Wednesday, April 21, 2021

THE VIRTUOSO

Anson Mount     Abbie Cornish     Anthony Hopkins     Eddie Marsan     Richard Brake     David Morse

 


A virtuoso in crime with a conscience…  That’s a tall order.  Not one that could happen?  Maybe.  It’s not far-fetched, but that’s what this movie is based upon.  It starts out and we can see the virtuoso planning very carefully what he does ahead of time, with strict rules for self-behavior.  We’re impressed with his forethought in planning for contingencies and his precision.  Typically, he’s given only scant details about the job he is to do; nevertheless he is compelled to go forward, and when he is given a job that takes only 48 hours to enact—one in which he needs more planning time, he is not pleased but forges ahead.  

The script by James C. Wolf, which has a few questions to answer to—is mostly fine, pulling us in, throwing out cues, and making every chance encounter meaningful.  But I think most people will see the denouement coming well beforehand.  This is an unforgiving give-away in the film that Virtuoso portends to be.

Kudos can be given to Anson Mount (the Virtuoso) for conveying the mystique and sardonic ambiguity needed for the role, along with Abbie Cornish (the Waitress), who lends the right amount of flirtation and genuine interest needed to further the story.  Anthony Hopkins plays the role of the “director” of crimes with practiced expertise, and provides enough mystery combined with benevolence to lend credence to the plot.

This is a sort-of playful crime drama that can be enjoyed during a relaxing evening at home.  It’s not a block-buster type of movie, but one that will entertain you on a pleasant evening.  Maybe the filmmakers needed more time, but I think they didn’t deliver what they promised—a gripping, well-crafted  scenario exploiting Mount’s and Hopkins’ assets would give us more of a thrill.

 

Let’s give it to virtuosos who know their craft and employ it to their advantage, even though they too are fallible.

 

Grade:  C+                           By Donna R. Copeland

TOGETHER TOGETHER

 Patti Harrison, Ed Helms, Rosalind Chao

Timm Sharp     Bianca Lopez     Nora Dunn     Fred Melamed


            The title Together Together is apt in its description of two people who are “linked”, but who are and aren’t together and have to work that out—along with everyone acquainted with them.  Not many of us have thought about a situation in which a single man wants a family, engages someone willing to be a surrogate, and then must fill in the blanks of what happens during the next nine months.  Not only is it unusual in the first place, but how might it be over the long term?  Those are the questions posed by the filmmakers in a humorous, sit-com-like presentation that could easily be the basis for further discussion.  It’s predictable up to a point, but the writing and acting will keep you engaged.

            The story opens with Matt (Helms) interviewing Anna (Harrison).  We get the impression that it’s a match.com situation, but it’s not.  Matt is looking for a surrogate to birth his baby.  After they come to an agreement, we see his neurotic considerations immediately erupt (control issues coupled with health concerns) with her obviously low-key genuine responses.  This will carry on for a while, as they both adjust to their new circumstances.  He regards her solely as the mother of his child, and he wants to make sure that she provides as healthy an “environment” as possible for the developing embryo.  He is overbearing, but Anna usually accedes to him, although with a raised eyebrow at times.  

            What proceeds are edgy and humorous encounters as each one tries to exult in/hide the news from people they know.  Matt is ready to announce to the world that he is to be a father.  Anna has good reasons to keep her pregnancy quiet.  The movie does a good job in showing the vacillations each player goes through in assessing the situation.  Mostly, it’s Anna trying to be realistic, while Matt bounds through all kinds of emotions.  (A good switch on stereotypes).  To his credit, he wants to be as much involved as possible in the development of the child.  But at one point, Anna realizes they need to have more boundaries.

            Although this is a comedy, it pitches us forward to a new world, one in which couples and family have taken on different meanings.  I like its gentleness in introducing situations that may be shocking to the general public to ease the transition into something different ahead of us.

            Acting by the experienced Ed Helms is exemplary, and he is well matched by Patti Harrison, who demonstrates all kinds of subtle expressions and actions that reveal her character.  She is ultra appealing.  Nicole Beckwith as writer/director rewards us with a fresh new look at our society and its contents/discontents.  I will look forward to seeing more from her in the future.

 

Boy meets girl in a way different from what you have possibly imagined.  

 

Grade:  B                              By Donna R. Copeland

PERCY VS GOLIATH

Christopher Walken     Roberta Maxwell     Zach Braff     Christina Ricci     Adam Beach     Luke Kirby

 


Percy is an irascible old farmer who’s had minor disappointments with his son who chose teaching rather than farming (which Percy’s ancestors from the old country had perpetuated), but he’s come to terms with that, and although he rarely expresses any emotions, he clearly loves his wife, son, and their community in Saskatchewan, Canada.

Award-winning Christopher Walken fills the order perfectly to play the part of Percy.  He is leading a relatively happy life in his early 70’s, has just invested in some new farming equipment, and his supportive wife Louise (Maxwell) and he are close to the townspeople in their small community.  They have no idea what’s ahead.

What’s ahead is giant corporation Monsanto suing Percy for some of his canola seeds resembling their patented ones.  It claims that every product harvested by Percy is actually theirs because he didn’t pay for their seeds, even though the seeds were (presumably) blown by the wind into his crop.  What becomes a matter of contention is how Monsanto’s seeds got mixed up with his.  He had followed instructions from his ancestors to save the best seeds from one year to plant the next year.  As far as he knew, these seeds were separate from any others.

Enter an environmental group wanting to make Percy’s case known to the world.  Rebecca (Ricci) is a young, passionate advocate for the cause against Monsanto for its GMO, and she encourages him to fight for his case.  His lawyer (Braff) tries to persuade him to settle with Monsanto to save horrendous legal fees involved in contesting the case.  

Percy is a practical man who relies on logic in making his decisions.  He is clearly torn about what to do.  Rebecca sees the issue on a global scale; so many farmers are being done in by Monsanto, and she urges him to fight, offering some incentives for getting financial help.  

            Unfortunately, the film is not clear about exactly how much help Percy actually receives from the environmental group.  He continues to fight his case all the way up to the Canadian Supreme Court.  But the film is timely and worthwhile in pointing out the encroachment of corporations like Monsanto on innocent people.  For example, “each GM seed is patented and sold under exclusive rights.  Therefore, farmers must purchase the GM seeds anew each year, because saving seeds is considered to be patent infringement. Anyone who does save GM seeds must pay a license fee to actually re-sow them.”

            The film directed by Clark Johnson is engaging, and highlights the current issue of multinational corporations having so much power over the common people.  It makes its point very well, and instead of delivering ultimate satisfaction, shows what efforts it takes to defend against large corporations bent on making a profit despite its repercussions.

 

Taking on a big corporation these days is an almost insurmountable problem for an individual.

 

Grade:  B                              By Donna R. Copeland



Thursday, April 15, 2021

VANQUISH

Morgan Freeman     Ruby Rose     Patrick Muldoon

 


            Astonishingly clever!  With a cool script, incredible cinematography (Anastas N. Michos) and music (Aldo Shilaku), Gallo et al. have recreated the genre in a very different way.  Morgan Freeman in his inimitable way and Ruby Rose bring it to life.  

            The story begins with headlines obscured by film credits of a hero policeman, Damon (Freeman) being shot and confined to a wheelchair.  Later, when we see his “confession” at church it’s a bit puzzling.  But all will be explained during the course of the movie—the whole movie.

            Damon is sitting on the wharf at his glittering white mansion contemplating.  What is he thinking about?  When he is back in the house, his trusted caretaker Victoria (Rose) appears with her daughter—whom she is devoted to—wanting to serve dinner.  Very soon, it seems urgent for Damon to talk to her.  He wants her to do five errands for him.  These errands are related to her past life, which she has foresworn.  She argues with him, not succumbing to temptation.  He insists, appealing to her devotion to her daughter.  

            She has no choice; he has her over a barrel, so we see her donning special equipment and roaring out on a motorcycle, special helmet on head.  Her assignment is to pick up packages at five locations and bring them to him.  She isn’t informed about what they will be (although she seems to know), but eerily, at every stop she encounters someone who knows her from her past—a murky past.

            Cinematography and music play a dominant role in the plot, accentuating emotions evoked in the viewer.  When the mood is scary, weird, tense—whatever—every element works to bring you along.

            This is a story that, it turns out, is simple and direct, once all the elements are in place.  Maybe it’s one that some people will figure out right away, but I was led down the garden path, and thoroughly enjoyed it.

        Not a great film in the grand scheme of things, but well done with notably artistic cinematography and musical renditions.

 

Vanquish is teeth gritting much of the time, but the underlying story is one of substance.

 

Grade:  B                              By Donna R. Copeland



BEAST BEAST

Shirley Chan     Will Madden     Jose Angeles

 


       The film cleverly begins with an acting troupe you see rehearsing, and from this, writer/director Danny Madden artfully blends together fantasy and reality, which I think is the main asset of Beast Beast.  Different “games/scenarios” get included throughout, and most of the time we’re clear about what we’re watching.  But not always.  Some of the scenes toward the end make one want to veer toward fantasy rather than reality.

             But the film is also a character study of Adam (Madden), one of the main characters who befriends a newly arrived high school student named Nito (Angeles) who seems to be something of a master of the skateboard.  How much older is Adam?  Does he invite Nito to a party and take him to school for some ulterior reason?  We’re not sure; it could go either way.  Just as much a character study is Krista.  We only see her with both parents once during a silent dinner.  Her mother shows her devotion a couple of times, but even she doesn’t seem to have a foggy notion of what Krista’s life is like.  But Krista has experienced—and processed—her contemporary world and realizes that females can be exploited.  And we see Nito, an outsider who wins acceptance by virtue of his canniness and skills.  He’s the one our hearts go out to the most.  Somehow along the way he has developed a basic sense of trust which cements his relationship with Krista, but he has not developed discernment that will protect him from exploitation.

Adam—not necessarily the most popular in his group—has his own podcast about the subject of guns, the technicalities of them, and how to use them to their best advantage in protecting oneself.  Adam reassures his family that selling ads on it earns money, meaning he will be able to support himself from it.  He lives with his mother and stepfather, who is on the verge of kicking Adam out of the family home, to which Adam has a startling reaction.  The family is a little taken aback by his podcast, but seem to accept the rationale that Adam is presenting, that guns have a good purpose.

The shenanigans of some of the students in Adam’s group begin to make the viewer uneasy, especially the apparent “corruption” of the innocent Nito, who is clearly a “nerd” looking for acceptance, but somehow has basic human values (which he has clearly not acquired from any parent).  A tribute to the writing is that all the characters are shown to have believable backgrounds from a psychological standpoint.  Nito lives with a self-centered foster(?) father.  Adam confronts opinions around the dinner table that either don’t interest him or he does not have the slightest idea of their import.  Krista (Chen) has a mother who is clearly devoted to her but does not fathom in the least what her daughter is about or goes through.

Beast Beast has a title that I think is asking the question about “beasts” among us i.e., guns.  It takes on the question about guns and gun rights in a very piercing way.  Who has the “right” of owning a gun and how do we determine that?

 

Beast Beast will provoke many deep feelings among its viewers by providing a way to evaluate our concepts/beliefs about guns and who should have them.

 

Grade:  A                              By Donna R. Copeland



Thursday, April 8, 2021

THE MAN WHO SOLD HIS SKIN


                            Yahya Mahayni     Dea Liane     Monica Bellucci     Koen De Bouw     Marc De Panda

 


            A Syrian man on a train impulsively stands up yelling about “Revolution”—but it’s not political; Sam (Mahayni) just wants a woman to marry him against her family’s wishes.  But such shouts are dangerous in Syria, the man is arrested, jailed, and cannot travel anywhere. Except…he escapes prison and gets to Lebanon.  Meanwhile, his love has been married off to a Belgian, but he sees this as no impediment to his pursuit.  He thinks that if only he can get to Belgium he can recapture his love, Abeer (Liane).  

Sam’s chance for that seems to come from a contemporary artist with a seemingly modest proposal:  To tattoo his back as a living piece of art—not with just any tattoo, but of a visa, which, of course, Sam desperately needs.  Sam agrees to the proposal after artist Jeffrey (De Bouw) promises he can arrange for a visa for Sam to go to Belgium.  Everything happens as planned (and we are impressed with the ease with which those who know the system can achieve whatever they wish).

Sam travels with his “handler” Soraya (Bellucci) to Belgium and is ensconced in the high life (five-star hotels, with room service).  When he is displayed as an art piece in museums (sitting still, no wandering away or talking to fans), he is a little impatient, but still appreciates what he has.  However, he has not let go of his love or his fantasies of being with her.

Things get complicated, and the viewer will be entertained by the cross currents of love, political power, and art.  Sam thinks his tattoo is his own right to personal freedom, but he is confronted by decisions he is forced to make that will have far-reaching consequences to those he holds dear. and finally realizes it’s not so simple.

The story is filled with intrigue and political commentary, and the cinematographer (Christopher Aoun) is masterful in putting his own artistic stamp on the proceedings in such an illuminating way it elaborates on the story.  Writer/director Kaouther Ben Hania shows a keen sense for modulation and timing such that the viewer is actively engaged at all times.

Nominated for Best International Feature by the Academy Awards, The Man Who Sold His Skin is well worth your watching time.

 

The Man Who Sold His Skin gets into the cross currents of love, political power, and art.

 

Grade:  B                              By Donna R. Copeland





Thursday, April 1, 2021

BETTER DAYS

 Dongyu Zhou     Jackson Yee     Zheng Yi


         Bullying is no joke, as so eloquently demonstrated in this fine production from China/Hong Kong, skillfully directed by Derek Tsang.  Chen Nian (Zhou) is a quiet, studious teenager.  She is from a humble background (her mother has to survive by selling illegal products), but she’s very smart, and has promise to score so well in the upcoming national tests she is likely to be able to attend the college of her choice.

         Ah, but life has its own agenda.  A group of girls at school pick a classmate to bully, with the result that one student kills herself.  Chen Nian is so moved, she shows sympathy and heartbreak, which makes her a candidate for the next target.  Sure enough, that’s what happens.

         On the way home one day, a dangerous route, she observes a gang beating and dials the police, which brings the wrath of the gang upon her.  The one who defends her is the one who was being beaten, Bei Xiao (Yee).

Bei is a street kid who has had to survive any way he can.  The two then form a surprising friendship, despite her reluctance to engage with anyone other than her mother.  (This is surprising at first, but makes perfect sense the more you know.)

         But Nian needs protection, so she takes Bei up on his offer to protect her from the school bullies.  The script writers (Wing-Sum Lam, Yuan Li, Yimeng Xu, Nan Chen) periodically insert tenderly humorous scenes in the movie that compensate for so many brutal ones.  For instance, Bei has Nian pull out her notebook and a pen from her backpack to sign a statement that she owes him [something, purposefully unspecified] for his protection, since she has told him she can’t pay him.  It should be noted that the script is based on Jiuyue Xi’s novel, translated as In His Youth, in Her Beauty.

         The plot becomes impressively complex, and to the filmmakers’ credit, it becomes not only a nail-biter, but makes substantive social commentary as well.  The events at school and on the way home dial up the tension, particularly viz a viz the main characters.  In the process, social class arises as an issue not acknowledged much by the characters, but clearly evident as a force.  I love the way the film so touchingly answers the question of how a bright college-bound student and a punk on the streets can bond together in a life-long commitment.  

         Zhou and Yee, the two main actors along with Fang Yin as the young policeman, give glowing performances which give the film so much soul, and bring out the deep humanness and commitment to honesty and wisdom each of their characters conveys.

         It’s unfortunate that the filmmakers go along with the current fad (at least that’s what I call it) of cutting back and forth between current and past scenes, which I think is meant to make the film more exciting, but simply annoys someone like me. 

         Better Days is nominated for an Academy Award in the International category, well deserved for such a perceptive film.

 

A surprising take on bullying among teenagers, showing with great sensitivity the complexities involved, but, unfortunately, likely to be missed in our rough and tumble world.

 

Grade:  A-                   By Donna R. Copeland