Film Review: THE REPORT (USA 2019) ****

The Report Poster
Idealistic Senate staffer Daniel J. Jones, tasked by his boss to lead an investigation into the CIA’s post 9/11 Detention and Interrogation Program, uncovers shocking secrets.

Director:

Scott Z. Burns

THE REPORT is about the alleged report which exposes the CIA for their use of torture on suspected terrorists.  Most of what has been going on is already well known, including the inhuman torture methods as these have since been publicized following the Oscar Winner for Best Documentary, Alex Gibney’s TAXI TO THE DARK SIDE.

Gibney’s film examines the U.S. policy on torture and interrogation, specifically the CIA’s use of torture and their research into sensory deprivation. The CIA re-terms the word torture with the phrase enhanced interrogation.  The film includes discussions against the use of torture by political and military opponents, as well as the defense of such methods; attempts by Congress to uphold the standards of theGeneva Convention forbidding torture; and popularization of the use of torture techniques in TV series such as 24. 

Burn’s film is highly different and employs actors to re-enact real life characters in the true story.  THE REPORT plays as a political thriller that explores matters of vital importance to the present. THE REPORT takes a deep dive into recent revelations that have lost none of their capacity to shock and appall.

Dan Jones (Adam Driver) is the man assigned to research and submit a report.  He is asked twice during the movie. “Did you sleep?” to which he answers.  “I used  to but it gets in the way of my work.”  Jones, a staff member of the US Select Committee on Intelligence, is tasked with helming a Senate investigative report into the CIA’s use of torture after 9/11.  Some $80 million was spent; 119 detainees were interrogated. Hundreds of hours of recordings of those interrogations were destroyed. What happened? Who is accountable? Faced with one seemingly insurmountable obstacle after another, Jones spent half a decade finding out.  The CIA expected Jones to do the study , uncover a few facts but never expected Jones to go through all the extreme lengths to find out the truth and to uncover it to the American people.

Burns elicits excellent performances from his entire cast.   Adam Driver and Annette Benning both deliver award winning performances.  One cannot imagine anyone else playing those two roles.

Some might complain about the film’s talkiness.  It is talky but that is not necessarily a bad thing.  The dialogue from the script, also written by Burns is sharp and witty, and able to carry ones attention throughout the film.  A few of the torture scenes are re-enacted to emphasize the terrible use of torture by the CIA.

Everybody knows the ineffectiveness of torture as a interrogation tool to get information from the enemy.  Which is basically the tortured person saying anything to get the torture to stop.  Most of the information surrendered are either information the U.S. already knows or lies.  The script offers little debate on the matter, as the fact is already well known and stablished inTAXI TO THE DARK SIDE.  The REPORT is an excellent companion piece to that film film and succeeds, despite all the bad stuff the American CIA has done, in extolling the United States as a democracy who can call out its bad people.  If only they would made these people pay for their crimes.

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VHmn9U3c0zA

2019 TIFF Movie Review: MARRIAGE STORY (USA 2019) ****

Marriage Story Poster
Trailer

Noah Baumbach’s incisive and compassionate look at a marriage breaking up and a family staying together.

Director:

Noah Baumbach

Writer:

Noah Baumbach

The master of dysfunctional dramas, Noah Baumbach’s (THE SQUID AND THE WHALE, THE MEYEROWITZ STORIES) latest outing is a break-up story of two people still very much in love.  This premise has made wonderful films in the past such as Paul Mazursky’s 1973 BLUME IN LOVE where George Segal spends the whole film wooing his ex-wife.  MARRIAGE STORY tells both points of view of the love an break up of Nicole (Scarlett Johansson) and Charlie (Adam Driver).  The story takes most often Charlie’s side. 

They wish to separate on friendly times but things get ugly when they hire lawyers (Ray Liotta and Laura Dern) to what they think might easy the breakup process.  A subplot involving child custody brings to mind Robert Benton’s 1979 KRAMER V.S. KRAMER.  Director Baumbach reveals both the heartbreak and glory of love in a very dramatic and sensitive portrait aided by excellent performances by Johansson and Deriver.  

But it is Driver who steals the show especially in the confrontation seen that might just win him the Best Actor Oscar.  An additional bonus is the excellent written and executed court scene where their two lawyers battle it out.

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-y1HhAlAOTs

Film Review: THE DEAD DON’T DIE (USA 2019) ***

The Dead Don't Die Poster

Trailer

The peaceful town of Centerville finds itself battling a zombie horde as the dead start rising from their graves.

Director:

Jim Jarmusch

Writer:

Jim Jarmusch

Jim Jarmusch the king of independent American cinema re-invents the zombie movie with THE DEAD DON’T DIE as he did the vampire genre with ONLY LOVERS LEFT ALIVE.  THE DEAD DON’T DIE, however, is more of a comedy, the type Jarmusch is better known for, as demonstrated in his earliest works, STRANGER THAN PARADISE and DOWN BY LAW.  There are two directors best known for deadpan comedy – Finnish director Aki Kaurismaki and Jim Jarmsuch.  The film is arguably Jarmusch’s most ambitious to date, featuring an all-star cast and the film chosen to open the Cannes Film Festival this year in May.

It all starts to happen when the earth tilts out of its axis.  “Something weird is going on,” says Centreville Police Chief Cliff Robertson (Bill Murray) to his partner, Officer Ronnie Peterson (Adam Driver) after a hilarious encounter with Hermit Bob (Tom Waits).  Ronnie predicts that things do not look good to the very end, a line that the film comes back to several times at different points in the film.  That night in Centreville, 2 zombies (Sara Driver and Iggy Pop) suddenly rise from their graves to kill the workers at the local diner.  The reason for the earth’s off kilter is attributed, according to news lady Rosie Perez on TV, to fracking by the oil companies.  More zombies rise from their graves the following night eating up many of the town’s residents as well as three teens (including Selena Gomez) who meet their death.  Director Jarmusch does not skimp on the gory graphics, the corpses with their innards pulled out from their bodies left by the zombies, enough to make anyone throw up including the third police officer, Mindy (Chloe Sevigny).  “This will not end well,” repeats Officer Ronnie.  “How do you know?” Asks Chief Cliff to which comes perhaps the film’s most unexpected reply.

The film benefits from a  superb cast, many of which are Jarmusch’s past collaborators.  Adam Driver was in his last film PATERSON, arguably Jarmsuch’s best movie, Tom Waits in DOWN BY LAW and Tilda Swinton who steals the show as a sword yielding mortician of the town, speaking with her strong native Scottish accent.  Drive demonstrates his talent for deadpan comedy here, Jarmsuch giving him the best lines.  Other well known stars in the cast include Steve Buscemi as Farmer Miller, Danny Glover, RZA, Caleb Landry Jones and Carol Kane.

The film drags a bit running close to a n hour and three quarters.  But it is Jarmusch style to let his film play along with long lazy takes that he made famous in STRANGER THAN PARADISE.  Nothing much seems to happen except the zombies but that is the pleasure of a Jarmsuch film.

Do not expect THE DEAD DON’T DIE to be a masterpiece.  After all, it is a zombie movie – the best thing it can achieve is cult status, as in George Romero’s zombie flicks.  But the film is totally amusing aided by solid performances from his all-star cast and some hilarious writing coupled with a bit of parody.

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bs5ZOcU6Bnw

Film Review: BLACKKKLANSMEN (USA 2018) ****

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BlacKkKlansman Poster
Trailer

Ron Stallworth, an African-American police officer from Colorado, successfully managed to infiltrate the local Ku Klux Klan and became the head of the local chapter.

Director:

Spike Lee

 

BLACKKKLANSMEN opens with a shot similar to the famous one seen in the poster of one of Spike Lee’s best films DO THE RIGHT THING.  The shot is focused on the centre of the image but the characters stand around in the perimeter.  Both that film and his new Cannes premiere hit BLACKKKLANSMEN tackle the problem of racism with savage brutality.  Though this film contains more content, Lee tones down his anger a little compared to the more energetic DO THE RIGHT THING. 

The film is based on the autobiographical book Black Klansman by Ron Stallworth. Set in 1970s Colorado, the plot follows an African-American detective Stallworrth (former footballer John David Washington and son of Denzel) who sets out to infiltrate and expose the Ku Klux Klan.

The film arrives after lots of hype after the Cannes premiere where many critics have hailed the film as one of the Top 10 films screened there.  The truth is that the film is that good though not without flaws.  It competed for the Palme d’Or and won the Grand Prix at Cannes.

Not since Francis Ford Coppola’s THE GODFATHER’s climatic scene where he intercut the talking of peace with the different crime bosses to the execution of the bosses has irony been so vividly captured on screen.  Lee intercuts the two rallies of the rise of black power to that of white power in one of the film’s key segments.  Best still is the irony on display when Jewish cop Adam Driver denounces his Jewish heritage as Lee’s camera is placed in the position to emphasize Driver’s semitic nose.

Lee is fond of filming his segments with the camera slanted with a resulting slanted frame, used by many directors to emphasize a distortion of the events occurring on screen.  Lee uses the tactic several times, particularly during the black rallies.

Though basically a period piece, Lee ties in current events to the story.  There is a shot of Trump’s speech about very bad people in demonstrations s well as newsreel footage of violent police and crowd clashes during demonstrations in the August of 2017.  Trump’s favourite line of making America great again is echoed in the film’s dialogue during of of the Ku Klax Klan leader’s speeches.   Lee obtained permission to include the image in his film of Heather Heyer who called killed by the car ploughing into the crowd during a white supremacy rally.

Lee’s film not only incites anger among African Americans but also among Jews and gays.  It is as if Lee is recruiting allies agains redneck whites in the movie.

It is always a pleasure to watch Adam Driver in a film.  Driver (PATERSON) delivers an astonishing and powerful performance without having to resort of cheap theatrics, written dialogue or bouts of put-on anger.  His mannerisms and body language tell all.  Alec Baldwin is also memorable and hilarious as a bigoted doctor speaking on white supremacy.  But all the white racists are treated as silly, stupid and ignorant country bumpkins, easy target for Stallworth and the good cops.  It would be a more challenging task to have them made a more formidable foe.

The film contains lots of film references like the opening scene with the famous GONE WITH THE WIND  street scene where wounded soldiers lay scattered to the blackpoitation films like SUPER FLY, COFFY, CLEOPATRA JONES and SHAFT.  Included for laughs is a debate on who is better, Ron O’Neal or Richard Roundtree?  The racist D.W. Griffith’s classic, BIRTH OF A NATION is also given special treatment – Spike Lee style.

BLACKKKLANSMAN is quite good but could have been more effective if Lee put more anger and opted less for comedy in the film.

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pFc6I0rgmgY

 

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Film Review: LOGAN LUCKY (USA 2017) ***

logan luckyTwo brothers attempt to pull off a heist during a NASCAR race in North Carolina.

Director: Steven Soderbergh
Writer: Rebecca Blunt
Stars: Channing Tatum, Adam Driver, Daniel Craig

Review by Gilbert Seah

 Veteran director Steven Soderbergh, most famous for his OCEANS ELEVEN trilogy and for his Oscar winning ERIN BROCKOVICH and critically acclaimed films like KAFKA and THE LIMEY was supposed to have retired after his last film UNDER THE CANDELABRA . But after reading the script for LOGAN LUCKY, he was supposedly so enamoured that he decided to direct it. LOGAN LUCKY is a stylish crime caper, a sort of anti-OCEAN’s ELEVEN film without the glamour. Everything is seedy on LOGAN LUCKY, the props, the heist and life depicted in the film.

Soderbergh said of LUCKY LOGAN: “Nobody dresses nice. Nobody has nice stuff. They have no money. They have no technology. It’s all rubber band technology”.
The film involves two brothers. Trying to reverse a family curse (as lame as excuses come), siblings Jimmy (Channing Tatum), Mellie (Riley Keough), and Clyde Logan (Adam Driver) set out to execute an elaborate robbery during the Coca-Cola 600 race at Charlotte Motor Speedway in Concord, North Carolina during Memorial Day weekend. Simple though the plot might seem, the story is complicated by all the baggage brought on by the characters.

These are a few examples: (proving Soderbergh’s liking for the script)
Jimmy is separated and has a daughter that is entering a talent contest, which he should support. She performs John Denver’s famous song “Country Road”, in one of the film’s best scenes.

Clyde has lost his hand during the Iraq war. He still serves a mean martini as a bartender using only one arm, and his hand is sucked into the vacuum during the heist.

Special Agent Sarah Grayson (Hilary Swank) has a no-nonsense role as an investigator who hates tight alibis and coincidences

Warden Burns (Dwight Yoakam) as a 9-year old veteran who believes his prison to be the best and escapee proof.

Because of all these distractions, the film runs almost two hours. Though the story actually gets a bit convoluted and also a bit complicated at times, no one really cares, as Soderbergh always surprises with his style and dead-pan humour, reminiscent of KAFKA, my favourite film of his.

The heist segment is executed with a combination of more wry humour than suspense. The home made bomb form the film’s funniest part. Note that there are no exciting car races in this car race heist film.

The cast is impressive with well-known actors including James Bond 007’s Daniel Craig playing against time as a sprung convict, Joe Bang as well as 6 NASCAR drivers playing minor roles. Carl Edwards and Kyle Busch play West Virginia state troopers, Brad Keselowski and Joey Logano are security guards, Kyle Larson is a limo driver, and Ryan Blaney is a delivery boy. Everyone in the cast and crd appear to he having fun and the fun shows.

Not the best of the Soderbergh’s films, but LOGAN LUKCY is still an entertaining watch from a director who knows how to entertain, especially with a good caper comedy.

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aPzvKH8AVf0

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Film Review: PATERSON (USA 2016) Top 10 *****

paterson.jpgDirector: Jim Jarmusch
Writer: Jim Jarmusch
Stars: Adam Driver, Golshifteh Farahani, Nellie

Review by Gilbert Seah

PATERSON is the brilliant but quiet new film from Jim Jarmusch that focuses on a working-class poet (Adam Driver) in a small New Jersey town who practices his craft amidst the quiet magic of everyday life.

Those familiar with Jarmusch will be glad to notice the director’s traits from his early films present in PATERSON The wide camera panning of STRANGER THAN PARADISE and the dead pan humour of DOWN BY LAW are a few examples. But PATERSON is clearly his best film. Jarmusch captures the simplicity of an American small town and both the complexity and beauty of life amidst the daily routine of bus driver wannabe poet called Paterson in the town ale called Paterson.

Jarmusch shows that magic is where one finds it. The pleasures from the film derive from the audience’s observations of the film. For one, the film is a film about Paterson’s routine. It is a week in the life of Paterson beginning on a Monday and ending on the morning of the Monday of the following week. Paterson carries on his daily routine that includes getting up in the morning at the same time at 6:10 (though he wakes up late one of the days). He kisses his wife, eats the same breakfast of fruit loops and milk and goes to work at the bus garage where he drives the the bus of the same route everyday. When he gets home, he walks his dog, Marvin, and stops for a beer at the neighbourhood bar, chatting with the locals.

Amidst the driving and walking, he writes poems – beautiful and simple ones that the audience can relate to. All these might sound mundane, but Jarmsuch has created a really beautiful film, aided by his muse, actor Adam Driver, whose every facial expression registers his mood and emotion. The Toronto Film Critics Association awarded Driver the Best Actor Prize this year.

PATERSON is also a love story. The two lead a simple life of the same daily routines, but it is clear that they care for each other – deeply. It is tolerance and sensitivity that are the ingredients that make their love so strong. In one of his poems. Paterson says, I see other girls but if his wife were to leave him, he would tear his heart out.

It is also noticeable that Paterson is the happiest character in the film. The bartender Doc envies Paterson’s relationship with his wife. Everett, a local is heartbroken from unrequited love while his fellow bus driver, Donny is always full of personal and family problems. Everything seems to turn out right for Paterson, even his wife’s cupcake sale at the farmer’s market.

A key character in the story is surprisingly Paterson’s dog, Marvin. While Paterson straightens the post of his letter box very day after work, it is Marvin that topples it slanting every day when Paterson is at work. Marvin also chews up Paterson’s book of poems one day, an act that brings the film to its climax.
PATERSON turns out to be the perfect poetic film – visually as well as in the character’s writings. Effective, moving and thoroughly captivating, PATERSON is a a genuine feel-good movie without artificial sweeteners!

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=m8pGJBgiiDU

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Film Review: SILENCE. Directed by Martin Scorsese

silence_movie_poster.jpgDirector: Martin Scorsese

Writers: Jay Cocks (screenplay), Martin Scorsese (screenplay)

Stars: Andrew Garfield, Adam Driver, Liam Neeson

Review by Gilbert Seah

SILENCE. directed by Martin Scorsese and written by him and Jay Cocks is Scorsese’s labour of love. He was supposed to have made this film decades ago, but had to postpone the project many times owing to his obligation to direct other films. Finally, SILENCE is here, and despite all the hullabaloo, the film is surprisingly pristine and distant.

There is a lot of talk about the dedication and sacrifice the Jesuit priests went through. But the film never goes into the details of the source of this self-sacrifice. The only clue is the quoted scripture from Mark: 13, “Go ye into the world and preach the Gospel to the whole creation.” Apart from that, all the audience is given is lengthy talk of the priests insisting of going to Japan. There is one lengthy, unconvincing scene where priests Sebastião Rodrigues (Andrew Garfield) and Francisco Garrpe (Adam Driver) argue with their superior (Ciaran Hinds) to be given permission to travel to Japan to locate their mentor Father Cristóvão Ferreira (Liam Neeson).

The film, based upon the 1966 novel of the same name by Shūsaku Endō is set in the 17th century. The two main characters are the Portuguese Jesuit priests — Sebastião Rodrigues and Francisco Garrpe. They face violence and persecution when they travel to Japan to locate Father Cristóvão Ferreira, who has committed apostasy after being tortured. The story is set in the time of Kakure Kirishitan (“Hidden Christians”) which followed the defeat of the Shimabara Rebellion (1637–1638) of Japanese Roman Catholics against the Tokugawa shogunate.

SILENCE contains many awkward scenes, the funniest is the one which involves the act of apostasy. Apostasy is the formal disaffiliation from, or abandonment or renunciation of a religion by a person. The term is also used is used by sociologists to mean renunciation and criticism of, or opposition to, a person’s former religion, in a technical sense and without pejorative connotation. In the film, Father Ferreira apostates and talks about it. It is a hard word to pronounce and in that scene Neeson blows the pronunciation. It is a wonder why Scorsese did not cut that scene out of the film.

Another is the homo-erotic hugging of the two priests played by Driver and Garfield before they depart. Their odd look – as if they know what the scene could indicate but totally ignore the fact – is priceless. But the first scene with the torture of the priests by the Japanese soldiers using leaking ladles is quite ridiculous. I am sure the Japanese could have devised more torturous and less cumbersome instruments.

The film is shot in both English and Japanese. As the priests were Portuguese, whenever the actors speak English with a weird accent that is supposed to be Portuguese, The English is supped to stand for Portuguese. Fortunately, Japanese is left as Japanese. But these pose problems when in one scene pre sits asks: “Do you speak my language?” in English which stands for Portuguese.

The film contains too many set-up conversational pieces and laborious inquisitions for its own good. The lengthy 160 minute running time does not help either. SILENCE ends up a long, laborious and boring affair.

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

 

 

 

 

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