Film Review: THE ADDAMS FAMILY ( USA 2019)

The Addams Family Poster
An animated version of Charles Addams’ series of cartoons about a peculiar, ghoulish family.

Writers:

Matt Lieberman (screenplay by), Charles Addams (based on characters created by) | 3 more credits »

This 3D computer animated film began in 2010 as a Tim Burton stop motion animation feature project.  After several revisions, it was decided and finalized in 2017 to have directors Conrad Vernon and Greg Tiernan direct a new film with a revised screenplay.  As everyone already knows, this is not the first adaptation of the ADDAMS FAMILY since the beloved TV series.  At present, I cannot remember all the previous film adaptations, they being released quite some time back.

The best of the ADDAMS FAMILY’s is as most people will agree, the TV series with John Astin as Gomez and Carolyn Jones as Morticia.   This latest version clearly attempt to re-create the atmosphere and feel of the TV series, which it succeeds, but only to a point.

The premise of the film is The Addams family’s move to New Jersey.  Their lives begin to unravel when they move to New Jersey and face-off against the 21st century and its greedy, arrogant and sly reality TV host Margaux Needler while also preparing for their extended family to arrive for a major celebration.

The film begins with the wedding of of Gomez (Oscar Isaac) and Moritica (Charlze Theron).  Their celebration is interrupted by angry town folk who want to get rid of monsters from their town, a scene familiar to the classic FRANKENSTEIN story.  So there is the move to New Jersey –  never mind the explanation how come the two children Pugsley (Finn Wolfhard) and Wednesday (Chloë Grace Moretz) are suddenly grown up. 

The film springs to life once the catchy theme song of the TV Series ADDAMS FAMILY is heard on the soundtrack.  So much for beloved nostalgia.  Even the new songs Christina Aguilera released “Haunted Heart” and “My Family” sung by Migos, rapper Snoop Dogg and Colombian Reggaeton superstar Karol G cannot match that.

The film suffers from a weak narrative made worse by weak story-telling.  The ilm is punctuated or interrupted by un-connected humour.  The lack of a sufficiently menacing villain does not help either.  The TV host Needler and the mean girl at school Bethany do not really qualify as the usual destroy the whole planet-type villains.

In the TV series, a lot of the humour is derived by innocent ordinary humans stumbling across the Addams Family and being shocked by their strangeness.  These were funny and worked well.  In this film, it is the other way around here the human beings are the monsters that taunt the otherwise innocent Addams Family.

The humour of the film will escape the little ones in the audience as there are quite a few dialogue jokes.  The monsters should be harmless enough not to scare the children.

When the film ends with the full lyrics of the TV series song sung out, as if forming the film’s climax, one feels certain that the filmmakers have run out of ideas.  THE ADDAMS FAMILY is harmless fun but it could have been more fun.

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=F7Ug863S8dQ

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Film Review: AT ETERNITY’S GATE (UK/USA/France 2018) ***1/2

At Eternity's Gate Poster
Trailer

A look at the life of painter Vincent van Gogh during the time he lived in Arles and Auvers-sur-Oise, France.

Director:

Julian Schnabel

There have countless films/biographies on Dutch painter Vincent Van Gogh.  So the question is why would any filmmaker want to make yet another?  

The reason is hinted at during the closing credits when it is mentioned that writings in a journal n Van Gogh had been discovered in 2016, the year before production of this film began.  Director Schnabel also said on the making of the film which is written by himself and French screenwriter Jean-Claude Carrière, quote: “This is a film about painting and a painter and their relationship to infinity.  It is told by a painter.  It contains what I felt were essential moments in his life; this is not the official history – it’s my version. One that I hope could make you closer to him.”

The film is set during the final years of Van Gogh’s life.  As most are aware of, the famous painter was mentally institutionalized at Auvers-sur-Oise, France.  He died from complications from a gunshot wound to the stomach and he had also cut off his ear in Arles in the south of France.  Making a film about madness is a difficult task which is often not rewarded with a crowd pleasing film.  The result is as expected, a film very difficult to take in as director Shnabel personalizes and ups the angst on the painter’s decent into madness.  Schnabel is no stranger to mental torment and suffering. His best picture to date THE DIVING BELL AND THE BUTTERFLY how a paralyzed writer completed his memoirs is a near-masterpiece in film endurance and suffering.  Unfortunately AT ETERNITY”S GATE does not reach the same heights.

For one, the Van Gogh story is one that everyone is familiar with.  To re-think that his suicide is something unexplainable might not please everyone.  Watching a person’s decent into madness is not anything entertaining or pleasant to watch either.  The film understandably lags in the middle with quite a few boring parts.

But the film is magnificently shot by cinematographer Benoît Delhomme in colours identical to the colours of the Van Gogh paintings painted in the open.  In the film, Van Gogh was advised by fellow painter, Paul Gauguin (Oscar Isaac) to go to the south of France to paint as it is so beautiful there.  So Van Gogh travelled to Arles.  Being to Arles myself, for the reason Van Gogh cut off his ear there, I never found Arles as pretty than the present after watching this film with the beautifully shot scenes.

The film also benefits from the cameos of Mads Mikkelsen as the priest, Mathieu Amalric (in THE DIVING BELL AND THE BUTTERFLY) as Dr. Paul Gachet who Van Gogh painted, Emmanuelle Seigner as the Woman from Arles, Niels Arestrup as a fellow inmate and Vincent Perez as the director.

What is marvellous to watch is Van Gogh at work painting his masterpieces.  These scenes look really authentic.  The display of dozens of his work on screen is a bonus for those who love Van Gogh’s work.

AT ETERNITY’S GATE is undeniably a difficult watch due to its madness theme but the film is by no means not without its pleasures.  Just don’t expect the normal Van Gogh biography.

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=T77PDm3e1iE

TIFF 2018 Review: LIFE ITSELF (USA 2018) ****

Movie Reviews of films that will be playing at TIFF (Toronto International Film Festival) in 2018. Go to TIFF 2018 Movie Reviews and read reviews of films showing at the festival.

Life Itself Poster
Trailer

As a young New York couple goes from college romance to marriage and the birth of their first child, the unexpected twists of their journey create reverberations that echo over continents and through lifetimes.

Director:

Dan Fogelman

Writer:

Dan Fogelman

I overheard the television the other day for a minute that blared the words of actor Mandy Patinkin interviewed for the film: “this is one of the best scripts I have ever read.”  I cannot agree after viewing LIFE ITSELF the new film directed and written by Dam Fogelson about various lives intertwining as if life the narrator was playing a good joke on mankind.  

Abby (Olivia Wilde) is a New York graduate student. Her boyfriend, Will (Oscar Isaac), loves her deeply, but the depth of his commitment overwhelms her sometimes. What’s his story?  Their circle includes Annette Bening and Mandy Patinkin as parents who have their own stories to live out.  And Antonio Banderas and Laia Costa do remarkable work when the action shifts to Spain. As each character’s story is revealed, the fascination increases between lovers, between children and parents, between America and Europe and even between past and present.  

Abby studies unreliable narrators in fiction but as she notes in her thesis, “Life itself is the ultimate unreliable narrator.”  Best way of enjoying this movie, is to just sit back and enjoy the excellent storytelling.

Trailer: https://trailers.apple.com/trailers/independent/life-itself/

Film Review: SUBURBICON (USA 2017) ***

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Suburbicon Poster
Trailer

A home invasion rattles a quiet family town.

Director:

George Clooney

Writers:

Joel CoenEthan Coen 

 

Written by the Academy Award wining Coen Brothers, Grant Heslov and George Clooney himself, this odd piece of satire on the American dream turning into an uncontrollable monster nightmare has its wicked charm but unfortunately fails.  But better an ambitious failure than a simple minded film with no faults – I always say.

The film is set in the fictitious community of SUBURBICON – of perfectly manicured lawns and white picket fences (as in similar films, FAR FROM HEAVEN, PARENTS), one can tell something is amiss or going to go terribly wrong.  In PARENTS, the boy discovers that his parents barbecue human flesh and in FAR FROM HEAVEN, the husband comes out of the closet.  In SUBURBICON, the father of the family, Gardner Lodge (Matt Damon) hires two killers to do away with his wife in a home invasion scenario so that he can be with her sister, Maggie (both roles played with Julianne Moore with blonde and brunette hair).  They plan to go to Aruba with the collected insurance money.  But things get complicated, particularly with the interference of an enterprising insurance investigator (Oscar Isaac) who ends up being poisoned by Margaret.  Their son, Nicky (Noah Jupe) is totally aware of everything that is going on, as he is always snooping or eavesdropping.  Father has no qualms  with doing away with the meddling son, just as the cannibalistic dad would gladly eat his son in PARENTS.  (The film feels very similar to PARENTS at some points.)  A lot of fun in the movie is observing how Nicky discovers what is going on and tries to save his own life.

SUBURBICON’s humour and writing has the distinct Coen Brothers touch, especially in the way events suddenly occur out of the blue and how violence can also suddenly come into the picture (reference: the Coen’ ARIZONA).  But the humour can be so sly and at times so dead-pan, that the humour can be missed.  Also, the film unfolds at a dead slow snail’s pace.  One would definitely fault the film’s direction and editing, though Clooney has directed a few outstanding films in the past.

The art direction of the 50’s idle housing estate is nothing short of perfect.  As the camera pulls back, one can see how all the houses and streets are interconnected.

The film also intercuts into the main story a side-plot of the first coloured family that moves into SUBURBIA.  From initial surprise to full outrage, the neighbourhood finally riots right outside the coloured family’s house.  Ironically the two boys, the coloured boy and Nicky become the best of friends, playing throw and catch baseball, the typical American sport.  The two kids show how adults should behave.

Despite the film that illustrates Murphy’s Law that if anything that can go wrong will and at the worst possible time, the film does end beautifully on an optimistic note, which almost saves the film. One plus of the movie is French composer Alexandre Desplat’s score that includes some suspense music as heard in a typical Hitchcock film.

SUBURBICON premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival to mixed reviews.  Still, it is an interesting failure, and by no means a dull piece despite its slow pacing.

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cBezc1S1BAQ

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Movie Review: X-MEN: APOCALYPSE (USA 2016) ****

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xmenapol.jpgX-MEN: APOCALYPSE (USA 2016) ****
Directed by Bryan Singer

Starring: James McAvoy, Michael Fassbender, Jennifer Lawrence, Rose Byrne, Oscar Isaac, Evan Peters, Sophie Turner, Nicholas Hoult,

Review by Gilbert Seah

From the first 15 minutes of X-MEN: APOCALYPSE, it appears that director Bryan Singer, the director of the new X-MEN movie (and the director of all the others except for X-MEN: FIRST CLASS) is going all out to outdo all the other X-MEN films in terms of yes, everything. The film begins with the first mutant born in ancient times (3600 B.C.) in Egypt. He is none other than En Sabah Nur (Oscar Isaac), and if that name is too difficult to remember, he is also called Apocalypse. He is entombed. Singer has the volume up full blast, the special effects at full throttle, 3D included, so there are tons of rocks, sharp objects and metal thrown out of the screen. If you think Singer will give audiences a break, forget it! The film is nonstop action, effects, noise and explosions all the way – the way an action super hero film should be. But he also builds in the storyline (script by Simon Kinberg), so that it is not just meaningless action.

The story involves Apocalypse resurrected in 1983. There is some humour and irony in him being disgusted by the human race ruled by weaklings. So, he decides to take over the world and rid the world of weaklings. This actually sounds not too bad an idea. So Magneto (Michael Fassbender) is conned into joining him. If Apocalypse gains the power of Professor X (James McAvoy) he can rule the world. So, it is up to Professor X aka Charles Xavier and the good X-Men to save the day. It is also good to see so many super heroes (or mutants) in a single movie – enough to satisfy any action fan. And it seems that it must be a requirement to look good to be in this film. Every male and female are drop dead gorgeous.

The action sequences especially the climax in which all the X-MEN have to join powers to destroy Apocalypse, are super well executed, much better than all the recent super hero films. The film also works because all the actors seem to take their roles seriously. But the oddest is Jennifer Lawrence as the blue Raven. She looks as if she does not want to be in the film, as she is making so much money being famous right now. She gives Professor X the kind of look: “You want to recruit me again to save the world? I have better things to do.”

Unlike DEADPOOL, BATMAN V SUPERMAN and CAPTAIN AMERICA, Singer’s film has action segments that are imaginative and cinematically stunning. The best of these has Quicksilver (Evan Peters) save his fellow X-Men amidst slow motion or stopped background to the song “Sweet Dreams”. The final fight scene in which a big silver X falls from the sky would definitely draw cheers from a packed house of elated fans. The one with Professor X’s wheelchair pulled backwards with his head tilted to the side is yet another inspirational storyboarded sequence.

The film also contains great scenes of the world being destroyed. The dialogue also contains lots of quotable lines like: You are no longer students, you are X-Men”, “I have never felt so much power in my life, “ etc.

APOCALYPSE costs a whopping $234 million to make. Singer makes sure it shows. And the results are worth it. This is the best Super Hero Action Movie so far this year. Let’s hope it pays off at the box-office.

 

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Movie Review: Star Wars: The Force Awakens (2015)

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star_wars_posterSTAR WARS: THE FORCE AWAKENS
(USA 2015) Top 10 *****
Directed by J.J. Abrams

Review by Gilbert Seah

The film world has finally gone crazy. Disney and Lucasfilm has enforced a world embargo on film reviews at 3.01 (yes, to the very second) on Wednesday December 16th. The film premiered Monday evening in Hollywood and for press, which includes this fortunate reviewer, Tuesday morning. No one had any idea of the venues for Monday’s screenings (3 separate theatres) till the last minute. Sales on Amazon of the old STAR WARS films rocketed 400%. Pre-sales of tickets have not seen numbers like this since the beginning of time, in a galaxy far, far away!

The hype on TV and anticipation have been great. The studios made press hush up on spoilers. And after seeing the film, one will respect those wishes. But there are a lot of surprises and twists in the plot, none that make little sense, and revealing them will would definitely spoil the film’s entertainment value.

The story is short and that does not mean much as the film is more character and action driven. It is set approximately 30 years after the events of RETURN OF THE JEDI where the Rebel Alliance and the Galactic Empire have become the Resistance and the First Order, respectively, and follows new heroes Finn (John Boyega), Rey (Daisy Ridley), and Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac) alongside characters returning from previous Star Wars film. Rey, a scavenger finds a droid who holds a map that has the key to finding Luke Skywalker. The dark side wishes to bring down the resistance and thus goes all out to capture the droid and thus the map. Lots of exciting battles result culminating with a climatic sabre to sabre combat between the heroes and villain Kylo Ren (Adam Driver).

The film succeeds in all departments from acting, to the grand music, scored again by maestro John Williams to the costumes, creature and robot designs to sets, spectacle and cinematography. Iceland and Abu Dhabi, where the film was shot add to the grandeur from the desert to the icy mountain landscapes. Rey’s outfit is perfectly designed, a greyish fabric that flows so that she looks elegant while fighting or tracking in the desert. The sets of the dark force, in red and black, looks (humorously) like something taken of of a North Korean dictatorship rally.

Director Abrams, best known for the STAR TREK reboot takes over the reins from George Lucas, who admitted the series needed new blood. Abrams is smart enoguh to put in lots of new blood in the form of new characters like Rey the main female protagonist, Finn an ex-trooper who moves to the good side because it is the right thing to do and Poe while not forgetting the importance of legends like Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill), Hans Solo (Harrison Ford) and of course, Princess Leia (Carrie Fisher). New ‘robots’ like the droid also meet old time favourites R2D2 and C3PO. Abrams knows how to work the audience. When Princess Leia and Hans Solo reunite and hug, the scene will bring tears to the audience’s eyes. And there are no embarrassing kissing scenes but lots of hugs that get the same message across.

If one wants spectacle there are lots of it. The blowing up of a star fighter that eventually sinks in quicksand, the flight/fight segment between the freighter commandeered by Rey and Finn and the star fighters and the shootouts are just a few examples. And it is one well-orchestrated action segment after another. Abrams knows how to pull back his camera to show the full action spectacle while also engaging in the closeups of the characters’ faces. Lots of smart dialogue as well, with too many quotable lines to include in this review.

The hype and wait are worth it. Abrams’ film is as amazing as you will hear. And it is definitely the best action film of the year, best to be seen in 3D and IMAX.

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