2019 TIFF Movie Review: LA VERITE (THE TRUTH) (France/Japan 2019)

The Truth Poster
Trailer

About a stormy reunion between a daughter and her actress mother, Catherine, against the backdrop of Catherine’s latest role in a sci-fi picture as a mother who never grows old.

Director:

Hirokazu Koreeda

Writers:

Hirokazu KoreedaLéa Le Dimna (adaptation)

Japanese director Kore-eda’s (AFTER LIFE, THE SHOPLIFTERS. LIKE FATHER LIKE SON) first foray into a film shooting France in French with French stars outside his homeland of Japan sees mother and daughter played by Catherine Deneuve and Juliette Binoche.  The pair come together after the mum, an actress of many films has written her memoirs in whcih she is the ideal mother.  

Daughter comes to town with husband played by Ethan Hawke and daughter in tow.  Family resentments and the past re-surfaces.  The film also comments on art imitating life.  The film feels and comes off as total fluff with a few amusing lines, particularly those written for Deneuve. 

 Hawke is not given much to do and it shows.  Kore-eda looks totally out of place in this really mediocre work from an artist who can do much. much better.

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

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Film Review: BLAZE (USA 2018) ***1/2

Blaze Poster
Trailer

The life of musician Blaze Foley.

Director:

Ethan Hawke

Who is this American country and western singer called BLAZE?  For one, he is not that famous that many have heard of him.  Blaze Foley (played by non-actor Ben Dickey) is supposed to be the one that blazed (pardon the pun) the way for Willie Nelson.  And why would actor Ethan Hawke make it his ambition to direct his biography and co-write the script with his girl Sybil, based on her book?  That could be the very reason Hawke decided to do it – that Blaze was that ordinary a person.  To Hawke’s credit, as much as I am a non-fan of country music, BLAZE is a remarkable piece of work, one that comes across as a sincere warts and all tale of Blaze Dexter.

The film interweaves three stories into one.  The first is Blaze’s love affair with Sybil, the second of his songs as he performs around the country and at his home bar, often not that successfully and the third is the story told by his two buddies after his death.  The latter is told from an interview conducted by Hawke himself, his back to the camera and him smoking away just as all the characters in the bio do.  Hawke has created the total character of his subject showing both his ease at creativity as well as the demons haunting him, that include his drinking.  He smashes the guitar that Sybil saved her money up to get for him in one self-destructive act after being being thrown off stage for insulting the audience.  It is his love, loneliness, creativity, insecurity and self-destructiveness that make up a life wonderfully created by Hawke on screen.

Are his songs good?  Well the genre is country western, but Blaze’s songs (there is rendering of songs like “If I Could Fly”) are at least decent, though one can hardly tell from the film as Blaze plays to empty bars most of the time.

The film contains messages in terms of life lessons subtly dished out to the audience.  One can be learnt from the way Blaze died – by taking a bullet in the stomach after intervening with the son who stole his father’s security check.  When asked whether he wants to be a star, Blaze says no, that he wants to be a legend.  He tells to his girl seriously but smiling while they hitch a ride at the back of a pick up, ‘a star shines for himself; a legend is forever and for things that matter.”  This is one of the film’s very poignant and effective moments, that captures the spirit and genius of Blaze, a man so casual that his insight passes through you.

The real BLAZE can be observed in the reading aloud of a heartfelt written letter he writes to Sybil, telling her of his love for her and his true feelings about his music.

Hawke captures the drama in the man’s life – the difficulties of both his relationship with Sybil and his performances.  One of the film’s most amusing scenes is Blaze’s encounter with an offer by three record label’s representatives played by Richard Linklater, Steve Zahn and Sam Rockwell.

In the end, Hawke’s non-judgemental bio leaves the audience to make up their minds on whether Blaze Foley was a loser with no money or a cool guy.  Legend?  I don’t think so.

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

Film Review: JULIET, NAKED (USA/UK 2018) ***

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Juliet, Naked Poster
Trailer

Juliet, Naked is the story of Annie (the long-suffering girlfriend of Duncan) and her unlikely transatlantic romance with once revered, now faded, singer-songwriter, Tucker Crowe, who also happens to be the subject of Duncan’s musical obsession.

Director:

Jesse Peretz

Writers:

Evgenia Peretz (screenplay by), Jim Taylor (screenplay by) | 2 more credits »

JULIET, NAKED is a British/American production set in both London and the U.S. based on the best selling novel of the same name by Nick Hornby.  The novel is described as a sensitive modern tale illustrating the effect the internet can have on a romantic relationship.   The film gets that message across, though it feels like a romantic comedy without a happy Hollywood ending, which means that audiences might have difficulty liking this film.  JULIET, NAKED is not half bad, but it is not barely half good, falling flat and dragging along for a major part.

The story centres on Annie (Rose Byrne) who when the film opens, has relationship problems with long term boyfriend, Duncan (Chris O’Dowd).  Duncan, a professor at a local university has an obsession with singer-songwriter Tucker Crowe (Ethan Hawke).  He is head of the Tucker Crowe website and knows all the works and songs of Crowe.  When a packet of Crowe songs arrives in the mail that Annie opens and listens to, Duncan becomes clearly upset that she has not only opened his mail but listened to Crowe before him.  Duncan also begins an affair with a new professor, that he confesses to Anne.  This is total wishy-washy behaviour and the audience is only too glad to see Annie kick him out of the house.

As the story goes on, Annie meets Crowe in person and begins an affair with him.  The brown stuff hits the fan when Duncan finds out.  Not only does Duncan accuse Annie of doing this to get back at him, but he begins disagreeing with Crowe about his work.

If all this sounds too serious, the film is not, and a lot of humour is injected into the story so that the film can still be labelled as a romantic comedy.  But it is one with a difference as it does not follow the beaten path of the Harlequin-styled story.

All three actors are excellent in their roles.  It is always a pleasure to watch Rose Byrne (NEIGHBOURS and NEIGHBOURS 2) who is always good in anything she is in.  Ethan Hawke, known for his fondness in blues and music gets to sing a few of the songs featured in the film.  O’Dowd who has proven himself proficient in drama (CALVARY) and in comedy (BRIDESMAIDS) makes an unlikable character both likeable and sympathetic.

The film has a few odd segments.  One is the problematic hospital segment where all of Crowe’s children from multiple partners all show up at the hospital when he suffers an unexpected heart attack.  How would they all show up together when they were so difficult to even meet is one question.  They argue and bicker to no end and then are never seen again during the movie.  Annie first meets Crowe at the hospital too and any logical person would have left Crowe or any such person with so much baggage.

JULIET, NAKED is at least good for a few laughs with a few well timed jokes.

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

Film Review: FIRST REFORMED (USA 2017) ***

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First Reformed Poster
Trailer

A priest of a small congregation in upstate New York grapples with mounting despair brought on by tragedy, worldly concerns and a tormented past.

Director:

Paul Schrader

Writer:

Paul Schrader

FIRST REFORMED is the name of an old church built in 1767 that is still standing in the film of the same name.  The film’s subject is Reverend Toller (Ethan Hawke), a good-hearted God-fearing man but one who questions his faith after the death of his son, that also resulted in his marriage break-up.  Toller is lonely.  Toller is also ill with a cancerous tumour.

The film is directed by Paul Schrader, known for his serious films.  His best movies include BLUE COLLAR, CAT PEOPLE and AFFLICTION, the latter film winning James Coburn the Best Supporting Actor Oscar.  FIRST REFORMED shares a bit of the scarce but biting humour in AFFLICTION, in the form of Cedric the Entertainer playing the supporting role of Pastor Jeffers.  But Schrader is dead set on the subject at hand – the relevance of religion in today’s world.  Jeffers offers advice to Toller in  a sit-down session in his office: “You are always in the garden.  Jesus was never always in the garden.  He was sometimes at the market place or on the mountain.  He was never in the garden on his knees spitting blood.”   This is the film’s laugh-out loud yet serious segment.  Unlike the recent film DISOBEDIENCE with an Orthodox Jews setting, this film is respectful of its religious setting. 

The story unfolds from the appearance of Mary (Amanda Seyfried).  She wants the reverend to speak to her husband, Michael (Philip Ettinger) who wants to destroy the child that Mary is now bearing.  This is when Toller reveals (to the husband and the audience) that he is a man with baggage himself.   His family have all been in the military. By tradition, his son follows by enlisting, against the wishes of his mother.  The son is killed 6 months later in Iraq.  Toller’s wife and him are now separated with Toller now serving in the church.   In mid-film, a tragedy occurs that Toller blames himself for, wondering what he could have done different.

Toller keeps a journal, writing by hand his thoughts and deeds every 24 hours.  The words serve two purposes.  Besides recounting the events that have occurred  stressing the importance of each, they also reflect the intimate thoughts of the writer, how he feels as he goes on, not only with the events but the daily routines.  Toller intends the diary be destroyed after a year of writing, done as an experiment, which makes the exercise all the more curious.

The Reverend Toller (age 46) is revealed to be a meticulous man from the very first scene.  He insists on fixing the leaking faucet in the men’s toilet on his own, without having to spend unnecessary money.  He can be an angry man an a timid one intimidated by those above him. 

Toller is a character waiting to explode, just as the Coburn character exploded in Schrader’s best film since AFFLICTION.  Hawke delivers a dead serious performance, one of the best of his career.  These are just two reasons making FIRST REFORMED a worthwhile film to watch.

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hCF5Y8dQpR4

 

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Film Review: MAUDIE (Canada/Ireland 2016) ***1/2

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maudieDirector: Aisling Walsh
Writer: Sherry White
Stars: Ethan Hawke, Sally Hawkins, Kari Matchett

Review by Gilbert Seah

MAUDIE is the film about Maud Lewis. Maud Lewis is among the most inspiring figures in Canadian art. Afflicted with juvenile rheumatoid arthritis, she spent her early life dismissed for what was presumed to be her limited ability. But Lewis’ colourful paintings, made on surfaces ranging from beaverboard to cookie sheets, established her as one of our country’s premier folk artists.

There is one reason to see the new Canadian/Irish drama about painter Maud Lewis and it is the actress who portrays her, Brit Sally Hawkins. Besides being this reviewer’s favourite number 1 actress who broke into prominence with Mike Leigh’s HAPPY-GO-LUCKY, Hawkins has also garnered an Oscar nomination for Best Supporting Actress playing Cate Blanchette’s sister in Woody Allen’s BLUE JASMINE. MAUIDE puts Hawkins again in Best Actress category, which should win her at least a Best Canadian Screen Award nomination for Best Actress.

MAUDIE, based on a true story (the real images of Maudie and Everett seen in the final credits), is an unlikely romance in which the reclusive Everett Lewis (Ethan Hawke) hires a fragile yet determined woman named Maudie (Sally Hawkins) to be his housekeeper. Maudie, bright-eyed but hunched with crippled hands, yearns to be independent, to live away from her protective family and she also yearns, passionately, to create art. Unexpectedly, Everett finds himself falling in love. MAUDIE charts Everett’s efforts to protect himself from being hurt, Maudie’s deep and abiding love for this difficult man and her surprising rise to fame as a folk painter. Things change when one day a summer resident comes calling. She’s a New Yorker, wears alluring clothing and talks like Katharine Hepburn. She sees something in Maudie’s paintings and commissions one. Suddenly Maudie’s pastime is recognized as having real value. People come from far and wide. Eventually her work will hang in the White House.

Irish director Walsh concentrates on the drama of the couple’s difficult relationship. It is only after the half way mark that Maudie begins to paint. The secret of Maudie’s daughter still being alive and still existing is only given a fleeting nod, again the film revetting back to the couple’s relationship.

The film is a period piece set in the small village of Marshalltown, 1937. As this is a small village, only small carts and horses are sufficient to convince the audience of the early 30’s setting. Though set in Nova Scotia, MAUDIE was shot in Newfoundland, likely because the Province of Newfoundland poured in money for the production. Still these two are Atlantic provinces and the film is beautifully shot by cinematographer Guy Godfree displaying images of the maritime light and landscape. The music is haunting and provided by COWBOYS JUNKIES member, Michael Timmins, even though the music often comes on into the film abruptly at several points.

Besides Hawkins’ outstanding performance, talkative Ethan Hawke delivers one against (his) type as the quiet and moody husband, Everett Lewis. Vancouver actress Gabrielle Rose, recently seen in THE DEVOUT is also a pleasure to watch, playing Maudie’ ailing Aunt Ida.

No reason is given for Maudie’s crippled hands except that the problem is linked to arthritis, which is assumed afflicted Maudie from a much younger age than most. Nothing much is also mentioned of Everett’s background, though one would be curious the reason he became quite the recluse.
Though MAUDIE might be a slow watch for some, it is a well crafted and effective biopic of MAUDIE and her troubled relationship.

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-_0GoO-hxDI 

 

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