life

The Watermelon Man (1970)

watermelonman usa-icon

What happens when a racist goes through a radical change and is forced to live life as the same type of person he is totally against? Melvin Van Peebles may just have the answer in this raucous comedy that tackles a very sensitive matter that still exists today.

Jeff Gerber is a Caucasian insurance agent who loves to spend his mornings working out and running past the local bus in order to make the bus stop that takes him to his job. His wife Althea watches the recent riots in the city while Jeff doesn’t care what happens to the rioters. He makes wisecracks towards anyone who is African-American much to the chagrin of his fellow co-workers, bus patrons, and even his wife. However, on this fateful day, Jeff’s life is about to change.

That night, he wakes up to go to the bathroom and when he sees himself, he inexplicably becomes African-American. Suddenly, his life takes a turn for the worse. He gets accused of stealing, virtually gets a promotion at work because of diversity, gets an admirer in co-worker Erica, and becomes the ridicule of the community. When Jeff’s attempts to change his skin color back to white fail on a consistent level, he soon learns the hard way that his old ways of being a racist has caught up to him and he must learn to adapt or face some dire consequences.

The tagline of this 1970 film is “A funny thing happened to Jeff Gerber. This won’t happen to you so you can laugh.” Screenwriter Herman Raucher intended this to be a comedy and while it is quite a funny film for its time, it can be considered sensitive due to the topic of the film: racism. In reality, racism is truly not a laughing matter, but director Melvin Van Peebles decided to make light of the situation with this film. Eventually becoming a pioneer in the “Blaxploitation” genre, Van Peebles does pretty well in terms of directing the film.

What Van Peebles came up with can be considered ingenious. When producers first thought of the idea, they had planned to cast a Caucasian actor dressed in blackface. This has been done to death since the days of Amos and Andy and some of the early Hollywood films as well. What Van Peebles offered was to have the producers cast comic actor Godfrey Cambridge, an African-American, dress in whiteface for the first ten to fifteen minutes of the film before becoming Jeff Gerber, the African-American, by being himself. This would be one of only few lead roles for Cambridge, but he does a great job here. The comedy really comes from his attempts to become white again with at times, disastrous results and his racing against the bus in the opening of the film.

The supporting cast does quite well, especially Estelle Parsons (who later gained fame as playing Roseanne’s mother on her hit television series in the 80’s and 90’s) because we get her point of view on the matter involving her husband. It is apparent that while she knows her husband is white, the fact he becomes black begins to affect their marriage. However, it can be considered strange because she seems to watch the riots as if she supports African-Americans yet she doesn’t feel comfortable being married to one. There are some of the classic derogatory terms towards African-Americans as well as the attitudes at that time, just when equal rights have just become known.

If you are truly sensitive to racism, The Watermelon Man may not be your cup of tea. However, director Melvin Van Peebles truly gets his point across with this tale. The film would become influential on later films such as Soul Man and perhaps, Women from Mars, with what can happen when one must change and learn to somewhat adapt with the intention of learning a very hard lesson in life.

WFG RATING: B

A Columbia Pictures production. Director: Melvin Van Peebles. Producer: John B. Bennett. Writer: Herman Raucher. Cinematography: W. Wallace Kelley. Editing: Carl Kress.

Cast: Godfrey Cambridge, Estelle Parsons, Howard Caine, D’Urville Martin, Mantan Moreland, Kay Kimberly, Scott Garrett, Erin Moran.

Advertisements

Highmore Looks for Rediscovery in “Almost Friends” Trailer

Freddie Highmore is on a road to rediscovering himself in the trailer to the upcoming indie drama Almost Friends.

Once a promising young chef, Charlie is now an unmotivated twenty-something who lives at home with his mom and stepfather while working at a small movie theatre and living vicariously through his best friend, Ben. His life takes an unpredictable turn however, when he finds himself falling for local barista Amber. Problem is, Amber has her own distractions- her mooching roommate, a track star boyfriend, and steadfast plans to move to New York City. On top of that, Charlie’s estranged father unexpectedly re-enters his life just as he begins to take a long, hard look at where he’s going and who he wants to be. With conflict after conflict piling on, will Charlie reach his tipping point or will he finally find the path forward?

Odeya Rush, Haley Joel Osment, Marg Helgenberger, and Christopher Meloni co-star in the film from filmmaker Jake Goldberger.

Gravitas Venturas released Almost Friends in theaters, VOD, and Digital HD on November 17.

Realive (2017)

realive Spain-iconbelgium-iconfrance-icon

A cryogenically frozen man revives with high hopes in this sci-fi drama from filmmaker Mateo Gil.

Marc Jarvis is an advertising executive who has learned he has terminal throat cancer. Learning he has just over a year left to live, he goes as far as try to end his relationship with longtime girlfriend Naomi, who had met with her ex, who had hoped he would get back together with her. She chooses Marc over her ex and decides to help him through his ordeal. Marc soon reads a story about cryogenics and the possibility of curing diseases as a result. Marc decides to take part in the experiment.

Awakening 70 years later, Marc is revived by a team led by Dr. Victor West. Marc undergoes both physical therapy and other brands of experiments in hopes that he will be able to be cured of his cancer. This includes wearing a pair of glasses that enable him to see images from his past. He even goes as far as bonding with Elizabeth, Dr. West’s assistant, to the point of possibly falling for her. However, as Marc continues his therapy, he begins to think that maybe everything is not as it seems. When Marc learns the reality of what has endured, he must come to a decision that could change his life forever.

Mateo Gil has come up with an interesting science fiction-drama whose title can be said to have a double meaning. If you break the title Realive down, it can be said “Re-alive”, which pertains to the central character of Marc being revived from his cryogenically frozen state. However, if one really thinks about it, Realive does have a bit of a combination close to sounding like “real life”, which definitely pertains to the entire basis of the film.

This is truly of those films you cannot miss even a second of, or perhaps it will not make sense. The reason is that our central character of Marc not only takes us to his present state in the future, but also goes as far back as his being born, which is shown as if we’re watching Nova’s The Miracle of Life, as the film’s opening up to his childhood days in a series of flashbacks that aren’t specifically told in a chronological order. This might cause some detractors as a result, but it really shouldn’t because the viewer is engaged in Marc’s journey all while he attempts to find out whether he will be able to be cured and live a long life.

Tom Hughes performs really well as Marc, our central character. We get to see him in both our present day and in the future self, in which he looks like he could be coming out of The Matrix, which perhaps played a bit of influence in the film in terms of the use of a plug in the back of the next and the real state of the patients after their revival. Charlotte Le Bon makes for great support as Marc’s love interest in the future with Oona Chaplin bringing the dramatics as Marc’s love interest in our present day. Barry Ward’s Doctor West is not so much a bad guy, but someone who is discovered to have been able to revive patients in hopes of actually doing what Marc is hoping. However, we soon learn that Dr. West may be the type to perhaps bring Marc’s hopes up as a cover for something more pleasing to the facility’s funders and yet, brings a more grounded perspective on things.

Realive’s double meaning makes for quite an interesting sci-fi drama, emphasizing on the drama and less on the sci-fi aspect. However, it does make one think that just because it’s the future, can everything be as what is expected?

WFG RATING: B

Syfy Films presents an Arcadia Motion Pictures production in association with Achaman Films AIE, Canal+ España, Noodles Productions, Scope Pictures, and Televisión España. Director: Mateo Gil. Producers: Ibon Cormenzana, Igansi Estapé, and Jérôme Vidal. Writer: Mateo Gil. Cinematography: Pau Esteve Birba. Editing: Guillero de la Cal.

Cast: Tom Hughes, Charlotte Le Bon, Oona Chaplin, Barry Ward, Julio Perillán, Rafael Cebrián, Bruno Sevilla, Daniel Horvath, Alex Hafner, Godeliv Van den Brandt, Melina Matthews.


This film will be released in select theaters on September 29 followed by a VOD and Digital HD release on October 3.

Satoh Lives and Dies in “Ajin” Trailer

Takeru Satoh returns to live-action manga adaptations after the successful Rurouni Kenshin trilogy as the trailer to the upcoming Ajin has been unveiled.

in Ajin, Satoh plays Kei Nagai, who after being hit by a truck, learns he has the ability to regeneration and live again. He soon finds himself a target for the government, who deem fellow “ajin” a threat to society and thus, performing dangerous experiments on them.

Co-starring in the film are Kenichi Suzumura and Mamoru Niyano, two well-known voice actors with Niyano actually voicing the character of Kei in the anime adaptation of the Gamon Sakurai manga. Bayside Shakedown and Psycho Pass helmer Katsuyuki Motohiro directed the film.

Ajin is set for release on September 30 in Japan by Toho.

The Great Fight (2011)

thegreatfight usa-icon

An autistic teen learns to channel his inner anger through mixed martial arts with his teacher learning his own life lessons in this indie drama from director Sherri Kauk.

Nick Tantino is a police officer and martial arts instructor who due to his unorthodox nature has been relegated to working as a security guard at a local high school in New Jersey. It doesn’t help that local prosecutor Zane Carroll has been making Nick’s life a living hell since he stole Nick’s ex-wife from him. To make things even more worse, Nick’s martial arts school is in danger of closing and Zane, a martial arts teacher himself, wants the school.

However, Nick’s life is soon about to change when he meets Anthony Rodriguez, an autistic teen who has been prone to violence. When Felix Sanchez, a local bully, harasses Anthony during gym class, Anthony pummels Felix only to be in danger of being expelled. Nick, however, makes a proposition to help Anthony channel his anger through learning mixed martial arts. Zane, who is Felix’s teacher, is not happy and has his student challenge Anthony to a fight. As Nick and Anthony slowly begin to bond, Zane intends to do what it takes to ruin Nick’s reputation once and for all. When it comes to the day of the fight, who will prevail and what will be learned?

This film is quite an interesting indie drama that emphasizes more on the spirit of martial arts as well as learning about autism in addition to learning some life lessons. Kenneth Del Vecchio wrote and produced the film that revolves around a police officer and martial arts teacher who has his world turned upside down due to the actions of his arch-nemesis, a ruthless lawyer who just also happens to be a martial arts teacher but gets a positive uplifting by taking on an autistic savant as his latest student.

Real-life martial artist and former police officer Frank Giglio brings a natural performance in the role of Nick Tantino, our hero cop/teacher who himself learns a thing or two while training his new student. The big surprise comes in the form of Miguel Jarquin-Moreland in the role of autistic teen Anthony. The role is quite convincing while Eric Etebari truly brings a performance worthy of “biggest scumbag of the Earth” as ruthless lawyer and rival martial arts teacher Zane Carroll, whose sole purpose in the film is to make Nick’s life a living hell.

A few Hollywood veterans make the rounds and give out such great support in the film, three of them being on Nick’s side and the other a neutral party. Former Three’s Company co-star Joyce DeWitt and former Howard Stern sidekick Jackie “The Joke Man” Martling play Nick’s fellow officers who seem to be his only allies before he takes on Anthony, forging a bond not only with him but his sister as well. Robert Loggia provides some much needed comic relief in the form of friend and psychologist Salvatore Reno, who goes beyond unleashing an expletive every chance he can but taps into what makes Anthony snap and the result is quite surprising. Finally, there’s Charles Durning, who plays a judge who oversees the court proceedings between Nick and Zane when it comes to legality. Sensei Kreese himself, Martin Kove, stars as Zane’s spiritual coach, who attempts to calm him down when needed while doing some not too moral things himself.

While the fight scenes are clearly not on the level of some of today’s great action films, the film doesn’t need a truly great fight, but rather invoke the spirit of martial arts as a way of channeling anger, bringing that vibe that may bring the likes of The Karate Kid and Never Back Down to mind. The titular “great fight” has actually a few meanings ultimately, with the actual fight being what one may not expect but also about the “fight inside”, with Nick and Anthony ultimately learning to fight past their issues and doing so together as teacher and student.

The Great Fight is a drama-driven film that invokes the martial spirit while engaging the viewer in learning about autism and perhaps learning about fighting past issues head on. Some great performances from both veterans and newcomers make this worth at least a watch.

WFG RATING: B+

A Justice for All production. Director: Sherri Kauk. Producer: Kenneth Del Vecchio. Writer: Kenneth Del Vecchio. Cinematography: Sherri Kauk and Rob Weber. Editing: Cassandra McManus.

Cast: Frank Giglio, Eric Etebari, Miguel Jarquin-Moreland, Suzy Kaye, Joyce DeWitt, Jackie Martling, Charles Durning, Robert Loggia, Angela Little, Kenneth Del Vecchio, Felipe Dieppa

TRAILER: Flatliners

The lines between life and the afterlife become blurred in the trailer to the reboot of 1990 sci-fi drama Flatliners.

In this updated version from Niels Arden Oplev, a group of med students, obsessed by the mystery of what lies beyond the confines of life, embark on a daring and dangerous experiment: stopping their hearts for short periods of time. Each triggers a near-death experience, giving them a firsthand account of the afterlife. But as their experiments become increasingly dangerous, they are haunted by the sins of their past, brought on by the paranormal consequences of trespassing to the other side.

Ellen Page, Diego Luna, Nina Dobrev, James Norton and Kiersey Clemons play the students this time around, replacing the likes of Kevin Bacon, Julia Roberts, and Kiefer Sutherland. Sutherland himself appears in the reboot.

The film was written by Ben Ripley from a story by Peter Filardi. Laurence Mark, Michael Douglas, and Peter Safran serve as the film’s producers.

Flatliners is set for a September 29 release date from Columbia Pictures.

Mostly Martha (2001)

mostlymartha germany-icon

2001, Pandora Filmproduktion GmbH/Bavaria Film International

Director:
Sandra Nettlebeck
Producers:
Karl Baumgarten
Christoph Friedel
Writer:
Sandra Nettlebeck
Cinematography:
Michael Bertl
Editing:
Mona Brauer

Cast:
Martina Gedeck (Martha Klein)
Maxime Foerste (Lina Klein)
Sergio Castellitto (Mario)
August Zirner (Martha’s Therapist)
Sibylle Canonica (Frida)
Katja Studt (Lea)
Antonio Wannel (Carlos)
Idil Uner (Bernadette)
Ulrich Thomsen (Sam)
Diego Ribon (Giuseppe Lorenzo)

A perfectionist learns that life isn’t always about being perfect in this German cooking dramedy from director Sandra Nettelbeck.

At a local restaurant, Martha Klein is the perfect chef. She thrives on the perfection of her culinary skills. However, she has a tendency to argue with customers in a near abusive manner when they do not like her food. As a result, Martha’s boss Frida forces Martha to see a therapist to work more on her intrapersonal skills. However, Martha’s “perfect world” is about to come crashing down on her when not one but two fateful events occur.

Martha has learned the tragic news of her sister Christin’s death in a car accident. This forces Martha to have to care for her niece Lina. In addition, Frida has hired a new chef in the restaurant to replace sous chef Lea, who is due to give birth soon. He is an Italian chef named Mario and his carefree ways tend to clash at first with Martha’s perfectionist ways. However, as Martha gets to spend more time with both Lina and Mario, she soon learns that life doesn’t have to be perfect or even about perfection.

This German culinary dramedy all revolves the world of a perfectionist who learns the hard way that life nor anybody is perfect. Writer-director Sandra Nettelbeck crafted a tale of life’s imperfections and the impact it takes on one woman’s perfect world. In the character of Martha, it is clear that if she were to be pursued in a relationship the way she is perceived in the beginning, that person will seriously want to head for the door and never return. What is interesting is that in these types of films, it takes one person for that protagonist to change their tune. However, perhaps it is because Martha is seen with such shallowness that she requires, not one but two to change her views on life and cooking.

Martina Gedeck is great as the perfectionist Martha, who is seen working her skills in the kitchen only to find herself going all crazy on a customer who tells her the foie gras he ordered was undercooked. She thinks she is the best all-around and despite efforts from her boss to bring her back down to reality, the fact Martha must see a shrink just shows the level of arrogance Martha gives out to those who don’t agree with her. However, even the shrink feels he can’t really help Martha, which clearly indicates Martha must learn to change herself.

Maxime Foerste is a delight to watch as the first of the two people responsible for changing Martha, her niece Lina. Suffering from depression after the death of her mother, Lina shuts herself off from the outside world until she goes with Martha to her restaurant, where the viewer is introduced to the second person, carefree Italian chef Mario, played by Sergio Castellitto, whose voice was re-dubbed for the film. Mario shows Martha that life and cooking is not about perfection. The chemistry between Gedeck and Castellitto is quite fun to watch as they go from polar opposites who bicker at each other to love interests. As for Lina, she serves not just to help Martha, but acts as a bridge between Martha and Mario, knowing that they do have a chance to fall in love.

Mostly Martha is a nice little dish served at first chilled but then warms up as the film goes on, thanks to some great performances by Gedeck, Foerste, and Castellitto with a very important lesson: life and nobody will truly be perfect. The film would be remade as No Reservations, with Catherine Zeta-Jones in the Gedeck role.

WFG RATING: A-

REVIEW: Taste of Cherry (1997)

tasteofcherry iran-iconfrance-icon

1997, Abbas Kiarostami Productions/CIBY 2000/Kanoon

Director:
Abbas Kiarostami
Producers:
Alain Depardieu
Abbas Kiarostami
Writer:
Abbas Kiarostami
Cinematography:
Homayun Payvar
Editing:
Abbas Kiarostami

Cast:
Homayoun Ershadi (Mr. Badii)
Abdolrahman Bagheri (Mr. Bagheri)
Safar Ali Moradi (The Soldier)
Mir Hossein Noori (The Seminarian)

The late Abbas Kiarostami’s Palme D’Or winning film is a story about life and death told strictly in a narrative fashion.

Mr. Badii is a taxi driver who is driving around town looking for various customers. However, he has one intention in mind and it is when he picks up a vacationing soldier that his intentions are revealed. Mr. Badii is planning to commit suicide and he has already dug the grave. The only request he has is to have someone bury him. The soldier, shocked at the request, leaves him.

When Mr. Badii picks up a seminarian on temporary leave, he tells him his intentions, which leads to a discussion about religion and the views of life and death. Ultimately, the seminarian feels like he would be committing a sin for helping Badii with his request. However, it is when he comes across an elder taxidermist, hearing this third person’s story will decide Badii’s fate.

A minimalist film from Iranian filmmaker Abbas Kiarostami, who lost his battle to cancer a few months ago, this is a very nicely made narrative film. As one of the Middle East’s great auteurs, Kiarostami brings us a tale of a taxi driver who decides to end his life. However, in the most interesting of stories, we never know why he decides to do it. Lead actor Homayoun Ershadi is great as Mr. Badii, because he doesn’t grieve or expect anyone to feel sorry. He plays his story off nonchalantly as he just is straight to the point.

The three co-stars who play the potential men who are asked to bury Badii perform quite well and look very comfortable in their roles. One can even think of the reactions in terms of ages in the film. The soldier, who ultimately becomes in utter shock, is a young man. The seminarian looks to be a little older, closer to more in his late 20’s or early 30’s, and gives a heartfelt discussion to Badii on the connections between religion and death. It is the last story of the taxidermist who looks to make the most impact on Badii as they have a connection.

What is very intriguing about this story is that it is done in a narrative manner and by that, meaning that there are no two-shots of the driver and the passenger. The camera will either take long shots of Baddi’s taxi or when the camera is inside, it will constantly switch from the driver to the passenger. This is an ingenious imagining of how to tell a story and it is clear that this artistic value rightfully earned Kiarostami his Palme D’Or award upon its release in 1997.

The film ends with a bit of a fade followed by a behind the scenes look at the film featuring Kiarostami and his crew working hard at making this film a reality.

Taste of Cherry is a beautifully made narrative about one man making his choice and the lives of three men who are asked to help him, all with different stories that could make an impact on this man’s choice.

WFG RATING: A

DVD

REVIEW: Key of Life (2012)

keyoflife japan-icon

2012, Life of Key Partners/The ClockWorx/Dentsu/TV Asahi/Asahi Television

Director:
Kenji Uchida
Producers:
Satoshi Akagi
Kazumi Fukase
Hiroshi Ohnishi
Writer:
Kenji Uchida
Cinematography:
Akira Sako
Editing:
Shinichi Fushima

Cast:
Masato Sakai (Takeshi Sakurai)
Teruyuki Kagawa (Kondo Yamazaki)
Ryoko Hirozue (Kanae Mizushina)
Yoshiyoshi Arakawa (Kudo)
Yoko Moriguchi (Ayako Inoue)

An actor struggling with life. An executive hellbent on getting married. A hitman with amnesia. When these three get together, what can go wrong? The answer lies in Kenji Uchida’s dark comedy.

Takeshi Sakurai is a struggling actor who feels the need not to go on anymore. The company he once worked for is shut down and he is heavily in debt. However, when he goes to the public bathhouse after a failed suicide attempt, his life soon takes a turn. When a respectable looking fellow enters the bathhouse, he slips on a bar of soap and hits his head hard. In a moment of desperation, Takeshi switches locker keys with the knocked out fellow, who turns out of be Kondo Yamazaki, a professional hitman.

When Takeshi pays back all of his debt, he soon learns whose identity he has stolen. When he pays the hitman a visit to the hospital, he learns that the hitman has amnesia and is believed to be Takeshi. Undaunted, Takeshi decides to become Kondo while Kondo becomes Takeshi. At the hospital after his release, Kondo meets Kanae Mizushima, an executive for a theater magazine who announces she will be married. However, there is one little problem. She doesn’t have a suitor. She gets to know Kondo, who believes he is Takeshi. Meanwhile, Takeshi’s life is really about to go insane when while posing as Kondo, is hired to perform a hit. When these three soon get together, chaos is truly ready to ensue.

Kenji Uchida’s interconnection dark comedy is quite funny thanks to the leading trio cast of characters. Masato Sakai’s Takeshi is truly someone who starts out pitiful as we are introduced to him by his failed suicide attempt. However, this comes after the introductions of our other two central characters. Ryoko Hirozue’s Kanae is truly a woman who never failed at anything and when she focuses on something, she will do whatever it takes to achieve that goal. When she announces she will marry, she shocks everyone by telling her staff she hasn’t met anyone but wants them to find someone for her. The reason for this abrupt marriage is known later. As for Teruyuki Kagawa, he starts out as a stone cold hitman who soon is given himself a somewhat new lease on life when he is stricken with amnesia. The slip heard round the world in the bathhouse scene is quite funny due to its slow motion and little exaggerated height of the fall.

While these three are the central character, the main two sub-characters who make the most impact are Yakuza boss Kudo, played by Yoshiyoshi Arakawa, and Ayako Inoue, played by Yoko Moriguchi. Kudo is the one who hires Takeshi/Kondo to kill Ayako because apparently, she might know the location of some money that her fiance (who is stabbed in the real Kondo’s introduction scene) had stolen from his gang. In the midst of this pivotal subplot, many things begin to happen, including Kondo/Takeshi getting a job in a movie as a gangster due to his stone cold looks. However, when the expected happens, the two whose identities have been switched must help each other out in the most chaotic of events, and we mean chaotic when Kanae finds herself involved in the madness.

Key of Life is quite the funny comedy that melds stolen identities with raw determination with a taste of Yakuza chaos. This meshing truly works quite well.

WFG RATING: A-

DVD