Film Review: THE OATH (USA 2018) ***

The Oath Poster
Trailer

The Oath is a fictional black comedy about American citizens given the supposedly option of signing a loyalty oath to the President.   As far as black comedies go, they do not often generate many laughs, and neither does this one.  THE OATH can be best considered a comic look at America and something that could but hopefully never happen.  Citizens are required to sign before the next Thanksgiving is up.  The oath is hopefully to isolate terrorists in America.  The incentive given to those who sign is a huge tax cut, but it seems that those opposing are being persecuted.

This controversial White House policy turns family member against family member when Chris (Ike Barinholtz), a high-strung progressive news junkie, and his more level headed wife Kai (Tiffany Haddish) learn bout it.  Their reaction is disbelief, followed by idealistic refusal.  But as the Thanksgiving deadline to sign approaches, the combination of sparring relatives, and the unexpected arrival of two government agents sends an already tense family gathering completely off the rails.  Chris mentions that this is not the America he knows or the one he wants to grow up with.

Director Barinholtz keeps the film’s budget in check.  Instead of showing an actual riot with cars and buildings set on fire, the above is seen on the television screen.  Most of the action takes place at the dining table with a few exteriors.

The film’s best joke also happens on the television when it is announced (heard) that actor Seth Rogen has disappeared because he was opposed to the oath. 

For a man so geared on Thanksgiving, the film allows the man (Chris) to throw away etiquette and allow him to use his cell phone.  This incident is the catalyst for the big break up at the Thanksgiving dinner. This is a scene well done with tempers flaring and foul language running loose.

Performances-wise, every actor seems to be overdoing their parts.  All this looks normal for the fact that the events unfolding are so over the top.

The film reaches great intensity once the CPU (Citizens Protection Unit) agents invade Chris’s home without a warrant.  Someone in the dinner party had complained that Chris is advising others not to sign the oath, and hence the agents’s sudden intrusion.  Agent Mason (Billy Magnussen) taunts Chris to the point that he pushes him resulting in him taking out his gun, and punches Chris.  As a result Chris’s dad hits Agent Peter (John Cho) with the chimney stoker knocking him out cold.  Mason is tasered and is tied up.  Mason is crazy and continue to threaten Chris while Agent Peter appears the rational one.  Director Marinholtz surprisingly keeps the audience at the edge of their seats during all the action combined with verbal shouting.  The children of the family are never seen during all the commotion, having being conveniently locked in another room or whisked off to another location.

One troubling flaw are the mixed messages sent by Barinholtz’s film.  Should one stand up for ones belief despite opposition from family or should one put family first and personal principles second?   The message is blurred more by the words uttered by Chris’s dad: “One has to do whatever it takes to keep ones family safe.”

When one wonders how all the mayhem and violence will end, Barinholtz gears his film towards an unexpected plot twist.  THE OATH ends up disappointing audiences’ expectations despite some solid compelling set-up drama.

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9LcVhhno-Uo

Advertisements

Film Review: RESTORING TOMORROW (USA 2018) ***

Submit your Film & Screenplay via FilmFreeway:

Restoring Tomorrow Poster
Trailer

In these divided times, religious institutions are losing young members and even closing their doors at an alarming rate. Director Aaron Wolf’s personal journey of rediscovery comes alive …See full summary »

Director:

Aaron Wolf

Star:

Aaron Wolf

The film begins with these announcements, on titles as well as heard aloud as voiceover.  ‘Historically, the percentage of Americans without religious affiliation has been 10%.  Since 2012, the number of young Americans in this category has been growing 30%.  Historical houses of worship around the world have been closed forever.’

The religion under study here is the Jewish religion, with thought centred on the destruction of their magnificent synagogues.  What is feared that, in the words of an interviewee, these buildings will be brought down like a beautiful cut flower fading in a vase.

The film then narrows down on one person, a good thing as to make the documentary more personal.  The person is Aaron Wolf (the doc’s writer, director and actor), who has moved from L.A. to New York to study and then returned to L.A. He was a third generation belonging to the Wilshire Temple – a huge and handsome structure, but he feels that the connection is lost when he returned.

As religious institutions are losing young members and even closing their doors at an alarming rate, director Aaron Wolf’s personal journey of rediscovery comes alive in RESTORING TOMORROW, a universal story of hope as a treasured local temple near demise, is lifted up by a community’s determination to achieve the impossible.  Wolf’s journey explores how when any community puts their mind to it, the impossible becomes possible.  Wilshire Boulevard Temple, a Los Angeles treasure built by the original Hollywood moguls, needs to raise millions to restore its majesty and vibrancy, thus also restoring the future of the Jewish community, the greater Los Angeles community-and on a personal level, Wolf himself.

  One of the great men examined in the film is Rabbi Edgar Magnin, a well connected man (a photo is shown with human his wife with the Reagans).  Another Rabbi examined in the doc is Rabbi Alfred Wolf, The director’s own father who is described as a visionary and dreamer.  He was selected between two German Jews to study in the U.S. (this meant, at that time, the difference between life and death) and he left Germany.  He founded an inter-religious group that aimed to make peace and give respect to all different religions.  This is the segment of the doc that not only makes most sense and is the most interesting but also more relevant in today’s current affairs.  

Though the documentary lacks a climax (though not without many inspirational moments including the rending of the well-known Hal David and Burt Bacharach song ‘What the World needs Now’ ), it makes up for it by an important message.  The last portion  of the film shows the restoration of the temple in L.A. from its planning to its physical restoration.  The message, and one of one of the Jews’s fulfilment is to make more Jews who will themselves make even more Jews, so that they can do good for the Earth.  

Trailer:  https://vimeo.com/220395027

Full Review: WHAT THEY HAD (USA 2018) ****

Submit your Film & Screenplay via FilmFreeway:

What They Had Poster
Trailer

Bridget (Hilary Swank) returns home at her brother’s (Michael Shannon) urging to deal with her ailing mother (Blythe Danner) and her father’s (Robert Forster) reluctance to let go of their life together.

Director:

Elizabeth Chomko

 

Before reading this review, it be best noted that the writer’s mother passed away from Alzheimer’s.  The film thus hits more than a number of soft spots, and though WHAT THEY HAD a film about a mother with the decease is occasionally flawed, the film kept me at most parts in tears. 

Playwright and theatre actress Elizabeth Chomko delivers a gut wrenching directorial debut with her award winning screenplay.  The film is fortunate to have four top notch actors delivering unforgettable performances – Hilary Swank and Michael Shannon playing duelling siblings trying their utmost best to look after their parents, Robert Forster playing the father looking after his dementia stricken wife played by Blythe Danner.

The film’s plot can be summed up simply with a few lines tut it is the drama and details that create the movie (i.e. the writing and direction).  Bridget (Hilary Swank) returns home at her brother Nicki’s (Michael Shannon) urging to deal with her ailing mother, Ruth (Blythe Danner) and her father Burt’s (Robert Forster) reluctance to let go of their life together.

The film fails to identify the ugly aspects of living with the disease.  For example, my mother did not shower for 8 months before I discovered it and and to get a caregiver come into help her shower weekly.  And still, every week she would forget and we and to literally drag her to the bathroom.   She would also do her number two before reaching the toilet and not remember about it a day after.  The film also never showed at any point Burt’s loss of patience over his wife’s forgetfulness.

The drama works as the script offers each of the family’s point of view on the problem.  And each member is right and has sacrificed in her or his own way.  There is no one correct solution.  As the Burt character talks about love: “You find someone you can commit to, and then you work at it.”  This line is also true even if you one finds ones soulmate or love at first sight.  One has to work at it.  The film contains many dramatic sets-ups with excellent dialogue and tearful moments.

The script shows its occasional brilliance.  One is the use of the scenario of the dementia-ridden mother hitting on Nicki, her son.  The incident is first milked for laughs and then the same one for sympathy.

One might complain that the film tugs too are at the heartstrings.  The Christmas setting adds on to the sentiment especially in the exchanging of gifts scenes.  But audiences love a good cry just as a good laugh at the movies.

Two-time Oscar Winner Hilary Swank (MILLION DOLLAR BABY and BOYS DON’T CRY) who not only stars in the film but co-produced it is known to make films about subjects that matter.  They might have been successful such as in BOYS DON’T CRY about LGBT rights or less successful such as in FREEDOM FIGHTERS about at-risk students.  WHAT THEY HAD is an earnest and sincere film about a subject every human beings will face in their families at one time or other, sooner of later.

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1kBGxsyp__o

Film Review: Mid90s (USA 2018) **

Submit your Film & Screenplay via FilmFreeway:

Mid90s Poster
Trailer

1:21 | Trailer
Follows Stevie, a thirteen-year-old in 90s-era LA who spends his summer navigating between his troubled home life and a group of new friends that he meets at a Motor Avenue skate shop.

Director:

Jonah Hill

Writer:

Jonah Hill

Actor Jonah Hill (MONEYBALL) makes his directorial debut in the highly touted Mid90s, a film that centres on rebellious youth.  Like all first time directors, tJonah Hill demonstrates in the film’s strengths what he is familiar with – in this case his acting.  His young actors perform magnificently capturing the spirit of troubled youth.  But there is much lacking in the overall bigger picture.  For one, Mid90’s captures a minuscule portion of the life of its subject, 13-year old Stevie (Sunny Suljic last seen in THE KILLING OF A SACRED DEER) but omits the larger story of perhaps examining the advancement in his coming-of-age rites.

The film begins with a skateboarding segment where the camera fluidly follows the smooth gluing movement of the sport.  It is a promising start showing expert technical camerawork.  The film then settles on Stevie and his friends who hang around a skateboard park with other misfits, some of whom are acquaintances with others they have altercations with.

One of the film’s troubled scenes involve a party where most of the partygoers are between the ages of 18 to 30 where obviously, drug and sex are going on, besides alcohol consumption.  Stevie meets an older black girl.  They chat before heading upstairs to a room where they make out, Stevie for the first time and her, to satisfy her curiosity.  If the gender of these two were reversed, the elder participant would be considered a pedophile, a dirty old man akin to a Harvey Weinstein type sex offender.  Also, Stevie is of the young age where he should be sheltered from foul language, such that is frequently uttered with the skateboard buddies.  One wonders if his dialogue was dubbed into the film, and if not, that would be trouble for tHill and his filming company.

Credit is to be given to Hill and Suljic however in the creation of this sweet 13-year old character who comes across as vulnerable, goofy and occasionally strong and clever.  The other buddies are more cardboard characters despite given interesting names like Fourth Grade (Ryder McLaughlin), perhaps for the reason he behaves and thinks like one and Fuckshit (Olan Prenatt) called that for other reasons.

The script, probably with a lot of dialogue improvised is street smart talk, fast and furious and often hilarious and occasionally hits the nail on the head with respect to youth observation.  One must be fast to catch the lines or one will miss out.  Political correctness is thrown out of the window in the film with the N word constantly in use and dialogue like “Don’t say thank you, that’s gay!”  One could argue that this is the way words are used on the streets.

Jonah Hill’s Mid90s may be interesting in parts containing impressive performances from its young cast but the film is too short sighted.  Despite being authentic and entertaining, Mid90s is nowhere remotely close to Truffaut’s 400 BLOWS.  The film has garnered rave reviews and one can see that is a street-smart down-to-earth crowd pleaser, despite its flaws.

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=w9Rx6-GaSIE

Full Review: TRANSFORMER (USA 2018) ***

Submit your Film & Screenplay via FilmFreeway:

Transformer Poster
Trailer

In the summer of 2015, former US Marine and world record weightlifter Matt “Kroc” Kroczaleski was publicly outed as being transgender. The reaction was universal: her sponsors abandoned her… See full summary »

Writers:

Michael Del MontePaul Kemp (story editor)

Better a big muscular woman or a small weak man?

TRANSFORMER, the true transgender story of a muscled power lifter undergoing a sex change operation offers an unique perspective on the transgendered community and how each transition is unique to the person transitioning.  Janae (aka Matt) Kroc was as masculine as you can be prior to her transition, a world record powerlifter renowned for her masculinity. When she transitioned, she struggled with remaining true to her passions as a powerlifter while wanting to become more feminine.  The film illustrates a lesson that transitioning doesn’t mean leaving one person behind to become another – so audiences should be prepared to be taking for quite the ride.

Krocs’s personal and family are also on display.  Kroc bears all his secrets.  He admits to the origin of his power weightlifting.  He was bullied as a very young boy and never liked to be in that position.  After getting bigger. no one would mess with him.  That is until he started dressing up as a female.

The film follows not only Kroc through his weight lifting exhibitions and contests, but also through his personal life.  He is shown swimming with his three boys in the house pool.  He informs the audience that his wife would not allow him to dress in front of her or the children.  Unlike his children, she never understood or gave him a chance, which means it best if they separated.  The children speak highly of their cross-dressing father, saying that everyone should be able to do what he or she wants. 

It is indeed sad to see that there are still people in the world who are unacceptable of gays or people who are different in general.  A moving while disturbing segment shows protesters during an LGBT march.  These people carry just awful and nasty signs like LGBT (Let God Burn Them) and HOMO Sex is Sin.  Well, Kroc has admitted earlier in the film that he is still attracted to females and not men.  One really nasty sign reads” Get AIDs yet?”  What is wrong with these people?  Why is there a need to be plain nasty?  After that segment, the camera then focuses on Kroc back in male clothes.  One certainly gains a new respect for this man – one who is able to stand up for what he believes and to challenge all the unacceptable idiots in the world, who are the ones who should burn in hell.  Kroc is also shown boding with other transgender power lifters.  They share their emotions and experiences in a very sensitive moment. 

But one can tell the film is short of material.  Director Del Monte inserts Krocs’ pumping training sessions as filler.

TRANSFORMER turns out to be everything a solid documentary should be – a well. made doc on an intriguing subject based on a  character that inspires and teaches, an one who will persevere despite all odds.  The doc opens the audiences eyes to the good and the bad.  The good being that here are still people that are giving and understanding like Kroc’s children and the bad or very bad, the homophobic who are bullies, idiots and just plain nasty people.  The film premiered at Hot Docs 2018 and it is rewarding to see this well deserving piece get a full wide distribution.  A film that celebrates man’s diversity and one that demands to be seen, if not for just one transgender’s personal fight against all odds – a case of the underdog winning in a sort of feel-food documentary.

Trailer: : https://vimeo.com/233416373

Film Review: FIRST MAN (USA 2018) ***

First Man Poster
Trailer

A look at the life of the astronaut, Neil Armstrong, and the legendary space mission that led him to become the first man to walk on the Moon on July 20, 1969.

Director:

Damien Chazelle

Writers:

Josh Singer (screenplay by), James R. Hansen (based on the book by)

FIRST MAN tells the trials and triumphs of astronaut Neil Armstrong as he trains, tests and finally lands on the moon.  The film is written by Oscar winner Josh Singer (SPOTLIGHT) adapted from James. R. Hansen’s book with cinematography by Linus Sandgren whose visuals are the best thing about the movie.  It is best seen in IMAX, as the screen jolts during the segment of the moon landing, as if to remind the audience of the glorious IMAX format.

The film opens with Armstrong (Ryan Gosling) in the cockpit of a rocket as it tries to re-enter the earth’s atmosphere.  It has troubles as it is bouncing off the atmosphere with altitude rising instead of decreeing.  The ship rattles like crazy.  It is a long 15-minute or so sequence with screeching metal and jittery frames, enough to give anyone a headache.  It is clear that director Chazelle wants the audience to realize the absolute torture that the astronauts endure, which he repeats more than once again during his film.  Subtlety is clearly not Chazelle’s strong point.  Chazelle loves to inflict torture on his subjects like in Armstrong as in Miles Teller’s drummer in WHIPLASH and career bound musician Ryan Gosling in LA LA LAND – two of Chazelle’s previous outings.

The film unfolds during the period of 1961 to 1969, ending with the success of the moon landing and of course Armstrong’s famous words: “One small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.”  But the euphoria is again diminished by Chazelle insisting on reminding the audience (though flashback) that Armstrong lost his little girl, Karen through cancer.

FIRST MAN is extremely choppy in its storytelling.  It requires that titles onscreen to tell the audience the year a segment is set and and what point NASA is at in its testing.  There are scenes that are disorienting that the audience is left for a while not knowing where the film is at.  An example is the wife Janet (Claire Foy) distraught at her husband’s survival followed by a scene when all is well.

Chazelle’s film and Singer’s script capture both the intimacy of Armstrong’s family life and camaraderie of his fellow astronauts more effectively.  The confrontation between Janet and Neil where she loses it, forcing her husband to talk to the boys makes one of the film’s best segments as in the astronauts beer drinking segment.  The choice of the musical score and the songs chosen by the astronauts to play in space is also interesting,

FIRST MAN is Chazelle’s biggest project and it looks superb not only for the moon segments but the ones on earth.  No expense has been spared to provide the 60’s atmosphere from the vintage cars, clothing, wardrobe and 60’s dialogue.

FIRST MAN is visually more arresting than most space movies, excepting Kubrick’s 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY.   But Philip Kaufman’s THE RIGHT STUFF remains the best space movie about astronauts and their families.  A little lengthy at 2 hours and 20 minutes, FIRST MAN is a solid experience demonstrating what Armstrong went through for success but unlike the other two aforementioned films, seeing FIRST MAN once is more than enough.

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PSoRx87OO6k

Film Review: STUDIO 54 (USA 2018) ***

Studio 54 Poster
Trailer

Studio 54 was the epicenter of 70s hedonism–a place that not only redefined the nightclub, but also came to symbolize an entire era. Its co-owners, Ian Schrager and Steve Rubell, two …See full summary »

Director:

Matt Tyrnauer

Everyone has heard of STUDIO 54, arguably the most famous of all the dance clubs in the world.  Studio 54 is now closed and is currently a Broadway theatre, located at 254 West 54th Street, between Eighth Avenue and Broadway in Midtown Manhattan, New York City. The building, originally built as the Gallo Opera House, opened in 1927, after which it changed names several times, eventually becoming CBS radio and television Studio 52.

The doc is set in the late 1970s, at the peak of the disco dancing and music trend when the building was renamed after its location and became a world-famous nightclub and discotheque.

But director Matt Tyrnauer’s doc centres more on the nightclub founders than on the club itself.  The founders Steve Rubell and Ian Schrager spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on professional lighting design and kept many of the former TV and theatrical sets, in the process creating a unique dance club that became famous for its celebrity guest lists, restrictive (and subjective) entry policies (based on one’s appearance and style), and open club drug use. Founded in 1977, the club was final sold in 1980 to Mark Fleischman who reopened the club after it had been shut down following the conviction of Rubell and Schrager on charges of tax evasion. In 1984, Fleischman sold the club, which continued to operate until 1986.  Long history, here, provided with credit to Wikipedia for the invaluable information.

Everyone loves a trip down nostalgic memory lane – especially when one is older and memories involve their youth.  Rubell is now deceased, having passed away from the AIDs epidemic while Schager is now an old man.  But it is good to see these two hard working individuals during their height of their powers and youth giving everything to their baby, STUDIO 54.

Director Tyrnauer is fortunate to be able to obtain old footage of the club, since there are lots as the club was ultra famous.  There are many clips of past interviews with both Rubell and Schrager including them with many celebrities.  Tyrnauer begins with a recent interview with Schager.  In the words of Schrager, this is a story that needs to be told as it is, and after 40 years, Schrager is now comfortable to have his say to the camera.

STUDIO 54 is as much a story about the club (or studio) as it is about Rubell and Schrager.  The film documents the two boys from Brooklyn who met in college and became fast friends like a husband and wife, in the words of Schrager.  

The film’s first 50 minutes show the club’s upside.  The pair can do no wrong, but make lots of money with their club.  The approval of a liquor license seems a minor problem.  They had to turn down hundreds of partygoers who could not get into the club.  There are lots of shots of the celebrities who celebrated at STUDIO 54 including the Rolling Stones, Liza Minnelli, Paul Newman with a list of countless other celebs.  But all good things have a turning point.  The film also documents the jail sentences served by the pair due to tax evasion and drugs.

STUDIO 54 will probably not be cater to the non-partying crowd.  But for the majority who love to have a good time forgetting all their troubles while dancing in a club, STUDIO 54 brings back fine memories and serves as a worthy tribute showing immense trouble comes hand in hand with the success of any huge club venue.

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=w99oGMwbTy4