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

(Cinefranco 2019): LE MYSTERE HENRI PICK (The Mystery of Henri Pick) (France 2019) ***1/2

The Mystery of Henri Pick Poster
Trailer

An editor discovers a novel that she considers to be a masterpiece, in a library whose particularity is to collect the manuscripts refused by the publishers. The text is signed Henri Pick, a Breton pizza maker who died two years earlier.

Director:

Rémi Bezançon

Writers:

Rémi Bezançon (dialogue), Rémi Bezançon (screenplay) | 3 more credits »

A bold inventive comedy that is ripe for Hollywood to remake.  While conducting a television interview with the widow of pizza restaurateur Henri Pick, who is the posthumous author of a bestseller, talk show host Jean-Michel Rouche (Fabrice Luchini) attracts the wrath of his employer and the spectators by suggesting the book could be a sham. The same evening, his wife leaves him and he is fired from his job at the network. This double disgrace reinforces his desire to prove that he is right.  As Rouche acts not only like a know-it-all proud peacock but an asshole, the audience is only too glad to witness his downfall.  But Rouche is not without charm.

He is joined in his investigation by the late author’s bookworm daughter, Josephine (Camille Cottin), after convincing her the book couldn’t have been written by her father. Echoing Agatha Christie, false leads and literary fun abound in this charming French affair.  There is no romance here not even a little hint, but the story works as both a clever whodunit or rather whowroteit as well as a study of characters in a French literary setting.  Luchini exhibits charm as the disgraced host who eventually redeems himself. A mysterious pleasure of a film.

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kbyBzbTYw5s

Film Review: THE WARRIOR QUEEN OF JHANSI (UK 2019)

The Warrior Queen of Jhansi Poster

Trailer

A tale of women’s empowerment, The Warrior Queen of Jhansi tells the true story of Lakshmibai, the historic Queen of Jhansi who fiercely led her army against the British East India Company in the infamous mutiny of 1857.

Director:

Swati Bhise

Film Review: ZOMBIELAND DOUBLE TAP (USA 2019) ***

Zombieland: Double Tap Poster
Columbus, Tallahassee, Wichita, and Little Rock move to the American heartland as they face off against evolved zombies, fellow survivors, and the growing pains of the snarky makeshift family.

Director:

Ruben Fleischer

Writers:

Dave Callaham (screenplay), Rhett Reese (screenplay) | 1 more credit »

ZOMBIELAND begins with the Lady Statue of Liberty Sony Pictures Logo coming off her pedestal and whacking off two zombies, reminiscent of the time she drew guns from her cowboy belt way back when in 1965 at the start of the Jane Fonda western comedy hit CAT BALLOU.  Expect the same zaniness.

ZOMBIELAND takes half the film to pick up.  The first half is a little slow, boring and annoying wth little action, silly special effects, unfunny jokes and impromptu nonsense from the actors.  But be a little patient.  The film improves.  It calls for the narrator Columbus to bring the audience up to date with the state of affairs.  The audience is informed that there are three categories of zombies, the very slow, the stealthy and the new almost invincible breed.

ZOMBIELAND picks up, fortunately once a few comedic set ups set in.  It is clear that the single premise of human beings fighting zombies is insufficient material for an entire film.  One setup involves the meeting of Little Rock (Abigail Breslin) with a musician and their quest to find their Utopia, which in this case is Babylon.  The problem with this one is the really annoying musician boyfriend, (Avan Joglia’s Berkeley) who is as unfunny as he is unoriginal.  Babylon is a sort of hippie haven.   Another set-up, the film funniest and best has the two Columbus and Tallahassee meet their doppelgangers.  Each are unaware oftener own doubles, which make the situation even funnier.  Columbus’s double is as dorky as himself with his own rules which he calls commandments.

A little romance is provided.  One is the couple played by Emma Stone (as Wichita) and Jesse Eisenberg which is a little played out and manipulative.  The other between Harrelson and Rosario Dawson (as Madison) is the wilder but funnier one which is more in tone with the movie.

Performances-wise, Harrelson and Eissenberg deliver exactly what audiences would expect of them.  Harrelson overacts the way he normally does, screaming out his lines while jumping all over the place.  Eissenberg does his usual talky dorky bit.  The two opposites make the perfect unlikely buddies.

For a big budget zombie horror comedy, the special effects are excellent as is expected.  There are lots of gore and violence with some good vomit thrown in.  Chopped limbs, severed heads, gushing blood are plentiful whenever there is a zombie attack. 

The film’s climax is the big zombie attack on Babylon after the residents celebrate with fireworks thus attracting the monsters.  Special effects are turned on to the maximum with lots of pyrotechnics and explosions.

There is one last comedic set-up at the end so audiences that leave at the beginning of the closing credits.  Bill Murray plays himself being interviewed at some sort of comic con convention promoting what is his new GARFIELD 3 movie  When trying to churn out a fur ball with his interviewer, the interviewer strut spewing out vomit and while the convention is then attacked by zombies who are fought off by Murray.  

Is ZOMBIELAND DOUBLE TAP better than the original?  Hard to say as many will not remember the original (back in 2009) being quite some time back.

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZlW9yhUKlkQ

Film Review: LONG SHOT (USA 2019) ***1/2

Long Shot Poster
Trailer

When Fred Flarsky reunites with his first crush, one of the most influential women in the world, Charlotte Field, he charms her. As she prepares to make a run for the Presidency, Charlotte hires Fred as her speechwriter and sparks fly.

Director:

Jonathan Levine

Writers:

Dan Sterling (screenplay by), Liz Hannah (screenplay by) | 1 more credit »

Film Review: A STAR IS BORN (USA 2018) ***

A Star Is Born Poster
Trailer

2:31 | Trailer
A musician helps a young singer and actress find fame, even as age and alcoholism send his own career into a downward spiral.

Director:

Bradley Cooper

Writers:

Eric Roth (screenplay by), Bradley Cooper (screenplay by) | 3 more credits »

The third remake after the Judy Garland/James Mason and Barbra Streisand/Kris Kristofferson entries, A STAR IS BORN, Academy Award Best Actor nominee Bradley Cooper’s

directorial and screenwriting debut arrives in Toronto for a commercial release right after great hype at both the Venice and Toronto International Film Festivals.  Having high expectations, I was ultimately disappointed.  The film is good but not that good, falling into the trap of the typical failed romantic drama due to personal demons and artistic conflict – predictable storyline of personal conflict and over-staged drama.

The film opens with super singer Jackson Maine (Cooper) performing live at a huge concert.  It is an amazingly shot scene complete with a screaming crowd, astounding acoustics and musical performance, setting the stage for more outstanding performances to come.  And they thankfully are, whether performed by Jackson or his rising star, Ally (Lady Gaga).  But Jackson is clearly on a self destructive course.  He arrives at a bar after the opening concert, dropped off by his chauffeur.  He ends up in a drag bar (because Lady gag has the hit gay positive song, “Born This Way”) where he is impressed by Ally’s performance of La Vie En Rose.  Apparently she is so good, she is the only non drag performer allowed to sing there.  Jackson takes her home and this is the beginning of the relationship in which Jackson also grooms Ally to be a star.

The rest is history and the story almost everyone in the movies is aware off.  As Ally rises to fame, Jackson downward spirals into losing his.  Jackson also suffers from a hearing problem and has a rift with his older brother and manager (Sam Elliot, who is good but mumbles half his dialogue).

Cooper’s film captures the atmosphere of the rich and famous, from the parties, the glare of the spotlight, the attraction of fame as well as the pain that comes with it.

The main trouble is that it can safely be said that the audience has seen all this before -a star’s rise to fame, her lose of identity (clearly mentioned a few times to make its point) and conflict of interest.  Cooper’s film attempts to bridge the gap between having a solid relationship and a successful singing career   This does not happen.  One basically has to give up family life for musical fame.  This story is more effectively told in the gut wrenching documentary BAD REPUTATION, about the life and career of girl rock and roller Joan Jett, that coincidentally also opens this week.  BAD REPUTATION puts A STAR IS BORN to shame.  BAD REPUTATION is the real thing where Jett maintains her identity, ditches family life to launch a successful music career that audiences can root for an identify with.  A STAR IS BORN, unfortunately sinks into predictable melodrama  at many points.

The film also suffers from having two protagonists Jackson and Ally instead of just concentrating on Ally.  Cooper is ok, he has his star charm but it is Lady gaga that makes the movie.  She does not look anything like the Lady Gaga everyone is used to seeing and it is her that the audience sees that a real young and rising star is born.  Move over Madonna!

Still A STAR IS BORN will be well received by many as a love story that hovers between the shadow of tragedy and the bright light of artists at their peak as observed by many of the teary eyed audience (mainly females) who left the theatre at the promo screening.

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iPxGl3B2I4A

Film Review: LIZZIE (USA 2017) ***1/2

Lizzie Poster
Trailer

A psychological thriller based on the infamous 1892 murders of the Borden family.

Writer:

Bryce Kass

The name LIZZIE will sound familiar to many.  Even to kids, LIZZIE is a well-repeated nursery rhythm containing more sinister connotations.  LIZZIE is also the first name of Lizzie Borden who was accused but acquitted of the vicious hatchet murders of her stepmother and father.  The incident occurred in Fall River, Massachusetts in 1892.

Why would this dated biography be of interest to today’s audiences?  For one, Lizzie is alleged to be a lesbian and the script by Bryce Kass re-imagines Lizzie to be guilty of the heinous crime.  Lizzie is also highly abused by the male gender in a time where gay relationships were disallowed.  One scene has her uncle grabbing her by the throat threatening her. 

The film is bookended with the ghastly murder of a man hacked to death.  The guilt falls on the daughter Lizzie which the film sets to prove committed the deed despite her acquittal.

The film goes back 6 months with the arrival of a female at a three story house, obviously owned by a wealthy family.  The female is revealed to be Brigitte Sullivan (Kristen Stewart), a single Irish woman, who has come to live with the family and work as a live-in maid.  Lizzie, of the film title, is living with her wealthy father (Jamey Sheridan), stepmother (Fiona Shaw) and sister (Kim Dickens).  Her father is up to no good, while her stepmother silently enables.  Worst still, it seems that her uncle (Denis O’Hare) may end up controlling her inheritance.  Socially isolated, with her comings and goings strictly monitored, Lizzie finds solace in her pet pigeons. 

Brigitte works hard.  The patriarch of the family recognizes Brigitte’s hard work but his visits to her room prove him to be a sex abuser.  At the same time, Lizzie and Brigitte start an affair.

The script ups the angst with the father becoming more abusive towards Lizzie.  Lizzie also suffers from fits.

The film benefits from the creation of claustrophobia of the prison of the family home.  Lizzie is discouraged from going out and if allowed, must return by midnight.  The camera is quick to always show the high walls as if acting like imprisoning barriers.  When Lizzie does get to go out, she is attacked by society as the Borden family are cheap and disliked large house renters, still using candle light instead of the new electricity of the times.  The audience is made to feel that Lizzie has no way to escape psychically and emotionally.  Which drives her towards the act.

Whereas in real life Lizzie was acquitted for the fact that the jury could not imagine a woman performing such a violent act, the film shows otherwise with Lizzie hacking her father to death with repeated blows, and in the nude with blood splattered all over her body.  This shows director Macneill over-confident that he has convinced his audience believe that Lizzie is so desperate that she has nothing to lose (she would otherwise lose her inheritance as well as love for Brigitte) but to commit gruesome murder.

Performances are top-notch with Stewart getting away with her Irish accent. But the main star of the film is Noah Greenberg lush cinematography that captures the period atmosphere of the times and the claustrophobic imprisonment of the girls.

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=t-QJ81-k6w8

Film Review: UNDER THE TREE (Iceland/Denmark/Poland/Germany 2017) ***1/2

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Under the Tree Poster
Clip

When Baldwin and Inga’s next door neighbours complain that a tree in their backyard casts a shadow over their sundeck, what starts off as a typical spat between neighbours in the suburbs unexpectedly and violently spirals out of control.

Writers:

Huldar Breiðfjörð (story and screenplay), Hafsteinn Gunnar Sigurðsson (screenplay)

 

UNDER THE TREE is a simple story that unfolds in all its unpredictability and horror.  It is trouble for two neighbours, something that many can relate to.  The shade from a front yard tree brings tensions to a boil for two families in an Icelandic suburb.  The husbands Baldvin (Edda Björgvinsdóttir) and Konrad (Þorsteinn Bachmann) have a small argument over trimming the big tree as Konrad’s wife, Eybjorg (Selma Björnsdóttir) likes to lie in the sun and does not want the shade from the tree.  But the wives argue.  The tires of  a car are slashed followed by rude gnomes ornaments placed in the front of the house.  Then when the cat goes missing, all hell breaks lose.  

Amidst the arguing, there is a subplot of the son, Atli (Steinþór Hróar Steinþórsson) losing custody of his daughter after cheating on his wife., Agnes (Lára Jóhanna Jónsdóttir).   

Director Sigurdsson knows how to up the angst, as evident at the film’s start, the wife catches the son watching porn.  “Is that you in the porn?”  she suddenly notices.  “Isn’t that Rakel in it with you in the porn?”  she asks again before kicking him out of the house and taking custody of their daughter.  Again this is an incident that many separated couple go through, fighting for custody.   Sigurdsson also keeps certain factors unknown to keep the audience guessing.  Did the neighbour really slash the tires?  Did the neighbour really put in the gnomes?  And where is that darn cat that has disappeared, though the final incident is revealed at the end of the film.

Sigurdsson keeps his film engaging from start to end by making his characters real, reacting and doing things that normal people all over the world might end up doing, when pushed to the limit.  

Of all the characters, Inga (Edda Björgvinsdóttir) seems the nastiest.  She seems to be director Edda Björgvinsdóttir’s favourite. Inga slings dog shit at Eybjorg, calls her a cow and even calls her son a loser when he cheats on his wife.  The wives inch their husbands, who seem more tolerant, on.

Besides the black comedy, the film also contains segments of dramatic tension, like in the ones where Atli abducts his daughter or when he abuses her at her workplace.

The film is shot in the suburbs of the Icelandic capital of Reykjavik.  These houses are modern looking, colourful, modest and too close to each other for comfort.   Trees and sun are scarce in Iceland so one can understand a neighbour not wanting the shade and the other not wanting his tree touched.

Edda Björgvinsdóttir’s film demonstrates the worst there is in human beings, creating a dark comedy at its blackest. His characters are unforgiving (Agnes cannot forgive Atli for cheating), vindictive (Agnes calls her cheating husband out as a masturbator of sex videos he indulges in, at a community meeting) and cowardly.

The ending comes with a good twist that leaves audiences satisfied that they have seen a really black comedy/drama.  The film dominated the Edda Awards (Icelandic equivalent of the Oscars) with seven wins, including best film, director, actor (Steinþór Hróar Steinþórsson), actress (Edda Björgvinsdóttir), supporting actor (Sigurður Sigurjónsson), screenplay and visual effects.

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tU7KeDwJCAc

 

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Film Review: FOXTROT (Israel/France/Germany/Switzerland 2017) ****

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Foxtrot Poster
Trailer

 

FOXTROT as most people know is the name of a dance, which is performed a third through the film by a bored soldier at his deserted outpost.  It is also known in the military to stand for the letter ‘F’ when spelt out as taught in signalling courses to prevent confusion in communication.  (Alpha is for ‘A’, Bravo for ‘B’ etc.)  In the film it is also the name given to a military operation.

The film is divided into 3 parts, each almost equal in running time.  The opening sequence is reminiscent of Steven Spielberg’s SAVING PRIVATE RYAN when a mother faints after hearing the news of her son’s death during WWII.  The story begins at the home of Michael Feldman (Lior Ashkenazi) and his wife Dafna (Sarah Adler), where an army detail arrives with the news of their son Jonathan ((Yonatan Shiray).  Dafna faints and is sedated.  Meanwhile Michael spirals from anguish to anger.  He even kicks his poor unsuspecting dog.  Nothing new here, the film seems treading on water.  The film picks up when he begins to suspect that he has not been told the whole story when the army refuse to let him see the son’s body in the coffin during the military funeral.  Not soon after, there is news that the boy is alive.  Apparently, there is another Jonathan Feldman and it is this other Jonathan that died.  Michael freaks out and demands that his son be returned home right away.  Michael and Dafna have an argument, she accusing him of being nasty, he of her being too nice being sedated on drugs.

The film ends on a bright note, with a touch of surrealism.  The second section begins with the narrator describing the foxtrot dance followed by a very uplifting and amusing dance sequence.  The musical interlude jumps out of the blue and is a fantastic surprise.  The audience then learns of Jonathan’s mundane military duties at the check post, identifying everyone that drives through.  The soldiers also let a camel through.  Writer/director Maoz pulls another trick up his sleeve with a twist in the plot.  When  a passenger in a car tosses out an empty drink can, the soldiers open fire thinking it to be a grenade.  There are been more twists in the plot but they will not be mentioned in the review to prevent to many spoilers.   A few of these twists could be reduced for the film to be more effective.

The film works as a very different film audiences have never seen before.  FOXTROT is a  surrealistic film set in the midst of the israeli/Palestinian conflict, a very unlikely setting, which makes the surrealism work even better.  Maoz’s story also shows that fate plays games with people’s lives – and there is nothing one can do about it.  Michael and Dafna try to make sense of what is happening.  At their best moment, as their daughter, Alma tells them: “You two look beautiful when you are together.”  Perhaps, that is the only thing human beings can hang on to, each other in the midst of the quirky hands of fate.

The film won the Silver Lion (Grand Jury Prize) at the 2017 Venice Film Festival.  FOXTROT is definitely worth a look.

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

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Film Review: THANK YOU FOR YOUR SERVICE (USA 2017) ***

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Thank You for Your Service Poster

Trailer

A group of U.S. soldiers returning from Iraq struggles to integrate back into family and civilian life, while living with the memory of a war that threatens to destroy them long after they’ve left the battlefield.

Director:

Jason Hall

Writers:

David Finkel (based on the book by), Jason Hall (screenplay) (as Jason Dean Hall)

THANK YOU FOR YOUR SERVICE is a biographical film based on true events (the closing credits reveal the pictures of the real characters) on the subject of PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder).  Returning after a war and adjustment back to civilian life has been dealt time again in films like the well-known THE BEST YEARS OF OUR LIVES, but few have dealt specifically with the Iraqi War.

The film opens appropriately with the cause of Sergeant Adam Schumann’s (Miles Teller) trauma.  After a bomb goes off and injures fellow soldier Emory (Scott Haze), Adam fireman lift’s him down to safety.  Well, almost.  He drops him down the stairs resulting in some brain injury.

The film shifts to the return home.  The homecoming is shown with the fanfare of waiting family and loved ones.  The film centres on three soldiers, all of whom find things are not so smooth sailing.  The other two are Solo (Beila Koale) and Will Waller (Joe Cole).  Waller has it the worst when he finds himself abandoned by his wife who takes his child and empties his bank account.  Waller shoot himself in front of her at the bank she works in.  That part seems quite incredible, though it must have happened as in the non-fiction book of the same name written by David Finkel.  The rest of the film follows the other two as they adapt to their PTSD.

The script is adapted by Jason Hall who won an Academy Award nomination for his adapted screenplay of AMERICAN SNIPER.  When Steven Spielberg pulled out of the director’s reigns, Hall jumps in and makes his directorial debut.

The first time direction is obvious in the way the film unfolds in a safe, standard way predictable with no unexpected punches pulled.  The obstacles preventing Solo and Adam from getting their psychiatric care are all there – the long queues; the red tape requiring proof; the waiting time; with the soldiers finally getting their way after some needed shouting and anger outbursts.

Miles Teller in the main role of Adam proves once again his ability to carry a film on his own.  With recent rave reviews for his performances in films like WHIPLASH and the recent ONLY THE BRAVE, this film will add to his impressive resume.  Of all the actors, comedian Amy Schumer (TRAINWRECK, COMEDY CENTRAL) is totally miscast in the serious role of the dead soldier’s wife, Armanda.  

As for the rehabilitation of the soldiers, it seems too convenient that Adam is recovered after Armanda tells him that her dead husband wanted Adam to continue living, this removing Adam from the guilt he feels.  The same kind of convenient removal of guilt occurs in the recent film STRONGER where the bomb victim rehabilitates after one meeting with the guy who helped in during the Boston. marathon bombing.  But Hall’s script at least shows the long path towards recovery.

THANK YOU FOR YOUR SERVICE is a heavy film with a heavy theme.  One might argue that it is a story that needs be told – and that is right.

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=50LQGcb5knE

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