Film Review: WONDER PARK (USA 2019) ***

Wonder Park Poster
Wonder Park tells the story of an amusement park where the imagination of a wildly creative girl named June comes alive.

Writers:

Josh Appelbaum (screenplay by), André Nemec(screenplay by) | 3 more credits »

One must wonder how the filmmakers decide on whether the main child protagonist in their animated feature is going to be male or female.  Males have been highly successful in the  TOY STORY franchise while females in the FROZEN franchise.  For WONDER PARRK, creating rides and using mechanical expertise to tune up the rides would be more suited for a male child and his father rather than a girl and mother.  Girls do not generally engage in races either.  But in this age of gender equality, anything goes.  The female protagonist works well in this story to show more gender equality, credit to he filmmakers.

A young imaginative 10-year old girl named Cameron “June” Bailey (voiced by newcomer Brianna Denski) spent her childhood days constructing an amusement park filled with fantastical rides and inhabited by talking animals called Wonderland with her mother (Jennifer Garner) and her friends, but she lost her sense of imagination and wonder after her mother leaves home for an illness not mentioned and growing up, until she finds the real Wonderland in the woods while at math camp.  She needs to team up with the animals to stop the destruction of Wonderland by Chimpanzombies and bring it back to life.  Simple story, simply executed. The film obviously suffers from the lack of a single evil villain.  The cute chimanzombies do not really cut it as scary villains.  Even their name sounds cute.  But the weight of worry on a sick mother on a child can be devastating.  Credit to the filmmakers and scriptwriter to include a more serious note in an otherwise fun film.  But this sad weight does anchor down the fun atmosphere of the film.  The audience also pities the poor father who now has to look after June and do the household chores which June does not believe the father is capable of. The dialogue is sufficiently corny but doable. The characters try to put back the wonder in WONDER PARK when the park is breaking down.  The animals  also frequently chant: “We are the Wonder in Wonder Park”.  The characters con up words like ‘splendiferous’ and ‘wonderiferous’, words that children can pick up and constantly annoy their parents with after the movie.  The park also encompasses some ingenious rides that the script has churned out, rides that could perhaps work in a real amusement part, but deemed too dangerous.

Other voice characterizations from more famous actors include the ones from Mila Kunis, Ken Jeong and Matthew Broderick as June’s father.

The part of the story of twin worlds existing makes a good concept.  When June whispers into the ear of her toy chimpanzee, the chimpanzee in WONDER WORLD, Peanut (Norbert Leo Lutz) hears her ideas and implements the suggestions.

WONDER PARK is the third animation feature from Nickleodeon Pictures and Paramount Animation Studios after JIMMY NEUTRON: BOY GENIUS and BARNYARD.  It was reported that the filmmakers hope the film turns out as big as Disney’s COCO.  Both films share the voice of a newcomer for the main child protagonist.

WONDER WORLD is no COCO but it is still not without its pleasures but for mostly kids. 

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5MRSBuQt51A

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Canadian Film Fest 2019: RED ROVER (Canada 2019)

Red Rover Poster
After feeling he has nothing left to live for on earth, a lonely geologist tries to qualify for a one-way mission to Mars with the help of an offbeat musician who is just as lost as he is.

Director:

Shane Belcourt

Shane Belcourt performs triple duty as director, co-writer and director of photography about an odd ball geologist (Kristian Bruun) and his relationship with a pretty musician (Cara Gee).  

Damon, the geologist spends his waking hours searching for that elusive something. Whether it is for deeper meaning, love, or just “treasure” on the beach with his metal detector, it is to no avail.  So when Damon meets an offbeat musician named Phoebe handing out flyers for a one way trip to Mars, a bond quickly forms. 

 She’s going to help him find that thing he is looking for by sending him 33.9 million miles away, even though what he needs might be right in front of him.  The film hints at a love relationship rather than a plutonic one, and one can hardly tell where everything is heading even half way through the movie.  But the waywardness of the two individuals are nothing out of the ordinary and their gatherings grow tiresome quite soon.  Bruun and Gee carry the film for all that is worth. 

 The film is shot in Toronto with may familiar sights that should please audiences watching the film at the Canadian Film Fest for which this film has been chosen as the Opening Film.

Trailer: https://vimeo.com/294847271

Canadian Film Fest 2019: POND LIFE

Pond Life Poster
Summertime, 1994. In a quiet mining village just outside Doncaster, a rumour stirs about the legend of a giant carp in the nearby decoy ponds. Trevor takes watch one night at the water’s …See full summary »

Director:

Bill Buckhurst

POND LIFE settles on a couple at home – a seemingly happily married couple, Dick (Ryan Blakely) and Sandy (Jeanie Calleja), high school sweethearts.  

The relationship is about to be tested.  As Dick makes sexual advances towards his wife (showing a still healthy marriage), Sandy reveals that her sister or foster sister as Dick corrects his wife, Daisy (Kerry McPherson) and boyfriend, Richard (Ryan McVittie) are on their way to visit.  Two couples.  Two secrets.  And a night to celebrate a pregnancy goes haywire. As the film progresses, more plot points are revealed.  

It seems that Richard and Dick have known each other quite well and in fact have some shady business going, despite many disagreements.  The story grows more sinister.  POND LIFE turns up a an entertaining quirky tale about couples, the type Canadian films are well-known for.

Trailer: https://vimeo.com/189524970

Film Review: LEVEL 16 (Canada 2018) ***1/2

Level 16 Poster
Sixteen-year-old Vivien is trapped in The Vestalis Academy, a prison-like boarding school, keeping to herself and sticking her neck out for no one. Until she is reunited with Sophia — the …See full summary »

LEVEL 16, basically a young lady’s prison escape thriller evokes immediately the atmosphere of THE HANDMAID’S TALE and the little seen Irish supposedly true story of nuns’ abusive training in Peter Mulan’s THE MAGDALENE SISTERS – which is a good thing.  These three films bring out good solid drama where the audience cares for the innocent but abused characters.  Even though the final escape seems so easy (in THE MAGDALENE SISTERS, ironically the escape is through an unlocked door), it is the build up that counts.  And the terror of the frequent punishment that comes with disobedience.

16 refers to both the current age of the film’s protagonist, Vivien (Katie Douglas) as well as the new Level – LEVEL 16 of Viv’s education.  It is a walled in concrete world with no windows and no pictures in what is known to the girls, all pretty young things as the Vesralis Boarding School where the young girls are educated for adoption by wealthy parents. or so they are told by their teachers, who are too strict for comfort.  They are also told their adoptive parents sponsor the school and they only wait for their adoption after completion,

The first half of the film  reveals the daily regimental routines.  The girl believe the school is a refuge from an outside world rendered toxic.  But the school is a neglected, antiseptic institution where girls without families are monitored, their day scheduled practically to the minute, and “education” consists of a constantly repeated list of “feminine virtues” – obedience, cleanliness, patience and humility – preached by a matriarch and propagandized in moral-hygiene films.  Among the activities are vitamins the girls are taking daily with a voice telling them that vitamins are good for the body and that they prevent disease.

An incident occurs.  Viv is taken away for punishment because of an accident committed by Sophie (Celina Martin).  On LEVEL 16, Sophie informs Viv, out of guilt, a secret.  The vitamins that they are taking daily are not vitamins but sleeping drugs which knock them out to sleep.  Worse, Sophie who has not taken the drug for while, has witnessed a guard who comes in the middle of the night to touch the girls.  This is where the film gets interesting.

The two villains of the piece are equally chilling  There is the matriarch of the place, white wig donning no-nonsense warden like bitch, Miss Brixil (Sara Canning).  This role seems right tailored for Tilda Swinton to play.  The other is the doctor that owns the place, (Peter Outerbridge) a creepy elderly man who one can tell has the urges to touch his girl victims.

If the climax does not match the build up, the film still is a success rather than a disappointment as the build-up is pretty good.  The script reveals just enough to satisfy the audience and to keep the suspense maintained.  It is this mystery and audience anticipation that makes this tale stand out.

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pQ10TZba5QU

Film Review: 3 FACES (Iran 2018) ***

3 Faces Poster
Trailer

Three actresses at different stages of their career. One from before the 1979 Islamic Revolution, one popular star of today known throughout the country and a young girl longing to attend a drama conservatory.

Director:

Jafar Panahi

Iranian director Jafar Panahi has shot to fame after being imprisoned by the Iranian Government followed by 8 years of house arrest.  Worst and not least, Panahi has been banned from making films.  As Tanya Harding proclaimed after she was banned from ever entering any skiing competition for crimes she allegedly committed (“If you have taken skating away from me, what else is there in life?”), what else is Panahi to do if he does not make films.  Thankfully, he has continued to make films, as evident in his latest entry set in repressed Iran which won him the Best Scenario Prize at Cannes this year.

Iranian director Jafar Panahi’s 3 FACES looks at current issues dominating not only Iran but the world today – female inequality, oppression leading to abuse and unwavering tradition.

The film begins with a lengthy and troubling video shot on a cellphone of Marziyeh (Marziyeh Rezaei), describing how her ambition to become an actor has been thwarted by her family, and pleading for support from Iranian actor Behnaz Jafari. The footage ends abruptly, with the defeated Marziyeh appearing to commit suicide.   The footage illustrates how effective a simple device like a cell phone can be  used to make a film.  It also shows that clarity of the image is not mandatory in order to get a  point across,  Still, this sequence is overdone and overlong.  

Shaken by the recording, Jafari (playing a fictionalized version of herself) abandons a film shoot and sets off to Marziyeh’s village in the company of her friend Panahi (playing himself).  Upon their arrival, they meet with Marziyeh’s friends and apprehensive family, who remain unmoved in ostracizing their daughter for her choice of profession — a reaction rooted in the village’s traditional mindset, and one that’s forced an old silver-screen legend, Shahrazade, to live on the edge of town. The more Jafari and Panahi discover about Marziyeh, the more they learn about the community around her and the inescapable bond between tradition and destiny.

Th film contains a few clever plot twists that keep the story moving.  The film has the feel of an Abbas Kiarostami movie, particularly THE WIND WILL CARRY US, especially the scenes with the winding roads up the hill, with similar such scenes in Panahi’s film.  At times, Panahi tries to be too cute, such as the dialogue involving the honking of the car while driving to the village.  Still the simplicity of the film shows the mastery in Panahi’s work.

Despite good ideas in small budget filmmaking, most of which transpires onscreen have been seen before, especially in Iranian films who appear to have cornered the niche in this type of filmmaking.  Even at 90 minutes, 3 FACES feels long and stretched out.  It could have been compressed to 70 minutes resulting in a  less boring film.  The beginning sequence of Marziyeh committing suicide says it all.  That 8 minute sequence could have been trimmed to half the time to better effect.

Trailer: https://vimeo.com/284212080

Film Review: GLORIA BELL (USA/Chile 2018) ***

Gloria Bell Poster
Trailer

A free-spirited woman in her 50s seeks out love at L.A. dance clubs.

Director:

Sebastián Lelio

Writers:

Alice Johnson Boher (adapted screenplay), Sebastián Lelio | 1 more credit »

GLORIA BELL begins and ends with Julianne Moore dancing at a club in an 80’s setting.  The era is never mentioned but can be deduced from the 80’s song playlist and from the wardrobe and hair style of the characters.  Chilean director Leila has been known to effectively use and bring to life his films with the use of a singular song, the most notable and remembered being Richard Burton’s rendering of the song CAMELOT from the stage musical in Leilo’s film JACKIE about Jackie Kennedy.  In GLORIA BELL, Gloria Gayor’s ‘”Never Can Say Goodbye” begins the film while the popular 80’s song “Gloria” closes it.

GLORIA BELL is described in the press notes as a film on mature dating.   The film opens with Gloria on the dance floor.  Gloria Bell (Julianna Moore) introduces herself to a stranger (and to the audience) as Gloria Bell, a divorcee of 12 odd years.  She meets in the same night, Arnold (John Torturro) who she eventually begins a relationship with, after some hot sex, in which nothing much can be seen much but much can be heard, which means the audience will get the point.

Gloria has been on the dating scene for a while – probably for 12 years or so, judging from her behaviour.  She is not eager to begin a relationship right away but is not opposed to the idea either.

For a film about mature dating, the film covers all the points about its problems.  These include:

– the baggage that each member brings to the relationship with each having their own children and each with their own set of problems

  • the discomfort of still dating at such a late age; Arnold \ has qualms about telling his children about Gloria, obviously embarrassed at the situation
  • jealousies that flare up; Arnold is uncomfortable when Gloria shows affection for her ex (Sean Astin) at her son’s (Michael Cera) birthday party
  • each member is set in their own stubborn ways and behaviour; Arnold in leaving Gloria when trouble arise 
  • disapproval and constant questioning of the children; as it happens at Gloria’s son’s birthday party

The song, Gilbert O’Sullivan’s “Alone Again, Naturally”  that is heard right in the middle of the film again is effectively used by Leilo to put his story in perspective.

Leilo’s film benefits from the performances of its actors, which are key for a dating drama of this sort.  Moore and Torturro are both excellent, especially Torturro who obviously has toned down his usual manic performances.  It is good too to see Michael Sera in the role of Gloria’s son, Cera being absent from the screen for some time.

The script is also smart enough not to take sides.  Both Arnold  and Gloria have their valid reasons for each fight and one could side with either, despite being male or female.  The film’s subplots, like Gloria’s expecting daughter taking off to Sweden to marry her beau also enhances rather than distracts the main story.

GLORIA BELL is not full of surprises (in fact, if the film seems strangely familiar, you could have seen Leilo’s original Spanish 2013 version called GLORIA which was set in Santiago) but it serves a realistic slice of life mature dating, with all its pitfalls and bright spots.  It is an entertaining watch to see ourselves in similar situations.

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fPq4zW9QZSg

TIFF Cinematheque Presents – MEXICAN Cinema (Capsule Reviews)

TIFF Cinematheque presents  Mexican cinema that includes many rare Mexican films never or seldom screened before.  The program of films is co-selected by Mexican director Guillermo del Toro, now living in Toronto whose favourite film, Luis Bunuel’s LOS OLVIDADOS changed his life, as so he claims.

Capsule Reviews follow below and are listed in the order of their screenings at the Lightbox.  The screening links are provided y kid courtesy of TIFF Cinematheque.

This program is a rare treat and in my opinion, one of the best programs delivered at TIFF for a long time.

CAPSULE REVIEWS (in order of Screening)

CRONOS (Mexico) ****
Directed by Guillermo del Toro

Del Toro’s (THE SHAPE OF WATER, PAN’S LABYRINTH) feature debut is an impressive classic horror take re-set in Mexico.  An antique dealer (Ferderico Luppi) comes across a strange device  that is revealed to grant its owner the eternity of life.  But it comes with a price.  The owner would have to undergo severe pain for the device to take effect and the owner would have an insatiable taste for blood.  American actor Ron Perlman plays the role of the violent nephew of an old wealthy uncle (Claudio Brook) who knows about this CRONOS device.  CRONOS bears del Toro’s trademark for blood and gore that would guaranteed to have audiences turn their faces away.  Still CRONOS is a very scary and horrifying tale of the extent some people will go through to live forever.  Del Toro also creates an impressive gothic atmosphere.

Screening: Feb 28th

LOS OLVIDADOS (Mexico 1950) ***** Top 10
Directed by Luis Bunuel

Compelling and uncompromising look at Mexican street youth that won the director the Best Director prize at Cannes.  Shot in black and white around the dirty city streets around the countryside, the drama follows several youth including the perpetually bad Jaibo, recently released from jail, the generally good but impressionable Pedro among others.  The action begins when Jaibo accidentally kills a fellow street kid while he complicates Pedro.  Jaibo has no qualms against robbing or beating up cripples or blonde beggars.  Pedro is guilty as hell incurring nightmares in one of Bunuel’s another unforgettable surreal dream sequence involving a chicken and his floating mother.  Pedro alos longs for his mother’s missing love, so much so that he takes on a job as an apprentice to help support the family.  “Why did you not give me meat to eat that day?” is the important question Pedro asks his mum to which he gets no reply.  Compelling drama of poverty and one that the audience can feel for.  This one of Bunuel’s best – a story with a powerful message, worthy of Victor Hugo’s LES MISERABLES.

Screening: March 1st

THE EXTERMINATING ANGEL (Mexico 1962) ****

Directed by Luis Bunuel

What might seem like an episode of THE TWILIGHT ZONE where guests at a lush dinner party are unable to leave for reasons totally unknown, THE EXTERMINATING ANGEL turns out to be Bunuel’s quiet surrealistic classic.  Thought things are weird, everything looks normal from the outside.  Though there are no barriers to leave, whenever the guest leave, they are prevented by one reason after another- like “we should have a coffee before we go..” and then they never leave, staying for days leading to weeks to longer when each guest gets on each others’  nerves.  Animals like sheep and goats show up for no reason.  The servants mysteriously leave the premises the night before again, for no reason and the chief valet refuses to take orders.  How will all this end?  It really does not matter, as the events that take pale are what makes tis unrealistic movie.

Screening March 16

THE SKELETON OF MRS. MORALES (Mexico 1960) ****
Directed by Rogelio A. Gonzales

A noir comedy that very couple should see.  The Morales are a couple from hell.  She, Gloria (Amparo Rivelles) is a bitching, nagging wife who would not let her husband, a taxidermist enjoy his meal while denying him her marital duties.  He, in theentime has taken to drink while looking at dirty magazines.  To make matters worse, she is a religious woman who has her priest taking her side.  Things reach boiling point when Gloria breaks the expensive camera her husband has saved the money for years to get.  This is the last straw.  What happens next has to be seen so ask not to have the delicious plot spoilt.  The film is little seen Mexican gem that should not be missed.

Screening March 16

Other Films (not reviewed)

The Realm of Fortune dir. Arturo Ripstein | Mexico 1985 | 135 min.

Sunday, March 3

This adaptation of a short story by Mexican author Juan Rulfo marked the first collaboration between director Arturo Ripstein and talented screenwriter Paz Alicia Garciadiego. Town crier Dionisio Pinzón (Ernesto Gomez Cruz) rescues an injured fighting cock and nurses it back to health, and is rewarded when the bird returns to the ring and scores a series of victories, making its formerly impoverished owner into a wealthy man. Dionisio’s love life improves along with his fortunes, and he soon marries the lovely singer La Caponera (Blanca Guerra) — but his newfound prosperity does not necessarily connote a happier future. Incorporating elements of magical realism into their unsparing look at everyday poverty, Ripstein and Garciadiego forged a signature style that they would continue to develop in over a dozen subsequent features.

Sólo con tu pareja dir. Alfonso Cuarón | Mexico 1991 | 98 min. 

Friday, March 29

Premiering at TIFF in 1991, the first feature by Oscar-winning filmmaker Alfonso Cuarón is a dark screwball comedy about love and sex at the height of the AIDS crisis. Playing sick from work one day, unlikely Casanova Tomás Tomás (Daniel Giménez Cacho) has to juggle two rendezvous when his flirty boss and a nurse he has been romancing show up at his pad at the same time. Armed with the keys to his out-of-town neighbour’s apartment, Tomás ushers the unknowing women into the adjoining rooms and flits back and forth between them via the balconies. From up on high, he spies the lovely neighbour who has moved into the flat below his, but the first pangs of this new love are rudely interrupted by the wrathful nurse, who plays a nasty trick on him by changing the results of his recent HIV test. Financed through a state film-funding system, Cuarón’s debut was originally denied a release by the government, but went on to great worldwide festival success and became a hit at home when it was finally granted a domestic release.

El Compadre Mendoza dir. Fernando de Fuentes | Mexico 1933 | 81 min.

Sunday, March 31

Poet turned exhibitor turned filmmaker Fernando de Fuentes was a pioneer in the Mexican film industry of the 1930s, working across many genres and masterfully adapting his cinematic language to the advent of sound. The second film in the director’s famous trilogy about the Mexican Revolution, El Compadre Mendoza centres on a wealthy landowner who plays both sides of the conflict in an effort to maintain his status. When the Zapatistas come to town, he hangs a portrait of the rebel leader in his dining room and drinks to his health; when the government forces arrive, a portrait of General Huerta goes up instead. The landowner’s duplicity finally catches up to him, and it is a Zapata general who ends up coming to his aid. Acidly commenting on the mores of the upper class, El Compadre Mendoza offers a cutting social critique even as it captures a crucial moment in Mexico’s modern history.