Film Review: SWORD OF TRUST (USA 2019) ***

Sword of Trust Poster
Trailer

Cynthia and Mary show up to collect Cynthia’s inheritance from her deceased grandfather, but the only item she receives is an antique sword that was believed by her grandfather to be proof that the South won the Civil War.

Director:

Lynn Shelton

Writers:

Lynn SheltonMichael Patrick O’Brien (as Mike O’Brien)

WORD OF TRUST is a low budget American comedy co-written by director Lynn Shelton and Mike O’Brien that includes improvisation from the actors.  The premise is the SWORD OF TRUST of the film title, an actual sword.

When Cynthia (Jillian Bell) and Mary (Michaela Watkins) show up to collect Cynthia’s inheritance from her deceased grandfather, the only item she’s received is (no house) an antique sword that he believed to be proof that the South won the Civil War.  The sword comes with two items of authenticity, a certificate and a painting that stands for a photograph.  The script takes pains to make all this believable, as it is the reason that all incidents that follow that place.  

The two attempt to unload the object to a curmudgeonly pawnshop owner Mel (Marc Maron, “GLOW”) and his man-child sidekick Nathaniel (Jon Bass, Molly’s Game).  After it becomes clear that the film centres on these four, the film starts taking hold of the audience’s interest.

When Mel and Nathaniel discover there’s a black market for the relic, the two pairs reluctantly join forces to sell this rarefied ‘prover item’ to the highest bidder.  The adventure that ensues takes the four of them on a wild journey into the depths of conspiracy theory and Southern disillusionment.  

It is difficult to tell what is improvised and what is written in the script.  This is a good thing as the film and story flows smoothly throughout most the film.

The films starts running into trouble in the last third.  The chemistry among the four begin to wear off.  The singular jokes of Nathaniel being a man child, Mel being a radical grumpy codger made good and Cynthia and Mary having a same-sex relationship get tiresome.  Adding more story to the plot and the introduction of more characters in the third part signals Shelton’s desperation to get her film on track.

Director Shelton gives herself a cameo as Mel’s ex-lover, a dog addict who never quite get her act in life together.  She shows herself apt in dramatic comedy improvisation and is a pleasure to watch.

The best thing about SWORD OF TRUST are the individual personalities on display.  Each eccentric is ‘special’ in his and her  own way.  Each of the four actors are able to create uniques characters of distinct imperfections and strengths.  Their interaction with each other works well.  But by pitting them together in a plot that involves hitmen, con men and crooks ultimately destroys what has been carefully created.  Director Shelton has made similar small films like the YOUR SISTER’S SISTER and the more recent HUMPDAY.

SWORD OF TRUST works well for the most part but fizzles out of steam at the end, once the tired antics of the characters grow tiresome.  It is still encouraging to watch small films like SWORD OF TRUST given a chance in the market where blockbusters like THE LION KING which opens the same week dominate,

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

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Film Review: BOOM FOR REAL: THE LATE TEENAGE YEARS OF JEAN-MICHEL BASQUIAT

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Boom for Real: The Late Teenage Years of Jean-Michel Basquiat Poster
Trailer

Exploring the pre-fame years of the celebrated American artist Jean-Michel Basquiat, and how New York City, its people, and tectonically shifting arts culture of the late 1970s and ’80s shaped his vision.

Director:

Sara Driver

 

Sara Driver’s doc of THE LATE TEENAGE YEARS OF JEAN-MICHEL BASQUIAT is just that.  It is the story of the NYC Graffiti artist pre-fame.  None of his most famous paintings are shown on the screen till the end of the film.

The doc begins with a lengthy History of New York City – when it was run down, ugly and poor with a high occupancy rate.  As the voiceover informs, landlords were aware that they were not going to rent out their places any time soon, so they were burning them to claim the insurance money.  Then-President Gerald Ford announces that he will never ok a bill that will bail out the city by default.  It is almost a full 15 minutes in this hour and 15 minute film that Basquiat is first introduced into the picture.

Director Driver’s aim for her film is twofold – firstly to create the atmosphere and period of the times where street artists of that era touted their wares among the elite art groups.  The second is to reveal Basqiuat’s talent in these difficult and challenging times.

This she accomplishes using never-before-seen works, writings and photographs. Driver herself was part of the New York arts scene, so she knows her stuff and it shows.  She had worked closely and collaboratively with friends and other artists who emerged from that period.

Among them are film director Jim Jarmusch, James Nares, Fab Five Freddy, Glenn O’Brien, Kenny Scharf, Lee Quinones, Patricia Field, Luc Sante and many others.  Jarmusch and Sante are given the most screen time, having the most to say.  Those interviewed draw upon their memories and anecdotes.  The film also uses period film footage, music and images to visually re-recreate the era, drawing a portrait of Jean- Michel and Downtown New York City -pre AIDS, President Reagan, the real estate and art booms – before anyone was motivated by money and ambition. 

Besides Basqiuat’s talent, he is also revealed to be penniless and occasionally homeless, crashing at friends’ apartments and even allowing himself to become a rent-boy for a roof over his head for the night.  A lady’s man who would steal anyone’s pretty girlfriend.  According to Jarmusch, he would disappear around the block to steal a flower to present to his friend’s lady.  Basqiuat also indulged with the drugs of the time, like LSD, which explains many of his psychedelic pieces.

An interviewee claimed that Basqiaut would eventually become as famous as Andy Warhol, who everyone respected at the time.  Indeed Basqiaut did.  His famous and most recognized works are shown at the end of the film.  These are the 7 or so years before Basqiaut achieved that status.  An eye-opening film on Basqiaut’s late teenage years.  If he was still alive today, he would be of the age of many of those interviewed, and would provide priceless insight of himself when interviewed.

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PUsy5RObL2U

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RADIUS (Canada 2017)

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Radius Poster
Clip

A man wakes with amnesia and finds people mysteriously dead.

Writers:

Caroline Labrèche 

 

The Verge describes RADIUS as a high concept movie from start to finish and that it relies on surprises to keep the story moving.  No argument here with The Verge’s statement but upon closer examination of it, there is nothing to say that what is written makes RADIUS a good movie.

The main problem with RADIUS is its outlandish plot which is totally unbelievable.  True there are surprises and more incidents but getting all the mysteries tied up neatly is something writer/directors Labréche and Léonard (the cult favourite TURBO KID) have failed to achieve.

When the film opens, Liam (Diego Klattenhoff) wakes from a car crash at the bottom of a ditch with no memory of who he is.  As he makes his way into town, he discovers that anyone who comes within a 50-foot radius of him dies instantly.  Out of options, he tries to live in seclusion to protect others.  The film though made in Canada is set in the States complete with shameful references to NASA.

Labréche and Léonard now introduces a new character and another twist to the sci-fi story.   One day, Liam’s murderous power seems to subside with the arrival of a woman (Charlotte Sullivan) who says she was in the crash with him.  She too is suffering from amnesia and looking for answers.  The story allows the characters to remember certain events that suit the story and to forget others also to suit the story.

The amnesia is the third element in the story.  Together they then embark on a journey to uncover who they really are.  Into the picture comes the woman’s husband who she forces to help her and Liam.  Worse still, there is a silly hint of romance between the two despite the presence of the husband, who for all that matters, seems a more decent (as well as better looking) guy than the cussing Liam.

As if credibility has not already been stretched to the limit, the story suddenly reveals cases of missing persons where the bodies have not been recovered.  This must be the most ridiculous angle put into the film.

At this point with the story heading towards so many directions, it is difficult to care about the main characters or the ending.  Fortunately, the film runs no longer than 90 minutes.

The film is a joint Manitoba Quebec production.  The barren landscape not only shows the nothingness of a large part of that province but reflects where the film is heading.

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NExqMxRRM64

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THE MAN WHO INVENTED CHRISTMAS (Ireland/Canada 2017)

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The Man Who Invented Christmas Poster
Trailer

The journey that led to Charles Dickens’ creation of “A Christmas Carol,” a timeless tale that would redefine the holiday.

Director:

Bharat Nalluri

Writers:

Susan Coyne (screenplay), Les Standiford (book)

 

The last Christmas Ireland and Canada collaborated on a film that had a setting in NYC was the film BROOKLYN that was an immense success, critically, commercially and financially.  THE MAN WHO INVENTED CHRISTMAS appears on paper as another perfect adaptation, that begins in NYC at Yuletide.  This is the story of how Charles Dickens came to write about A CHRISTMAS CAROL, the arguably most popular of all his novels  – yes the one where Ebenezer Scrooge turned over a new leaf after meeting the ghosts of Christmas, past present and future.

The film opens in 1943 in NYC, right after Dickens (played cheerfully by DOWNTON ABBEY’s Dan Stevens) achieved fame an success from his latest book “Oliver Twist”.  He is the toast of the town.  An appearance at a theatre shows him over celebrated amidst dancing fanfare and fireworks that shock him, literally to the ground.

The idea of making a film about the writing process of A CHRISTMAS CAROL instead of another remake make seems more logical given the uncountable number of film or TV films made already.  Unfortunately, THE MAN WHO INVENTED CHRISTMAS based on the reported well-researched book of the same name by Les Standiford  on the inspirations behind Charles Dickens’ beloved ‘A Christmas Carol,’ is a travesty.

For one, though the biopic reveals lesser-known details of the author’s life, these details are not so favourable, thus changing the beloved view the public has on the man – not a good idea at Christmas, the time of good cheer.  Dickens is portrayed as a man who loves fame, who is often out of touch with his family and book ideas.  He thinks he can come up with a hit at any time and the fact that he has had several flops after “Oliver Twist” never bothers him.  He does not have any financial sense.  But worse of all, director Nalluri makes the fatal mistake to reveal that Dickens steals ideas and names, and does not possess original ideas for his stories.

To make matters worse, Christmas is depicted here as dying commercially.  It is deemed to be an excuse for workers to take a day off.  Dickens is shown the awkwardness of a tall Christmas tree, and told that the Germans use it.

The film does look good with sufficiently  cheery Christmas period atmosphere with horse drawn carriages and some snow.  

The films highlights Oscar Winner Christopher Plummer in the role of Scrooge.  Plummer only briefly appears and does the customary performance that is nothing special.

THE MAN WHO INVENTED CHRISTMAS offers nothing more than the disgusting artificial cheer of the season.  Everyone is supposed to be in good spirits with all the problems of the world hidden away.  A predictable story, bland direction and unconvincing acting among other things result in this very bland and boring Christmas film.

There is only one word to describe THE MAN WHO INVENTED CHRISTMAS.  In the words of Ebenezer Scrooge: “Humbug!”

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UxcnYR3mcPU

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Film Review: PEARL, 2017, USA, Fantasy/Drama

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SHORT FILM played at the October 2017 STUDENT FEEDBACK Film Festival.

Review by Kierston Drier

Fantastical and filled with whimsy, PEARL is an anachronistic tale with the sweet, sorrowful touching effect of a well-told fairy tale. Director Assia Quinhang Shoa brings this USA film to life with care and detail. Our story follows an aging and lonely puppeteer Sam who finds and rescues a young mermaid. Unable to speak English, Sam names her Pearl and believes at long last he has found a friend. But Pearl belongs in the ocean and no amount of devotion Sam has for her can change that truth.

 

Told with innocence and delight, this simple story warms the heart. It has boasts beautiful and detailed production design and excellent performances by the main characters. It resonates with a meaningful message- young or old, we all want to belong.

 

Sam must make a difficult choice in what is best for Pearl, but that doesn’t mean his impact on her hasn’t been profound. A sweet story with the comfort of a favorite lullaby, PEARL is an excellent short to warm the heart of anyone. A satisfying and compelling piece that is sure to be a delight to all.

Watch the Audience FEEDBACK Video of the Short Film:

PEARL, 15min, USA, Fantasy/Drama
Directed by Assia Qianhang ShaoIt is a fairy tale about an old lonely puppeteer, Sam, saves a 9-year- old wounded mermaid and helps care for her and love her as a father. However, when her wounds heal he struggles with letting her go back to the ocean.

CLICK HERE – and see full info and more pics of the film!

Film Review: LUCKY (USA 2017) ***1/2

Lucky Poster
Trailer

Director:

John Carroll Lynch

Writers:

Logan Sparks (screenplay), Drago Sumonja (screenplay)

Stars:

Harry Dean StantonDavid LynchRon Livingston

Harry Dean Stanton plays the character of LUCKY of the film title in a film that audiences recognize could be the real Harry Dean Stanton.  LUCKY is the nickname the ex-navy man earned after being designated the cook in the Navy while others were sent to fight and die during the War.  Lucky is 90, bitter, alone (but not lonely as he has a routine of chores to do each day), cynical, sickness free, and smokes a lot.

The audience sees Lucky doing the same things daily – visiting the grocery store with the Mexican cashier to get his cigarettes; having some drinks at the bar; having coffee at his dual diner; and watching his favourite quiz show – but with different reactions.  The soundtrack replays the tune of “Old River Valley’ on a harmonica.

The film contains a lot of musings like what realism (as explained by Lucky as real for one person but not necessarily in another occurs to another) is or even the friendship between man an animal as the latter discussion (it is apparently essential to the soul) starts.  Lucky’s friend, Howard (David Lynch) at the bar walk in to sadly announce the loss of President Roosevelt, his pet tortoise. (Lucky does not believe this….. not the statement but the existence of a soul.)  Though the latter statement seems inconsequential dialogue in the script, it is important in the way Lucky looks at life if he does not believe in the existence of a soul.

The film is directed by actor John Carroll base on the script by Logan Sparks and Drago Sumonja.  The film pays more attention to the character than to plotting.  The film is also wonderfully acted by Stanton.  Director David Lynch delivers a surprisingly moving speech defending his case of leaving his inheritance to his tortoise that has apparently escaped as does James Darren how a nothing person like him transformed to one who now has everything.

LUCKY the film can be best described as a cynical coming-of age movie of a 90-year old man who has almost given up on life.  It is quite an idea for a film which is likely the story got made.  It is a film about an old fart that is not the typical Hollywood old fart film like the fantasies of old people reminiscing on their youth or having sex one more time.  Lucky confesses in one scene that he can hardly get it up any more.  Here, Lucky says in the film’s most intimate scene where he reveals his deep secret to his friend, Loretta (Yvonne Huff): “I’m scared.”  It all happens when he falls down out of feeling faint, though doctor (Ed Begley Jr.) tells him that nothing major is wrong with him.

Harry Dean Stanton passed away this year (2017).  LUCKY is a worthy swan song of an actor that has surprised audiences many a time with his wide range of performances.

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YurR6xZeBCk

lucky

Film Word Of The Week: Cheater-cut

Cheater-cut.jpgby Kierston Drier

If you have ever tuned in to your favorite serialized show airing on Prime-Time, you have seen a cheater cut. You may not have heard the term, but the chances are high you’ve relied on it if you’ve ever missed an episode, in the era before you could download it.

 

A Cheater-cut is the small series of shots that break down the basic plot points in the previous episode, and often air just before the episode about to come up. It is, metaphorically, an information booster-shot, so that you’ll be able to generally keep up with what is going on in the current episode, if you missed last weeks’.

 

Orphan Black, is one of many shows that employs Cheater’s Cuts, the introductory footage that will recap the previous episode. Cheater Cuts can also serve other purposes- they can shine a spotlight on essential plot points, or even create red-herrings. In serialized dramas boasting multiple plots, Cheater Cuts’ are helpful, simply in helping jog the memory of a viewer, who is watching the episodes a week apart. Think of a Cheater Cut as reading the chapter summary at the back of a textbook, right before you have to take the test- except the test is your favorite TV show- and the summary is master editing.

 

Cheater Cuts’ are far more common in serialized drama. In serialized drama, the narrative carries over all season long, and more times than not, the entire series. As such, what happened in the previous episode will directly effect what will be happening in the current episode. However, we do see Cheater Cut’s in comedy. Far more rare, they usually occur in a special circumstance, like a season finale, where the comic story fails to wrap up at the end of the episode, and ends of a nail-biting cliff hanger…only to return next week for a sweet and heartwarming resolution. In this cases, cheater cuts’ often make a noticeable appearance, usually opening with something like “Last time on…”  whereas the opening of a serialized cheater cut would likely be more subtle.

 

Cheater Cuts are very effective and often crucial to the story. They allow the audience to get a refresher on the arch and be ready to jump directly into the action from frame one. The eliminate the need for expositional dialogue and allow the piece to continue its’ flow with an unbroken fluidity. So the next time you miss your favorite episode of a Sunday night drama, thank an editor- a Cheater Cut may save you next week.

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