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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Midnight Special, Movie Review

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midnightspecial.jpgMIDNIGHT SPECIAL (USA 2015) **
Directed by Jeff Nichols

Starring: Michael Shannon, Joel Edgerton, Kirsten Dunst, Adam Driver

Review by Gilbert Seah

MIDNIGHT SPECIAL reunites director Jeff Nichols and actor Michael Shannon once again in a film dealing with an apocalyptic world. There is much to like and dislike about MIDNIGHT SPECIAL compared to TAKE SHELTER, but unfortunately, the former throws logic and reality to the wind. The plot and ending of MIDNIGHT SPECIAL is important to the enjoyment of the film and should not be revealed in my or any review, but it is sufficient to say that the ending should at least be a bit believable and not be totally absurd as in this case in terms of logic and possibility and also in terms of special effects. The ending is as if the special effects department was given an unlimited budge and the department spent the entire budget and more.

The film starts with a suspenseful abduction in which a man is wanted for the kidnapping of a child. It is all over the radio and the state in terms of an amber alert. Roy (Shannon) has fled a religious cult in rural Texas with his eight-year-old son Alton (Jaeden Lieberher), who possesses otherworldly powers. Roy’s accomplice and childhood friend, Lucas (Joel Edgerton sporting a very convincing Texan accent), a state trooper, helps to bring the boy to an undisclosed location on a specific date, during which a celestial and possibly world-changing event may occur.

There are a lot of points in the script (written by Nichols) that do not make sense. But of course, one can argue that a good thriller need not require good explanations as the Master of Suspense Alfred Hitchcock has proven many times in his Masterpieces. For example Richard Thornhill (Cary Grant) was hunted down by the organization in NORTH BY NORTHWEST though no reason was ever given. But MIDNIGHT SPECIAL thunders towards a needed explanation that when revealed, makes no sense whatsoever. The supporting character of Lucas could also be done way with, though character development-wise, it does bring a good perspective to the character of the lead, Roy.

But for me whose first profession is engineering, I can really annoyed when a story leaves too many unexplained loose ends. Among these are: “Why does the kid and absolutely no one else land on this planet with the same situation? How does the kid comes to obtain all the information and for what purpose? Why the purpose of ‘the rapture’ at the film’s climax as it really serves no purpose? And why does the cult get so involved with the boy?

Shannon has always been an excellent brooding actor, accomplishing a range of widely ranging characters. Here Shannon is able to conniving the audience of a troubled yet caring father. He is willing to kill anyone to save his son.

The first half of the film works better than the second half. When more is left to the audience’s imagination, the more mysterious and suspenseful the film becomes.

The performances of the actors almost save the movie. Two of supporting cast deserve mention. One is Sam Shepard playing the cult leader, Calvin Meyer and the other Adam Driver as the FBI agent Paul Sevier who ends up helping Roy and Alton. One suspects that Nichols demanded solid no-nonsense performances from his actors.

But love it or hate MIDNIGHT SPECIAL will definitely affect audiences on way or other, in an extreme just as the film is (extreme).

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Movie Review: Star Wars: The Force Awakens (2015)

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star_wars_posterSTAR WARS: THE FORCE AWAKENS
(USA 2015) Top 10 *****
Directed by J.J. Abrams

Review by Gilbert Seah

The film world has finally gone crazy. Disney and Lucasfilm has enforced a world embargo on film reviews at 3.01 (yes, to the very second) on Wednesday December 16th. The film premiered Monday evening in Hollywood and for press, which includes this fortunate reviewer, Tuesday morning. No one had any idea of the venues for Monday’s screenings (3 separate theatres) till the last minute. Sales on Amazon of the old STAR WARS films rocketed 400%. Pre-sales of tickets have not seen numbers like this since the beginning of time, in a galaxy far, far away!

The hype on TV and anticipation have been great. The studios made press hush up on spoilers. And after seeing the film, one will respect those wishes. But there are a lot of surprises and twists in the plot, none that make little sense, and revealing them will would definitely spoil the film’s entertainment value.

The story is short and that does not mean much as the film is more character and action driven. It is set approximately 30 years after the events of RETURN OF THE JEDI where the Rebel Alliance and the Galactic Empire have become the Resistance and the First Order, respectively, and follows new heroes Finn (John Boyega), Rey (Daisy Ridley), and Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac) alongside characters returning from previous Star Wars film. Rey, a scavenger finds a droid who holds a map that has the key to finding Luke Skywalker. The dark side wishes to bring down the resistance and thus goes all out to capture the droid and thus the map. Lots of exciting battles result culminating with a climatic sabre to sabre combat between the heroes and villain Kylo Ren (Adam Driver).

The film succeeds in all departments from acting, to the grand music, scored again by maestro John Williams to the costumes, creature and robot designs to sets, spectacle and cinematography. Iceland and Abu Dhabi, where the film was shot add to the grandeur from the desert to the icy mountain landscapes. Rey’s outfit is perfectly designed, a greyish fabric that flows so that she looks elegant while fighting or tracking in the desert. The sets of the dark force, in red and black, looks (humorously) like something taken of of a North Korean dictatorship rally.

Director Abrams, best known for the STAR TREK reboot takes over the reins from George Lucas, who admitted the series needed new blood. Abrams is smart enoguh to put in lots of new blood in the form of new characters like Rey the main female protagonist, Finn an ex-trooper who moves to the good side because it is the right thing to do and Poe while not forgetting the importance of legends like Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill), Hans Solo (Harrison Ford) and of course, Princess Leia (Carrie Fisher). New ‘robots’ like the droid also meet old time favourites R2D2 and C3PO. Abrams knows how to work the audience. When Princess Leia and Hans Solo reunite and hug, the scene will bring tears to the audience’s eyes. And there are no embarrassing kissing scenes but lots of hugs that get the same message across.

If one wants spectacle there are lots of it. The blowing up of a star fighter that eventually sinks in quicksand, the flight/fight segment between the freighter commandeered by Rey and Finn and the star fighters and the shootouts are just a few examples. And it is one well-orchestrated action segment after another. Abrams knows how to pull back his camera to show the full action spectacle while also engaging in the closeups of the characters’ faces. Lots of smart dialogue as well, with too many quotable lines to include in this review.

The hype and wait are worth it. Abrams’ film is as amazing as you will hear. And it is definitely the best action film of the year, best to be seen in 3D and IMAX.

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