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

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

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Human Flow Poster
Trailer

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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Film Review: LUCKY (USA 2017) ***1/2

Lucky Poster
Trailer

Director:

John Carroll Lynch

Writers:

Logan Sparks (screenplay), Drago Sumonja (screenplay)

Stars:

Harry Dean StantonDavid LynchRon Livingston

Harry Dean Stanton plays the character of LUCKY of the film title in a film that audiences recognize could be the real Harry Dean Stanton.  LUCKY is the nickname the ex-navy man earned after being designated the cook in the Navy while others were sent to fight and die during the War.  Lucky is 90, bitter, alone (but not lonely as he has a routine of chores to do each day), cynical, sickness free, and smokes a lot.

The audience sees Lucky doing the same things daily – visiting the grocery store with the Mexican cashier to get his cigarettes; having some drinks at the bar; having coffee at his dual diner; and watching his favourite quiz show – but with different reactions.  The soundtrack replays the tune of “Old River Valley’ on a harmonica.

The film contains a lot of musings like what realism (as explained by Lucky as real for one person but not necessarily in another occurs to another) is or even the friendship between man an animal as the latter discussion (it is apparently essential to the soul) starts.  Lucky’s friend, Howard (David Lynch) at the bar walk in to sadly announce the loss of President Roosevelt, his pet tortoise. (Lucky does not believe this….. not the statement but the existence of a soul.)  Though the latter statement seems inconsequential dialogue in the script, it is important in the way Lucky looks at life if he does not believe in the existence of a soul.

The film is directed by actor John Carroll base on the script by Logan Sparks and Drago Sumonja.  The film pays more attention to the character than to plotting.  The film is also wonderfully acted by Stanton.  Director David Lynch delivers a surprisingly moving speech defending his case of leaving his inheritance to his tortoise that has apparently escaped as does James Darren how a nothing person like him transformed to one who now has everything.

LUCKY the film can be best described as a cynical coming-of age movie of a 90-year old man who has almost given up on life.  It is quite an idea for a film which is likely the story got made.  It is a film about an old fart that is not the typical Hollywood old fart film like the fantasies of old people reminiscing on their youth or having sex one more time.  Lucky confesses in one scene that he can hardly get it up any more.  Here, Lucky says in the film’s most intimate scene where he reveals his deep secret to his friend, Loretta (Yvonne Huff): “I’m scared.”  It all happens when he falls down out of feeling faint, though doctor (Ed Begley Jr.) tells him that nothing major is wrong with him.

Harry Dean Stanton passed away this year (2017).  LUCKY is a worthy swan song of an actor that has surprised audiences many a time with his wide range of performances.

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YurR6xZeBCk

lucky

Film Review: SAGE FEMME (THE MIDWIFE) (France 2017) ***

The Midwife Poster
Trailer

A midwife gets unexpected news from her father’s old mistress.

Director:

Martin Provost

Writers:

Martin Provost (dialogue), Martin Provost (screenplay)

Stars:

A film with babies being brought into the world?  One cannot imagine a more euphoric subject.

Martin Provost is a French film director not that well known in North America as his films, as is the case of many French films, do not get distribution.  It is a sad thing as his film SERAPHINE that won the Cesar for Best Film and for him sharing the Best Screenplay never got here either.  I was fortunate to catch it at the Toronto International Film Festival and it is good to see a film of his SAGE FEMME finally released.

It is nothing more than spectacular to see two of my favourite French actress together in the same film.  Both Catherine Frot and Catherine Deneuve (the great Catherines) – and I can watch them forever.  Frot (the younger one), allows Deneuve to take the spotlight whenever they appear on screen together as obvious in the restaurant scene where Deneuve freaks out while Frot remains composed.

Claire (Frot) is a midwife at a Paris hospital.  In her 40’s, her life has become monotonous  and routine even though she has the exciting task of delivering babies.  Into  her life suddenly arrives Beartrice (Deneuve) who is diagnosed with terminal cancer.  Though dying, she wants to live.  The two are complete opposites.  While Claire is a vegetarian and no-drinker, Beartrice downs bottles of wine while indulging in red meat.  Beatrice is the woman Claire’s father left her mother for.  Beatrice wants closure – to make things right.  Claire initially wants noting to do with her but eventually succumbs.  Frot and Deneuve exhibit good chemistry playing contrasting confrontational personalities.  It is this chemistry that makes the film work, despite the simple plot covered by lame subplots like Claire’s son (dropping out of school; his pregnant girlfriend), Beatrice’s gambling and other bad habits and the hospital affairs.

As the subject is the midwife who delvers babies at a hospital, the film necessarily shows several of the deliveries of the just born.  It is very obvious that director Provost always hides the side of the bay and mother so that the umbilical cord cannot be seen, or that would mean the delivery of a real baby.

Though Deneuve is in her senior years, Provost does not even for once fall into the trap of cliched films about old farts.  Deneuve’s old character is portrayed as a mother dying of a brain tumour.  There is no scene of her reliving her young days, or trying to have sex or fall in love again.

Provost succeeds in the balancing comedy and drama.  Deneuve provides most of the comedy and Frot the drama.

The film suffers from a predictable plot.  It does not take a genius to guess that Beartrice will teach Claire how to live life and that Claire will eventually succumb to the charms of her suitor (Olivier Gourmet).

SAGE FEMME is a pleasant enough melodrama that will not win any awards but still should be seen for its two stars Denueve and Frot.

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

Film Review: WHITE NIGHT (Nuit Blanche) (Canada 2017) ***

White Night Poster
Set in the sleepless night of Nuit Blanche, White Night follows five different stories of people as they weave their way through various art installations tackling the issues of, love, losses, and the inevitability of getting old.

Directors:  Sonny AtkinsP.H. Bergeron (as Philippe H. Bergeron)

  

NUIT BLANCHE (Translated: White Night; originating from Paris and Nantes – an all night arts festival), the film traces a night in Toronto in fall beginning at sunset and going on till the early hours of dawn the next morning, where attendees can see, free of charge, art installations of various forms around the city centre.  A guide is available for choice picking.  Or one can do the random thing.  The art on display includes everything from film (like old films with piano accompaniment or French serial comedies) to paintings to music.  One can attend en seul or in a group.  In my experience it is best to decide what to visit before venturing out.  WHITE NIGHT the movie is based on this Toronto event. The film opens with a song with lyrics asking what the special night means to anyone.  It also comes with a forewarning of the unexpected and to expect the unexpected.

Set in the sleepless night of Nuit Blanche, White Night follows six different stories of people in transition. As they weave their way through various art installations they are forced to tackle the issues of, love, loss, aging, and the ever important question; is it art?

Emily is an artist. She has an installation. But does she have anything to say?  She is shown at the start of the film lugging her boxes, assuming containing her installation, to the right while the camera pans to the left.  Frank, a lawyer (with an uncanny resemblance to Ben Affleck) who initially is working late on unit blanche, he just fired. So he decides to take up a career in crime fighting. Violet and Sully are long time friends. Once young punk rockers fighting to take down the man they now face the idea of growing up.  Melanie needed change. So she uprooted her life in Quebec to start anew in Toronto. The language barrier is proving to be more difficult than she imagined.  Stacey likes to help people. While everybody else is transfixed by art she is out to find people in need.  Riley lives to capture life on his camera. He hides behind what he sees in everyone else.  The film intercuts the multiple stories in chronological order of the night as it transgresses, rather than playing them one after another.  It is not a new cinema concept but it is a suitable one for the subject.

Riley especially when on mushrooms is the funniest character.  Violet and Sully are the most boring, pretentious representing the worst of the art exhibits that are often on display.  No one wants to watch prissy, self-centred, unfunny, pretentious, people who do nothing that talk about themselves.   Characters also meet – like Riley and Emily.

The best thing about the film is the varied soundtrack from Stephen Joffe, Birds of Bellwoods and Beams also consisting of live performances.

The film has a one week (right after the 2017 Toronto event on September 30) limited engagement at the Carlton Cinemas, Toronto.  With a look! 

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RjKEA4751iQ&utm_source=WHITE+NIGHT&utm_campaign=357e40b8fd-EMAIL_CAMPAIGN_2017_08_22&utm_medium=email&utm_term=0_d4877cdab0-357e40b8fd-450246757

1997 Movie Review: AIR FORCE ONE, 1997 (starring Harrison Ford)

 

AIR FORCE ONE MOVIE POSTER
AIR FORCE ONE, 1997
Movie Reviews

Directed by Wolfgang Petersen
Starring: Harrison Ford, Gary Oldman, Glenn Close, Wendy Crewson, William H Macy, Dean Stockwell, Tom Everett
Review by Emma Hutchings

SYNOPSIS:

After Russian terrorists hijack the Presidential plane, the only hope of regaining control and averting disaster is the President himself. He has just made a speech stating he will not negotiate with terrorists, but is he willing to stand by that if it means sacrificing his wife and daughter?

OSCAR NOMINEE for Best Film Editing, Best Sound

REVIEW:

‘Harrison Ford is the President of the United States’. If that tagline fills you with dread, chances are you probably aren’t going to enjoy Air Force One. However, if the image of the great American action star playing the President, as a tough, heroic, Medal of Honor winner, beating up the terrorists who dare to take control of his plane, makes you grin, then you’ll love this action-packed thrill ride.

At the start of the film, President James Marshall makes a brave speech in Moscow condemning terrorists and saying he will not negotiate with them. Coincidentally, upon leaving, a group of Russians sympathetic towards General Radek (the once tyrannical leader of Kazakhstan, now in prison) board Air Force One posing as a press crew, helped by a mole in the Secret Service.

When things get hairy, the President is rushed to an escape pod in the cargo hold. But what the hijackers don’t know is that the President refused to leave and while his staff and family are held captive, he endeavours to rescue them single-handedly.

Consequently, what ensues is your typical ‘lone hero against a group of criminals’ scenario (think Die Hard or Under Siege). The terrorists conveniently prowl around the plane individually and he is able to pick off a few before being rumbled.

This rather tired formula is given a new lease of life and works mainly because of Harrison Ford’s star power. Ford inspires confidence; he does the right thing no matter how difficult, the audience know this and have that expectation before the film even starts. We know he’ll do the right thing, take care of his family and be a great leader of his country because he’s Harrison Ford, the Hollywood star. If it was an unknown actor we perhaps wouldn’t know how he’d respond in certain situations, and we wouldn’t be drawn into the film as much as we are, knowing Harrison Ford is going to save the day. This is basically, ‘what would happen if terrorists hijacked a plane and Indiana Jones was on board?’ or Jack Ryan, or any number of the characters he has previously played.

Praise must go to Gary Oldman as Ivan Korshunov, leader of the group of terrorists. He excels at playing the bad guy but I think this character is something special. Usually the villain’s motives aren’t explained, they are de-humanised and the audience feels no sympathy for them. But far from being a crazy lunatic, he makes Korshunov human, which can be quite unsettling. There are times when his persuasive rhetoric (combined with a convincing Russian accent) makes you wonder if he isn’t just a regular guy who was pushed to the very edge and foolishly chose to resort to extreme methods. In using the argument, “You, who murdered a hundred thousand Iraqis to save a nickel on a gallon of gas, are going to lecture me on the rules of war?” he makes the audience see the Americans, and by association The President, in an unflattering light. Korshunov is a powerful character, and pitting him in opposition to the President adds an extra interesting facet to the film.

The bottom line is that Air Force One is completely unbelievable. It’s a fantasy story about the President saving the day. Yet it keeps you hooked. It’s a little longer than I like my action movies but it held my attention. There are some great action sequences; the pilot’s urgent attempt to land the plane at a German airbase near the start of the film is a remarkable set piece. My advice is don’t think about it too much because if you start to examine the plot you will find gaping holes and you’re likely to realise it’s all a bit silly. But it’s a very enjoyable film if taken for what it was meant to be; a summer blockbuster, a popcorn movie, a film you can sit down and enjoy without taxing your brain. So, just go with it and enjoy the ride, or should that be flight?

AIR FORCE ONE, 1997

Full Review: STRONGER (USA 2016)

Stronger Poster
Trailer

Stronger is the inspiring real life story of Jeff Bauman, an ordinary man who captured the hearts of his city and the world to become a symbol of hope following the infamous 2013 Boston Marathon bombing.

Director:

David Gordon Green

Writers:

John Pollono (screenplay), Jeff Bauman (based on the book “Stronger” by)

Stars:

Jake GyllenhaalTatiana MaslanyMiranda Richardson

The Boston marathon.  PATRIOT’S DAY saw Mark Wahlberg star in the film that hunted down the terrorists responsible for the bombings.  STRONGER, on the other hand, looks at the Boston marathon from the point of view of a victim.  And a really bad victim at that – one that has lost both his legs in the middle of the bomb explosion.

 

To the film’s credit, the film is an adaptation of the memoir by Jeff Bauman, recounting his struggles to adjust after losing his legs in the Boston Marathon bombing.  So, it is a true story, rather than one based on true events.  But unfortunately the film wallows in self pity.

 

The film tells the story of Jeff’s tragedy and rebirth. 

 

Runner Erin Hurley (Tatiana Maslany) was still a mile away from the finish line when the bombs went off.  Her boyfriend, Jeff (Jake Gyllenhaal), however, was right there.  He is rushed into surgery, but his legs must be amputated.  The bombing’s immediate aftermath provides Jeff with an unexpected sense of purpose as he had seen one of the terrorists responsible for the blasts.  He gives information to the FBI that proves instrumental in their investigation.  But this is not seen in detail in the film.  So one wonders, whether Jeff really saw the bomber or imagined it.  Once that very public drama quietened down,  Jeff’s personal drama, a challenge as much for his morale as his body, is begins.  With Erin by his side, Jeff slowly recovers, one arduous step at a time.

 

Green’s film centres on the travails and sufferings of Jeff.  But it opts out for cheap shots – like showing the parts where Jeff has trouble in the toilet trying to shit or urinate. 

 

Jeff is shown in the film on the road of self destruction.  Erin scarifies her all for him.  But he is shown as unrepentant, unhealed by his mother who want him to get all the glory and money for his mishap. 

 

The film shows Jeff’s change in outlook.  Unfortunately, this change is shown coming from just one event instead of a gradual progression – the meeting of the Mexican who attended to him during the bombing.  Though this might be true, this one event that apparently changed Jeff’s outlook on life seems quite incredible.

 

Jake Gyllenhaal, Tatiana Malsany and Miranda Richardson (as Jeff’s mother) deliver excellent performances despite the film’s flaws.  If the film turned out better, they might be up for acting Oscars.

 

The film ends, expectedly during the closing credits with shots of the real Jeff and Erin.  It is revealed  that that the film is based on the book written by Jeff which is not mentioned at all in the film.

 

One can only wish the film would have been a better one that would show more of the triumph of the human spirit instead of one that showed a man wallowing is self pity.

 

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=I6MN0QfQx7I