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Recent Movies: Manchester by the Sea; Fantastic Beasts; The Red Turtle; Live Theatre: My Night with Reg

Recent Movies

Manchester by the Sea

Two parallel stories take place in this film: in the present, Lee Chandler (played by Casey Affleck) is a reserved janitor in a small Massachusetts town who must deal with tragic family news and travel to a nearby small town to help deal with the aftermath; in the other story, Lee’s past is told – a past in which he was married to Randi (Michelle Williams) and raising three small children.

In the beginning, it takes a while to get used to the fact that almost every character in this film is a potty-mouth. But once this hurdle is passed, it’s relatively easy to show an interest for these folks even if we don’t quite warm up to them. The screenplay by Kenneth Longergan (also the movie’s director) is quite clever in how it gradually reveals elements of the past and how they explain present circumstances.

It’s great to see Williams in a role that is rough-edged. So often, she has been typecast into mousy, quiet characters. Even if she plays such characters well, it’s great to see another side of her talent. Near the end, her talents are top-notch in a scene in which she makes amends for her past. She’s quite gripping here and it’s a shame she spends too little time on screen.

Affleck certainly does a fine job in his role as well but it’s difficult to see why his performance has dominated the awards season. As someone with a difficult past and dealing with a current tragedy, it’s easy to seen why his character is so restrained. Though there are occasional outburst moments, the role would have been more complete if there had been a scene of catharsis – like the previously mentioned one for Williams.

Like the recent “Moonlight”, “Manchester by the Sea” is a fine film but I personally find both films somewhat over-rated.

RATING (out of four stars):   * * *


Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them

In the 1920s, Newt Scamander (Eddie Redmayne) is a wizard who arrives in New York City from Great Britain with the intention of travelling further to Arizona. He ends up getting mixed up with a would-be baker (Dan Folger), another wizard (Katherine Waterston), and strange events from somewhere in the magical community causing havoc on the city.

As this film was written by J.K. Rowling and directed by Peter Yates, much of the jollity of the Harry Potter series is repeated here. The visual effects are magnificent as is the set design and all else that help recreate another time and place long gone by mixed with the supernatural.

Occasionally, the story seemed incoherent and difficult to follow though it seemed easier to understand near its conclusion. Luckily, its light-heartedness, fine acting and able directing saved the film from falling to a mediocre level.

RATING: * * * (but just barely)


The Red Turtle

A man is deserted on a tropical island. He tries to leave it until the mysterious title character enters his life. “The Red Turtle” is an animated film co-produced by Japan, France, and Belgium.

With a mix of the supernatural and life’s simple joys and sad times, the effect of this movie is mesmerizing. The choice of no dialogue, with the rare exception of the shout of ‘hey’ was a very wise one. The characters’ facial expressions tell more than words ever could. The simplicity gives extra responsibility to the animators as well as the music compositions by Laurent Perez del Mar and they come through with flying colours.

The life moments in the movie’s second half are those with which most viewers can identify with a few exceptions. This is a wonderful contrast to so many other recent films that seem to require a university degree in film comprehension to just keep up. Instead, “The Red Turtle” has done what no other recent movie this season has done so far: it made me feel something. I almost wept at least twice.

Remarkable.

RATING:   * * * 1/2

OUTSTANDING ACHIEVEMENTS:   the animation team; plus the music by Laurent Perez del Mar


Live Theatre

“My Night with Reg” by Kevin Elyot at the Panasonic Theatre, Toronto

With three scenes taking place in a London flat in the 1980s, a group of gay friends converge during fun times and sad times.

There’s so much to praise in Elyot’s play. Let’s begin with the clever device of a frequently mentioned character who never actually appears but who has so strongly affected the lives of the others via infidelity and promiscuity. While this might make the story sound like heavy drama – and it is to a degree – it is told with such hilarity and wit that it also wins as a comedy. Jeff Miller and Martin Happer are particularly funny as, respectively, a sharp-tongued jet-setter and a no-nonsense bus driver.

After a scene has ended and the next one begun, there is also cleverness in the way the audience is brought up to speed with all that happened offstage during the transition – some events quite shocking and sad. To top it off, Elyot’s characters are rich and varied and not just in economic class. While some seem active and lucky in sexual encounters, others are less so in their appeal to manifest such “fun”. Yet it is also clear that the most sexually active aren’t necessarily happy.

With such a rich tapestry of characters and a superb blend of pathos with humour, “My Night with Reg” was a wonderful experience.

RATING:   * * * 1/2


Upcoming Movie Reviews:  Lion, Toni Erdmann, La La Land, 20th Century Women, Hidden Figures, Paterson, The Salesman, I Am Not Your Negro

Oscar Predictions 2017

Like all other past Oscar posts, here is a repeat of some notes before the predictions:

This is a summary of the result of other award institutions that have also presented awards thus far plus other recent Oscar trends.

 

For the predicted winners, the levels of strength are noted as follows:

(1)  unstoppable; pretty well a shoo-in

(2)  front-runner

(3)  ahead in the race but just barely

 

For the possible upsets, the levels of strength are as follows:

(4)  very strong possible upset

(5)  possible upset

(6)  long-shot / dark-horse

 

And the predictions:

Best Picture:  (2) La La Land; (5) Moonlight;  (6) Manchester by the Sea; Hidden Figures

Best Director:  (3) Damien Chazelle (La La Land); (4) Barry Jenkins (Moonlight)

Best Actress:  (2) Emma Stone (La La Land); (5) Isabelle Huppert (Elle); Natalie Portman (Jackie)

Best Actor:  (3) Casey Affleck (Manchester by the Sea); (4) Denzel Washington (Fences);  (6) Ryan Gosling (La La Land)

Best Supporting Actress:  (1) Viola Davis (Fences);  (6) Michelle Williams (Manchester by the Sea); Naomie Harris (Moonlight)

Best Supporting Actor:  (1) Mahereshala Ali (Moonlight):  (6) Lucas Hedges (Manchester by the Sea); Dev Patel (Lion)

Best Original Screenplay:  (3) Kenneth Lonergan (Manchester by the Sea);  (4) Damien Chazelle (La La Land)

Best Adapted Screenplay:  (3) B. Jenkins / A. McCraney (Moonlight);  (4) Eric Heisserer (Arrival);  (6) Luke Davies (Lion)

Best Foreign Language Film:  (3) Toni Erdmann (Germany);  (4) The Salesman (Iran);  (6) all other nominees

Best Documentary:  (1) OJ: Made in America;  (6) 13th;  I Am Not Your Negro

Best Animated Feature:  (1) Zootopia;  (6) Finding Dory;  The Red Turtle

 

Recent Movies: Nocturnal Animals; Rogue One; Fences

Recent Movies

Nocturnal Animals

Three stories take place concurrently:  1)Susan (Amy Adams) is a well-off L.A. art gallery owner whose second marriage is in trouble. She receives a manuscript from her first husband Edward (Jake Gyllenhaal) which she reads; 2)  the manuscript story is played out in which a couple and their teenage daughter run into troublesome hooligans while traveling late at night in Texas; 3)  in flashback, the story is told of the courtship and marriage between Susan and Edward.

The opening credits are used against a backdrop that is an art gallery installation display. To put it as kindly as possible, this sequence can likely only be appreciated by lovers of modern art – or those who pretend to appreciate it for the sake of social-climbing. Otherwise, director Tom Ford has created a beautiful film with a cosmopolitan vibe with fabulous set designs and beautiful background music. He also uses clever techniques to switch between storylines.

The Texas story begins with the perfect amount of suspense and tension. The trouble is that it is so well orchestrated that it becomes unbearable to watch the torment imposed on the young family. Within this sequence, Michael Shannon gives a standout performance as a no-BS law enforcer with health problems. He seems gruff but his heart is in the right place.

There’s a rather funny brief scene in the first story in which an art gallery meeting is taking place. One young woman is dressed in a way that makes one wonder if the rich really do have taste; the same can be said about another’s choice in cosmetic surgery; a third one is addicted to modern technology in one of the worst ways imaginable, sadly resembling many people these days.

While bizarre and uncomfortable at times, “Nocturnal Animals” still comes off as a film with style and skill.

RATING (out of four stars):  * * *


Rogue One

In the Star Wars anthology series, taking place just before the very first film in 1977 (which was fourth in the actual series): Jyn Erso (Felicity Jones) is on a mission to disable a planet-destroying device (the Death Star) that is owned by the Galactic Empire – a device that her father was forced to create.

As could be expected, the set design and special effects are breathtaking. But in fairness, without such technical superiority, the film would be bland. The story and characters are not captivating enough and occasionally, there is too much happening for the average viewer (as opposed to a sci-fi-geek) to follow without getting confused and even bored at times.

There are many scenes in which front-line soldiers for the “bad guys” are killed off in droves with an attitude that is meant to be comical. This is an old gag that cheapens life for those that are considered to be ‘nobodys’. The filmmakers could do better than this in their action scenes instead of regurgitating old crowd-pleasing techniques that have worked in the past but are now outdated.

While there were fine scenes and excitement in the beginning, these virtues were not maintained throughout the remainder of the film. There is also a very questionable use of CGI to recreate actors as they looked a long time ago (but not in a galaxy far far away). While the technology is brilliant, such usage is more than questionable.

I made the mistake of thinking that this film was the follow-up to last year’s entertaining “The Force Awakens”. It didn’t follow that film in either sequence or in quality.

RATING:   * *


Fences

Based on the play by August Wilson: in 1950s Pittsburgh, the story centres on Troy Maxson (Denzel Washington) and his family and friends. Troy is a troubled soul who believes life has given him a bad deal due to his race but his big breaks might have been missed due to other circumstances including his own misgivings. This causes a lot of family tension.

The effect of the scenes in this film vary: some are quite moving and engaging while others are too long. Troy has a troubled relationship with his teenage son Cory (Jovan Adepo). At the film’s beginning, this conflict plus Troy’s inner conflict seem like promising material but during the film’s long run, both of these conflicts seem to flatten and go nowhere despite the length of time they have to resolve themselves. Such criticisms might justify a maximum rating of two-and-a-half stars. But there are enough virtues in this film to raise the rating. These include the other scenes two of which stand out.

The final scene is the perfect conclusion of all that has taken place before it. It’s quite moving and leaves a lump in the throat. The film’s greatest scene, however, takes place in the second half when Troy has a confrontation with his wife Rose (Viola Davis). Both of these experienced performers are at their peak and they play off each other superbly. If there were an award category for Best Scene in a Film, this one would certainly qualify as a nominee.

In addition to Washington and Davis, there are also fine performances from Adepo and Mykelti Williamson who plays Troy’s brother, a World War II veteran who was mentally damaged during the war.

RATING:   * * *


Upcoming Movie Reviews:  Manchester by the Sea, Fantastic Beasts, The Red Turtle, Lion, Toni Erdmann, La La Land, Hidden Figures, 20th Century Women, Paterson

Recent Movies: Jackie; Hacksaw Ridge; Julieta

Recent Movies

Jackie

Based on the life of Jacqueline Kennedy (played by Natalie Portman), this film portrays her response after the 1963 assassination of her husband John via an interview for Life magazine and flashbacks.

The movie’s first half is superb. The re-enactment of the most remembered moments during that period are chilling and even frightening in their authenticity. Portman (who is consistently solid throughout the film) is moving during an emotional outburst during the interview.

The second half is still good though less strong than the first. There are too many timelines happening simultaneously. While this is never confusing, this approach prevents the viewer from getting emotionally involved in what is happening. As soon as things build up, we are switched to another timeline. Among the more moving scenes in this half are those where Kennedy expresses a loss in faith with her priest.

While Portman is always riveting as the main character (she even impersonates Kennedy’s voice), the film spends too much time on her and her alone. A little more exposure of other characters might have added some necessary variety. One such character is Rose Kennedy, JFK’s mother. At the time of the tragedy, Rose would have been experiencing the enormous grief of outliving a child for the third time (she would experience it again five years later). In “Jackie”, she is seen only briefly as a mother-in-law with conflicting views of John’s burial. More depth could have been explored here.

Indeed, “Jackie” has its flaws but they are thankfully outnumbered by its riches. Director Pablo Larrain succeeds in creating a somber mood throughout the film aided by the haunting music of Mica Levi.

RATING (out of four stars): * * *


Hacksaw Ridge

Based on a true story: Desmond Doss (played by Andrew Garfield) was an American pacifist who served as an unarmed medic on the battlefields during World War II. The film tells of his struggle to serve as he wanted to and his very unusual status as a war hero.

Doss’s story as a conscientious objector is very unusual. In most cases, this situation was used to avoid military service entirely. In Doss’ case, he truly wanted to serve but without holding or using a weapon. The uniqueness of this story goes further in the rare situation of a main character being ostracized due to faith (Doss was a Seventh-day Adventist) and principle. The story is further enhanced in its exploration of World War I veterans (here displayed by Desmond’s father) who remain bitter from their war experiences and can’t stand the idea of their sons going through the same hell.

Garfield does a fine job in displaying the naïveté and innocence of a rural Virginia boy with ideals that seem hopeless at first but who truly knows better by the end. Other stand-out performances include those of Hugo Weaving as Desmond’s troubled father and Vince Vaughan as an over-the-top drill sergeant who’s rather funny with his insults.

The battle scenes in Okinawa, Japan are very well orchestrated by director Mel Gibson. But sadly, these scenes are so long and frequent that their horror can end up numbing the audience who are well aware of the accuracy of such a tragic part of history – not only for that war but those that followed and those happening now.

“Hacksaw Ridge” is a fine war film with a very different twist on the meaning of heroism.

RATING: * * *


Julieta

Based on three short stories in “Runaway” by Alice Munro: the title character is a resident of Madrid who is suddenly re-stimulated by the pain of having been estranged by her young adult daughter many years ago. In flashback, the viewer is brought to an earlier time when Julieta meets her daughter’s father and the events that happened later. In the current time, Julieta is played by Emma Suarez; in the earlier flashbacks, she is played by Adriana Ugarte.

As directed by Pedro Almodovar, this movie is touching in ways that are mysterious, sensuous, and passionate. It pays off like so many other beautiful and exotic European films of the past. With beautiful locations that include Madrid, the Galician coast, and the Pyrenees countryside (and lifestyles of people who end up in places like Portugal, Switzerland, Lake Como, and Milan), the movie allows us non-Europeans to temporarily live vicariously through characters with such good fortune – even if their lives are sad in other ways.

By the end, there are some loose ends that are mainly due to some one-dimensional villains whose motives remain unexplained. They include a busybody, mean-spirited housekeeper and an unethical leader of a “spiritual” retreat centre. However, the bigger stories feel complete by the end, leaving “Julieta” a very fulfilling experience. Suarez’s performance in this movie is definitely an asset.

RATING:   * * *


Upcoming Movie Reviews:  Nocturnal Animals; Rogue One; Fences; Manchester by the Sea; Fantastic Beasts; Lion; La La Land; Hidden Figures; The Red Turtle; Toni Erdmann

Recent Movies: Loving; Cameraperson; Neruda

Recent Movies

Loving

Based on a true story: In rural Virginia in 1958, Richard Loving and Mildred Jeter (Joel Edgerton and Ruth Negga) are an inter-racial couple who live in a state where inter-racial marriages are illegal. They live through personal struggles while eventually getting legal help for their plight.

Director Jeff Nichols has created a fine film in that every scene has a certain edge – not just those including nasty law enforcers but even the day-to-day activities of the couple and their respective families. He is greatly assisted by Edgerton and Negga who not only give strong individual performances but they also share a great chemistry together. They are the essence of the film. Edgerton shows a quiet desperation in his face as he quietly goes about his business. Negga displays a dignity in her shyness and even shows a comical impishness in her enjoyment of media attention in the second half. Another fascination is that the two main players of this film are both introverts who are fully able to draw in the viewer – a rarity in a medium that is usually more fascinated with extroverts.

“Loving” is a fine film overall though it has more edge in its first half. The second half is easily comparable to other recent films (“Selma”, “The Butler”) involving U.S. civil rights battles in the 1960s. As the bar continues to get higher in this genre, it gets more difficult to surpass it. But “Loving” certainly meets it.

In the second half, there are occasional references to “the right to marriage” without being specific. It makes one wonder if the phrase is referring to another civil rights battle on marriage that would take place a half-century later.

RATING (out of four stars):   * * *


Cameraperson

Kirsten Johnson, an American cinematographer, directs this documentary using footage she has collected during the past thirty years.

This film’s most praiseworthy attribute is its uniqueness. In snippets that last only a few minutes, each little story (over twenty of them, many of them revisited during the film) say so much in such a short amount of time.

The subjects vary as well: the effects of ethnic cleansing and gang rapes in Bosnia, the troubles relating to Al-Qaeda, a heinous crime in small-town, Texas. Johnson also focuses on troublesome domestic situations in her home country including her mother’s fading health and mind.

While there seem to be many stories, they all seem to relate to a common theme of tragedy whether it be at the worldly or the personal level. Johnson has the great skill of giving the viewer just enough information to feel empathy but without being overwhelmed and numbed. In other words, she brings the viewer to her own deep level of humanity.

RATING:   * * *


Neruda

Part fact / part fiction:  based on the life of renowned Chilean poet Pablo Neruda, the film takes place in the 1940s when Neruda (played by Luis Gnecco) is a communist senator being hunted by a detective (Gael Garcia Bernal) as communism has just become illegal.

Director Pablo Narrain approaches his film with techniques that are very much like that of a poem – very appropriate considering the title character is a poet. Such techniques include dark rooms that are lit only with sunbeams streaking through windows, outdoor shots where the camera faces the sun which makes the actors into silhouettes, film-noir music, carefully crafted camera movements, voice-over narration by the main characters – all in very brief scenes.

With the deliberate choice of style over substance (though there is much substance), “Neruda” comes off as more a director’s film than one that highlights story and performances. This limited scope ends up having a limited result for a film that might have been more. But if the choice was to turn film into poetry, Narrain must be given credit for a successful venture.

RATING:   * * *


Upcoming movie reviews:  Jackie, Hacksaw Ridge, Julieta, Nocturnal Animals, Force One, Lion, La La Land, Hidden Figures

Recent Movies: Sully; Arrival; Things to Come

Recent Movies

Sully

Based on the true story of the 2009 emergency airplane landing in New York’s Hudson River: the events following the rescue include a hearing at the U.S. National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) which claims that the plane might have landed safely at a nearby airport and avoided endangering those on board.

“Sully” was based on the book “Highest Duty: My Search for What Really Matters” by Chesley Sullenberger (aka Sully, the flight’s captain) and Jeffrey Zaslow.

The choice of narrative structure was wisely chosen. Instead of beginning with the main event itself, the film starts with the beginning of the NTSB hearings and later shows the emergency landing in flashback. This sets up an unexpected focus: instead of highlighting heroism, the film concentrates on the problems the event triggered and the inner turmoil of Sully himself.

This movie works mainly because it is in the hands of two very able and trusted stalwarts: director Clint Eastwood and lead actor Tom Hanks. The simulation of the emergency landing is as thrilling as expected but there is just as much tension in the NTSB hearings. Here, the viewer is able to see the character behind someone (Sully) who can be extraordinary as he fights back but in a calm way; someone who thinks well and quickly; and also shows humility to acknowledge everyone’s participation in the successful rescue rather than letting himself be singled out. Only someone with the depth and experience of Hanks could pull this off so well.

The closing credits add a special bonus to this fine film. As it has already been mentioned: during that infamous decade, New Yorkers needed good news like this – especially news involving an airplane.

RATING (out of four stars): * * *


Arrival

The state of Montana is one of twelve places in the world where alien aircrafts have landed. Louise Banks (Amy Adams) is a renowned linguist who is recruited to study and interpret the language used by the aliens. She is assisted by a renowned scientist played by Jeremy Renner.

“Close Encounters of the Third Kind” will likely always be the benchmark for this genre (UFOs, alien landings). “Arrival” is a competent film with fine moments but it doesn’t feel engaging enough to fill its almost two hours. Indeed, the acting is good and the story is interesting though maybe a bit far-fetched. It also seems to borrow from “Gravity” in which the heroine has a similar difficult past.

The photography of this film is usually in dark tones. The interior scenes always have different levels of darkness. The outdoors scenes are mostly night-time, nightfall, just before dawn, or overcast days. The choice of maintaining darkness is interesting but after a while, it tends to keep the viewer at a distance.

[SPOILER ALERT]

Well, it’s sort of a spoiler. After the release of “The Martian” last year, someone astutely pointed out that that film and “Gravity”  were big-budget Hollywood sci-fi films that involved international co-operation, especially from China, in the rescue attempts. This good image of China seemed to be a way to draw Chinese film-goers to the movie. In “Arrival”, when it became apparent that China was, yet again, involved in an international effort, it was easy to predict one of the outcomes.

RATING:   * * 1/2


Things to Come

Nathalie Chazeaux (Isabelle Huppert) is a Parisian high-school philosophy teacher in her sixties. She seems to have an ideal family life. Her husband Heinz (André Marcon) also teaches philosophy at the same school and they have a content family life at home with their two young adult children. As the film progresses, life situations becomes less ideal for Nathalie including the mental and physical decline of her high-maintenance mother (Edith Scob).

The film’s beginning was fascinating. It included school protests against the current state of France; it also included a disagreement Nathalie has with a pair of marketing experts on how her book, written years ago, should be packaged to sell better. These scenes seemed to promise a critique of our modern times. While those themes more or less dissipated after the beginning, “Things to Come” remains an insightful film at other levels.

Yet again, Huppert raises the film to a higher level with her talent and presence portraying a role with which many in her life situation could identify. She seems strangely cool when given bad news but her humanity (and tears) show more clearly when she is alone.

This coolness is especially apparent in her final scene with Marcon. It is amazing how both seem to be having a casual conversation but there is so much bite and sadness in the subtext beneath their words. This scene is quite remarkable.

Director/writer Mia Hansen-Love presents her fine story free of any flash. Sometimes, this subtlety is welcome but this movie might have used just a little more flash to heighten a few scenes. But with such a fine lead player, Hansen-Love might have found this unnecessary. The bonus is the various philosophical discussions (including talk of the events around the 1968 uprising) which Nathalie has with her husband, her classes at school, and a former prized student who now lives in an anarchist commune in the countryside.

RATING:   * * *


Upcoming movie reviews:  Loving, Cameraperson, Neruda, Jackie, Manchester by the Sea, Lion, Hacksaw Ridge, Fences, La La Land, Julieta, Hidden Figures; Rogue One

Recent Movies: The Eagle Huntress, Elle, Queen of Katwe; Musical Theatre: Come From Away

Recent Movies

The Eagle Huntress

The subject of this documentary is Aisholpan Nurgaiv: a thirteen-year old girl from a nomadic, indigenous family in Mongolia. Her family, like others in her community, maintain a tradition in teaching the male members to capture a young eagle and train it to hunt for food and fur for the family. Aisholpan has an usually high interest and an inherent talent for such ventures herself thereby being the only known female in her community to ask to follow the path of the male lineage.

The sunny, winter mountainous scenery are a joy to the eye. Stunning vistas and aerial views are a gift to the viewer who can see the beauty without having to feel the cold temperatures.

The narrative of the documentary is pleasing though it has only minimal conflict and struggle (mostly against nature). In some ways, it is predictable. The final song to conclude the film is beautiful. But to choose it to round out this film seems to trivialize the experience through the perspective of western feminism. The movie is so much more than that.

The film is mostly a special father-daughter bonding experience. Aisholpan’s amiable personality wins over her father, her community, and the audience. In fact, her father’s support – and those of other family members – are paramount in her ability to break with tradition and do it so well. She never needs to be pushy, rebellious or troublesome. Her serenity is as much a strength as her abilities in eagle-training and hunting. This is seen in her day-to-day interactions at school and at home.

The special bond between the two is best seen when they are riding side-by-side on horseback each holding their hunting eagles on their right arm. The horses are riding in perfect unison. Add that to the magnificent background and it’s a vision that’s unforgettable.

RATING (out of four stars): * * *


Elle

Michèle Leblanc (Isabelle Huppert) is a well-off Parisian CEO of a video-game company. Her past includes a childhood trauma and her life is troubled in various ways among family, friends, and people at work. Things get worse when she is brutally raped and has a very unusual response to the situation.

In the film’s favour, it is very well directed by Paul Verhoeven who creates a dark and mysterious mood. He is well aided by the haunting musical score by Anne Dudley. Huppert is also marvelous in the lead role. This is to be expected as her presence and performances always raise her films to a higher level.

The trouble is in the role itself as well as the script. Yet again, Huppert plays a twisted sadomasochist like she did in “The Piano Teacher”. While she can be praised for taking on dark roles, it would be nice for the sake of contrast to see her in a cheesy rom-com in which her greatest dilemma would be deciding what to buy as a Christmas gift for a loved one.

Despite potential sympathy for all that has happened to her, Michèle, like almost everyone else in the movie, is unlikeable. David Birke’s screenplay has too many oddities and leaves too many loose ends by the conclusion. It also has a very contorted view of the traumatic experience of rape – something that leaves a poor taste by the end.

RATING: * *


Queen of Katwe

Based on a true story: Phiona Mutesi (Madina Nalwanga) is a ten-year old living in the slum district of Katwe, Uganda. Through the kind and able mentoring of a local missionary (David Oyelowo), she discovers the joys of chess and realizes a potential that is beyond her life circumstances. “Queen of Katwe” is an American film and in the English language.

The film’s first half is very appealing especially as it exposes class struggle and prejudice in various situations. Phiona is seen as the poorest of the poor when she first learns chess among neigbourhood peers; later, she and her new peers face further barriers and snobbery as their collective and individual talents take them to much higher places. It is more than just a battle against other chess opponents. The bigger battle is the internal voice that says, “I don’t belong here” when sent to places that radically differ from the Katwe slums.

Sadly, the film sags in the second half. It is even more disappointing that the directing is by Mira Nair who has done so well with other films especially “Monsoon Wedding” back in 2001. Despite the depth of the inspiring story in the first half, a blandness takes over in the second. This is unfortunate considering the movie’s potential. In any case, Oyelowo is moving as the father-like figure – not surprising considering his fine work in “Selma”.

RATING: * * 1/2


Musical Theatre

“Come From Away” at the Royal Alexandra Theatre, Toronto

The small town of Gander, Newfoundland welcomes strangers on U.S. flights that were not allowed to enter the U.S. following the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001. For the next few days, the passengers bond in an unexpected way with the locals before they are eventually allowed to return home.

The book, music, and lyrics are by Irene Sankoff and David Hein. This team shows great insight in their mix of intelligence, wit, and heart. The hilarity of the local situation is juxtaposed with the broader tragedy that created it. The humour is genuine as it blends with the bigger drama around it. This blend is enough reason to give this show high praise, yet there is so much more.

The ensemble of twelve players who each play various roles are perfect. Nobody stood out because everybody did: splendidly and absolutely. And they are so well co-ordinated by director Christopher Ashley and choreographer Kelly Devine. The energy is constant and the change of scenes, with actors casually re-arranging chairs and tables, looks effortless.

Some of the best humour comes through when crime-wary Americans are shocked, in a good way, by the well-known hospitality and trusting nature of Newfoundlanders. Yet, the main reason that this show is a winner is its exposure of the human condition and how the best of humanity comes through in such unexpected ways during a shocking tragedy. It also shows how people’s lives were touched in ways that they might not have been otherwise.

This show is expected to play on Broadway soon. I hope it lives on forever. I look forward to seeing it again.

RATING:   * * * *


Upcoming movie reviews:  Sully, Arrival, Things to Come, Loving, Cameraperson, Neruda, Manchester by the Sea, Jackie, Lion, La La Land, Fences, Julieta

 

Dennis Bowman