Saturday, May 21, 2016

movie review: Blood Father

Blood Father
France, 2016
Directed by Jean-François Richet

I can't say I had high hopes when I found out the final movie at Cannes would be Blood Father, starring Mel Gibson as an ex-convict trying to save his daughter (Erin Moriarty) from drug dealers who want to kill her. First of all, I'm not a Mel Gibson fan (though I have enjoyed his earlier movies like Lethal Weapon), and secondly, the story sounded cheesy and tired.

Maybe it was because of my low expectations, but I found to my surprise that the movie was pleasantly entertaining. Mel Gibson turned in a performance worthy of his pre-nutball self--he and Moriarty had lovely chemistry as a father and daughter. The other supporting actors like William H. Macy and Diego Luna were also very good. The dialogue was funny and quick, the action sequences were nicely filmed, and the plot clipped along briskly without lagging.

The story, based on a novel by Peter Craig, is nothing particularly original, but it is logical and well plotted. In a sea of action movies that insist on weirdly intricate plots, its simplicity was actually refreshing. I was thankful that the straightforward plot allowed the focus to remain on the characters' relationship; most of the screen time is taken up by Moriarty and Gibson, and they are a genuine pleasure to watch.

With Blood Father, Mel Gibson seems to have taken a step back from the abyss of Hollywood purgatory he's (deservedly) been in for a few years. If he can keep turning in good work in roles like this one, Hollywood and the viewing public may forgive him yet.

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

movie review: Fool Moon (original title: Forêt des Quinconces)

Fool Moon (original title: Forêt des Quinconces)
(France, 2016)
Dir. Grégoire Leprince-Ringuet

When the movie begins, it has the appearance of being a lighthearted romantic comedy, but Fool Moon (Forêt des Quinconces) is nothing of the sort. Yes, Paul (Grégoire Leprince-Ringuet) is in love with his girlfriend Ondine (Amandine Truffy), and is understandably broken-hearted when she dumps him. Yes, he goes on a sad sack bender and has to be rescued from a Paris sidewalk by his brother-in-law the next morning. Yes, Paul vows to win Ondine back. However, it's at this point that the movie takes a sharp departure from rom-com territory.

Wandering around broken-hearted, Paul trips over the coin box of a homeless man (Thierry Hancisse) living in a Paris underpass. As he apologizes and picks up the man's money, he is drawn into a conversation in which it is revealed that the homeless man is actually Chance, or Fate.

It's at this point that audiences might realize the (original French) dialogue is in rhyming meter. As the film progresses, we see more Shakespearean elements and it becomes clear this is a project designed to push the boundaries of what the typical film audience is used to. It is fun to see Shakespearean melodrama clothed in 21st century garb and a modern Parisian setting, with clubs, cafes and the Metro.

It's not a perfect movie; the film is still a bit rough around the edges in terms of writing and story structure. Occasionally it seems that Leprince-Ringuet sacrifices substance in service of style. The film treads dangerously close to preciousness at times, which gets tiresome. Also, even if we accept the conceit that Paul, Ondine and Paul's new mysterious lover Camille (Pauline Caupenne) are not meant to be realistic but rather to fulfill 'types' in a Shakespearean tragicomedy, we expect at least a little bit of logic in the narrative.

However, it's an admirably ambitious project and a nice change of pace from a typical romantic comedy-drama. The dialogue, when it works, is very good, and the actors inhabit their characters well. The scene with the dance troupe is particularly outstanding in its music choice and choreography.

This movie is not for everyone, but for those who like something unexpected and are okay with theatricality, it's an enjoyable experiment. I imagine Leprince-Ringuet will only get better with each subsequent film, since he already shows clear talent, even if there is room for improvement.

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

movie review: Happy Times Will Come Soon (original title: I tempi felici verranno presto)

Happy Times Will Come Soon
I tempi felici verranno presto (original title)
(Italy/France, 2016)
Dir. Alessandro Comodin

It's hard to say what this movie is about, because it's deliberately ambiguous. Director Alessandro Comodin explores the idea of local legends and their basis in real life events, but we are never sure if what we are seeing is the legend or the truth.

The movie is divided into distinct segments that tell separate stories with overlapping elements: young men on the run from...something; a sheltering but ominous forest; a wolf that hunts humans; mysterious caves and pools of water; hunters and prey; young women who disappear and reappear.

The film plays with timelines in a way that is deliberately confusing. It's hard to know the order of events, or the nature of the relationships between characters. Some segments are very naturalistic (there is one bit in the middle that suddenly shifts from narrative film to pseudo documentary interviews with local villagers about a wolf in the forest that may have abducted a young woman), while others seem dreamlike. The viewer is left with more questions than answers.

The forest is beautifully filmed, and the actors are very good. However, I was disappointed overall. I think the director deliberately aimed for (and achieved) ambiguity and incoherence, but it did not seem to serve a discernible purpose, and as a result was quite alienating. I'd only recommend this film for people who love inexplicable art house cinema and are not bothered in the least by not knowing what the hell is going on a lot of the time.

This film does get some bonus points, however, for featuring the most adorable donkey I've ever seen.

Saturday, May 14, 2016

movie review: Train to Busan (original title: Bu-San-Haeng)

Train to Busan (original title: Bu-San-Haeng)
(South Korea, 2016)
directed by Yeon Sang-Ho

Train to Busan is above all else a fun movie. It shouldn't be taken seriously and it doesn't want to be. Sequel/prequel to the not yet released animated film Seoul Station, the movie has a simple storyline: a bullet train is headed from Seoul to Busan during a mysterious national crisis...which turns out to be a deadly zombie virus. (Amusing intermittent news reports show various government officials assuring the public that they're safe and everything is definitely under control. DON'T WORRY!)

It's a fairly straightforward example of the genre, but that's fine, because it revisits well-trod ground with style. The cast is excellent, especially Kim Soo-Ahn, the young actress who plays Su-an, a smart and sensitive child travelling to visit her mother in Busan, accompanied by her workaholic, self centred father Seok-wu (Gong Yoo). The other characters who band together with them to survive are definitely familiar types: the very pregnant and vulnerable--but also super-tough and determined--Sung-Kyu (Jung Yu-Mi) and her blustery, tender, goofy husband Sang-Hwa (Ma Dong-Seok) who turns out to be a first class zombie ass-kicker. There is also a brave and selfless homeless man (whom the other passengers initially want to throw off the train while ignoring the infected young schoolgirl who initially brings the virus on the train); a pair of elderly sisters whose endearing bond provides one of the catalysts in the film, and some high school sweethearts on a sports trip with their baseball team. There is also a deliciously awful villain, the kind audiences love to hate--an amoral CEO who is determined that HE is not going to get eaten by zombies, no matter what happens or who he has to sacrifice.

The story is mostly a cautionary tale not against the undead but against the base human instincts--greed, selfishness, corruption and general moral bankruptcy--that have allowed the situation to happen in the first place. There are just as many tear-inducing scenes of emotional redemption as there are scenes that make you jump in fright. There is also a lot of humour, and of course plenty of fast moving terrifying zombie action--it is still a horror/thriller after all.

Overall, I thoroughly enjoyed watching Train to Busan. It was a treat to watch it with the cast and director in the audience, surrounded by an enthusiastic crowd that clapped and cheered when the heroes prevailed, and sighed sadly when they didn't. It was a very participatory experience, which suited the movie perfectly. Highly recommended if you like zombie movies...and maybe even if you normally don't!

Wednesday, May 04, 2016

Hamburger knitting pattern

I've just added another free knitting pattern to my Ravelry store--this one is for a knitted hamburger toy that comes apart into separate pieces: bun (top and bottom), patty, cheese slice, tomato, lettuce leaf.

I designed and knit this for my cousin's two year old, Little E. It arrived at their house today and is apparently a big hit! Little E spent quite a bit of time assembling it and taking it apart. Her mom sent me photos and video of her doing this and it is very cute!

You can download the pdf here. Please note the errata! (I have not corrected the pdf yet since I can't seem to find the editable original document, sigh.)