Posts tagged "TIFF"

“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

“Ford v Ferrari” So much more than a car racing movie

November 15th, 2019 Posted by Review 0 thoughts on ““Ford v Ferrari” So much more than a car racing movie”

No other movie this year will rev your engine and make your heart race as well as pull on those heartstrings more than “Ford v Ferrari,” directed by James Mangold and starring Christian Bale as race car driver Ken Miles and Matt Damon as car designer Carroll Shelby.

Based on a true story, and all car aficionados will recognize the story immediately, “Ford v Ferrari” features Shelby and Miles, hired by Ford, the man (Tracy Letts) and the company, to create a car that would beat the competitor, Ferrari, in the 24 Hours of LeMans in 1966.

The film transports us back in time to meet Miles, a cantankerous perfectionistic car mechanic, struggling in business and itching to get back into car racing. The talented driver, as we see immediately and throughout the film, has a temper, is impulsive, but above it all yearns to drive, race, compete, and most importantly, win.

To read the review in its entirety as published in the Friday, Nov. 15th edition of The Daily Journal, go to:
THE DAILY JOURNAL

“Red Penguins” – An interview with director Gabe Polsky and subject Steven Warshaw at TIFF

October 3rd, 2019 Posted by Film Festivals, Interviews, Review 0 thoughts on ““Red Penguins” – An interview with director Gabe Polsky and subject Steven Warshaw at TIFF”

Who could possibly create a documentary about Russia, hockey, the Pittsburgh Penguins, and the Mafia that is funny, educational, and insightful? None other than Gabe Polsky who gave us “Red Army” in 2016. While you might be thinking that this is just an extension of his first film, think again. This is one of the most bizarre, underreported, and unfathomable sports stories in history. Polsky’s subject, Steven Warshaw, a marketing genius, took it upon himself to attempt to save the Russian hockey program and create interest and financial stability for this Red team. What he found was corruption, embezzlement, and mind-boggling sordid situations proving the adage that truth truly is stranger than fiction.

The film premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival and I had the pleasure of sitting down with Chicago native Polsky and his subject, Steven Warshaw, for an entertaining and insightful conversation about the making of this film.

Pamela Powell (PP): How did you two become acquainted?

Gabe Polsky (GP): I was promoting “Red Army,” …at one of the festivals in NY and Steve came up to me afterwards and told me that he has a great story [and] that it’s also about this Red Army team, but it’s about the ’90’s and what happened afterwards. … But I told him, “Look, I’m not interested in even going near Russia or hockey again.” I just did this big film and I was kind of mad, actually, about the idea of doing something like that. Anyway, Steve asked for my address and I did give it to him. (Chuckling) He didn’t look like a creepy guy. He was a little strange (more laughter) … I got this huge box of materials, videos, documentation, photos, all this stuff about this story and I opened it up and looked through it and was kind of amazed and shocked … but then I pushed it away again.

PP: What made you open it back up and delve into the making of this film?

GP: It was the kind of thing that even to this day I was reluctant to go for because

Steven Warshaw (SW): This is the antithesis of what he had seen. [He] documented maybe the greatest hockey team in history and now he’s going to look at the train wreck that ensued after the Soviet Union. And we were that train wreck.

PP: And you were the engineer? (Laughing)

SW: No, I was the conductor, the engineer, and the toilet cleaner! (Laughing)

PP: Why did you hold on to all of this stuff?

SW: I am a pack rat. I save everything that’s flat. … I don’t save plush animals or hockey pucks. If it’s flat, I save it. Photos, tickets, contracts, archival material, artwork, anything that I can stack. And this was a really important part of my life. I fell in love over there, not just with the team, but I fell in love with a fantastic Russian woman. I was 34 at the time. I fell in love with the culture. … When we were just blown out of there, it hurt. It was like getting your doors blown off in a romance. … I always saved my love letters from my girlfriends, maybe I’ll be able to resurrect this too. So that’s why I did it.

PP: They say that with age comes wisdom. This is a two part question. What would you tell your younger self and would you do anything differently?

SW: Second question first. I would much rather have gone to Italy or Spain or done this in a better country. You look back and I had attributed it to just youthful insanity. In retrospect, obviously, it was crazy. I should have taken the other job offer I had … I had two offers at the same time. Either go to Russia or to come to Canada. So in retrospect I should have definitely gone to Vancouver and had a beautiful life in Canada instead of this crazy mad [one], but then Gabe wouldn’t have had a film. (Laughing) There you go. It was intriguing for us because we were young and stupid so the danger element was almost an adrenaline rush for us. Yes, you look back, I didn’t have kids so I could take chances back then. Now I wouldn’t, of course.

PP: What did your mother think?

SW: She thinks I [was] a greeting card salesman! (Laughs). Actually, they came to see us in (Russia). They came on Revolution Day. Nov. 7, 1993 … They had a great time over there. They didn’t see all of the criminal elements. They didn’t know about it. I didn’t tell them.

GP: Now they’ll know.

SW: Now they’ll know they raised a stupid kid. (Laughs!)

PP: Steven, how did all of this influence your future career and choices?

SW: I made a lot safer decisions. Blue chip type of deals instead of wild fantasy deals, but I still think I’ve got one more in me before I check out of here so maybe I’m looking at some other crazy, third world country and bringing badminton or I don’t know. There’s one more chapter in me … for you (looking to Gabe)!

PP: Gabe, there was one particularly chilling scene in the film where you discovered someone lurking behind you; you were being watched and followed when you were in Russia. Did this give you pause about completing film and presenting it publicly?

GP: It did! The answer is yes, I did feel kind of weird being in Russia at that time. Sanctions were going strong and the sentiment toward Americans wasn’t great. I wouldn’t say just regular people. The government position was pretty clear, but people were generally warm. I don’t know why, but when I was there, I felt a little bit paranoid and I’m not a super paranoid guy, but I felt weird. And when that happened, it was a WTF moment. Yes, I’ve been thinking a little bit about … the danger.

PP: Given today’s political environment, what do you think viewers will take away from this very timely piece even though this took place back in the 1990’s?

GP: I would hope that first of all, understanding the history and what happened in the ’90’s has relation to what’s happening now and their views toward Americans. Our working relationship, I think this is a good example of what [was] happening to all companies that were coming to Russia at the time. … and as soon as they saw success, they saw almost insurmountable challenges from encroaching interests. But more than even that, it’s this idea to understand the Russian psychology and behaviors in a deeper way. We read a lot of facts and allegations about that, but no one really gets to see how people behave and talk and deal with people. I think this story, by experiencing the story, we get to know the culture a lot better. Not just their culture, but ours too.

PP: Steven, when you watched the film, the interviews with those who spoke about you, what did you think or feel when you heard what they had to say?

SW: I’m still shocked that Goshen’s still breathing oxygen. That guy, he’s a walking heart attack. And everyone else died, except him.

PP: What does that tell you? (Laughing)

SW: That he’s Rasputin. He’s the devil! (More laughter) To me, it was frightening because I didn’t know how crazy I was back then. I wasn’t a kid, I was 34. We just threw caution to the wind and we were just worried about accomplishing our mission, to fill the arena and sell sponsorships, create tours, merchandising, a great story.

GP: But when you saw those other characters, the KGB guy and even Gusev, how did you feel? How did you feel?

SW: I wasn’t really shocked because I had lived it. But the one shocking element to me that I learned from the film was just how close the Mafia got to Gusev, my Russian partner. They really read him the riot act that he’s gotta leave Pittsburgh. I didn’t know that until I saw the film. I didn’t realize the Mafia was so deep into Viktor Gusev’s life that they had threatened him.

PP: But there’s that haunting laugh from Goshen.

GP: Yeah, how do you feel about that scene?

SW: It’s vintage Goshen. He’s brain damaged from alcohol. He’s had heart attacks, he’s been in car accidents, he’s been in prison. I mean the guy’s had an incredible life. So to me, he’s the perfect foil.

GP: Why is that vintage Gushen? What is that laugh?

SW: It’s demonic. He’s the evil empire that Reagan referred to. He’s a cartoon character that came to life and I’m just flattered that he said he’d still be my friend! (Laughs!)

PP: Flattered or scared?

SW: Scared! The same thing is that he would rather fail on his own that succeed with the [Americans]. I think that’s the critical point. They had such pride and that’s why they couldn’t take it. … It was embarrassing for them because it took foreigners to come in and do their job for them. They resented us for that and they actually rooted against us.

4 out of 4 Stars

Be sure to check back to find out how and when you can see this timely and entertaining film.

“The Goldfinch” can’t soar even with its star-power

September 13th, 2019 Posted by Review 0 thoughts on ““The Goldfinch” can’t soar even with its star-power”

“The Goldfinch,” a best-seller by Donna Tartt, makes its cinematic debut with some of Hollywood’s biggest stars. Ansel Elgort portrays Theo, a young man whowrestles with the trauma from his childhood, losing his mother in a terrorist attackat an art museum. Taken in by a wealthy family, Theo’s journey will require great fortitude and resilience, but there’s much more to the story than we initially believe.

We meet Theo as an adult, in a depressed state, narrating how he came to this point in his life. We are then taken back in time, meeting Theo as a child (Oakes Fegley)on that fateful day. Experiencing the explosion, Theo is in a state of shock and is taken in by the Barbour family. The Upper East Side socialites have their own sordid issues but graciously take Theo in. Mrs. Barbour (Nicole Kidman), cold, distant yet polite begins to melt thanks to the joy that Theo seems to bring to thefamily, particularly Andy (Ryan Foust) who brings such personality to every scene.

To read the review in its entirety, go to THE DAILY JOURNAL

“1982” Premieres at TIFF

September 11th, 2019 Posted by Review 0 thoughts on ““1982” Premieres at TIFF”

“1982” transports us back to a time in Lebanon where political unrest and imminent war loomed overhead. Writer/director Oualid Mouaness creates a beautiful story of Wissam’s (Mohamed Dalli) school crush amidst the tension of the teachers and the news they are hearing.

Nadine Labaki (“Capernaum” director) stars as Yasmine whose relationship with fellow teacher Joseph (Rodrigue Sleiman) is strained all due to differing political views. This is a multi-tiered story as the teachers and administrators prepare for graduation of their students, attempting in every way to maintain a sense of normalcy. Final exams are underway and off in the distance, the beginnings of an attack are evident. Finding stability among the adults is tested which ultimately makes it difficult to create an emotionally safe environment for the children.

“1982” begins with wide landscape shots, capturing the peace and beauty of the land. Artistically, as the story comes into sharp focus, the shots become more constrained, giving a more visceral sense of the ever-increasing tensions of the people near Beirut on the cusp of an invasion. Religion and cultural differences as well as expectations and prejudices play an important role among both the adults and the children on this momentous day.

It is the dialogue between our main characters of Wissam (Mohamad Dalli) and his best friend Majid (Ghassan Maalouf ) that endear us to them, reminding us of how special and, in many ways, how universal that feeling of first love is. The two discuss the plan for Wissam to let Joana (Gia Madi) know his true feelings despite the geographic, religious, and cultural differences. And these issues are explored with utmost care and even humor as Abir (Lelia Harkous) attempts to intervene.

On the other end of the spectrum is the more complicated interaction of Joseph and Yasmine. Love is never easy, no matter your age, but we see how our beliefs supersede this emotion in our older years while love does seem to conquer all when you’re young.

As the fear of the inevitable comes to reality in this film, it’s interesting to note how much emphasis we place on the need for routine. It’s our safety blanket, shielding us from the impact of that next shoe dropping and in this case, it’s much more than a shoe. That tension is palpable as we see Yasmine clinging on to the completion of her students’ exams. She will not give in to what’s happening around her and her emotional overload is conveyed in her voice and body language with deft skill. Mohamad Dalli is exceptional in this layered and sometimes very nuanced role. He’s silly and optimistic during this time, perfectly portraying the innocence of youth.

“1982” uniquely examines the core of people, no matter their age, as the world unravels. With extraordinary performances, we are not only given the opportunity to walk back in time, but to also walk in another’s shoes in a world where the future of tomorrow is truly unknown.

3 ½ out of 4 stars

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