Film Review: THE TRANSFIGURATION (USA 2016)

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the trasfiguration.jpgWhen troubled teen Milo, who has a fascination with vampire lore, meets the equally alienated Sophie, the two form a bond that begins to blur Milo’s fantasy into reality.

Director: Michael O’Shea
Writer: Michael O’Shea
Stars: Eric Ruffin, Chloe Levine, Jelly Bean

Review by Gilbert Seah

THE TRANSFIGURATION premiered in the Un Certain Regard section at Cannes last year, apparently coming out of nowhere just like the film’s odd protagonist, a black bullied teen called Milo (Eric Ruffin).

Milo lives with his brother and they share an odd obsession with vampires. Milo actually drinks blood, as is observed in a very compelling and disturbing but well-shot opening scene set in a public toilet stall. The camera follows Milo as the audience learns more about the little man. He is bullied by other black teens, lives in a small apartment, collects and watches vampire videos, breaks into houses, stores a bag load of cash, drinks blood very few days and leads a non-existent lifestyle. When Milo meets Sophie (Chloe Levine), a white teen neighbour, the two fall in love.

Director O’Shea obviously drew his inspiration from Murnau’s vampire film NOSFERATU. Milo and Sophie are seen watching the 1922 classic NOSFERARU and O’Shea’s film is filled with similar sounding music. When Sophie is asked by Milo what she liked about the film, music was her answer. O’Shea also captures the same creepiness in his film.

The vampire is clearly used as a metaphor for bad people. O’Shea makes the point very clear – in act too clearly, in the one scene at the end of the film when Milo’s brother preaches to him that people in the world also suck blood from each other – figuratively.

O’Shea’s film is not without flaws. The main flaw is that it is only occasionally engaging. It is hard for the audience to connect with a black teen with no life, who breaks into people’s houses and has no redeeming qualities. Thee is also no explanation for the reason he dislikes the TWILIGHT films and only the real serious vampire films. The audience is also supposed to believe that a normal human being can eventually drink blood as a normal way of life.

Despite the flaws, O’Shea can draw the audience into a scene when he wants to. The best examples are the toilet scene at the film’s start and sporadically at various parts of the film. He uses light, sound and edition to create a moment.

The romance between Milo and Sophie works as a first love kind of romance. Milo gives it all up for her while she has reservations after finding out more about him. Newcomer Eric Ruffin is quite young and a risk as O‘Shea’s lead actor. But Ruffin is convincing and a fresh face which are good things.
One has to hand it to O’Shea for trying. But his film misses for its failure to totally engage, with its too weird premise and too obvious metaphor of a human vampire that lives among the living.

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sLXiyMbLR30

 

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Film Review: BAYWATCH (USA 2017)

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baywatch.jpgDevoted lifeguard Mitch Buchanan butts heads with a brash new recruit. Together, they uncover a local criminal plot that threatens the future of the Bay.

Director: Seth Gordon

Stars: Dwayne Johnson, Zac Efron, Alexandra Daddario, Priyanka Chopra

 BAYWATCH is the latest edition of films based on a successful TV series that has very little to do with the series – like the JUMP STREET films. But it the marketing works. BAYWATCH is a modern re-working of a popular TV series of the same name. It cost $40 million to make and is estimated to gross $45 million the opening American long weekend.

BAYWATCH is an action-comedy film directed by Seth Gordon (HORRIBLE BOSSES) starring with Dwayne Johnson and Zac Efron with a list of general unknowns Alexandra Daddario, Kelly Rohrbach, Jon Bass, Ilfenesh Hadera, Priyanka Chopra and Indian actress Yahya Abdul-Mateen II as the villain. David Hasselhoff and Pamela Anderson are present with cameos and excellent ones, coming as neat surprises in the film.
The film concerns Mitch Buchannon (Johnson), the gung-ho leader of the elite Baywatch lifeguard squad. He believes he is making a different in the world, clashing with the local police as he outdoes his duties by trying to stop drug trafficking at the same time. Matt Brody (Efron), a washed-up pro athlete is brought in as the new face of the organization. However, when a dead body is recovered from the ocean, the two must put aside their personal differences and work with their team to stop a criminal mastermind’s drug trafficking operation. Mitch gets relieved of his post while Matt ends up saving the day with the help of Mitch’s crew. The film is at least smart enough not to make any preachy statement, but just let the comedy/action takes its course.

As an action comedy, the film devotes an equal amount effort to both comedy and to the action. The special effects especially the underwater segments (during he fire rescue) are impressive. It is rare when the action and comedy come together. The best and most hilarious segment occurs at the film’s start (which cannot be matched), when the logo BAYWATCH appears on the background accompanied by three synchronized choreographed dolphins after Dwayne Johnson saves some babes on his watch.

Dwayne Johnson has proven himself apt as an actor comfortable in both action and comedy. Zac Efron is however not that funny when portrayed as a victim. He is at his hilarious best (as in the film DIRTY GRANDPA or in NEIGHBOURS) when he is the instigator or the super drunk or drugged up super hunk. This best scene in BAYWATCH is when he punches out his supervisor and when his muscles are flexed doing the obstacle course. Jon Bass is given a lot of screen time doing the funny fat guy. All his antics – the co-ed shower, the beach CPR, the disco dancing are lame. Bass comes across as more annoying than funny. Audiences are not going to be happy paying good money to watch an amateur comedian fail on the screen.

BAYWATCH could have been better for all the effort put in, especially the fantastic special effects on display. Still, it is relatively entertaining, for those not expecting much from an evening at the movies.

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TDteZ0YrhSU

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Film Review: POPULATION ZERO (USA/Canada 2015) ***1/2

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population zero.jpgIn 2009 three young men were killed in a remote part of Yellowstone National Park. The only thing more shocking than the crime itself are the bizarre events that followed.

Directors: Julian T. Pinder, Adam Levins
Writer: Jeff Staranchuk
Stars: Duane Murray, Julian T. Pinder, Jonathan Potts

Review by Gilbert Seah 

 There is much to appreciate in watching POPULATION ZERO. The least one knows about the film, the more enjoyable and eerie the film will be. I went into it knowing absolutely nothing and ended up totally absorbed and bedazzled by the piece. So, if one has the intention of watching the film, DO NOT read this or any other review of the film.

That said, the film is a mockumentary. This fact in itself spoils the film’s enjoyment as co-director Pinder introduces himself as a documentarian in the film, and one (if unaware of the film being a mockumentary) will naturally assume all that will occur on screen be true. Wrong – though the film is based on a true incident, the fact that the story telling of the film unfolds in found footage form and documentary style, one tends to believe everything seen on screen.

The filmmakers were inspired to make the movie after learning of the existence of the “Zone of Death”, a small portion of Yellowstone National Park that under the Sixth Amendment’s Vicinage Clause, would enable “The Perfect Crime”.

Bring in the murder of three young men in the Park’s worst crime in history committed by Dwayne Dwayne Nelson (Duane Murray)and one has quite the story. In 2009, Nelson confessed to the shooting of three men in Yellowstone National Park. Despite his confession being accurately detailed, he was not convicted of the crimes because the crime occurred in an uninhabited area and as such, there is no chance of finding a jury to hear the trial. This is the loophole in the law that resulted from the POPULATION ZERO of the title. All is clearly explained in the film. But it is years later that Julian T. Pinder (playing himself, a documentarist) examines the crime and the legal loophole that allowed Nelson to walk free. As the film progresses Pinder begins to receive strange and frightening items, evidence of Nelson’s crime.

Directors Pinder and Levins are good storytellers. What begins as a real life murder eventually evolves into a totally concocted tale that is made so credible that one would believe it to be true. And it could very well have been true. The film’s pacing is close to perfect with the suspense and shock level building to an exploding climax towards the end.

The film also comes with a neat message delivered to big companies doing bad things to poor people. The film also scarily lets the audience unsuspectedly take the murderer’s side. For whatever had been done to him, he deserves the right to take his revenge. When it is revealed that Nelson could have masterminded the entire crime including his freedom using everyone including the Pinder for his cause, one cannot help but applaud the man.

POPULATION ZERO works as it is horrific yarn based on a true event, told convincingly in found footage documentary style. Made in 2015, it world premiered at the Newport Beach International Film Festival on April 26, 2016 and finally makes it debut. See it!

Trailer: https://vimeo.com/161531094

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Film Review: THE COMMUNE (Denmark/Sweden/Netherlands 2016) ****

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the_communeA story about the clash between personal desires, solidarity and tolerance in a Danish commune in the 1970s.

Director: Thomas Vinterberg
Writers: Tobias Lindholm, Thomas Vinterberg
Stars: Ulrich Thomsen, Fares Fares, Trine Dyrholm

Review by Gilbert Seah
 

The latest from Thomas Vinterberg (CELEBRATION, THE HUNT) details what happens in a commune. Communes were popular in the 70’s in Denmark, also the time when the film is set. Vintergberg does not judge the workability of a commune environment but shows both sides of its workings – both good and bad.

Vinterberg’s film is a detailed study of the start (and end?) of a commune. He begins with a couple’s rationale on starting their commune. It all happens when Erik’s father passes away. The couple must decide what to do with the huge house that Erik grew up in, as it’s too expensive for them to occupy on their own. So, they decide to form a commune. They believe a commune will solve the problem of money and being able to live at a large residence close to sailing and the sea while living with friends. Anna, the wife also desires change. The question then is whether the couple is ready with problems that may arise. This is what the film examines. It is a good observation, too, that people seldom look at the possible problems when they get too excited on a new venture.

The first 30 minute of the film is up-lifting. The couple decide on the commune, interview the other co-communers. They sign the papers, move in, and frolic naked, drink beer, drink and be merry. All this is demonstrated through the downward spiral of a couple Anna (Trine Dyrholm, who won Best Actress at this year’s Berlinale for her performance and is the best thing about the movie) and her husband, Erik (Ulrich Thomsen). Though the problems that ensure are predictable – jealousies; some that do less work than others; untidy habits – the events that occur are still well conceived and well executed.

The film also works on different levels. It is also a family drama that concentrates on the couple as well as a psychological study on human behaviour. The film gets interesting when members of the commune sit down for their annual meeting. Each member is asked “How are you?” Mona is accused of too much traffic in and out of the house (she is seeing too many men) while Allon is crying after being accused of not paying his deposit.

Every scene in the film is also ripe for analysis on behaviour. One scene in which Erik interviews Allon as a possible candidate for living in the house illustrates the interaction of two different characters with intriguing results. Another is Erik’s humiliation of Jesper, one of his students. The reason of his doing so forms a good topic for discussion. Yet another is when Erik’s daughter catches her father cheating on the mother.

Compared to other Vinterberg films like CELEBRATION, the images are crystal clear and there is much less hand held camera used. When the actors are seated, the camera is mounted and when the actors are walking or on the move, it is hand held camera (fortunately held quite steady without noticeable jittery movements). THE COMMUNE is Vinterberg’s most emotional film.

The main message of commune living would be that it works if one works at making it work. An insightful and absorbing film!

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KsEXwrgKjQ0
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THE BLEEDER (former title: CHUCK) (USA 2016) ***

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chuckA drama inspired by the life of heavyweight boxer Chuck Wepner.

Director: Philippe Falardeau
Writers: Jeff Feuerzeig, Jerry Stahl
Stars: Elisabeth Moss, Naomi Watts, Ron Perlman, Liev Schreiber

Review by Gilbert Seah

 Quebec director Falardeau has made some excellent Quebec films like CONGORAMA, MONSIEUR LAZHAR (his most famous and critical acclaimed film) and MY INTERNSHIP IN CANADA. THE BLEEDER with all its good points, however, is unable to reach the director’s high point, probably due to its depressing subject matter, though based on a true story.

The film is based on the life of Chuck Wepner (Liev Schreiber). It traces the rise to fall to redemption of Chuck, the man concentrating on his personal life rather than his boxing. It is tough to see a man from the Bronx, go down after gaining fame. The life of fame and riches seduced the man, resulting in him leaving his wife, doing drugs like cocaine and flirting around.

The atmosphere of the 70’s where the story takes place is authentically created. There are 70’s period films that do not look as if they were made in the 70’s, The BLEEDER looks as if it was made in the 70’s. Everything from props, dialogue, hair, music and sets is perfect.

This is the life of Chuck Wepner, best known for his 1975 fight with the heavyweight champion, Muhammad Ali. The film is called THE BLEEDER because Chuck is able to take punishment, which allowed him to stay that many rounds in the ring with Muhammad Ali.

Live Schreiber plays Chuck the loser that he is. He is not too bright either. When he learns that Stallone stole his life story, he calls United Artists and asks to speak to directly to Stallone. When Chuck finally meets Stallone, he does not even ask him for royalties. One problem with the film is that Chuck is not a likeable human being. Worse, is that he is a loser with few redeeming qualities. It is hard to feel sorry for a man who was married three times who keeps cheating on his wives. His daughter is understandably upset with him. Everyone would be, including the teacher at a PTA meeting who walks away disgusted. Unlike the film ROCKY, which is based on Chuck’s life a film that became so popular because ROCKY was about a winner, THE BLEEDER is about a loser.

The boxing scenes are violent and necessarily so, as the film has to show the character living up to the name of Bleeder. The main match, the one between Muhammad Ali and Chuck is convincing enough to look like the real thing.
Schreiber is excellent in his role as Elizabeth Moss is as his second wife. The film does not really explain how Sylvester Stallone learned about Chuck’s life to portray him so accurately in his Oscar Winning film. The actor, Morgan Spector playing Stallone is totally laughable in his look – looking like a skinny though toned version of the Stallion.

THE BLEEDER is not a bad film. But a depressing film about a loser is going to be a tough sell to attract audiences.

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0AQXwOOqNNw

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Film Review: PARIS CAN WAIT (USA 2017) Directed by Eleanor Coppola

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paris_can_waitAnne is at a crossroads in her life. Long married to a successful, driven but inattentive movie producer, she unexpectedly finds herself taking a car trip from Cannes to Paris with a business associate of her husband. What should be a seven-hour drive turns into a carefree two-day adventure replete with diversions involving picturesque sights, fine food and wine, humor, wisdom and romance, reawakening Anne’s senses and giving her a new lust for life.

Director: Eleanor Coppola
Writer: Eleanor Coppola
Stars: Diane Lane, Alec Baldwin, Arnaud Viard

Review by Gilbert Seah

 PARIS CAN WAIT opens at the Cannes Film Festival (where the film was shot). (Nothing is seen of the Cannes film festival or of any stars though, so one assumes that it was not shot during that time.) Anne (Diane Lane) is here with her producer husband Michael (Alec Baldwin) who can be observed as loving his wife yet too busy to pay her much attention. When she thinks he is answering her questions, he is actually speaking to the person on the other side of his phone. When an earache prevents Anne from flying to Budapest with Michael, Michael’s film associate Jacques (Arnaud Viard) offers to drive her to Paris, while Michael heads to Budapest for a film.

But Jacques diverts on the trip, and hence the title PARIS CAN WAIT. Anne filly arrives in Paris at the end of the film, delayed while her husband grows suspicious. In the mean time, Jacques plays on his charm to woo Anne – and finally makes his move.

PARIS CAN WAIT is a light comedy that is neither very funny nor amusing. The characters are superficially pleasant, but only to each other. If one looks deeper, each one is selfish to each one end.

Coppola’s film is full of little observations. She uses her characters nuances to point out flaws and strengths in their personalities. But the three characters are the idle rich who probably have lived all their lives in luxurious decadence. As a result, the audience can hardly feel for any of the three – whether they cheat or remain faithful. They just come across as three annoying people unconnected to the real world.

In the film, Coppola takes her audience to see the France only the fortunate see. Thee are no scene of poverty or minorities or any of the hardship that is taking place in the E.U. The characters wine and dine in luxury, always complaining about the ridiculous. Anne complains a great deal about how she cannot get cheese at room service that she had to order a cheeseburger to get some. It is a haughty and selfish behaviour with that spirit prevailing throughout the film. The two principal characters are travelling around in a gorgeous Peugeot convertible.

It is surprising the this is the same director that made the insightful documentary HEART OF DARKNESS that revealed the insides of her husband’s APOCALYPSE NOW. Where did all the talent and insight disappear to?
The film is shot in English and French without any subtitles for the French portion. The dialogue is mostly inconsequential which means that is no need for any translation.

The climax of the film is the scene where Anne ends up putting a clip to tidy up her hair behind her head, as if tidying up all the ends that have taken place, a clever subtle metaphor in the film. It is an odd way to end the film, as it is an odd film – indulgent, insufferable and impossible.

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HTrT6QSqnGs

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Film Review: THE GARDENER (Canada 2016) ***

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the_gardener.jpgThe Gardener is a documentary directed by Sebastien Chabot about Frank Cabot’s Les Quatre Vents, aka Cabot Garden, a magnificent private garden in the Charlevoix region near Quebec City.

Director: Sébastien Chabot
Writer: Sébastien Chabot
Stars: Francis Cabot, Anne Cabot, Adrienne Clarkson

Review by Gilbert Seah
 
Veteran of Canada’s TV industry, director Sébastien Chabot first feature documentary THE GARDENER offers audiences a rare opportunity to experience arguably the most beautiful garden in the world. This garden is designed and cultivated by Frank Cabot (recently deceased in 2011), THE GARDENER of the title who is also a philanthropist and horticulturalist.

The garden’s beauty, as well as Cabot’s boundless passion and his commitment to refining their every last detail are captured in the pensive and stunningly photographed film.

The garden is called Les Quatre Vents (The Four Winds) at Malbaie, Quebec. It is only near the end of the film that Chabot reveals that this Garden of Eden is now open to the public. It is open only for 4 Saturdays of the year at a price of $30 per person and sold only in November. Needless to say, the tickets are always sold out and each person is allowed a maximum purchase of 4 tickets. (this year’s tickets are sold out and the 2018 tickets go on sale in December). It is practically a sure thing that anyone watching Chabot’s film will mark this calendar date to book the tickets.

The film contains two days of interviews of Cabot. It is fortunate as audiences get to hear Cabot’s perspective on life and on the design of his garden. Cabot was ill at that time but agreed to be interviewed. His wife and close friends also tie in their points of view on the garden.

The best segments of the film are the shots of the garden. From the tiered waterfalls, sculptured hedges, flowers and stone sculptures to the garden paths, the tour of the 20-acres of Cabot’s land is nothing short of magnificent.

Cabot talks about his garden being like a symphony. It is a bit tacky that Chabot immediately follows this comment with symphony music. It is also quite obviously artificial that he adds in the sound of bird chirping during the tracking shots. These are a few forgivable complaints on the film. Original music of the film is provided by Luc St-Pierre.

Chabot spends a fair amount of time, necessarily on the background of the man. It is insightful to see where his ideas originated. Cabot was a rich and wealthy man and a genius in his own right. One can see that a man full of riches and owner of such a magnificent garden would eventually want to share the beauty with the rest of the world. He thus opened the garden to the public for the first time in 1987.

“It was a true pleasure to document the beauty of Les Quatre Vents, and the bold vision of Frank Cabot,” said director Sébastien Chabot. “I’ve been elated to see festival audiences respond so enthusiastically to the film, it’s a privilege to offer people the opportunity to experience a stunning place that only a lucky few have had a chance to see.” These are the same thought echoed in the words of Chabot when interviewed in the film.

The film offers a rare opportunity to see true beauty. Don’t miss it! From May 19, THE GARDEN opens theatrically at the Hot Docs Ted Rogers Cinema for a week-long run.

Trailer:​ https://vimeo.com/213602278

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