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: THE BODY REMEMBERS WHEN THE WORLD BROKE OPEN (Canada/Norway 2019) ***

The Body Remembers When the World Broke Open Poster
Trailer

After a chance encounter on the street, a woman tries to encourage a pregnant domestic abuse victim to seek help.

Directors:

Kathleen Hepburn (co-director), Elle-Máijá Tailfeathers (co-director)

Writers:

Elle-Máijá Tailfeathers (story by), Kathleen Hepburn (co-writer) | 1 more credit »

THE BODY REMEMBERS is a low budget 2-handler about two indigenous women.  It has a simple premise and directors Kathleen Hepburn and Elle-Maija Tailfeathers go to great lengths with details.  

The film opens with Rosie (Violet Nelson) riding a bus.  A woman with a child gets on, dropping a plush toy that Rosie picks up.  It is hinted that she likes children an it is soon revealed that Rosie is expecting.  Also seen boarding the bus in the background is Aila (the film’s co-director and writer, Elle-Maija Tailfeathers) who later encounters Rose crying not the street, but not before the audience is given some background of her.  Aila is 31 and wants a baby but has had problems having one despite hers trying.  Aila has had an abortion before.

Áila then encounters again Rosie, barefoot and crying in the rain on the side of a busy street.  She soon discovers that this young woman, Rosie, has just escaped a violent assault at the hands of her boyfriend. Áila decides to bring Rosie home with her and over the course of the evening, the two navigate the aftermath of this traumatic event.  Not much in terms of the story but Aila tries to convince Rosie to stay at a safe-house to protect herself and the baby.

This is one extremely slow moving film saddled with details.  If one loves details, then this film will be a pleasure to watch.  The directors ensure that one feels for each character down to every moment.  Every movement or action have repercussions.  Rosie at one point takes something from Aila’s handbag.  It does not register what it is till much later in the film that it is her wallet.  Rosie is particularly rude and ungrateful  despite Aila’s care.  Credibility comes into the picture.  

As far as Aila’s patience for Rosie despite her rudeness and swearing, one might attribute it to Aila’s not being able to have a baby.  Other than that, her patience is quite beyond belief.  Any normal person would have given up on Rosie.  The scenes in the taxi are overlong and demands a lot of patience.

Though one might sympathize with the pregnant and abused Rosie, Rosie is depicted to be an independent person who thinks she knows what she wants, regardless of  her being right or wrong.

THE BODY REMEMBERS is definitely a difficult watch, for its attention to detail, its slow pace and sombre and depressing story.  To the directors’ credit, this is an uncompromising tale that celebrates the the resilience of women, regardless whether the film works or not.

The TFCA has nominated this film as one of the three nominees for this years Best Canadian Feature that carries a big cash prize.   It has just been selected as Canada’s Top 10 for 2019.

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8l3WC4wl-SY

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: 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