Film Review: AFTER THE WEDDING (USA 2019) ***

After the Wedding Poster
Trailer

A manager of an orphanage in Kolkata travels to New York to meet a benefactor.

Director:

Bart Freundlich

Writers:

Susanne Bier (original screenplay), Bart Freundlich | 1 more credit »

AFTER THE WEDDING is the 2006 Best Foreign Film Oscar nominee that put Danish filmmaker Susanne Bier on the moviemaking map.  As the film was released way back when, it has been more than 10 years since Julianne Moore initiated the remake and many will hardly remember anything abut the original  movie, expect that it was really good.  And that’s a good thing.  The plot revelations in the film are what keeps the film both interesting and engrossing.

In the original film, the protagonist played by Mads Mikkelsen is a Dane working in India at an orphanage before traveling back to Copenhagen to secure funds from a wealthy entrepreneur who happens to have a hidden agenda.  In the new version the gender roles are switched.  Isabel (Michelle Williams) is an American transplant who has devoted her life to running a Calcutta orphanage.  Just as funds are drying up, she is contacted by a potential donor , Theresa (Julianne Moore) who insists that Isabel must travel to New York (replacing Copenhagen) to make a presentation in person.  Once in New York, Isabel lands in the sight line of Theresa, a multi-millionaire media mogul who seems to have a perfect life – from the glittering skyscraper where she runs her business, to the glorious Oyster Bay estate, where she lives with her artist husband (Billy Crudup), about-to-be married daughter (Abby Quinn) and younger twin sons.  While Isabel thinks she’ll soon be returning to the orphanage, Theresa has other plans for Isabel. 

The less said about the film’s story the better, as the revelations of the plot would spoil  the film’s entertainment.

Both what is a marvellous about this version are the performances by the two female leads.  Williams is the best, acting through her eyes and mannerisms, and obviously stealing the limelight from Moore.  Moore, understandably gives herself some major lines to dramatize when she, realizing that she is going to die screams that she wants to live.  This is reminiscent of the Jill Clayburgh scene in Daryl Duke’s GRIFFIN AND PHOENIX where she and Peter Falk played lovers who were both dying of terminal illness but finally happy in love.  Clayburgh’s character screams and cries: “Life is so unfair!!”

In the film there is a segment where the females Isabel and her daughter (Abby Quinn) bond together in a moment of distress.  Again, this is right out of Alfonso Curaron’s ROMA where the major line was uttered by the mistress to the maid, when pregnant thought she was going to be fired (by her mistress) but only to be told: “We women have to stick together.”

AFTER THE WEDDING is so immaculately shot n almost too perfect India (with a huge outdoor pool for washing that seems to clean of authenticity) and an orphanage looking too perfect with a perfectly organized wedding where all the speeches are delivered spot-on perfect are examples.  Imperfections occur in real life.

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RJ4QxPjU2Lk

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Film Review: VENOM (USA 2018) ***

Venom Poster
When Eddie Brock acquires the powers of a symbiote, he will have to release his alter-ego “Venom” to save his life.

Director:

Ruben Fleischer

Writers:

Jeff Pinkner (screenplay by), Scott Rosenberg(screenplay by) | 5 more credits »

Discounting SPIDER-MAN, VENOM is the first of the Sony Pictures Universe of Marvel Comics.  The filmmakers ensure that there is some brand distinction from the Warner Brothers (DEADPOOL, BATMAN vs. SUPERMAN) and Disney (THOR, IRON MAN) Marvel collaborations, so it is of no surprise that VENOM comes out like a hybrid of the existing Marvel action hero or anti-hero films.  VENOM is quite good and more to come would be welcome.

Ruben Fleischer who made ZOMBIELAND, makes a clear stamp in VENOM, which in truth is a horror story.  There is an alien parasite than inhabits the host, our hero and a nasty one at that – a shapeless gelatine blob looking like black jello gone bad.

Shot in both New York City and San Francisco, director Fleischer makes sure the audience is reminded of the filming locations.  There is a scene where the infected Eddie Brock freaks out on a cable car ride.  There is an elaborate chase involving cars and a motorcycle compete with special effects that is reminiscent of one of the best car chases in film history – Peter Yates’s BULITT.  What makes the car chases in past films stand out is their continuity.  This is missing in VENOM’s vehicle chase, but it is still pretty impressive.

Tom Hardy, the English actor who has proven his acting chops in LOCKE and LAWLESS and who has been in everything from DUNKIRK, INCEPTION to the MAD MAX reboot is a perfect choice for the antihero.  In plain clothes, he is Eddie Brock, the TV reporter  who has a hot show ‘The Eddie Brock Report’ who wants to do the right thing and expose the very bad people.  One of these bad people happens to be Drake (Riz Ahmed) of Life Enterprises who has just brought back parasites from outer space.  Drake has a weird and unbelievable (but, hey, this is a comic book film) plan of bonding human and parasite to inhabit outer planets when Earth fails.  Trouble is the humans and parasites do not match and the humans die.  But Brock makes a good fit.  Brock has a girlfriend, Annie (Michelle Williams) who help him when he is infected.

VENOM is largely harmless entertainment.  The monster does possess an enormous tongue, which the filmmakers cannot deists but use in a kissing scene.

VENOM contains lots of brilliantly executed action scenes all with pyrotechnic explosions and special effects combined.  Comic and action fans should be content.  There are also some crazy scenes, like the one Eddie, when first infected dunks himself in the lobster tank of a posh restaurant and starts munching on the raw crustaceans.  Williams and Hardy make good romantic chemistry.  Hardy is sufficiently versatile enough to pull off a crazy anti-hero performance, in fact one of his best.  Riz Ahmed, one of my favourite actors makes a sufficiently sinister villain.  Stan Lee makes his usual cameo appearance.

Audiences are advised to stay right to the end of the closing credits as there is a last surprise scene involving VENOM.

VENOM is an entertaining enough action hero movie and one should be eager for the next instalment.

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=u9Mv98Gr5pY

Film Review: I FEEL PRETTY (USA 2018)

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I Feel Pretty Poster
Trailer

A woman struggling with insecurity wakes from a fall believing she is the most beautiful and capable woman on the planet. Her new confidence empowers her to live fearlessly, but what happens when she realizes her appearance never changed?

 

I FEEL PRETTY is an Amy Schumer vehicle which she produces and stars in.  The simple premise  revolves around Renee Barrett (Schumer), an ordinary woman who struggles with feelings of insecurity and inadequacy on a daily basis.  During a cycle fit spin class, she suffers a big fall and wakes up from it believing she is the most beautiful and capable woman in the world, despite looking the same she has always looked.  With this new found confidence she is empowered to live her life fearlessly and flawlessly.

It is expected that a film based on one joke would quickly run out of steam.  This is obvious when the film has to resort to a nose picking joke at the film’s climax.  There are few surprises in this lazy comedy which runs like a predictable Harlequin romance from start to end.  

Renee has to learn that being pretty means pretty on the inside and not on the outside.  This means that the audience has to be drummed with this obvious message.  The message comes unashamedly at the end when Renee delivers a full blown speech on how the most important thing in life is oneself and not the outward beauty.  Awkward enough, for a film that is supposed to have an anti-pretty message, it is very noticeable that most of the cast are good-looking.  The most ridiculous is the one scene where it can be observed that all the extras walking down the street in NYC are drop-dead gorgeous.

The cast includes Lauren Hutton who has been absent from the screen for quite a while, playing the matriarch of the LeClaire cosmetics company.  Also in the cast is model Naomi Campbell who has earned the horrid reputation of being a terrible human being to work with on set.  It would be interesting to hear what trouble this one has caused on the set.

Schumer is  perfect in the role of Renee, being pretty, yet not pretty enough.  Schumer is brave enough to show off her not-so-perfect body, especially in the bar bikini contest segment, one of the film’s few spirited moments.  Michelle Williams is just plain awful here but Tom Hooper is a good sight for sore eyes.

The film runs similar along the lines as the last comedy release BLOCKERS.  Mildly funny at best, both films run out of jokes and surprises very fast.  I FEEL PRETTY has the joke on Renee’s fall happen 30 minutes into the movie.  The first 30 minutes shows Renee in her everyday life, which is as plain and unfunny as the person.  Example: the long stretched joke about the wide shoe size is a used joke that is ‘stretched’ too long for its own good.  Like the entire film.

The film might appeal as a feel-good movie for audiences that need to feel better about their appearances.  Still, if the film contains enough hilarious comedic set-ups, this film might have been worth a visit.

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UmU6b09s6VE

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FILM REVIEW: ALL THE MONEY IN THE WORLD (US 2017) ****

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All the Money in the World Poster
Trailer

The story of the kidnapping of 16-year-old John Paul Getty III and the desperate attempt by his devoted mother to convince his billionaire grandfather Jean Paul Getty to pay the ransom.

Director:

Ridley Scott

Writers:

David ScarpaJohn Pearson (based on the book by)

 

The big question everyone will be asking about ALL THE MONEY IN THE WORLD is how effective the replacement of Christopher Plummer in the titular role of Paul Getty.  After the sexual harassment allegations surfaced on Kevin Spacey, director Ridley Scott (BLADE RUNNER) quickly replaced him with Plummer, doing the required re-shoots.  After viewing ALL THE MONEY IN THE WORLD, all traces of Spacey have been removed and it is nothing short of remarkable that Ridley has done such a great job.  And Oscar Winner Plummer is great.  Spacey would ave added a sly, comedic sarcastic element to his portrayal – his trait, but Plummer plays him straight, funny or serious depending on the situation.  The world needs not need to see a more sarcastic Getty.

The film is narrated from the grandson, Paulo (Charlie Plummer, no relation to Christopher Plummer), giving the film his perspective on his grandfather.  “He is not only the richest man in the world, but the richest man who ever lived!”  Plummer as Getty shows the stingy side of a millionaire, how he trusts artifacts and objects instead of people, as these show themselves as they are, with nothing hidden. But just as his colleagues and friend betray him, he does the same with his grandson’s artifact.

The film contains a few ineffective segments.  One odd one that stands out is a short segment set in 1838 in Saudi Arabia where Getty (in younger mode and Plummer decked in make up and dyed black hair to look younger) discusses oil.  That scene is total unnecessary and could have been done away with to save money and Plummer looking a bit ridiculous.  One cliched segment has the grandson walking the streets of Rome in the middle of the night accosting the prostitutes.  When he remarks to one of them: “I can take care of myself,” one can guess that he is just about to be kidnapped.  The next scene has him pushed into a car by the kidnappers.

But there are a few impressive scenes like the beginning black and white shot of a city with vintage cars.  The scene evolves into colour and the famous Trini fountain is revealed while Italian dialogue heard in the background.  It could be a scene right out of Fellini’s LA DOLCE VITA.

All the performances are outstanding from Michelle Williams as the angry mother slowly developing more tolerance towards the hired Chase to Plummer to Wahlberg.  The best  performance, however belongs to French actor Roman Duris (THE BEAT MY HEART SKIPPED, THE NEW GIRLDFRIEND) as the Getty’s grandson’s kidnapper.

Scott’s film is strong on emotions.    Getty’s daughter-in-law played by Williams undergoes the entire spectrum of emotions and character including, anger, strength, vulnerability, love, sensitivity, tolerance and annoyance.  All kidnapping films have the element of the Stockholm Syndrome.  As the kidnapper and kidnapped are both male, the bonding is one of trust and respect, which makes for the film greatest surprises.

The film plays more of a suspense thriller than a biopic on the millionaire Getty.  Still, there are enough screen time given to Getty to  show him the man he could be.  The words on the screen at the closing credits makes it clear that though the film is based on true events, dialogue and some events have been fictionalized.  It would be interesting to know which parts of the film are fictionalized.  The whole story, at the very end, seems like the perfect kidnapping caper, perfect for a good suspense film.

The film also contains a message. Watching Christopher Plummer as Getty teaches me,  wealthy Scrooge, a few things while opening my eyes.

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

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Film Review: THE GREATEST SHOWMAN (USA 2017) ****

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The Greatest Showman Poster
Trailer

Inspired by the imagination of P.T. Barnum, The Greatest Showman is an original musical that celebrates the birth of show business and tells of a visionary who rose from nothing to create a spectacle that became a worldwide sensation.

Director:

Michael Gracey

Writers:

Jenny Bicks (screenplay by), Bill Condon (screenplay by) | 1 more credit »

 

Films about circuses have been popular having taken many different genres form blockbuster (Cecil. B. Demille’s THE GREATEST SHOW ON EARTH) to cheap 1966 horror (CIRCUS OF FEAR).  THE GREATEST SHOWMAN aims at being both a biopic and a musical.

Hugh Jackman is a shoo-in for the role of singing P.T. Barnum, obtaining a Golden Globe nomination for Best Actor in a musical or comedy in the process.  Heart-throb Zac Ephron also eases into musical mode as smooth as in three HIGH SCHOOL MUSICAL films.  He plays Barnum’s friend and business partner..

THE GREATEST SHOWMAN is a true musical at heart.  Within the first 10 minutes, there are two songs performed already.  The film also boasts to be an original musical, not to be confused with “BARNUM” that played on Broadway decades back.  The songs are catchy with “This is Me”, largely performed by the bearded lady nominated for the Best Song Golden Globe.  But the other songs (by the guys who wrote LALA LAND) are just as catchy (there have been few musicals these days with all good songs) with others just as good, if not better than “This is Me”.  The choreography is also quite spectacular, and one cannot complain that there is not a full all out musical.  It is a feel-good movie, so those wanting hard drama and musical-haters, be advised to stay away.

The story contains two romances, between P.T. Barnum and Charity (Michelle Williams) and the other between Phillip Carlyle (Ephron) and Anne Wheeler (Zendaya), the acrobat and trapeze artist.  The romantic chemistry is not all there, though Barnum’s and Charity’s is more believable.

Though the film traces how American showman P. T. Barnum became the founder of the circus that became the famous traveling Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus, there are also subplots like the romance as well as the diversion of the employment of famous Swedish singer Jenny Lind (Rebecca Ferguson) who almost destroys both his business and his marriage.  Her singing performance is astonishing though Loren Alfred provides Lind’s singing voice.  Ferguson lip syncs and fakes it quite well.

The film side steps certain points, like how Barnum suddenly obtained all the circus animals.  The business aspect of the circus is only briefly mentioned in passing.  It is quite hard to believe that the circus made it this big with so few acts and with no clowns at all in the film.

Director Gracey seems fond of emphasizing the fact of equality among performers.  The protests in each visiting town of the residents against the circus ‘freaks’ finally conclude with a huge fire that destroys the circus building.  In Demille’s THE GREATEST SHOW ON EARTH, it was a train crash that almost destroyed the circus, here compared to the big fire. 

The film should have more circus acts on screen time, so the audience can really feel the atmosphere of a circus.  What is clearly missing in this circus film is the excitement and danger of a circus.  Still, THE GREATEST SHOWMAN, though is not the greatest show in 2017 still makes appropriate Christmas entertainment.

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AXCTMGYUg9A

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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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Film Review: CERTAIN WOMEN (USA 2016) ***

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certain_womenThe lives of three women intersect in small-town America, where each is imperfectly blazing a trail.

Director: Kelly Reichardt
Writers: Kelly Reichardt (screenplay), Maile Meloy (based on stories by)
Stars: Michelle Williams, Kristen Stewart, Laura Dern

Review by Gilbert Seah

 
CERTAIN WOMEN tells three different stories about women, the common thread that the stories, among another things are set in Montana. Unlike films with many stories, writer/director Kelly Reichardt (WENDY AND LUCY, OLDJOY, MEEK’S CUTOFF) does not intercut the stories into one narrative but rather tells each story on its own, one after another. The advantage of this strategy (and the one I prefer) is that the continuity of each story is un-compromised.

The first story involves a female lawyer, Laura (Laura Dern) defusing a hostage situation and calming her disgruntled client (Jared Harris). The second has a married couple (Michelle Williams and James Le Gros) breaking ground on a new home but exposing marital fissures when they try to persuade an elderly man to sell his stockpile of sandstone. The third and final story is of a ranch hand (Lily Gladstone) forming an attachment to a young lawyer (Kristen Stewart), who inadvertently finds herself teaching a twice-weekly adult education class, four hours from her home. These are independent women whose lives finally intersect in a powerful way. These stories are based on short stories from Maile Meloy’s collection Both Ways is the Only Way I Want It.

Reichardt ’s films have a strong feminine content. This is not a bad thing if done right. Reichardt demonstrates the feminine content in a clever subtle as evident in the first story. The first story begins with the female lawyer, Laura after a lunch time love-making in a rented room. The two are never shown together. She is seen in the bedroom while he is the bathroom. When he enters the bedroom, his figure is shown in the mirror. Never once do the male and female appear on he same side of the screen. The male and female are distinct, they have different roles in each story and Reichardt emphasizes the female roles.

Often in films with a strong female content by a female director, the male characters are depicted as silly or spineless. Thankfully, this is not the case in CERTAIN WOMEN. If the males have to answer to the female, there is a least a legitimate reason. In the first story, the lawyer’s client (Jared Harris) has made an error and has suffered severe mental, physical and financial loss. When he breaks down crying (a crying male is too often used in a female director’s film to show that they too have sensitivity), it illustrates at least, a credible state of affairs.

The female characters are all involved with the typical male roles in society. Laura Dern is a lawyer, who ends up as a hostage negotiator. Michelle Williams makes the family decisions especially on the construction of their new house to buy sandstones from an elderly gentleman. The husband admits too, to the old gent in on scene that she is the boss.

Women films are strong this month with the release of both CERTAIN WOMEN at TIFF Bell Lightbox and the Hollywood comedy SNATCHED on Mother’s Day

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1_Lznehy2-s

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