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.

Tuesday, May 12, 2020

film review: Les Misérables

Directed by Ladj Ly

Written by Ladj Ly & Giordano Gederlini

ChinoKino score: A-

Review by Allan Tong

The great French novelist Victor Hugo set Les Misérables in the Parisian suburb of Montfermeil, where this drama occurs a century-and-a-half later. Both stories examine the downtrodden of France's capital, but today those poor are mostly angry black kids in hoodies with few prospects or male adult role models. Enter good cop Stéphane (Damien Bonnard seen in Dunkirk) who joins the Anti-Crime Brigade in Montfermeil. He learns the ropes of this rough area by riding with Chris (Alexis Manenti, center in picture above) and Gwada (Djibril Zonga, right in picture), two veteran, jaded and hardass cops.

Hardass, because Chris (a nasty white cop) and Gwada (black, who grew up in the 'hood) apply the toughlove approach to their policing, like harassing a cute teenage girl in front of her friends, or roughing up young men just to keep them in line. That's all in a day's work. Stéphane bristles at their approach, but the veterans believe you gotta be tough to survive in Montfermeil. After all, the police are tiptoeing in gang territory.

Things turn bad when a troublemaking kid, Issa, steals a baby lion from a gypsy circus. The gypsies accuse a local black gang of harbouring Issa (Issa Perica), so the pressure is on to locate the lion and protect the child from retribution. To keep this powder keg from exploding, the three cops get sucked into this search, but ultimately their efforts backfire. [To avoid spoilers, let's leave the synopsis at this.]

Monday, May 4, 2020

film review: The Assistant

Directed by Kitty Green

Written by Kitty Green

ChinoKino score: B-

Review by Allan Tong

The Assistant hit theatres in February just as Harvey Weinstein was found guilty of rape. The release date was as intentional as this tale about an office assistant who works for an oppressive boss who beds young women to fulfill his sleazy sexual needs.

We see the film through Jane (played by Ozark's astonishing Julia Garner), an entry-level office assistant at a Manhattan film company. Jane is your common twentysomething office slave: a hardworking college grad who works insane hours and does every crappy task, from wiping away crumbs after meetings to enduring the wrath of the boss' crazy wife. Jane is so overworked that she forgets to phone her dad on his birthday. Jane wants to be a film producer, but for now she keeps her head down and does her job. We feel for her.