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.