebastien Japrisot’s 1966 novel of the same name. But the remake is not too bad a film, a good mystery in which the solution remains an unsolvable puzzle till the very end. Which is very rare in a film these days. This is an entirely French film shot in French in France.

The film begins innocently enough with a naive and innocent secretary agreeing to work overtime for her boss (Benjamin Biolay). Dany (Freya Mavor) completes the job overnight at her boss’ house and ends up driving her boss and his wife from Paris to the Cote D’Azur only to be convinced to drive the car back alone to Paris. But Dany has never seen the sea and steals the car to take a detour to achieve her dream. That is when she discovers that a lot of people that she meets recognizes her the day before though she has never met all these people. Dany thinks she is going crazy with one weird incident after another happening. She encounters a sleazy thief that she has an affair with that eventually steals her (or her boss’ ) car. This is when a corpse is discovered in the trunk.

If all the above sound interesting, it all is. The mystery keeps the film absorbing from start to end. As an additional bonus, director Sfar effectively captures the mood of the 60’s and 70’s of this period piece. One can probably not be able tell the difference between the time setting of the original film and this one. Mavor is also an extremely sexy actress, her character flirting with one man after another while she swaggers her girly figure while swinging her purse.

The only problem is that the film’s climax cannot keep up with the interest the mystery generated. When the solution is presented, the film starts to drag. It is not that the solution is unbelievable but it is kind of obvious and one wonders why one has not thought of it earlier.

The lovely title should tease audiences to see the film, though the gun in the title should be replaced with rifle as Dany carries a rifle rather than a gun. One can probably guess that the rifle was swapped for the gun as Dany looks sexier holding a rifle than a gun.

Still, this psychological mystery thriller satisfies. And Dany turns out not to be that harmless as Sfar intended the audience to think. The film turns out to be a black comedy set in the bright lights of the south of France.

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Movie Review: CREED (2015)

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creed_posterCREED (USA 2015) ***1/2
Directed by Ryan Coogler

Review by Gilbert Seah

Though featuring Sylvester Stallone as Rocky Balboa, CREED (alternative title – ROCKY VII), the 7th installment of the ROCKY franchise is an anomaly. It does not contain Rocky in a fight scene and is not a film that is either written or directed by Stallone. CREED is a spin-off from the original series, but it pays homage to the series.

CREED feels like an African American film instead of an Italian American film. It is not difficult to see why as CREED was co-written and directed by Ryan Coogle, best known for his breakout anti-racial film FRUITVALE STATION in which a black man (also played by Michael B. Jordan) was abused by white cops. Everything from the acting, music (lots of rap) and dialogue are African American. And that is a good thing as the film has a more authentic look than many of the other 6 ROCKY films.

Rocky in this film is left in a supporting role. Rocky Balboa is sought by Adonis Creed (Jordan) to be his coach. One wonders who would name his boy Adonis. Unless the father has a name like Apollo, of course. Adonis is the illegitimate son of fighter Apollo Creed. Sylvester Stallone plays his supporting role surprisingly well, winning him a Golden Globe Nomination for Best Supporting Actor. His character comes down with cancer and has to fight to survive.

One of the most important points of a boxing film are the execution of the fight scenes. The final match between Creed and Conlan (Tony Bellew) the British world light heavyweight champion shot in Liverpool, England is done with the usual cuts. The camera switches back and forth among the boxing action, the boxer’s faces, the coaches, the spectators and Creed’s girlfriend (Tessa Thompson) and ‘adopted mother’ (Phylicia Rashad) to heighten the excitement.

There is no skimping of the blood to emphasize the punishment boxers have to endure for the sport. The bloody slow-motion bloodied knockout on the ring canvas will long be remembered. But the first match between Creed and Tony “Little Duke” Evers (Wood Harris) is done with one single take. This elegant sequence should be seen to be believed with credit given to director Coogle for achieving this feat.

But story-wise, the film often falls into cliched territory. Creed learns the ropes from Rocky. When Rocky is diagnosed with cancer, he initially refuses treatment. So, the audience can only winch when the story goes into – Rocky can learn from Creed as much as Creed can learn from Rocky. Coogle also pushes the sentimentality a bit too far to make Rocky too much the lovable lug. Another example of heightened sentimentality is the part where Rocky visits his ex-coach, Paulie’s grave and begins talking to him.

But the film succeeds from the fight scenes and the superlative acting from both Stallone and Jordan. Jordan body is perfectly cut and muscled like a boxer in top form. The film also pays homage to the Rocky films such as the final scene where Creed and Balboa climb the famous steps to the Philadelphia art museum. And when the Rocky anthem by Bill Conti is heard on the soundtarck, one can feel the nostalgia.

CREED has been hailed critically and the film has done Stallone a good turn at the box-office.

It is difficult to imagine that it has been almost 40 years since the first Rocky was screened. CREED is dedicated to the late producer Robert Chartoff (passed away in 2015) who also produced the first Rocky. The first weekend gross was $40 million, above the $35 million production cost. Stallone has been struggling before with his EXPENDABLES films. Rocky hails supreme again!

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