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”

REVIEW: The Traitor Is Better than The Irishman (Don’t @ Me)

Pierfrancisco Favino is The Traitor.

While one can certainly appreciate the many virtues of The Irishman, there are two undeniable problems with Martin Scorsese’s epic: It’s ridiculously long and the message is muddled (evil rots you from the inside? You reap what sow?) and not particularly ground-breaking.

The Italian gangster drama The Traitor accomplishes the same, if not more, in an hour less. Based on real events, the film tells the story of Tommaso Buscetta (the magnetic Pierfrancisco Favino). A foot soldier for various Sicilian clans, he calls it quits the day the mafia bosses agree on how to divide the spoils of heroin traffic. Somebody mentions to Buscetta there’s a lot of money to be made. He replies, “you can’t take the money to the grave.” Continue reading “REVIEW: The Traitor Is Better than The Irishman (Don’t @ Me)”

RAW FEED: The Call of the Wild

A peek inside the mind of a film critic in real time. Warning: It’s disturbing.

  • 20th Century… Pictures. End of an era.
  • Maybe the trailers are misleading, maybe the CGI dog is better in the movie…
  • No, that’s a CGI dog. The eyes are a dead giveaway. Too much white. Where are The Lion King people when you need them.
  • Granted, kids are more forgiving.
  • Wonderful. Bradley Whitford is in this (he’s never to be seen again after two scenes).
  • Jack London’s novel was raw and complex. This version feels soft. Has the dramatic subtlety of Legends of the Fall.
  • I really don’t need the dog to emote AND Harrison Ford to tell me how the dog is getting in touch with his wild side.
  • That said, Ford knows grizzled.
  • So, John Thornton is in the Yukon mid-Gold Rush, but he’s not there for the money. Got it.
  • Whoever thought of pairing Omar Sy with Cara Gee is genius.
  • Gee is the most stylish postman in history. Love the glasses.
  • “We don’t carry mail, we carry love.” I’m going to say this is not verbatim Jack London.
  • Evil CGI husky about to be dethroned… in a PG kind of way.
  • The power of London storytelling breaks through, but barely.
  • Not quite clear why Buck’s spirit animal is a wolf if he is half St. Bernard, half Scotch Collie.
  • Brits carry a gramophone, champagne and fashionable clothes to explore the Klondike. In case you haven’t figure it out they are clueless.
  • Wonderful. Karen Gillan is in this (she’s never to be seen again after two scenes).
  • Kudos to Dan Stevens for making a clueless dandy mildly menacing.
  • The fact Buck is so noticeably CGI deprives the film of actual stakes.
  • The movie avoids the most unsavory passages of the book, which is a disservice to the public. “The Call of the Wild” is a classic because of them. It’s often an introduction to young readers to the darkest corners of the human soul.
  • Then again, the original ending wouldn’t fly in today’s climate.
  • Janusz Kaminski shot this? This is Lost Souls level.
  • Oh, Terry Notary (Planet of the Apes) played Buck. Nobody better to play a dog. Except an actual dog. Or Andy Serkis. Two planets.
    The Call of the Wild is now playing, everywhere.

INTERVIEW: Lee Majdoub, Sonic the Hedgehog

Lee Majdoub and Jim Carrey in Sonic the Hedgehog.

Now that Sonic the Hedgehog is a bonafide hit and talks of a sequel are afoot, the focus has shifted from the speedy mammal to the cast. Jim Carrey is back in manic mode as Dr. Robotnik. At his side, a surprisingly competent henchman: Agent Stone. Loyal to a fault, Stone manages to keep a straight face as Robotnik goes unhinged barely two inches away.

The actor behind Agent Stone is Lee Majdoub, a journeyman actor who, after working consistently for over a decade, is getting noticed not only as one of Sonic’s nemeses but as a recurrent character in the CW series The 100. We contacted Majdoub in Burbank, CA. He relates to Agent Stone in two key areas: His work ethic and big heart.

Jim Carrey is constantly in your face in Sonic. What are the challenges of that?

I would have to tell myself “he’s doing such an amazing job, don’t ruin it, don’t you dare laugh right now.” All my scenes were with Jim and I was feeding off what he was doing. He is a very sweet person to work with. Very collaborative. Continue reading “INTERVIEW: Lee Majdoub, Sonic the Hedgehog”

From a Critic’s Notebook: Underwater

K-Stew and Vincent Cassel go Underwater.

Take a peek inside the mind of our film critic, as he watches a film in real time. 

  • This is an expensive movie to open in January.
  • Exposition dump via newspaper clippings. Not the most elegant approach.
  • Love when a movie starts mid-action. The whole underwater structure is collapsing around Kristen Stewart.
  • There’s something very watchable about K-Stew. She’s at her best when you can see her face (looking at you, JT LeRoy. Bad, bad movie.)
  • K-Stew is Norah, a mechanical engineer. I’m sure that will come handy later in the movie…
  • Norah leaves characters behind to save herself and a colleague. I recognize this hero’s journey. I hope I’m wrong.
  • These are not characters, these are types.
  • J.T. Miller… Why isn’t he in movies anymore?
  • Oh, right. Yeah, he’s not coming back.
  • The setting is an oil drilling operation at the bottom of the Mariana Trench. The water looks viscous, polluted. Good job, production design department.
  • Vincent Cassel as the captain. Always a smart move to surround yourself with competent actors. Cassel has never been bad.
  • I feel guilty every time I laugh at a J.T. Miller joke.
  • Surprisingly, Cassel is not the villain. There may not be any villains, actually.
  • I spoke too soon.
  • The creatures are humanoid-looking but are not affected by the pressure. Is this feasible? [SUSPENSION OF DISBELIEF: ON]
  • The survivors need to go from point A to point B to point C. It’s like 1917 made by Roger Corman.
  • These deaths by water pressure are disturbing.
  • [JUMPS] [SCREAMS] You got lucky, movie.
  • I suspect T.J. Miller ad-libbed all his dialogue and made it better.
  • Cloverfield.
  • Can’t believe I’m having fun.
  • Engineer powers, activate!
  • The cinematography of Underwater is quite solid. Despite the shaky camera, I always know where the characters are.
  • The trailers made this movie no favors.
  • John Gallagher Jr. is the equivalent of the damsel in distress from years ago (a couple). He is like a budget Ben Affleck.
  • Has anybody else noted all monsters are starting to look like [REDACTED]. H.P. [REDACTED] must be smiling from below.
  • This is a little too Sigourney Weaver at the end of Alien. Not the action, the getup.
  • Underwater is a very feminist film. Like, actually feminist.

3/5 planets. Underwater opens Friday, January 10th, everywhere.

From a Critic’s Notebook: Spies in Disguise

Will Smith as a pigeon and Tom Holland as a science geek in Spies in Disguise.

Take a peek inside the mind of our film critic, as he watches a film in real time. 

  • A Blue Sky production. Surprised they’re sticking around and sharing the same playground as Pixar and Disney Animation.
  • I miss Scrat. As for the rest of Ice Age, I hope they went extinct…
  • Will Smith is Lance, a lone wolf/super spy taking on an army of henchmen. So, a standard Will Smith movie.
  • STOP THE PRESSES!!! Ben Mendelsohn is the bad guy.
  • Mendelsohn is such a compelling presence. It’s unfortunate he’s the pigeonholed (see what I did there) as a villain. Totally writing that.
  • The short this movie is based on, Pigeon: Impossible, is a hoot. So far, the feature version is very standard.
  • In this world, everybody wears skinny jeans…
  • Tom Holland is Walter, the would-be sidekick Lance doesn’t want. Good to know he has a future as a voice actor (he’s also the lead in Pixar’s Onward).
  • Is… this… movie… anti-gun? Bold choice!
  • The Red States won’t like that…
  • I could watch a whole movie about Will Smith freaking out over becoming a pigeon (“I can SEE MY BUTT!!!”)
  • I get it: Mom died in the line of duty, Walter wants to protect everyone with silly inventions. There’s an acronym for that.
  • What is DJ Khaled famous for?
  • The movie reminds us for the twentieth time Lance is not a team player. Street pigeons be like…
  • Animated Venice looks nice. No floods. Oh, wait…
  • Spies in Disguise has a deconstructive vibe: Violence begets more violence. I dig…
  • Writers, you’re killing me, you have a chance to humanize poor Ben Mendelsohn and you pass?!
  • I’ll take Spies in Disguise over any glorification of firearms, especially in movies for children.

Spies in Disguise opens Christmas Day, everywhere.

REVIEW: Why Jojo Rabbit Matters

Coming out of a screening of Jojo Rabbit last week (my second), I asked my wife her thoughts on the film. She said she liked it, but didn’t think the message was all that ground-breaking. Fair enough, the notion of “hate” as learned behavior children acquire early on and has long-lasting effects has been dealt with on screen before.

Then I saw a clip on Facebook.

In this video essay, a very angry girl in her early teens argues against the separation of church and state. She believes that if Christianity is kept out of school and government, so it should “liberal ideas” like abortion or transgender rights. Her argument holds no water, but that’s not the point. The rigidness of her reasoning reveals she has never been exposed to a different set of beliefs. The teen is so convinced, she is happy to put it on tape for the world to see. Forever and ever.

Enter Jojo Rabbit. Continue reading “REVIEW: Why Jojo Rabbit Matters”

REVIEW: Planet of the Monos

Colombian cinema is having a moment. Not only the local industry has an auteur in its hands –Ciro Guerra, director of Embrace of the Serpent and Birds of Passage— a second one has emerged fully formed from Sundance Labs: Alejandro Landes.

In Monos, Landes zeroes in on a group of teenagers recruited by the local revolutionary army to protect an American woman (Julianne Nicholson, August, Osage County) they keep hostage. The rebels expect a handsome paycheck in exchange for the prisoner, so her wellbeing is a priority.

Things start going south almost immediately when the expected source of protein –a cow– succumbs under a hail of bullets. With little supervision or boundaries, the squad crumbles under the weight of responsibilities, power plays and a warped understanding of discipline. The fact they’re armed to the teeth makes their volatility lethal.

Monos doesn’t take the traditional route of the child-soldier subgenre. Each character is more than their circumstances; the atmosphere is oppressive, but there are laughs to be had and beauty to be taken in (the jungle setting amplifies the drama tenfold). Nicholson is superb as the sullen, scared hostage, same as Moises Arias (The Kings of Summer) as Bigfoot, an ambitious foot soldier who craves power but doesn’t understand the concept of leadership.

The film unfolds swiftly as the Monos squad has no notion of teamwork and breaks down at every corner. That said, I would have liked to spend more time with the teens: Each one seems to carry a story worth telling. Still, the one we actually get is worth the price of admission. Three and a half planets.

Monos is now playing at the Roxy in Saskatoon.

REVIEW: The Farewell Gets to the Heart of Being Asian-American

As much as I enjoyed Crazy Rich Asians, the treatment of the film as a triumph of representation gave me pause. Sure, an all-Asian cast in a Hollywood production is something to celebrate, but the characters are obscenely wealthy and the audience-surrogate is well on her way to become a one-percenter. In short, they are hard to relate.

The infinitely more modest The Farewell is more successful at bring the Asian-American experience to the big screen. Not only that, it transcends culture clash shenanigans to depict the very real melancholy that accompanies immigrants through their entire lives. Trust me, I know.

There is a connecting vessel between Crazy Rich Asians and The Farewell: Awkwafina. The rapper-turned-actor who played Constance Wu’s best friend in CRA delivers a compelling dramatic performance as Billi, a burnt-out millennial with more debts than prospects. Continue reading “REVIEW: The Farewell Gets to the Heart of Being Asian-American”

REVIEW: The Third Wife

There is a small but critical difference between well-thought-through films and movies too precious for their own good. The Third Wife, Ash Mayfair’s feature debut, is among the latter.

Inspired by country life in Vietnam during the 19thcentury, The Third Wife of the title is May (Nguyen Phuong Tra My), a 14-year old child who’s essentially sold to a landowner she doesn’t know. At the bottom of the household totem pole, May’s only option is to get pregnant and have a son. Hung, the husband —and most of Vietnamese society at the time— values boys over girls and polygamy is seen as a way to improve the odds.

Unbeknownst to Hung, serious drama is unfolding under his nose. His first wife is bent on presenting him with a son, never mind her health. Hung’s second wife, Xuan, is carrying an affair with her husband’s first-born son, a teenager whose coddled existence has kept him from coping with adversity. May herself provides the cherry on top by developing a crush on the coveted Xuan. The characters’ gender gives you a clue who pays for the indiscretions and who gets away scot-free. Continue reading “REVIEW: The Third Wife”