VOD REVIEW: ‘Working Man’ Is Employee of the Week

It’s an interesting time for independent cinema. With most blockbusters benched for the season (if not the year), indies are getting more looks: When else a new Kelly Reichardt movie could get as much press as your average rom-com?

The market fragmentation also means there are many low-budget films fighting for attention. Working Man is a particularly low-key one, but there’s strength in its simplicity.

Forced by a bad economy to continue working well into his seventies, Allery (character actor Peter Gerety) goes through the motions day after day. Much to his chagrin, the factory he works at is shutting down. What is a brutish man with one skill, few words and no friends to do? Continue reading “VOD REVIEW: ‘Working Man’ Is Employee of the Week”

VOD REVIEW: ‘You Should Have Left’ Is More Inviting than Expected

Airbnbs are like a box of chocolates: You never know what you’re going to get. Last year, mine got burglarized. In You Should Have Left, Kevin Bacon lands in a creepy one that may be driving him mad. But I’m sure others are great (insert side-eye emoji).

I’m getting ahead of myself. A Blumhouse production that in any normal year would have hit theatres, You Should Have Left gets a lot of mileage from a classic horror troupe (nuclear family stranded in a haunted residence), one The Shining already perfected. Credit to writer/director David Koepp (Premium Rush) to keep things interesting by fleshing out the characters and writing sturdy dialogue.

The plot: May-December couple —Theo (Kevin Bacon) and Susanna (Amanda Seyfried)— takes the proverbial “break from it all” ahead of a busy time. They find an ultramodern home in the middle of nowhere in Wales (the newest horror cliché), seemingly ideal for them and their precocious daughter. Continue reading “VOD REVIEW: ‘You Should Have Left’ Is More Inviting than Expected”

REVIEW: ‘The High Note’ Falls Somewhere in the Middle

In days as convoluted as these, harmless movies about well-intentioned people overcoming difficulties and coming out empowered are a welcome respite. The High Note is one of those films. Clearly destined for the big screen (nice production values, a combination of up-and-comers and vets), The High Note is a nice movie that doesn’t break new ground or ruffles any feathers.

Freed from the 50 Shades burden, Dakota Johnson is delightful as Maggie, the assistant of an R&B diva. Maggie has designs beyond her less than fulfilling job: She wants to become a music producer, preferably for her boss. But there’s no clear path to go from her lowly job to behind the sound desk.

In turn, her employer, Grace Davis (Tracee Ellis Ross, Black-ish), is struggling with a transition of her own. A decade after her last successful record, she’s been offered a residency in Vegas, the musical equivalent of a farm upstate. Davis believes she still has fresh material to offer, but for industry standards, she’s old news. Continue reading “REVIEW: ‘The High Note’ Falls Somewhere in the Middle”

REVIEW: ‘Dreamland’ Expand the ‘Pontypool’ Universe… Sort of

Stephen McHattie and Lise Houle in Bruce McDonald’s Dreamland.

Twelve years ago, Pontypool pulled the rarest of feats. It was original for a zombie movie and intrinsically Canadian (the disease was transmitted via language). Something you may not have noticed is that there was a post-credit scene, featuring the leads as different characters: Johnny Deadeyes and Lisa the Killer, two shady types looking for adventure. I completely missed that until re-watching it for this review.

The promise of the little-seen sequence is fulfilled in Dreamland. Director Bruce McDonald reassembles the Pontypool crew (actors Stephen McHattie and Lisa Houle, scriptwriter Tony Burgess) plus a couple of ringers (Henry Rollins and Juliette Lewis) for a surrealistic noir. Not Twin Peaks-bonkers levels, but pleasantly weird. Continue reading “REVIEW: ‘Dreamland’ Expand the ‘Pontypool’ Universe… Sort of”

REVIEW: ‘Jeune Juliette’ Comes of Edge

With a batting average higher than most of her French-Canadian counterparts (including the likes of Dolan, Arcand and Falardeau), supporters of Canadian cinema would be well served by paying more attention to Anne Emond.

The writer/director has delivered three searing dives into the female psyche (Nuit # 1, Our Loved Ones, Nelly). Her newest film, Jeune Juliette, has a much lighter tone, but the lead is just as complex as the previous ones. OK, maybe not Nelly Arcan, but she’s on a league of her own.

The Juliette of the title (Alexane Jamieson) is a teenager enduring the worst high school has to offer: Loneliness, bullying and the petty behavior from others students who perceive her as overweight. Even though their casual nastiness leaves a mark, Juliette is also aware that she’s smarter than her classmates and it’s a matter of time until she leaves them behind. She also has a sturdy support net: Her doting dad, a sympathetic brother and her best mate, Leanne. Continue reading “REVIEW: ‘Jeune Juliette’ Comes of Edge”

REVIEW: Neeson Acts Again in ‘Ordinary Love’

It’s hard to remember after three Takens and a bunch of Taken knockoffs, there was a time Liam Neeson was a thoughtful, understated performer. At 67, he’s trading grunts for acting again, at least this once.

Ordinary Love is as simple as a domestic drama can get. It relies heavily on the lead actors’ acting abilities, but doesn’t offer anything fresh in terms of story or ideas.

The film revolves around Neeson and the age-appropriate Leslie Manville (Phantom Thread’s MVP) as a mature, content couple. After spending decades together and enduring one unspeakable tragedy, Tom and Joan believe they’ve dealt with all the curveballs life had in store for them.

Not even close. Joan is told she has breast cancer, a diagnosis that sends her on a medical journey involving surgical procedures and chemotherapy. Tom wants to be supporting, but he’s mostly adrift, facing the certain possibility of another devastating loss. Dealing with debilitating treatments and the likelihood of death, Joan doesn’t have the energy to be reassuring and despite of their best efforts, the marriage struggles mightily.

Written and directed by Lisa Barros D’sa and Glenn Leyburn (responsible for the excellent Troubles dramedy Good Vibrations), Ordinary Love goes for naturalism while taking full advantage of Neeson and Manville’s acting abilities, without realizing both approaches are incompatible. Fox example, the moments of intimacy between Tom and Joan are beautiful, but in real life, no one is nearly as articulate.

While this is a story we’ve seen before (in a nutshell, it’s a year in the life), there’s a sliver of an idea worth exploring: One faces sickness alone, regardless how well-intentioned those around us are. The movie never digs deep into the subject and goes back to the tried and true relationship drama.

Ordinary Love is perfectly sturdy, but it’s hard to shake the idea it could have been more than that. If that doesn’t float your boat, in a couple of months Liam Neeson will become an Arizona rancher taking on cartel assassins. I’m not even joking. Two and a half feisty planets (out of five).

Ordinary Love is now available on VOD.

REVIEW: Blood Quantum Has a Hole in the Middle

As much regard as I have for zombie movies, the subgenre could use a moratorium. Maybe is The Walking Dead to blame, or the fact is the cheapest option for wannabe filmmakers to try to make their mark. Either way, the undead feel extra rotten these days.

Credit to Jeff Barnaby for keeping the living dead moderately interesting. The director, whose previous movie Rhymes for Young Ghouls found a fresh approach to the Residential School trauma, attempts to repeat the trick with Blood Quantum. Barnaby doesn’t fully succeed, but gets extra points for effort.

The setup is the most interesting part of the movie: The perfunctory zombie outbreak takes place, but only whites can turn. The Red Crow reservation survives relatively unscathed, relatively because while immune to the virus, they’re still edible. Continue reading “REVIEW: Blood Quantum Has a Hole in the Middle”

VOD REVIEW: The Director of ‘Resistance’ Could Have Used Some

As luck would have it, Jesse Eisenberg is becoming one of the faces of pandemic. The Oscar-nominated actor is the lead in two high-profile features premiering on VOD. The first one, Vivarium, is a high concept sci-fi horror hybrid. The second one, Resistance, is far more traditional, but is not as satisfactory.

Based on the experiences of renown mime Marcel Marceau during World War II, the bulk of Resistance takes place during the German occupation of France. Initially a pedantic wannabe actor, Marceau (Eisenberg) takes a shine to a group of Jewish orphans that have escaped Germany.

As the Nazis put the squeeze on the Jewish community, Marceau feels compelled to protect the kids and join the French Resistance. His revolutionary activities put him in collision course with the Butcher of Lyon, the infamous Klaus Barbie. It downs on Marcel that saving others is a stronger statement than dying for the cause. Continue reading “VOD REVIEW: The Director of ‘Resistance’ Could Have Used Some”

VOD REVIEW: There’s No Saving ‘Cave Rescue’

It’s probably still in the back of your mind. In June 2018, a children soccer team and their coach were trapped inside a cave in Thailand after monsoon rains flooded the exit. The event mobilized dozens of volunteers, including local and foreign divers, American forces and even Elon Musk (if only to provide an impractical solution and then harass a volunteer). The situation seems ready-made for a feature.

Lo and behold, here it is, less than two years since the rescue effort.

Cave Rescue is the kind of movie produced in a rush to take advantage of recent events while still fresh in people’s minds: Undercooked, underwhelming and with an inflated sense of self. Continue reading “VOD REVIEW: There’s No Saving ‘Cave Rescue’”

REVIEW: Portrait of a Lady on Fire Left Me Cold

A minor controversy took place last year when the Centre National de la Cinématographie selected Les Miserables over fan favorite Portrait of a Lady on Fire to represent France in the Academy Awards’ Best Foreign Film process (not that either had a shot against Parasite). I’m here to tell you the CNC had it right.

Don’t get me wrong. Portrait of a Lady on Fire is a good film, but comes way short from being the transcendental experience that has been advertised.

It’s late in the eighteenth century and like in most of the world, women in France are treated as trade goods, unless independently wealthy. Marianne (the drop dead gorgeo…  super talented Noémie Merlant), a freelance painter, is hired by a countess to make a portrait of her daughter Héloïse (Adele Haenel, BPM). The fresco is to be sent to a suitor in Milan with whom Héloïse is to be betrothed. Continue reading “REVIEW: Portrait of a Lady on Fire Left Me Cold”