Film Review: THE GOLDFINCH (USA 2019)

The Goldfinch Poster
Trailer

A boy in New York is taken in by a wealthy Upper East Side family after his mother is killed in a bombing at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Director:

John Crowley

Writers:

Peter Straughan (screenplay by), Donna Tartt (based on the novel by)

Based on the Pulitzer Price Winning book by Donna Tartte, one wishes the film would contain a more solid and credible story, but what transpires onscreen is mired by two glaring flaws (two incidents that are totally inconceivable that they destroy the entire film.

John Crowley directs with the same care and over-caution as he did in his last BROOKLYN but goes off with the pacing.  For a crime caper, the film moves more like his BROOKLYN romance drama.

Decker (Ansel Elgort) was only 13 when his mother died in a museum bombing, sending him on an odyssey of grief and guilt, reinvention and redemption. Through it all, he holds on to one tangible piece of hope from that terrible day: a priceless painting of a bird chained to its perch, The Goldfinch – that he had kept from the bombing.

The film is a coming-of-age tale with criminal plots, personal secrets, and the transformative power of art thrown into the story.

The film opens with the mysterious and introverted Theodore Decker (Elgort) holed up in an Amsterdam hotel, desperate and facing a lethal threat.  His story since childhood then unfolds in layers of rash decisions and sudden betrayals.  Young Theo (Oakes Fegley) saw his privileged life with his mother shattered one day on a visit to an art museum.   In the aftermath of an attack among the masterpieces, one priceless 17th-century oil painting goes missing. What happened to the The Goldfinch? And how will its disappearance follow Theo across America throughout his whole youth and on to his Dutch hideout?  Clues are provided to the audience and it does not take a genius to put two and two together that Decker has the painting.

The two coincidental plot flaws are:

  • the coincidental re-meeting of Theo and Boris as adults in a bar out of the blue in NYC.  Just how many bars are there in NYC and how big is the city?  And the timing?
  • the over tidy Hollywood-Style happy ending where all comes too neatly in place to bring the film to a conclusion

Elgort is perfect in the role, showing both the charm and darker shadows that have marked his best work. Kidman is as compelling as ever in every frame. And a stellar cast of actors — Finn Wolfhard, Jeffrey Wright, Sarah Paulson, Luke Wilson — turn up as characters who further complicate Theo’s jagged path.

The big plus of the film is that Goldfinch was shot by the legendary, Oscar-winning cinematographer Roger Deakins, who gives it a polish appropriate to its high-stakes, high-crime story. 

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IcG06hZooHM

Film Reviewer: DESTROYER (USA 2018) ***1/2

Destroyer Poster
Trailer

A police detective reconnects with people from an undercover assignment in her distant past in order to make peace.

Director:

Karyn Kusama

Writers:

Phil Hay (screenplay), Matt Manfredi (screenplay)

There is a new super hero in town.  But this is a super hero of a different kind – not a Marvel or DC super action figure hero but a female down to earth cop with the super power of survival.  

As the film opens, LAPD detective Erin Bell (Nicole Kidman) arrives on the scene of a John Doe murder and informs the responding officers that she knows the victim’s identity.   The responding officers clearly dislikes her and unafraid to show their feelings.  She gives them the finger when they ask the identity.

At the police station, Erin receives a $100 bill stained from a dye pack in an unmarked envelope. Using a contact at the FBI, she confirms that the bill is from a bank robbery committed by a California gang many years prior that she and her former partner Chris (Sebastian Stan) were embedded in as undercover officers.  She tells her superiors that she believes the bill and the John Doe murder to be proof that the gang’s leader Silas (Toby Kebbell) is once again active.

Erin is forced to work her way through the remaining members of the gang in order to find Silas. She begins with Toby (James Jordan), who was arrested but is now gravely ill and living with his mother on compassionate release. She manually stimulates him in exchange for the location of Arturo (Zach Villa), a member of the gang who attempts to atone for his past crimes by offering pro bono legal services to immigrants.  Arturo provides Erin with the location of DiFranco (Bradley Whitford), a lawyer who launders the money from the original robbery and from whom Erin deduces that Silas is active again because the money from the heist is almost gone. After threatening him, DiFranco gives Erin the location of the next money hand-off, which is performed by Silas’ girlfriend Petra (Tatiana Maslany). Erin tracks Petra, eventually intervening in a bank robbery committed by Silas’ new gang, and kidnaps Petra.

But the beauty of all this is that there is more than meets the eye.

Via flashbacks throughout the film, it transpires that Erin and Chris developed a romantic relationship while undercover, with Erin eventually becoming pregnant with Chris’ child.  Nothing more will be revealed of the story but that it is a bit annoying at the start for the audience has to piece the puzzle of the story together.  But the work pays off.  The fragmented narrative works eventually.  One also needs to take time after the film has ended to piece everything together to see how the time line has worked.

Kidman is marvellous and the almost unrecognizable Erin who strives for redemption for an undercover operation gone all wrong.  She even stole the money.  Kidman was nominated for a Golden Globe for her performance but lost out to Glenn Close.  The young Tatiana Naslany also proves herself a rising star.

The nitty gritty atmosphere of bars and rundown towns is effectively captured.  Director Kusama (GIRLFIGHT) again proves herself as a strong female presence in films.

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

Film Review: THE UPSIDE (USA 2018)

The Upside Poster
Trailer

A comedic look at the relationship between a wealthy man with quadriplegia and an unemployed man with a criminal record who’s hired to help him.

Director:

Neil Burger

Writers:

Jon Hartmere (screenplay by), Éric Toledano (based on the motion picture “Les Intouchables” by) | 1 more credit »

The film begins one night when Dell Scott (Kevin Hart) is driving Phillip’s (Bryan Cranston) flashy sports car at high speed.  They are chased through the streets by the police and eventually cornered.  Dell claims the quadriplegic Phillip must be urgently driven to the emergency room as he is having an epileptic fit;  Philippe pretends to have a seizure and the fooled police officers escort them to the hospital.  All cliched comedy here,  The story of the friendship between the two men is then told as a flashback with this scene retuned at the end.

THE UPSIDE is the remake of France’s second most successful box-office film of all time, the 1999 LES INTOUCHABLES which cost 10 million euros to make but grossed over $360 euros.

The first paragraph describing the story could be applied to both films as THE UPSIDE is quite the similar film but with a few changes.   The American remake changes parts of the original to make the story more believable and dramatic.

Among the changes:

the American version has a a more realistic but less effective ending

the Nicole Kidman character is expanded though not too credible at the end

the comedy is reduced with more drama added

the setting is changed from Paris, France to the U.S.

the character of Phillip’s adopted daughter is omitted completely in the remake

as the film is based on the true story of these two ‘friends’, the original ending showed the two men in real life, Philippe Pozzo di Borgo and his French-Algerian caregiver Abdel Sellou

     It is debatable whether each the changes improves the film, as what is written on paper might not turn out that well or turn out better on film.  Still, the script by Jon Hartmere is a lazy one that follows most of the original scene by scene.

THE UPSIDE benefits from the three lead performances.  Bryan Cranston (TRUMBO) has first billing.  He plays a quadriplegic, which means he can only act using his neck upwards.  Hart gets to clown around for all that is worth.  When the script allow him to do his thing as in the scene where he is supposed to clean up his boss, (What is an American comedy without its shit jokes?) Hart comes across as quite desperate on trying to get a few laughs out of a script that lives him nothing.  I found this segment unfunny and boring though it did get a few laughs from a few of the audience at the promotional screening.  Kidman plays the prissy role of the personal business assistant well giving a needed boost to the under-written role. 

For a  comedy, the running time of over two hours (126 minutes) is lengthy which explains the film crossing the line into feel-good drama.  Bit cliche upon cliche are piled up, if not identical set-ups from the original film.  The end result is a goofy and unrealistic feel-good movie that is as boring as it is original.

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

Film Review: BOY ERASED (USA 2018) ***1/2

Boy Erased Poster
Trailer

The son of a Baptist preacher is forced to participate in a church-supported gay conversion program after being forcibly outed to his parents.

Director:

Joel Edgerton

Writers:

Garrard Conley (based on the memoir Boy Erased by), Joel Edgerton (written for the screen by)

This year sees two films based on Christian gay conversion therapy camps.  The recent Desiree Akhavan’s THE MISEDUCATION OF CAMERON POST follows a female survivor while BOY ERASED written and directed by Joel  Edgerton sees a male counterpart.  Both are excellent films.  It is worthwhile to watch both films as the two films treat the material quite differently.  But the aim of discrediting these camps is identical.  And both films are based on true stories written into acclaimed novels.  BOY ERASED is based on Garrard Conley’s memoir.  Conley, who was present during the promo screening I attended mentioned the one incident that was changed in the film that Edgerton inserted for artistic purpose.  Which I agree works.

BOY ERASED has as its subject the teenaged son of a Baptist pastor.  Jared gets good grades, plays basketball, and is in a steady — but chaste — relationship with a girl from school. Everything in his life is going according to plan, until a college friend outs Jared as gay.

Jared (Lucas Hedges) is forced into a gay-conversion program by his parents (Nicole Kidman and Russell Crowe) – shown in the film as a very scary cloistered world of brainwashing.

Overseen by Victor Sykes (Edgerton, in a superbly cagey performance), the program’s bullying and bigotry fosters an environment that is anything but a refuge. Though Jared begins the program desperate to be healed, he begins to wonder about the validity of the program after witnessing a few terrible incidents.

Being based on real live events, what transpires on screen is realistically scary.  One incident includes a suicide that occurs as a result of extreme psychological distress of the patients. What is moving about the story is the sincere love of Jared’s parents.  Pastor Marshall loves his son but cannot accept that his son his gay.  In the film’s most dramatic confrontational scene between father and son, Jared tells his father:”I am gay, deal with it!”   Mother Nancy does what a wife should do but not what a mother should.  She sides with her husband till she finally sees the light and switches to her son’s side.  Kidman delivers an extraordinary performance as the mother.  The parents are not the villains in this piece.  (This issue is sidestepped in THE MISEDUCATION OF CAMERON POST as Cameron is an orphan.)  Sykes is the villain, brainwashing the patients while preventing them from letting outsiders know what really goes on in the place.  Sykes has no real qualifications either.  The irony of all this is at present (according to the closing credits), Sykes is living with his new husband somewhere else in the U.S.

It is not doubt that BOY ERAESD is a dramatic film with a clear message about the survivors of these Christian therapy schools.  In the words of the author Conley present at the promo screening, it is extremely disturbing to learn that many of these centres are still existing, even in New York City.  Many states have already banned these centres.

BOY ERASED is a courageous film that demands to be seen.  Writer/director Edgerton is straight but knows the urgency of the film’s message.

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-B71eyB_Onw

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

TIFF 2017 Movie Review: THE KILLING OF A SACRED DEER (UK/Ireland 2017) ***1/2

Movie Reviews of films that will be playing at TIFF (Toronto International Film Festival) in 2017. Go to TIFF 2017 Movie Reviews and read reviews of films showing at the festival.

The Killing of a Sacred Deer Poster
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

Stars:

Nicole KidmanAlicia SilverstoneColin Farrell
 

Greek director (DOGTOOTH and THE LOBSTER) Yourgos Lanthimos’s latest feature is a supernatural psychological thriller that is the most difficult to watch despite its bouts of black humour.

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.

Secrets start coming out of the closet. Director Lanthimos unveils bits at a time, thus keeping the audience in anticipation. 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 party concerned. THE KILLING OF A SACRED DEER is a well executed psychological and emotional horror film but not for everyone!

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

THE KILLING OF A SACRED DEER

 

Film Review: THE BEGUILED (USA 2017) ***1/2

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

the beguiled.jpgAt a girls’ school in Virginia during the Civil War, where the young women have been sheltered from the outside world, a wounded Union soldier is taken in. Soon, the house is taken over with sexual tension, rivalries, and an unexpected turn of events.

Director: Sofia Coppola
Writers: Sofia Coppola (written for the screen by), Thomas Cullinan (novel)
Stars: Nicole Kidman, Kirsten Dunst, Elle Fanning

Review by Gilbert Seah

THE BEGUILED is the new 2017 American period drama remake of the well-known 1971 Clint Eastwood Don Siegel collaboration. Written and directed now by a woman Sofia Coppola (daughter of Francis Ford Coppola) famous for her strong female films like THE VIRGIN SUICIDES and LOST IN TRANSLATION, the film arrives with lots of accolades since winning her the Best Director Prize at Cannes this year, making her the second woman director ever to win the prestigious award.

Cineastes and film critics would definitely be very eager to watch this film. Three main reasons for can be sited. The first is that THE BEGUILED is a new film by Sofia Coppola who is a definite presence in current film. Her new work is always something to look forward to. As the Don Siegel directed original was very all received critically, it would be very interesting to compare the differences between the two films, differences attributed to one film made with a strong feminine value and the original directed by a top action director with his top actions star (Eastwood). The new version also updates the political correctness. Thirdly, the new film boasts an impressive cast that includes Elle Fanning, Nicole Kidman, Kirsten Dunst and Colin Farrell, the latter complete with full Irish accent in the Eastwood role.

THE BEGUILED is based on the novel The Beguiled (originally published as A Painted Devil) by Thomas P. Cullinan. Coppola’s film holds the same story though it removes the character of Haille, present in the 1971 version. Haille is a black slave that was taken to the soldier’s fascination. Set during the middle of the American Civil War 1860’s, injured Union soldier John McBurney (Colin Farrell) is rescued from the verge of death by 12 year-old Amy (Oona Lawrence), a student at an all-girl boarding school in the south, the Miss Martha Farnsworth Seminary for Young Ladies. Martha (Nicole Kidman) reluctantly agrees to take him in until he has built up his health, under the condition that he is locked in the music room and kept under watch. Both Edwina (Dunst), the schoolteacher, takes an immediate liking to John, as does Carol (Fanning), a teenage student. Female jealousies are aroused leading to a terrible climax.

Siegel was an action director and his film is more violent than Coppola’s. When McBurney’s leg is amputated, he is given wine in Siegel’s film while given chloroform in Coppola’s. The former is almost brutally unwatachable. Also in Siegel’s film, McBurney is hit by a candlestick before falling down the stairs while McBurney is pushed down the stairs in the latter.

In Coppola’s film, the soldier is not the main character trying to survive but now become the object of the females fantasies while the females become the main characters in the story. The outcome of the soldier remains the same.
THE BEGUILED is rich in period atmosphere with an authentic feel of the confusion of the civil war. Coppola’s updated version is absorbing, terrifying and well-directed piece of work deserving her of the Best Director’s prize at Cannes.

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iBoLK5z_FHo
 

Also, Free logline submissions. The Writing Festival network averages over 95,000 unique visitors a day.
Great way to get your story out: http://www.wildsound.ca/logline.html

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

Watch recent Writing Festival Videos. At least 15 winning videos a month:http://www.wildsoundfestival.com