Film Review: TIGERS ARE NOT AFRAID (Mexico 2016) ***

Tigers Are Not Afraid Poster
A dark fairy tale about a gang of five children trying to survive the horrific violence of the cartels and the ghosts created every day by the drug war.

Director:

Issa López

Writer:

Issa López

TIGERS ARE NOT AFRAID is a Mexican supernatural fairy tale horror fantasy thriller that comes with the stamp of approval of Mexican horror Master Guillermo del Toro.  It is easy to figure the reason.  TIGERS ARE NOT AFRAID bears many traits and look of his early films like PAN’S LABYRINTH, CRONOS, THE DEVIL’S BACKONE and THE SHAPE OF WATER.   Besides the look of CRONOS, TIGERS bears a young female protagonist as in PAN’S LABYRINTH stuck in a horror fantasy.  Again the protagonist has to outsmart the authorities as in THE SHAPE OF WATER to escape certain danger.

TIGERS ARE NOT AFRAID has a beautifully dark setting of a coastal Mexican town where drug cartels battle that results in many orphaned children. As Mexico is famous for its many festivals of the dead, the orphaned children rise from the dead seeking revenge from the bad drug people who caused their deaths.  One of the dead happens to the the protagonist’s mother, who Estrella wants to be re-untied with.  But as they say, be careful of what you wish for.  The mother materializes as a ghastly corpse commanding her daughter, Estrella to bring the dreaded corrupt official to the labyrinth of tunnels where the dead are buried so that they can kill him in revenge.

Poor Estrella.  Not only is she orphaned but is ostracized by the largely male group of boys who run around her old residence like a gang.  It is in a male world that the filmmakers and the female director Issa Lopez weave a tale where the female gender rises above the males.  The protagonist is female who has to prove her worth to the boys.  The ghost is female too, the mother who has a big impact on the story.  The story could also be told with he genders switched but the story this way has more dynamic impact.

The story also serves as a coming-of-age tale of Estrella who grows up to be a fine woman.  Her character is also not perfect, she having to lie in order to get ahead.

Director Lopez’s script cleverly blends the fairy tale element into the story.  Estrella is doing an exercise in school of writing ones own fairy tale when a shootout occurs.  Her teacher gives her 3 pieces of chalk granting her 3 fairy tale wishes, which she uses.  As most fairy tales have a dark element, so does the Estrella’s tale, taking an especially dark side she never imagined.

Director Lopez’s film is rich in period atmosphere (2006) and she creates a sold horror piece.  But this being her first feature, TIGERS ARE NOT AFRAID is linear – one straight story told in a grim setting.  With experience, her films will be more layered (as in the del Toro films) with more unexpected turns and twists with the setting playing a greater impact and influence on the story.

TIGERS ARE NOT AFRAID is currently playing at the TIFF Bell Lightbox.

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tLKT0gML-oc

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Film Review: FAST & FURIOUS PRESENTS: HOBBS & SHAW (USA 2019)

Fast & Furious Presents: Hobbs & Shaw Poster
Lawman Luke Hobbs and outcast Deckard Shaw form an unlikely alliance when a cyber-genetically enhanced villain threatens the future of humanity.

Director:

David Leitch

Writers:

Chris Morgan (story by), Chris Morgan (screenplay by) |2 more credits »

There is the recent debate in Hollywood whether they now make a product or a film.  From this film’s title, what comes out is clearly a product.  HOBBS & SHAW is a product from the FAST & THE FURIOUS franchise.  And this is not a good thing.

From the makers of THE FAST AND FURIOUS films, HOBBS & SHAW is as much a  film about fast cars than human beings.  Any chance the script gets for an excuse for a vehicle chase, there comes one.  If that is not enough, anytime there is anything to do with skyscrapers (the last FAST & FURIOUS film had an unbelievable stunt where a car drove from then top of one skyscraper to another), there is one.

When the film opens, a crew of MI6 agents attempt to retrieve a virus, Snowflake, which can be programmed to decimate millions of people, from terrorist organization Eteon. Brixton Lore (Idris Elba), an Eteon operative with advanced cybernetic implants that allow him to perform superhuman feats, arrives and kills all agents except for their leader, Hattie Shaw (Vanessa Kirby), who injects Snowflake into herself as a dormant carrier and escapes. Brixton frames Hattie as a traitor who killed her team and stole Snowflake, forcing her to go on the run.

Luke Hobbs (Dwayne Johnson) and Deckard Shaw (Jason Statham) are both informed of the missing virus and are assigned to work together reluctantly to track it down.  The trio locate Professor Andreiko (Eddie Marson) who brings a bit of life into the picture.  The arguing duo save the world in a midst of fast and furious car chases.

The film takes quite a while to get its footing, and when it does, it does not stay focused.  To give the director credit, Leitch (DEADPOOL 2) achieves quite the feat with his action set pieces.  The one with Hobbs and Shaw racing down the skyscraper in pursuit of the kidnappers captures both the humour and excitement of the moment.  The climatic chase and tugging of the helicopter and cars at the edge of the mountains are impressive and almost saves the movie.  The villain Idris Elba is too invincible to excite any suspense in the fight scenes.  The buddy or enmity between Hobbss and Shaw that is supposed to be key in the move is average at best, eliciting a few laughs at most – nothing that is not already done in other buddy cop movies.  

Statham and Johnson deliver average performances – what audiences expect from them.  The film contains quite a few surprise cameos, that will not be disclosed in the review.  These are tactically spread out throughout the film.

The script goes at lengths to bring in more human element to the story.  The introduction of Hobb’s 9-year old daughter does not do much to enhance the film but his extended family with his mother in Samoa, Hawaii stirs up the much needed boost in the story.

HOBBS & SHAW is so forgettable that it is doubtful many would remember who played Shaw and who played Hobbs in the movie.  Apart from the excellent action set-pieces HOBBS & SHAW is a total bore!

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7W–71iLZ0g

Film Review: MUSEO (MUSEUM) (Mexico 2019) ***** Top 10

Museo Poster
Trailer

In 1985, a group of criminals mock the security of the National Museum of Anthropology in Mexico City to extract 140 pre-Hispanic pieces from their showcases.

Directors:

Alonso Ruizpalacios (as Alonso Ruiz Palacios), Alonso Ruizpalacios

Writers:

Manuel AlcaláAlonso Ruizpalacios (as Alonso Ruiz Palacios)

It seems that Mexico has surprised international cinema with two unforgettable films this past year – ROMA and now MUSEO.  

What happens when two slackers who know nada about artifacts decide to steal and sell them?  MUSEO tells the amazing entertaining and credible possibility of a ‘true’ story.  The titles say at the film’s start: “This is a replica of an original (story).”

Two students and best friends plan on robbing the National Museum of Anthropology in Mexico City and steal precious Mayan, Mixtec and Zapotec artefacts.  There is hesitance at the start as one of them Ben (Leonardo Ortizgris) is looking after his frail grandfather and he does not wish to abandon him as it might be their last Christmas together.  On the other hand, the more insistant  and confident one, Juan (Gael Bernal Garcia) uses the Christmas gathering he is at as an excuse to to do the robbery as he has the perfect alibi of being at the Christmas dinner thus sneaking off  soon after.  The funniest thing about all this is that Juan has to borrow his dad’s car as the getaway vehicle.

While everyone celebrates Christmas, the two thieves manage to break inside the museum and steal hundred of pieces. They return home to see on the news how their deed is described as an attack on the entire nation and realize that there is no turning back.

There are many pleasures to be derived from director Alonso Ruizpalacios’ film.  First and foremost besides his excellent camerawork, visuals and cinematography Damian Garcia, Ruizpalacios is able to surprise his audience with a host of other things.  One of the film’s most ecstatic moments is when Juan and Ben have just gotten away with the stolen artifacts, driving off in the car.  There is the look of elation on Juan’s face, as he cries “We did it.”  Ben’s response is “I need to pee,” when he suddenly stops the car and takes the pee.  The look of relief as he pees is just as gratifying as Juan’s previous look of elation.

The cinematography of the theft at night in the museum and the escape through the dark tunnels are magnificently shot.  Ruizpalacios and his d.p. Garcia has a series of still photos flash on the screen really quickly one after the other, that evokes an effect like stop-motion animation.  One part involves the light coming on and the pair leaving a hammer on the ground when the guards  are making their rounds.  This is suspense worthy of Hitchcock.  There are also images that astound during the museum theft.  For an image, it is usually the background that is still and the foreground (the subject or subjects) that moves.  Director Ruizpalacios reverses the effect.  As the thieves remain stationary the foreground, the background comprising of dust particle and little moths form the movement in the image.

The film covers several genres including family (dysfunctional) drama and suspense thriller.  One common complaint is that films that cover more than one genre never settles on one.  This is true for MUSEO as well but Ruizpalacios proves that his film can still work with multiple genres working side-by-side.

The story also plays like a buddy film as the thieves are two childhood friends.  Yet the odd thing is that their personalities are as different as night and day.

MUSEU is a total delight for cineastes especially with its constant cinematic surprises around every corner.  The best foreign film I have seen this this year.  Opens at the Bell Lightbox.

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qsf4wQqLrQk

Film Review: THE PUBLIC (USA) ***

The Public Poster
Trailer

An act of civil disobedience turns into a standoff with police when homeless people in Cincinnati take over the public library to seek shelter from the bitter cold.

Director:

Emilio Estevez

THE PUBLIC is Emilio Estevez’s ambitious little movie that tackles a few key social issues while being commercially entertaining.  Estevez gives himself the title role as a thankless, sensitive but realistic librarian.

After instilling to the audience the oddness and importance of the librarian in the American society with voiceover over archive black and white footage, the film opens with head librarian of downtown Cincinnati, Stuart Goodson (Estevez) heading to work one very cold morning.  He encounters  people who greet him on the way and it becomes obvious he is setting himself up as the sympathetic hero of the piece.  He meets an old lady who accuses Jews of meaningless deeds, while the homeless wait for the library to open so that they can wash up in the toilets.  He is also realistic as he answers back rationally to a female librarian under him who accuses him of leaving his carbon footprint behind.  It is obvious he likes her though she appears a bit too radical for him..  All these incidents are the prologue to a lawsuit undertaken by a public prosecutor (Christian Slater), again a too obvious villain of the piece.  The prosecutor is also running for the office for mayor.  It is seldom one gets to see Slater snarling and growling as a villain.

One quarter through the film, a new character, a police negotiator (Alec Baldwin) whose son is missing because of a drug addiction problem is introduced into the story.

One feels that Estevez is too manipulative in his sardonic humour and tackling of too many issues – from the homeless to mental health to the city’s opiate addiction to the environment and yes, politics.  “Try not to kill any of my friends,” says the female librarian to the cops at one point.

The film opens a few insightful possibilities.  Do the homeless protect and look after other homeless?  The film seems to think so.  Estevez takes the notion one step further when they take down the library after a cold Arctic blast hits the city resulting in -10C. 

To Estevez’s credit, a few bits of his script are quite good.  His film also propagates the main worthy cause of the homeless, despite looking too ambitious.  The film has a twist in the story despite an Hollywood happy ending.

Estevez and Slater are both good but it is Baldwin who steals the show, showing he can play serious as well as comedy (Saturday Night Live’s Donald Trump).

The film was shot in the Public Library of Cincinnati and Hamilton County.  The story was inspired and a little glamourized by the moving 2007 essay “Written Off” by Chip Ward, a now-retired assistant director of the Salt Lake City Public Library System.

This is a film that presents problems with no solutions leaving it somewhat disappointing.  One might argue however, that these problems can never be solved, but Estevez should provide some ray of hope.  THE PUBLIC is a not half bad mix comedy/drama relevant social issues that seems too obvious in pleasing the audience.

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kJXikN1kOqQ

Film Review: DUMBO (USA 2019) ***

Dumbo Poster
A young elephant, whose oversized ears enable him to fly, helps save a struggling circus, but when the circus plans a new venture, Dumbo and his friends discover dark secrets beneath its shiny veneer.

Director:

Tim Burton

Writers:

Helen Aberson (novel), Ehren Kruger (screenplay) |1 more credit »

Everyone loves and remembers Disney’s 1941 favourite animated feel-good fantasy, DUMBO.  Dumbo, the baby elephant is born with huge ears that allow him to fly thus becoming the sensation of the circus.  Don’t expect the same with the live action film DUMBO written by Ehran Kruger and directed by Tim Burton.  Burton’s most famous films were BEETLEJUICE, EDWARD SCISSORHANDS and THE NIGHTMARE BEFORE CHRISTMAS all known for its darkness and nightmarish ideas.  It is not surprising then that Burton’s DUMBO is dark and gloomy. Dumbo rarely smiles, the scenes are mostly dark and the soundtrack is filled with loud and annoying sounds like chimpanzees screening, loud circus music and people yelling rather than talking normally.  Those prone to migraines best stay away from this one.

The films starts on a bleak note where a rundown train carrying the circus that is falling on hard times travel through poverty America.  Holt Farrier (Colin Farrell) is returning by train home to his children after the war.  It is revealed that he has lost one arm.  His wife has also passed away from influenza.  Holt is out of a job because circus owner Max Medici (Danny DeVito) sold his horses).  How more gloomy can the plot get?  

More!  Baby Dumbo is born and separated from his mother.  The circus is sold to a conniving entrepreneur, V.A. Vandevere (Michael Keaton) who is out to make money out of the new sensation of the flying elephant.  Dumbo’s act needs to be polished and creates havoc when Vandevere wants the bank to invest money in his amusement world.

The magic of the original DUMBO emerges only a few times in the movie – mainly when Dumbo soars into the air.  Even then, most of the flight takes place in the enclosed tent and if outside, occurs in the dead of night.

A lighter note is added with the characters of Max Medici and Vandevere’s French girlfriend Colette (Eva Green).  Both have the propensity to do good.  The end up taking Dumbo’s side.  Even the one henchman of Vandevere ordered to kill Dumbo’s mother tells on the deed, and quits his job out of disgust at his boss.  Keaton in full powder-packed make-up, hams up his villainous character to the extreme of being cartoonish.  His love for money ends up his downfall.

Nico Parker as Milly Farrier, Holt’s daughter and Finley Hobbins as Joe, Holt’s son are sufficiently charming reminding audiences that this is supposed to be a family movie.  The other circus performers are just there for show with little much to do except for Miss Atlantis (Sharon Rooney) who does a few mermaid tricks and the snake charmer (Roshan Seth) who gets to utter the magic words “Fly my little one!”

But for whatever is director Burton’s vision for the film, he does effectively capture the gloom of a struggling circus as he does on a world recovery from the war.  His mark is certainly stamped on this movie.

For all that it is worth in terms of gloom vs. feel-good, DUMBO does grab the audience into the adventure of the circus and one does feel sorry for the elephant when his mother is forced to leave him.

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7NiYVoqBt-8

Full Review: CLIMAX (France 2018) ****

Climax Poster
Trailer

French dancers gather in a remote, empty school building to rehearse on a wintry night. The all-night celebration morphs into a hallucinatory nightmare when they learn their sangria is laced with LSD.

Director:

Gaspar Noé

Writer:

Gaspar Noé

French auteur Gaspar Noé excited audiences with his first two films, the excellent CARNE and the sequel SEUL CONTRE TOUS which were both an hour or so long.  But Noé pushed the limits with ENTER THE VOID and IRREVERSIBLE and he continues to do so with his new film CLIMAX about a troupe of dancers on acid.

What can one do with a troupe of real dancers?  Noé proves that more than everything can be done.  His film can be divided into 5 parts – the interviews; the group dance; the mingling of the dancers; the individual dances; the sex that occurs after the acid takes effect and the climax (aftermath).   Even if all else fails, the dance choreography is so good, many done with one long take, that watching these dance segments is worth more than the ticket price.  I myself, would watch the film again just for the dance sequences.

The film begins with the dancers being interviewed by an unseen male and female interviewer.  This sequence takes about 15 minutes and the audience sees the obsession of the dancers. “Dance is everything.” “I will commit suicide if I cannot dance.”  “I would do anything to be able to dance in the troupe.”  To the last comment, Noé pursues the implications further, bringing light to the current sexual abuse in the entertainment industry, but with an intelligent difference.  The two dancers who make the identical last comment are probed further to the point that their sexual offers might be accepted.  Noé uses the males instead of the females to be accosted and the possible guilty party to be one male and one female.

The troupe’s dance number is nothing short of stunning.  Forget the dances in any other television show or dance movie.   This is the real thing – real dance from the streets, expertly choreographed by gifted dancers.

When the dancers start mingling, the audience discovers more about each individual, their sexual orientation, who each has the hots for and how one might be related to another.  This is the time the dancers take to the spiked sangria. The LSD (acid)  takes about a hour to take effect.

The film breaks out into dance again.  This time it is individual dance where each dancer is given the chance to perform solo.  Noé uses the overhead shot.  The camera displaced above and each dancer moves in a and then out of the spot, with the dance performance seen from a bird’s eye view.  It is uncommon to shoot dance numbers this way, but it is nevertheless inventive and effective.

The last two segments are not so easy to watch.  Once the dancers start to feel the effect of the drug, their emotions come loose and sex begins leading to the films climax which unfortunately is not so entertaining as the dance sequences.   Noé’s camera goes upside down with lighting going on and off so that not every scene can be deciphered clearly.

Noé never fails to shock and to push his filming limits.  CLIMAX shows Noé at one of his most effective, disturbing though not disgusting.

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2AuDB8pskGs

Film Review: SECOND ACT (USA 2018) ***

Second Act Poster
Trailer

A big box store worker reinvents her life and her life-story and shows Madison Avenue what street smarts can do.

Director:

Peter Segal

Though advertised as a romantic comedy, SECOND ACT has the romantic element only as a subplot, which is a good thing as romantic comedy have been such a well-worn genre, audiences can hardly be surprised any more.  SECOND ACT, like the title implies, gives the romantic comedy a second angle and a successful one at that, in timing and delivery of the comedy.

Jennifer Lopez begins as a happily settled woman in a relationship.  As far as modern America goes, one assumes that she is not married to her man, as he stands up and leaves her before the first third of the film is up.  Trey (Milo Ventimiglia) wants children while she wants to pursue her career.  Her career is what the film is all about.  Maya Vargas (Lopez) is a bright woman who has no limits to her ambition and inventiveness.  (Would Lopez ever play a stupid person?)  She is unappreciated at work, and quits a Walmart like chain after they bring in someone (Dave Foley) to take the position she was supposed to be given, only because she does not have a degree.  So, her best friend’s son makes up a false curriculum vitae giving her gleaming degrees and work experience and lands her a job at a prestigious company under Treat Williams whee she is supposed to come up with a winning ‘green’ product.  She encounters lots of obstacles which makes for some of the film’s hilarity.

The film proves that a solid story is key to a good comedy.  The story also involves a sentimental element with another worker, Zoe (Vanessa Hudgens) that is played well and not too be too obvious as to choke the audience by tightening the heart strings.  In fact the story is absorbing enough to keep the audience so glued to the film that one hardly notices that the film does not contain that many funny parts.  That is a good thing as romantic comedies often try too hard.  

The film’s best segment has Maya dirty dancing at a party with her obnoxious villainous competitor in the company.  But the film also contains missed moments.  The romantic fallout of Maya and her partner is predictable and less interesting or funny.  It does not help that the actor playing him tries too hard and fails miserably.  He seems to be there only for his looks.  Treat Williams as Maya’s new boss, Anderson Clarke is a nice treat (pardon the pun!), Williams a good actor in the 70’s but hardly seen on the screen lately.

Lopez also performs the song “Limitless’ composed by Sia.

What do director Peter Segel and Jennifer Lopez have in common?  A series of flops.  Segel made THE NUTTY PROFESSOR II: THE KLUMPS and 50 FIRST DATES?  Lopez made thriller misses like THE CELL, THE BOY NEXT DOOR and at best the rom-com MAID IN MANHATTAN.  Surprisingly, together like two negatives making a positive, SECOND ACT is endearing while entertaining, not going into excesses, but dealing out quite often the right mix of funniness and drama.  SECOND ACT is one of Lopez and Segel’s better films.

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YsVo5necW6Q