2019 TIFF Movie Review: FORD V FERRARI (USA 2019) ***

Ford v Ferrari Poster

American car designer Carroll Shelby and driver Ken Miles battle corporate interference, the laws of physics and their own personal demons to build a revolutionary race car for Ford and challenge Ferrari at the 24 Hours of Le Mans in 1966.


James Mangold

FORD V FERRARI is the type of crowd pleasing action packed movie that critics generally dislike and audiences cheer to.  Director James Mangold (3:10 TO YUMA) and the 4 film writers tell the story of real-life superheroes Carroll Shelby and Ken Miles, race car engineers who commandeered the resources of the mighty Ford Motor Company in the 1960s to go head-to-head with the gods of Italian auto racing, Ferrari. 

But it is the Ford motor company’s owner Henry Ford and marketing chief that the two have to keep fighting in order to beat Ferrari.  So the title of the film should be Underdogs V Ford.  

Cliche ridden, the film does contain two manipulative segments (the fight and the ride Ford takes in the race car) that got the audience applauding.  D.P. Phedon Papamichael shoots the race sequences, particularly the night ones spectacularly as if putting one in the driver’s seat. Christian Bale excels in his role as maverick Ken Miles, the British born American race car driver.

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=I3h9Z89U9ZA


Film Review: VICE (USA 2018) ****

Vice Poster

The story of Dick Cheney (Christian Bale), an unassuming bureaucratic Washington insider, who quietly wielded immense power as Vice President to George W. Bush, reshaping the country and the globe in ways that we still feel today.


Adam McKay


Adam McKay

Expect the unexpected from Writer/director Adam McKay.  VICE could stand for the evil that men do or the word before President, the office which Dick Cheney attained.  He was Vice-President of the U.S., and arguably the most powerful one in history while having quite a few vices in his character like drinking uncontrollably.

McKay wraps up plenty of surprises in his anything-may-happen bio on Dick Cheney.  Credits come on around the hour 15 minute mark.  The film has not ended then but if one leaves, then the story could have ended there.  But it goes on with full credits given at the end.  There is narration too, from Jesse Plemons, who speaks to the camera.  One wonders what he has todo with the story.  To tell you more would spoil the surprise, but he has quite a bit to do with Cheney’s life.

McKay’s cast is fantastic.  Christian Bale gained 40 pounds froth Cheney role and the make-up to allow him to age in an unhealthy manner is convincing.  A Best Actor Nomination is definitely in the works here.  Steve Carrell plays the unliked Donald Rumsfeld with all the sinister relish he was muster.   It is surprising to see Tyler Perry inhabit the role of conscience bearing Colin Powell who finally resigned from the Administration.  Oscar Winner Sam Rockwell (from THREE BILLBOARDS OUTSIE EBBING MISSOURI) is almost unrecognizable as President George W. Bush, portraying him as a conniving no-good human being (which he is).

Everything unpleasant one has heard in the news on Dick Cheney is in the film – including the so-called hunting accident when he shot his hunting friend – from his university drunken days to the vice-presidency.  His university drop out is recorded and so is the impetus for his ambition in politics.  This is a very meticulously crafted scene, which the audience hopes actually took place.  His wife, Lynne (Amy Adams) gave him an ultimatum calling him a ‘fat drunk’ in the process.  Cheney succeeds in the change.  McKay also documents the couple’s loyalty to the Democratic Party, and for former President Richard Nixon.  For this unfamiliar or who dispel politics, there is still much to appreciate in McKay’s VICE,  For one McKay is a very resourceful and talented director and if not surprising the audience is updating the story to his skewed lenses.

The film includes a segment on the gay sexual orientation of Cheney’s younger daughter Mary (Alison Pill).  Cheney was shown willing to give up his career for her.  This segment gives me some respect for the man I never liked.  This is thus an important part in the life of the Cheney family which McKay is wise enough to include.

McKay is clearly against the evils executed by the Bush Administration primarily the War  on Iraq.  He inserts lots of images of innocent victims from Asia and Iraq.  He also mocks the Unitary Executive Power that the Administration had and used to approve any proposals.

VICE is the second film made on the Bush Administration after Oliver Stone’s W.  McKay has made a powerful bio on Dick Cheney but one not without his biting humour.

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

Film Review: Mowgli (USA/UK 2018)***

Mowgli: Legend of the Jungle Poster

A human child raised by wolves must face off against a menacing tiger named Shere Khan, as well as his own origins.


Andy Serkis


Callie Kloves (screenplay by), Rudyard Kipling (based on the stories of)

MOWGLI is a curiosity piece, a non-Walt Disney’s THE JUNGLE BOOK.  Made by Warner Bros and and slotted for release in 2016 the same time as Disney’s live action THE JUNGLE BOOK, with both films based on the Rudyard Kipling stories, MOWGLI was delayed two years and in the meantime got bought over by Netflix.  After an initial November release in the theatres, MOWGLI can presently be seen on Netflix.  Needless to day, watching it on the big screen in 3-D is optimal, as expressed by director Serkis himself.  MOWGLI is a quality film like many of he new Netflix originals these days, the most notable being ROMA which is also playing and likely to be nominated for Best Foreign Film.

The story runs along the same lines as the animated Disney’s 60’s full length cartoon and its 2016 live action version.

MOWGLI begins with the appearance in the jungle of Kaa (Cate Blancette), an Indian python seer, watches as Shere Khan (Benedict Cumberbatch), a crippled Bengal tiger, breaks jungle law by hunting down a family of humans, with only the child escaping.  Bagheera (Christian Bale), drawn to the scene, rescues the man-cub, Mowgli (Rowan Chand), and takes him to a family of wolves being raised by Nisha (Naomi Harris) and Vihaan (Eddie Marsan), only for Tabaqui (Tom Haollander), Shere Khan’s hyena follower, to find the boy before he is chased off.  They take the infant Mowgli before the wolf council and Akela (Peter Mullan), the pack leader, to decide his fate, with Bagheera buying his life with a kill and Baloo strong-armed into agreeing. Shere Khan arrives to kill Mowgli, but Akela stops him, saying the boy is now a member of the pack and forces Shere Khan to leave, but not before the tiger vows to return.

The story goes on with Mowgli discovering his own kind (the man village).  The climax is the fight between MOWGLI and There Khan.  Kaa intervenes to save Mowgl near the end.

Serkis’ versions the most serious of all the JUNGLE BOOK film, undoubtedly.  There are scenes where carcasses are eaten.  The animals like the slimy python, Kaa look incredibly real and therefore scary – perhaps too scary for children under the age of 10.  A few sentimental hogwash segments like Nisha telling Mowgli that he belongs, no matter what others say, could have been dispensed with.  The film is also too playful for adults.  One wonders the target audience of the filmmakers.

The time gap between Disney’s THE JUNGLE BOOK and MOWGLI helps.  For one, many would have forgotten the main story- and if not at least a few key plot points.  

Netlflix buying the film from Warner Bros. is likely a good thing as this gives the film a different distribution, be in cables subscribers.  The chance of losing money on this one is less as well.  The cost of production is not listed but it must be up there in the millions, as the film’s special effects are exceptional.

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FB1KTG-O1V0

1987 Movie Review: EMPIRE OF THE SUN, 1987

Movie Reviews

Directed by Steven Spielberg
Starring: Christian Bale, John Malkovich, Miranda Richardson, Nigel Havers, Joe Pantoliano
Review by Matthew Lohr


A young English boy struggles to survive under Japanese occupation during World War II.

Nominated for 6 OSCARS – Best Cinematography, Best Sound, Best Art Direction, Best Editing, Best Music, Best Costume Design


After years of being pigeonholed as simply an entertainer, a populist producer of popcorn frivolity, Steven Spielberg has finally won acceptance as a serious filmmaker. His “Schindler’s List” won awards and acclaim and was cited as a milestone in historical cinema, while “Saving Private Ryan” has grown in the public mind into much more than a mere film; indeed, it more or less served the role of a de facto World War II veterans’ monument until the federal government actually got around to building a real one. Even when the public does not embrace his forays into serious cinema quite so fervently, as with the acclaimed but financially underperforming “Amistad” and “Munich”, Spielberg no longer has to fight for respect and the right to be regarded as a cinematic “artiste”.

Such was not the case when “Empire of the Sun” was first released in 1987. Though Spielberg’s previous film, 1985’s deep-Southern drama “The Color Purple”, had won him some acclaim and a Director’s Guild award, many critics charged that the picture prettified human suffering, turning true experience into mere pageantry. It was still hard for audiences to find the artist inside the entertainer, and they responded to “Empire of the Sun” in kind, greeting it with both mixed reviews and lukewarm box office. It would take a few more crowd-pleasers (another Indiana Jones picture, “Jurassic Park”) before Spielberg finally got his due with “Schindler’s List”. “Empire of the Sun” provides an interesting contrast to that film, presenting a vaguely similar subject with all of the Hollywood gloss and glamour that the later film eschews…and ultimately suffering for it.

Adapted from J.G. Ballard’s semi-autobiographical best-seller, “Empire” tells the story of young Jim Graham (a pre-teen Christian Bale), a pampered son of wealthy English parents living in 1940s Shanghai. Jim is obsessed with planes, and dreams of someday joining the mighty Japanese air force. One day, however, the dreams stop when the Japanese take the city and Jim is separated from his parents. Drifting through a series of increasingly harrowing adventures, he eventually finds himself in a Japanese internment camp, where the once-arrogant son of privilege is forced to get down in the muck and learn how to survive.

It’s grand material for a cinematic treatment, but Tom Stoppard’s screenplay does not take it far enough. We never really get a clear sense of exactly what Jim learns from his experiences. Sure, he finds out that life’s not as easy as he thought it was, and that the Japanese army he so idolized is indeed vulnerable, but these lessons are never clearly articulated by the script’s events, and we’re left to piece it together later in our heads (I think this is where the playwright in Stoppard comes through; film scripts often don’t bear up to such abstraction). Jim’s plane fixation likewise seems meant to hold a metaphorical weight that it never truly assumes. What’s more, when Jim is finally delivered from his predicament, we get no scenes showing us his life after his ordeal. How can we really know how he’s changed, what he’s learned, if we don’t get to see the new Jim in action? Spielberg and Stoppard don’t bother to provide any answers, and the film becomes too remote as a result.

Bale, admittedly, makes even this truncated Jim a compelling and fascinating character. The actor holds the screen with utter command; it’s not a stretch for us to follow him anywhere. He’s equally convincing as the snobby, snide boy of early scenes and as the haggard, battle-hardened survivor of the later camp sequences. Spielberg has always been one of our best directors of children, and Bale’s performance here is some of the best work he’s ever solicited from a young actor.

The supporting cast, while impressive, is unfortunately hamstrung by insufficiently defined roles. Miranda Richardson and Peter Gale have some nice moments as Jim’s surrogate prison-camp parents, and Nigel Havers makes us wish we saw more of his dedicated camp doctor. Masato Ibu is also commanding as the cold-eyed Japanese commandant, and Emily Richard has a few moments of chilling power as Jim’s mom. Still, these characters are never given much to do by the story, and merely seem to be around to react to Jim’s actions. The only truly vividly drawn supporting player is Basie (John Malkovich), a former merchant sailor and full-time survivor who teaches Jim the hard facts of camp living while plotting an escape and a new life as a river pirate. He’s a complex and interesting character, both a pragmatist and a dreamer, and Malkovich invests him with hard-bitten smarts and a surprising soulfulness that makes his every scene compelling.

This being a Steven Spielberg picture, naturally, everything looks just great. The cinematography by Allen Daviau is gorgeous, and the production designers craft an always-convincing facsimile of World War II China. John Williams’ score is undistinguished, but the soundtrack makes use of a haunting Welsh lullaby that stayed in my head for days. And, of course, there’s plenty of Spielbergian set pieces: the harrowing moment where Jim loses his mother, a tense sequence where a Japanese gunman stalks the boy through a field of weeds, Jim saluting a band of Japanese kamikaze pilots, and a well-staged air attack on the camp, with Jim cheering wildly for the planes about to destroy him.

Still, should a film like this even HAVE set pieces? “Schindler’s List” had memorable moments, to be sure, but none of them seemed to be there just so the director could show off; everything emerged naturally from the events of the story, and thus became organic parts of a whole, not “big scenes”. “Empire of the Sun” gave Spielberg a serious subject matter and a broad canvas to explore, but the populist was still too much at play. It would take a few years and a few more films, but Spielberg finally got it right, proving that even the most financially successful director of all time can learn a few new tricks every now and again.This film won Best Director and Best Cinematography, and was nominated for five other categories. The screenwriter was nominated, and rightly so. Taken from a short story that first appeared in the Saturday Evening Post in 1933 by Maurice Walsh, Green Rushes, Frank Nugent was able to weave a story rich in subtext and conflict.

The collector’s edition of the DVD includes an interview with Maureen O’Hara where she reminisces about filming The Quiet Man, and is well worth watching.

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