Film Review: BEING SEEN, Documentary

Played at the March 2017 DOCUMENTARY Festival

Directed by Paul Zehrer

A combination of funny, acerbic, and heart-wrenching, these people’s candid and articulate self-awareness quickly shatter preconceptions of the disabled.

Review by Kierston Drier:

An American film from director Paul Zehrer, BEING SEEN follows the spirited occupants of an adult group home for the developmentally challenged.

At times gut wrenching painful, and other times embarrassingly honest and frequently disarmingly funny, this film does something magical: it opens your eyes.

Candid and articulate, our subjects recount their understanding and acceptance of who they are, while others describe the loneliness that plagues them since losing loved ones.

There are couples, like Jared and his girlfriend, who decide to get married although they know the difficulties that come with that decision, since they both wheelchair bound. And there are Randall and Katie, a steady couple whose banter will strike many as hilariously familiar.

Self aware, self accepting, beautifully shot and well composed, this is a film that is worth seeing. Above all else, Being Seen will show you that all people are more alike than they are different.



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john_wick_chapter_2Director: Chad Stahelski
Writers: Derek Kolstad, Derek Kolstad (based on characters created by)
Stars: Keanu Reeves, Riccardo Scamarcio, Ian McShane

Review by Gilbert Seah

The second in the series of John Wick films is in fact a continuation of the first JOHN WICK film, with the same director and star Keanu Reeves as the hit-man John Wick.

When the first film was left, Wick’s prized Mustang got stolen and his dog killed by the son of a Russian mobster. In an extended car chase and fight sequence when CHAPTER 2 begins, the audience sees the mobster grunt in disbelief to see his shop and all his men, one after another, demolished by Wick as he comes hunting for his car. The comedy is black and funny enough with sufficient violent action fight choreography to satisfy the action fans. Director Chad Stahelski knows how to stage fights, him being Reeves’ stunt double in THE MATRIX films.

CHAPTER TWO runs at full-throttle for over two hours with a minimum plot The premise involves legendary hit-man John Wick forced back out of retirement by a former associate plotting to seize control of a shadowy international assassins’ guild. Bound by a blood oath to help him, John travels to Rome, where he squares off against some of the world’s deadliest killers. Though the story obviously is inconsequential, one would have expected the filmmakers to put in a bit more effort into the story.

Keanu Reeves makes the perfect anti-hero John Wick, shown with face bruises more than half the time. It is worthy of his character in BILL AND TED’S EXCELLENT ADVENTURE that brought him to fame. CHAPTER TWO sees more well-known actors lending a hand to make the film more exciting. COMMON plays Cassian, the head of security of a female crime boss who gives Wick a good fight for his money. Laurence Fishburne plays The Bowery King, a ruthless crime boss and Italian star Riccardo Scamarcio plays Santino, an assassin while Ian McShane reposes his role as the head of hotel, where no killings re tolerated.

The first JOHN WICK film had lots of fresh ideas whereas CHAPTER TWO rides on the first success, adding no new inventive surprises. In the first the hotel where truce must be obeyed is again reprised with Wick and the security played by Common forced to have a drink there. In the first film, there is a very sexy fight between a lady assassin in black and Wick. In CHAPTER TWO, there is a fight between Wick and a girl, this time in white, Ares (Ruby Ros) but the fight scene can nowhere be even described as sexy. Rose looks incredibly unsexy, when she dies with her huge eyes bulging. CHAPTER TWO also contains lots of repetitions. The joke of Wick and the security head fighting and rolling down the steps is repeated not once, but twice in the same sequence. Wick’s affinity to his dog, a black pitbull is also repeatedly drummed into the audience’s heads.

JOHN WICK CHAPTER 2 has lost its spark. Running at a length of over 2 hours does not help matters either. The case of more and louder in this sequel leads to boredom and a headache.




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Film Review: JACKIE (USA/Chile/France 2016)

jackie_movie_posterDirector: Pablo Larraín
Writer: Noah Oppenheim
Stars: Natalie Portman, Peter Sarsgaard, Greta Gerwig

Review by Gilbert Seah

Chilean director Pablo Larrain has made a name for himself with critical hit films like NO and TONY MANERO. But he is an odd choice for the English speaking film biography of the true American icon JACKIE, based on the life of Jackie Kennedy just after her husband, John F. Kennedy’s assassination in 1963.

The story follows the events immediately following the assassination. Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy (Natalie Portman) is being interviewed by a reporter, Theodore H. White (Billy Crudup) for Life Magazine. The film plunges the audience into the devastation using a series of finely crafted flashbacks that cover the fateful day in Dallas, Jackie’s return to the White House, arrangements for the President’s funeral, and her time spent accompanying her husband’s coffin to Arlington Cemetery.

The film is a slow count of what happens. It is the coping of a violent death of a loved one. The film is very American despite being directed by a non-American. The sequences complete a moving portrait of a grieving woman — a widow and mother struggling with overwhelming tragedy and attention. Yet the core of the film is formed by quiet, profoundly intimate moments: Jackie’s conversations with her children, her brother-in-law Robert Kennedy (Peter Sarsgaard, also at the Festival in The Magnificent Seven), one of her aides (Greta Gerwig), journalist White (Billy Crudup), and a Catholic priest (John Hurt). Larrain loves the close-ups of Jackie. The scenes between Jackie and the priest are done in a flashback within a flashback.

Portman does a fine job as Jackie Kennedy. She often looks aloof though she says that she is not and concerned about the children and the funeral procession. I don’t recall how the real Jackie spoke, but Portman always speaks with her mouth wide open, which I gather is the way the real Kennedy spoke.

For a non-American, the tasks offered to the former First Lady of restoring the artefacts of the White House may seem trivial. Jackie often moves around the different rooms drowning vodka or popping one of her colourful pills, always with a cigarette in one hand. She might not seem convincing when she says she cares so much for the children, but that is the way she was in real life during those times. Non-Americans might either find everything totally boring for incidents portrayed that do not concern them or be totally in awe of anyone being so involved in Americana.

One of the tasks Jackie was in charge of was looking after the White House. In the film’s best segment, an inspired one no doubt, Jackie is seen moving about the house, cigarette in one hand, popping pols, pouring drinks or arranging letters to the tune and lyrics of the song CAMELOT. Camelot, the perfect place to be is Jackie’s White House.

JACKIE emerges as a rare film about America as seen through the eyes of a foreigner. It is a queer piece which alternates between looking really artificial and surreal, but that might be Larrain’s intention.



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the_infiltrator.jpgTHE INFILTRATOR (USA 2016) ***
Directed by Brad Furman

Starring: Bryan Cranston, John Leguizamo, Diane Kruger

Review by Gilbert Seah

THE INFILTRATOR is a true-life crime thriller based on true events outlined in federal agent Robert “Bob” Mazur’s 2009 memoir The Infiltrator: My Secret Life Inside the Dirty Banks Behind Pablo Escobar’s Medellín Cartel. Directed by Brad Furman who also made the similar THE LINCOLN LAWYER, THE INFILTRATOR shares the identical gritty, ethereal style.

The film is set in the mid-1980s. Colombian kingpin Pablo Escobar’s cartel is flooding Florida with drugs and all the crime that comes with them. Mazur ( Bryan Cranston) is a mild family man working in U.S. Customs with a wife and two kids. But he begins leading a double life, going undercover as Bob Musella, a slick money-launderer with ties to legitimate business.

Furman takes his audience into a world of penthouses, private planes, stripper clubs, bespoke suits and dining so that a feel of the high life can be ‘appreciated’. Two fellow agents (John Leguizamo and Diane Kruger, the latter playing Musella’s fiancée) help Mazur while he as Musella deals with a variety of sordid characters including Escobar’s right-hand man (Benjamin Bratt).

In real life, Mazur’s sting operation led to the indictment of over 100 drug lords and the bankers who cleaned their money, and to the collapse of the Bank of Credit and Commerce International, one of the world’s largest money-laundering banks.

The main flaw of the film is Furman’s failure to provide the motive for Mazur’s dedication in the undercover operation. In the film, Mazur promises his wife that this will be his last operation. His unrelenting boss (Amy Ryan) expects a lot from her staff and from Mazur, demanding more and more, saying that her staff has not proven their worth. Why would Mazur or anyone for that matter risk their own lives or family for a job that provides no reward or a boss that shows no gratitude?

Despite good actors that Cranston (displaying another acting aspect from BREAKING BAD) and Leguizamo (proving he can play comedy and drama) are, the uneasiness and desperation of the story comes from Furman’s direction. The film is evenly spaced with edge-of-the-seat suspenseful segments. One such example is Musella’s briefcase bursting open to reveal a tape recorder during a key meeting with the bad guys and another has him and his wife suddenly met with a crime associate in a restaurant during their wedding anniversary. As the camera reveals details in other parts of the film like a clock ticking, Furman keeps the suspense strong. The action sequences like the bike/car shoot out are also excitingly executed.

Furman’s film is noticeably short on humour. A bit of relief is however, provided by Olympia Dukakis as Musella’s aunt who helps him along the way.
True to life as THE INFILTRATOR is, Furman’s film is a brutal watch, in fact too brutal to be classified as entertainment. Furman gets his point across in terms of the gruel drama that Musella had to go through.



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