Film Review: THE ART OF SELF-DEFENSE (USA 2019) ***1/2

The Art of Self-Defense Poster

A man is attacked at random on the street. He enlists at a local dojo, led by a charismatic and mysterious sensei, in an effort to learn how to defend himself.


Riley Stearns


Riley Stearns

One must admire and give writer/director Riley Stearns credit for going against the natural flow of the typical movie.  Though described as a dark comedy, the film turns so dark towards the last third, that it can hardly be described as a comedy any longer but some psychological mind-blower.   The story turns completely unpredictable with a plot twist that is, when one looks back quite obvious, but director Stearns has steered his audience completely in a direction that they definitely will not see what is coming next.  At the same time, the hapless hero turns and changes into a selfless all-conquering hero, sacrificing everything he has for others, a selfless act while defeating his villain in a duel to the death.

The plot revolves around a mild-mannered accountant called Casey (Jesse Eisenberg).  One evening while returning home after buying dog food, he is beaten up by a motorcycle gang and left for dead.  In hospital recovering, his boss Grant gives him a few days off.  He comes across a Karate class and enrols in the day class while learning the art of Karate, eventually excelling in it.  But it is his character that is in question not his fighting ability.  He learns that the has to overcome his cowardly attitude. This he does, in what are the film’s most hilarious moments.

Jesse Eisenberg apparent took Karate classes a few weeks for preparation for this role, though he has said that he took it as child.  He is convincing enough.  Though Eisenberg usually takes roles where he speaks an incredible amount of words per minute as in THE SOCIAL NETWORK and THE HUMMMINGBIRD PROJECT, this is one film where he has little dialogue.  The film often plays its dark comedy dead-pan with as little words spoken as well.  Whenever a dramatic conversation comes along, director Stearn often turns off the music and background noise.  The effect is an uncomfortable silence punctuated by the script’s dialogue.

Stearn’s wife, actress Mary Elizabeth Winstead had signed on to star in the film in 2016.  But the couple separated in 2017 with the result that Winstead is no longer in the cast.  Making a film is a lot of work and one can assume that the work must have got into conflict with their relationship.  The film though appearing totally male-chauvinist is in reality pro-feminist.  Karate is described in the film as the art of achieving total masculine perfection with none of the other gender having to play any part.  Of course, the concept is wrong which the film thankfully proves at the end.  The film is also quite homo-erotic especially in two scenes, where the male karat students do cool-down exercises bare-bodied massaging each other or when practising certain moves also with little clothes on.

As such, THE ART OF SELF-DEFENSE might turn out a hard-sell.  Besides a few uncomfortable scenes, audiences will find it difficult in the film’s transition from comedy to psychological thriller but those willing to accept the change will find Stearn’s film a daring, bold and refreshing change from the norm.  The film is a winner!


Film Review: MOBILE HOMES (France/Canada 2017)

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Mobile Homes Poster
A young mother drifts from one motel to the next with her intoxicating boyfriend and her 8-year-old son. The makeshift family scrapes by, living one hustle at a time, until the discovery of…See full summary »


Vladimir de FontenayDanielle Lessovitz (Artistic Collaborator)


MOBILE HOMES is a very intense film as evident in three of the film’s opening sequences.  The first shows a mother, Ali (British actress Imogen Poots), frustrated to the point of blowing up at her inability to set her son up for aid due to lack of documentation.  The next scene that follows is a highly charged erotic sex scene with the mother having it on with boyfriend, Evan (Callum Turner).  This soon follows one where the boy, Bone (Frank Oulton) has to make a dash out of a diner to escape payment.  Will he make it or get caught?

France born director Vladimir de Fontenay keeps up the intensity throughout the film though one soon has the feeling if all this is necessary or is he trying too hard.  MOBILE HOMES, is as the title implies set in the white trailer trash surroundings of losers and dishonest low-life who would cheat and lie to get ahead just for a few bucks.  Evan and Ali attempt one scheme after another, often with the help of 8-year old Bone who seems to have an affinity for his mother’s boyfriend who treats him ok, if not teaching him a bad thing or two on survival.  There is another nasty bit in the story involving cock fighting.  Bone has a rooster that he loves and carries around with him.   There is also the question of using an underaged kid to sell drugs or do dishonest deeds besides banned outings like cock fighting.

At one point in the film, Ali confesses her desire to own a place of her own, so she can f*** in her own bed.  This leads to a scheme of trying to own their own mobile home, though it may mean stealing from mobile homes owner, Robert (Callum Keith Rennie).  

One wonders at the director’s fascination of mobile homes.  His obsession can be observed right down to the film’s climax that include a high speed chase with Ali driving a vehicle with a stolen mobile home in tow.  It is an extremely exciting and well shot scene, credit to de Fontenay and one that is guaranteed to have audiences at the edge of their seats.

The film is shot in Ontario around the Niagara region, which is where cheap tourism exists – a perfect locale for the film’s setting.

The trouble with MOBILE HOMES is that besides being a really nasty film, director de Fontena offers few redeeming qualities for any of his characters with the result that the audience does not care what happens to them.  Why doesn’t Ali just start thinking seriously about getting a job to settle down?  The prospect of a job is at one point offered to her by Robert, which she misuses.

While Poots and Turner deliver exceptional performances despite the film’s flaws, it is the boy Frank Oulton who is a natural.  Whether getting lost, beaten or scolded, he is the only character that the audience feels for.  The result, however, is still a film the audience is detached from.


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Movie Review: GREEN ROOM. Starring: Anton Yelchin, Imogen Poots, Alia Shawkat

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green_room.jpgGREEN ROOM (USA 2015) ***
Directed by Jeremy Saulnier

Starring: Anton Yelchin, Imogen Poots, Alia Shawkat

Review by Gilbert Seah

Character development is not really important in a slasher horror film. But it helps that the audience can identify with the characters and know something about them so that they are not just numbered victims. An example is the upcoming BODY in which the director spends a considerable amount of time giving each of the three girl victims a distinct personality.

The premise of the film is a simple one. A punk band called ‘The Ain’t Rights’ is dead broke. Their car is stranded and they are so out of cash that they have to siphon gas from other cars to get to their gigs. One of their desperate gigs is a Neo-Nazi skinhead bar headed by a no-nonsense meanie played by Patrick Stewart. After witnessing a stabbing, the band members and the victim’s friend (Imogen Poots) are locked in a GREEN ROOM. The Neo-Nazis want them (the only witnesses) done away with. It is Neo-Nazis vs. punks.

In GREEN ROOM, spending time on characterizations seems useless for two reasons. Firstly, there is no need to know anything about a victim who is no longer there in the film and characterization serves to give a hint as to who will survive. The nasty personalities are usually killed of first, as stated in the spoof SCARE films, a fact only too true. But director Saulnier (BLUE RUIN) cleverly introduces each of the band members at the start of the film through an interview in which each member has their say. Much can also be read from each’s favourite band, a running joke in the film.

The characters are all nasty in their own way. Saulnier makes none of them any less sympathetic. It finally comes down to the question of who is the least nasty.

Atmosphere and mood wise, GREEN ROOM has an extremely scary look – credit to the tech department involved. Whether out in the open or in the green room, the film always has a claustrophobic feel that the victims can never escape.
Performance-wise, the one that stands out is Patrick Stewart as D’Arcy. Stewart appears to have moulded his role out of Rob Zombie (THE DEVIL’S REJECTS, HALLOWEEN). Of the cast, all do well in the screamingly best.

Saulnier also teases the audience in number of ways. In one scene he shows a victim with no blood and just a sharp object on the side of her head. No blood. Want blood? The next scene has the object pulled out with lots of blood gushing out flooding the carpet.

Saulnier does have a soft spot for innocent victims. The killer dog in one scene is allowed to survive and is shown sadly putting its head down and mourning its dead owner.

GREEN ROOM finally emerges as an efficient chiller, not suitable for the weak-hearted or even for the strong hearted in the early hours of the day. An entertaining nasty piece of work if one has the stomach for it.


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