9/21/2018

Movie Review: Bel Canto (2018)


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They came for the president but he was at home watching telenovelas.

Forced to improvise, the South American guerrillas who raided their fictional country's state sponsored event in order to demand the release of all imprisoned political prisoners opted to take the guests – including world renowned American soprano Roxane Coss (Julianne Moore) and successful wealthy Japanese industrialist Katsumi Hosokawa (Ken Watanabe) – hostage instead.

Letting all of the women (except for the valuable opera singer), children, and sick people go as a sign that they're willing to negotiate in good faith with Messer (Sebastian Koch), the Red Cross worker acting as a go-between, unfortunately it isn't long before gunfire erupts and the first life is lost amid the chaos.


With the incredibly diverse guest list comprised of individuals from nearly all languages and walks of life complicating matters even further – and giving Hosokawa's translator Gen (Ryo Kase) a major mental workout – the hostages and their captors find other ways to communicate during the lengthy standoff.

From cards and chess games to acting things out as though it were life and death charades, we watch as the characters on both sides of the crisis grow closer, brought together because of forced proximity and also because they realize they're much more alike than they originally thought. But it's in the notes of the arias in the titular bel canto (or "beautiful singing") of Roxane Coss that breaks down barriers the fastest with the guerrillas and their captives as well as the outside world.


And when the government begins to play hardball and turns off their water supply, the leader of the rebels pushes Roxane to perform for the press and those outside the walls of the mansion under their control in the hopes that it will urge them to see the humanity behind the hostage crisis and turn the water back on.

When it works, Roxane is given more comfortable accommodations and greater respect by those holding the guns, including Carmen (María Mercedes Coroy), a young woman whose allegiance to the rebel cause weakens as time goes on.

Using opera to help frame this adaptation of Ann Patchett's award winning 2001 New York Times bestselling novel, screenwriters Anthony Weintraub and Paul Weitz (who also directed) do an admirable job of translating the novel's dramatic elements while also ensuring that – in addition to its talented cast – many of its characters become fully three dimensional people.


Driving the narrative forward the most however are the film's two romantic subplots between Hosokawa and the opera singer he's traveled to multiple countries in the past to see (and half loved before he ever spoke to her) but also – in perhaps Bel Canto's most effective and emotionally compelling plotline – the one that develops between Carmen and Gen.

Reminiscent of the way that the romance between Juliette Binoche and Naveen Andrews in The English Patient steals focus from the leads, while unfortunately Weitz's one hundred minute Bel Canto is nowhere near as epic in scope, Carmen and Gen's love story is the most cinematic in terms of the way it's executed and by its very nature, carries the most tension and emotional weight.

Tension, in fact, was one of the words I used to describe my dream adaptation of Bel Canto ten years ago when I posted a list of the books I most wanted to see translated to film. Hoping it would help "reinvigorate Hollywood to create much needed thinking films for women,” and undoubtedly with Atonement still fresh in my mind, I listed Joe Wright as the director I thought would be best suited to the material at the time.


And while neither he nor James Ivory, Bernardo Bertolucci, or any of the other filmmakers tentatively or even temporarily attached to Bel Canto ended up making the movie since Monsoon Wedding producer Caroline Baron first bought the rights to it in '02 (after being moved by its humanistic themes post-9/11), post American Pie, Paul Weitz has proven himself more than capable of delivering a moving film.

An especially talented writer who, working in tandem with his brother Chris Weitz, and screenwriter Peter Hedges actually improved upon the original ending of Nick Hornby's otherwise terrific novel About a Boy with a pitch-perfect adaptation in '02, Weitz is also no stranger to opera given his work staging a performance with Placido Domingo on the Amazon series Mozart in the Jungle.

Reuniting with his Being Flynn actress Moore and Cirque du Freak: The Vampire's Assistant actor Watanabe, while Bel Canto is an effective and at times quite moving translation of Patchett's novel – augmented even further by the music that cuts right through the chaos, from soprano Renée Fleming (whose singing voice is used for Moore's Coss) and composer David Majzlin – it feels far too rushed. Furthermore, it's unable to quite match the passion exuded by Patchett's prose (which is essentially always the case when we move from one medium to another) as well as the music.


Although we're drawn to the plights of some of the supporting characters, and one guerrilla helpfully marks off each day on a wall to give us a sense of time gone by, Weitz is forced to pack way too much into too short of a running time. Indeed at times it seems like you can almost feel his frustration as you know there's much more he could've done with more time and a greater budget in, for example, building up the character of young guerrillas Ishmael (Gabo Augustine) and Caesar (Ethan Simpson) before the film's final act.

And while it's a solidly made work overall and by the time we reach the inevitably heartbreaking operatic conclusion, we are truly moved right along with some of the individuals onscreen who've managed to bridge what they initially felt was a momentous divide between one another, I found myself wanting more.


More of what is the ultimate question. More information and more passion – like speed reading the subtitles at the opera to follow along – as involved in the moment as we are, we can't help but feel we're missing out by not speaking the language... even if Weitz does an admirable job as the behind-the-scenes version of my favorite Bel Canto character Gen by giving us this slight but overall engaging read on Patchett.

An operatic, cinematic version of Cliff's Notes that will hopefully make viewers who enjoy Weitz's work want to read the novel as well, in the end, Bel Canto boasts enough drama, romance, and tension to entertain a telenovela fan like the film's president (if, that is, he shows up) and all who appreciate bel canto.

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Text ©2018, Film Intuition, LLC; All Rights Reserved. http://www.filmintuition.com Unauthorized Reproduction or Publication Elsewhere is Strictly Prohibited and in violation of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act.  FTC Disclosure: Per standard professional practice, I may have received a review copy or screener link of this title in order to voluntarily decide to evaluate it for my readers, which had no impact whatsoever on whether or not it received a favorable or unfavorable critique. Cookies Notice: This site incorporates tools (including advertiser partners and widgets) that use cookies and may collect some personal information in order to display ads tailored to you etc. Please be advised that neither Film Intuition nor its site owner has any access to this data beyond general site statistics (geographical region etc.) as your privacy is our main concern.

Movie Review: Little Italy (2018)


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(Blu-ray Available 11/20/18)

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Grumpy Old Men, Miss Congeniality, and How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days director Donald Petrie returns to the setting that helped launch his successful career in 1988's Mystic Pizza with the Toronto based Little Italy.

Yet whereas Mystic was more of a coming-of-age dramedy with a pizzeria backdrop, given his new film's sunshine bright high key lighting and the nostalgic sounds of Perry Como's "Papa Loves Mambo" adding bounce to an upbeat opening voice-over by stars Emma Roberts and Hayden Christensen, there's no denying what genre Little Italy is right from the start.

A romantic comedy spin on Romeo and Juliet, the film takes place in and around rival pizza restaurants in Toronto's Little Italy. If Italy sounds familiar to you, it might be because not only has Shakespeare's tragedy been updated as a comedy many times before but the exact same premise has also made its way to the screen multiple times, including director Andy Wolk's 2005 New Jersey set cable romcom Pizza My Heart, from scripters Juliet and Keith Giglio, to name just one example.


A veritable big screen sitcom, Little Italy borrows heavily from the romantic comedy heyday of the 1990s and early 2000s, and especially the box office juggernaut My Big Fat Greek Wedding.

Similarly constructed with a lightweight fast-paced multi-character driven storyline – only this time where the B-plot romance darn near upstages the A-story – while Italy is ultimately average, it's sure to amuse those looking for a mindless Saturday night diversion.

Returning to Toronto after five years spent abroad at culinary school and working under Jane Seymour's "Gordon Ramsay but prettier and scarier" Chef Corrine, Nikki Angioli (Emma Roberts) discovers things don't change much in Little Italy, where her father Sal (Adam Ferrara) runs a pizzeria restaurant right next door to his former friend and business partner, Vince (Gary Basaraba).


Only there to change her visa from student to worker when a dream professional opportunity opens up in London, after Nikki runs into her childhood best friend, Leo Campo (Hayden Christensen), things start to get complicated and not just because he's Vince's son.

Sharing her passion for cooking organically and eager to update the menu at his headstrong father's place (which he knows will never happen), Leo and Nikki find themselves falling back into the familiar rhythm of friends with potential where it seems they're always just one moment away from amore.

Meanwhile while the two younger characters flirt with the idea of flirting, their respective grandparents – including Leo's grandpa Carlo (Danny Aiello) and Nikki's “Nonna” Franca (My Big Fat Greek Wedding MVP, Andrea Martin) – have already crossed that bridge.


Hiding away in the confessional at the local church before they're found out and subsequently driven to a nearby Starbucks in shame, Aiello and Martin steal focus from the rest of the talented cast including Alyssa Milano as Nikki's mom and Andrew Phung as Luigi, the gay, Asian owner of a local bar who feels far more at home living life as an Italian.

Having a ball as the conflicted lovers, while Roberts and Christensen do their best to elevate what is essentially a spicier version of a by-the-numbers, made for Hallmark Channel romantic comedy, one can't help think that the film might've been far more original if they'd been the B-plot to Aiello and Martin's A-storyline.

Unsure of its audience, the film takes things a bit too far with some of its more risqué humor including one just plain uncomfortable sequence where in a series of escalating pranks, Sal swaps out Vince's oregano for pot and its characters turn ridiculously horny and later in a poorly conceived weekly insult battle, the two fathers begin commenting on their children's looks and sexual prowess.


Never quite paying off on the ongoing feud between their parents and essentially relegating them to the background until the inevitable moment where the film's two love stories take center stage, Mambo Italiano screenwriter Steve Galluccio and Vinay Virmani's script is full of so many ideas and characters that you get the feeling they were trying to please every possible audience member.

Needless to say, it's no Mystic Pizza or Greek Wedding. Still while the recipe doesn't come together nearly as well as one of the film's many delicious looking pizzas that are sure to make your mouth water, under the buoyant direction of Petrie who knows comedy well enough to reassemble the ingredients alongside his energetic cast, Little Italy bounces back from its many missteps just enough to entertain you for its 102 minute running time.


Text ©2018, Film Intuition, LLC; All Rights Reserved. http://www.filmintuition.com Unauthorized Reproduction or Publication Elsewhere is Strictly Prohibited and in violation of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act.  FTC Disclosure: Per standard professional practice, I may have received a review copy or screener link of this title in order to voluntarily decide to evaluate it for my readers, which had no impact whatsoever on whether or not it received a favorable or unfavorable critique. Cookies Notice: This site incorporates tools (including advertiser partners and widgets) that use cookies and may collect some personal information in order to display ads tailored to you etc. Please be advised that neither Film Intuition nor its site owner has any access to this data beyond general site statistics (geographical region etc.) as your privacy is our main concern.

Movie Review: The Last Suit (2017)


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His destination is a place that must not be named, a place where such a profound horror occurred during World War II that – instead of saying Poland aloud – Holocaust survivor Abraham Bursztein (Miguel Ángel Solá) prefers to write it on a sheet and hold it up for the person with whom he's communicating... and even then only when he must.

Refusing to give both the word or the place power, Abraham, we discover is only going there to keep a promise to the Christian man who saved his life during the war. Running away from Argentina the night before his children are scheduled to move him into a retirement home, in this crowd-pleasing, award-winning film festival favorite from writer/director Pablo Solarz, Abraham embarks on a journey to revisit his past with the new friends he meets along the way.


Taking the long way around isn't just one of the themes of the movie, as it turns out that's precisely what writing the script was like for Solarz. Having penned his first draft of The Last Suit back in 2004, after giving the rights to a film company before it reverted back to him five years later, he wrote it a few more times, revealing in the production notes that, "After all of this, the last version is not... so different from the first. Sometimes it is necessary to go a long way away to connect the emotions that moved us at the beginning."

A deeply personal work, Suit was inspired by how history affects the generations from the way that his paternal grandfather would also refuse to say Poland aloud to "the ignorance of my parents about what had happened to their people," and his childhood "near obsessive curiosity...when you are forbidden to speak about certain subjects," that eventually led to him reading about another survivor's quest as an adult.


Wanting the audience's connection to the emotions of the film's lead character to take precedence over the plotline, Solarz's confession that he "was not interesting in unfolding a series of events," is evident in the film and it's what sets the unique work apart.

Alternating between heartbreaking flashbacks and silence to moments of humorous interactions with fellow travelers, including a younger man named Leo whom he intentionally annoys at first sight before coming to his rescue at the security checkpoint, The Last Suit follows in the tradition of other first rate Latin American "road" movies where the essence is in the journey rather than that nameless destination.


And because he chooses to move forward and continue on his mission where others would get sidetracked by misfortune or as in Abraham's case, the opportunity to reconnect with a daughter with whom he lost touch following a blow to his ego, The Last Suit is less episodic than other genre works by design.

Yet while the final cut feels like it's missing the rest of a key scene involving his daughter Claudia (Natalia Verbeke), we're able to deduce at least the outcome of the rest of their interaction based on Abraham's next step.


A bit coincidence heavy in places as he never fails to meet precisely the right person at precisely the right time, in the end we're so moved by his plight that we're happily willing to overlook it. The Last Suit is the second film I've seen from Solarz following his breakthrough script for Carlos Sorin's acclaimed 2002 award-winner Intimate Stories, which chronicled the plights of three individual characters.

It seems that Solarz is at his best when he charts the journeys we all take, including those that bring us back to a place we – like Abraham – might not be able to mention aloud, from where he fled following the war, only to return near the end of his life in order to keep his word to an old friend. Thus, Solarz reminds us that even in a place where Abraham experienced humanity's worst, it's only because somebody in the same location represented humanity's best that he is the man we see traveling today.


Text ©2018, Film Intuition, LLC; All Rights Reserved. http://www.filmintuition.com Unauthorized Reproduction or Publication Elsewhere is Strictly Prohibited and in violation of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act.  FTC Disclosure: Per standard professional practice, I may have received a review copy or screener link of this title in order to voluntarily decide to evaluate it for my readers, which had no impact whatsoever on whether or not it received a favorable or unfavorable critique. Cookies Notice: This site incorporates tools (including advertiser partners and widgets) that use cookies and may collect some personal information in order to display ads tailored to you etc. Please be advised that neither Film Intuition nor its site owner has any access to this data beyond general site statistics (geographical region etc.) as your privacy is our main concern.

Movie Review: Lizzie (2018)


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More than just the brutality of the crime – the double murder of her father and stepmother with an axe – or the socioeconomics and the setting and the fact that it shocked New England high society in 1892, the reason that the Lizzie Borden saga has captured our attention for over a century is the exact same reason that she was acquitted of the crime.

Namely, because – whether back then to an all-male jury or even today given the gender of most killers we see on the news – it’s damn near impossible to compute how a girl could evolve from "sugar and spice and everything nice" to "Lizzie Borden took an axe." Yes, even nursery rhymes couldn't resist an homage to Borden's "forty whacks."


A longtime passion project of producer and star Chloë Sevigny, this daring feminist retelling of one of America’s most notorious murder mysteries sets out to answer those questions and also capture, as producer Liz Destro reveals, "the loneliness of being an educated and ambitious woman at the time."

Working in a number of theories from a wealth of Borden biographies Sevigny gave her screenwriter friend Bryce Kass as well as details gleaned in a visit to Borden's home and community of Fall River, Massachusetts to lure him aboard the project, the subsequent film from The Boy helmer Craig William Macneill manages to do the same.

With cinematographer Noah Greenberg's "slow, creeping zooms that create a sense of claustrophobia" captured on vintage lenses that give even the darkest of subject matter an intentionally softer, John Singer Sargent-esque painterly feel, we feel as though we've stepped back in time and into Lizzie's shoes.


Purposely framing characters off to the side and taking the corners tighter voyeuristically, in the words of Greenberg, "as the camera follows Lizzie throughout the house," we get the impression that the walls are closing in on Borden to the point that even when the most likely undiagnosed epileptic woman isn't having an attack, it feels like she could at any moment.

Reminiscent of the way that as Chloë Sevigny notes "women of the time...were virtual prisoners in their homes," under what she reinforces and the film implies through the characters of Lizzie's domineering father and uncle as "patriarchal rule," for Lizzie Borden, "the only way to get out of that house was marriage or death."

Deemed an old maid at age thirty-two (similar to her older sister Emma, played by Kim Dickens), when the headstrong Lizzie manages to twist her strict father's arm long enough, an occasional evening out at the local theater has become her one reprieve, even though it's frowned upon in society to go out unaccompanied.


A lonely outcast who spends the rest of her time with her birds, reading, or reading to her birds, Lizzie gets a friend where she least expects it with the arrival of Bridget Sullivan, a young housemaid played by Kristen Stewart.

Cutting right through their differences in class or status, the women only grow closer as they feel the metaphorical noose tighten around their necks in a house run with fear and abuse by Andrew Borden (Jamey Sheridan).

And while both actresses are outstanding, without the benefit of much dialogue or a character nearly as well-documented as Sevigny's nonetheless richly complex Lizzie, in the hands of another, the subservient Bridget could've easily been overpowered by Sevigny.

Yet, creating a fully realized individual, Stewart – incidentally the first person they imagined in the role – turns in one of her strongest recent performances as the housemaid whose relationship with Lizzie surprises them both when it turns romantic.


From anonymous threatening notes to a shady uncle, although red herrings abound as we lead up to the double murder and Macneill and Kass throw the audience a few curve balls in various subplots (including some that either feel contrived or don't go anywhere), Lizzie isn't afraid to take an absolute stance on the crime itself.

Leaving ambiguity in the past, in a bravado sequence that not only commands the viewer's attention but is also worthy of greater feminist analysis, the film – which opened with the discovery of the crime before backtracking six months – dares to go back in time once again after Lizzie's arrest, wherein we see the way the murders were carried out within this particular version of the tale.

A jaw-dropping finale, unfortunately, despite the high caliber performances and gorgeous cinematography, Lizzie stumbles greatly in its pacing. Succeeding a little too well in establishing Borden's home as an intellect draining prison, needless to say that for a movie about a legendary suspected axe murderer, it's a bad sign when the only one hundred and five minute film nearly put this viewer to sleep twice.


In a missed opportunity to augment its thesis even more, aside from a few cursory scenes, Lizzie largely overlooks the points-of-view of the other women in the house from Lizzie's stepmother Abby (played by Fiona Shaw) to her sister Emma which could've helped inject the already feminist work with even greater understanding of what it was like for women in the era, beyond Lizzie and Bridget.

All the same, anchored by its cast and first rate technical specs (including top notch production design which believably swapped out Massachusetts for its Savannah, Georgia location shoot), this ambitiously made, surprisingly empathetic passion project takes a literal and figurative axe to the Victorian period. I only wish it would've either done the same to the running time or spent a little more time trying to give Lizzie more life.


Text ©2018, Film Intuition, LLC; All Rights Reserved. http://www.filmintuition.com Unauthorized Reproduction or Publication Elsewhere is Strictly Prohibited and in violation of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act.  FTC Disclosure: Per standard professional practice, I may have received a review copy or screener link of this title in order to voluntarily decide to evaluate it for my readers, which had no impact whatsoever on whether or not it received a favorable or unfavorable critique. Cookies Notice: This site incorporates tools (including advertiser partners and widgets) that use cookies and may collect some personal information in order to display ads tailored to you etc. Please be advised that neither Film Intuition nor its site owner has any access to this data beyond general site statistics (geographical region etc.) as your privacy is our main concern.

9/14/2018

DVD Review: The Big Take (2018)


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Set in and around Hollywood, this darkly comedic crime caper from first time writer/director Justin Daly is filled with misunderstandings, mistaken identity, and a mean spirited homophobic opening gambit that damn near derails the entire movie.

After veteran movie star Douglas Brown (James McCaffrey) turns down a pitch from Vic (Slate Holmgren), an aspiring producer who'd cornered the man in an elevator, the vengeful bully Vic drugs the man’s drink.


Taken advantage of a second time within a matter of minutes by a second stranger, whom the film later dubs "a transvestite," Brown’s offscreen encounter is caught on a security video which is intercepted by Vic, who decides to blackmail the actor who’s been roofied and assaulted for the two hundred thousand dollar budget of the independent film he’s making with his friend, Max.

A writer/director who’s told by Vic that Brown is their new hush hush, anonymous angel investor, Max (Ebbon Moss-Bachrach) is implicated in the crime by the ruthless Vic who handwrites the blackmail letter on the title/contact page of Max’s typewritten script, which sends the thugs hired by Brown's agent, Jack (Bill Sage) right to the home that Max shares with his Ukrainian wife, Oxana (Oksana Lada).


From Dan Hedaya's amusingly named Frank Manascalpo to Zoë Bell’s hit woman for hire Edie, the meek Max and his perpetually dancing wife Oxana prove to be up to the task at fending off the attackers with golf clubs and fire extinguishers. But even after they go to the police to try to tell their side of the story to Robert Forster’s West Hollywood Detective Aborn, the insanity doesn't stop.

Apparently not understanding how the viewer is supposed to just laugh and look past at the very least an implied sexual assault (if not rape) as well as the decision to balance the film on that one inciting incident, the D-level Elmore Leonard/Quentin Tarantino knockoff characters don't inspire much confidence in Daly’s ability to think outside the box as a writer.


However, the cast (among them Tarantino vets Forster and Bell) help add some validity to the work, as do a few of Daly's directorial decisions, including some intriguing juxtapositions as well as – working in tandem with the film's editor Josiah Signor – the stylish painterly transitions that fill your screen with solid colors to help lead us from one big emotional moment to the next.

Regrettably, the film’s music department doesn't know how to handle these changes – opting to give us a headache with the over reliance of screaming metal in lieu of some terrific reggae numbers that become an audible representation of Oxana (one of the more interesting characters in the film and woefully under used).


Fortunately, Girls star Moss-Bachrach is a fine lead and helps give the film a bit more humanity than it actually deserves. Taking for granted the fact that we'd somehow all find it funny that a man gets taken advantage of in a way they never clarify and therefore makes us fear the worst, The Big Take gets a bit better the further it advances from its appalling beginning.

However, merely watchable at best, this ultimately tone deaf indie play on The Player and Get Shorty marks an inauspicious filmmaking debut from the grandson of industry goddess, Ingrid Bergman.


Text ©2018, Film Intuition, LLC; All Rights Reserved. http://www.filmintuition.com Unauthorized Reproduction or Publication Elsewhere is Strictly Prohibited and in violation of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act.  FTC Disclosure: Per standard professional practice, I may have received a review copy or screener link of this title in order to voluntarily decide to evaluate it for my readers, which had no impact whatsoever on whether or not it received a favorable or unfavorable critique. Cookies Notice: This site incorporates tools (including advertiser partners and widgets) that use cookies and may collect some personal information in order to display ads tailored to you etc. Please be advised that neither Film Intuition nor its site owner has any access to this data beyond general site statistics (geographical region etc.) as your privacy is our main concern.

Netflix Movie Review: The Angel (2018)


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"When one man, for whatever reason, has the opportunity to lead an extraordinary life, he has no right to keep it to himself." - Jacques Yves Cousteau

For spies, access (to people as well as information) is everything. And as the son-in-law of Egyptian President Gamal Abdel Nasser who would – following Nasser's heart attack – quickly become the special adviser and Secretary General for Nasser's former Vice President and successor, Anwar Sadat, Ashraf Marwan's access to everything was extraordinary.

Inspired by (as the production notes describe) the "failed chicken farmer" Juan Pujol Garcia who became a British and German double agent to undermine the Nazis in World War II, Marwan initially reaches out to the Israeli intelligence organization, the Mossad when he's a husband, father, and university student in England.


Although he’s blown off at the first, eight months following Nasser's passing – just when he's begun to form a close alliance with Sadat – Marwan is startled when the Mossad follows up, tracking him down from England to Egypt.

Hoping to prevent another war, after Sadat and his advisers begin making plans to take back the land that Israel had claimed when they defeated "the combined forces of Egypt, Syria, and Jordan" in 1967’s Six Day War, Marwan begins selling secrets to his Israeli handler "Alex" aka Danny.


Fearing for his family's safety as well as his own, although he enlists the help of some friends, including beautiful British actress Diana Ellis to snap a photo or provide cover as a faux mistress, as Sadat's plans and war games escalate, so does the danger for the spy code named "The Angel."

Filled with as much plot and background data as one of Marwan's reports (including an opening voice-over that quickly sums up an entire war), while this approach does unfortunately hold us at an arm's length since we're never able to stop long enough to get a true sense of the people behind the pages handed from one man to the next, it's fascinating stuff regardless.


Anchored by the compelling Dutch actor Marwan Kenzari, who costarred with his Mossad handler played by Toby Kebbell in 2016's Ben Hur (which undoubtedly helped their chemistry), Kenzari's affecting, multilayered, largely internal portrayal helps add a deeper sense of struggle to the goings on.

Giving us an in depth look at the responsibilities faced by a man who has begun to excel at deception, even for the noblest of reasons, The Angel works as well as it does, in large part because we believe Kenzari – regardless of which role he's playing when and to whom – as a husband, spy, or adviser.


Alluding to a gambling habit, money problems, and trust issues with his wife, Marwan's love of western culture as a student in England seems clear early on. However the film's juxtaposition of his resentment at the way he's treated by Nasser with his subsequent call to Mossad leaves the viewer with more questions about Marwan as well as his initial impulse to pick up the phone.

Although he matures and changes before our eyes, we find ourselves wanting to know more about his thought processes beyond some of the film's key expository lines, penned by Spy Game and Children of Men screenwriter David Arata for The Iceman director Ariel Vromen.


Hoping to, as he revealed in the production notes, "try to make it as realistic and visceral as possible" in the way the we see "the journey of one man, where he starts, [and] where he's planning to go," Vromen drew upon Ben Affleck's Argo for inspiration, as well as Steven Spielberg's underrated Munich.

While prior to the film I was more familiar with the end of Marwan's story (which is still in need of investigation and has only become timelier and more suspicious over the last ten years), The Angel offers a fast-paced, exciting, well made depiction of everything he'd done decades earlier to lead to roughly forty years of peace.

And needless to say, with results like those, even if we occasionally find ourselves wanting to know more about not only our lead but also the people and places glossed over throughout, in the end – and like most spies – we're grateful to The Angel for the information as well as the access.


Text ©2018, Film Intuition, LLC; All Rights Reserved. http://www.filmintuition.com Unauthorized Reproduction or Publication Elsewhere is Strictly Prohibited and in violation of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act.  FTC Disclosure: Per standard professional practice, I may have received a review copy or screener link of this title in order to voluntarily decide to evaluate it for my readers, which had no impact whatsoever on whether or not it received a favorable or unfavorable critique. Cookies Notice: This site incorporates tools (including advertiser partners and widgets) that use cookies and may collect some personal information in order to display ads tailored to you etc. Please be advised that neither Film Intuition nor its site owner has any access to this data beyond general site statistics (geographical region etc.) as your privacy is our main concern.

9/08/2018

Film Movement Movie Review: I Am Not a Witch (2017)


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Fascinated by the way that "accusations of witchcraft [are] almost always aimed at women," Welsh writer/director Rungano Nyoni returned to her birthplace of Zambia for her years-in-the-making feature filmmaking debut, I Am Not a Witch.

A fiery mix of fact and feminist fairy tale, the tragicomic Witch, which was made using nonprofessional actors and cinematic techniques reminiscent of Von Trier, Fellini, and the Italian neorealists, deftly satirizes the power and gender politics at play in a Zambia witch camp where an eight-year-old unidentified orphan girl (later dubbed Shula) is sent after villagers label her a witch.


In a Kubrickian opening sequence set to the first movement of Vivaldi's "Winter," gawking tourists snap photos of witches posed entirely for their benefit. Each witch connected to a lengthy spool of ribbon to tether them to the camp where they live (or fields where they work for the government and seemingly without pay), the image is a hard one to shake and at the end of its ninety-three minute running time, in a simple yet unforgettable final shot, Nyoni casts those spools in a whole new light.

Chosen as England's official submission for the Best Foreign Language Film category of the Academy Awards, Witch ushers in a vital new voice and visual storyteller whom I predict we’ll be watching for years to come.


Narratively inspired by the French fairy tale Chèvre de Mr Seguin (aka Mr. Seguin's Goat), Nyoni stresses throughout the production notes of this Film Movement theatrical release that her work is much closer to fiction than reality. 

Yet, the film's powerful, unstudied performances and largely improvised dialogue from a cast of performers who'd never been in front of a movie camera before make it difficult to separate from contemporary neorealism inspired fare including Ponette, Children of Heaven, City of God, or Osama.


And this becomes that much harder given both Nyoni's decision to root the work in enough authenticity that it won't fly away like a witch off her spool of ribbon as well as the knockout performance of young lead Maggie Mulubwa (who was photographed by Nyoni's husband during a location scout, later necessitating the crew to go back with the picture to try and track her down).

Centering your film on a child largely alone and suddenly thrust into a situation beyond her control wherein Shula and the camp’s state guardian from the Ministry of Tourism and Traditional Beliefs, Mr. Banda (Henry B.J. Phiri) is exploiting her "powers" for money in exchange for promises of rain in the middle of a drought, for example, immediately brings out the viewer’s inner protector.


Needless to say we want to shield the girl who is forced to declare herself a witch or else be turned into a goat. Helplessly we watch as Shula first enjoys the sense of camaraderie with the other witches as well as the pride of bringing back a basket of gifts for identifying a criminal (essentially through a random guess).

Things change quickly however when she discovers not only the hypocrisy of Banda but also the cruel way she and fellow witches are treated out in public and especially the threats leveled at them, which seem just as (if not more) dangerous than being turned into a goat.


With roughly ninety percent of the film told through the largely silent Shula’s eyes, there are times when we wish that Witch could’ve provided us with a better developed secondary character to expand Nyoni's fascinating landscape even more and Nyoni attempts that with a female character one would never have guessed had been a witch.

But as Shula's story first and foremost and moreover, as a poetic fairy tale about an Alice or Dorothy sent to a gritty, exploitative, satirical Wonderland or Oz wherein sadly there's no place for them to call home this approach works very well.


Driving home her point in the end with an understated, near dialogue-free, show don't tell sequence, Nyoni casts a captivating spell over viewers who – like the tourists getting off the bus in Witch's beginning – are sure to be eager to see more from a director at the top of her form.


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