8/06/2020

Movie Review: Made In Italy (2020)

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For Jack (Micheál Richardson), getting divorced means more than just changing residences. Having managed the swanky London art gallery owned by his in-laws for years, Jack is in for a rude awakening when his ex-wife-to-be Ruth (Yolanda Kettle) informs him that not only will he be out of a job as soon as the ink on the divorce decree dries but the art gallery he knows and loves is going on the market for sale.

Begging Ruth not to sell the gallery out from under him, Jack embarks on a quest to seek out the funds he needs to purchase the place from his estranged father Robert (Liam Neeson). Whereas Jack's a level-headed optimist, his carefree painter father's head is always the clouds. And their differences are magnified as they travel to the village of Monticello Amiata in the Grosseto province of Tuscany, Italy to check on and sell the palazzo they'd inherited from Jack's mother and Robert's late wife, Raffaella (Helena Antonio). Arriving in the dead of night, they discover not the pristine villa that Jack barely remembers from his youth but the ornate Tuscan equivalent of a falling down shack, complete with no electricity, and a weasel in the bathroom.
An obvious metaphor for the men's need to repair their relationship and deal with their repressed grief over the tragic loss of Raffaella when Jack was a young boy, as the two get to work fixing up the villa with the help of some locals, they begin to break down their own walls as well.

Meeting cute with the lovely chef and trattoria owner Natalia (Valeria Bilello), Jack strikes up a friendship with romantic potential that much like the villa, also pays off on his need to face the past, since she's a loving mother of a daughter who's only slightly older than Jack was when he lost his mom.

Although inevitably, some will call this the male version of the 2003 film “Under the Tuscan Sun” from director Audrey Wells (just like they did when Russell Crowe fixed up a relative's residence in France in the 2006 Ridley Scott movie “A Good Year”), this one hits a bit harder than the rest from an emotional standpoint overall.
Located roughly ninety-five minutes away from the gorgeous Villa Laura just outside the walls of Cortona in Tuscany where Diane Lane impulsively moved in “Under the Tuscan Sun,” the vibrant scenic views of Monticello Amiata in “Made in Italy” are undeniably eye-catching.

Yet more than just a romantic travelogue, since the tragedy at the core of “Italy” closely resembles the sudden shocking loss of Liam Neeson's wife and his onscreen (and offscreen) son Micheál Richardson's mother Natasha Richardson, when the two gifted actors angrily confront one another over a loved one's death and how to grieve, it cuts extremely close to the bone. And while Neeson and Richardson have revealed that they felt like sublimating and addressing their pain through art was cathartic, it's nonetheless heartbreaking to watch.

This plot point aside, however, writer-director James D'Arcy's film remains an otherwise pleasant, airy, lighthearted, perfect for the dog days of summer trifle, just like “Tuscan Sun” and “A Good Year.” Undeniably predictable, of course, it still warms the heart just like a bowl of risotto made with love.
Text ©2020, Film Intuition, LLC; All Rights Reservedhttps://www.filmintuition.com  Unauthorized Reproduction or Publication Elsewhere is Strictly Prohibited and in violation of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act.  Also, as an Amazon Associate, I earn from qualifying purchases made off my site through ad links. FTC Disclosure: Per standard professional practice, I may have received a review copy or screener link of this title 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 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: Out Stealing Horses (2019)

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Last month, after seeing and loving director Joseph Losey's 1971 film “The Go-Between,” I was asked on Twitter just what it was about the movie that I responded to so much. 

“It's hard to sum up in a tweet,” I replied and, by way of explanation of the film's finest qualities, added that I admired “the way that it unfolds slowly like a summer's day, brings you back to childhood being in rooms with adults having conversations you don't fully understand, coming-of-age and discovering love.”

And although those remarks described my reaction to “The Go-Between,” intriguingly, when I watched “Out Stealing Horses” this week to review, I realized that while writer-director Hans Petter Moland's adaptation of the bestselling book by Per Petterson was in no way as narratively successful as “The Go-Between,” what I loved most about Losey's film is exactly what drew me into this one.
A straightforward adaptation of Petterson's novel, “Out Stealing Horses” centers on Trond (played by the always outstanding Stellan Skarsgård), a sixty-seven-year-old grieving widower who moves out to the Norwegian countryside to live a solitary life. Shortly into the film, he discovers that his new imposing, slightly off neighbor (played by Bjørn Floberg) is none other than the younger brother of his best friend from childhood but since Trond chooses not to acknowledge this, we gather that this reunion is anything but joyous. A framing device shot with drab colors, dim lighting, and a general sense of malaise, the more “modern” sequences set in 1999 never really pull us in quite as well as Trond's recollections of life in the 1940s, which make up a bulk of the film.

With the rich shimmer of cerulean hued water and the lush, deep, jade-colored greenery of the surrounding trees, when fifteen-year-old Trond (Jon Ranes) skims his hand over the lake during the film's extended flashback, “Out Stealing Horses” nearly takes our breath away, thanks to the cinematography of Danish cameraman Rasmus Videbæk. Reveling in nature in a way that recalls the work of master director Terrence Malick, as we watch Trond and his father (a fine Tobias Santelmann) rely on rain for showers, boats for transportation, and trees for their prosperity in their wooded existence, we realize that their work chopping down tall trees serves as a terrific metaphor. 

For, just like the two men clear the woods while logging, with each tree they chop down, Trond begins to see the complexities of life a little more clearly as he comes of age. Following a shocking tragedy in the life of his best friend Jon's (Sjur Vatne Brean) family, which he uncovers on the day the two went “out stealing horses” – which just means going for a ride – Trond begins to realize that things aren't always what they seem. 

And this certainly hits home when his father insists that Trond's mother and sister should not join them in the countryside and Trond realizes this rule doesn't apply to all women. Observing but failing to fully process his father's closeness to Jon's mother (Danica Curcic) since – at the exact same time – he's developed a crush on the beautiful married woman as well, “Out Stealing Horses” is a languid yet engrossing account of a fateful summer.
As specifically tied to its time and place as the film is, just like Losey's “Go-Between,” and many other contemplative chronicles of an adolescent being thrust into adulthood when they realize that the most important people in their life are flawed individuals of flesh and blood, the thoughts and feelings that Moland's film conveys are universally relatable. Additionally, by emphasizing the ways that the events of our life – and in particular our role models – can shape us whether we want them to or not, the film will undoubtedly make us think about some of the big early turning points of our lives, which occurred before we could truly understand their significance or impact on others. 

Structurally challenged, while it takes a good half-hour or so to truly become invested in the plight of its characters since the 1999 sequences seem to belong to an entirely different movie, overall, it's an uneven yet ultimately compelling work anchored by Videbæk's romantic cinematography and uniformly strong turns by Ranes and Santelmann, in particular.

The fifth collaboration between Moland and Skarsgård might not be as thrillingly riveting as “In Order of Disappearance,” (which Moland later remade in the states with Liam Neeson as “Cold Pursuit”) or as emotionally draining as “Aberdeen,” but it's still an intensely personal work for the filmmaker.
A moderately cogent adaptation of Petterson's novel, which has been translated into more than fifty languages, the film's shortcomings left me wanting to read the book to get the full impact of the storyline. Yet Moland deserves credit nonetheless for transforming this very Norwegian tale into an emotional saga that we all can feel a kinship with even if we've never showered in the rain or chopped down a tree a day in our life.

Though hindered by the pacing of its opening act, “Out Stealing Horses” is at its best when it flashes back to Trond's life as he moves between childhood and adulthood and discovers the gray between the black and white that exists out there in the countryside amid all that blue and green.


Text ©2020, Film Intuition, LLC; All Rights Reservedhttps://www.filmintuition.com  Unauthorized Reproduction or Publication Elsewhere is Strictly Prohibited and in violation of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act.  Also, as an Amazon Associate, I earn from qualifying purchases made off my site through ad links. FTC Disclosure: Per standard professional practice, I may have received a review copy or screener link of this title 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 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.

7/30/2020

Movie Review: Summerland (2020)


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"Life is not kind," Alice Lamb (Gemma Arterton) informs a young World War II evacuee from London placed in her care, before adding, "what matters is how you deal with it." 

Sent to live with the intensely private, iconoclastic writer at her seaside home in southern England, although Frank's arrival comes as an unwelcome shock, she soon discovers that she has much more in common with the inquisitive boy (played by Lucas Bond) than she ever would have imagined in writer-director Jessica Swale's "Summerland." 

The feature filmmaking debut of the Olivier award-winning playwright, Swale reunites with the two leading ladies who starred in her London stage hit "Nell Gwynn," in the form of Arterton and Gugu Mbatha-Raw who, in 1920s set "Summerland" flashbacks, play two college friends who fall in love before they must ask themselves just what it is they want out of life.


With Alice thinking back on her relationship with Vera (Mbatha-Raw) as the last time she let someone into her heart before Frank, "Summerland" strikes a fine balance between not only dual timelines but a third one as well. The film is bookended by scenes that take place in 1975 where once again, Alice (this time played by Penelope Wilton) types away at her desk in Kent, reclusive as ever.

Still scaring the kids of the 1970s as much as she did those in the '40s who spread rumors around the island that the writer working on an academic treatise about mythology, folklore, and paganism is, in fact, a spell-casting witch, "Summerland" uses a fluid approach to time to spin a timeless yarn about friendship, tolerance, and love.

And while the decision to cast a woman of color in a period movie without ever calling attention to her race – which is treated as matter-of-factly as the lesbian love story at its center – is sure to earn the film legitimate criticism as being overly rosy or naive, I think it's a revolutionary act overall. 


Perfectly balanced in a film that feels at times like a classic fairy tale or bedtime story about the way that we deal with life at its unkindest, there's an old-fashioned safeness about the presentation of "Summerland" that reminds me of the humanistic warmth of TV's "Schitt's Creek." Just like "Schitt's Creek" has no time for any sort of prejudice (which is why it's so universally appealing to all), "Summerland" knows that bringing any overt racism or homophobia into this world would lessen its spell as a WWII coming-of-age fairy tale.

There's a crucial scene in the film where, after Frank guesses that the "someone" that his new guardian loved was a woman, Alice asks him if he would think it strange if a woman loved another woman. Considering her question carefully, he tells her no in earnest, adding that it isn't as strange as two married people who do not love each other.

A beautiful moment of tolerance and acceptance that makes Alice gasp in happiness, in this reaction, we see all of the pain and intolerance she's shut herself off and away from and Swale respects both the viewer and Arterton enough to know that we don't need everything spelled out to understand what Alice has gone through offscreen.


Boldly opting to do the same with race in the casting of Mbatha-Raw as the student who captures Alice's heart, while I grant that – just like with the lesbian romance – it's inauthentic to leave the issue of prejudice off the table for a Black woman in the 1920s, Swale trusts that we know precisely what kind of intolerance Vera would've faced back then.

For, what matters most in "Summerland" is the moral of the story (with an emphasis on "story") where people learn to come together during the hardest of times out of love since the biggest anomaly to young Frank is those who shouldn't be together but are.

From the light that pours onto the cliffs like the waves of the English Channel, while there's no mistaking "Summerland" for anything resembling reality, the film, which was gorgeously shot by "Stan & Ollie" cinematographer Laurie Rose is as dreamy and mythic as the stories of floating islands that Alice spends her time writing about. And while this pursuit has earned her character the rumored reputation as a witch, in the hands of Swale, Arterton, Mbatha-Raw, Bond, and company, all "Summerland" does is keep us happily bewitched from start to finish. 

 
Text ©2020, Film Intuition, LLC; All Rights Reservedhttps://www.filmintuition.com  Unauthorized Reproduction or Publication Elsewhere is Strictly Prohibited and in violation of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act.  Also, as an Amazon Associate, I earn from qualifying purchases made off my site through ad links. FTC Disclosure: Per standard professional practice, I may have received a review copy or screener link of this title 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 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.

7/28/2020

TV on Blu-ray Review: The Outsider - Season 1 (2020)


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Watching the great Ben Mendelsohn play a police detective still grieving the loss of his son to cancer in the HBO series The Outsider just weeks after he made me cry buckets of tears as a father trying to stay strong for the impending death of his daughter in the powerful Australian film Babyteeth got me thinking. Ben Mendelsohn's agent really needs to send him a script for a comedy. Still, for fans of brilliant character actors (like yours truly), Mendelsohn's misery is our gain. From anguish to skepticism to rage, whether it's in Animal Kingdom (2010) or Mississippi Grind or beyond, Ben Mendelsohn puts so much conflicting emotion into his performances that he completely pulls us into the mindset of his character, which we see play out over the course of ten riveting episodes in this HBO miniseries adaptation of the eponymous 2018 novel from Stephen King.

Assigned to solve the heinous slaying of a local eleven-year-old boy, Mendelsohn's Georgia detective Ralph Anderson is shocked when a plethora of evidence including eyewitness testimony, security camera footage, and DNA all points at his son's former Little League coach, Terry Maitland (a terrifically understated Jason Bateman). A well-respected high school English teacher and married father, the seeming betrayal of this veritable picture of clean-cut, white picket fence domesticity inspires fury in Anderson, who sends his colleagues out to make a very public arrest of Maitland in front of the entire community.

 
Requesting his lawyer (the always outstanding Bill Camp) and pleading his innocence, Maitland informs the detective that he wasn't even in town when the murder committed but at a teacher's conference roughly seventy miles away instead. Checking the security footage at the hotel and finding him there, Anderson finds himself completely baffled by how the man could be in two totally different places at once, which sends him on an odyssey towards the horrifically supernatural. Soon working alongside intuitive private investigator Holly Gibney (brought marvelously to life by Cynthia Erivo), the series evolves from a grim but gripping police procedural into something that could only come from the mind of Stephen King.

Adapted from King's work by series showrunner Richard Price, a novelist and screenwriter who penned such '80s classics as The Color of Money and Sea of Love before he wrote for TV's The Wire, The Night Of, and The Deuce, among others, the reason this show works as well as it does is because it's so firmly rooted in reality. We all know a Terry Maitland and a Ralph Anderson, as well as their supportive but equally complex wives (well played here by Julianne Nicholson and Mare Winningham) and the series never loses its grip on everyday contemporary life even when it heads into dicey, unexplainable supernatural territory. Though technically a work of science fiction, The Outsider ranks among the best King adaptations in its decision to endear us to its fully realized characters and let them be our guide into this new world before it drops us straight into the unknown. 

 
While the sudden, slightly abrupt ending doesn't entirely pay off on the incredibly thrilling series-long build-up involving the question of an evil spirit somehow inhabiting or attaching itself to a person, the rest of The Outsider is so insanely compelling — as is the staggeringly gifted cast — that it's well worth the watch. Addicting enough that I devoured all ten installments of The Outsider over the course of two days (quarantine, baby!), the opening pair of episodes directed by Jason Bateman are two of the strongest I've seen from HBO since the days of The Night Of.

Predictably, however, it does use the same grimy palette of saturated colors so indicative of prestige TV series that it's inspired articles all over the web and is also a main feature of Bateman's Netflix series Ozark. A definite bone of contention — given that it's now become a stylistic cliché for prestige offerings — when it comes to The Outsider, however, I am definitely fine with a Stephen King universe devoid of bright primary colors or high key lighting, especially considering the morose, haunting subject matter. 

 
Yet, despite this, far too frequently in the series — and especially in those middle episodes once it ventures beyond procedural territory — The Outsider's recurring lack of light makes it nearly impossible to see what is going on, no matter how many curtains you draw or the color settings you select for your television screen. While the brightest high power setting of "vivid" is undoubtedly the last way the craftsmen behind The Outsider would want viewers to watch this show, it was the only way I could even begin to make out what was happening in a few scenes, which is a major letdown from an aesthetic standpoint overall.

Still highly recommended nonetheless, the new box set of the HBO series — which, rumor has it, may return with another installment featuring Erivo's Gibney — arrives complete with short special features boasting interviews with King, Price, Mendelsohn (who also produced the series), Bateman, and the rest of the cast. Additionally providing a digital code so that you can stream the entire series in addition to playing the included Blu-rays, with the frequently aggrieved but superb Ben Mendelsohn as our guide, the show gives us a hair-raising opportunity to see where the wild things are outside while staying safely indoors (or so we think). 

 
Text ©2020, Film Intuition, LLC; All Rights Reservedhttps://www.filmintuition.com  Unauthorized Reproduction or Publication Elsewhere is Strictly Prohibited and in violation of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act.  Also, as an Amazon Associate, I earn from qualifying purchases made off my site through ad links. FTC Disclosure: Per standard professional practice, I may have received a review copy or screener link of this title 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 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.

7/22/2020

Movie Review: Amulet (2020)




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So notorious for taking notes during film screenings that a man in my life jokingly dubbed me a court reporter, by the time a movie ends, I'm usually left with several pages of notes to keep me company as I write. Mostly done involuntarily, from memorable lines of dialogue I've jotted down to random observations or rudimentary drawings of shot composition, while sometimes I can't make sense of everything I've captured on paper in the dark – and often only 5 to 10% of my work winds up in the finished review – it's an intriguing look at my unfiltered reaction to a film.

With this in mind, it came as a total surprise to find that when I hit stop on “Amulet,” I was faced not with four pages of thoughts but four terse sentences, all circling back to one common theme, namely just how much I loathed this movie.

The type of ambitious art film I saw far too often in film school which aimed to distill highly complicated philosophical ideas about sex, gender, power, violence, war, and politics down to their essence and filter them through the lens of abstract horror, talented actress turned writer-director Romola Garai's feature filmmaking debut is as subtle as a staple gun to the forehead.

A true disappointment considering how much I respect Garai as one of her generation's greatest actresses (her “Emma” is a treasure), although it's technically well made with impressive old-school visual effects as her interrogation of gender roles masquerades as a play on “Exorcist” like horror, it's an altogether uninvolving slog of a movie.

In the film, Alec Secareanu stars as Tomaz, a veteran of an unnamed foreign war who now finds himself haunted by what he's done and homeless on the streets of London. Taken under the wing of Imelda Staunton's nun Sister Claire, Tomaz is given a place to live in an eerie, falling-down home inhabited by a sheltered young woman and her bedridden, violently demanding, dying mother, in exchange for him helping out around the house with badly needed repairs.

Positioning Tomaz as a male savior while simultaneously dismantling this role in flashbacks, Garai telegraphs exactly what's going to happen in her film from start to finish. Zooming in on certain props and lingering a precious few seconds too long on the film's talented ensemble cast (including Carla Juri and Angeliki Papoulia) as they deliver lines laced with double-meaning, nothing about “Amulet” comes as a surprise. And this is even the case when Garai takes her thesis about sex and gender to ludicrously over-the-top extremes in a graphic sex-as-horror payoff during the film's – pun intended, I'm sure – climax.

Adding salt to the wound that is the film itself, the action is punctuated by a gratingly insistent score from Sarah Angliss filled with xylophones, bells, and tribal singing so annoying that it was actually the first note I made during the very first ten minutes of “Amulet.” Although I admire Garai's intent to query gender roles and raise questions about sex and violence – all while hiring a 70% female crew where every head of a department (save for editing) was a woman – there is absolutely nothing in this film to recommend it.

So painfully protracted that even I, the opposite of a horror buff, knew how things would eventually play out, after “Relic,” “Amulet” is the second independent work of horror made by a woman to be released in the summer of 2020 that was inspired by Jennifer Kent's brilliant 2014 grief-as-horror treatise “The Babadook.” A cool source of female-directed inspiration to other female filmmakers, although I do urge you to check out “Relic” from Natalie Erika James, when it comes to “Amulet,” trust the fourth and final sentence I wrote down when I watched it, which summed up the film in one word: no.

Text ©2020, Film Intuition, LLC; All Rights Reservedhttps://www.filmintuition.com  Unauthorized Reproduction or Publication Elsewhere is Strictly Prohibited and in violation of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act.  Also, as an Amazon Associate, I earn from qualifying purchases made off my site through ad links. FTC Disclosure: Per standard professional practice, I may have received a review copy or screener link of this title 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 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.

7/21/2020

Blu-ray Review: Samurai Marathon (2019)


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Alternate Title: Samurai Marathon 1855

A velvety timbre that contains equal parts smolder and menace in the sounds of a rich baritone, actor Danny Huston's cognac of a voice is tailor-made for screen villainy. And indeed it's his voice that cuts through the ceremony of Commodore Perry's (Huston) sudden visit to Japan in 1855 when — having arrived from America uninvited on a purported mission of friendship from President Fillmore — he tries to interact with the Japanese officials greeting the Americans getting off their "black ships" with suspicion. 

Unable to translate Perry's words since the man whom the Japanese lords have brought with them to do the job speaks Dutch instead of English, they have no idea how to interpret the language being uttered by that devilishly seductive voice. Trying to meld the context clues of Perry's smile with the mixed signals of the presents he offers when he lands, although Perry begins harmlessly with a daguerreotype, the stakes are suddenly raised when he hands over Kentucky bourbon and a .45 caliber single-action Colt army revolver, ironically known as "the peacemaker."


Introducing a faster way to kill and dominate with these American "gifts," a direct correlation is made between the debut of the gun on Japanese shores with the end of the samurai in director Bernard Rose's handsomely crafted but woefully uneven Samurai Marathon

Testing the samurai to ensure that they have what it takes to stand up to the Americans and their weapons, which can kill quickly from afar, a thirty-six-mile marathon is held across tough, hilly terrain for all men under the age of fifty who serve the lord of the Annaka clan. Fearing this signals a future war, an Annaka accountant (played by Takeru Satoh) who privately serves as a Shogun spy sends a coded message to those in Edo before he has all of the facts. Though written in earnest, Satoh's note escalates things, setting in motion a hefty amount of chaotic swordplay, gunfire, and violence that follows as he tries to right this wrong. Added to this mix is the rebellious Princess Yuki (Nana Komatsu), who, after rejecting her father's candidate for marriage, slices off some of her hair and joins the marathon as well.

One of those period pieces which tries to excuse away its ludicrous plot machinations by centering the action on a historical event in the form of the samurai marathon (which later became the Japanese marathon and is still run to this day), the film starts to lose us in the very first act. Breathlessly jumping from Huston's veritable cameo to Satoh to Komatsu, rather than endear us to our two leads, Marathon is never sure which story it wants to tell, let alone the tone it should take.


Working from a novel by Akihiro Dobashi, throughout the film, it's obvious that Rose and his co-writers Hiroshi Saitô and Kikumi Yamagishi have no shortage of enthusiasm or ideas. Utilizing an everything and the kitchen sink approach — from weird flashes of humor that feel incredibly out of place to one harrowing sequence involving a mass shooting that's spliced into what could otherwise be described as a ho-hum chronicle of a marathon — this film goes everywhere and nowhere all at once.

Even underwhelming from an action perspective, although it's painted with a masterly brush by cinematographer Takuro Ishizaka, whose frames are jaw-droppingly lush, there's little to recommend the film as a whole. Given a typically impressive high gloss transfer to Blu-ray high definition from Well Go Entertainment, although it might be of morbid curiosity to fans of Bernard Rose as this seems to work as a cross between some of the most diverse entries in his head-scratcher of a filmography (including the horror favorite Candyman and say, the underrated Immortal Beloved), others should steer clear.

A lackluster samurai film that's about as exciting as watching a thirty-six-mile marathon run by nobody you know, though it impressively follows up the promise of duplicity in the guise of Danny Huston's symphonic voice with the strains of a notable score by legendary composer Philip Glass, Rose's Samurai never quite manages to find its rhythm.

Text ©2020, Film Intuition, LLC; All Rights Reservedhttps://www.filmintuition.com  Unauthorized Reproduction or Publication Elsewhere is Strictly Prohibited and in violation of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act.  Also, as an Amazon Associate, I earn from qualifying purchases made off my site through ad links. FTC Disclosure: Per standard professional practice, I may have received a review copy or screener link of this title 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 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.

7/09/2020

Movie Review: Relic (2020)




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The decision to volunteer “x” number of hours at a location of our choosing first started out as just a mandatory part of my high school curriculum. Ignoring all of the trendy businesses that the more popular kids flocked to like birds of a feather, I opted to work at a local nursing home instead. Initially helping out during weekend bingo games and screenings of classic movies on VHS, almost as soon as I started, I was given a new task.

Told I was good at making people laugh and smile, I was instructed to visit what the home referred to as the “shut-ins,” namely, the harder cases including the shy or withdrawn individuals who seldom left their room or those who had relatives or family members who rarely stopped by. Nervously, I made the rounds, hitting it off with certain residents and discovering after a few attempts with others that some people really didn't want anything more than perhaps somebody to just watch “Wheel of Fortune” with from time to time.

The cases that broke my heart the most, though, were the ones who no longer had the mental stamina they'd previously exuded due to worsening dementia. Given a sheet with a brief one or two-sentence bio of each resident and/or their likes and dislikes as provided by their families, I'll never forget seeing one resident who'd been described as a former mathematics professor and leading figure in his field who was now suspicious anytime someone told him that it was time to leave his room for meals or recommended that he put on shoes.

A shocking revelation at fourteen, yet rather than let it deter me, I soon found myself maxing out my required volunteer hours and coming back again and again, mostly to stop and visit with one resident I was particularly close to as well as others, like this gentleman with whom I mostly sat and watched TV in silence.

And while this all took place roughly twenty-five years ago, I found myself flooded by these memories throughout the slow burn shocker “Relic,” which, although heavily influenced by Gothic and Asian psychological horror, doubles as a treatise on aging with dementia. A multi-generational Australian family saga anchored by three powerful women, the feature filmmaking debut from writer-director Natalie Erika James – who wrote the film alongside Christian White – centers on an Edna (Robyn Nevin), an elderly matriarch who suddenly vanishes without a trace.

Traveling to the family's increasingly decrepit country estate, which, in a film that's loaded with symbolism is degrading the exact same way that Edna's mental capacity seems to be, Edna's adult daughter Kay (Emily Mortimer) arrives with her adult daughter Sam (Bella Heathcote) in tow.

After reporting her mother missing to the local authorities, Kay is shocked when Edna returns – reappearing just as enigmatically out of the blue as she'd somehow left. Riddled with dementia, which becomes obvious when the women take inventory of the state of her home and see signs of a forgetful or overwhelmed mind everywhere, Edna is disinterested or evasive regarding all questions about what happened or where she's been.

Differing on what to do now that they're faced with the fact that she can't live alone, while Kay looks into senior care, the excited Sam begins toying with the idea of living with her grandmother so that she can look after her. However, both women are in for a rude wake-up call when Edna's aberrant behavior begins to escalate into violence. Soon, they begin to question just what it is that has taken over the family matriarch and whether that thing is dementia after all or perhaps something far more devious and evil.

An ambitious, largely successful work that features a dynamic turn by the always empathetic Emily Mortimer (who's long been one of my favorite actresses), “Relic” loses a bit of its novelty when, instead of ambiguity, it pays off far too literally with regard to its demonic symbolism in the film's shocking conclusion.

Still, overall, the film is reminiscent of another strong female written and directed work of Australian horror in the form of 2014's “The Babadook,” which used similarly supernatural, haunted elements to deal with questions of grief.

A somber family drama about aging and the way that parents and children's roles change over time before it eventually eases into genre territory, “Relic” might stand on its own as a feminist work of horror in that the three actresses at the heart of the film drive the narrative forward, but its themes are universally relatable.

Body horror that is as alarming as it is tragic, “Relic” calls up all sorts of memories, guilt, and fears in us concerning the seniors we've known over the years whom, as James notes in her director's statement, we've had to grieve for while still alive. An emotionally disturbing film that is bound to resonate with some viewers more than others, while on the one hand I was completely terrified and caught up in the proceedings, at the same time, I do have mixed feelings about its morality in turning a beloved relative into a vehicle of full-fledged horror.


Perhaps trying to temper that with a more sensitive yet deeply unsettling ending that I appreciate even though it didn't quite work for me, “Relic” is a thinking person's horror tale that will undoubtedly play very differently to each viewer given their experiences. It's a truism befitting of all art, of course. Yet in my case, this flawed yet undoubtedly mesmerizing, finely crafted horror tale from Oz immediately took me back to 1995 when I walked around a nursing home with a list, hoping to see some semblance of the people described on a sheet of paper in those before me just looking for someone to sit alongside them and watch TV.

Text ©2020, Film Intuition, LLC; All Rights Reservedhttps://www.filmintuition.com  Unauthorized Reproduction or Publication Elsewhere is Strictly Prohibited and in violation of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act.  Also, as an Amazon Associate, I earn from qualifying purchases made off my site through ad links. FTC Disclosure: Per standard professional practice, I may have received a review copy or screener link of this title 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 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.

7/02/2020

Movie Review: The Truth (2019)



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We are creatures of habit. From relitigating past wrongs to repeating the same mistakes, we fall back on old patterns like grooves on a record, destined to play the song we know so well until we take it upon ourselves to move the needle, flip the damn thing over, and start again. And nobody makes us spin around and around quite like family, whether it's in the joy of playing an old hit or the anguish of trying to avoid the inevitable scratches and hisses in the vinyl that we know are coming but can't escape.


Raised in the shadows of the limelight surrounding her famous French movie star mother Fabienne Dangeville – played with icy precision by Catherine Deneuve – whose demands always come first, it's no wonder that Lumir (Juliette Binoche) traded Paris for New York and married the most American man she could find (a TV star played by Ethan Hawke).


Having become a screenwriter, undoubtedly to give herself a greater sense of control by making the characters she invents say precisely what it is that she wants for a change, at the start of Hirokazu Kore-eda's “The Truth,” Lumir finds herself challenged once again by her mother, this time on a personal as well as professional front.


Returning to France with her husband Hank (Hawke) and their imaginative daughter Charlotte (Clémentine Grenier) in tow to celebrate the publication of Fabienne's memoirs, as Lumir begins reading the words that her mother had promised and failed to run by her first and finds it more fiction than fact, that sense of literary and familial control begins to vanish fast. Soon she confronts Fabienne about not only the glaring inconsistencies she has in her memory to her mother's sunshiny version of events but also her decision to completely ignore her relationship with and betrayal of a late contemporary of hers.


A woman whom Lumir idolized and looked to like the mother she always wished she'd had, as the film continues, we begin to see just how much their view of the past differs. Though it begins as a polite but firm objection, their standoff culminates in one particularly tense argument at dinner that finds Lumir snapping at her well-meaning husband to stay out of it since – to misquote Tom Hagen in “The Godfather Part II” – it's between mother and daughter, Hank.


Using an embedded narrative to add another layer to their relationship that lets them relive the past in the present, writer-director Kore-eda plants a film within his film. In “The Truth,” Fabienne stars in a science fiction movie called “Memories of My Mother” along with a younger up-and-coming actress who looks like and reminds Lumir of the late star, and as the mother-daughter drama shoots, they're forced to see each other's perspective a little clearer.


An ambitious if not wholly successful experiment, which finds the Japanese master filmmaker of “Shoplifters” and my own personal favorite “Like Father Like Son,” making a movie in both French and English, even though he only speaks Japanese, “The Truth” is a well-intentioned yet underwhelmingly slight endeavor. The passion project of Juliette Binoche who'd journeyed to Japan in 2011 to see her friend and suggest that they do something together in the future, the film, which is based upon a play he'd started to work on in 2003, illustrates the universality of the family dynamics that flood his oeuvre.


Laced with a touch of magical realism in Charlotte's relationship with her grandmother who she believes lives in a castle and might be a witch – that in itself ties into a fairy tale her mother used to love as a girl that she's reading her at bedtime – Kore-eda fills his movie with symbolism and metaphor both overt and subtle. From setting the movie in the fall as the events take place in the autumn of Fabienne's life to referencing the fact that behind her estate is a prison multiple times early on in the movie, it's clear that the imaginative Kore-eda has no shortage of ideas. Unfortunately, as clever as the film is, it's hard to empathize with the characters, as “The Truth” seems more focused on the meaning of and behind everything we see on the screen rather than on who they are as people.


Less gripping than other experimental Binoche led works from the last decade including Abbas Kiarostami's “Certified Copy” and Olivier Assayas' “Clouds of Sils Maria” that toy with narratives, nesting stories, and allusions, while the performers are tremendous and Kore-eda's thesis on family rings true, its success is more academic than involving.


Admittedly, it's worth the investment for cinephiles, if only for devotees of Kore-eda and our leading ladies, who have somehow never starred in a movie together before. Yet while the frustrated Lumir is the easiest character to understand, it's hard to watch scenes centering on the untimely death of a young actress without imagining how emotional they would've been for Deneuve who lost her own sister – actress Françoise Dorléac – at such a young age.


Relegating Hawke's intriguing if underwritten Hank to the sidelines, while Kore-eda's work is enticing in any language, sadly, it doesn't take long for “The Truth” to get stuck in the same scratchy groove – spinning around and around – in desperate need for the record to be flipped.



Text ©2020, Film Intuition, LLC; All Rights Reservedhttps://www.filmintuition.com  Unauthorized Reproduction or Publication Elsewhere is Strictly Prohibited and in violation of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act.  Also, as an Amazon Associate, I earn from qualifying purchases made off my site through ad links. FTC Disclosure: Per standard professional practice, I may have received a review copy or screener link of this title 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 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.

6/25/2020

Career Tribute: Tony Leung Will Break Your Heart


Tony Leung Will Break Your Heart
by Jen Johans



Soulful, stirring, and often somber, even when he isn’t playing a lover, Tony Leung will break your heart. Famously dubbed by “The Times” in London as “Asia's answer to Clark Gable,” the Hong Kong native (whose full name is Tony Leung Chiu-wai) is one of the most acclaimed and adored actors of his generation.


Routinely reading his scripts at least forty times before – as he confessed to “The Guardian” – possibly calling the writer in the middle of the night with his thoughts, for Leung (who celebrates his birthday on June 27), acting is not so much a profession as it is his addiction . . . as well as his therapeutic recovery.


Giving him an outlet for the feelings he'd been holding onto since he was a shy, repressed child whose gambler father had walked out on the family when Leung was just six-years-old, the ability to exorcise his emotions under the guise of playing someone else hooked him as soon as he signed up for an acting course at the age of nineteen.


Quickly finding stardom on the small screen in the early 1980s as the protagonist of the popular series “Police Cadet” – opposite his soon-to-be frequent leading lady Maggie Cheung – Tony Leung was one of five up-and-coming young male stars who were labeled “TVB's Five Tigers,” which you could liken to Hong Kong television's answer to the Brat Pack.


Making the move to film, Leung found his way into early critically and commercially successful ventures like Taiwanese helmer Hou Hsiao-hsien's Venice Film Festival award-winner “A City of Sadness” in 1989 and John Woo's “Hard Boiled” in 1992.


Reuniting with Woo two years after he worked with the director on his personal opus “Bullet in the Head," in the now contemporary crime classic “Hard Boiled," Leung was cast opposite one of Hong Kong's biggest box office draws, Mr. Chow Yun-fat.


A veteran performer who'd starred in the epic crime series “A Better Tomorrow,” and “The Killer,” both of which had turned him and Woo into huge box office sensations, it was Chow who was given the undisputed lead role in Woo's final Hong Kong “bullet ballet” before the director made the move to Hollywood.


The end result marked a decidedly different outing for the filmmaker. Criticized for glamorizing killers in his earliest films with Chow, in “Hard Boiled” – which underwent copious changes in its 123-day shoot after the death of screenwriter Barry Wong – Woo opted to use the same formula he'd had success with before, only this time with a police officer in the role of the protagonist.


Not playing a hitman or gangster this time but a hard-headed, impetuous cop nicknamed “Tequila” who's eager to bring down the Triads responsible for his partner's death, just as he did in “A Better Tomorrow” and “The Killer,” it's the wildly charismatic Chow Yun-fat who has the showiest role in Woo's film.


Yet, written as a cross between Don Johnson in “Miami Vice” and Bruce Willis in “Die Hard,” as marvelous as he is in “Hard Boiled,” because it's missing the same quiet poetry of his romantic antihero in “The Killer,” the film's soul is found less in Chow's lead than it is in the subtly mesmerizing turn by supporting player Tony Leung. And with this in mind, on repeat viewings, you'll notice that it's Leung who manages to sneak in and – while you're being dazzled by Chow's ability to fend off a hospital full of armed assassins while cradling newborn babies – manages to sail away with your heart. In fact, the first person to acknowledge this was Chow himself who felt like the film's final cut removed some important moments for his admittedly one-dimensional character to show the depth of his feelings, which is why Leung's supporting turn rings so true.


At least partially inspired by Alain Delon's character in Jean-Pierre Melville's crime classic “Le Samuraï,” “Hard Boiled” finds Leung in the type of coolly contemplative role that has since become synonymous with the star while playing a police officer who's been on a deep undercover assignment with the Triads for far too long.


Torn by his allegiance to two father figures on both sides of the law who ask him to kill and protect in equal measure, the only peace Leung finds is from living a solitary life on his boat. Docked in the bay, much like his yacht, Leung is forever waiting to set out for a new life on a new land far away from everything he knows and wants to forget. Making paper cranes as a form of penance and acknowledgment of the lives he's taken, Leung's tragic yet compelling internal struggle adds emotional depth to what is otherwise a completely awe-inspiring work of action filmmaking.


Giving him the more romantic inclinations that wouldn't have been out of place for Chow's killer in “The Killer,” even though it's Chow who's in an on-again, off-again relationship with his superior (Teresa Mo) in “Hard Boiled,” it's Leung who sends her white roses and coded Elvis lyrics when he needs to convey a message to the police department.


And in this respect, Leung's performance in “Hard Boiled” marks a terrific precursor to his staggering turn in Andrew Lau and Alan Mak's 2002 “Infernal Affairs” trilogy, which was remade by Leung's favorite American filmmaker – Martin Scorsese – as “The Departed” in the states with Leonardo DiCaprio in the Leung role.


A top-notch work of Hong Kong cop noir and a great introduction to Leung for new film fans hoping to see something a little more western minded before they venture onto the actor's more daring art films, even though it was made twenty-eight years ago, “Hard Boiled” still feels fresher than most CGI heavy, assembly-line manufactured action movies being released today.


But as great as he is at adding hidden layers to his co-lead or supporting characters in his mainstream Hong Kong fare, it's the lovers that come to mind most when you think of Tony Leung and doubly so when you look back on his heyday in the '90s and early '00s.


So fiercely devoted to his craft that he'll learn anything for the right collaborator, film, and/or role, when it came time to meet up once again with his most frequent director Wong Kar-wai in Argentina for the gorgeous gay love story "Happy Together" in 1997, Leung took up not only the tango but also Spanish. Still, this was not the only time he would adopt a whole new language for a role. Most notably, Leung learned Mandarin for Zhang Yimou's 2002 stunner "Hero," which, despite being dubbed in the final release, paid off for Leung five years later when he spoke Mandarin in Ang Lee's startling film "Lust, Caution."


Yet, regardless of the dialect that Leung takes on in the multilingual "Happy Together," fans of Wong Kar-wai know that his films are truly universal. Dedicated to the human connection we need and crave in others (director Sofia Coppola is a huge fan), Wong's movies speak a language we immediately understand – a language Leung is more than fluent in throughout his filmography – the language of love.


"Let's start over." Habitually said by his “Happy Together” character's flighty lover (played by Leslie Cheung) whenever he hopes to reunite with Leung's romantically drained lead and begin anew, “let's start over” is the refrain that holds the pair in each other's orbit after they venture from Hong Kong to Buenos Aires and break up yet again.


Knowing that he can no longer let himself backslide into a relationship where the two men's affection for one another is outweighed by suspicion and mistrust, by the end of the film that garnered Wong Kar-wai the prize for Best Director at the Cannes Film Festival, Leung's protagonist knows that in order to start over, he's going to have to ignore the “let's” and go it alone.


Watched in quick succession with Woo's “Hard Boiled,” the parallels are obvious between his '92 solitary protagonist and the conflicted one he plays here who's heartbroken by his lot in life and his relationships with others, from his ex-lover to his father to a co-worker with possible romantic potential. And indeed, the double-edged sword of promise and penance wrapped up in the phrase “let's start over” seems to apply not only to his “Happy Together” character in one of Leung's strongest performances to date but to all of the men he's played for Woo, Wong, Zhang, Lee, and beyond.


Yet although his collaborations have been legendary, in the more than half a dozen films they've made together over the past three decades, in the end, it's Wong Kar-wai who seems to best understand how to use Leung's penchant for emotional complexity to disarm viewers and draw them in. Famous for his chaotic productions which find Wong shooting without a script – and often with only a kernel of an idea as to who each character should be which might change multiple times during the improvisational shoot as the actors feel things out with his guidance – the trust and respect the two have for one another is unmatched.


While “Happy Together” marked one of Leung's most soulful performances for the filmmaker, the actor is perhaps most famous for Wong's “Chungking Express” – where he played a lovesick cop so distracted by an ex that he nearly misses the chance at a new love – and the director's 2000 masterpiece “In the Mood for Love.” Starring in the latter as a repressed married man living in 1960s Hong Kong who develops an attraction to the wife of the man his wife is having an affair with (played by Maggie Cheung), "Mood" finally garnered Tony Leung the award for Best Actor from the Cannes Film Festival that everyone assumed would've been his three years before for “Happy Together.”


Skilled at bringing to life his own unique brand of morally and internally beleaguered men who fall in love without trying and want to start over but can't until they figure out what (and who) it is that they truly want, Leung shined exceptionally bright in Zhang Yimou's 2002 film “Hero" as the epitome of this type of role.


Inspired by Jing Ke's assassination attempt on the King of Qin which took place in 227 B.C., in “Hero,” Jet Li's nameless swordsman regales the king with tales of his successful battles against three of the man's most wanted enemies, including a man named Broken Sword (Leung) who fights alongside his lady love Falling Snow (played once again by Maggie Cheung).


A secondary supporting character whose true motives are uncertain for nearly two-thirds of the stylish wuxia feature, as Li shares his version of the events that brought him to the palace, we see the plot involving Leung's character unfold a handful of different ways as Li's narrative evolves from start to finish.


Is Broken Sword a jealous, possessive lover who acts impetuously and seduces Zhang Ziyi out of brokenhearted spite at Cheung's one-night affair with Donnie Yen? Is he a resigned, peaceful man who's outgrown life as a warrior? Or is he something else entirely – something that exists halfway between the two poles?


Leung's performance in “Hero” is passionate, ponderous, and (once again) predominantly quiet. A subtle turn overall, Broken Sword allows the actor to play both sides of the same solitary, zen-like coin of the man he's embodied for most of his career – a man who's looking to start again but doesn't completely know how to do so.


A gripping, somber, and lushly beautiful epic that found Leung and Cheung hired by Zhang precisely because he loved their chemistry in Wong's “In the Mood for Love,” the fascinating “Hero” questions how history is made and asks whether a sacrifice crafted from love carries just as much weight as one made of sword and blood.


Much like “Hard Boiled,” and “Happy Together,” “Hero” is proof once again that – having perfected silence as a child only to live to manifest his repressed emotions as an adult – Tony Leung plays thoughtful, quietly tormented men better than nearly anyone since Robert De Niro. (Thus, it should come as no surprise that De Niro and Leung are mutual fans of each other's work.) Always ready to learn a new skill and speak a new language besides – of course – love, in his richest and most daring performances, Tony Leung puts everything on the line to break your heart while also risking his own. He's the addiction as well as the cure.



Text ©2020, Film Intuition, LLC; All Rights Reservedhttps://www.filmintuition.com  Unauthorized Reproduction or Publication Elsewhere is Strictly Prohibited and in violation of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act.  Also, as an Amazon Associate, I earn from qualifying purchases made off my site through ad links. FTC Disclosure: Per standard professional practice, I may have received a review copy or screener link of this title 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 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.