Film Review: MOUTHPIECE (Canada 2018)

Mouthpiece Poster
Trailer

Cassandra, who is portrayed by the two women, expresses the opposing voices that exist inside the modern woman’s head, during a 48-hour period as she tries to organize the affairs for her mother’s funeral.

Director:

Patricia Rozema

Based on the theatrical play by Amy Nostbakken and Norah Sadava, MOUTHPIECE (premiered at TIFF) centres on Cassandra, a woman who is making the arrangements for her mother’s funeral, who is played by both Nostbakken and Sadava as a dramatization of her inner conflict.

Canadian writer/director Patricia Rozema shot to fame with her quirky features, most notably I SAW THE MERMAIDS SINGING (and a more stable MANSFIELD PARK) which also propelled its star Sheila McCarthy to stardom.  The film was at the time the darling of the Toronto International Film Festival and Rozema’s films have frequented TIFF ever since.  This gives her the chance to be more daring.  MOUTHPIECE, based on the play by its two leads is as daring as daring can be.

MOUTHPIECE opens with a 30-year old writer riding home a bicycle during Christmas with another girl.  They sleep on the same bed.  The immediate question is whether they are lovers.  But it turns out that they may be sisters and they react similarly to the revelation of the death of ones mother.  It turns out that these two women are manifestations of the same character both portrayed by two different  actresses. These two actresses also wrote the script and the play which director Rozema based her film on.  But the audience is not told of the fact that these two persons are one of the same.  The result is a confusing and very annoying beginning.

The two leads Amy Nostbakken and Norah Sadava fare well, playing against each other, being one and then being different,  considering that they should since they write the original material (the play) together.

Is MOUTHPIECE a dark comedy?  For one, it is not funny.  As an experimental piece, the novelty of the experiment wears off quite fast.  Worse of all, the experiment is never explained and it takes a while to figure what is going on.  Nothing makes much sense as well, so there is no point trying to figure what is going on  why, when or what.   The sex scene in which one personality is watching the other copulating is one of the more inventive segments – weird as it is.

The film contains other quirky scenes like the one where the two lie in the coffin Cassandra has picked up for her recently passed mother.  The funeral parlour director can only say that people feel differently for they losses.  

The film shot in Toronto, apparently during the festive season is a pleasant diversion to look at.  Cinematography, quite stunning especially in the one scene with the multitude of birds in the sky, is by d.p. Catherine Lutes.  Most of them film’s crew are feminine which is a welcome change from the norm.

There are  a few reasons, primarily its novelty for watching MOUTHPIECE.  Unfortunately, there are even more reasons particularly the exasperating result (try watching the film in its entirety in one sitting) for not seeing this pretentious artistic exercise.

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ILvNjYJo-G0

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Film Review: THE TOMORROW MAN (USA 2018) ***1/2

Trailer

Ed Hemsler spends his life preparing for a disaster that may never come. Ronnie Meisner spends her life shopping for things she may never use. In a small. These two people will try to find love.

Director:

Noble Jones (as Noble Lincoln Jones)

Writer:

Noble Jones

Romantic Comedies are not part of my favourite film genre.  And least of all romantic comedies where the subjects are old folks.  So, what can I say about THE TOMORROW MAN?  – a romantic comedy about two seniors who fall in love.  It is a charming and winning film, full of surprises that works because of a heartfelt script and two amazing leads – Blythe Danner and John Lithgow.

THE TOMORROW MAN is Ed Hemsler (Lithgow).  Ed spends his life preparing for a disaster that may never come. Ronnie Meisner (Danner) spends her life shopping for things she may never use.  In a small town somewhere in America, these two people will try to find love while trying not to get lost in each other’s stuff.

Just as Ed surprises Ronnie every time they meet (the first time suddenly appearing at the supermarket, one time when his face appears as she closes her car’s hood) the script is also full of surprises.  When Ed drives Ronnie home after the first date, when he turns on the car radio, Ronnie starts singing.  Out of the blue he screeches the car to a stop and runs out screaming.  What happens next is unexpected, surprise and totally charming.   And enough to knock the audience off their seats – the couple’s first embrace.  This is is makes he film work – a script that is so engaging, funny and unexpected.  Another scene has Ed going on and on talking non-stop about himself and his family and then suddenly stopping to say that he is saying too much.  Ronnie then surprises with her candid revelation about herself and her family.  Other examples, in fact too many to mention follow – a really good thing.

Both characters are eccentric.  Ed imagines that the news lady on TV speaks to him.  “There has been a third power outage.  But Ed Hemsler has a backup generator.  Because Ed Hemsler thinks of everything.  Because Ed Hamster thinks of everything.”  Ronnie is more forward about the relationship than is believed at the start.  A few wise words from the couple also offers advice to the audience, just as Ed tells his son on the telephone at the film’s start: “What matters is what you do now.”

Lithgow and Danner make the perfect believable senior couple.  They do not come across as condescending.  They do not relive their old younger glory days but acknowledge their age (I retired at the wrong side of 60, says Ed at one point in the film) and limitations.

The film has been described by Jimmy Fallon as an old age version of SILVER LININGS PLAYBOOK.  Yes and no.  THE TOMORROW MAN is a film about eccentrics, too but it is not a sensationalized romance like PLAYBOOK.  Both are well-made, entertaining films and THE TOMORROW MAN excels in its own weird way.  The film shows that there is life after 60 and that a romantic comedy about seniors can still have appeal and zest.

Trailer: https://www.imdb.com/title/tt8769848/videoplayer/vi1054063641?ref_=tt_pv_vi_aiv_1

Film Review: LATE NIGHT (USA 2019) ***

Late Night Poster
Trailer

A late-night talk-show host suspects that she may soon lose her long-running show.

Director:

Nisha Ganatra

Writer:

Mindy Kaling (screenplay by)

The timely talk-show host comedy LATE NIGHT earns a double boost from being selected to headline the Toronto Inside Out Gay and Lesbian Film Festival’s Closing Night Gala as well as having the fortune to have Academy Award British actress Emma Thompson star as the legendary talk-show host Katherine Newbury.

The script has been widely publicized as being written by Indian comedian Mindy Kaling, one fo the most well known and respected TV and film personalities.  In her script, she gets to offer her take on feminine and minority issues.  Though her script is by no means perfect, it has good moments, is earnest and also occasionally quite funny.

The film centres on American talk-show host, British born Katherine Newbury (Emma Thompson), a pioneer in her field.  The only woman ever to have a long-running program on late night, she keeps her writers’ room on a short leash ― and all male, and all white male at that.  But when her ratings plummet and she finally realizes that she but not her show is going to be axed, she starts taking notice and action, and oddly enough, inappropriate action.  She is accused of being a “woman who hates women,” Katherine puts gender equality on her to-do list and impulsively hires Molly Patel (Mindy Kaling herself), a chemical plant efficiency expert from suburban Pennsylvania, as the first and only female on her writing staff.

The film swings into Molly’s character.  Molly is the underdog with lots of criticism but with few solutions.  When Katherine fingers her out to express her views, she is upset that a newbie can find fault her but offer little in terms of answers,

When rumours begin swirling that Katherine is being replaced by a younger, hipper male host, Daniel Tennant (Ike Barinholtz), she demands that the writers make her funny and relevant again. This is when Molly makes her mark while running at the same times, loggerheads with Katherine.  The film plays like a romantic comedy between Katherine and Molly, the two fighting and then respecting each other.

At its best, the script shows the strength of diversity and women at the work place.  The success of Katherine in what is normally a male occupation says a lot.  Most of the real late night talk show hosts at present are men – so networks should take notice.  The Katherine character is fashioned a bit around the Ellen Degeneres personality and similarities (like Katherine’s remarks) exist.  The restraint of putting a lid on a romantic subplot pays off too.  There is a little romance brewing but just enough to make Molly a vulnerable character.  The script shows  the female crying a well.  (Molly cries behind her desk in one scene after being humiliated by Katherine).  

On the negative side, all the males are depicted as second class idiots.  All of Katherine’s white males writers are bumbling no-brainers.  The role of Katherine’s husband (John Lithgow) is over-written and over sympathetic.  The males also cannot keep a decent relationship going.

Kaling’s script also seems over eager to please.  It is clear enough that LATE NIGHT is supposed to be a feel-good movie but at times, when the music comes crescendo-ing over the dialogue to steer how the audience to feel, it all seems a bit too much.

Thompson delivers a winning performance, regardless and Kaling tries hard in her role which basically her film of her own.

LATE NIGHT is still entertaining despite its over eagerness to please, the film aided by Thompson’s and Kaling’s otherwise working chemistry.

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

Film Review: SORRY FOR YOUR LOSS (Canada 2019) ***

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When a new dad (Justin Bartha) has to return home to bury his estranged father, things take a turn for the complicated when the dead man’s final wish is to have his ashes scattered on the field of his favorite professional sports team.

Director:

Collin Friesen

SORRY FOR YOUR LOSS is an acclaimaed small Canadian film that makes its debut this week and can be seen in Toronto.

When the SORRY FOR YOUR LOSS begins and rolls on, it takes a while for the audiences to establish that the film being watched is Canadian.  Everything looks American at first sight, including the familiar face of the main actor, Justin Martha who has been seen in THE HANGOVER.  Suddenly, as his character takes a plane to attend his father’s funeral, song with the lyrics “I hate Winnipeg” is heard on the soundtrack.

Marking Collin Friesen’s directorial debut, this heartfelt comedy follows exhausted new dad Ken (Justin Bartha) as he heads home to bury his own estranged father.  Ken leaves his wife and baby behind to attend the funeral.  Ken is talked into fulfilling his father’s dying wish, in order to claim his inheritance  – to have his ashes scattered on the playing field of the local pro football team. It is a task that proves tougher and funnier than it should be but with the help of his lonely, hippy mother (Lolita Davidovich, best known for BLAZE) and his father’s old golf buddy, Jeff (Bruce Greenwood, who gets star billing for the role), Ken learns a little about himself, his marriage, and most important, that there is nothing about dying that makes you a saint.  The father’s last words on video makes one fo the film’s funniest parts.  The script sneaks a few messages about life as well.

The film takes a few cheap racial shots – at the Koreans and China.  Have to admit that these are quite funny, not that I or the scriptwriters are racist or anything.  And as such as the script goes, the film cracks quite a few black humoured jokes at death, funerals and dying wishes, which are again hilarious.  If these are not laugh-out loud (as it would seem in bad taste to laugh too hard at these), they are at least good for an audible chuckle.  Jokes are original to say the least.  To the scriptwriter’s credit, there has never been so much humour generated from unfunny jokes, as evident in the funeral service segment.

The trouble starts when director Friesen attempts at getting serious.  After Ken has spent some time away, he gets into a bit of trouble and the wife gets visibly upset, especially after having to look after their baby all by herself.  The tension rises and Ken, who is no saint has started hanging around with a divorcee next door nieghbour who convinces him to  quit his job over the telephone.  This is when the film starts treading on predictable territory.  After a few laughs, the audience is in no mood to get serious.

The film is nominated for three Canadian Comedy Awards, including Best Feature Film, Best Writing and Best Performance in a Feature.

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?time_continue=5&v=wLlf_Z8wji4

Film Review: ROCKETMAN (UK/USA 2019) ****

Rocketman Poster
A musical fantasy about the fantastical human story of Elton John‘s breakthrough years.

Director:

Dexter Fletcher

Writer:

Lee Hall (screenplay)

You got to love it when a subject executively produces his own biopic.  And even more when the subject is Sir Elton John.

Elton John is world famous and known for his outrageous performances, flashy costumes an controversial remarks.  His biopic, directed by Dexter Fletcher and written by Lee Hall who wrote BILLY ELLIOT) opens with him in bright orange gear, entering a bright light, which the audience assumes is going to be a grand stage, but turns out hilariously to be the room for an Alcoholics Anonymous gathering.  As the orange clad figures discusses his life, the biopic relates the story of one of the world’s best signer/songwriter from little boy to the present.

The film’s next scene has Elton as a little boy in a song and dance number that is immediately reminiscent of Ken Russell’s THE WHO musical TOMMY where little Tommy is inserted in a number called “Bernie’s holiday camp”.   Russell’s TOMMY has important significance to Elton John as he had a cameo role in the film as the pinball wizard, with the popular song later performed in its full entirety by John in the biopic.

By inevitable comparison to the recent BOHEMIAN RHAPSODY (Director Fletcher was named the replacement director for BOHEMIAN RHAPSODY and helped finish that film though only Bryan Singer received director’s credit) which won 4 Oscars including the Best Actor prize for Rami, ROCKETMAN is more enjoyable to this reviewer for 2 reasons.  This reviewer is a true Elton John and not a Queen fan, and so every song crooned in ROCKETMAN brings both nostalgia and joy.  The film is also splashy and more daring (the sex scene that was left intact in the film, according to the Daily Mail article, compared to RHAPSODY where there were no sex scenes).  The sex seen in ROCKETMAN, with John and his lover doing the nasties both butt naked in bed is sufficiently eye-opening though no intercourse is actually on display.

Both Tagor Egerton as Elton John and Jamie Bell (BILLY ELLIOT and THE ADVENTURES OF TINTIN) as his lyricist and friend, Bernie Turpin are close to perfect in their roles.   Elton John has himself praised Egerton’s performance in the film.  What could be a better complement?  Egerton also gets the Elton John mannerisms down pat to a ‘t’.

Certain songs in the film add a certain resonance not realized by many.  One prime example are the lyrics of “Goodbye Yellow Brick Road” crooned by both Bernie Turpin and Elton John.  ‘….going back to the howling old owl in the woods, hunting the horny black toad, I’m going back where my future lies, beyond the Yellow Brick Road”.  This segment is not only the most moving but most powerful part of the film which effectively forms the climatic moment of the film.

ROCEKTMAN which clocks just over the two hour mark reveals both the genius and demons of this talented individual.  Owing to the nature of the subject, the downward spiralling of John is still glamorously displayed and neither dismal looking nor dull.  One prime example is his diving in the pool fantasy sequence where John meets his boy-self at the bottom playing ROCKETMAN on is toy piano.

A few facts on his life are missing on the screen most notably his spat with Madonna and his knighthood.  These would have added even more spice to the otherwise heavily layered dessert.

ROCKETMAN has been chosen as the Opening Night film for Toronto’s 2019 LGBT Inside Out Film Festival.  This weekend the film goes head-to-head competition with two other blockbusters, GODZILLA 2 (Ugh!) and MA.  Elton John fans around the film should (their numbers alone) make ROCKETMAN the number 1 at the box-office.  ROCEKTMAN deserves to be, anyway.

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=S3vO8E2e6G0

Film Review: PHOTOGRAPH (India/Germany 2018) ***

Photograph Poster
Trailer

A struggling street photographer in Mumbai, pressured to marry by his grandmother, convinces a shy stranger to pose as his fiancée. The pair develop a connection that transforms them in ways they could not expect.

Director:

Ritesh Batra

Writer:

Ritesh Batra

Writer/director Batra has risen to fame with his Mumbai hit THE LUNCHBOX which allowed him to direct two English language films (OUR SOULS AT NIGHT and THE SENSE OF AN ENDING).  Batra is back to his Mumbai roots with his new modest film, a sort of Indian romantic comedy of manners or Indian manners rather, entitled PHOTOGRAPH.

As the title PHOTOGRAPH implies, a love affair begins with a photograph, in this case, the photograph taken of a pretty girl at the Gateway of India.  And the romance begins from there.  For those unfamiliar with India or Mumbai for that matter, PHOTOGRAPH delivers an insightful look of the city and the continent.  Mumbais smoke ‘bidi’ too, their slang word for joints.  The Gateway of India is no less than Mumbai, so called because it is a beautiful city by the waters and a tourist spot for both foreign and local tourists was well.  Mumbai is not only the busy overcrowded city as depicted in other films like Danny Boyle’s SLUMDOG MILLIONAIRE.  In PHOTOGRAPH, director Batra shows both the beauty and bustiness of the Indian city.

PHOTOGRAPH is a light romance, so there is not much that the audience needs to concentrate on or figure out or meditate on.  But there are lot of Indian cultures and mores built into the story.  India is known for its caste system.  In the story the male and female come from different classes.  The girl Didi or Miloni (Sanya Malhotra) is Muslim with a maid (who she can confide with) and a stricter mother who has arranged Miloni’s mirage with another Indian who is about to get his MBA from the United States.  The running joke is that the man has been fat and has lost weight and now thin and the fear is that he might get fat again.  When Didi meets him for the first time, he offered her cake and refrains from having any himself saying that he is watching his weight.

The love which blossoms between Didi and Rafi (Bollywood icon Nawazuddin Siddiqui) takes its time to unfold.  The affair is sped up by the arrival of Rafi’s grandmother, Dadi
(Farrukh Jaffar), a fiesta old woman who is not afraid to make her thoughts known.  She also puts in a bit of bite into the story.  Director Batra is in no rush to have them kiss or have them do the nasties in the bedroom.  Which is a good thing.  But romantic comedies are romantic comedies and one big flaw of rom coms are that they are predictable and are filled with cliches.

Director Batra overcomes the predictable clichéd romantic comedy by parody, lifting the film a few notches.  This he does in the movie theatre where Rafi takes Didi to see a movie for the second time.  Didi leaves the auditorium at one point, the reason given being a scurrying mouse beneath her feet.  When Rafi goes out to get her later on, they discuss the predictability of romantic comedies.

If one does not expect too much, PHOTOGRAPH is a satisfactory romantic comedy with a Mumbai touch that enlivens the action.  

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

Film Review: ASAKO I & II (Japan 2018) ***

Asako I & II Poster
Asako lives in Osaka. She falls in love with Baku, a free-spirit. One day, Baku suddenly disappears. Two years later, Asako now lives in Tokyo and meets Ryohei. He looks just like Baku, but has a completely different personality.

Writers:

Tomoka Shibasaki (based on the novel by), Sachiko Tanaka (screenplay) | 1 more credit »

The film’s title ASAKO I & II may be misleading.  It implies two chapters or two films entitled ASAKO 1 and  ASAKO II, which is what I thought.  But the film is about two different characters in the love life of Asako.  Both are played by the same actor, Masahiro Higashide. 

The plot can be summarized in one line: One day Asako’s first love suddenly disappears. Two years later, she meets his perfect double.

When the film opens, Asako and Baku meet for the first time, love at first sight style.  They kiss compassionately and begin a relationship.  They have another couple as friends, who turn up at the end of the film.  One evening while Baku goes out to get food, he does not return till the next morning to Asako’s dismay.  But she is glad when he is returns.  As they hug the voiceover announces that Baku will do his disappearing act again when he goes out to get shoes, this time never to return.  Asako moves to Tokyo where she meets his look alike though a different person.  Ryohei and Asako begin a relationship.  They grow strong as a couple till the inevitable happens.  Baku, now a male model and famous personality appears again in Asako’s life.  No more of the story should be revealed at this point of the review.

The film has been described in the press notes as a story of love initiation at the edge of fantasy and a reflection on the importance of first love in post-Fukushima Japan.

Director Hamaguchi (HAPPY HOUR) also displays his serious side in one of the film’s more engrossing segments.  After watching Maya’s performance on a Chekov play on TV, there is a debate on her performance from cheap and praise seeking to earnest and moving.  One member brutally criticizes her performance while giving a false pretext to leave the gathering before being brought to his senses.

The young actors are believable.  It is interesting to see actors in Hollywood movies compared to their Asian counterparts.  The male actors here are not buffed or muscle bound but slim and looking much still like teens.  Higashide does well playing two different roles, the audience differentiating the two characters from their haircuts.

The film covers several genres like teen first love, coming-of-age, corporate business, mystery and friendship.  The film’s lightness in tone, however leads to a weak narrative meaning that a lot of issues are left hanging.  It does pick up during the last 15 minutes as director Hamaguchi tightens the pace and story.  A little patience is required in a somewhat initial rocky and frustrating start.  The weird music heard of the soundtrack supports the film’s feel.

The film was selected in official competition at the 2018 Cannes Film Festival and presented at the last Vancouver International Film Festival, the feature film is an adaptation of the best-selling novel of the same name by Japanese author Tomoka Shibasaki.

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HaZV7rhBRBE