Film Review: AIDA’S SECRETS (Israel/Germany/Canada/USA 2016) ***

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Aida's Secrets Poster
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Family secrets, lies, high drama and generations of contemporary history unspool in this international story that begins with World War II and concludes with an emotional 21st-century … See full summary »

Directors:

Alon SchwarzShaul Schwarz (as Saul Schwarz)

 

AIDA’S SECRETS is a heartfelt documentary about secrets that could very well have been a fiction suspensor.  

Though the film has Aida in the title, the woman Aida does not appear until half way into the picture.  She is first seen in a senior’s home in Quebec visited by her two sons.

AIDA’S SECRETS begins with the character of Izak.  Izak is clearly Jewish, getting up there in age and is first shown in a torn T-shirt sitting in a yard living in Israel.  Izak, as a child was brought up by a loving family in Israel who never told him the truth of his origin.  As a boy, his friends teased him that his parents were not his real parents.  He finally finds out that he was an adopted child and that his birth mother is living in Canada.  To his greeter surprise or rather shock, Izak finds that he has a brother, who is blind also living in Canada all through a family tree agency, the agent who seems as talented as a Sherlock Holmes.

Director Schwarz builds up his first third of his documentary with great finesse, piquing the audience curiosity as much as he can.  The audience is as curious as Izak as to why his foster parents never told Izak the truth and why his mother kept he secret of his brother from him, after the two of them have met.  As he title implies, there are more secrets to come – not to be revealed in this review to prevent spoilers.

Schwarz’s film takes a noticeable turn after the firs third when he finally meets his blind brother Shep for the first time in Canada.  Suspense is unfortunately, turned into melodrama.  Izak quips and hugs his brother Shep too many times: “You are my little brother.  I love you.  My little brother!  My family!”  

Aida has passed away since the film was completed leaving many questions the two sons unanswered.  But some answers were provided by DNA tests as suggested by the agent of the family tree company.  To his credit, many discoveries were made.

It is also fortunate that Izak’s father was a photographic specialist.  There were lots and lots of old photographs that were studied with many conclusions drawn.

One touching scene is the first meeting of Izak and Shep at a Canadian airport.  It is doubtful that the cameraman followed Izak on the plane or waited at the airport to capture the prized moment.  It is more likely the reconciliation was an re-enactment.  But the scene is still a powerful one.

The film also educates on what happened to the Jews after they were freed from the Nazi concentration camps.  They were placed in displacement camps, like Izak’s father.

Ultimately AIDA’S SECRETS is about survival during the war.  And the consequences, some uncontrollable that affect the lives of ordinary people. That is the reason the film is able to hold interest from start to end.

Trailer: https://vimeo.com/183442600

 

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Film Review: Molly’s Game

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Molly's Game Poster
Trailer

2:07 | Trailer
The true story of Molly Bloom, an Olympic-class skier who ran the world’s most exclusive high-stakes poker game and became an FBI target.

Director:

Aaron Sorkin

Writers:

Molly Bloom (book), Aaron Sorkin (screenplay)

 

MOLLY’S GAME is writer Aaron Sorkin’s directorial debut.  Sorkin also adapted the script from the memoir Molly’s Game: From Hollywood’s Elite to Wall Street’s Billionaire Boys Club, My High-Stakes Adventure in the World of Underground Poker by Molly Bloom.  Anyone familiar with Sorkin’s work, the most notable being the script for THE SOCIAL NETWORK will surely know that a lot of dialogue is expected and the actors in the film have to be motor-mouthed to be able to speak Sorkin’s dialogue at hundreds of miles per hour.  Lead actors Jessica Chastain and Idris Elba do just that and supporting actor Michael Cera known for his fast speaking does the same.

MOLLY’S GAME is stud poker.  It would be beneficial if one knows the rules of the game in order to appreciate the film.  There are suspense scenes involving being dealt the winning card and if one is unsure whether a full house or a royal flush wins, then one might do better to learn the rules of poker before venturing into a poker film.  Besides the fact, Sorkin has done his homework on high poker stake games around the world and what transpires on screen in extremely credible.  No doubt the memoirs must have have been quite detailed.

There will undoubtedly be those who will complain about the film being too talky.  But this is the niche of watching an Aaron Sorkin film – script or direction.  Sorkin has the gift of words and though the film is talky, he is to be given credit for a fast moving 140 lengthy film.  His attention to detail is an additional bonus.  

Sorkin’s both subtle and over-the-top humour is also present.  This can be observed in the detailed and lengthy 10 minute introduction to the film where the voiceover announces that the Molly’s skiing has nothing to do with her poker.  The film then establishes from scratch how Molly enters the game and finally how she becomes super good at ti before it all crumbles.  Then the biggest joke is that all this is revealed at the film’s end to be caused by skiing after all – to be due to that twig that trips Molly during her final ski jump.

In the story, the FBI presses Molly to reveal the high profile players so that they can be investigated leading to persecution.  Molly sticks to her principles against her lawyers advice.  Yes, this leads to more verbal debate!  Sorkin stays true not to reveal any big names in the film as well.

As in the other Sorkin scripted films, the dialogue goes on so fast that one can understand 20% of its if lucky.  But Sorkin has the gift of making the audience feel as if they have understood everything necessary for the film to go on.  Sokrin’s scripts and MOLLY’S GAME, his first film are strong on his style of writing.  To be fair to him, his story gets through and the film moves fast, at times as fast as the dialogue.  But if one wants to complain about this, stay away from this film.

MOLLY’S GAME premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival to mixed critical reviews.  Love it or hate it, but the Sorkin dialogue film has its pleasures.

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=n4CQDRyUL8I

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LA DANSEUSE (THE DANCER) (France/Belgium/Czech 2016)

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The Dancer Poster
Loïe Fuller was the toast of the Folies Bergères at the turn of the 20th century and an inspiration for Toulouse-Lautrec and the Lumière Brothers. The film revolves around her complicated relationship with protégé and rival Isadora Duncan.

Writers:

Thomas Bidegain (collaboration), Giovanni Lista (novel)| 6 more credits »

 

A 2016 French biographical musical drama film based on the true story, directed and written by Stéphanie Di Giusto and co-written by Thomas Bidegain and Sarah Thiebaud, based on the novel by Giovanni Lista, LA DANSEUSE opens with the film’s subject and protagonist carried away after what looks like an injury during a dance.  This scene is returned to at the film’s halfway mark after she collapses from her first performance.

Director Di Giusto then takes her audience back to the dancer’s early days before she began her dance career, which is assumed must be a famous one.  Loie Fuller (Soko) is revealed as a rebellious teen taken in by her stern mother after her alcoholic father dies.  Loie promises to be obedient and not cause trouble which translates in movie terms that she will be disobedient and cause trouble.  Besides posing nude and starring on stage, she finds her calling as a dancer, though what occurs on screen does not seem credible.  One assumes what occurs must be true as the film is based on a true story.  Di Giusto uses that as carte blanche to bring in whatever she likes and portray the incidents however she deems suitable.  The result is a rather rough film, with too many incidents inserted inappropriately leaving the narrative disjointed.

Isadora Duncan (Lily-Rose Depp) is Loie’s dance peer.  Her appearance might eclipse Loie’s story, but Di Guisto keeps that in check.  Still it is hard to like Loie’s character.  Di Giusto shows her as strong willed, stubborn to perform at risk of her personal health, self destructive  and one who never accepts authority.  Loie comes off as an unlikeable character no matter how dedicated she is to her art.  As for the choreography with flowing dresses, it is quite different from ballet or modern dance and is a style in itself, taking a while to get used to.

The film is oddly shot in French and quite a bit in English.  The mother is English while the father is French, which is assumed the reason.  LA DANSEUESE is a period piece set in France and the period atmosphere and costumes show it.  The film won the Cesar for Best costume Design (by Anais Romand).

The most famous of the cast is Gaspard Ulliel who always looks dashing in this case playing Loie’s romantic interest.

The film is an ok biography which is keen to reveal the (anti-feminist) prejudice of the times and travails the main subject went through.  Di Giusto makes no attempt to make any of her characters likeable from Loie, to Isadora Duncan and to lover Louis and her other lesbian lover, Gabrielle (Mélanie Thierry). The result is a difficult film to like.

LA DANSEUSE was screened in the Un Certain Regard section at the 2016 Cannes Film Festival.  It took a year before finally released here, and might be worth a look if one likes period drama with some dancing added in for good measure.  The film was nominated for several Cesar and Lumiere Awards, including nods for Best First Feature and acing (main and supporting) roles.

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1hqdhfZ7UFA

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Film Review: MY BODY, (Germany, Horror)

Played at the HORROR FEEDBACK Film Festival in October 2017 to rave reviews.

Review by Kierston Drier

 

MY BODY is a six-minute short coming out of Germany. Uncanny in an almost unknowable way, this is a film that chronicles the breakdown of one mans’ mind as he deals with a body in his living room. It’s up to the audience to decide if the bizarre visions and terrifying world of our hero is his strange reality or the disintegration of his own mind. Haunted by shadows and spiders that weave their way through his home, our hero must make a twisted peace with his circumstances, including coming to terms with the body in a bag in his home.

 

The peace is simply shot, although it boasts excellent performances and editing. it is nevertheless a chilling and skin-crawling film to watch, as it slowly dissects one man’s struggle with reality. A chilling, thrilling short indeed.

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THELMA (Norway/Sweden/France/Denmark 2017) ****

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Thelma Poster
Trailer
A woman begins to fall in love, only to discover that she has fantastic powers.

Director:

Joachim Trier

Writers:

Joachim Trier (co-writer), Eskil Vogt (co-writer)

 

 

Director Joachim Trier’s (OSLO, AUGUST 31st and LOUDER THAN BOMBS) latest film combines the austerity of his previous films with a spin-off of the CARRIE the Stephen King story/Brian de Palma film where Sissy Spacek moves objects to avenge herself from the people who have wronged her.

THELMA inevitably draws comparisons from CARRIE but these are two very different films despite the similar subject matter.

The film follows a timid young woman, THELMA (Eili Harboe) who leaves her rural home to study in Oslo.  There, she finds love for the first time.  This love happens to be for a classmate of the same sex, which makes her extremely guilty because of her religion.  But her relationship is complicated by her family’s oppressive meddling, their seemingly fundamentalist religious beliefs, and, possibly, her unique ability to shape and affect her environment.  When Thelma is upset or agitated, strange things seem to happen.  She also goes into epileptic fits which cannot be explained by the hospital doctors.

Trier’s film works for two reasons.  Trier keeps the story one step ahead of his audience, making it always interesting.  The other, related to this reason, is that he is thus able to use the tool of audience anticipation.  The first time Thelma is shown in the film exhibiting her powers is in the school library.  Birds crash onto the library window while she goes into convulsions.  Then nothing till later in the film.  Trier uses the first third of the film to introduce Thelma, her family and surroundings to the audience without much happening.  And what will Thelma do next? What is she really capable of?  How will the film end?  One at least knows from the history of movies in this genre that the bad guys will get what is coming to them.  In THELMA, Trier keeps the ambiguity on who is bad or who is good.

The most intriguing fact in THELMA which is never explained is Thelma’s mother’s accident.   Unni (Ellen Dorrit Petersen) is seen in the latter part of the film in a wheelchair.  Is this a result of Thelma’s doing or an accident or due to her father Trond’s (Henrik Rafaelsen) meddling.

Trier also ups the mystery element by introducing the character of Thelma’s grandmother.  She is bedridden in a home.  Thelma thinks her grandmother is dead and visits her, unbeknown to her parents, thinking that her grandmother possesses the same power she has and that her father had given her medication to cause her to be in that sorry state of affairs.  When Trond gives her daughter pills to calm her down, Thelma grows suspicious that he might be poisoning her. 

Trier never explains the origin or cause of Thelma’s powers.  But neither did the film CARRIE.  It does not matter the reason, but what Trier wants to do with the power that matters.

THELMA succeeds as a psychological horror drama that keep the audience intrigued from start to end.  THELMA is shot in Norwegian.

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HF36DsRFnXU

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Full Review: THE KILLING OF A SACRED DEER (UK/Ireland 2017) ****

Steven, a charismatic surgeon, is forced to make an unthinkable sacrifice after his life starts to fall apart, when the behavior of a teenage boy he has taken under his wing turns sinister.

Director:

Yorgos Lanthimos

 

Greek director (DOGTOOTH and THE LOBSTER) Yourgos Lanthimos’ latest feature is a supernatural psychological thriller that is the most difficult to watch despite its bouts of black humour.  The reason the film is titled THE KILLING OF A SACRED DEER becomes apparent at the film’s end and exposing the reason would spoilt the film’s key plot point.

The film follows Dr. Steven Murphy (Farrell), a cardiac surgeon who is first seen at a diner meeting with a 16-year-old named Martin (Barry Keoghan).  The doctor buys the boy an expensive watch as a present.  The relationship between the two is revealed as the film goes on.  Steven introduces Martin to his wife (Nicole Kidman) and two children.  Martin, determined to ingratiate himself into this unfamiliar new family, becomes something like an adopted son.  Strange things begin to happen with the children developing paralysis right out of the blue.  Dr. Murphy and his team of surgeons are unable to put a medical explanation for the illnesses.

Secrets start coming out of the closet.  Director Lanthimos unveils bits at a time, thus keeping the audience in anticipation.  Revealing more of the plot in this review will definitely spoil ones enjoyment of the film, and thus no more of the story will be revealed.

It is safe to say that the film gets more and more serious and ends up becoming quite a disturbing watch.  Lanthimos does not skimp on the violence and language.  The film has a lot of anger and the anger is slowly but surely unleashed by every one in the part concerned.

The humour often comes in the form of inconsequential dialogue, often spoken by the main character, Dr. Steven Murphy (Colin Farrell).  Hunour is also provided in the way drain information, is relayed to the audience.  For example, Steven tells his colleague out of the blue for no reason, that his daughter has begun her menstruation.

The sex scene between husband and wife is as expected a strange one, but sufficiently erotic.  Kidman has an almost perfect body.  Farrell, Kidman and Keoghan all deliver chilling performances.

The film demands the audience sit back and immerse themselves in the environment of horror.  The film is clear a horror film with scary results that resulted in quite a few of the audience at the screening walking out.

The film uses quite a bit of choral music wit a scene of a scene of the daughter singing in the choir.  Sound is also used effectively as when Steven takes off his wife’s panties, like the snapping sound of him taking off his surgical gloves.

The film contains some very scary scenes.  These include the ones with the son and daughter both paralyzed from the waste down, dragging their bodies around the house, up and down the stairs using their arms.  There is also an almost unwatchable scene of Russian Roulette

THE KILLING OF A SACRED DEER is a well executed psychological and emotional horror film.  Not for everyone!

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eOxiMR6aL74

Film Review: HUMAN FLOW (Germany 2017) ***

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Human Flow Poster
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Human Flow is director and artist, Ai Weiwei’s detailed and heartbreaking exploration into the global refugee crisis.

Director:

Ai Weiwei

 

Chinese artist Ai WeiWei’s ambitious film about refugees around the world has his clear impression stamp.  Ai was himself a political dissident in his own country, jailed for his openly anti-government and artistic displays (as observed in the documentary about himself – Alison Klayman’s AI WEI WEI – NEVER SORRY).

The film begins with the arrival of a boat full of refugees – a scene that is repeated at the end of the film, but then explained in greater and horrific detail.  HUMAN FLOW traces the plight of refugees, the most current being the Syrians, Afghanis and Iraqis as they escape war for a better life in any country they can find open to them.

HUMAN FLOW is unfortunately very long, close to two and a half hours and occasionally all over the place.  One particular example that stands out is the segment that comes out of the blue, of a tiger that is evacuated back to freedom in Africa.  (The tiger happened to escape through a tunnel just like a refugee.)

Ai’s artistry can be observed in many parts of his film.  The overhead shots of one of many makeshift refugee camps such as the back of trucks and the ending segment of colours are reminiscent of his art in his documentary, AI WEIWEI – NEVER SORRY.  His use of deafening silence is noticeable in the scene of a refugee boat sailing across the ocean as well as the devastating burning of the oil fields.  Ai is also fond of quoting poets of different nationalities as the refugees are (of different nationalities).

HUMAN FLOW could do with a tighter narrative with a head and conclusion.  Ai does also touch the topic of returning refugees.  He opens ones eyes to the problem of internal displacement – when refugees return home after too long a period and find that things have changed too much against them.  They no longer own their lands or know the people they once knew.

Refugees suffer a lot during their travels, often contacting diseases and undergoing sub-human living conditions.  Ai does not show these sufferings visually but they are described in voiceover or by the people interviewed verbally.  They are just as horrifying.  The people in the packed boats arrive, with diarrhoea, and scurvy (lack of Vitamin C).  Among them are children, babies and expecting women.

On the film’s more positive side, Ai includes interviews of people that work to help the refugees.  The Princess of Jordan talks candidly of human beings needing to do their part.  HUMAN FLOW also shows how certain countries like Germany and Sweden have done their part while others have not.

I remember a few months back when a friend asked my advice if he should take a refugee Syrian family to his home for a few months.  His wife was unsure of the kindness but I advised him against it as to be fair to his wife and not put his family at possible risk.  After seeing HUMAN FLOW, I regretted my advice.  Though Ai’s film is by no means perfect, it accomplishes its aim to make a difference.  If one cannot sacrifice a little for a suffering fellow human being, then, what are we?

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

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