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

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Film Review: SUBURBICON (USA 2017) ***

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Suburbicon Poster
Trailer

A home invasion rattles a quiet family town.

Director:

George Clooney

Writers:

Joel CoenEthan Coen 

 

Written by the Academy Award wining Coen Brothers, Grant Heslov and George Clooney himself, this odd piece of satire on the American dream turning into an uncontrollable monster nightmare has its wicked charm but unfortunately fails.  But better an ambitious failure than a simple minded film with no faults – I always say.

The film is set in the fictitious community of SUBURBICON – of perfectly manicured lawns and white picket fences (as in similar films, FAR FROM HEAVEN, PARENTS), one can tell something is amiss or going to go terribly wrong.  In PARENTS, the boy discovers that his parents barbecue human flesh and in FAR FROM HEAVEN, the husband comes out of the closet.  In SUBURBICON, the father of the family, Gardner Lodge (Matt Damon) hires two killers to do away with his wife in a home invasion scenario so that he can be with her sister, Maggie (both roles played with Julianne Moore with blonde and brunette hair).  They plan to go to Aruba with the collected insurance money.  But things get complicated, particularly with the interference of an enterprising insurance investigator (Oscar Isaac) who ends up being poisoned by Margaret.  Their son, Nicky (Noah Jupe) is totally aware of everything that is going on, as he is always snooping or eavesdropping.  Father has no qualms  with doing away with the meddling son, just as the cannibalistic dad would gladly eat his son in PARENTS.  (The film feels very similar to PARENTS at some points.)  A lot of fun in the movie is observing how Nicky discovers what is going on and tries to save his own life.

SUBURBICON’s humour and writing has the distinct Coen Brothers touch, especially in the way events suddenly occur out of the blue and how violence can also suddenly come into the picture (reference: the Coen’ ARIZONA).  But the humour can be so sly and at times so dead-pan, that the humour can be missed.  Also, the film unfolds at a dead slow snail’s pace.  One would definitely fault the film’s direction and editing, though Clooney has directed a few outstanding films in the past.

The art direction of the 50’s idle housing estate is nothing short of perfect.  As the camera pulls back, one can see how all the houses and streets are interconnected.

The film also intercuts into the main story a side-plot of the first coloured family that moves into SUBURBIA.  From initial surprise to full outrage, the neighbourhood finally riots right outside the coloured family’s house.  Ironically the two boys, the coloured boy and Nicky become the best of friends, playing throw and catch baseball, the typical American sport.  The two kids show how adults should behave.

Despite the film that illustrates Murphy’s Law that if anything that can go wrong will and at the worst possible time, the film does end beautifully on an optimistic note, which almost saves the film. One plus of the movie is French composer Alexandre Desplat’s score that includes some suspense music as heard in a typical Hitchcock film.

SUBURBICON premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival to mixed reviews.  Still, it is an interesting failure, and by no means a dull piece despite its slow pacing.

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cBezc1S1BAQ

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Film Review: WONDERSTRUCK (USA 2017

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Wonderstruck Poster
Trailer

The story of a young boy in the Midwest is told simultaneously with a tale about a young girl in New York from fifty years ago as they both seek the same mysterious connection.

Director:

Todd Haynes

Writers:

Brian Selznick (based on the book by), Brian Selznick (screenplay by)

Runaway kids escaping to a strange, new town in search of a parent.  This subject has always been a favourite for films and plays, the most notable being the recent Tony Award winning THE CURIOUS INCIDENT OF THE DOG IN THE NIGHT-TIME, in which a boy travels to London to find his father.  IN WONDERSTRUCK, a young deaf autistic boy leaves home after his librarian mother is killed in a car accident.  All he has is a little clue of a museum.  He takes off with some cash obtained from his Aunt Jennie (Michelle Williams), gets his wallet snatched but eventually finds out the truth about his father, who he initially knew nothing about.

WONDERSTRUCK appears like a a typical story but director Haynes (CAROL, POISON and his best movie SAFE FROM HEAVEN) decides to do it different.  The openly gay director has always dealt with isolated loner characters who has to come to terms with some truth.  In WONDERSTRUCK, because the subject is deaf, Haynes blacks out all words, so that the film feels like a silent movie with just background music.  The film is alternatively shot in colour and black and white for the flashbacks (in the year 1927).  It seems a good tactic but it does not all work.  For one, the film ends up very difficult to follow.  With no dialogue, one has to figure out who is whom, how the subjects are related and basically what is going on with the plot.  It does not help that the film intercuts two stories set fifty years apart, switching frequently between them.  Each tells the story of a child’s quest.  In 1927, Rose (Millicent Simmonds) runs away from her father’s New Jersey home to find her idol, the actress Lillian Mayhew (Julianne Moore). In 1977, recently orphaned Ben (Oakes Fegley) runs away from his Minnesota home in search of his father.  Moore plays two roles – the older Rose as well as Lillian Mayhew which confuses matters even more.

The reason the film is called WONDERSTRUCK is revealed towards the end of the film.  The film’s sets are amazing, special mention to be made of the New York City model though details are not really shown.

Director Haynes leaves the audience much in the dark for the first half of the film.  Though one might, upon considerable thought put all the jigsaw pieces together, it is a very frustrating process.  Director Haynes, gives the full explanation during the last third of the film, what then is the purpose?  Is it to illustrate to the audience the inconveniences of being deaf?

The cast largely of unknowns (excepting Moore, Michelle Williams in a token role and Tom Noonan) including Fegley do an ok job, noting exceptional.

Though credit should be given to Haynes for his non-conforming storytelling techniques, it does not really work.  It comes together at the end, as if Haynes gave up and decided that it is safer to tell it all the usual way.

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=n207k52C3DM

 

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1997 Movie Review: JURASSIC PARK 2, 1997

 

JURASSIC PARK 2 MOVIE POSTER
JURASSIC PARK 2 The Lost World, 1997
Movie Reviews

Directed by Steven Spielberg
Starring: Jeff Goldblum, Julianne Moore, Pete Postlethwaite, Vince Vaughn, Richard Attenborough, Peter Stormare
Review by David Hammond

SYNOPSIS:

Set several years after the teething problems that occurred at the worlds first biological prehistoric amusement park, a second island full of dinosaurs is revealed to the public after an incident involving a small girl being attacked by its previously extinct inhabitants. Millionaire John Hammond has come under public scrutiny and his company has been taken away from him. He enlists the help of a team to document and study the animals that have been allowed to develop in their ‘natural’ habitat before the island is interfered with. Dr Ian Malcolm reluctantly joins the team when he discovers his girlfriend is on the island. Soon after they arrive they soon discover they are not the only people on the island when a team lead by Hammond’s nephew has come to extract the dinos in order to populate another Park in San Diego.

REVIEW:

After the overwhelming success of Jurassic Park which is rightly regarded as one on the seminal points in filmmaking due to the technological advances that were made in the creation of the creatures and the amount of realism that was injected into them; a sequel was always inevitable. The Lost World is ultimately missing the thing that made Jurassic Park so special, which isn’t dinosaurs because there’s loads of them wandering about.

Four years after the incident at Jurassic Park, a wealthy family stumble across a beautiful island and decide to take a break on its picturesque sandy beach. Soon after the tea, cakes and indeed sandwiches are unpacked the families little girl is attacked by a mob of small dinosaurs. The attack proves that not only should you never feed luncheon meat to a dinosaur but also the genetically engineered inhabitants of the island are a danger to the public. With “Site B”; the breeding ground for Jurassic Park in the spotlight, beardy millionaire John Hammond (Richard Attenborough) has had to relinquish control of his company to his nephew Peter Ludlow (Arliss Howard) who plans to remove the dinosaurs from the breeding ground and open a new park in San Diego in order to keep his newly acquired company from bankruptcy. With previous experience of the potential pitfalls of such a business venture, Hammond is naturally worried about the potential dangers involved.

In order to protect Site B from being pillaged Hammond has put together a scientific expedition to record the animals in their natural habitat, and asks Dr. Ian Malcolm (Jeff Goldblum) to be a part of it. Understandably he is reluctant due to the somewhat jarring experience that he had the last time he did Hammond a favour, but is quickly roped in when he discovers his girlfriend Sarah (Julianne Moore) is already there. Soon after the team (along with Malcolm’s stowaway daughter Kelly (Vanessa Lee Chester) arrive they are soon joined by Ludlow’s mercenaries who begin to capture dinosaurs to transport them to America. However after both the factions equipment is destroyed the rival teams must work together in order to survive the predators on the island.

Once again the creature effects in the Lost World are completely believable and therefore should be applauded. But Lost World suffers from the same problems as Jurassic Park did, but does so on a grander scale. The characters once again seem to have been put to the side in favour of the dinosaur effects. Ian Malcolm serves as both the main protagonist and the comic relief in the Lost World, but is lacking many aspects that made him such an enjoyable character in the first film. Malcolm is much more embittered in the Lost World due to they way he was treated after the Jurassic Park incident, which essentially robs him of any of the likeable characteristics that he had in the first film. Julianne Moore and Arliss Howard are lumbered with thankless roles as is true with the majority of the supporting cast; who you can identify from very early on who is and who isn’t going to be eaten and or stepped on. Only Pete Postlethwaite portrayal of big game hunter Roland Tempo who’s only desire is to hunt a T-Rex seems to raise above the materials limitations. The deep performances once again are credited to the dinosaurs.

The poor characterisation in the film is obviously a product of a shaky script. In the worst cases it makes the characters act with the shocking absence of any form of common sense. For example unbalanced hunter Dieter Stark (Peter Stormare) wanders off into the jungle to relieve himself and asks his friend to wait for him. His friend is listening to his Walkman and therefore fails to hear his friends cries for help when his is eventually attacked and eaten. Even for downtime personal cassette players should always be left at home when you plan to be navigating harsh jungle environment hunting prehistoric animals. The lack of common sense even extends to the more educated characters like Dr. Sarah Harding. After treating the infant T-Rex of its injuries Sarah’s jacket is stained by its blood, she later mentions that the T-Rex has exceptional scent detection, but is later shocked when the disgruntled mother T-Rex sneaks into camp to investigate said jacket with questions. Having theorised and witnessed the Rex’s fierce paternal instincts first hand there was only one outcome, and it should’ve been something that a behavioural palaeontologist would’ve predicted and avoided.

The aforementioned lack in judgement the characters often display lead to some impressive set pieces. One of the highlights is where panicked mercenaries run into a field of long grass, they are stalked by raptors. Spielberg shows a strange amount of restraint in the scene only showing their tails and the trials left behind as the grass is separated as they approach their prey; proving like he did with Jaws that less is more. But as with most of the Lost World while some things work brilliantly others fall flat. The climatic T-Rex rampage in San Diego feels tacked on and like a lot things in the film doesn’t make a lot of sense and seems as it’s just there for the sake of it.

What you come to realise with the Lost World is that we have seen it all before. The dinosaurs are still brilliant, but because we’ve seen them before you find yourself focusing on other aspects of the film that weren’t so important when you first watched Jurassic Park. The lack of the initial reaction of wonder to the animals means that the Lost World has to rely on the story and the script, both of which are mediocre. Even John Williams classic score fails to resonate the same epic feelings that were attained with the original and sometimes feels out of place. Spielberg falls short of topping his 1993 classic by making the same mistakes again but on a grander scale. The usually reliable Spielberg makes some strange decisions with the Lost World and the special effects fail to support this somewhat jumbled sequel.

 

JURASSIC PARK 2, 1997

1997 Movie Review: BOOGIE NIGHTS, 1997

BOOGIE NIGHTS MOVIE POSTER
BOOGIE NIGHTS, 1997
Movie Reviews

Directed by Paul Thomas Anderson
Starring: Mark Wahlberg, Julianne Moore, Burt Reynolds, John C. Reilly, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Don Cheadle, William H. Macy
Review by Cathryn Naiker

SYNOPSIS:

A famous porn director discovers a young man in a nightclub. He is soon thrusted into the pornography scene of the late seventies and early eighties. They enjoy great success together and are looking into crossing over into mainstream film. However, the year 1980 along with being wired on cocaine and the introduction of videotape turn their worlds

About:

This was director Paul Thomas Anderson’s sophomore feature film. Anderson had been researching this film since the late eighties and based a lot of the characters on real life accounts. The film was picked up by new line cinema who was constantly in battle with Anderson over length and content of the film. The studio was disappointed with the film until critics started praising it. Burt Reynolds, in arguably his best work as Jack Horner, won a Golden Globe for best supporting actor. The film was also nominated for a few Oscars, but no wins.

Highlights:

Boogie Nights was the movie that turned “Markey Mark” into Mark Wahlberg. From pop music (“Good Vibrations”, anyone?) to infamous Calvin Klien tighty whitey ads, Mark was able to somehow make the transition from a pop-star to a serious actor in an era where singer/actor transitions were not so common or successful. I think that the role of Eddie/Dirk Diggler for Mark was a great role for him at the time since so much of the film focuses on his “package” and that was also the cause for a lot of his publicity in real life. Another outstanding performance came from Julianne Moore who plays Amber Waves. Amber is the main starlet in Jack Horner’s films. She is the maternal role model in a house full of lost souls. In the mist of a custody battle for her son, we see her being motherly towards Dirk Diggler at the same time we see her introduce Dirk (and presumably other characters) to cocaine.

Review:

When this film first started being reviewed most people were expecting a comedy about the porn industry of the 1970’s. Instead, there was a very long dramatic ensemble piece about sex, drugs and not enough disco or rock and roll. This film came at a time where 90’s chic became a crossover between the “heroin look” and bellbottoms. The 70’s made a huge comeback in 1997 in fashion and in films like “54” and “Austin Powers”.

I feel where this movie fails is at telling the story of all the characters they portray. Then again, if it did tell such a story, it would be five hours long. All the characters are strong but there are just too many of them. Some key players don’t even get introduced until halfway through the film. The movie got very muddled with too many story lines but was eventually tied together in the end. For example, Don Cheadle’s character, Buck Swoope, has a great story line about a porn star that wants to open his own speaker and electronics store. But what does his journey have to do with Dirk Diggler? After watching the film again I can’t even remember if they share any dialogue together. I’m not saying Buck Swoope shouldn’t be in the film (because he’s fantastic in this movie) but his character is just an example of why there is just too much going on at once. On the flip side, it’s the charm of these characters that make the film what it is.

Overall I thought this film was highly entertaining, full of energy and impulse and kept me on the edge of my seat for an ending that was worth sticking around for (in more ways than one!).
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