TIFF 2018 Review: TEEN SPIRIT (UK 2018) **

Movie Reviews of films that will be playing at TIFF (Toronto International Film Festival) in 2018. Go to TIFF 2018 Movie Reviews and read reviews of films showing at the festival.

Teen Spirit Poster
Trailer

Violet is a shy teenager living in the Isle of Wight who dreams of pop stardom as an escape from her small town and shattered family life. With the help of an unlikely mentor, Violet enters an international singing competition that will test her integrity, talent and ambition.

Director:

Max Minghella

Writer:

Max Minghella

The film’s setting is the Isle of Wight where a Polish family of single mother (Agnieszka Grochowska) and shy 17-year old daughter Violet (Elle Fanning) who dreams of pop stardom etch out a difficult living.  

Violet enters an international singing competition as an escape from her small town and difficult family life.  Her days are spent doing chores, waiting tables, and attending secondary school, where she keeps to herself.  Violet surrenders to song and enters a competition. She befriends Vlad (Zlatko Buric), a once-celebrated opera singer who hears Violet and knows she’s something special. 

 He declares himself her manager and trainer, accompanying her as she tries out for a popular televised musical talent program called Teen Spirit.  The film is totally cliche ridden and filled with predictable plot points right up to the very end of the film.  Fanning is fantastic in the role, who almost saves this bland crowd pleaser.  

The contestants on the TV series “America Got Talent’ perform much better.

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wu0Hwb6qUX0

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Film Review: MARY SHELLEY (Luxembourg/Ireland/UK 2017)

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Mary Shelley Poster
Trailer

The love affair between poet Percy Shelley and 18 year old Mary Wollstonecraft Godwin, which resulted in Mary Shelley writing Frankenstein.

Writers:

Emma JensenHaifaa Al-Mansour (additional writing by)

 

“There is something at work in my soul, which I do not understand,” so says Mary Shelley at the beginning of the film.  We take it that the filmmakers plan to shed some light on the topic of Mary Shelley’s troubled soul, which inevitably resulted in one of the most famous horror novels of all time – “Frankenstein”.

MARY SHELLY is a biographical drama of the famous author who wrote the book “Frankenstein” by the age of 18.  At the film’s start, the audience sees the younger Mary (Elle Fanning) reading and scribbling.  She has trouble at home, particularly in the relationship with her step-mother and sent to live with relatives in Scotland where she meets her suitor Percy Bysshe Shelley (Douglas Booth).

However, 15 minutes into film after Mary meets Percy,  director Haifaa al-Mansour decides to concentrate her film on Mary Shelley’s first love and her romantic relationship with him (full name Percy Bysshe Shelley).  The story turns out to be less a biography of the author than a period love story.  Worse still, al-Mansour’s decision to have her film punctuated with Percy’s poetry distracts the fact that the film is about Mary and not about him or his writings.

The trouble with all this is that director al-Mansour is unable to sway the audience unto Mary’s side.  There is hint of the need for female independence in these times, which is emphasized at the end when she has trouble getting her novel published.  When told by her father (Stephen Dillan) that if she goes with Percy, she would lose the love of her father forever,” one is immediately not on her side, for Mary seems young, impetuous and impertinent.   When Percy finally flirts with the younger Claire (Bel Powley) , things become clear that Percy is not the man Mary had thought him to be.  It is too late as Mary is pregnant with his child.

Elle Fanning is convincing as the independent young lady who falls into hard times, due to her own fault.  Douglas Booth is terribly annoying as the handsome rogue, Percy – but I suppose the character of Percy is supposed to be annoying. Tom Sturridge goes over the top in his portrayal of the even more detestable Lord Byron.

The scene of Mary comforting Claire in the woods under rain and thunder shows the director at her worst, going for cheap theatrics.

Al-Mansour’s film is beautifully created and shot in terms of period atmosphere both in the interiors to the dimly lit cobblestone street and vast green Scottish landscape exteriors.  MARY SHELLEY is Saudi Arabian director Haifaa al-Mansour’s second feature after she became film society’s darling with her debut feature WADJDA.  WADJA was the first film made by a female director from Saudi Arabia and the first film from Saudi Arabia o be screened at Cannes.

` But MARY SHELLEY ends up a story without a strong direction with inspiration behind Mary for her books only hinted at.  One assumes it is due to her hardships – such as the haunting of her mother’s death, her distressful love affair and loss of her in infant child.  In the end, the audience is  still left in the dark as to the understanding of what was really at work in the soul of Mary Shelly. 

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

 

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Film Review: THE BEGUILED (USA 2017) ***1/2

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the beguiled.jpgAt a girls’ school in Virginia during the Civil War, where the young women have been sheltered from the outside world, a wounded Union soldier is taken in. Soon, the house is taken over with sexual tension, rivalries, and an unexpected turn of events.

Director: Sofia Coppola
Writers: Sofia Coppola (written for the screen by), Thomas Cullinan (novel)
Stars: Nicole Kidman, Kirsten Dunst, Elle Fanning

Review by Gilbert Seah

THE BEGUILED is the new 2017 American period drama remake of the well-known 1971 Clint Eastwood Don Siegel collaboration. Written and directed now by a woman Sofia Coppola (daughter of Francis Ford Coppola) famous for her strong female films like THE VIRGIN SUICIDES and LOST IN TRANSLATION, the film arrives with lots of accolades since winning her the Best Director Prize at Cannes this year, making her the second woman director ever to win the prestigious award.

Cineastes and film critics would definitely be very eager to watch this film. Three main reasons for can be sited. The first is that THE BEGUILED is a new film by Sofia Coppola who is a definite presence in current film. Her new work is always something to look forward to. As the Don Siegel directed original was very all received critically, it would be very interesting to compare the differences between the two films, differences attributed to one film made with a strong feminine value and the original directed by a top action director with his top actions star (Eastwood). The new version also updates the political correctness. Thirdly, the new film boasts an impressive cast that includes Elle Fanning, Nicole Kidman, Kirsten Dunst and Colin Farrell, the latter complete with full Irish accent in the Eastwood role.

THE BEGUILED is based on the novel The Beguiled (originally published as A Painted Devil) by Thomas P. Cullinan. Coppola’s film holds the same story though it removes the character of Haille, present in the 1971 version. Haille is a black slave that was taken to the soldier’s fascination. Set during the middle of the American Civil War 1860’s, injured Union soldier John McBurney (Colin Farrell) is rescued from the verge of death by 12 year-old Amy (Oona Lawrence), a student at an all-girl boarding school in the south, the Miss Martha Farnsworth Seminary for Young Ladies. Martha (Nicole Kidman) reluctantly agrees to take him in until he has built up his health, under the condition that he is locked in the music room and kept under watch. Both Edwina (Dunst), the schoolteacher, takes an immediate liking to John, as does Carol (Fanning), a teenage student. Female jealousies are aroused leading to a terrible climax.

Siegel was an action director and his film is more violent than Coppola’s. When McBurney’s leg is amputated, he is given wine in Siegel’s film while given chloroform in Coppola’s. The former is almost brutally unwatachable. Also in Siegel’s film, McBurney is hit by a candlestick before falling down the stairs while McBurney is pushed down the stairs in the latter.

In Coppola’s film, the soldier is not the main character trying to survive but now become the object of the females fantasies while the females become the main characters in the story. The outcome of the soldier remains the same.
THE BEGUILED is rich in period atmosphere with an authentic feel of the confusion of the civil war. Coppola’s updated version is absorbing, terrifying and well-directed piece of work deserving her of the Best Director’s prize at Cannes.

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iBoLK5z_FHo
 

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Film Review: 20th CENTURY WOMEN (USA 2016)

20th_century_women_poster.jpgDirector: Mike Mills
Writer: Mike Mills
Stars: Annette Bening, Elle Fanning, Greta Gerwig

Review by Gilbert Seah

Mike Mills hit it big with his coming out movie BEGINNERS based on his father who came out of the closet at the age of 75. Mills continues his personal films with 20th CENTURY WOMEN based on his upbringing by both his mother and her sister. The film has clout since, it is based on his life. This is a heartfelt feature.

The story is set in 1979, Santa Barbara, California. Single mother, Dorothea (Annette Benning) seeks the help of Abbie (Greta Gerwig) and Julie (Elle Fanning) to raise her son, Jamie (Lucas Jade Zumann). Abbie and Julie rent the rooms upstairs of Dorothea’s house.

Despite the film title, 20the CENTURY WOMEN is not solely about women. It is also about a boy being brought up by three women, only because the mother deems she needs help in his upbringing. So, the film should cater to a male audience though the ads and trailer do not make this point known. It is quite clear where the film is leading. Not only is the boy learning from the women, but the women are slowly influenced by the boy – by the boy’s reactions and deeds.

Mills demonstrates that minimal dialogue can also be used to highlight the drama in a confrontation scene. This is evident in the one where the boys argues with his mother after she chastises him on the ‘choking stinge’. The boy just walks away. The tactic of not using lengthy flowery arguments or screaming matches heighten the credibility of the story.
Mill’s film emphasizes details the characters indulge in that help the audience understand them. Dorothea smokes like a chimney – because it is stylish. But she smokes Salem menthols believing the harm is reduced. Julie sleeps with Jamie, sneaking into this room each night, but there do not indulge in sex.

A lot of effort seems to be put into the hairdo of the characters. Jamie and his mother have very curly hair while Abbie and daughter Julie noticeably straight hair. Abbie’s red hair symbolizes her desire to be different as she is.

The film is put into perspective by titles as well as Jamie’s voiceover. Still, one wonders where the film is leading to, and whether there is some hidden message.

Annette Bening shines in her role as the unsure mother. I am not really a Bening fan as she usually undertakes roles of unlikeable women like in AMERICAN BEAUTY and RUNNING WITH SCISSORS. But this sympathetic role suits her. Elle Fanning has been taking roles of and doing well with weird characters lately (LIVE BY NIGHT and THE NEON DEMON) and her role in this film will add to the list.

It would be interesting to see what kind of film Mills will be involved with next – after he has used up all the stories in his family and personal life.

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6JnFaltqnAY

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Film Review: LIVE BY NIGHT (USA 2016)

live_by_night_movie_poster.jpgDirected by Ben Affleck

Starring: Ben Affleck, Elle Fanning, Brendan Gleeson, Chris Messina, Sienna Miller, Zoe Saldana, Chris Cooper

Review by Gilbert Seah

Ben Afflecks’s fourth film (after ARGO, THE TOWN and GONE BABY GONE) is based on the 2012 novel of the same name by Dennis Lehane which like BURN,BABY, BURN is a novel that contains a lot of plot. But LIVE BY NIGHT contains too much plot dealing with as many issues as there are plot turns. Unfortunately, Affleck’s script is unable to cope and the film fails despite worthy efforts.

Set in the 1920s and 1930s, the story follows Joe Coughlin (Affleck), the prodigal son of a Boston police captain (Brendan Gleeson). Joe is a World War I veteran of Irish decent who is in love with Emma Gould (Sienna Miller), mistress of the notorious gangster Albert White (Robert Glenister), the boss of the Irish Gang of Boston. Joe’s father disapproves of Emma. Joe and Emma decide to move to California escaping the wrath of White, but to their misfortune the head of Albert’s rival Italian Mafia Maso Pescatore (Remo Girone) finds out about their affair and blackmails Joe to kill Albert. The story goes on, leading Joe to finally work for Maso and rising in the ranks. Success comes with a price with a lot of casualties in the process.

The best thing about LIVE BY NIGHT are its impeccable performances. Gleeson at his growling best, plays Joe’s chief of police, who unfortunately dies 20 minutes into the film. The gap, fortunately is filled by Chris Cooper as Irving Figgis, another chief of police, who is as pious as he is crazy. The other supporting cast members are uniformly good from Matthew Maher (as a creepy Ku Klax Klan member) and Anthony Michael Hall as an overconfident lackey for a crime boss.

Affleck’s script is all over the place and tries to handles too many issues like father/son relationship; romance; crime; good vs. evil; racism and loss of innocence just to name a few. The dialogue also includes a fair amount of ‘f’ words including the ‘mother f” words that are out of place in a film set in the roaring twenties.

The handsome mounted production from the vintage cars (in the robbery car chase) to the wardrobe, music and props make the film a memorable period piece. Affleck dresses himself very sharply, always in pressed white suits and hat.

As the story deals with war between crime families, LIVE BY NIGHT will inevitably be compared to Francis Ford Coppola’s GODFATHER films. Joe keeps his criminal activities from his wife, Gracilea (Zoe Saldana) reminiscent of how Michael Corleone (Al Pacino) hid his crime duties from his wife played by Diane Keaton. This is when one can detect the inferiority of of LIVE BY NIGHT. The power and bite are just not there.
LIVE BY NIGHT is well paced with a good speed in the first third of the film. The varying pace from the highly edited car chase to the slow paced meeting a a tea shop between Joe and Loretta Figgis (Elle Fannng)
.
The film also contains dialogue with heavy Irish accent (from Gleesona nd Miller) which is occasionally hard to understand.

The film could have done with some script doctoring. Affleck taking the co-producing, writing, directing and lead acting duties has obviously got his plate full in this $65 million production.

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

 

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Movie Review: THE NEON DEMON (Denmark/France/USA 2016) ***

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the_neon_demon.jpgTHE NEON DEMON (Denmark/France/USA 2016) ***
Directed by Nicolas Winding Refn

Starring: Elle Fanning, Christina Hendricks, Keanu Reeves

Review by Gilbert Seah

The much anticipated film at Cannes that caused quite the sensation, Nicolas Winding Refn’s THE NEON DEMON will not disappoint in terms of gore and surrealism. Refn has already proven himself a director to watch, with remarkable features like his PUSHER trilogy, DRIVE and ONLY GOD FORGIVES.

While his earlier 5 films displayed speed and ultra-violence, THE NEON DEMON reveals a different side of Refn. THE NEON DEMON is an extremely slower paced film, full of pauses that allow the audience to sit back and figure what is actually going on. And most of the time, it is still hard to figure out what is going on.

But one must hand it to Refn that as slow paced as this film is – it is far from boring. The film for one, is meticulously shot with glittery lighting that mesmerizes as much as confuses. His images of the characters often blend one into another, like the corpse that looks like the heroine in the film, for the purpose of the lady making love to it imagining the corpse to be the girl she did not succeed in sleeping with.
The film shows Refn’s interpretation of the pretentious L.A. fashion industry. A young and aspiring model called Jesse (Elle Fanning) has just moved to Los Angeles. She is an orphan, very beautiful and impresses everyone she meets with her beauty. She meets make up artist Ruby and two of her rather nasty model friends Sarah and Gigi at a surrealistic dimly lit party. The rest of the plot is immaterial except to show that models will do everything to stay ahead.

Refn’s films seldom contain pleasant characters. There are none in THE NEON DEMON. Who initially appears a kindly soul, Ruby turns out to be another mean person with the ulterior motive of using Jesse for sexual satisfaction. And when Ruby cannot get what she wants, she turns incredibly vicious. Refn does to shy away from gore and violence. Where there is insufficient of these in the story, he more than makes it up in the dream sequences. Jesse has a nightmare of her motel manager (Keanu Reeves in nasty mode) inserting a knife down her throat only to be awakened by him banging at her door wanting to rape her. This unpleasant character is not crucial to the story of Jesse, but is there just for added unpleasantness. But the prized unpleasant segment is the one with necrophilia on full display.

Ref does not seem to care what audiences think of his work. With that attitude, Refn can come up with a few mighty fine films – the best of these being his PUSHER trilogy, which are all cutting edge, exciting and relevant. THE NEON DEMON is his most surreal film, reality turning into a nightmare with models morphing into flesh eating vampires in a world lit by neon and fluorescent lights where the sun seldom shines. Needless to say, THE NEON DEMON is not a film for everyone, but it is not without its merits, strange as they may come.

 

 

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Happy Birthday: Elle Fanning

ellefanning.jpgHappy Birthday actor Elle Fanning

Born: Mary Elle Fanning
April 9, 1998 in Conyers, Georgia, USA

Read reviews of the best of the actor:

SomewhereSomewhere
dir. Sofia Coppola
Stars:
Stephen Dorff
Elle Fanning

super 8SUPER 8
dir. J.J. Abrams
Stars:
Elle Fanning
Amanda Michalka,

Astro Boy Movie PosterAstro Boy
dir. David Bowers
Stars:
Freddie Highmore
Cage
Kristen Bell

MOVIE POSTERWE BOUGHT A ZOO
dir. Cameron Crowe
Stars:
Matt Damon
Scarlett Johansson

Benjamin ButtonThe Curious Case of Benjamin Button
dir. David Fincher
Starring
Brad Pitt
Cate Blanchett

RESERVATION ROADReservation Road
2007
dir. Terry George
Cast
Joaquin Phoenix
Fanning

MOVIE POSTERGINGER & ROSA
2013
dir. Sally Potter
Stars:
Elle Fanning
Alice Englert

MOVIE POSTERDEJA VU
2006
dir. Tony Scott
Stars:
Denzel Washington
Paula Patton

MOVIE POSTERBABEL
2006
dir. Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu
Stars:
Brad Pitt
Cate Blanchett

MOVIE POSTERMALEFICENT
2014
dir. Robert Stromberg
Stars:
Angelina Jolie
Elle Fanning