TIFF Cinematheque Presents – The films of Nagasi Oshima

This rare retrospective of Japanese New Wave director runs from November 14th to December 5th at the TIFF Bell Lightbox.

the series is entitles IN THE REALM OF OSHIMA – the Best of Japanese Mater Nagasi Oshima.  The title is taken form his most notorious and famous work IN THE REALM OF THE SENSES. I guarantee you would not forget the film, at least of its explicit sexual scenes.

The retrospective is made possible thanks to Nobi Nakamura,The Japan Foundation; Yukiko Wachi, Kawakita Memorial Film Institute; and Brian Belovarac, Janus Films.

For the complete programming, dates and description of each film screened, please check the TIFF website at: tiff.net

Capsule Reviews of Select Films:

CRUEL STORIES OF YOUTH (Japan 1960) ***
Directed by Nagisa Oshima

The title tells it all in Oshima’s tale of a young couple who prey on older men to make a living.  Old men offer the girl a ride home but often take advantage of her by taking her to a bar for drinks or to a hotel.  That is when the boyfriend shows up, beat the older man up and rob hm of his money.  She falls for him and he slowly gets solve her.  But things start getting heated to a boil when she becomes impregnated by him, and has an abortion.  No one is to blame of these hard times.  Youth like these two are restless and look for trouble.  One problem could be the lack ambition of the two.  Regardless, the girl makes an attempt at redemption the she encounters a kinder older gentleman who owns a company.  CRUEL STORIES OF YOUTH has solid drama that depicts both the restlessness and rebelliousness of youth, but offers no solutions nor a way out.

Trailer: https://ca.video.search.yahoo.com/yhs/search?fr=yhs-dcola-005&hsimp=yhs-005&hspart=dcola&p=cruel+stories+of+youth+trailer#id=1&vid=f81fd3743fc6148afdcd3592bcb1e7e1&action=click

IN THE REALM OF THE SENSES (Japan 1976) ****

Directed by Nagisa Oshima

Arguably Oshima’s best film but definitely the one that shot him to fame for its notoriety.   This is the first Oshima film I have seen.  In different countries the film was either banned, butchered, debated or denounced.  It was banned in Ontario when it was first released.  The film premiered in Cannes and was reported to cause quite a stir including riots.  The story is supposedly based on a famous crime in 1936, a tale of sexual obsession so incredible that it has to be seen to be believed and then unforgotten.  Sex and bondage take place between between man and woman, master and servant, individual and state, in which a maid murdered and castrated her employer after several days of sequestered lovemaking with him. The film is more disgusting than erotic and might turn one off sex for a spell.   Be prepared for segments depicting hardcore sex so audiences beware!

Trailer: https://www.dailymotion.com/video/x2k7bhw

VIOLENCE AT NOON (Japan 1966) ***1/2

Directed by Nagasi Oshima

 VIOLENCE AT NOON is the portrayal of a violent rapist as seen through the recollections of his wife and one of his victims. As the film starts, Eisuke (Kei Sato) encounters Shino (Saeda Kawaguchi), who works as a maid in a house.  She is a former coworker from a failed collective farm, whose life he once saved — only to rape her.  Soon, Eisuke’s criminal pattern of rapes and murders emerges as he goes on assaulting women (Shino being the witness of one of them, as Eisuke tries to violate her employer).  When cooperating with the police on making a description of the rapist, Shino withholds her crucial knowledge of his identity.  She prefers writing letters to Eisuke’s dutiful wife, Matsuko, a schoolteacher (Akiko Koyama — Mrs Oshima), in order to expose his true nature and perhaps induce her into turning Eisuke over to the police.  This film contains some intriguing discussions on the subject of suicide.  “Why kill yourself?  Why not kill someone instead?”  This one one which makes complete sense, is quite a dangerous argument.  Another: Can one die by staying awake?”  Obviously yes, as one can live like a dead person.  The VIOLENCE AT NOON are the acts committed by a serial killer who not only kills at that time, but leave similar markings.   An intriguing film and worthwhile but not so easy a watch.

Trailer: https://www.mymovierack.com/show/violence-at-noon

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Film Review: THE GOOD LIAR (USA 2019) ***

The Good Liar Poster
Trailer

Consummate con man Roy Courtnay has set his sights on his latest mark: the recently widowed Betty McLeish, worth millions. But this time, what should have been a simple swindle escalates into a cat-and-mouse game with the ultimate stakes.

Director:

Bill Condon

Writers:

Jeffrey HatcherNicholas Searle (novel)

Nothing but excellence can be expected from GODS AND MONSTERS and THE FIFTH ESTATE director Bill Condon and British heavyweights Helen Mirren (Oscar winner for THE QUEEN) and Sir Ian McKellen(Two-time Oscar nominee),  But what is lacking here is a somewhat lack of surprise.

Before venturing out for the film screening, I was hypothesizing the film’s plot.  Con man McKellen entices Mirren for a date and aims at stealing all her money.  McKellen falls for Mirren while she discovers the truth and ends up milking McKellen instead for all his worth.  Not all of the above is true for the movie, but a fair portion is, and it is a good guess, from just watching the film’s trailer.

When the film begins, the audience sees the pub date between two who have met using ‘computer services’.  They immediately confess they honour the truth though each are superb liars, fooling notably each other, but the audience as well.  This is the more fun part of the script.  Consummate con man Roy Courtnay (Ian McKellen) has set his sights on his latest mark: the recently widowed Betty McLeish (Helen Mirren), worth millions.  And Roy means to take it all.

  From their very first meeting, Roy begins plying Betty with his tried and true manipulations, and Betty, who seems quite taken with him, is soon going along for the ride.  But this time, what should have been a simple swindle escalates into a cat-and-mouse game with the ultimate stakes—revealing more insidious deceptions that will take them both through a minefield of danger, intrigue and betrayal.

The quite too incredible to be believed story is based on a widely acclaimed novel by Nolas Seattle adapted for the screen by Jeffrey Hatcher who also penned MR. HOLMES also directed by Condon.

The supporting cast fare well.  Russell Tovey (THE HISTORY BOYS and QUANTICO) plays the supposedly grandson of Betty while the excellent Jim Carter last seen in DOWNTON ABBEY plays Roy’s friend and conman.

The script’s story takes the audience back to World War II Germany where credibility becomes the issue where background on the real Roy Courtney is dumped on the audience.  The film also contains some brief nudity but a quite a bit of violence.  The struggle between Roy and Betty at the film’s climax is rather laughable and could have been due eliminated.

A few continuity problems exist, that many might not be aware of.  One segment has Roy enter the London Underground through Piccadilly Circus station.  Once inside, the tube walls indicate Charing Cross Station.

THE GOOD LIAR ends up a cheesy thriller, with some really nasty bits – not entirely boring but lacking more solid substance.

Trailer: https://www.imdb.com/title/tt5563334/videoplayer/vi1183235865?ref_=tt_ov_vi

Full Review: FORD V FERRARI (USA 2019) ***

Ford v Ferrari Poster

American car designer Carroll Shelby and driver Ken Miles battle corporate interference, the laws of physics and their own personal demons to build a revolutionary race car for Ford and challenge Ferrari at the 24 Hours of Le Mans in 1966.

Director:

James Mangold

Right out of the headlines on November the 14th, 2019.  Ferrari unveils their 5th latest car for their 2019.  So the question is who is thermal winner in the phrase FORD V FERRARI?   On Ford’s side, they are investing a lot of money into the smart car.

One of the big films opening this week is FORD V FERRARI, from 20th Century Fox now owned by Disney, that premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival.

FORD V FERRARI features two of the finest looking actors working in movies at present – Christian Bale and Matt Damon  Bale discards his good looks, looking sufficiently grimy to portray an expert auto-mechanic/race car driver eventually working for Ford.

FORD V FERRARI represents the kind of movie 20th Century Fox finances that Disney does not know what to do with.  This is what was reported.  To Fox’s credit, it takes guts to finance a film like this one, when car race movies are seldom financed.  This could be the reason this big production is released at this odd time in November.  But it is not a bad film and definitely worth a look for its excitement and drama.

Director James Mangold (3:10 TO YUMA) and the 4 film writers tell the story of real-life superheroes Carroll Shelby (Damon) and Ken Miles (Bale), race car engineers who commandeered the resources of the mighty Ford Motor Company in the 1960s to go head-to-head with the gods of Italian auto racing, Ferrari.  

This is one car racing movie that shows the mechanics and marketing and business that goes behind the scenes of a race.   The mechanics at the race’s pits tops are just as important as the race car drivers.  Everyone has an input to who or which car wins the race from the families of the race car drivers, to the company to almost everyone connected to the race.

But it is the Ford motor company’s owner Henry Ford and marketing chief that the two have to keep fighting in order to beat Ferrari.  So the title of the film should be Underdogs V Ford.   At worst the film descends a bit into cliche territory, especially in two manipulative segments (the fight and the ride Ford takes in the race car) that got the audience at the TIFF screening I attended applauding.  D.P. Phedon Papamichael shoots the race sequences, particularly the night ones spectacularly as if putting one in the driver’s seat. 

Christian Bale excels in his role as maverick Ken Miles.  Nothing in the film is mentioned of the reason his speaking wth a British accent.  Reading up on Miles, he is described in Wikipedia as a British born American race car driver.

FORD V FERRARI is the type of crowd pleasing action packed movie that critics generally dislike and audiences cheer to.  That said, it is definitely worth a look!

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=I3h9Z89U9ZA

Film Review: ASSHOLES: A THEORY (Canada 2019) ***

Assholes: A Theory Poster
Inspired by the NYT bestselling book, this lively philosophical investigation into the rise of asshole behaviour across the world asks: What does it mean to be an asshole, and more importantly, how do we stop their proliferation?

Director:

John Walker

Some grapple with the challenge of treating other human beings decently. Others are just… assholes, claims Professor Aaron James in his New York Times bestselling book, Assholes: A Theory. This intellectually provocative film takes a playful approach to uncovering why asshole behaviour is on the rise in the workplace, in government, and at home.

Finally a film about assholes or about assholism, a word conned by filmmaker John Waters (PINK FLAMINGOES, FEMALE TROUBLE).  The film is clear to emphasize at the start that is about the book “Assholes: A Theory”.  The film goes on, as expected, to define or state what people think an asshole is to be defined as: someone with the entrenched (an interviewee goes on to say right after that he loves the word entrenched) feeling that he or she is better than others and that others do not count.

As the film’s title implies, the film is supposed to be taken with a grain of salt.  Whatever is presented, it is to be lightly taken, to be fun and entertaining, while putting down the subject and villain of the film – the asshole.

The film explains that there are many types of assholes:

  • the boorish asshole
  • the smug asshole
  • the surfer asshole
  • the self aggrandizing asshole

etc.

Walker goes on the include clips from films that include assholes, poking fun at how funny assholes can be in film or in a book.  Among them is ex-Toronto mayor Rob Ford, who claims that he never smoked crack cocaine and then said later that he could have, on one of his drunken stupors.  But this clearly makes him only a clown.  But once he decidedly goes on late talk show host Jimmy Kimmel, he has upgraded his status to asshole mayor. 

But Walker is quite serious of the subject.  Walker intends to discover the impact of assholes so he takes off, to the streets of L.A.  He also engages a psychotherapist to talk about the subject.  She treats the subject seriously including bullying that is a true trait of being an asshole.  Harvey Weinstein, an easy target is brought up, which I am sure will get many an audience cheering.

Walker’s film gets serious on the segment where the RCMP is attacked as condoning asshole behaviour.  An interviewed female member in Winnipeg whistle blows the RCMP and with reason. She is called raison tits and other degrading terms by the males and no one said anything.  She holds the assholes at the top responsible, saying that anyone had said something, this crime would not have gone on.

The film is also amusing in the way it states certain things that most of us, the audience already know.  One is the difference between a prick and an asshole.  If a boy exhibits asshole behaviour, he is called ‘a little shit’, because he has not come of age yet to be classified an asshole.   It requires a certain age to know the difference and if one still thinks one is better than others and behaves so, then that is a true classed asshole. And so the film amusingly goes on.

How long can this theory go on before the audiences can say that it all become a bit boring.  Fortunately, the film is short enough to keep interest from waning.

Trailer: https://ca.video.search.yahoo.com/yhs/search?fr=yhs-dcola-005&hsimp=yhs-005&hspart=dcola&p=assholes+a+theory+trailer#id=2&vid=0771888bdfa48a14ba9cefd393f0803a&action=click

Film Review: THE TWO POPES (UK/USA/Italy/Argentina 2019) ***1/2

The Two Popes Poster
Trailer

Behind Vatican walls, the conservative Pope Benedict and the liberal future Pope Francis must find common ground to forge a new path for the Catholic Church.

Films about popes have already been interesting, regardless if one is Roman Catholic or not.  The Roam Catholic institution has survived ages.  News and headlines about priest abuse and the selection process of a new pope have always fascinated the world.  In THE TWO POPES, director Fernando Meirelles’s (the director of the Academy Award Nominee for Best Foreign Language film, CITY OF GOD), THE TWO POPES tells the stories of not one but two popes as they interact with each other, both with different ideals for the church and basically two highly different people.  Yet, they are good people, as they should be, with great ambitions for the Catholic Church.  They are played by two of filmdom’s finest actors, Sir Anthony Hopkins and Jonathan Pryce, both now old enough to play the two pontiffs.

The film opens with Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio (Pryce) preaching in the streets in Argentina while also cheering his favourite soccer team.  The film quickly established Cardinal Jorge as  a decent man with ordinary pleasures like the love for soccer.  The film effectively closes with both popes watching the World cup final each cheering for their home teams, while making ‘human’ jokes while getting extremely excited.

Of the two popes, Bergoglio is the more interesting, only because director Meirelles devotes more time in him.  Bergoglio prefers walking or biking to limousines.  He likes to tango and watch soccer with ordinary people.  In an amusing early scene, we hear him whistling “Dancing Queen” in the Vatican men’s room.  He is clearly shown to be against sexual abuse, believing that offenders should be defrocked.  He is also against homosexuality, which clearly will anger the majority of people, but that is his belief.  No reasons are given for this belief.

Director Meirelles spends time on the process of selecting Bergoglio that went behind closed doors in the Vatican when white smoke from the chimney would indicate the decision that a new pope has been selected.

 In contrast is the opposite nature of Pope Benedict (Hopkins), who regards any change as a perilous compromise to the Church’s integrity.  Nevertheless, Benedict realizes that momentum is building for Bergoglio to succeed him, so the two men meet, break bread, and engage in a debate that reveals much about their respective pasts and divergent visions for the future.  This is perhaps the most interesting part of the film, analogous to climatic confrontation in a film drama.  The only difference here is that there is no right or wrong but differences in opinion and beliefs.  Except for the fact that homosexuality should not be condemned in the Catholic Church, an issue neglected in the film.

THE TWO POPES should be seen primarily for the performances of its two leads, Hopkins and Pryce.  Director Meirelles has also achieved the formidable task of making a film on the Catholic Church more interesting that it should be.

THE TWO POPES premiered this year at the Toronto International Film Festival.  It has a limited screening engagement at the Bell Lightbox before being streamed on Netflix.

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TpUd9SoP-l8

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

(Blood in the Snow Film Festival(BITS)): DEAD DICKS (Canada 2019) ***1/2)

Dead Dicks Poster
After Becca receives a distressing call from her suicidal brother Richie, she rushes over to his apartment and finds him alive and well – surrounded by copies of his own dead body.

One wonders the reason that this film got selected for the Blood in the Snow film festival as there is no blood in the snow in this film.  But thank heavens the film got picked, as this film shows lots of promise.  And there are lots of blood to compensate, as bodies get chopped up and disposed in garbage bags.  

The story defies logic but it works.  Suicidal Richie (Heston Horwin) cannot die – a sort of horror GROUNDHOG DAY.  Whenever Richie kills himself, he re-emerges from a vagina on the wall in the next room.  Sister Becca (Jillan Harris) helps her brother though no help can save the day.  Downstairs apartment neighbour Matt (Matt Keyes) sees the dead bodies of Richie’s past deaths and the film gets weirder.  Written and directed by the Montreal-based duo, the film keeps audience’s interest piqued by the creation of lots of audience anticipation segments. 

 The micro-budget film showcases the budding talent of both cast and crew in this weird horror fest flick.

Trailer: https://vimeo.com/346229040