Current Mini Reviews

Today I recorded a podcast with 2 of the ladies at the Filmotomy Podcast. The topic was a  ‘Film Festival Survival Guide’ and we had a great time discussing all of the tricks of the trade for getting the most out of your festival experience. It all made me a bit nostalgic for my time at Sundance, so I decided to head out to my local arthouse theater (Broadway Centre Cinemas) and watch 3 independent releases. Here are my quick thoughts on all 3:

souvenir

The Souvenir-

First up is The Souvenir by director Joanna Hogg. It stars Honor Swinton Byrne as a young film student named Julie who gets caught up in a toxic relationship with an older man named Anthony played by Tom Burke. Anthony is a deep thinker so of course he is also a heroine addict and extremely manipulative. Julie is a naive young girl who gets caught up in the mystique of Anthony and enables his terrible behavior because it feels dangerous and exciting. The Souvenir also stars Tilda Swinton as Julie’s mother and she is in fact Honor’s actual mother so that’s kind of fun.

This film has received huge acclaim from critics and is already scheduled for a sequel shooting this year. All I can say about this film is it is not for me. There are some stunning bits of cinematography (I particularly liked a sequence where we see Anthony and Julie talking not up-close but through a mirror across the room). I also liked Honor and Tilda Swinton’s performances. However, the couple have no chemistry and the story is extremely repetitive. The film is 2 hours long, and I felt every second of it. I didn’t care about either Anthony or Julie and their cycle of abusive behavior was not interesting.  I can see how it would be appealing for others but for me it was a piece of indie slog.

Frown Worthy

4 out of 10

american woman

American Woman-

Next up we have the drama American Woman directed by Jake Scott and written by Brad Ingelsby. This film stars Sienna Miller in one of the best performances of the year.  She plays a woman named Deb who is grinding out her life in suburban Pennsylvania with her sister (Christina Hendricks- who is also strong) living across the street.

For some reason the working class woman seems to be challenging for the movies to portray accurately. They are usually all damage and no joy. In American Woman they avoid this by showing over a decade of Deb’s life with all the joys, sorrows and all the in-between. Some pain is self-inflicted and some is caused by others, but either way it is gripping, and we feel empathy for her.

There were so many times I worried the script was heading into tired twists and then it didn’t, which made me very happy. This is the kind of script and lead performance that will be ignored come awards season and that’s a real shame because it’s great. In my opinion, this is MUCH better than the similarly themed Three Billboards Outside Ebbing Missouri  which won all the awards. Oh well.

8.5 out of 10

Smile Worthy

all is true

All is True-

My last film of the day is the fictionalized look into the latter part of William Shakespeare’s life entitled All is True. There is perhaps no human being on earth more qualified to play the Bard on screen than Kenneth Branagh. He also directed the film and it hopefully won’t put an end to his long career of adapting the works of Shakespeare because this film is an entertaining mess.

If your brand of historical drama is fluffy films like The Other Boleyn Girl or Tristan and Isolde than this might be the movie for you. The actors deserve awards for elevating such hammy dialogue and selling it as if it was one of Shakespeare’s great soliloquies. Judi Dench is particularly great as his humble wife who can’t read and Kathryn Wilder is big and boisterous as their rebellious daughter Judith. They all do what they can with this inane material.

Honestly there were times when it seemed a half step away from a Monty Python or Blackadder sketch. Even Branagh’s ridiculous hairpiece and beard made me laugh. I was entertained by All is True but probably not for the reason the creators intended.

4 out of 10

Frown Worthy

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Sundance 2018 Wrap-Up

Hey guys! It is early Sunday morning and I have officially finished my 2018 Sundance experience. It’s interesting because I enjoyed the over-all experience much more than last year but I did not have a film that excited me the way STEP did this year. That movie made me want to be a better person and I can’t say that about any of the 18 films I viewed this year. However, it was still a great year, full of highs and lows.

It also didn’t play out exactly like I predicted with me switching up a couple of days films but hopefully I will get to see those films in my preview eventually that I missed.

I will do them in my ranking order worst to best

18. Lu Over the Wall-

I was really excited for this film because it was the first anime to be featured at Sundance but I really didn’t care for it.  The animation felt like an sporadic assault on the screen and the story made absolutely no sense. What little did make sense felt like a copy of Ponyo. It was a big disappointment and honestly made me kind of nauseated after watching it.

D-

17. White Fang

While this new version of the Jack London novel had some nice moments I was very turned off by the violent content. The dog fight scenes in particular were long, brutal and exploitative. The animation was inconsistent and overall it had a gloomy tone I couldn’t see past

D-

16. Ophelia

This turned out to be the most deliciously bad of the festival. A supposed feminist take of Hamlet has Queen Gertrude having a secret evil Witch sister who lives in the forest and has been damaged by the King. Hamlet is an eyeliner wearing emo kid and Ophelia saves the day and triumphs over all the end. I died laughing

D=

15. Nancy

While all the performances in Nancy are good I felt the pacing and characters were off. I didn’t care about any of them and they didn’t seem to grow and certainly weren’t likable. It was flat and dull.

C-

14. Monster

A classic example of a director that couldn’t get out of the way of his movie. Good performances by the entire cast are hurt by distracting choices like making the lead character a filmmaker and showing tons of his films with him pontificating about them or having long flashbacks with speeches. It just didn’t work.

C-

13. Crime and Punishment

This is a documentary about the quota system that persists in the NYPD despite it being illegal. There was lots of good information here but it wasn’t packaged in an appealing way. It was long and slow and I struggled to stay awake. I would rather just read an article on this issue personally.

C

12. Kusama: Infinity-

It was amazing to learn more about Kusama and see how she created her art. I also enjoyed hearing from the filmmakers and their 17 year odyssey to create this film. It is a perfectly serviceable bio-pick style documentary but it didn’t blow me away or move me.

B-

11. Genesis 2.0

This documentary was very strange. Half the movie is about ivory hunters looking for wholly mammoth tusks in Siberia and the other half is about China’s goal to clone the wholly mammoth. Honestly I found the cloning part to be super terrifying. These clinics they showed where the Chinese are already cloning dogs by the dozens gave me the chills! Haven’t these people learned anything from Jurassic Park?

B-

10. On Her Shoulders-

This is a good documentary about Nadia Murad who is an activist and human trafficking survivor from the Yazidi, a small minority group in Iraq. The frustrating part was how completely useless the UN is to do anything to actually help Nadia or most anything else. The movie kept building up these speeches she would give as huge moments but they are all for naught so it is frustrating.

B

9. Science Fair-

This film profiles students from all over the world that are entering the ISEF (International Science and Engineering Fair). One teacher in particular was amazing and got 9 of her students admitted into the fair. The only problem was it felt a little too long. They should have cut 2 of the students to make it tighter but still good film.

B

8. The Price of Everything

This is an interesting expose into the world of art and art collecting and how obscene it can all get. My only complaint is I wish the director had pushed the collectors harder about their collections and how they don’t benefit wide masses like a museum and cost exorbitant amounts that could be used to help people. I wish he had dug a little deeper into these issues.

B

7. Chef Flynn

This was a cool documentary about child prodigy chef Flynn McGarry but it was really about his family and their free range education techniques. Flynn’s Mother is very supportive of him starting a pop-up restaurant in their house when he is 10 and she supports him as his career grows. I love the free range movement and thought this was a tremendous example of it.

B+

6. Search

A movie that is nothing but screens as John Cho looks for his missing teenage daughter. It’s a definite gimmick but I thought it was a ton of fun. It had humor, tension and surprised me on more than one occasion. It might have been partly due to seeing 17 heady movies it was fun to see something sillier but I really enjoyed it.

B+

5. Minding the Gap

Young filmmaker Bing Liu started filming his friends when they were very young and doing interviews with them and the documentary follows 3 of them into adulthood. It also has a lot of great skateboarding and talks about how domestic violence interrupts all 3 lives. It was a fly on the wall type of documentary rather than a message movie and I really enjoyed it.

B+

4. Butterflies

This black comedy is about 3 Turkish siblings that unite to take care of the funeral of their estranged father. It was very funny with exploding chickens and clergy that have crisis’ of faith in the middle of a funeral service, but it also has a lot of heart. I liked all 3 of the siblings and they felt believable as family

A-

3. Won’t You Be My Neighbor-

I grew up on Mr Roger’s Neighborhood so this documentary was such a treat to me. So many people lately are exposed as hypocrites or having scandalous sides but not Fred Rogers. He really does seem like a special man and this documentary explores the value he had in telling children they are loved and of value. It made me cry. It’s similar to the Big Bird documentary I Am Big Bird from a couple of years ago

A-

2. Eighth Grade

Evidently writer/director Bo Burnham is a celebrity of sorts. I had never heard of him but he did a great job with this movie. I am usually mixed on coming of age movies. Often they leave me feeling depressed. Even recent films like Edge of 17 and Lady Bird I didn’t love because the characters were so harsh and mean to each other. I can relate to the gloomy teenager but not to the harshness that is shown in those 2 films. Eighth Grade is finally a coming of age film I connected with (along with Sing Street). It’s sweet, funny, endearing and everything else. I loved it.

A

1 Leave No Trace

I have seen a number of ‘off the grid’ movies over the last few years and I’ve hated all of them. They always glorify the parents for their unconventional choices instead of asking more questions. Here director Debra Granik does an amazing job making Ben Foster’s father figure a complex character. On one hand he is damaged but on another he is very selfish. Thomasin McKenzie is so great as the daughter and there’s a point towards the end where I wanted to cheer. I don’t know when I’ve been more proud of a character.

A+

So there you have it! Let me know what you think about these films and which one’s sound interesting to you.

I did live recaps on my youtube channel if you want to learn more about these films

Ethel & Ernest Review

ethel-and-ernestAs much as I love complex movies that take large artistic risks, I also love simple movies that execute their vision well. Such is the case with the recent UK export Ethel & Ernest. What a lovely portrayal of a marriage and life. It might be too simple for some but that’s what makes is so special.

Ethel & Ernest is based on the graphic novel of the same name written by Raymond Briggs about the life of his parents. Starting in 1928, Ernest a simple milk man, falls in love with a house-maid named Ethel. They decide to get married and end up having a son named Raymond.

ethel-and-ernest2Their love is simple and yet it carries them through the tough times including the trials of World War 2. They work through these hardships together and we see Raymond grow into an adult making his own choices of love and a career. The whole thing is completely adorable and I defy anyone to not be able to relate to some part of their lives.

Some people might think such a story is boring but not me. I love seeing stories about life and it gives me hope that good things can come when life is hard. It gives hope that the life of simple men and women like Ethel and Ernest actually matter and that there is beauty in their simplicity.

ethel-and-ernest3The animation in Ethel & Ernest is a simple hand drawn water color style but I loved it. It was refreshing and added to the sense of wistful nostalgia in the story. The vocal work by Jim Broadbent and Brenda Blethyn is top notch (two of my favorite actors). You really can’t imagine these characters with any other voices.

I guess if I was going to fault Ethel & Ernest it’s probably not something I will remember in 10 years, but I don’t know if I care about that. While I was watching it, I thoroughly enjoyed the experience.

The music is also excellent including a new song by Paul McCartney!

So if you are looking for something to brighten your day and make you feel hopeful than give Ethel & Ernest a watch. I think you will really enjoy spending time with this wonderful couple and learning about their life together.

Overall Grade A-

Jackie Review

jackie32016 has been a tremendous year for indies. I have been disappointed by most of the franchise releases and found relief in indie films like Love and Friendship, Hell or High Water and Everybody Wants Some. However, not all the heralded indies have worked for me, and I’m afraid I have to add Pablo Larrain’s latest Jackie to the dislike pile. I can see why others are drawn to it but it actively irritated me with the choices it made.

jackieJackie tells the story of first lady Jackie Kennedy in the immediate aftermath of the assassination of her husband President John F Kennedy. Natalie Portman plays Jackie and we get to see her in different eras including in flashback guiding TV cameras through her recently renovated White House. Then we go back and forth between the day of the shooting, an interview 9 days later, and the planning of the funeral.

The problem is Pablo Larrain chose to portray Jackie as a flat emotionally distant character. I cannot understand why they decided to make her so robotic. I joked with a friend afterwards that I kept expecting it to turn into Westworld at the end and she be a robot. Even when she is saying emotional things it doesn’t feel emotional because of the robotic delivery. I got the impression that Larrain and the team didn’t like or admire Jackie very much to portray her in this way.

I’m really surprised this film is getting the praise it is because to me it made very heavy-handed decisions. Like do we really need to hear ‘Camelot’ played not once but twice over montages of Jackie drinking or smoking? Talk about laying it on thick…

jackie2In some ways you can tell Jackie is made by a non-American (Pablo Larrain is Chilean). It feels like if I were to go to a museum of Canadian history. It’s all important stuff and I am interested in it but I have no personal attachment to the events on display. That’s what Larrain’s treatment of Jackie felt like. She was cold, distant and thoroughly bland. She had to be more interesting than this script portrays her as!  There were a few moments where she manipulates the reporter that were satisfying but that’s about it.

There is a good line where she talks about how she never spent the night with her husband. Now that is a devastating revelation. That’s a revelation that could have been interesting to explore. This seemingly perfect couple that really wasn’t. But the film doesn’t dive into that. It merely keeps adding on the robotic scenes of her packing and insisting on having a Lincoln-like funeral for her husband.

Honestly, the longer the movie went on the more annoyed I got. It was so repetitive in its choices that it never engaged me. It seems a shame that such a fascinating woman would get such a dull, one-note portrayal. Sure it is well made and shot with accurate costumes/production values, but I did not enjoy watching it. I didn’t even think Portman was that good but it isn’t really her fault as the script and direction gives her little to work with.

Some people had issues with the storytelling of Sully this year but at least that was about  a fully fledged person with light and darkness, pain and joys. This is just a robot woman who happened to be first lady. Not for me

The whole time I kept wishing I could watch Grey Gardens instead. Now that has some characters! There is no way any woman related to them could be so boring.

Overall Grade- C-

I will say this is a very mild R rating with a couple of F words and some blood from the assassination.

Christine Review

christineToday I had a little gap of time and decided to see the indie film Christine, and I’m glad I did. This is a film by Antonio Campos about the real life story of Christine Chubbuck who committed suicide on live news television.

As you might guess this is a pretty grim, tragic film and I appreciate that writer Craig Shilowich did not add an ounce of sentimentality to the events of Christine. There is no soaring music as we get to the inevitable event and we are not emotionally manipulated in any way.

christine4The most interesting thing about Christine, played by Rebecca Hall, is she’s at once sympathetic and unlikable at the same time. There is nothing cloying or patronizing about the way her mental illness is depicted here. Often she wants to do do good things but she struggles to convey those desires in ways that others can accept. She’s not surrounded by jerk-offs like you might expect. Quite the contrary. Pretty much everyone is trying to love Christine in the ways they know how. It’s difficult because she is very tough to love.

christine2As a reporter Christine struggles with the idea of writing ‘juicier stories’. She wants to interview strawberry pickers and happy couples but they aren’t the stories that sell. Oddly enough she fantasizes about interviewing Richard Nixon but then most of her pieces are kind of fluffy feeling. She buys a police scanner and follows a fire but then does a fairly conventional story on the man who lights the fire. I completely saw where her boss was coming from on that one.

Many try to reach out to Christine but it all feeds her mania more than stopping it. One example is her office crush George, played by Michael C Hall, who she thinks is taking her on a date but it actually a Scientology like therapy session. He’s not trying to be mean. He’s genuinely trying to be helpful but it is one more shame she has to deal with in her life.

christine5Christine’s mother played by J Smith-Cameron was very good because Christine wants to be mothered as a little girl but also wants them to be equals as adults. She’s also very critical of all of her Mother’s choices including who she dates and how she lives her life. On the other hand, her Mother knows Christine’s mental health history and can tell something bad is coming.

All of those character aspects really work in Christine. Also you get a great sense of the 1970s in both the music and production design. Especially in the last hour tension is built like a ticking time bomb inside Christine’s head ready to explode. I’ve dealt with anxiety and I really thought they captured that feeling without being patronizing or annoying.

The one flaw with the movie is it could try to teach a small lesson. It does leave the viewer kind of empty. I don’t need much preaching but just a moment maybe at a funeral or something to think about her life and how we can do better might have been nice.

Also, the first hour could have been a little bit tighter. There were a few sequences when she is working at the newsroom where I grew bored and started to yawn. However, once the second hour starts it really becomes compelling stuff leading up to the suicide.

This is an extremely mild R rating with just a handful of F words said by Christine’s boss. I definitely think it is worth seeing as a cautionary tale for those of us deal with and live with friends with mental illness. We all need to be aware of these diseases and reach out to folks in the right kind of ways.

Overall Grade- B