Film Review: TO THE BONE ( USA 2017)

Deadlines to Submit your Screenplay, Novel, Story, or Poem to the festival: http://www.wildsound.ca

to the boneA young woman is dealing with anorexia. She meets an unconventional doctor who challenges her to face her condition and embrace life.

Director: Marti Noxon
Writer: Marti Noxon
Stars: Lily Collins, Keanu Reeves, Leslie Bibb

Review by Gilbert Seah
 
The credits both opening and closing proudly announces TO THE BONE a film about anorexia, the eating disorder a Netflix original movie. It has been proclaimed that Netflix gets to make films studios are scared to make. This definitely holds true for this depressing, unglamorous project on a subject suffering from anorexia and shunned by her family. But TO THE BONE is so bad that one wonders if the studios could foresee the fact.

One would expect more from director Noxon and lead star Lili Collins who both suffer from the disorder. But the film glamourizes the illness in the way Collins looks so beautiful in every scene and everything she does appears ok and everyone else especially her stepmother is wrong. But unforgivable is the fact that the film is a really boring exercise from start to end. It does not help with the weird ending in which her real mother, Susan (Lili Taylor) feeds her milk from a baby bottle and a fantasy scene in which Ellen she’s herself nude on the ground, presumably dead.

It is hard to judge Collin’s performance when the film is this awful. Taylor does the best she can and Keanu Reeves has the odd role as Ellen’s charismatic doctor who is supposed to a do wonders with his unconventional methods. “I’m not going to treat you if you do not want to live!” He tells Ellen the first time he interviews her.

The story follows teenager Ellen who has dropped out of college. Her stepmother, Judy who lives with her real dad wants her to be cured from her anorexia. But Judy is shown as a very intolerant and bad mother, always criticizing poor Ellen and downright silly, making silly assumptions that Ellen and her stepsister always laugh about. So, Ellen is convinced to go to this medical facility led by Dr. William Beckam (Reeves). There is nothing in the film that shows him to be revolutionary in his treatment. His insistence of telling Ellen’s inner voice to ‘ f*** soft is laughable if not downright unbelievable. The facility consists of an assortment of skinny patients that are there to make Ellen look good. The subplot of Ellen having a romantic fling with the one boy, Luke (Alex Sharp), who wants to be a singer/dancer leads nowhere.

The film at least looks crisp and clear, especially with the desert landscape at the end, courtesy of cinematographer Richard Wong. Music is decent with an original song near the end.

But the film teaches nothing about anorexia nor does it offer any real insight on the people suffering from it. The least the script could have done is provide some medical information on the subject. The film also inserts unnecessary new age material. Ellen’s mother is a lesbian. In one scene, she praises her own breakdown saying people should have them to learn from them. Susan also puts a Ellen in a tent with no electricity with kerosene lamps for light and a bedpan if one need to go do their stuff. Ellen (or Eli, since she changes her name half way through the film for no proper reason) has not come out of life any smarter and neither has the audience.

Trailer: https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=705yRfs6Dbs

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Film Review: RESTLESS CREATURE: WENDY WHELAN (USA 2017) **

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RESTLESS CREATURE WENDY WHELANDocumentary on the great American Ballerina Wendy Whelan.

Directors: Linda Saffire, Adam Schlesinger
Star: Wendy Whelan

Review by Gilbert Seah

The RESTLESS CREATURE of the film title stands for the title of the ballet, ballerina and NYC Ballet Company’s principal dancer, Wendy Whelan is performing or it could stand for her restless character as well, one that would never give up dancing. “If I don’t dance, I’d rather die,” Whelan says at one point during an interview in the film.

The film definitely centres on Whelan and she has a lot to say in it. It is a world of ballet and discipline, dance torture to the body and decadence. Perfectly sculptured bodies everywhere! This is not the world that most people are familiar with. The same saying applies to the film. It is strictly for ballet and dance aficionados. Those not in that world will hardly sympathize with Whelan’s complaints. And she can be quite the cry baby, going on and on about herself.

The film is all about Whelan. The film traces her dancing as a very young girl in her hometown of Louisville, Kentucky, then as a teenager on her own in New York and, finally, as a rising ballerina with the company. At the time of the making of the documentary Whelan is in her 40’s. She is dancing still and competing with dancers half her age. Her body cannot take it. In fact no body can be put to such strenuous exertion. Whelan is finally feeling it and her doctors and therapists are advising her to give her body a rest. But she wants to do this last dance.

Linda Saffire and Adam Schlesinger’s documentary looks good on the surface with candid interviews with Whelan and her contemporaries. But upon closer examination, the film just skims the surface on nits subject. Where are her parents from? Nothing is mentioned of her personal life. Does she ever have a boyfriend or girlfriend for that matter? The directors also make no attempt at trying to have the audience connect with their subject. They lay out Whelan bare, warts and all hoping that that the audience feels for her. Whether they succeed depends on the person concerned, but it does not work for me. I find it hard to feel for a person, talented or gifted though they may be, who is so involved in their own world, also is constantly praising themselves and not considering the rest of the world

Whelan has got all her attention and glory and it is time for her to give the younger dancers a chance at the stage. The film also does not really show her dancing at her prime. The film does contain a few show of her performances like “La Sonnambula” and “Symphony in Three Movements by George Balanchine and The Cage by Jerome Robbins. There should be more of Whelan’s performances that demonstrate how hard ballet is for the body. The climax of the film shows Whelan’s performance of RESTLESS CREATURE.

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zZOWVFr5yg0
 

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Film Review: NOT MY DAY (Nicht Mein Tag) (Germany 2014) ***

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not my day
Bank teller Till Reiners’ life is torn out of a rut by a series of offbeat coincidences, which ultimately lead him to find himself and realize: His life isn’t so bad after all…

Director: Peter Thorwarth
Writers: Stefan Holtz, Ralf Husmann (novel)
Stars: Moritz Bleibtreu, Axel Stein, Jasmin Gerat

Review by Gilbert Seah
 
Those quick to dismiss this straight to VOD platform German action comedy will miss this quiet gem of a box-office hit in its own country. Though the incidents in the story have been used in other films before, director Thorwarth still injects a certain freshness to their execution, so that all ends up good in this very entertaining comedy.

The film is part road trip part buddy buddy and part romantic comedy film centring on two mismatched characters. The film begins with what appears to be a bank job with a guy stuck in the building when police arrive. Director Thorwath tells what has happened that has has to this state of affairs.

It all begins when a disgruntled bank client Nappo (Moritz Bleibtreu) expresses his anger at waiting his turn while the bank officer, Till (Axel Stein) openly talks about a retirement party for one of the tellers. In his office, Nappo is denied a loan. In the next scene Till is shown having a lengthy argument wit his wife on the office phone about silly stuff like vacation time. Unknowing to Till, the bank is being robbed by a masked man. When the getaway driver takes off, the bank robber takes Till hostage. Taking off his mask, the robber is revealed to be Nappo who forces Till to drive him out of town. Thus begins the road trip of the two mis-matched characters.

If all this sounds a bit mundane, Thorwarth executes the above with grand flare. What works particularly is the contrasting chemistry of the two. Till follows rules while Nappu breaks them. Though they have opposite tastes in music they do share a comical sing-along in one of the film’s best scenes. Till is bespectacled, strumming his guitar while Nappo is screaming out the words: “yeah, yeah!” It is a meaningful scene which hits the truth in which people who can share the likes of an identical song can immediately bond.

The film also plays for romantic comedy with Till’s marriage to his wife, Miriam. They don’t have sex as she is aways back late from work trying to make it in the design business. Till, as he says, makes the money to pay the bills by doing a job he says he hates. They hope to rekindle the fire of their relationship, oddly enough from a vacation that they cannot coordinate in terms of time.

When Till thinks his wife is cheating on him, Nappo’s hilarious advise is: “Snap out of it! There are other chicks in town.” This is how Nappo convinces Till to do a job for money. The caper leads to a climatic car chase in Amsterdam at night with cars crashing into the canals.

What distinguishes this film from making it so engaging, is that director Thorwarth allows the audience to identify with all the film’s characters, from Till, Nappo and even the wife. They are shown as real characters especially, when the square Till finally throws caution out the window and goes ultimately crazy, at one point taking down a gang of Albanian gangsters.

If this comedy is your cup of tea, Milky Way also has released on major VOD platforms on July 11th, a part of their ‘comedies a la carte’ collection:
– DYKE HARD (Directed by: Bitte Anderson, Comedy, Sweden, 90 mins)
– LOVE AT FIRST CHILD (Directed by: Anne Giaferri, Comedy, France, 91mins)
– ONE MAN AND HIS COW (Directed by: Mohamed Hamidi, Comedy, France, 91 mins)
WINWIN (Directed by: Daniel Hoesl, Comedy, Austria, 84 mins)
Trailer: https://vimeo.com/97813230

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Film Review: THE BLACK PRINCE (UK/India/USA 2017) **

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THE BLACK PRINCE.jpg‘The Black Prince’ is a story of Queen Victoria and the Last King of Punjab, Maharajah Duleep Singh. His character as it evolves, torn between two cultures and facing constant dilemmas as a result. His relationship with Queen Victoria will be the most impactful relationship in the film, the Queen representing the English culture he was drawn into.

Director: Kavi Raz
Writer: Kavi Raz
Stars: Jason Flemyng, Amanda Root, Shabana Azmi

Review by Gilbert Seah

 A lavish production, the true tragic story of the Maharaja of Punjab entitled THE BLACK PRINCE was launched at Cannes this year at a glitzy event at the Indian Pavilion. But the film was not shown but its trailer together with interview opportunities with its star Satinder Sartaaj a famous singer/poet making his transition to big screen acting. The film finally arrives, but unfortunately the film is not what is expected from Cannes.

THE BLACK PRINCE is a story of the last king of Punjab, Maharajah Duleep Singh (Satinder Sartaaj) and Queen Victoria (Amanda Root). The film follows Maharaja Duleep Singh, first placed on the throne at the age of 5, after the death of his father. In 1849, Punjab was annexed to British India. The young prince was removed from the throne and eventually sent off to England. His attempts to return to India and reclaim his kingdom were thwarted by the British. He ended up a pauper, dying alone in a Paris hotel in 1893.

It is difficult to see the reason a film based on the failure of a man trying to regain his thrown got made, except perhaps to show the evil the British had done in the past, which the film emphasizes once too many a time, like an old racist grandparent nagging a grandchild of the evil of a particular culture. The film is not only a downer but also monotonously boring and badly executed.

There were a number of film critics that walked out of the press screening and a number that kept walking in and out to the toilet. It was indeed difficult to keep still during the long 120 minutes of the film’s running time. Apparently the film’s first cut was 4 hours.

There are a lot of things wrong with the film as evident in a number of scenes. In one where Duleep’s first wife struggles to tell him not to give up his English heritage, the camera focuses on Duleep’s reactions instead of her facial expressions. The two should be closer together in the argument and the camera should not show both of them, focusing one face to another but rather show more close-ups for emotional tension. The wife in the next segment is shown backing up her husband and then in the next, against him once again. Duleep’s son (one of them) suddenly appears in one scene condemning his father’s actions to the British Empire. The annoying soundtrack coaching the audience when and how to feel what does not help either.

The Maharajah also sports one of the worst haircuts ever seen on the screen EVER – a bald head with long hair streaming down the bottom half of his head. If there is anything this film is to remembered for, it is this haircut.

The dialogue at times, when meant to be serious comes across as laughable. Take for example Duleep’s big speech: “We will stick our daggers into their hearts and we will take back our Kingdom!” The film also does not explain where Duleep gets all his money to finance his trips and to travel to Paris, France whenever his heart desires.

All good intentions aside to tell the true story of a Prince whose throne was stolen from him, THE BLACK PRINCE is one dull history lesson. For all that it’s worth, the film displays impressive production values. Shot in Punjabi and English.

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=R2TTXSPVn8c

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Film Review: MANIFESTO (Australia/Germany 2016) ***

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manifesto.jpgCate Blanchett performs manifestos as a series of striking monologues.

Director: Julian Rosefeldt
Writer: Julian Rosefeldt
Stars: Cate Blanchett, Erika Bauer, Ruby Bustamante

Review by Gilbert Seah
 

 It is best to know the definition of the term MANIFESTO before seeing this movie. According to Wikipedia, a manifesto is a published verbal declaration of the intentions, motives, or views of the issuer, be it an individual, group, political party or government. A manifesto usually accepts a previously published opinion or public consensus or promotes a new idea with prescriptive notions for carrying out changes the author believes should be made. It often is political or artistic in nature, but may present an individual’s life stance.

Manifestos relating to religious belief are generally referred to as creeds.
The film integrates various types of artist manifestos from different time periods with contemporary scenarios. Manifestos are depicted by 13 different characters, among them a school teacher, factory worker, choreographer, punk, newsreader, scientist, puppeteer, widow, and a homeless man. All the characters are performed by 2-time Oscar Winner Cate Blanchett, as was envisioned to be performed by a female performer by German writer/director Julian Rosefeldt.

Visual artist Julian Rosefeldt crafts 13 distinct, vignettes that incorporate timeless manifestos from 20th century art movements weaving together history’s most impassioned artistic statements in this stunning and contemporary call to action.

From the press notes: “Art history is a derivation of history and we learn from history,” says Rosefeldt. “And in a time where neo-nationalist, racist and populist tendencies in politics and media threaten again democracies all over the world and challenge us to defend our allegedly achieved values of tolerance and respect, Manifesto becomes a clarion call for action.

There are a few scenes that though watchable, are difficult to make sense of. One best example is the one occurring right in the middle of the film where Blanchett plays a Russian diva choreographer. The segment begins with the tracking camera revealing several unconnected images including one with a man in a bear costume sitting on a bench with the head off. The camera then moves backstage and finally rests on the choreographer and assistant as she blurts out manifesto prose (while smoking a cigarette on a long cigarette holder, often flicking her ashes on her assistant’s clip board). The troupe she is choreographing perform magnificently, but she keeps screaming, in her Russian accent, words that often mean nothing in context.

Watching MANIFESTO is an art experience unless you enjoy sitting for days watching Cate Blanchett. Is this an intellectual experience? Maybe, if you have the patience to decipher what is happening on screen. But the film has been very well put together in all departments from sound to set design to writing and execution.

One has to pay careful attention and follow the logic and flow of the dialogue. Often too, after concentrating for a few minutes, listening to the poetry of words, the dialogue mean nothing – like the quips on dreams, children and worry. This is that rare film that one has to work to earn the pleasure, but it will be one definitely unforgotten.

Though made in 2015, the film originally premiered as a 13-channel film installation at the Australian Centre of the Moving Image. The 90-minute feature version premiered at the Sundance Film Festival in January 2017.

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Bk1HosLWM0o

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Film Review: LADY MACBETH (UK 2016) ***

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lady macbeth.jpgSet in 19th century rural England, young bride who has been sold into marriage to a middle-aged man discovers an unstoppable desire within herself as she enters into an affair with a worker on her estate.

Director: William Oldroyd
Writers: Nikolai Leskov (based on the novel by), Alice Birch (screenplay)
Stars: Florence Pugh, Christopher Fairbank, Cosmo Jarvis

Review by Gilbert Seah

LADY MACBETH is not based on the Shakespearean play. It is a 2016 British drama film based on the novel “Lady Macbeth of the Mtsensk District” by Nikolai Leskov.

The setting is the year 1865 in rural England, when a young woman, Catherine (Florence Pugh), is in a loveless marriage to an older man, Alexander. They live with Alexander’s father, Boris (Christopher Fairbank), and Catherine is forced to maintain a strict schedule and prevented from leaving the house. Boris scolds Catherine for not carrying out her conjugal duties but Alexander (Paul Hilton) shows no physical interest in her. As Alexander tells Catherine at one point in the film: “My father bought you along with the piece of land not fit for a cow to graze upon.”

One day both Boris and Alexander have to leave the estate for separate business matters, and Catherine is left alone with the housemaid, Anna (Naomi Ackie), and is free to explore the area to alleviate her boredom. One day she discovers Anna being suspended from the ground in an outhouse by the men who work on the land. She is attracted to one of them, Sebastian (Cosmo Jarvis), and the next day deliberately encounters him on the land. The affair that begins causes Catherine to take matters into her own hands for her own good.

The idea of mistreated wife, especially by her in-laws during an arranged marriage has always been favourite film fodder, (my fondest film on the subject being Deepa Metha’s HEAVEN ON EARTH). In LADY MACBETH, matters are made worse when she
falls in love with one of her husband’s workers at the estate and the father-in-law finds out.
One of the most satisfying things about the film is watching Catherine’s personality change from tied abused wife to Lady of the House to the ultimate devil. Once her husband and father-in-law are away and she left alone, her true nature slowly emerges. The scene where this occurs when she makes her stance against her workers shirking their duties is one of the film’s best segments. But the film is not without other prized set-ups.

Cruelty prevails in the rich estate in rural England. Catherine’s lover is flogged and locked up. Class structure is prevalent. Catherine is bound by duty and class. Only when her sexual desires are aroused that she is able to break free from the imposed prison set up by the society and structure of the times.

Director is playful with the relationship between Catherine and her black maid. When brushing her hair, the maid Anna does in extremely hard causing Catherine pain, as Anna also does when pulling her girdle tight or scrubbing her back in the bath. What are Anna’s motives? Is Anna getting back at her mistress or is she somehow trying to show some power over her mistress? At times, Anna smiles kindly at her mistress and at other times, Catherine has to ask her: “What is wrong with you?”
LADY MACBETH premiered last year at the Toronto International Film Festival. It has so far garnered favourable reviews, this one included. A deliciously enjoyable wicked period piece that even males will enjoy when watching the fairer sex dominate.

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2Z0N8ULhuUA

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Film Review: ALL EYEZ ON ME (USA 2017) ****

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all_eyes_on_meTells the true and untold story of prolific rapper, actor, poet and activist Tupac Shakur.

Director: Benny Boom
Writers: Jeremy Haft, Eddie Gonzalez
Stars: Demetrius Shipp Jr., Danai Gurira, Kat Graham

Review by Gilbert Seah 

 Those in the music industry or interested in hip hop will immediately recognize the title of the film, a biopic on rapper Tupac to also be the name of his most famous album. The film chronicles his rise to superstardom, his imprisonment and his prolific time at Death Row Records, his record label, working with the Notorious B.I.G.

For a superstar youngster shot and killed in a car shooting at the age of 25, his life story is nothing short of boring. It is filled with drama, action, romance, danger but most of all music. Director Benny Boon has created one of the best biopics in recent cinema aided by an award worthy inspirational performance by Demetrius Shipp Jr. in the tile role.

ALL EYEZ ON ME covers a lot of material from the birth of Tupac to his untimely death. His coming into the world is documented with his mother’s pregnancy while in prison. While released after acquittal, Leila Steinberg, Tupac’s mother (Lauren Cohan) angrily yells on camera on how unfairly black people are treated and how ‘we will not give up the fight” setting the tone for a very angry and powerful film.

Leila, also shown as a drug user later in the film, is not an easy person to live with. Tupac is eventually separated from his mother due to her black panther activities. The film quickly charts the years from 1971, 1975, 1982 to 1987 and 1988 when Tupac moved from the Bronx to Baltimore to Oakland, California where his sudden burst to fame in the Digital Underground is documented with spirit and energy.

Director Boom punctuates his film with an interviews with Tupac played by Shipp looking like the real thing. An interview with what follows on screen gives an impression of old footage used (though not so) of Tupac’s life. It is clear that the film is not a documentary as Tupac is currently dead for more than 20 years.

But this tactic shooting the biography in fake documentary style achieves that rare quality of making the audience feels as if they are really watching a doc on Tupac even though all that occurs on screen are re-enactments.

Tupac’s talent is effectively captured on screen thanks to both Shipp’s great acting and dance/singing mimicking as well as Boom’s well staged musical set pieces, the best of which include the studio recording of California Dreaming and his shooting of the Digital Underground sequences.

Besides Shipp’s outstanding performance, Cohan’s and Jamal Woolard’s as Tupac’s mother and the Notorious B.I.G. respectively stand out.

The film also contains moving moments such as in the film’s prison segment when Tupac learns his most important lesson in life while in prison, at a time when he almost gave up on everything.

Boom’s film moves fast and furious, just as the speed of Tupac’s life unfolded. There is hardly a dull moment in this 2 hour and 40 minute biopic.

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

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