3/29/2019

Movie Review: Holiday (2018)


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Unable to interpret the frantic warnings of strangers as she rides by on a scooter with a perilously long scarf tied around her neck, Sascha (Victoria Carmen Sonne), the Danish teenage trophy girlfriend of a mobster more than twice her age, spends a sun, sand, and sin filled Turkish vacation blissfully unaware of the danger she's in before it's too late.

And while it's evident from the earliest moments of Swedish-born, Danish filmmaker Isabella Eklöf's startling feature-length debut Holiday that — long before she boards the scooter — the beautiful, submissive, and far too trusting Sascha is headed for a crash, the real question seems to be just how great of a fall she's willing to take in order to live a picturesque life.


Less the spoiled princess that men keep mistaking her for — although that definitely plays into it — than a lost girl looking for her own flock, when Sascha meets some Dutch tourists closer to her own age, including an attractive young man who's walked away from ethical compromise, she starts dividing her time between the two parties.

Questioning fleetingly and maybe for the first time just what it is she really wants for the future, almost as soon as she starts to break away from the dominant force of her drug lord sugar daddy Michael (played by Lai Yde as a man capable of violently changing on a dime), the two groups begin to overlap uneasily, with the uncertain Sascha stuck in the middle.


Not a romance by any means or even a true opus of self-discovery, reminiscent of a pendulum swinging from one end to the other, Eklöf’s film — like its fascinating characters — lives in the grayest of gray areas, sometimes caught between extremes.

Painted with its lush visuals and fresh soundtrack, on the surface, Holiday looks and sounds like a film by Sofia Coppola, minus her trademark romantic impressionism which has been substituted with Eklöf's at times graphic, trigger-warning required, you-are-here approach to storytelling where behavior dictates not only plot but character.


Closer to a dark European companion piece to Andrea Arnold's American Honey or the oeuvre of Claire Denis, Eklöf's decision to remove herself from judgment when it comes to Sascha, Michael, and company and instead wait for them to go crashing into one another — whether accidentally or on purpose — makes this self-assured feature all the more rare.

Released after a recent top news story involved a young woman being sent back to Russia despite her pleas to American authorities that she'd allegedly heard conversations regarding the plot to rig the 2016 U.S. presidential election while entertaining men on an oligarch's superyacht, the sun-drenched frames of Holiday have never looked shadier than they do right now.


And while most of Sascha's boyfriend Michael's crimes are relegated to whispers, reactions, and intuitions, sadly, similar to the way that Sascha's scarf dangles close to her scooter's wheel midway through the movie, we fear it's only a matter of time before she finds herself caught up in something front page worthy as well.


Text ©2019, 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: Level 16 (2018)


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The dorms are named after flowers and the girls who live in them share their names with Golden Age movie stars.

Spending their days doing everything they can to stay sweet, clean, and submissive while reciting rules about feminine vice and virtues back to the adults in charge, the girls in writer-director Danishka Esterhazy's dystopian work of suspense graduate from one floor to the next and look forward to the day they get assigned to a family after they complete the eponymous Level 16.

A message movie with no shortage of ideas — most of which grow increasingly muddled as Esterhazy's film segues uneasily between feminist science fiction fare and dark thriller — while its origins reside firmly in The Handmaid's Tale, Level 16's wide-ranging plot elements recall everything from Never Let Me Go to 1984.


Running out of gas midway through the overly stoic feature, Level 16 fails to create a valid emotional connection between the film's audience and its characters.

Thus sadly, despite a strong turn by actress Katie Douglas who makes the most of what little she's been given in Esterhazy's meandering script, 16 changes course once again, ultimately morphing into a Shawshank Redemption styles ecape thriller after letting us in on a major foundational secret.

An ambitious if mostly uneven effort, although it's apparent early on that Esterhazy has an awful lot to say, with its chilly core and staccato plotting, the claustrophobic Level 16 feels more like a short lost in the running time of a feature film — or an old episode of The Twilight Zone starring an actress from Hollywood's Golden Age — than it does one cohesive and compelling 102 minute endeavor.


Text ©2019, 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 Chaperone (2018)


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Following up her effervescent turn as an unfailingly optimistic waitress in a dead-end job in Support the Girls with a high profile turn as cinema's original It Girl, Louise Brooks in The Chaperone, actress Haley Lu Richardson shines so brightly she nearly glows opposite Elizabeth McGovern in this delightful, feminist adaptation of Laura Moriarty's bestselling novel.

A buoyant ensemble picture, reminiscent of her experience with the great Regina Hall in Girls, once again, Richardson's innate warmth and generosity of spirit help springboard The Chaperone's McGovern from start to finish thanks to their terrific chemistry. And although it's Richardson who drives a majority of The Chaperone's narrative forward when fifteen-year-old Wichita native Louise Brooks is invited to New York for the summer to join the prestigious Denishawn dancers, it's her fictional chaperone Norma Carlisle’s story all the way.


To help bring the lovable Norma to life, veteran star and first time producer Elizabeth McGovern — who purchased the rights to Moriarty’s novel after initially being hired to perform it as an audiobook — teamed up with her Downton Abbey colleagues, screenwriter Julian Fellowes and director Michael Engler for a 1920s period picture set on this side of the pond.

Reeling from a betrayal in her twenty-five year marriage to her husband played by Campbell Scott — which Fellowes brilliantly teases out in a series of flashbacks cut into the film by editor Sofía Subercaseaux throughout the first three acts of its running time — Norma impulsively volunteers to chaperone Louise for the summer after seeing her dance.

Leaving her grown, supportive sons and hesitant husband behind for what we discover is the city of her birth, it's only after the flirtatious Louise and cautious housewife settle into New York that we deduce that Norma has another reason she wanted to head back east as she tries to solve a mystery that's haunted her for years.


Having been married at roughly Louise's age, while admittedly McGovern is a tad too old for the role since simple movie math tells us that Norma is supposed to be forty-one years old (in an error that could've been easily fixed in the script), she's marvelous as a woman whose own naivete with men, romance, and sexuality get put to the test over one memorable summer.

Yet still, much as the silent film star turned writer Louise Brooks did in her real life, it's scene-stealing Richardson's Louise who holds us most in thrall. Whether she's dancing up a storm or rationalizing her right to free ice cream, Richardson matches the highs and lows of a youthful Louise whose emotions change on a dime, subtly trading the role of mentor and mentee with Norma throughout.


A Masterpiece Films production, although at times, The Chaperone feels like an American set companion piece to the smash PBS series Downton Abbey or at the very least something to tide us over before the eponymous big screen feature will be released this fall — once again directed by Engel, written by Fellowes, and starting McGovern — it's a downright entertaining, feminist, refreshing morsel all the same.

Sure to attract fans of not only Abbey but also I Capture the Castle and Chocolat, while, most likely due to its rushed twenty-one day production schedule and lack of supporting character development, The Chaperone doesn't work quite as well as those films, its message of friendship and female empowerment make it particularly welcome in today's climate, as yet another reminder to Support the Girls indeed.


Text ©2019, 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: Giant Little Ones (2018)


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Jocks in the locker room, beautiful girls in the halls, a party while mom's away, and fights between friends.

Centered on popular high school swimmers Franky Winter (Josh Wiggins) and Ballas Kohl (Darren Mann) — two lifelong friends growing up in Ontario who have a falling out after a confusing drunken encounter on one's seventeenth birthday — at first glance, writer-director Kyle Behrman's Giant Little Ones is everything we've come to expect in a coming-of-age teen movie.


But, unafraid of silence and ambiguity and filled with hypnotic, unhurried takes which invite us to take a moment and figuratively breathe the same air that the characters do, it doesn't take us long to realize that there's so much more going on beneath the surface of this heartfelt and at times harrowing portrait of teenage sexuality than we might have imagined going in.

Refusing to pin a label on any of its main characters — besides the film's concerned parents who, played by Kyle McLachlan and Maria Bello are going through existential crises of their own — Kyle Behrman's intelligent, understated sleeper will resonate with those who've had enough of Hollywood's stereotypical whip smart, worldly teens with all the answers and are instead searching for something real.


With the artistry of a Sofia Coppola picture and potent performances by its ensemble cast, the character driven Giant is anchored by the staggering turns of leads Josh Wiggins and Darren Mann as two conflicted friends who go from brothers to enemies practically overnight, along with a moving performance by Taylor Hickson as a girl who finds herself unexpectedly caught in the middle.

Likewise, it's the type of film that's so thoughtfully conceived that even its peripheral characters feel just as fascinating and fully realized as the two at the heart of the endeavor. Intended as a film version of a pop song, Giant Little Ones is a small, tenderly crafted drama that's not only sure to stick with you but bound to take up a great space in your heart.


Text ©2019, 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.

3/08/2019

Blu-ray Review: Backtrace (2018)


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A veritable chameleon with a particular knack for playing disabled and/or fragile characters with the utmost of sincerity, while there are no false notes about Matthew Modine's performance in Brian A. Miller's direct-to-disc actioner Backtrace (aside from the laughable idea that one can have a spinal injection and instantly go bounding up and down stairs), the same cannot be said for the film itself.

Hoping to use Modine's talent to distract from the Grand Canyon sized holes in logic and common sense on display in the script by Mike Maples, which, in an attempt to outdo McQuarrie, Shyamalan, and Nolan, never settles for one twist when three might do, Backtrace finds the actor in disabled mode once again.


Busted out of a prison hospital by three people hoping that a cutting edge drug might inspire the amnesiac bank robber to remember where he stashed twenty million dollars in loot seven years earlier, while initially we give in to the fine if admittedly far-fetched Phillip K. Dick flavored Noirish set-up, Maples loses focus and the plot quickly spirals out-of-control.

Determined to find the escapee he's sure has been faking amnesia for seven years (X-rays be damned!), a thoroughly bored looking Sylvester Stallone graces the screen from time-to-time in half-hearted '80s cop movie mode, but sadly, the combined star power of Modine and Stallone isn't enough to save the film from its thoroughly ludicrous conclusion.


Doing the best he can with a limited budget, Miller gets a chance to stage more exciting action sequences in Backtrace than he did in the recent Reprisal and while the latter was more successful from a storytelling perspective, this film makes you wonder what he could potentially do with a bigger budget and a script that actually makes sense.

Written with a "look, ma, no hands!" glee, while invariably taking away an illogical twist or four would probably disappoint Maples, underneath the absurdity, there are moments in Backtrace where you can almost see a much better film hiding — just like Modine's twenty million dollars — in plain sight.


Text ©2019, 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.

Film Movement Movie Review: The Sower (2017)


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After a man claims he's so hungry that he feels like he hasn't eaten in three days, Violette (Pauline Burlet) waits a mere moment to respond.

"It's the altitude," she tells him and the unexpected response just hangs in the air, as if to imply that that's the reason why the occupants of the small French farming community in director Marine Francen's The Sower are so ravenous.

Discovering in a startling opening sequence that time and circumstance has also played an overwhelming role, with the men of the village rounded up and arrested after Napoleon dissolves the republic in December of 1851, the women and children are left behind to fend for themselves.


Watching as some of Violette's devastated neighbors retreat to their beds and her best friend burns her wedding dress in mourning for the event she fears will never come, gradually with time, the women come together in order to carry on, tending to the land in a way that gives them both purpose and a place to work out their pain.

Intriguingly, although they still miss men in a variety of ways from their help with the harvest to unbridled lust, the men's absence inspires the now more independently minded younger women to talk openly about sex and — perhaps heady from the altitude — grow increasingly amorous in the process. Yearning to not only make love but get pregnant and start a family, they decide to make a pact.


Viewing themselves as separate from the older women with children to raise and comfort, The Sower's younger set vows that if a man ever crosses their path and wants one of the women, he would get the rest as well in the hopes of bringing more babies into the world.

Not bothering to consider practical issues including the man or woman's feelings about all this or what would happen if the men of the village ever came back, knowing that their "daughters are talking nonsense," the older women stay quiet and let them have their fantasy regardless.

Their ardent desire somewhat abated by the fairy tale they've concocted, things go back to normal for the women until one day when — backlit by the colors of an altitude-enhanced clear blue sky — a handsome blacksmith (Alban Lenoir) wanders into the village and is instantly drawn to the virginal Violette.


The only literate female in the community at the time, although their relationship begins tentatively as she opens a home to the visitor, works with him in the fields, and brings him dinner every night, once the two bond over their love of literature, their relationship blossoms into a tender romance.

Based upon Violette Ailhaud's opus L'homme semence or The Seed Man which was written in 1919 and published in 2006, fittingly, given its themes, the thirty-eight page story that gave birth to The Sower was created explicitly for and willed to the author’s future female descendants.


Treating the source material less like a source of erotic titillation and more as a feminist minded work written ahead of its time, director Marine Francen (along with her co-writers Jacqueline Surchat and Jacques Fieschi) opt for a naturally romantic yet undeniably dramatic approach as Violette is pressured to hold up her end of the women's sexual bargain.

With minimal artificial light evident in its contrast between days spent in blindingly bright fields and the film's intimate, dusky nights, the gorgeously rendered visuals — reminiscent of paintings from the Napoleonic era — are brought exquisitely to life by cinematographer Alain Duplantier.


On the surface, a straightforward tale simply told, given the complexity of its female-centric themes and sensual nature, The Sower begs to be compared and contrasted with Like Water for Chocolate, Belle Epoque, and Raise the Red Lantern. Likewise, the allegorical references to the harvest and the double meaning therein strongly recalls the fellow female directed award-winner, Antonia's Line and the 1995 film from Marleen Gorris would make for a potent double feature with Francen's debut work.

Yet although The Sower doesn't have nearly as much character development as the other movies mentioned (particularly with regard to the supporting players), Francen feeds the ravenous film by sprinkling seeds of beauty, independence, feminism, and romance throughout.

Seduced by its sumptuous, sun-drenched beauty, the end result is an artful film that — like its intoxicating altitude — is sure to attract.


Text ©2019, 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.

3/01/2019

Movie Review: The Wedding Guest (2018)


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A man with one name who might just as well be a man with no name, in writer-director Michael Winterbottom's self-described "eastern Western," Dev Patel gives a rivetingly against type performance as the enigmatic eponymous wedding guest, Jay.

Traveling from Britain to Pakistan with a stack of passports and a look of steely determination, like a cross between Clint Eastwood and Antonioni's The Passenger, Jay grows all the more alarming as he acquires weapons, duct tape, and multiple getaway vehicles under different aliases during his long drive to the Punjab.

Though we're instantly suspicious of his first of many cover stories and identities, there's something about Patel's manner and his brief interactions with strangers that make us want to trust him, even after the real reason for his trip is revealed when he crosses paths with Radhika Apte's bride-to-be Samira in a burst of violence.


Embarking on a veritable tour of India after Jay's carefully laid plans fall apart, we find ourselves equally curious about a character we discover is no typical damsel in distress as the two get lost in the hustle and bustle of the crowd and the overwhelming beauty of the deserts, cliffs, and beaches of the region.

The very definition of a film where the less we know going in the better, having marvelously sustained suspense throughout a taut nail biter of a first act, Winterbottom refuses to let us catch our breath until his main characters are able to do the same.

Reveling in the intimacy of close quarters and the instant tentative bond that develops when we connect with someone a long way from home against the backdrop of the unknown, although the film ratchets up the tension, the chemistry between the two leads leaves something to be desired.


Drawn to the more dominant Patel, it took a second viewing to better able to appreciate Apte's aloof, playful turn as Samira as well as the way that in Guest's tight frames early on, the duo's subtle body language foreshadows the good and bad of what's to come.

And although the film fascinates from start to finish, contrasting Wedding's superior, propulsive first half with its last, we can't help but feel slightly disappointed by its lags in rhythm, which give the impression that — whether left on the cutting room floor or in a getaway car — a much needed twist or two was lost along the way.


From Thomas Hardy adaptations and biopics to existential comedic journeys and social dramas, The Wedding Guest is a daring work from a filmmaker whose career has been impossible to predict.

Yet while on the surface it might seem like a departure for Winterbottom, thematically speaking it lines right up with his interests as the latest in a long line of diverse films about people who find themselves tested in ways they weren't expecting — frequently on foreign lands.

An actor's director, Michael Winterbottom employs the same character-centric storytelling in his scripts as a writer, which takes on a "you are here" approach in the case of his decade in the making Guest.

Not bothering to serve up much in the way of background in the hopes of knocking down the fourth wall and fooling us into believing we've stumbled onto scenes from real life (whether period or contemporary), Guest is the closest Winterbottom has gotten to a true genre picture in years.


An action turned road movie as imagined by Antonioni or Wenders, Winterbottom’s living, breathing eastern Western grabs us in an extended opening sequence that's designed to thrill.

Elevating Patel from supporting player to true leading man status, Guest is augmented by the actor's silence and the way we can see worlds of pain and intrigue in his eyes that beg to be explored in greater detail, even if, as Winterbottom understands, this man of few words and one name would never reveal it.

A breakthrough feature for the lead actor and an unexpected foray for the filmmaker, throughout Guest, I found myself hoping Winterbottom might take a cue from his Trip trilogy and pen another installment of this clever play on genre expectations.


While the film's eventual segue from action to romantic travelogue begins to falter roughly fifteen minutes before its seemingly abrupt final shot, by that point, we're so invested in Patel's plight (as well as the textured, sensual cinematography by Hell or High Water and Colette DP Giles Nuttgens) that we'll happily follow Winterbottom's Guest anywhere.


Text ©2019, 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.