Posts tagged "Film"

“Tigertail” – Soulful tale of life’s choices and regrets

April 10th, 2020 Posted by Review 0 thoughts on ““Tigertail” – Soulful tale of life’s choices and regrets”

Alan Yang writes and directs the story of Grover (Tzi Ma), a middle-aged Taiwanese immigrant who left his life in China for a better one in America as a young adult. Now, filled with regrets, Grover takes us back in time to his childhood to better understand himself and perhaps change his own future.

WATCH THE TRAILER HERE

The film takes a non-linear story-telling style and we meet Grover as a young boy, left by his parents in a chaotic and dreadful time with his Grandmother who hid him from the government. This small glimpse back in time sets the tone for Grover’s life as we then meet him as a teen. He’s filled with energy and falls in love with Yuan (Yohsing Fang) only to dramatically leave her behind when his arranged marriage to Zhen Zhen (Kunjue Li) occurs and he escapes to a better life in the United States. Finding that the grass isn’t always greener on the other side, both Grover and Zhen Zhen struggle in their new homeland and roles as husband and wife.

The story takes us back and forth from the current day to the past as various interactions trigger a memory from Grover. Songs, thoughts, situations all bring him back in time: working in a factory with his mother; listening to music; dancing; sneaking off to meet Yuan; and sharing your hopes and dreams. The sadness in Grover’s eyes as he recalls his past is palpable, but it is with each of these memories that the complicated layers of his life are peeled away to reveal what lies beneath—a man filled with life’s regrets.

Grover, seemingly successful financially, is anything but that in other aspects of his life. Divorced with two adult children, he struggles immensely with his relationship with his daughter, Angela (Christine Ko). The story rocks us gently, back and forth, between the very distant past, the current day, and the recent past to pull back the curtains to better see Grover, his choices, and most importantly, the consequences of those choices.

Incredibly, a story of a man from China is one in which we can all relate. We have all made choices, taken a left instead of a right at one of life’s crossroads, and then had regrets. But we all continue on the path ahead, no matter how bumpy it becomes, knowing that there’s another crossroad ahead. Yang finds a way to bring an element of hope to the story as Grover learns from his pattern of choices. There’s a hope in his future as he begins to reconnect with that younger version of himself and remember the importance of relationships.

Within the context of regrets, Grover is at a pivotal point in his relationship with his daughter, but with years of disconnection, it is difficult for him to find a way back. As we witness the pain Angela is experiencing in her life coupled with her inability to relate to her father, Grover takes us back in time to his own relationship with his mother. Again, this timeline transporting gives us such keen insight into how his past directly influences who he has become.

While the story is a universal one, there are additional elements that are not. These aspects give the viewer a sharper grasp as to what it means to emigrate to a foreign land. Working non-stop, having a wife who speaks little English, and then with a baby on the way, Grover is on the brink of failure. They live in a squalid apartment the size of most closets, making the best of things, but again, there are consequences. Leaving home and everything you know, from the language and customs, to the food and friends, “Tigertail” accentuates what it takes to emigrate to another country.

Ma brings a soulfully thoughtful perspective to his portrayal of Grover as we find ourselves connecting with him on so many levels. With great editing and this non-linear storytelling style, Ma shines as he gently lets us into his character’s inner world filled with love and loss, but finally a exhibiting a glimmer of hope. This hope culminates in the final act in the film, one of the most poignant and emotionally loaded endings I’ve seen this year. Both Ma and Ko create the precise levels of subtle emotional tension and apprehension that bring a brilliant crescendo to the film, taking my breath away.

“Tigertail” is an unexpected treasure with a complexly layered story, standout performances thanks not only to the talented cast, but also to deft direction, precision editing, and back to basics story telling. This is one man’s story; a study of life and regrets. It is a story we all know with its universalities, but never has it been so gorgeously displayed.

4 Stars

“Human Capital” A morally complex and intriguing story

February 7th, 2020 Posted by Review 0 thoughts on ““Human Capital” A morally complex and intriguing story”

Stephen Amidon’s novel has been recreated once again for the silver screen, but for American audiences this time. Initially an Italian film, it depicts the destinies of two families from vastly different socioeconomic classes whose lives are irrevocably changed after a cyclist is hit and killed just before Christmas. The American version, rewritten by Oren Moverman, stars Liev Schreiber, Peter Sarsgaard, and Marisa Tomei, and creates a similar scenario where two families’ children and their underlying stories are intertwined on that fateful night of an innocent cyclist being killed in a hit and run accident.

The story is told from several different perspectives, Rashomon-style. We are introduced to Drew (Schreiber), a real estate agent and father as he drops off his teenage daughter, Shannon (Maya Hawke). It’s obvious from the beginning who the have’s and the have not’s are in this scenario and Drew’s unrefined interactions with Jamie’s (Fred Hechinger) parents, Carrie (Tomei) and Quint (Sarsgaard). This sets the foundation for the ensuing tensions and poor decision making that put all the pieces into place and drive the story forward.

As part of the 99%, Drew thinks he has hat the jackpot and asks Quint to get in on his action–hedge funds. Leveraging every cent and item he has, the game has begun, but this is a big boy’s game and Drew isn’t ready. Needless to say, life devolves, spiraling out of control for him. Later that evening, after both families have gathered at a school event, the accident takes place. Each and every character may have done it, and they all have their own version of what happened that night.

From this point, we get Carrie’s, Quint’s, Shannon’s and Jamie’s perspective of what happened over the course of the previous 24 hours. Sharing all their inner-most thoughts and secrets, like a fly on the wall, we see the events of the fateful night unfold. Putting the pieces of the puzzle together is chilling, unearthing the depths to which humans will go to save themselves and/or their loved ones.

It’s an interesting cast, all playing pivotal roles and having their time to shine in the spotlight. Sarsgaard portrays a pompous, deleterious narcissist, who cherishes money more than his wife. Tomei, a side character for much of the film, has a few scenes that give us more depth to peel away the superficial layers of her character. She proves that money cannot buy happiness and her performance connects us with her, creating sympathy for her situation. Hawke and Alex Wolff, a troubled teen, bring us all back in time where we made those bad decisions in love. Their honest portrayal is simply engaging with a storyline that could be in any town, highlighting the social issues that plague our current day. Schrieber’s former character of “Ray Donovan” is difficult to shake as his character of Drew is the antithesis of Ray. Initially awkward, Schrieber eventually finds the right tone and I’m able to see him as a man-child who is impulsive and not the brightest bulb in the box. This is a stretch for him and always walking a tightrope of authenticity.

This version of “Human Capital” takes us along a little different path, but the results are the same–it’s fight or flight as our autonomic nervous system kicks in. This engaging film, filled with social issues and consequences, is at once thought-provoking as we are challenged intellectually and emotionally. Ultimately, we place ourselves in each of the roles, predicting our own responses and when a film can do that, it’s worth seeing.

3/4 Stars

“The Gentlemen” is pure fun

January 30th, 2020 Posted by Review 0 thoughts on ““The Gentlemen” is pure fun”

We start this tall tale, “The Gentlemen,” with a “pint and a pickled egg” and the strange word combinations, analogies and euphemisms continue throughout this sly action crime thriller written and directed by Guy Ritchie. With his signature style splashed lovingly throughout the film, like the blood that splatters across a table after a hit, Ritchie creates a complicated, sometimes convoluted but necessarily so, storyline that keeps you on your toes and even if you think you’ve guessed the ending, you’ll be blown away by how you got there.

Michael Pearson aka Mickey (Matthew McConaughey) is a street smart, high-volume and high class weed grower and dealer. His entrepreneurial skills, honed at a young age across the pond, allowed him to climb the social and financial ladder, but not without enemies who are always trying to knock this king off his throne. We meet Mickey at what appears to be close to the end of the film, but then thanks to Fletcher’s (Hugh Grant) storytelling to Mickey’s right hand man, Ray (Charlie Hunnam), we begin to meet the vast number of characters as he recounts the events of the last several weeks. And with the precision of a scalpel, Ritchie neatly intertwines every character’s story.

Fletcher is a part of the lower class attempting to rise and we see this with his different English accent and his less than fashionable attire. He’s slimy, but maybe, just maybe, he’s one up on the elite thugs. He seems to be everywhere and to know everything as he attempts to extort Ray for millions of British pounds, threatening to reveal all these luscious details he has painstakingly gathered. As Fletcher reveals his knowledge of the events over several expensive glasses of Glenfiddich, told in proper writing style as he points out our main protagonist and how stories should be told—old school—we find that Mickey may not have covered all his bases and the cast of characters may not survive the finale.

“The Gentlemen” is a good old-fashioned story told with more style than Tom Ford. The pace is fast which not just encourages you to pay close attention, it demands it. The layers of this complex story are peeled away, layer by layer, revealing only what Ritchie wants you to see, making sure he is at least one step ahead of you. The cuts or as the character “Fletcher” refers to them as “smash cuts” thrust you into the next scene and we begin to piece the puzzle together until the core is revealed. This is pure fun.

McConaughey’s Mickey is our main character, but the entire narrative is driven by Grant’s performance as Fletcher. Changing his accent to fit the bill and finding the subtleties required to become this sleezy character, Grant shines as the host of the story, finding all the right beats to create an engagingly repulsive character. McConaughey’s performance doesn’t push the envelope although it is a believable one as the charming, whip-smart king of the proverbial forest. Henry Golding gives us an intimidating tough guy persona that ultimately allows you to despise him and that’s a tough feat. Hunnam’s performance as the calm, cool, and collected “Ray” is the glue that binds it all together, but it is the initially unrecognizable Colin Farrell as “Coach” that will shock and make you laugh aloud as you support his tenacity and integrity even amidst some unfathomable acts.

“The Gentlemen” isn’t for the faint of heart. It is a crime and action flick so there’s a bit of violence and blood, but it is all a part of the story, driving the plot forward. And Ritchie doesn’t give us one character who’s above board, but that’s ok because we find the best of the worst and connect with them. With quick dialogue and narration which is a stylistically perfect choice paired with Ritchie’s quick editing and unique visual interjections we laugh aloud at the preposterous situations. Ritchie even finds a way to squeeze in gun and drug law issues, too.

There’s also great attention to detail in this film from set design to costuming which punctuates the class and type of characters in the story. Standing out in this is Coach and his cohorts, the choreographed hip hop dancers/fighters all dressed in plaid who bring an element of humor to what would have been just a group of thugs. It’s these little surprises throughout the overall feel of the film and that’s fun.

Guy Ritchie doesn’t disappoint in “The Gentlemen.” Great action, smart dialogue and story development give way to a suspenseful, oftentimes humorous, old-fashioned thriller that will keep you engaged and entertained.

3 1/2 Stars

“Knives Out” is an ingeniously funny and smart whodunit movie

November 24th, 2019 Posted by Film Festivals, Review 0 thoughts on ““Knives Out” is an ingeniously funny and smart whodunit movie”

Writer and director Rian Johnson changes gears from “Star Wars: Episode VIII-The Last Jedi” to his newest film “Knives Out,” an ingenious, whip-smart comedic thriller with an incredible all-star cast. This old-fashioned “who-dunnit” crime story takes us on a ride of mystery, intrigue, and puzzle-solving while laughing the entire time. This is a standout film of the year.

WATCH THE TRAILER HERE

Harlan Thrombey (Christopher Plummer) is the family’s patriarch having made his fortune writing murder mysteries. Coincidentally, the old man dies in his palatial mansion and his family, focused on the inheritance and not shedding a tear, are stopped short of the treasure chest as the famed Benoit Blanc (Daniel Craig) suspects foul play. This, of course, would change the cause of death from suicide to murder and now puts each and every family member under the microscope as suspects.

Oh, what a family this is! Timing the release perfectly for Thanksgiving, you’ll find that your own family isn’t quite so dysfunctional after watching this one. Johnson covers all his family relationship bases with an ex-wife, a trust fund, shallow grandson named Ransom (Chris Evans), a controlling daughter, Linda (Jamie Lee Curtis), and Valley Girl Joni (Toni Collette) as well as the disappointing son Walt (Michael Shannon). There are plenty of in-law issues beginning with Richard Drysdale (Don Johnson) and strange grandchildren. We even have the Keystone Cops lead by Lieutenant Elliott (LaKeith Stanfield).

It’s evident from the beginning that we are in for a rip-roaring good time as the interrogation begins. Flashing between each of the suspects, a lone man slouches off in the corner at a piano, intermittently hitting a single key. Confusingly funny, the subjects make comments as to this man’s presence. We see the tangled web of deceit has been spun perfectly and now the players are all accounted for. The story then takes us back in time using a non-linear storytelling technique to put the pieces of the puzzle in proper order to solve the mystery of who killed Harlan Thrombey…or was it a suicide?

“Knives Out” keeps you on your toes with its clever unveiling of clues while distracting you with these bizarre and over-the-top characters who all have a motive or two. Collette and Evans take on roles and perform like you’ve never seen them before adding to the unexpected twists and turns as well as the hilarity. Johnson’s genius writing is always a step ahead of you, never putting all the pieces of the puzzle together until he wants you to.

The film, in all is jocularity, actually finds a way to address a common theme of movies this year: the haves versus the have-nots. Of course, with this wealthy family comes the topic of entitlement and work ethics, but these heavier subjects are all boiling well beneath the surface, fostering the hilarious situations and consequences.

While all the characters and performances are uniquely strong, the commonality among them is the actors truly seem to be having fun, elevating their performances to the highest level. Plummer just gets better and better, showing audiences that he truly can take any role and bring it to its ultimate potential. His character of “Harlan” is smart and strong with great wisdom and verve all delivered with a knowing twinkle in his eye. Each actor’s character gets a moment in the spotlight, allowing us to know who they truly are and what drives them. Two surprising performances come from Craig as he stuns us with his comedic timing. It’s a dry humor, the writing creating a strange interaction to make us laugh, but it it Craig’s interpretation and presentation that adds just the right touch. And then there’s Evans who certainly doesn’t come off as Capt. America. He’s a narcissistic, entitled, blue blood who is despicably condescending—but all of these attributes are presented in unexpectedly delightful ways.

Another surprise is a relatively unknown actor who has a lead in this film, Ana de Armas who portrays Marta Cabrera, the nurse and caregiver for Harlan. Her storyline stitches all the characters together while the social issue of immigration plays every so perfectly into this narrative. de Armas’ performance hits all the right notes as she invites us to walk in her shoes. She’s remarkably engaging, honing her ability to connect with the audience no matter her circumstances.

As you can see, there is one enjoyable and entertaining surprise after another. Its fast pace never lets you catch your breath as you happily try to see the full picture, but alas, Johnson is the driver of that car and you’ll get there when he wants you to. To find such an entertaining murder mystery with the feel of a film from days gone by is an absolute treasure. This incredibly smart and funny film with standout performances from actors who are having as much fun as the viewer is sure to be tops on not just critics’ lists, but yours as well.

4/4 stars

“Anthropocene: The Human Epoch” Beautifully portrays the horrors of man’s new era

January 28th, 2019 Posted by Film Festivals, Review 0 thoughts on ““Anthropocene: The Human Epoch” Beautifully portrays the horrors of man’s new era”

“Anthropocene: The Human Epoch” is the third film by Jennifer Baichwal and Edward Burtynsky to address the environment, preceded by “Manufactured Landscapes” (2006) and “Watermark” (2013). The film, narrated in layman’s terms by Alicia Vikander, gives us a stunning visual education of our current world’s state as we leave behind the Halocene Era, one which nature provides changes, to the Anthropocene Era, where man is responsible for all of them.

The opening scene is visually gripping as you are drawn to the flames like a moth that fill every corner of the screen, mesmerizing you with its beauty. You then find the source of the flames which engulf your visual field. The beauty quickly turns to horror and this visual slight of hand pattern occurs throughout the film. What initially is gorgeously striking suddenly comes into comprehensible view to create a disturbing image. It perfectly imitates our own consciousness as we are at first ignorant about issues, but then, with information, we are awakened and see things for what they truly are.

Baichwal and Burtynsky takes us on an extraordinary journey through time and around the world to explore and explain the effects of mankind on our world. Chapter by chapter, beginning with “Extraction,” we understand how our need for earth’s resources have inadvertently depleted other necessary resources. We start in Russia at a huge metal factory. To fuel the fire, trees are cut, but that is a source of oxygen not to mention the benefits of helping with processing carbon dioxide. There’s a delicate balance that has been tipped too far in one direction as the community depends on this plant for wages, but at the same time it’s hurting them. This juggling act, understanding and caring for our environment while attempting to give people a way to support themselves is always at the forefront as is the gluttony and greed, and the land is losing.

This is the theme throughout the film as we travel to Carrara, Italy and witness the extraction of the finest marble in the world. Seen from high above as a gorgeous symmetrical design we plunge more closely and our breath is taken away by the image that lies before us. This cinematic accentuation upon the narration clearly defines the irrevocable damage upon our planet. From the phosphate mines in Florida to the grinding jaws of machinery in Germany which appear like monsters rising above the clouds, we see a land that replicates a scene from “Mad Max” or “Mortal Engines.” There’s a sense of hopelessness at what has been lost.

The film looks at this new era of man, dissecting how we have impacted climate change and extinction of animals. Interviews with residents, employees, and those who are stepping up in an effort to make a difference, save endangered species, or protect our current state from getting worse, support the underlying feel of an emergency. For example, the president of Kenya eloquently states, “…blessings come with duties” as he refers to the land and the gracious endangered species of elephants and rhinoceroses roam the land. As we extrapolate the information, it is evident that our own demise or extinction is eminent. This is a warning tale, an eye-opening, riveting masterpiece of art and story that shakes your soul as it hopefully alarms you into action.

“Anthropocene: The Human Epoch” is masterfully detailed, captivating you visually with a subtle yet haunting musical layer to tell a difficult yet necessary story. From streets comprised of compressed trash surrounded by mountains of rubbish looking serene from high above and plats of water that reflect a contemplative neon green to rocky striations of reds, blues, purples and whites, appearing like ancient stone carvings only to be revealed as a signature of our chemical times and the imprint upon the earth’s surface. There’s an artistry in our devastation making it even more disturbing as you initially find beauty in it.

“Anthropocene” The Human Epoch” is a wake up call. A call to action. A call to awareness. And a plea to understand how we have left the Halocene Epoch and are now in an era of man’s giant and crushing footprint upon our world. The film’s beauty is undeniable as are the horrors it reveals. This is one of the most visually arresting and informative films about our world and our future.

For more information about the film at the Sundance Film Festival, go to SUNDANCE.ORG

4 STARS

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