Film Review: HALE COUNTY THIS MORNING, THIS EVENING (USA 2018) ***

Hale County This Morning, This Evening Poster
Trailer

Composed of intimate and unencumbered moments of people in a community, this film is constructed in a form that allows the viewer an emotive impression of the Historic South – trumpeting … See full summary »

Director:

RaMell Ross

Writers:

RaMell RossMaya Krinsky (co-writer)

This nonfiction documentary debut and  U.S. Documentary Sundance Award winner by RaMell Ross is a minimalist doc about the lives of black people in Hale County, Alabama.  Running just about an hour and a quarter, Ross picks a few people to focus his points on.

The film shows the limited opportunities available to the citizens of Hale.  The film opens with the first subject who specializes in psychology and basketball.  There are extended scenes with subjects practice basketball giving the film the feel of an art movie.  It is for this reason that the film could have got the rave reviews but the capsuled film is lacking in many areas.

For one only the blacks are centred.  Very little is heard or revealed on the white pollution – even whether they are a minority, as if they did not matter one bit.  The film is pessimistic in outlook.  Nothing is mentioned of the decrease in unemployment or the increase in voter turnout in the years following the film being made  The film generalizes from just the few subjects chosen on camera.

There are two main subjects on show.  The other is a black kid called Daniel.  He is shown to be a kind of anti-social wild person that one would stay clear away from.  The film attributes the cause to be his upbringing where his grandmother prevented his mother from raising him.  Daniel is a very angry teen.  Daniel blames his mother, who on camera confesses that it was not her fault.  On one occasion, she tried to get her son back but with little success.  The grandmother called the cops on her.  This intimate section brings some life into the doc.

Having a background in photography, director Ross’s simple film is beautiful to look at, in a simple way, without glamour or special effects.  This suits the mood of the lives of the simple Hale County citizens on display.

It is hard to fault small well-intentioned films like HALE COUNTY which aims low and needs little research, contains no whistleblowing and ruffles few feathers.  It is easier to find faults with larger docs which have more chance of making errors.  HALE COUNTY also provides no answers to the problems of poverty and racial image brought up.  But the film offers a rare look at the African American in small towns in the black belt region of the U.S. instead of big or inner cities.

Narration is minimal and replaced by interwoven images, a few of which are long takes.  One shows Daniel, all sweaty practicing basketball on his own.  This is one long take of a practice that could have lasted hours.

HALE COUNTY THIS MORNING, THIS EVENING is a film the many have not heard of – then suddenly appears out of nowhere for a limited engagement at the TIFF Bell Lightbox.  It is also thanks to Bell Lightbox that small films like this one have a chance at being seen.

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DlOeSyl-zZk

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Film Review: GLASS (USA 2018)

Glass Poster
Trailer

Security guard David Dunn uses his supernatural abilities to track Kevin Wendell Crumb, a disturbed man who has twenty-four personalities.

Writers:

M. Night ShyamalanM. Night Shyamalan (characters)

GLASS is a superhero thriller written, produced and directed by M. Night Shyamalan. The film is a sequel to Shyamalan’s previous films UNBREAKABLE (2000) and SPLIT(2016), cumulatively forming the Eastrail 177 Trilogy.  All the main stars are present – Bruce Willis, Samuel L. Jackson, Spencer Treat Clark, and Charlayne Woodard who reprise their Unbreakable roles, while James McAvoy and Anya Taylor-Joy return as their Split characters.

The premise is the fight between good and evil, the good being the super hero David Dunn (Willis) and the bad the McAvoy split characters.

The film opens two years after the events of SPLIT.   David Dunn (Willis) works with his now adult son Joseph (Clark) in using his superhuman abilities to protect people from criminals under a new alias known as “The Overseer”.   This part is incredibly silly and unbelievable.  David learns from Joseph that Kevin Wendell Crumb (McAvoy), who suffers from dissociative identity disorder, has a group of cheerleaders held up in a warehouse.  David goes to free them after discovering the fact out of pure coincidence but encounters one of Kevin’s personalities known as “The Beast,” and the ensuing fight spills out into the streets.  The Philadelphia police department are called leading to the eventual capture of both David and Kevin.  Why David is brought in is never really explained as he has done no harm. The two are sent to a mental institution where Elijah Price (Samuel L. Jackson), David’s sworn enemy, in another wild coincidence, is being held.

Shyamalan introduces a new character into the story.  Dr. Ellie Staple (Sarah Paulson) is the head doctor of the mental institution and works with patients who claim to have special powers. In order to have them suppress those thoughts, she tries to persuade them that there is no such thing as superhuman powers and that they actually have a mental illness. Meanwhile, Elijah (Jackson) is secretly working with Kevin to unleash “The Beast” and expose the world to the existence of superheroes. With the help of “The Beast,” Elijah escapes but he is soon pursued by David, who again battles Kevin on the institution’s grounds.  The Dr. Staple character is the silliest of all the characters – coming off as a  pompous dumb bitch know-it-all who will obviously be roved wrong, cliche-wise at the end of the story.

At this point, the film appears to have gone through full circle with nothing at all accomplished.

GLASS is a trilogy of two UNBREAKABLE, SPLIT and this one.  A word of warning that one must be familiar with the other two films or end up completely lost in following the plot or characters in GLASS.  Director Shyamalan makes no attempt to update his audience to the current proceedings of GLASS.  

One point of observation.  This is the rare film where the actor Samuel L. Jackson’s character does not utter the ‘mf’ word.

Shyamalan make a guest cameo at a store in the film.  He sees David Dunn and mentions that he recognizes the man from the stadium where Dunn used to work security, stating that he used to do shady things when younger.  Those familiar with UNBREAKABLE will recall that Shyamalan gave himself a cameo in UNBREAKABLE selling drugs at the stadium.

There are many reasons that the word ‘split’ would apply to GLASS.  One is the main character from SPLIT portrayed by Jame McAvoy who is also one of the lead characters in GLASS.  Second, the film splits between the thriller and super action hero genres though unfortunately not blending well.  The fight scenes are minimal and the thrills and suspense are also unimpressive.  As GLASS contains two main characters, one from SPLIT and the other, the Bruce Willis superhero from UNBREAKABLE, there was debate regarding the film’s distribution.  Distribution is now split.  Universal now distributes the film in North American while Buena Vista (UNBREAKABLE was from Touchtone Pictures) internationally.  Willis’ performance is stoic while McAvoy’s is downright crazy as he switches from one personality to another instantly.  Director Shyamalan films often splits between the excellent (SIGNS, THE SIXTH SENSE, UNBREAKABLE, SPLIT, THE VISIT) and the duds (LADY IN THE WATER, THE LAST AIRBENDER, AFTER EARTH).  Unfortunately, GLASS belongs to the latter category.  Audiences will undoubtedly be split on whether liking or hating GLASS.  But GLASS is long, boring, too dead serious on its subjects despite the general silliness overall.

At the promo screening, a fair portion of the audience stayed to the end of the closing credits as in SPLI there a was a surprise appearance of Bruce Willis at the ed of that film signalling the sequel GLASS.  No such luck in GLASS.

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Q7ztHi9ejp4

Film Review: THE KID WHO WOULD BE KING (USA/UK 2019) ****

The Kid Who Would Be King Poster
Trailer

A band of kids embark on an epic quest to thwart a medieval menace.

Director:

Joe Cornish

Writer:

Joe Cornish

The film title THE KID WHO WOULD BE KING is likely used due to familiarity with the medieval hit, John Huston’s 1975 Rudyard Kipling adaptation of THE MAN WHO WOULD BE KING.   Don’t let either the title or the fact that this is a family film discourage you from seeing this picture.  Despite the film’s limitations of targeting a family audience, there is plenty to enjoy for adults. Also ignore the silly ad” “Kids Rule” that would turn off adults. 

The story follows Alex Elliot (Louis Ashbourne Serkis, son of Andy) a young boy who is picked on at school and does not appear to be very special at all.  However, that soon changes when he finds and pulls King Arthur’s famous sword Excalibur in the neighbourhood construction site.  He discovers that he is destined to form a new round table for an upcoming battle with the medieval villain Morgana (Rebecca Ferguson), who summons evil forces to rule the world, after being banished by King Arthur.  All this information is revealed at the film’s prologue – animation style.  The wizard Merlin (Angus Imrie) assists Alex in his quest. He is depicted as a young incarnation of Merlin in the film but capable of transforming to his old self (Sir Patrick Stewart).

If Morgana’s evil forces, creatures made up dark black with infra-red eyes look familiar, these creatures bear an uncanny resemblance to the invading aliens in ATTACK ON THE BLOCK, a small first feature that was a hit.  And with solid reason.  KID is directed by that film’s same director Joe Cornish who has the talent of bringing his films filled with spirit, humour and imagination.

Performances are surprisingly spectacular.  Deserving of mention is relative newcomer Angus Imrie who plays the young Merlin, who suddenly appears as a new student to help Alex in his quest to save the world.  Also delivering a heartwarming and sometimes gut-wrenching performance is Denise Gough, an Olivier Award (British Theatre) winner who plays Alex’s mum.

The location where the fights and setting take place is stunningly captured on film by cinematographer Bill Pope.  The film is shot in the Cornwall area, south coast of England.  The film can also be considered to be a super action hero film, with Alex as the young schoolboy King Arthur type hero saving the world.  The film also has plenty of special effects to go with it – so action fans will be delighted.  The special effects is dished out small doses at a time with nothing much at the first half of the film but then coming out strong at the end creating a solid climax for the film.

Cornish’s clever script contains plenty of messages as if to mock films with messages.  These come on strong even at the beginning of the film.   “Telling the truth and doing the right thing.”  “The world doe not change – you do!”  “You do not need what you already have!”  “Use your enemies as your allies.”

THE KID WHO WOULD BE KING is an often imaginative super hero adventure cleverly blending medieval times with the modern with lots of good messages from the director Joe Cornish who the TFCA (Toronto Film Critics Association) awarded the Best First Feature way back when for his equally impressive 2011 ATTACK ON THE BLOCK.  This film rules!

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cJlxP5P9v9c

Film Review: STAN & OLLIE (USA/UK/Canada 2018) ***1/2

Stan & Ollie Poster
Trailer

Laurel and Hardy, the world’s most famous comedy duo, attempt to reignite their film careers as they embark on what becomes their swan song – a grueling theatre tour of post-war Britain.

Director:

Jon S. Baird

Writer:

Jeff Pope

STAN & OLLIE (or perhaps alternatively called LAUREL & HARDY) is a capsule biographical film of the two of the world’s most famous comedians and a tale of undying friendship.

The film is a biographical comedy-drama film directed by Jon S. Baird (from TV films and a few obscure theatrical films) from a screenplay by Jeff Pope.   The comedy is derived mainly from their acts on stage and Laurel’s s often smart mouths remarks while the drama is the story of their friendship and  Oliver’s illness). Based on the lives of the comedy double act Laurel and Hardy, the film stars Steve Coogan and John C. Reilly as Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy. It already premiered in October 2018 at the BFI London Film Festival.  The film had a limited release in the United States on 28 December 2018 and will be released widely in the United Kingdom, the United States and in Canada in January 2019.

The film is boosted by two outstanding performances.  Besides being impressionists, the actors have to act as well.  Both Coogan and Reilly enable audiences to forget who they really are but for their characters of Stan & Ollie.  It is a tough decision to see who does the better job.  Being American, Reilly earned a Golden Globe nomination for Best Actor (the Golden Globe is more American than foreign press) while Brit Coogan got snubbed.  The other way around for the BFTA (British awards) where Coogan was nominated for the Best Actor award with Reilly up for nothing.

The film is a U.K. co-prodcution as most of the film is set in the U.K.  The film begins with the duo embarking on a gruelling music hall tour of the United Kingdom and Ireland during 1953, and struggle to get another film made – their own (comedy) version of Robin Hood.  There is stop during the tour in Newcastle, though no-one during those segments speak with any Geordie accent.

The film’s narrative is choppy (the script picks up a few incidents in the duo’s lives that mostly affected their bonding) punctuated by the duo’s acts on stage with the dramatic set-pieces.  These acts are at least well performed.  The audience get to see their best acts performed by the impressionists, which shows both how good the acts are and how good the impressionists are as were the original performers.  

The film gets a bit sentimental at times, especially in the last scenes where Ollie is ill from poor health.  But the film’s two best segments are the dramatic confrontation where their friendship is tested and the comedy act where the two are supposed to meet by a change room but fail to see each other.

The shooting of the last performance on stage – the dance number routine by Stan & Ollie must also be commended.  The use of shadows, camera angles and editing to emphasize the talent of the duo is expertly done and watching the sequence is well worth the price of the admission ticket.

The film ends appropriately with the epilogue that Ollie’s health deteriorated after the tour, leading to his death in 1957 and Stan’s eight years later in 1965. Stan continued to write sketches for Laurel and Hardy in the last eight years of his life.

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rlTTsN4JGnU

Film Reviewer: DESTROYER (USA 2018) ***1/2

Destroyer Poster
Trailer

A police detective reconnects with people from an undercover assignment in her distant past in order to make peace.

Director:

Karyn Kusama

Writers:

Phil Hay (screenplay), Matt Manfredi (screenplay)

There is a new super hero in town.  But this is a super hero of a different kind – not a Marvel or DC super action figure hero but a female down to earth cop with the super power of survival.  

As the film opens, LAPD detective Erin Bell (Nicole Kidman) arrives on the scene of a John Doe murder and informs the responding officers that she knows the victim’s identity.   The responding officers clearly dislikes her and unafraid to show their feelings.  She gives them the finger when they ask the identity.

At the police station, Erin receives a $100 bill stained from a dye pack in an unmarked envelope. Using a contact at the FBI, she confirms that the bill is from a bank robbery committed by a California gang many years prior that she and her former partner Chris (Sebastian Stan) were embedded in as undercover officers.  She tells her superiors that she believes the bill and the John Doe murder to be proof that the gang’s leader Silas (Toby Kebbell) is once again active.

Erin is forced to work her way through the remaining members of the gang in order to find Silas. She begins with Toby (James Jordan), who was arrested but is now gravely ill and living with his mother on compassionate release. She manually stimulates him in exchange for the location of Arturo (Zach Villa), a member of the gang who attempts to atone for his past crimes by offering pro bono legal services to immigrants.  Arturo provides Erin with the location of DiFranco (Bradley Whitford), a lawyer who launders the money from the original robbery and from whom Erin deduces that Silas is active again because the money from the heist is almost gone. After threatening him, DiFranco gives Erin the location of the next money hand-off, which is performed by Silas’ girlfriend Petra (Tatiana Maslany). Erin tracks Petra, eventually intervening in a bank robbery committed by Silas’ new gang, and kidnaps Petra.

But the beauty of all this is that there is more than meets the eye.

Via flashbacks throughout the film, it transpires that Erin and Chris developed a romantic relationship while undercover, with Erin eventually becoming pregnant with Chris’ child.  Nothing more will be revealed of the story but that it is a bit annoying at the start for the audience has to piece the puzzle of the story together.  But the work pays off.  The fragmented narrative works eventually.  One also needs to take time after the film has ended to piece everything together to see how the time line has worked.

Kidman is marvellous and the almost unrecognizable Erin who strives for redemption for an undercover operation gone all wrong.  She even stole the money.  Kidman was nominated for a Golden Globe for her performance but lost out to Glenn Close.  The young Tatiana Naslany also proves herself a rising star.

The nitty gritty atmosphere of bars and rundown towns is effectively captured.  Director Kusama (GIRLFIGHT) again proves herself as a strong female presence in films.

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

Film Review: THE UPSIDE (USA 2018)

The Upside Poster
Trailer

A comedic look at the relationship between a wealthy man with quadriplegia and an unemployed man with a criminal record who’s hired to help him.

Director:

Neil Burger

Writers:

Jon Hartmere (screenplay by), Éric Toledano (based on the motion picture “Les Intouchables” by) | 1 more credit »

The film begins one night when Dell Scott (Kevin Hart) is driving Phillip’s (Bryan Cranston) flashy sports car at high speed.  They are chased through the streets by the police and eventually cornered.  Dell claims the quadriplegic Phillip must be urgently driven to the emergency room as he is having an epileptic fit;  Philippe pretends to have a seizure and the fooled police officers escort them to the hospital.  All cliched comedy here,  The story of the friendship between the two men is then told as a flashback with this scene retuned at the end.

THE UPSIDE is the remake of France’s second most successful box-office film of all time, the 1999 LES INTOUCHABLES which cost 10 million euros to make but grossed over $360 euros.

The first paragraph describing the story could be applied to both films as THE UPSIDE is quite the similar film but with a few changes.   The American remake changes parts of the original to make the story more believable and dramatic.

Among the changes:

the American version has a a more realistic but less effective ending

the Nicole Kidman character is expanded though not too credible at the end

the comedy is reduced with more drama added

the setting is changed from Paris, France to the U.S.

the character of Phillip’s adopted daughter is omitted completely in the remake

as the film is based on the true story of these two ‘friends’, the original ending showed the two men in real life, Philippe Pozzo di Borgo and his French-Algerian caregiver Abdel Sellou

     It is debatable whether each the changes improves the film, as what is written on paper might not turn out that well or turn out better on film.  Still, the script by Jon Hartmere is a lazy one that follows most of the original scene by scene.

THE UPSIDE benefits from the three lead performances.  Bryan Cranston (TRUMBO) has first billing.  He plays a quadriplegic, which means he can only act using his neck upwards.  Hart gets to clown around for all that is worth.  When the script allow him to do his thing as in the scene where he is supposed to clean up his boss, (What is an American comedy without its shit jokes?) Hart comes across as quite desperate on trying to get a few laughs out of a script that lives him nothing.  I found this segment unfunny and boring though it did get a few laughs from a few of the audience at the promotional screening.  Kidman plays the prissy role of the personal business assistant well giving a needed boost to the under-written role. 

For a  comedy, the running time of over two hours (126 minutes) is lengthy which explains the film crossing the line into feel-good drama.  Bit cliche upon cliche are piled up, if not identical set-ups from the original film.  The end result is a goofy and unrealistic feel-good movie that is as boring as it is original.

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

Film Review: SHIRKERS (USA 2018) ***1/2

Shirkers Poster
Trailer

A woman explores the events surrounding a film she and her friends began making with a mysterious stranger decades ago.

Director:

Sandi Tan

Writer:

Sandi Tan (a film by)

SHIRKERS tells the story of Los Angeles-based, Singapore-born film-maker Sandi Tan, whose first feature, made when she was still a teenager in 1992, was stolen before it could be completed. Twenty years later, when she was miraculously reunited with the unseen footage, Tan decided to return to Singapore and revisit the making – and losing – of the film that haunted her for decades.

SHIRKERS is a documentary that arrives with the caption 25 years in the making.  Another film Orson Welles’ THE OTHER SIDE OF THE WIND also debuted this year with the caption 40 years in the making.  The caption is not really true.  What it means is that the film was never completed till 2018.  Both film share this fact but under different circumstances.  WIND was never completed because Welles ran shot of funds, went party crazy and then passed away.  SHIRKERS never got competed because its original director Georges Cardona stole the cans of film and disappeared.  Only after his death did his wife email Sandi Tan who then completed and made this documentary.  While WIND is artistic crap, SHIRKERS is on the contrary, a low budget well thought of film, well ahead of its time when made back way back when.

SHIRKERS are people that get themselves excused from work for whatever lazy reason.  The ‘shirkers’ in the film are Sandi Tan the film’s writer, director and actress and her friends Georges Cardona, Sophia Siddique Harvey and Jasmine Kin Kia Ng.  The original film is a road movie about a serial killer made in Singapore that showcased houses, street and old buildings.  It was revolutionary filmmaking as the film industry was just budding.  This reviewer is from Singapore, who at the time of leaving the island state in 1982, Singapore had no film industry.  This doc has a special place in this reviewer’s heart as Sandi like himself was a teenage cinephile.  But Woody Allen films were never released in Singapore as there was no market demand for them nor do any foreign films for that matter.  The government is also ultra strict (remember the banning of chewing gum?) that films glorifying violence, drugs or freedom were banned.  Examples of films banned include A CLOCKWORK ORANGE , CHINATOWN and even SKATEBOARD because skateboards were banned.  This fact was mentioned by Sandi in SHIRKERS  She got to watch all these films by getting them recorded overseas.  Myself, I saw these films in the British cinemas in the army camps  while doing National (army) Service and learnt French at the Alliance Francais so I could see French films.

But this re-edited and remade SHIRKERS is a doc on what happened when the film got stolen and the events that got it completed.  It is also story of Sandi and her friends.  SHIRKERS at its best captures the spirit of young cinema lovers who would do anything to propel their love for film.  The film also documents the various stages on how Sandi finally got herself into the picture.  She initially did not want to be in it.

SHIRKERS is the film that Orson Welles should have made.  The film has also won many awards in festivals worldwide including Sundance’s prestigious World Documentary Prize.

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=u3wPWCj2L6I