Film Review: AQUAMAN (USA 2018) ***

Aquaman Poster
Trailer

Arthur Curry learns that he is the heir to the underwater kingdom of Atlantis, and must step forward to lead his people and be a hero to the world.

Director:

James Wan

Writers:

David Leslie Johnson-McGoldrick (screenplay by), Will Beall (screenplay by) |5 more credits »

As much as I have complaints about the new Superhero DC comic AQUAMAN film adaptation, I have the highest regards for the film’s director James Wan.  Born In East Malaysia, (a neighbour of Singapore where I was born), Wan is the only Hollywood successful director from that region.  Wan was a skinny teen like myself, and his early photos reminds me of myself.  He has gained fame and fortune through his talent and horror films like he SAW franchise, INSIDIOUS and the CONJURING films.  He also brings on board Patrick Wilson from the latter two movies to play the villain in AQUAMAN.

Wan is known for his excesses.  Excesses abound in the 2 and a half hour action blockbuster aquarian fantasy AQUAMAN, played with aplomb by Jason Momoa.  There are plenty of images and CGI effects to gawk at.  The film looks amazing.  See it in IMAX and one will feel that one is in a gigantic fish tank as in one of those big aquariums found in big cities.  As far as super-action hero movies go, there is plenty to satisfy the fan base.   Superhero action fans will no doubt leave the theatre cheering, as in the case  of the promo screening I attended.   Surprise guest Patrick Wilson was present .  Who can ask for anything more? 

But one can.  The film lacks any good plot development, character intelligence and spicy dialogue.  When Aquaman is told that he has to save the underwater and land worlds by claiming the throne, all he can say is  ‘duh!’.  The script does not offer him any good one-liners either.  Lazy writing leaves a lot of unexplained and choppy facts in the story.  The effect of the evil that the villains do is brought down several notches by making them misunderstood beings.  One scene shows AQUAMAN as a boy at a city aquarium bullied by other kids, when a shark in the tank comes to the rescue.  Where did the boy, who is supposedly born and bred by the lighthouse keeper father find residence in the city and who where his foster parents?  That one scene appears from nowhere and conveniently disappears.  The key that only unlocks the trident with droplets of water is far-fetched bulls**t.   The climatic fight underwater by the edge of the cliffs makes no sense.  No one can fall off a cliff underwater.

The story begins in the year 1985, though Aquaman existed in comics way before then.   In Maine, lighthouse keeper Thomas Curry (Temuera Morrison ) rescues Atlanna (Nicole Kidman), the princess of the underwater nation of Atlantis, during a storm.  They eventually fall in love and have a son, Arthur, who is born with the power to communicate with marine lifeforms.  Atlanna is forced to abandon her family and return to Atlantis, entrusting to her loyal advisor Nuidis Vulko  (Willem Dafoe) the mission of training Arthur.  Under Vulko’s guidance, Arthur becomes a skilled warrior but is rejected by the Atlanteans for being a half-breed and ultimately leaves Atlantis behind.

There is a subplot that really looks out of place with an invasion in which Arthur confronts a group of pirates attempting to hijack a nuclear submarine.  Their leader, Jesse Kane, dies during the confrontation while his son, David (Yahya Abdul-Mateen II), vows revenge against Arthur.   David later targets Atlantis at the behest of Orm (Patrick Wilson), Arthur’s younger half-brother and Atlantis’ king who uses the attack as a pretext to declare war on the surface.  All thistles to Aquaman having to retrieve a trident (like the Sword in the Stone) and battle Orm to ave the world.  Yes, all action here films involve saving the world.  The inter-racial subplot looks too obvious a political correct move.  We have seen all this before time and again.

Still, as far as Warner Bros. DC super hero film adaptations go, (example the awful BATMAN v. SUPERMAN, SUICIDE SQUAD), AQUAMAN, as in WONDER WOMAN is one of the better films.

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WDkg3h8PCVU

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

Film Review: MOUNTAIN (Australia 2017) *** (Opens Jan 12)

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Mountain Poster
Trailer

An experience about the highest peaks around the world.

Director:

Jennifer Peedom

 

We’re feared them, revered them, and even had the hubris to say we’ve “conquered” them.  So goes the narration of the stunning documentary on the giants of the world entitled MOUNTAIN.

If the voice sounds familiar, it belongs to actor Willem Defoe who is no stranger to providing the sarcastic, ironic, poetic and informative dialogue in a documentary.  For example, he narrates the message: you are never so alive as when you are close to death.  Defoe also narrated the excellent DO DONKEYS ACT?, his voice playing a big part to the success of that and also this movie.  The existential commentary is written by best-selling author Robert Macfarlane and director Jennifer Peedom  (SHERPA).  Robert wrote the book “Mountains of the Mind”.

The film begins with grand shots of mountains, often covered in ice and snow.  Humans then come into the picture, followed by the relationship between man and mountain.  The film has a loose narrative – the film best enjoyed by sitting back and relaxing, to enjoy the stunning cinematography and beauty of the mountains.

 The film demonstrates what mountains have meant to humans from past to present. The have been the ethereal homes of gods and demons, and places no sane person would have thought of ascending until a few hundred years ago.  Today, they represent a pilgrimage of a sort for millions of people worldwide. Peedom shows scenes of travellers (including amateurs) ascending Everest by the hundreds, ski down from vertiginous mountain tops, para-ski, fly from peaks using wing suits, rock-climb and ice-climb.  What ticks Peedom off is shown in two shots.  One is a helicopter with a huge banner of “Red Bull” followed by narration saying that mountains have been commercialized.  The other one, has a long queue perhaps of a hundred or so climbers, each attached to each other by rope with the narration saying that mountain climbing has turned to crowd control.

.There are excellent shots of solo mountain climbers hanging on to peaks, some falling and getting injured, skiing and mountain animals.  Besides showing the awe and beauty of the mountains, Peedon does it shy way from including scene that show blood from climbers that have fallen or skiers that have tumbled down their mountain runs.  

If one wonders how the footage was shot, much of them were accomplished using drones and using everything from GoPros to the best cameras.  No stranger to elevation, director Peedom began her career as a climbing camera operator on Mount Everest.  Adding music to the visuals, the soundtrack is backed by a majestic score of old-and-new classical works by Richard Tognetti. 

Though there are countless stunning shots of high mountains, one wishes these sights would be identified as to where they were filmed.  The only time a mountain is identified is Everest.  One has to wait till the closing credits to learn that he incredible footage was shot in 20 countries plus Antarctica, shows us high-elevation defiance of death in scenes of both incredible grace and beauty, and tragedy, injury and death.

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?time_continue=1&v=rOBB_VOFQHI

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MURDER ON THE ORIENT EXPRESS (USA 2017)

A lavish train ride unfolds into a stylish & suspenseful mystery. From the novel by Agatha Christie, Murder on the Orient Express tells of thirteen stranded strangers & one man’s race to solve the puzzle before the murderer strikes again.

Director:

Kenneth Branagh

Writers:

Michael Green (screenplay by), Agatha Christie (based upon the novel by)

Stars:

Daisey Ridley, Penélope CruzWillem Dafoe

Full Review: DO DONKEYS ACT? (Canada/Ireland/UK/USA 2017) ***

Do Donkeys Act? Poster
Donkeys inhabit and communicate with each other – and the filmmakers – in a Sanctuary.

Directors:

David RedmonAshley Sabin

Star:

Willem Dafoe

It has to happen eventually – a documentary on donkeys from the donkey’s point of view.

 

One might complain as the poetic prose narrative voiced by actor Willem Dafoe.  It might seem really silly, but after a while, one might accept the directors’ decision and play along with this somewhat funny poetic play.  Sample proses:  “These donkeys have a wind of curiosity on their side.”  “When donkeys walk to a dead end… They have several ways in but no way out.”  Dafoe is the ideal choice as the narrator of such sayings/

 

The film begins with words on the screen saying how other animals communicate without words but with song or rhythm.  It then goes to say that still others communicate by gestures in the shadows – whatever that means.  So, DO DONKEYS ACT? invites the audience to “step into their shade and to listen closely” as the audience attune to a series of dramatic performances in which one can eavesdrop on donkeys speaking amongst themselves.

 

The film elicits the audience’s pity of donkeys.  The film is quick to point out that these donkeys are often abused and neglected.  One was stabbed many times be teens playing stab the donkey with a knife while another is blind.  One was shown in neglect with long curved nails ingrown due to its hoofs.  The nails are removed by cutting using clippers.  Still, the directors show that these are still beautiful creatures with their thick manes and loud and distinct braying.  Hee-haw, hee-haw!!! 

     Among the film’s highlights are:

 

the donkey at the dentist (a live dental experience like an alien encounter;)

 

a beautiful and moving sight of donkeys freely running around in the open after a long winter confinement

 

the birth of a new foal

 

the feeding of a foal

 

Directors  David Redmon and Ashley Sabin have worked before on films like GIRL MODEL and KINGDOM OF ANIMALS as well as several other documentaries.  DO DONKEYS ACT? clearly shows assured work, quirky though it may seem, but still thoroughly entertaining.

 

Though it might seem trivial to learn more about donkeys, curiosity eventually has its day in this occasionally fascinating portrayal of the neglected animal who is still part of God’s animal Kingdom.  Everything you wanted to know that happens inside a donkey sanctuary. The film was shot in several docket sanctuaries in the U.K., U.S., Ireland and Canada including the one in Guelph, Ontario.

 

The film played to rave reviews at the Hit Docs Festival this year in Toronto.

 

Trailer: https://vimeo.com/200043031

 

HOT DOCS 2017 Reviews: DO DONKEYS ACT? Starring Willem DaFoe

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

do_donkeys_act.jpgDonkeys inhabit and communicate with each other – and the filmmakers – in a Sanctuary.

Directors: David Redmon, Ashley Sabin
Star: Willem Dafoe

Review by Gilbert Seah

 It has to happen eventually – a documentary on donkeys from the donkey’s point of view.

The film’s ethno-poetic-animal-fiction takes its playfully self-reflexive cues from Jean Rouch and Chris Marker.

Encouraging the audience to respect a major language barrier the audience might not otherwise consider––the mystery and intrigue of donkey utterances––DO DONKEYS ACT? invites the audience to “step into their shade, listen closely” as we attune to a series of dramatic performances in which one’s eavesdrop on donkeys speaking amongst themselves.

Narrated by Willem Dafoe, this tactic is amusing but sometimes, simplicity is the key.

Though it might seem trivial to learn more about donkeys, curiosity eventually has its day in this occasionally fascinating portrayal of the neglected animal who is still part of God’s animal Kingdom. Everything you wanted to know that happens inside a donkey sanctuary. The film was shot in several docket sanctuaries including the one in Guelph, Ontario. Present during Hot Docs will be Co-Director David Redmon.

Trailer: https://vimeo.com/200043031

_________

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Happy Birthday: Willem Dafoe

willemdafoe.jpgWillem Dafoe

Born: July 22, 1955 in Appleton, Wisconsin, USA

Married to: Giada Colagrande (25 March 2005 – present)

 

 

 

 

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