Tuesday, March 2, 2021

film review: The End of the Storm



Directed by James Erskine

Written by James Erskine

ChinoKino score: D

Review by Allan Tong

The End of the Storm plays like one of those glossy mini-hagiographies that sports networks run during intermissions to keep hometown fans cheering between halves and periods. The big difference is that End of the Storm runs for 99 agonizing minutes and hypes the entire Liverpool football club who topped the Premier League in 2019-20. 

I'm not slagging Liverpool FC at all. They're a great team. Legends. But this documentary is such an obvious exercise in corporate P.R. that I get no sense of what it's really like for them to compete in the top football (soccer) league on the planet. Pro football is big business, where coaches are turfed when their team slides or players are hounded by fans when they slump. The pressure is enormous, the egos are explosive and the fan expectations unrealistic. You get none of that in this film.

Sunday, February 28, 2021

What to watch this week: Pelé, Tokyo Girl, Creem magazine


Tokyo Girl

reviews by Allan Tong 

TOKYO GIRL (on Prime)

ChinoKino score: A

Tokyo Girl would kick Emily in Paris' ass in a Superbowl game.

Tokyo Girl is a Prime series about a smalltown girl who finds her dreams working in fashion in the big city, while Emily in Paris, the Netflix hit, follows a Chicago girl who trimphs in the European culture capital through her Instagram account. Both heroines are fishes out of water, bore wear gorgeous clothes and they dine in dazzling restaurants with lovers and backstabbing colleagues.

After watching Emily in Paris, I remember gorgeous Paris and posh clothes. After watching Tokyo Girl I remember work triumphs, everyday struggles and broken relationships. I remember watching a real person mature.

This comparison, I admit, can go only so far. Emily is told in real time while Tokyo Girl spans nearly 20 years in the heroine's life. Also, Emily is lighter while TG mixes drama with laughs.

Both shows are helmed by strong actresses, though. Emily takes a lot slagging for being an American philistine, but Lily Collins nails the role. Collins injects her character with unexpected vulnerability at times. (A shout-out goes to Philippine Leroy-Beaulieu who nails Emily's bitch boss.) Asami Mizukawa (pictured above) has a tougher gig in Tokyo Girl, portraying how smalltown girl Aya turns into career woman Aya by age 40, when she wonders what th hell she'll do next with her life. Mizukawa pulls it off.

TG's writing is tougher, smarter and more complex. Guys need to watch this show to understand women better. Emily, in contrast, overdoses on gee-whiz sweetness that would kill a diabetic. But, hey, Paris, is dazzling.

The call: Tokyo Girl by 14 points.


PELÉ (on Netflix)

ChinoKino score: B

Before Michael Jordan and Wayne Gretzky, there was Pelé. This kid from the slums of Sao Paulo shot to football (soccer) superstardom and put Brazil atop the football map. This doc covers the meat of his career, playing for Santos and leading Brazil to three World Cups, from 1958 to 1970.

Those years were a hell of a ride that lifted Brazilian national pride and made Pelé a rock star. Goals, goals, goals. There's an endless stream of Pelé making acrobatic moves on the football pitch, drawn from vintage black-and-white footage and grainy colour. This doc is thrilling to watch, and captures a lot of Pelé's former teammates and coaches on camera recounting their victories and struggles.

Pelé himself, now 80, tells a lot of his story. He needs a walker these days, undoubtedly a result of many years of taking cheap shots from less-talented opponents. Yet, he still speaks with a sparkle in his eye. All great. However, the issue of him never opposing Brazil's dictator, who imprisoned and murdered his countrymen from 1964 to 1985, is thorny. Credit this film for including Pelé's critics as as well as offering Pelé's own justification for keeping his nose out of politics. Maybe we expect too much from our athletic heroes (Jordan and Gretzky were also apolitical, not Ali), but I winced when Pelé hugs the country's butcher after the 1970 World Cup victory.

Friday, February 19, 2021

What to watch tonight on Netflix, Prime & Crave


reviews by Allan Tong 


THE CROWN (on Netflix)

ChinoKino score: A+

A dramatic series about a rich English family who live in big houses with servants, and they can't stand each other's spouses. The Crown covers the second half of Britain's 20th century and the latest season explores the slick, big-shouldered 1980s. This season (arguably the best) features a powerful woman named Thatcher (brilliantly played by that redhead from X-Files, Gillian Anderson) who bosses a lot of wimpy men around, even though she herself doesn't like women. Thatcher must be a cokehead, because she perpetually speaks as if she has something stuck up her nose.

Meanwhile, the rich family is thoroughly miserable, though they live in really nice palace and millions of people love them, especially the blonde princess, Diana.

The show hits a grand slam in every department: writing, acting, directing. By now, everyone on the planet including the Pope has seen The Crown, so if you haven't, what are you waiting for?

FLACK (on Prime)

ChinoKino score: A-

Canadian Anna Paquin, heads a quartet of spin doctors (Latin for bullshit) in London who rescue their showbiz clients from all kinds of emergencies they get themselves into, whether it's obnoxious behaviour on a transatlantic fight, faking a lesbian sex tape, or a gay hooker OD'ing in a hotel room. The irony is that Robyn is a bigger screw-up than all her clients while her colleagues are no better.

Friday, February 12, 2021

film review: Supernova


Directed by Harry Macqueen

Written by Harry Macqueen

ChinoKino score: B+

Review by Allan Tong

The hard reality is that dementia is increasing as our population ages. Supernova addresses how one couple deals with this terrible disease. Specifically, dementia corrodes the memory of older people. They forget where they are, who they are and who they love. Even buttoning a shirt becomes confusing. It can take a few years or many to attack a person. In Supernova, Tusker (Stanley Tucci) was diagnosed a few years ago, so his dementia is in the early innings. Most of the time Tusker knows where he is and who can recognize his lover, Sam (Colin Firth). However, unexpectedly Tusker forgets everything, which can be dangerous. He can literally wander into harm.

In a trailer home, Tusker and Sam journey through England's gorgeous Lake District to relive happy times they spent there. They also visit Sam's childhood home where his sister now lives. She's a safe harbour in a stormy time. The couple want to enjoy this experience together while Tusker still can.

Thursday, February 4, 2021

film review: Falling


Directed by Viggo Mortensen

Written by Viggo Mortensen

ChinoKino score: C

Review by Allan Tong

Falling marks the directorial debut of Canadian award-winning actor Viggo Mortensen. The death of Mortensen's mother inspired him to reflect on his parents' divorce and led to him to write this story. How much of this film is autobiographical is unclear, but Falling centres on a fraught father-son relationship as the father searches for a new home and struggles with his health. Mortensen performs triple duty by playing son John, who lives in Los Angeles with his husband Eric (Terry Chen) and their adopted daughter. They take in the old man.

The father is Willis (Lance Henriksen) who is frankly a homophobic, nasty old man. He is suffering the early stages of dementia, which makes John's burden even heavier. Unsurprisingly, Willis attacks his son's homosexuality relentless, even as John feeds and shelters him. John's family restrains itself and doesn't fight back. They just grin and bear it.

Friday, December 18, 2020

film review: Another Round


Directed by Thomas Vinterberg

Written by Tobias Lindholm & Thomas Vinterberg

ChinoKino score: A

Review by Allan Tong

Suppose you went through daily life drunk?

This is the question that four jaded, middle-aged teachers in Denmark pose to each other, citing (and likely distorting) a scientific study that claims that humans are born with a 0.5 alcohol level shortfall. Martin (played by the superb Mads Mikkelsen) is the focus of this morality tale that balances drama with dark humour. Martin's marriage has gone stale and he bores his history students to the point of them openly revolting. Then, the four guys meet for a 40th birthday and vow to get tipsy, then progressively hammered to prove this theory. 

Did I mention that they were school teachers? Pretty soon, the gym teacher (finely played by Vinterberg veteran, Thomas Bo Larsen) hides bottles in the equipment room until the janitor discovers them. In contrast, Martin actually comes alive as the booze fuels his spirit. He makes love to his wife for the first time in ages, and excites his students when he teaches them about World War Two.

Friday, November 27, 2020

film review: Zappa


Directed by Alex Winter

ChinoKino score: A-

Review by Allan Tong

How to sum up the career of the one of music's most provocative, ornery, diverse and contrary talents in two hours? Alex Winter does a good job capturing one of music's most iconoclastic figures in this new documentary, simply called Zappa. No, Zappa isn't complete. The doc goes easy on Frank's notorious arrogance, and unfortunately leaves much of his early family life--and the forces that shaped his headstrong personality--vague. However, Winter does paint a complex, exciting portrait of a unique talent who still attracts a fervant cult of fans. As Alice Cooper says in the film about FZ, "He had the freaks and the artsy people. Then, he had the whole middle that didn't get it."

I'm no Zappa freak, but I do respect his stature in modern music. It's best to approach this film with an open mind or to know nothing about the man at all. Zappa freaks will probably know a lot of the information disclosed here, like Zappa drumming in an interracial band in the late-1950s when segregation still gripped the United States, or his obscenity bust a few years later (likely a set-up) for making an "obscene" recording when he ran a recording studio.

Friday, October 2, 2020

film review: Save Yourselves!


Directed & written by Alex H. Fischer & Eleanor Wilson

ChinoKino score: B-

Review by Allan Tong

A tongue-in-cheek comedy about social media, Save Yourselves! is a fun, likable film centering on a  Brooklyn couple named Jack (John Reynolds) and Su (Sunita Mani). Like countless millennials, they are addicted to their devices. Phones, laptops, you name it. However, they fear that all this connectedness disconnects them from the real world. So, they jump on a friend's offer to stay at his isolated cabin in the woods so they can unplug and go e-cold turkey for a few days. What could go wrong?

An alien invasion, for one. Because Jack and Su have disconnected, they have no idea that a swarm of aliens, which look like oversized puffballs, have seized planet Earth. All hell is breaking loose around the globe while our couple live the unwired life. Eventually, they encounter one of these puffballs and notice weird things happening around the cabin, like empty whisky bottles (apparently aliens like to party). Jack and Su break down and finally check their massive backlog of voice-mails and texts to learn that Earth is doomed.

Thursday, October 1, 2020

film review: The Glorias


Directed by Julie Taymor

Written by Julie Taymor and Sarah Ruhl, based on My Life on the Road by Gloria Steinem

ChinoKino score: B-

Review by Allan Tong

Feminist pioneer, Gloria Steinem, receives the overdue biopic treatment at the hands of one of the most imaginative directors around, Julie Taymor. Taymor takes an unconventional approach, bouncing between Steinem travels as a university students through impoverished India to her pivotal role in launching the feminist movement and to her struggles against sexism as a young journalist in 1960s New York. The effect, unfortunately, is uneven. It's like a cinematic triptych where we view various Glorias juxtaposed and in parallel which is both dazzling, but confusing.

Young Gloria grows up in Depression-era Ohio where young Gloria is haunted by her mother who plunges into melancholy. Her mother was a journalist, but had to hide behind a man's byline. Glorias learns that it's a man's world and women take a back seat. Gloria's father (played by a scene-stealing Timothy Hutton) is lovable sort of schemer, always looking for ways to turn a quick buck, but ultimately he looks out for his little girl. 

Flashforward about a dozen years, and Gloria is traveling on her own through India, paid by a fellowship. She sets out to listen to the plight of lower-caste women. She hears of young girls being raped and abused in a society that ignores their plight. Her consciousness, born in her mother's house, matures here.

Thursday, August 27, 2020

film review: My Days of Mercy

Directed by Tali Shalom-Ezer

Written by Joe Barton

ChinoKino score: C+

Review by Allan Tong

My Days of Mercy dramatizes the death penalty debate through an unlikely relationship between activists on opposing sides of this complex issue. Ellen Page plays Lucy, from a poor, white family in Ohio, whose father has been sitting on death row, convicted of murdering Lucy's mother. His defence is mental deficiency, though he appears (as played by Elias Koteas) to have all his faculties intact.

At a demonstration where she rallies against the death penalty, Lucy meets the too-aptly named Mercy (Kate Mara) whose father is a policeman. Her father who has seen his share of capital crimes and the destruction those criminals have inflicted on the innocent. Mercy represents the pro side of the death penalty issue, so it's unlikely that she falls in love with Lucy, but they do. The strong performances by Page (great as always) and Mara pull it off. If their roles were in lesser hands, I doubt it.

Thursday, August 20, 2020

film review: Summerland

Directed by Jessica Swale

Written by Jessica Swale

ChinoKino score: B

Review by Allan Tong

Summerland is the imaginary, pagan heaven envisioned by reclusive writer Alice (Gemma Arterton) in the idyllic English coast of Sussex during World War Two. Alice is lonely and unfriendly, spending her days tapping on her typewriter until a young boy, Frank (Lucas Bond) is assigned to live with her. Frank has been evacuated from London during the Blitz when the Germans pummeled the capital with bombs.

Suddenly, grouchy Alice must take care of chipper, young Frank and open her heart and home to him. This means eventually revealing her secret of a past, forbidden love affair with Vera (Gugu Mbatha Raw) who left Alice during the Roaring Twenties to pursue a conventional family. The two women haven't seen each other since. To Alice's relief, young Frank actually sees nothing wrong Alice's lost love, and the two gradually grow close following some rocky false starts.

Tuesday, August 11, 2020

film review Lucky Grandma


Directed by Sasie Sealy

Written by Sasie Sealy & Angela Cheng

ChinoKino score: A

Review by Allan Tong

Each summer, one movie comes out of nowhere and surprises audiences. In 2020, it's Lucky Grandma.

Part-gangster flick, part dark comedy, Lucky Grandma centres on a widower (Tsai Chin), chain-smoking and snarling from her Chinatown apartment in lower Manhattan. She has a successful children and lovely grandchildren, but essentially lives alone. One day, Grandma goes on a winning spree at the casino. She then crosses the bag man for the mafia and robs his booty. As viewers can guess, his mafia buddies come knocking on Grandma's door and she tries to outwit them.

Lucky Grandma could have played the comedy broadly and milked it for easy laughs. Instead, director Sasie Sealy and her co-writer Angela Cheng take a less likely--and more rewarding--approach by underplaying Tsai Chin's character, letting only the bad guys ham it up, and capturing Chinatown in claustrophobic noir. The movie is a drama, but there's enough dark comedy to keep the narrative sharp. Not an easy balance to strike, but it works.

Monday, August 3, 2020

film review The Burnt Orange Heresy

Directed by Giuseppe Capotondi

Written by Scott B. Smith & Charles Willeford (from his novel)

ChinoKino score: D

Review by Allan Tong

Mick Jagger returns to the screen in a cameo in this neo-noir thriller about art fraud. Jagger plays Joseph Cassidy, a man of wealth and taste who resides in a splendid mansion by Lake Como, Italy. Cassidy is a major art collector and has invited a reclusive, old painter named Jerome Debney (Donald Sutherland) to reside in a house on the estate with the hopes that the legend will paint something for him. Cassidy invites a shifty art critic named James (Claes Bang) to interview the J.D. Salinger of the art world to encourage the guy to paint something. Debney likes an article that James wrote, so Cassidy brings the two together. James brings along Berenice (Elizabeth Debicki), a lovely, young American who's traveling.

This being a movie, James and Berenice instantly fall into bed. That cliche is forgivable, but what's hard to believe is the twisted tale that follows after James and Berenice meet Debney. No spoilers here, but generally speaking, the logic of some scenes doesn't hold up. In particular, how James and Berenice conclude their relationship is not believable, but clumsy. Also, the interplay between James, Berenice and Debney drags.

Saturday, June 27, 2020

VOD film review: Irresistible

Directed & written by Jon Stewart

ChinoKino score: C-

Review by Allan Tong

One of America's finest political satirists unleashes his take on the U.S. election machine months before the presidential vote. However, in Irresistible, Jon Stewart stays behind the camera. Instead, he's crafted a tale about a cynical Democrat political consultant (Steve Carell) who convinces a retired Marine colonel (Chris Cooper) to run for mayor in a small Wisconsin town. The Dems are up against a well-entrenched Republican mayor in this sleepy, agricultural villa, the kind of place where everybody knows your name. Naturally, the Republicans fly in their own city slicker consultant (Rose Byrne) to do battle in what becomes a symbolic battle between Red and Blue, and the soul of America.

Thursday, May 21, 2020

film review: Military Wives

Directed by Peter Cattaneo

Written by Rosanne Flynn & Rachel Tunnard

ChinoKino score: C

Review by Allan Tong

Military Wives has all the ingredients to add up to a rousing feel-good comedy. A group of disparate British women are united by a cause (their partners are soldiers fighting in Afghanistan); they band together to perform (a choir) so they're on a musical journey; the film's director made the smash hit, The Full Monty; the great Kristin Scott-Thomas is the lead; and there's lots of singing. Audiences should be cheering these ladies as they endure bad news from the war front and find solace in each other. We should be swept away by their voices and stories as they struggle to literally find their voices.

Sadly, we don't. The film is a by-the-numbers affair that  rarely raises a laugh or smile and doesn't emotionally draw us into the lives of these women. Rather, the film feels cold and distant. I never felt like the wives become pals. They lack camaraderi.e True, they share their sorrows over bad news and there are moments of genuine friendship, but it's not enough to ignite this film.