Film Review: MIDNIGHT FAMILY (Mexico 2019) ***1/2

Midnight Family Poster
Trailer

In Mexico City’s wealthiest neighborhoods, the Ochoa family runs a private ambulance, competing with other for-profit EMTs for patients in need of urgent help.

Director:

Luke Lorentzen

MIDNIGHT  FAMILY can be described as guerrilla filmmaking.  Which makes it more current and exciting.` 

The film begins with the camera following (literally behind the heads of the paramedics) an ambulance as it races to the scene of various accidents as the paramedics hear of them on the radio.  They arrive and do their medical work, often saving lives and preventing further duress but often earning no reward, monetary-wise.  If lucky, they might get some grateful thank you, but often than not, many of the victims refuse to pay and threaten them ungratefully.  It turns out that the paramedics are the males of the Ochoas family, private paramedics, who run a crucial, unregistered and underground act of saving and helping lives suffered from an accident.

It is then revealed that in Mexico City, less than 45 government emergency ambulances operate for a population of 9 million people, resulting in a loose system of private ambulances taking care of the emergency healthcare.  The film follows the Ochoa family as they operate one of these vehicles.   But the job is riddled with police bribes and cutthroat competition as evident in one scene where their ambulance races against another to the scene of one accident, beating its competition only to have the victim claim that she has no insurance or money to pay for the service.  Worse of all, her apparently wealthy family refuses to pay either.

The main character of the film is the 16-year old handsome son, Juan who drives the ambulance.  MIDNIGHT FAMILY could be classified as documentary though it hardly feels like one as  the incidents occurring on screen seem so exciting that it looks like fiction.  The film also focuses on the Ochoa family which have problems of having ends meet.  They need proper licences plates for their vehicle so that they will not be harassed by the police and these cost money.

The film has a distinct sense of humour as depicted in the opening scene where a T-shirt can be read “It is not easy being cool, but I manage.” when the camera also reveals the wearer’s crack from his low rise jeans.  The film is playful as the family members, who kung-fu kick each other or argue about food.

MIDNIGHT FAMILY,  a well made little gem ends up a cinema vérité styled pretty cool take on the pressing realistic emergency health system in Mexico City.  Pity that there is no solution to the problem – but awareness of the film, provided by the film is a good start.  The film has already, at the time of writing won some 24 awards and various international film festivals around the world.  A solid piece of filmmaking that demands to be seen.  The film is filmed in Mexico City in Spanish.

Trailer: https://www.imdb.com/title/tt6010976/videoplayer/vi2632498969?ref_=tt_pv_vi_aiv_2

Film Review: I LOST MY BODY (France 2019)

I Lost My Body Poster
Trailer

A story of Naoufel, a young man who is in love with Gabrielle. In another part of town, a severed hand escapes from a dissection lab, determined to find its body again.

Director:

Jérémy Clapin

Writers:

Jérémy Clapin (screenplay), Guillaume Laurant (screenplay) | 5 more credits »

This is animated feature follows a hand that journeys across Paris (particularly at night under the starry skies) encountering danger after danger in search of a quest that is kept from the audience till the very end of the film.  The hand travels by its walking fingers, finding its way without sight, since the hand has no eyes.  The exercise feels like ‘the hand’ in THE ADDAM’S FAMILY, but not in the horror sense.

Director Jeremy Clapin’s I LOST MY BODY went on to win the Critics’ Grand Prize at this year’s Cannes becoming the first animated feature to have done so.  It much have charmed the critics which is beyond my understanding.  The film is co-written by Guillaume Laurant who helmed charming films like AMELIE and A VERY LONG ENGAGEMENT with Jean-Pierre Jeunet.  I found the entire exercise exhaustive, uninteresting and a little boring, making little sense at all.

Clapin’s film tells twins stories of the hand and a young man named Naoufel (Hakin Paris) who lives with his uncle and his supposedly cool brother who gets all the girls.  During a botched pizza delivery, he encounters a young lady named Gabreille (Victoire Du Bois).  In what developed into a romance, he stalks her to the library where she works.  

At one point she loans him a book entitled THE WORLD ACCORDING TO GARP, which must have some significance to the film, which I determined is related to new existence.  The other story is about the hand trying to find the lost bBDYy.  How the two stories connect will not be disclosed in the review, but the revelation occurs near the end.

It is clear that the film has a weak narrative and both stories just float around, with with no real purpose.  Arguably, this could be directors’s Clapin’s purpose – to surprise and maybe charm from its free-flowing structure.

The film has some disturbing scenes like the one where the hand is down in the metro tracks with huge size rats sniffing the hand.  The rats sniff out the hand which pulls back before they attack it, biting viciously.  

The musical score by Dan Levy deserves mention, which creates the mood and atmosphere of the film.  The score is more appreciated for the fact that the film contains minimal dialogue.

The film is not about Noaufel’s romance or about the hand ultimately finding its body.  It is more about existence or perhaps the search for happiness and satisfaction.

But the film is generally uplifting despite the fact that it sparely about a hand trying to find its lost body.  One has to (pardon the pun) hand it to the filmmakers for making a whimsical fantasy on the subject of a severed hand.  At times clever, I LOST MY HAND has gone on to win many awards worldwide including the Annecy Film Festival.  There is a strong possibility I LOST MY BODY will be nominated for this year’s Academy Awards for Best Animated Feature.

Trailer: https://www.imdb.com/title/tt9806192/videoplayer/vi1391771417?ref_=tt_ov_vi

Film Review: RICHARD JEWELL (USA 2019) Top 10 *****

Richard Jewell Poster
Trailer

American security guard Richard Jewell (Paul Walter Hauser) saves thousands of lives from an exploding bomb at the 1996 Olympics, but is vilified by journalists and the press who falsely report that he was a terrorist.

Director:

Clint Eastwood

Writers:

Marie Brenner (magazine article), Billy Ray (screenplay)

From the film’s trailer that’s been playing everywhere, it does not take a genius to guess the film’s entire story.  But the film’s pleasure lies not in the story, that many are already aware of, from the news articles, but in the way the events are re-created on film, courtesy of veteran director Clint Eastwood (UNFORGIVEN, MILLION DOLLAR BABY), screenwriter Billy Ray and a stellar cast delivering winning performances including relative newcomer Paul Walter Hauser as the titular Richard Jewell.

The film was based on an article “American Nightmare” published by Vanity Fair in 1997 and chronicles the life of Richard Jewell during the events that led to a bomb attack at the 1996 Summer Olympics in Atlanta, Georgia.  Jewell then heroically saves lives after a bomb was detonated during the 1996 Summer Olympics. However, the FBI identifies him as one of many suspects and this leads to his unjust vilification by journalists and the press.  The FBI cleared  him after 88 days.

Everyone loves an underdog.  When a film shows the underdog finally winning, it becomes a winning movie.  But this movie takes things one step further.   The underdog is persecuted.  Richard Jewell who discovers the bomb is suspect of bringing in the bomb and has to clear his name.  “Put eyes on him.”  the FBI is told. 

Eastwood’s talent for music and fondness for country music can be witnessed in the enlivened scene in the Park where singer Kenny Rogers delivers an arousing song.  Eastwood did deliver one of his best films of his career (sadly a flop at the box-office), directing and starring him and his son, Kyle way back when in HONKYTONK MAN.

Eastwood’s film probably contains what is arguably the funniest segment in a film this year.  This occurs when the entire spectator group at the Kenny Rogers concert doing the ‘macarena’ much to the chagrin of FBI agent Shaw (Joe Hamm).

The film also probably contains the best message in a film this year. “This is what you got.  Go do you job, son!” says mother to son, Richard Jewell.

It is just simply endearing when a director takes the advice given in a movie script to heart.  When Jewell is pulled in the office for a pep-talk by the campus Dean on taking his security duties too seriously, like stopping kids on the road for drugs testing, Jewel replies that he was told by him at a punch bowl during a party “I don’t want no Mickey-Mousing on these campus grounds.”  Director Eastwood has taken this advice to heart.  No Mickey-Mousing in this film with him taking the material in all serious earnestness, in creating on of his better movies in his career.

To director Eastwood’s credit, he has inserted into what can be considered to be a male oriented story strong female presence.  The first is the well written and performed character of Jewell’s mother played by Oscar Winner Kathy Bates (MISERY).  Bates delivers magnificently in what could be a small under-written role.  Her one scene where she delivers a plea to the President of the United States to clear person’s name is proof that she deserves another Oscar for Best Supporting Actress.  Having downloaded the screener from the Warner Bros. site, I watched this segment 3 times as it was that awesome.  I cried all three times from Bates’ performance.  In what could be described as a hero without a  (human)villain piece, the villain is  the media as embodied n Scruggs, a reporter played with gusto by Olivia Wilde.  Wilde’s character is one that changes from pure greedy evil to person with a conscience.

RICHARD JEWELL is the story of a hero, not a fictitious one found in perhaps the Marvel alternative universe but one that lives, suffers and experiences life as a human being does on the Planet Earth.  This is the reason RICHARD JEWELL should be seen, as perhaps a sign of redemption for the human race that there is still much good to be found in the human race, especially during the Christmas season.

Trailer: https://www.imdb.com/title/tt3513548/videoplayer/vi1837612825?ref_=tt_ov_vi

Film Review: BOMBSHELL (USA 2019) ***1/2

Bombshell Poster
Trailer

A group of women decide to take on Fox News head Roger Ailes and the toxic atmosphere he presided over at the network.

Director:

Jay Roach

The film’s premise is simple enough that it can be stated in one line.  Women previously sexually harassed by Fox News CEO Roger Ailes  stand up and expose Ailes for his crime.

BOMBSHELL is a no-nonsense drama.  It gets right to the crux the matter with little humour and with no side-stories.  The film therefore turns out an uncomfortable and occasionally   gut-wrenching watch (even if one is a male) but this is a story that needs to be told – for the women and others to stand up and make a difference so that what has happened in the past will never happen again.

The script by Charles Randolph details the pure hell the abused women have to go through to attack Ailes.  “You must be prepared when Ailes summons everything and goes all out to destroy you,’ warn the lawyers taking up the case.  The truth can be seen in how the career, family and personal life have been made a living hell.

While most of the characters in the film are real-life characters, the film clearly states at the start that a few fictional ones have been added to dramatize the events.  One such character is a Fox worker, Kayla played by Margot Robbie, a victim who comes out to tell the story and cries why others have not done ether duty.

The single best performance belongs to Charlize Theron as Megyn Kelly.  Besides looking like a dead ringer for Megan Kelly, she totally inhabits the role.  Those who have followed the news on the subject will likely find it difficult to distinguish between Theron and Kelly.  This is how good Theron is and her performance has been praised widely by critics everywhere.  The other best performance belongs to John Lithgow who is daring enough to put on prosthetics to look even  more disgusting and older that Roger Ailes.  Ailes has passed away sine the movie had been completed.

Director Jay Roach known especially for his Austin Powers movies tackles BOMBSHELL with dead seriousness and little humour.  The one funniest punchline in the film is uttered by Roger Ailes when accused of sexually harassment of the women: “I never used to be this ugly.”  Roach has made political films before, as in TRUMBO (blacklisted screenwriter Dalton Trumbo)and the TV dramas such as GAME CHANGE and RECOUNT.

The success of BOMBSHELL might see the emergence of the similar sexual harassment case of Harvey Weinstein, which would likely have juicier bits.  

The film ends with titles informing certain events that have happened since the making of the film.  The titles mention the settlement amounts the sexually harassed victims obtained which is just as much as Ailes’ severance pay after his resignation.  The second statement is meant to anger the audience so that more can do their part to ensure sexual harassment and bullying stops, once and for all.  BOMBSHELL is a film about real life events that needs to be told.  The heroes in this movie are the victims who risk all to do all that needs to be done.

Trailer: https://www.imdb.com/title/tt6394270/videoplayer/vi2331492121?ref_=tt_ov_vi

Film Review: KLAUS (Spain 2019) ***1/2

Klaus Poster
Trailer

A simple act of kindness always sparks another, even in a frozen, faraway place. When Smeerensburg’s new postman, Jesper, befriends toymaker Klaus, their gifts melt an age-old feud and deliver a sleigh full of holiday traditions.

Directors:

Sergio PablosCarlos Martínez López (co-director)

Writers:

Zach Lewis (screenplay by), Jim Mahoney (screenplay by) | 2 more credits »

From director Sergio Pablo’s animation studios come his feature debut, a toy friendly feature animation that runs like a Santa Claus story.  Serving as a fictional origin story to the myth of Santa Claus, the plot revolves around a postman stationed in a town to the North who befriends a reclusive toy-maker (called Klaus).

Jesper (Jason Schwartzman) comes from a wealthy family in the postal business, and is a selfish brat with no life ambitions whatsoever.  When Jesper’s father puts him in the royal postal academy in an attempt to teach him that hard work pays and being from a rich family is not a shoo in to wealth, he deliberately distinguishes himself to be the academy’s worst student, and so his father comes up with another plan to teach him a lesson: he is stationed on a island above the Arctic Circle by his father, with the ultimatum that if he doesn’t post 6,000 letters in a year, he will be cut off from the family.

Jesper gets into the island’s town of Smeerensburg and is shown around by a sarcastic ferry boat skipper who tricks him into ringing a bell to start the reception, instead revealing that the town inhabitants hardly exchange words let alone letters; they are divided, feuding locals filled with anger, bitterness, hatred and animosity. Trying desperately to come up with a way to get the town locals to send letters, he notices on the map in his office a far off little establishment. Investigating, he finds a woodsman named Klaus (J.K. Simmons), with a skill of woodworking and a house with lots of handmade toys.

The film works in different ways, with charm of a different nature from those expected from the Disney studios.  The film pays a little tribute to the Road Runner/Coyote cartoons in the segments where Klaus has problems with different deliveries – chased by chickens and other assorted animals; climbing up steps.  Charm also occurs with play of the Santa Claus legend.  Klaus delivers toys through chimneys unnoticed by the kids and love cookies.  The wonder of young love: ‘the heart palpitations, the intense looks… ‘ are experienced by Klaus and the female schoolteacher (Rashida Jones).

The humour is strictly of the goofy type, more suitable for children but would also be able to grab a few smiles from adults.  A lot of humour also plays to the Klaus story: “Do you still want to throw that snowball and be on the naughty list?” tells Klaus to a child.  The film also reveals the origin of Santa Claus ‘Ho-ho-ho” laugh.

The villain of the piece is a hunched over old lady (Joan Cusack) with bad teeth.  She is head of a warring clan.  The town’s main two fighting clans have to create peace to destroy the peace of the town, to maintain their clan traditions.

The originals score by Alfonso G. Aguilar is impressive and  the original song “Invisible” writer by Justice Tranter isn’t half bad either.

With a message like “An act of goodwill always sparks another…” it is hard to dislike KLAUS with its over-bearing charm and catchy cheer.  

The animation is an original Netflix feature that opened beginning of November.  It is still available on Netflix for the Christmas season.  KLAUS turns out an over-feel good different version of TOY STORY.

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=taE3PwurhYM

Film Review: BROTHERHOOD (Canada 2019)

Brotherhood Poster

In 1926, a band of teenage boys arrive at Long Point Camp for the adventure of their lives. When their canoe capsizes in a freak summer storm, their holiday descends into a soul-shuddering fight for survival.

Director:

Richard Bell

Writer:

Richard Bell

In 1926, a band of teenage boys arrive at Long Point Camp for the adventure of their lives. When their canoe capsizes in a freak summer storm, their holiday descends into a soul-shuddering fight for survival.

How many and who survives will add in to the film’s suspense.

Based on the harrowing true story that made newspaper headlines across North America in the 1920s, Brotherhood is a taut survival from a bristling piece of Canadian history.  The boys are under the charge of Great War veterans, Arthur (Brendan Fletcher) and Robert (Brendan Fehr) have their own approach to educating and nurturing these boys who are pugnacious with raw personalities.  Arthur and Robert set off across the lake in a thirty-foot Indian war canoe with the unofficial band of brother’s leader Waller and ten of his companions.  (Yes, unlucky 13 in all).  When they encounter a freak summer storm and are capsized in the middle of the churning lake, the brotherhood’s holiday descends into a soul-shuddering fight for survival.

The Brotherhood of St. Andrew leadership group in the movie was out of St. James’ Cathedral in downtown Toronto. The film provokes conversations about thinking less for ourselves, and more for our tribe. A story about bravery, sacrifice, and selflessness.

Despite the earnest intentions of director Bell and the fact that Bell insists that this is a story that needs be told, BROTHERHOOD is a pretty bad movie.  The canoe capsizes in the dark in the middle of the night in the lake.  The scene look like some amateur staging in someone’s backyard pond.  The majority of the shots are close-outs without a realistic look of the landscape.  The film is filmed in non-chronological order.  The first time, the scene appears with the boys struggling in the water, one wonders what has happened.  The decision to film in this order is also a bad one.  It removes the suspense when intercut with scenes before an after the catastrophe.

The lack on material is clear with scenes like Lamden does push-ups   The boys also reminisce of past memories which are likely made up for the film.

The film lacks suspense, thrills or any realistic drama.  The drama on display appear staged and seem unbelievable at best.

The stories of the background of the boys are barely interesting and serve as a time waster.

BROTHERHOOD is very much a male movie.  The only female presence is the mother of one of the more troubled boys, seen only in the film’s flashbacks.  Boys do what they do in thee movie – argue and fight; do sports; and challenge authority.  The young actors do a good job despite the limited material.

Closing credits inform that Balsam Lake was dragged and all the bodies of the dead boys wee found.  Butcher and Lamden wee declared heroes.

The only thing commendable about BROTHERHOOD is the beautiful country landscapes of Ontario, captured in all their beauty by cinematographer Adam Swica and shot on First nations land in Ontario.

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Zcd9_MgqKaM

Film Review: ANTIGONE (Canada 2019) ***1/2

Antigone Poster
Trailer

A modern adaptation of the classic Greek tragedy which falls within a social realism. To the law of men, the young Antigone apposes her own sets of values.

Director:

Sophie Deraspe

Writer:

Sophie Deraspe (adaptation)

Two French language films involving police brutality (in these films, police opening fire causing riots) make this year nomination entries for their country’s Best Foreign Language Film entries.  ANTIGONE is Canada’s entry for the Best Foreign Film.  LES MISERABLES is France’s entry.  Both films are quite different.  The short list has at the time of writing not yet been announced.

ANTIGONE is an ambitious film adapted from the classic Greek tragedy. 

ANTIGONE is the name of a Lebanese immigrant living in Montreal with her grandmother, sister and two brothers.  The film begins with a dinner scene where the audience is introduced to each family member.  Things look rosy for the new Canadian family.  Antigone has a romantic fling with a white Canadian boy whose father is running for politics office.

Things take a turn one day when cops show up unexpectedly at a playground.  One brother is shot and the other arrested.  Because the arrested brother has got a record, he likely will be deported.  Antigone having a clean record and not yet an adult figures she can pose as her brother and get him out of prison by pretending to be him.  This she does.  But nothing is what it seems.

By helping her brother escape from prison, Antigone confronts the authorities: the police, the judicial and penal system as well as the father of her friend Haemon. The brilliant teenage girl, on a spotless path so far, feels the noose tighten on her. But to man’s law, she substitutes her own sense of justice, dictated by love and loyalty

Director Deraspe always has some new twist in the story, as the film progresses.  Antigone discovers that the brothers are not as innocent as they seem.  The arrested one is part of a local drug gang in which the shot brother held a high position.  Antigone is arced with a dilemma.  Family for citizenship?  The film stresses both the importance of family as well as the need to lookout for oneself and not be bogged down by family.  After all, it is one that is responsible for ones own life.  The decision Antigone takes is revealed in the film’s final shot.

ANTIGONE is a rough watch and is meant to be so.  It is a film that reveals the hardship of immigration in an extremely cruel world.  But director Deraspe shows that there is hope.  There is always good people out there.  The good people out there in this film turns out to be Antigone’s white boyfriend’s father who goes out of his way to do the right thing and earn back the respect of his son.

ANTIGONE is a film deserving of the distinguished honour of being selected as Canada’s entry for the Bets Foreign Film Oscar.  But LES MISERABLES is the better picture as it is more spectacular and daring in its storytelling, taking more risk than ANTIGONE does.  Still ANTIGONE plays more with conflicting raw emotions.  ANTIGONE starts off slow, but it hits boiling level pretty fast.  Definitely worth a look, the film went on to win the prize of Best Canadian Feature at the last Toronto International Film Festival.

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Eo5os3XbZC4

Film Review: JUST MERCY (USA 2019) ***

Just Mercy Poster
Trailer

Just Mercy shadows world-renowned civil rights defense attorney Bryan Stevenson as he recounts his experiences and details the case of a condemned death row prisoner whom he fought to free.

Writers:

Destin Daniel Cretton (screenplay), Andrew Lanham (screenplay) | 1 more credit »

Based on a true story – the titles proclaim at the start of the legal drama JUST MERCY.  The film opens on Christmas Day so that it qualifies for the 2019 Academy Awards.

It tells the true story of Walter McMillian (Jamie Foxx), who with the help of young defense attorney Bryan Stevenson (Michael B.Jordan) appeals his murder conviction. The film is based on the memoir of the same name, written by Bryan Stevenson.

As expected, courtroom dramas about civil rights come with a whole lot of manipulation.  Manipulation is recognizably present in JUST MERCY, though director Cretton’s credit, the manipulation is done with some restraint.

The audience needs to feel the horror of death by the electric chair in order to appreciate the trauma prisoners on death row are experiencing.  Director Cretton denotes almost 15 minutes in this manipulative process.  Bryan travels all the way down to witness the election by electrocution of one of his clients, Herbert Richardson (Rob Morgan).  The camera follows the prisoner as he is walked through the corridors, together with the soundtrack of the church hymn “The Old Rugged Cross.”  The other prisoners in the jail clank their tin cups during the ‘ceremony’.    The camera focuses on several witnesses like one of the guards, Bryan, and others.  At least the audience is spared from the gory details of the execution.  The audience only sees the reactions of the witnesses.  But that is enough manipulation for 15 minutes.   The other noticeable manipulative segment is the one whee the D.A. watches the proceedings of the case on TV with his family.  The D.A. insists he is right, despite the McMillian’s innocence.  The camera pans to the D.A.’s wife to show her disapproval of her husband’s actions and behaviour.

Courtroom dramas almost always require elaborate speeches and JUST MERCY delivers the speech during the McMillian’s crucial trial delivered by lawyer Bryan Stevenson.  The speech will undoubtedly make many a critic shrug “humbug” under their breaths while audiences will likely lap it up.  The message of justice and hope appears to come contradictory to the message i another Christmas film 1017 were hope is declared as a dangerous thing.  In JUST MERCY, hope is declared as important as justice.  Both films are correct and the concept of hope  needs be taken in an appropriate context.

Of all the performances combined, that of Tim Blake Nelson as the convicted felon, Ralph Myers whose false testimony resulted in McMillain’s arrest and death sentence deserves mention.  The photograph of Myers looks exactly as that portrayed by Nelson complete with the mouth twitches.  Nelson gets my one or this year’s Best Supporting Actor.

JUST MERCY over dramatizes a real true life event in the typical Hollywood style.  Those looking for a feel-good history lesson might enjoy this, but this film is no TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD.  The film’s most amusing segment is the townfolk insisting that the visiting lawyer, Bryan visit the Mockingbird museum when he is in the town, right where the proud citizen believe that are innocent of their bigoted ways.

Opens Christmas Day!

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GVQbeG5yW78

Film Review: 1917 (UK/USA 2019) ***** Top 10

1917 Poster
Trailer

Two young British privates during the First World War are given an impossible mission: deliver a message deep in enemy territory that will stop 1,600 men, and one of the soldier’s brothers, from walking straight into a deadly trap.

Director:

1917 Poster
Trailer

Two young British privates during the First World War are given an impossible mission: deliver a message deep in enemy territory that will stop 1,600 men, and one of the soldier’s brothers, from walking straight into a deadly trap.

Director:

Sam Mendes

Clearly the best film I have seen in 2019 – hands down – in terms of action, cinematography, direction, performances an art direction.  There is no greater pleasure than watching an almost perfect piece and 1917 is a minor masterpiece.

The story or film is based on, according  to the closing credits to stories told by Lance Corporal Alfred Mendes.  It is assumed that these stories were told to director Sam Mendes (SKYFALL, ROAD TO PERDITION, Oscar for Best Picture: AMERICAN BEAUTY) as grandfather to grandson.  The situation is that Blake (Dean-Charles Chapman) and Schofield (George MacKay) are two Lance Corporals – and messengers.  At the height of the First World War during Spring 1917 in northern France, the two young British soldiers (looking very much like boys enlisted before age, as seen in last year’s riveting documentary THEY SHALL NOT GROW OLD by Peter Jackson, an excellent companion piece to this film) are given a seemingly impossible mission to deliver a message from a general (Colin Firth) which will warn of an ambush during one of the skirmishes soon after the German retreat to the Hindenburg Line during Operation Alberich.  They race against time, crossing enemy territory to deliver the warning and keep a British battalion of 1,600 men, which includes Blake’s own brother, from walking into a deadly trap. The pair must give their all to accomplish their mission by surviving the war to end all wars.

Director Mendes and writer Krysty Wilson-Cairns up the angst with Schofiled damaging his hand wth barbed wire at the start of their mission.  In less than 15 minutes, an unexpected explosion (one that will surely cause many an audience to literally jump out of their seats) almost leaves him dead buried under a huge pile of rubble while the shaft they are in begin to collapse under more explosions.  The element of surprise (or shock) is ever present, so do not expect any periods of calm.

The most amazing achievement is the film’s cinematography by Richard Deakens.  The beginning sequence where the two make their way along the trenches is done in seems to be one long take, marvellously and miraculously executed in what is cinematic wonder and grace.  Apparently the effect of the one continuously long take was achieved by both elaborate long shots and choreographed camera movements. The camera is always in front of the two running men, showing their expressions of fear and anxiety where the background reveal the horrid conditions of the trenches and the other soldiers.  Another great feat is the crashing of a German bomber plane almost on top of the lance corporals.  That segment marks not only the film’s best segment but the one that changes the whole course (the spoiler will not be disclosed in this review) of the story.

The horror of WWI is revealed in all its goriness from the dead bodies, the rats, mud, crows and bleak skies.  It is a dystopian landscape that depicts the end of the world as seen by anyone on 1917 Northern France.  The music by Thomas Newman is appropriately scored.

The film’s comes with a message as delivered by Colonel Mackenzie (Benedict Cumberbatch) that hope can be a very dangerous thing.  Ironically, the opposite of this message is delivered in another Christmas film, JUST MERCY.

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

Film Review: STAND! (Canada 2019) ***

Stand! Poster
In post-World War I Winnipeg, a Ukrainian immigrant and a Jewish woman get caught up in a labour strike.

Director:

Robert Adetuyi

STAND! is a new film based on the stage musical of the same name.  I admit that I have not heard of the Canadian musical and neither have many of my friends.  So, the film arrives with a challenge to attract audiences to see this relatively unknown musical that is slotted in between 2 big musicals, the already box-office champ FROZEN 2 and the upcoming CATS at Christmas.  Director Robert Adetuyi (STOMP THE YARD and TROUBLE SLEEPING) has done a decent job.

STAND! is set 100 years ago against a backdrop of civil unrest and a violent general strike that changed Canada’s history.  The story follows an immigrant Romeo & Juliet in 1919 as they battle for love and a better life on the streets of Winnipeg, amid political and social turmoil.  Stefan (Marshall Williams from GLEE and HOW TO BUILD A BETTER BOY) and his father Mike (Gregg Henry) fled Ukraine for the New World, where they struggle to earn enough to reunite the family. Stefan is instantly smitten with the Jewish suffragette neighbour, Rebecca (Laura Wiggins), but Rebecca’s brother Moishe and Mike oppose the would-be couple. Meanwhile, soldiers returning from WWI are angry at the lack of jobs after the war and violently threaten the city’s immigrants, including Emma (Lisa Bell), a refugee from racial strife in Oklahoma.  When a movement develops for workers to leave their jobs in protest, a wealthy lawyer (the villain of the piece) pits all against each other in a dramatic and inspirational final stand.

Though set a century back many of the issues depicted in the film are still relevant today.  Racial tension and fear of losing jobs to foreigners are always relevant issues and so is the concept of evil and power.  The script by Juno-winner Danny Schur and Rick Chafe often falls into cliched territory but the actors perform their duties with such conviction that the flaws can often be overlooked.  For example, Stefan’s obstinate father Mike refuses to join in the strike and even works as a scab but on knows that he will eventually end up in the protest march, which he does in the end.  For a period piece, the art direction, wardrobe and atmosphere are impressive.

STAND! can stand (pardon the pun) very much as a drama on its own without being classified as a musical.  The actors do not breakout into song or dance that often, so that the film does not really feel like a musical.  A few of the songs are also pretty good, tune and lyrics as well.   Despite being small budget, the film looks grand.  The climatic march at the end of the film requires a march of ten thousand people.  This is quite hefty logistics. 

STAND! the Juno-award-winning musical hit set against the Winnipeg General Strike by composer Danny Schur & Rick Chafe’s hit musical opens across Canada on November the 29th.  A small but effective musical, STAND! is worth look.

Trailer: (unavailable)