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(Cinefranco 2019 Festival): PUPILLE (IN SAFE HANDS) (France 2019) *****Top 10

In Safe Hands Poster
Trailer

Theo was born an unwanted child. The social services set out to find the perfect home for his adoption.

Director:

Jeanne Herry

Writer:

Jeanne Herry (screenplay)

Marcelle Lean picked a real winner for her Cinefranco 2019 with this film about France’s adoption process.  The adoption process is shown here in all its complications and complexity with a whole lot of people involved in finding an adopted baby a good home.  PUPILLE unfolds non-chronologically as fiction though one can be sure that director Herry has done lots of research.  The story follows Theo, abandoned by his biological mother (Leila Muse) as Social Service strives through many applicants to find him a suitable and loving home. 

 The film reveals the various emotional states of everyone involved in the process from the mother, to the accepted new adoptive mother (Elodie Bouchez), to the social workers (3 of them) to the man (Gilles Lellouche) who looks after Theo before delivered to his final home.  Director has created both a heart warming and heart wrenching drama that will tug at ones emotions.  So, bring lots of Kleenex.  

 A few of the film’s parts are out of place like the emotional drama between two of the workers.  But given the film’s content, good intentions and research, PUPILLE deserves full marks.  (It has also 100% rating on Rotten Tomatoes at time of writing.) PUPILLE is the term given to the ward while under the care of France’s Social Services.  The film returns ones faith in the human race.  

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9bx3DnPLI6U (ver francais)

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Film Review: READY OR NOT (USA 2019)

Ready or Not Poster
A bride’s wedding night takes a sinister turn when her eccentric new in-laws force her to take part in a terrifying game.

From a script by Guy Busick and R. Christopher Murphy READY OR NOT is a horror black comedy directed by Matt Bettinelli-Olpin and Tyler Gillett that serves to amuse but ultimately disappoints.  An example of a film that closest follows READY OR NOT is Jonathan Lynn’s 1985 CLUE based on the board game.

READY OR NOT (the phase conned from the game hide-and-seek) follows Grace (Aussie Samara Weaving), a young bride who joins her new husband Alex Le Domas (Canadian Mark O’Brien) and his rich, eccentric family led by the patriarch (Henry Czerbny) and the mother (Andie MacDowell) playing a game of deadly hide-and-seek, where her in-laws attempt to find her before dawn.   Grace is ‘it’.  The other members of the family are to find her.  The family are armed with an assortment of weapons like pistols, rifles and crossbows, the latter who many are still experimenting its usage.  When she realizes that the Le Domas family intends to hunt and kill her, she turns the one-sided hunt into a free-for-all, with everyone fighting for their survival.  As Alex goes against his family to help her, Grace discovers that the night is part of a diabolical ritual.  Why the ritual?  The reason given is that if the new member of the family is not killed by dawn, then each member of the family will be killed or destroyed instead by some form or other.  The ritual has worked in the past.  But this time around, it might not owing to Grace’s  resourcefulness.

The concept of READY OR NOT sounds solid but there is difficulty in translating it to film.  One flaw is the script which is little too ambitious to be credible on screen.  There are two twists in the story towards the end (which will not be revealed in this review) but both quite predictable.   It also takes quite a bit to believe what s happening at the end, as the film has nothing supernatural about it except during the ending.   The script is also limiting as it concerns family members playing hide-and-seek which means not many opportunity for many to be killed in a violent or gruesome way.  The only means the family killers are killed off in the film are by the weapons accidentally going off.

READY OR NOT, a low budget film looks more expensive on screen.  The film was shot mainly in Oshawa, a town close to Toronto with a cast of a number of Canadian actors including the roles of the groom and father.  The film should easily cover its cost in box-office receipts.

READY OR NOT ends up a little amusing time-waster though aspiring but never achieving the giddy heights of deliciously wicked horror-camp like the Italian Gallo films popularized by Dario Argento (OPERA, SUSPIRIA, BIRD WITH THE CRYSTAL PLUMAGE).

READY OR NOT has a Wednesday opening like many horror films and should pull in a decent box-office sum.

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

Film Review: ANNA (France 2019) ***

Anna Poster
Trailer

Beneath Anna Poliatova’s striking beauty lies a secret that will unleash her indelible strength and skill to become one of the world’s most feared government assassins.

Director:

Luc Besson

Writer:

Luc Besson (screenplay)

ANNA returns flashy French director Luc Besson (THE FIFTH ELEMENT, arguably his best movie) to his NIKITA (the film re-titled LA FEMME NIKITA in North America) roots with an ultra-violent slick spy/assassin action pic.  ANNA is ridiculous, stylish, sexy and camp.  Love it or hate it.  Two of my film critic colleagues, TV personality critic Richard Crouse and NOW Magazine critic Norman Milner both hated it with a passion.  I sort of loved it, so why the enormous difference in opinion?

One reason is how one wants to look at the film.  ANNA is tacky.  It would not be a surprise if the film would be re-titled LA FEMME ANNA.  Besson has done this before and better.  This might just be a vehicle for his new muse, super model Sasha Luss.

The plot can be summed up in one line.  Quote Wikipedia: “Beneath a woman’s striking beauty lies a secret that will unleash her indelible strength and skill to become one of the most feared assassins on the planet.”  Of course there is more.  Anna (Luss) has a lesbian lover, Maud (Lera Abova) as well as two male lovers, Russian Alex Tchenkov (Luke Evans) and American Lenny Miller (Cillian Murphy).  Overlooking Anna at all times is KGB chief Olga (Helen Mirren. looking sufficiently ‘awful’ for the part, glasses and all).  The film is unveiled in non chronological order, where more than too often, an incident occurs before the story moves back 3 weeks or 3 months to explain what really happened causing the incident to occur.  The tactic is laughable but this could be Besson’s intention to mock the spy/mystery genre.

The film lasts a little under 2 hours, which is quite the chore if you hate the film from the start.  On the other hand, regardless the fact, there is enough going on in the background, exotic sets and locations, beautiful people, outrageous action set-ups (like the hot sexy closet scene).

Apart from the hours of action nonsense, there is one sad part that stands out – the subplot involving Anna’s lesbian girlfriend Maud.  Maud is oblivious of Anna’s dubbed ice and just loves her regardless.  Maud dances in happiness, often whispering sweet nothings to Anna who completely ignores her for other worries.   One wishes better for this poor character which somehow stands out in this emotionless flick.  Besides Abova, Helen Mirren as Olga and Cillian Murphy as Lenny deliver stand out performances that one wishes would save the movie.

The only thing consistent about the outrageous story is Anna’s desire to become free, which she obviously attains at the very last moment in the story.  I am sure that there are quite the few in the audience who wish they could be free as well from Besson’s movie.

Besson has had a string of flops including VALERIAN which I absolutely adored.  One has to give the man credit not for want of trying.  ANNA cost $30 million to make but looks as if it cost more than double that.  It is expected to have a soft opening at the box-office.

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7Ku-PkrtyUs

Film Review: DIANE (USA 2018) ***

Diane Poster
Trailer

Diane fills her days helping others and desperately attempting to bond with her drug-addicted son. As these pieces of her existence begin to fade, she finds herself confronting memories she’d sooner forget than face.

Director:

Kent Jones

Writer:

Kent Jones

DIANE is an aptly made film about a caring individual who works herself to sleep many a day for trying too hard.  Diane not only helps out in the soup kitchen but aids others in bringing food and comfort.  Her one burden is her son, who is an addict, and often dirty and not eating. The film is Diane’s story – as Diane is performed by Mary Kay Place, she giving on of the best performances of her career.

For a film about about sick and depressing people, the film has a sly look at things thus giving the film some humour and a cutting edge.  Comedienne Andrea Martin from SCTV provides some laugh-out humour offering her two-cents worth on things while yapping all the way on-stop.  She plays a good friend of Diane who always sorts her out when she is down.  Diane’s son, Bryan (Jake Lacy) a man-baby still unable to function on his own, is quaint to look at.  He is rather good looking but acts like a complete baby.

One of the film’s oddest scenes has Diane counselling Bryan while an odd whirling noise is heard on the soundtrack.  “I think I want to give birth to something,” Bryan says.  “I think you need help.  We have to go through this one more time,” replies Diane.

The trouble with DIANE is that the film appears aimless as Diane moves along in her life.  The ending is just sufficiently satisfactory.

Besides Place’s performance, the impressive cast includes Oscar Winner Estelle Parsons (remember her as Gene Hackman’s screaming wife in BONNEY AND CLYDE?), Glynnis O’Connor and Joyce Van Patton from the 70’s.

DIANE is helmed by Kent Jones who has made the documentaries A LETTER TO ELIA and HITCHCOCK/TRUFFAUT.  This new feature has already won three Awards in Tribeca, including Best Narrative Feature and the oecuminal Prize at Locarno 2018.

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Yl1WJA0T5II

Film Review: WHAT IS DEMOCRACY? (Canada 2018) ***1/2

What Is Democracy? Poster

The National Film Board of Canada (NFB)’s WHAT IS DEMOCRACY? just nominated for Best Canadian Documentary by the Vancouver Film Critics Circle is the kind of educational film made for students to watch in schools where lots of information is provided on the subject as if coming directly from a textbook on democracy.  The origin of the word is also explained in the film, to illustrate the amount of detail going into its research.

The film questions what it means to want to live in democracy.  Therefore the question asked is what the word even means.  WHAT IS DEMOCRACY? is an idiosyncratic, philosophical journey spanning millennia and continents: from ancient Athens’ groundbreaking experiment in self-government to capitalism’s roots in medieval Italy; from modern-day Greece grappling with financial collapse and a mounting refugee crisis to the United States reckoning with its racist past and the growing gap between rich and poor.

Celebrated theorists Silvia Federici, Cornel West, Wendy Brown, and Angela Davis are joined by trauma surgeons, activists, factory workers, asylum seekers, former prime ministers and others, in a film speaking to the camera or interviewed by Taylor, that connects past and present, the emotional and the intellectual, the personal and the political, to provoke critical dialogue about our future.

Though not really a feminist film, it should be noted (not a bad thing) that most of the interviewees and those involved in the making of the film including the director (who doubles her function as interviewer) are women.

  Trump is given screen time. Surprisingly Trump is not dismissed as a bad President but given due respect as well as reasons he got elected.  An identical situation can be applied to Brexit.  The masses are fed up with the elected who have forgotten the people. The Democrats have forgotten the people, says one American.  So when Trump goes down to the people at their level, he won their confidence.

An eye-opener is also revealed on how Americans are cheated on democracy in voting, especially the poorer and black parts of the United States.

Also interesting is the segment on Greece.  Greece has been in financial crisis and has to be bailed out by the other European Union countries that claim that Greece have lived beyond their means and now they have to pay. The film reveals another side that does not reflect well on the banks and the authorities.

There are lots in the film that will titillate the mind.  After all, it is the philosophers who had a big deal to do with the concept of democracy, as the film implies.  The film’s best segment has young students talking about democracy.  They talk about the results of their complaints in school, one in articular that resulted in the school taking away the vending machines.  They claim that the teachers say that they get paid regardless what they do and that the students need to go to college to success and be happy.  Yet they do not set the example.  It is a very moving and realistic situation that touches the heart.

The film summarizes democracy simply as justice – the right to self rule.  The film also demonstrates selective democracy and that real democracy is practically unattainable.  

The film will be back in the city on January 26 at Ryerson University at the DemocracyXChange Summit—a new annual event co-founded by the Open Democracy Project and the Ryerson Leadership Lab—where Taylor will deliver a keynote address, followed by an evening screening of her film.

Trailer: https://vimeo.com/266692157

Film Review: NANCY (USA 2017) ***1/2

Nancy Poster
Trailer

Nancy becomes increasingly convinced she was kidnapped as a child. When she meets a couple whose daughter went missing thirty years ago, reasonable doubts give way to willful belief.

Director:

Christina Choe

NANCY opens with the title character, Nancy (Andrea Riseborough) looking after her ill-tempered mother, Betty (Ann Dowd, last seen in HEREDITARY).  The mother is ungrateful, nasty, impatient and rude making Nancy wonder the reason she is that way, as she has always been pleasant towards her mother.  The two watch OLIVER TWIST on  television, the Charles Dicken’s story of an orphan.

When the mother dies, 15 minutes into the film, Nancy watches on television the news of a mother who has had lost her daughter about 30 years ago.  Nancy thinks she might be the missing daughter and contacts Ellen (J, Smith-Cameron) and her husband (Steve Buschemi).  Nancy heads out to meet them, the meeting being the rest of he film.  Revealing more of the plot would definitely spoil the film’s effectiveness.  All that needs be said is that writer/director Choe has made an effective psychological mystery drama.

The film is set in winter in the country where Ellen and her husband live.  The falling snow and snow covered woods are beautifully shot by cinematography her Zoe White, who went on to shoot THE HANDSMAID TALE after being noticed for her work in this film.

NANCY speaks to a lot of Americans for reason of the main character’s demise.  

NANCY gives voice to and represents the many disappointed, disconnected twenty-

first-century millennials making up the first-world.   These are adults struggling to grow up, yet

unable to identify where boredom ends and untreated mental health issues begin.   Nancy is a confused grown-up kid, unable to really function socially, unable to afford to fly the coop, their 

youth saturated by inflation, aware of the dream that capitalism promises, yet living on the 

outskirts of its failings. 

Longing for physical connection, and attempting to find it through online self-

misrepresentation, Nancy has a short meeting with a well-meaning Jeb played by John Leguizamo.  Nancy wrestles with unemployment, only able to obtain a temporary job with insufficient hours.  The character also, when the film opens, has returned from a visit to Korea – not South but North Korea, to the surprise of the person Nancy was speaking to.  Nancy claims that it was easy to go there.  The choice of North Korea depicts the kind of vacation Nancy would be interested with – going to a country with dispirited and oppressed people. Director Choe herself has visited North Korea.

The film’s message comes across loud and clear as voiced by Ellen (J. Smith-Cameron, who delivers the film’s best performance): “We have to appreciate what we have now.  It is the only thing that matters.”

NANCY belongs to the category of low budget films that often struggle at the box-office but is worth a look for effort and result.  The film has already received accolades having been nominated for the following two categories of ‘Best First Screenplay’ and ‘Best Supporting Female’ for the 2019 Film Independent Spirit Awards.  In addition, the film won the ‘Waldo Salt Screenwriting Award’ at Sundance this year.

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KDXSp8kfBGw

Full Review: SHOPLIFTERS (Japan 2018) ****

Shoplifters Poster
Trailer

A family of small-time crooks take in a child they find outside in the cold.

Director:

Hirokazu Koreeda

Writers:

Hirokazu Koreeda (original story), Hirokazu Koreeda (screenplay)

Hirokazu Kore-ed’s (his masterpiece AFTER LIFE and last year’s THE THIRD MURDER) latest film, SHOPLIFTERS won him the Palme D’Or at Cannes this year and is a real gem of a movie.  It tells the story of a poor family barely etching out a decent living in the outskirts of Tokyo.  The family is comprised of a couple, a grandmother and children.  The beauty of the movie is the twist in the story, that if revealed would definitely destroy the movie’s purpose.

The film’s Japanese title MANBIKI KAZOKU literally translates to ‘shoplifting family’.  Indeed so.  This is not Kore-da’s first family themed film, after making AFTER THE STORM,    LIKE FATHER LIKE SON and NOBODY KNOWS.   The patriarch, Osamu Shibata (Lily Franky) and his young boy, Shota (Jyo Kairi) complete a shoplifting spree at the residential grocery store before treating him to delicious croquettes.  They hear the cries of a hungry 4-year old who they bring back home (or kidnap) to feed her and later not return her to her family after discovering scars all over her body.  Shota and the young girl, Yuri bond.  Kore-eda’s film is kept interesting from the various characters of the family that also includes the grandmother (Kiki Kilin), Shota’s wife, Nobuyo (Ando Sakura) and her sister who works in a strip club.

The message that this make-shift dishonest family has more love than the typical Japanese family is obvious and drummed into the audience at the end of the film, in case the audience did not get it.  But thankfully, Kore’eda’s message is all not all black and white.  He also looks at the limitations of homeschooling as Shota is taught shoplifting and does not attend school.  “I thought kids who cannot study go to school,” Shota questions a detective at one point in the film.  The detective’s answer is: “Some things you cannot teach at home – meeting people.”

One of the film’s most interesting segments has the family go to the beach together.  How they interact with each other makes good observation.

The audience might wonder why did it took so long for Yuri’s mother to search and claim her back.  The audience overhears an argument between mother and father that they did not want her and that she was a nuisance.  

The film contains two twists that occur after the son, Shota is injured while jumping off a highway overpass in order to escape being caught from shoplifting.  This he does to save his little sister from getting caught.  What is revealed is both unexpected that teaches the audience both of that family and what an ideal family should be.  

Kore-ed’s actors need not act – his camera does.  From, close-ups, long hots, a character’s glance, the turn of a face, Kore-ed knows exactly how to capture a moment or create an effect.  The result is a superior movie from a clear Master of a medium who is not only a great story-teller (telling a story with a clear timely message) but a superb filmmaker.

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Rwcb5ki1f-4

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