• Toronto International Film Festival 2013 - Capsule Reviews

    TIFF 2013 Capsule Film Reviews (Updated daily)

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    This site will provide capsule review of films screened at the Toronto International Film Festival in September.  This will aid you in your film picks.  This article will be updated daily for your use.  Enjoy and Happy Movie-going!

     

    CAPSULE REVIEWS:

    ALL CHEERLEADERS DIE (USA 2013) **

    Directed by Lucky McKee and Chris Sivertson

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    A high-school outsider’s plot to avenge herself on the captain of the football team turns bloody when some phantasmagorical hijinks get tossed into the mix, in this blood horror comedy.  The story involves Maddy (Caitlin Stasey), a rebel and outsider at Blackfoot High, dead set on bringing down the clique of too-cool cheerleaders who rule the school.  But after things turn ugly at a bush party and Maddy’s wiccan ex-girlfriend Leena (Sianoa Smit-McPhee) interferes in her plot, Maddy, Leena and the whole pom-pom-wielding posse must become unlikely allies in a supernatural showdown against the boys, led by Terry (Tom Williamson), the captain of the football team.  As with a ridiculous a plot in which anything can happen, the film deteriorates quickly into gore and bloody rubbish.  No one cares who kills who and the cheerleaders are quickly unrecognizable one from the next.  Unimaginative and boring, ALL CHEERLEADERS DIE should quickly die itself a quick death.

    ATTILA MARCEL (France 2013) ****
    Directed by Sylvain Chomet 

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    ATTILLA MARCEL is a film with no main plot or strong narrative just like the wrestling match between Attila and his wife that ends in a romantic kiss.  It is made clear at the start of the film that this is a film about memories – bad or good ones that pop up at random that are uncontrollable.  The protagonist of the film is 33-year old mute pianist, Marcel (Guillaume Gouix who also plays his father Attila) whose life story is told in flashbacks, not necessarily in chronological order but in random events just as memory plays in the human mind.  We see Marcel as a baby, later in life in love with a Chinese cellist, playing for his aunt’s dance school and entering the piano competition before ironically damaging his fingers and not being able to play again.

    There are some very inventive hilarious segments like the one with the two aunts getting drunk on brandied cherries or the segment before that when they argue against the Chinese at the party just before the host introduces his adopted Chinese daughter, Michelle.  The result is once again an utterly charming film.

    BASTARDO (Tunisia/France/Qatar 2013) ***1/2

    Directed by Nejib Bekhadhi

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    Odd but compelling tale of a bastard, Moshem (Abdel Modeem) who loses his job as a shoe factory watchman because he falls for the girl who stole shoes during his shift.  But Moshem slowly gains his confidence and pride back.  By a stroke of luck, his house is chosen to be the site of a construction of a relay that will bring him money.  This brings him heads to heads with the (unnamed) village thugs who murder his business partner.  This film mixes film noir with a magic surrealism that makes the story even more fascinating.  Odd characters also pop up such as the ugly obsess mother of the thugs, the insect lady who has sex with both the enemy and Moshen and others.  The film drags a bit at the end in order for Bekhadhi to bring his film to a closure but it is difficult o keep up the momentum of this otherwise fascinating fable.

    BLUE RUIN (USA 2013) ***

    Directed by Jeremy Saulnier

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    Director Saulnier returns to the director’s chair after the unheard of horror comedy MURDER PARTY with an impressive grisly violent survival slasher BLUE RUIN, the title derived from the rusty old blue car the protagonist, a vagrant lives in at the start of the film.

    Dwight (Macon Blair) is forced to protect himself and his sister after a double murderer involved with killing his parents is released from prison.  He cleans up his act as well as his physical appearance and the killings begin.

                What distinguishes BLUE RUIN from the run of the mill slasher film is director Saulnier’s use of a strong narrative to drive his film.  Saulnier reveals only enough of the plot to keep the audience in the know, while always piquing the audience’s interest.  This is aided by a nuanced performance by Blair who develops a strong characterization for Dwight.  Suspense and drama are well blended in this otherwise satisfying horror thriller that should keep fans at the end of their seats.  Though not in the Midnight Madness category, the film could very much well be.

    CANNIBAL (Spain/Romania/Russia 2013) *

    Directed by Manuel Martin Cuenca

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    What starts off as a meticulously made horror drama involving a mild mannered tailor (Antonio de la Torre from EL CRIMO FERPECTO) doing away with beautiful women and then eating them turns into unintentional predictable shit at the end.  It all starts turning awry when cannibal falls for the last victim’s sister, Nina (Olimpia Melinte) herself a suspect for the disappearance of her sister.  The last 10 minutes of the film, which should be more serious turns out totally laughable.  Worst still, when Cannibal confesses to Nina that he has killed her sister, then eaten her and then that he is in love  with her.  Wonder what the director Cunca had in mind when he made this movie.  At th public screening, he seems to be taking his serious film as a joke introducing his actor as a nice man in a bad role and so on.

    EMPIRE OF DIRT (Canada 2013) ***1/2

    Directed by Peter Stebbings

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                Impressive first feature by Peter Stebbings about three generations of First Nations protagonist.  Lena (Cara Gee) is a single mother who cleans houses for a living.  After losing a few jobs in a row and after she finds her daughter Peeka (Jennifer Podemski) in hospital from a drug (spray paint actually) overdose, she uproots the family and they take off to the village where they came from.  Lena and Peeka are put up by Lena’s mother who as it turns out threw her out when pregnant with Peeka.  A lot of old skeletons (in fact to many) come out of the closet.  For a movie less than 2 hours long, the script contains too many incidents and subplots.  But Stebbings’ excellent camerawork and camera placement, evident from the very first frame make it all worth it.  Cara Lee delivers a winning performance matched no less than playing the grandmother.  EMPIRE OF DIRT is worthy both as a First Nations and a Canadian film!

     

    LES ETOILES (UNDER THE STARRY SKY) (France/Senegal 2013) ***
    Directed by Dyana Gaye

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    Shot in French, Senegalese, Italian and French, this 3-city (NYC, Turin and Dakar) LES ETOILES charts the accidental intersections of characters in transit. Plans are derailed, happenstance meetings change courses, and destinies intertwine. Sophie (Marème Demba Ly), a young Senegalese bride, follows her husband, Abdoulaye (Souleymane Seye N’Diaye), from Dakar to Turin , where he has travelled without papers to look for work. Meanwhile, Abdoulaye has already has left for New York , lured by his cousin, Serigne (Babacar M’Baye Fall), and a promise of better opportunities. Abdoulaye’s one contact in New York , Sophie’s aunt, is en route to Dakar with her son, Thierno (Ralph Amoussou), to bury the husband she left twenty years earlier.  Director Gaye paces his film well while keeping each character interesting.  His characters are by no means flawless creatures – Abdoulaye steals, the aunt quarrels and Sophie is never grateful.  It is difficult to find a happy ending in a film with so many difficult circumstances but Gaye offers hope at the end.  LES ETOILES is a quietly beautiful film.

    FOR NO GOOD REASON (USA 2013) ***

    Directed by Charlie Paul

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                FOR NO GOOD REASON is a documentary about British cartoonist/artist Ralph Steadman and his work in the U.S. featuring him at work and in interviews as well as featuring Johnny Depp who puts in his two cents worth for credibility.  At the end of the film Depp remarks to the camera that Steadman has inspired him FOR NO GOOD REASON.  But director Paul’s film proves otherwise.  Steadman’s opening statement says that if he could learn to paint, he would change the world.  In the middle of the film, he also states that America nurtures everything that as gone badly in the world.  He has particular disdain for ex-President Richard Nixon.  One of his works has Kissinger as the head of a spider spinning a web.  Whether Steadman achieves his purpose in life is up to the audience to determine.  But director Paul is smart to include the artist at work – which is nothing short of amazing.  The film’s best scene shows how a splash of paint leads to he creation of ‘an unwanted pet’.  Of course, the film also contains lots of complaints on the world by Steadman.

    FOR THOSE WHO CAN TELL NO TALES (Bosnia/Herzegovina 2013) ***
    Directed by Jamila Zbanic

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    The film starts with a tourist Kym (Kym Verco) questioned at a police station.  The film flashes back to Australia where the audience learns more about Kym.  She is an independent woman who likes different things such as touring weird laces and keeping  a video daily.  Ah takes a summer holiday through Bosnia and Herzegovina, staying at places listed in a tourist guide book.  Yet her stay at a hotel in Visegrad inexplicably gives way to anxiety and sleepless nights. Upon returning home to Australia, she finds out that the Vilina Vlas hotel was used as a rape camp during the war. Evocations of the region’s atrocities begin to haunt her, as does the question of why the guidebook, or the town itself, made no mention of the event. The spectre of trauma is finally so insistent that she is compelled to return to Visegrad.  The film tends to be a bit confusing with the flashbacks and the fact that she returns twice to Visegrad.  But despite this little film’s flaws it gets its message across paying tribute to the 3,000 or so people murdered during the Bosnian War.  Based on Kym’st true story.

    GISELLE (New Zealand 2013) ***

    Directed by Toa Fraser

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    GISELLE is the ballet performed by the Royal New Zealand Ballet company with the music conducted by the Auckland Philharmonic Orchestra.  The ballet tells the story of Giselle (Gillian Murphy), a peasant girl who dies of a broken heart after discovering her love (Qi Huan) is engaged to another woman.  Shot with vivid costumes and expensive props, the colours, drama, music and spectacle comes across loud and clear.  Who can ask for anything more?  Apparently Director Toa Fraser has infused the romance of its two performers into the ballet.  So intermixed with the ballet on stage, the audience gets to see the leads in modern garb for example, in fields of grass and flowers.  There is absolutely no need o and whether this exercise works is up to the individual viewer.  The two leads are extraordinarily handsome and perform their dance routines flawlessly.

    GLORIA (Chile/Spain 2013) **

    Directed by Sebastian Leilo

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                Paulina Garcia won the Silver Lion (Berlin) Award for Best actress as Gloria a 12–year divorcee looking for love once again.  And what is wrong with that as everyone is human wants to be loved.  This she finds in the form of ex-Navy man keeps his life with his ex and two daughters away from her.  Worst still is that he disappears and abandons her for no apparent reason.  When the film opens, the scene is in a club.  At the bar, having a drink is Gloria standing alone, wanting to dance.  She takes to the floor, her sour face turning cheerful as she meets with Rodolfo.  But what expects to turn out to be an edgy, hilarious and maybe eye-opening comedy turns out quite plain with a single layered story of a woman unable to find love once too often.  No doubt Garcia delivers a wonderful bot charming and sad performance, but one wishes the script would do more justice to her role than a rather humdrum film abut a failed woman who finally gets her revenge.

    ILO ILO (Singapore 2013) ****

    Directed by Anthony Chen

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    Singapore boasts one of the youngest film industries in the world but surprisingly turns out marvelous gems.  Last year’s SAND CASTLES and this year’s ILO ILO attest to this fact.  With bright but unknown director and actors, ILO ILO is a family drama with a local Singaporean touch that perhaps only Singaporeans (like myself) can truly appreciate.  A Filipino maid, Terry (Angeli Banyani) is hired by a family, a couple (Chen Tian Wen and Yeo Yann Yann) with a slightly spoilt atrocious son, Jiali (Koh Jia Ler) who surprisingly grows attached to her as tie progresses.  The family typical ‘Singapore’ problems like no money, keeping up with the relatives and trying to survive in a small flat.  Hope is dashed a few times and director Chen shows that perseverance in the face of adversity eventually pays off –true Singapore traits.  There is also a scene in which the students recite the Singapore Pledge at school.  The film is shot in Mandarin, though it is rare that a family in Singapore speaks this language at home.

      JEUNE & JOLIE (YOUNG AND BEAUTIFUL) (France 2013) ***  (film has strong  gay content)

    Directed by Francois Ozon

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                It would appear that Ozon, the director of original naughty comedies like SITCOM, LES AMANTS is treading used waters with his tale of a young story of a prostitute by night, student otherwise after films like BELLE DU JOUR and LOVELACE.  But Ozon takes his film further with the story set in a strong familial setting (many of Ozon’s films derive their strength from this familiar setting) with more subplots than can be expected.   The film starts with the young and beautiful Isabelle (Marine Vecht) lying topless on a towel by the beach.  She is observed by binoculars (as if the audience were voyeurs themselves) by who turns out to her brother.  Her antics take to have a sexual encounter with a young German, Felix (Lucas Prisor) and later selling services to older clients.  When one dies of a heart attack, when she rides him, her secret is blown.  Mother (Geraldine Pailhas) finds out and Isabelle has to accept the consequences including meeting the dead’s client’s wife (Charlotte Rampling).  Ozon’s tale of desire is interesting from start to finish with a few subplots left hanging, for example if Isabelle’s little brother is gay.

    PARADISE: HOPE (Austria/Germany/France 2013) ***

    Directed by Ulrich Seidl

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    PARADISE: LOST is set in a summer camp in which everyone – counselors and campers are both dysfunctional loses.  But this is a diet camp set up in the Austrian countryside and of course, the teens are plump and overweight as much as the leaders are useless.  Most of the teens are dumped in the camp by unhappy parents or parents that have broken up.  Seidl shoots his film ‘dead-pan’ style though there is not much comedy involved.  So the film can be considered to be a dead-pan drama.  The film looks realistic enough as Seidl lets his characters and story unfold in real time.  This is where the film looks odd but gives it a nice change from the typical Hollywood look.  The camp looks unbearably clean with immaculately painted walls and murals.  The climax of the film in which the main character Melanie (Melanie Lenz) almost gets raped n a small local club is both suspenseful and compelling to watch.  Unfortunately here is no proper start or end to this otherwise fascinating film.  This is the last of he trilogy of Seidl’s PARADISE films.

    PARKLAND (2013) ***

    Directed by Peter Landesman

     

    PARKLAND

    Meticulously shot with 60’s period atmosphere and wardrobe so that one cannot distinguish old newsreel footage from the new, first time director Landesman tell the story of the 4 days following November 22 when President John F. Kennedy was shot.

    With exacting precision, Landesman revisits the those fateful days as experienced by five key figures: Jim Carrico (Zac Efron), a twenty-eight-year-old surgical resident and the first physician to tend to Kennedy upon his arrival at Parkland; Forrest Sorrels (Billy Bob Thornton), head of the Dallas bureau of the Secret Service; James Hosty (Ron Livingston), an FBI agent assigned to investigate Lee Harvey Oswald (James Earl Haley) prior to Kennedy’s assassination; Oswald’s estranged brother, Robert (James Badge Dale); and Abraham Zapruder (Paul Giamatti), whose inadvertent footage of the shooting became the world’s most famous strip of 8mm film.  It is no doubt that the film is about a serious incident in history but everyone in the film and every incident is treated as just too important in the film.   It is the director’s impression that life cannot go on without the presence of John F. Kennedy in this over serious film.

    LE PASSE (THE PAST) (France 2013) Top 10 *****

    Directed by Asghar Farhadi

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                From the director of last year’s Best Foreign Film Oscar Winner A SEPARATION comes another high drama about separation.  This time around the subjects are trying to build their lives back together but unavailable to do so easily because of incidents of THE PAST.  When the film opens, Marie-Anne (Berenice Bejo) meets her Iranian ex-husband, Ahmad at the airport. Marie-Anne is about to remarry an Arab, Samir (Tahar Rahim from UN PROPHETE), but her daughter, Lucie is totally against it and doing all in her power to prevent it.  Lucie hates the mother’s lover, Samir whose son and him are also currently staying with them.  Ahmad finds all this too much for him, especially when he is obliged to sort out differences.  Director unveils bits of his plot little at a time, so that this drama plays like a whodunit complete with a twist at the end. Like A SEPARATION, LE PASSE puts director in a class of his own.  His films have demonstrated both a good blend of story telling and drama.  And not a dull moment from beginning to end, making the film top 10 of the year!

    PHILOMENA (UK/Ireland 2013) ****         (film has strong  gay content)

    Directed by Stephen Frears

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    Philomena is the name of an Irish Catholic woman (Judi Dench reunited with director Frears of THE QUEEN) who searches for her lost son, given up for adoption.  Ex-BBC reporter Martin Sixsmith (Steve Coogan) now a journalist aids her in the quest.  It all started in 1950s Ireland, when Catholic authorities shamed thousands of “fallen” Irish women into giving their children up for adoption, with no hope of ever seeing them again.  Philomena Lee was one of these women. Director Stephen Frears tells her story in his new heartfelt drama, adapted by Steve Coogan and Jeff Pope from a celebrated book by Martin Sixsmith.  Based on that true story, Frears wrings out both tears and subtle laughter in a well-paced heart felt drama.  Dench and Coogan complement each other just as their characters do.  Martin is cynical, angry and rude while Philomena is kind, polite and forgiving.  The script uses the best and worst of their personalities.  Lots of surprising twists too, in this human story that marks one of the best films of TIFF.

    ROCK THE CASBAH (France/Morocco 2013) ***
    Directed by Laila Marrakchi

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    People’s Choice Award Winning (WHERE DO WE GO NOW?) director Laila Marrakchi returns to the festival with another female crowd pleaser.  The death of their father (Omar Sharif) who occasionally returns as a ghost brings together three sisters.  Of course, they will argue in what might appear to be the typical dysfunctional family that films love to have a their subject matter.  Skeletons in the closer are also revealed.  The cast of the film includes the Arab world’s most famous actresses Hiam Abbass and Nadine Labaki.  But North American audiences will at least recognize Omar Sharif, still smoking a cigar and womanizing around.  The script covers certain female issues as well but he film displays an obvious distaste for the male species.  The uncle is shown not only as a money grabbing weasel but a child pervert.  The illegitimate son shows no positive qualities.  He is shown as the bad guy calling his mother a whore while the  mother is depicted as a poor rejected lover.

    SEX, DRUGS AND TAXATION (SPIES & GLISTRUP) (DENMARK 2013) **

    Directed by Christoffer Boe

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    It is difficult to like a film with two disgusting characters that make it big illegally to the top before getting their comeuppance.  Mogens Glistrup (pronounced Moge) (Nicolas Bro) is a brilliant numbers man who can play with accounting and financial figures such that he is able to not only aid in company takeovers but pays no taxes.  His partner in crime, Simon Spies (Pilou Asbaek) unlike Mogens a family man, is a womanizer and owner of a travel agency gone extremely big by takeovers and of course, not paying taxes.  No one can get off not paying taxes forever, or so Mogens thinks.  Boe’s film treats his two protagonists as Gods able to out think anyone and get away with all vices including all the beautiful and young things despite their looks.  The film is technical enough (in numbers) for it to be believable but the film fails to engage with characters that Boe does not make his audience care for.  The end in which Mogens wins in politics is the only part of the film totally unbelievable.  The film is based on true events.

     A TOUCH OF SIN (China/Japan 2013) ***1/2

    Directed by Jin Z.

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    Winner of the Best Screenplay award at Cannes this year, Jin’s (THE WORLD) film tells the stories of 4 disgrunted Chinese from different provinces that are so upset that they turn violence to  obtain satisfaction.  Extremely violent and occasionally hugely satisfying could be how to describe Jin’s new film.  The screenplay weaves together the b4 different tales all smartly tied by a loose link and Jin also brings all the stories to a nice closure  full circle.  The only flaw of the film is the strength lengths of each.  They are not of equal lengths.  The first story of the miner who exacts his own revenge on the Chinese officials who wronged his village is the strongest and would have best been left the last as the film loses momentum after that story is done.  The film also requires the audience to devote their full concentration in order to figure what is going on and what Jin is doing… but that is a  good thing.

    LA VIE D’ADELE (1 &2) (BLUE IS THE WARMEST COLOUR) (France 2013)***   (film has very strong  gay content)

    Directed by Abdellatif Ketch

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    The odd title BLUE IS THE WARMEST COLOUR has nothing to do with the French translation of THE LIFE OF ADELE.  Blue is the Emma’s dyed hair and also of the dress that Adele (Adele Exarchopoulos) wears at the end of the film to Emma’s Exhibition.  This is a 3-hour lesbian film, the sound of it sufficient to drive audiences away in droves.  But the film did win Cannes Palme d’Or this year.  The film does drag on and there is no break between the two parts.  The film generally charts the life of Adele from the age of 15 at school to her sexual awakening.  She finds no sexual attraction to the boy she dates, who eventually dumps her.  She meets blue haired Emma (Lea Seydoux) and many long and repeated sex scenes result with lots of moaning and groaning.  The sexual scenes are erotic enough but one can even tire of too much of a good thing.  There is not much anticipation in the story. The final confrontation between Emma and Adele when Emma finds that she has been cheated for a boy seems forced from Emma’s part.  And what has the boy have to say, as he just conveniently disappears?  But the reason of the breakup, which implies that their relationship has not grown and grounded too much in sex is nevertheless quite accurate.  A 3-hour mixed bag of tricks!

    WATERMARK (Canada 2013) ***

    Directed by Jennifer Baichwal and Edward Burtynsky

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    Canada’s darling Jennifer Baichwal, following her highly successful MANUFATURED LANDSCAPES returns with another well cinematographed documentary on the topic of water that could also be entitled NATURED LANDSCAPES.  Most of the landscapes displayed on screen include dried out river beds, the bathers at the sacred river at Allahabad, the woodcuts of snow covered trees an the enormous dam in China that puts the Hoover Dam to humility.  The film also includes a brief commentary from people in the know on the cycle of water and its importance, though not as exhaustive as one would expect.  Baichwal’s film also lack a stronger narrative to get her message across.  But she and fellow director/photographe Edward Burtynsky have nevertheless given audiences a wonderful looking film.

     

  • TIFF Cinematheque - Female Turk Directors

    TURKISH WOMEN DIRECTORS

    This programme of fiction and documentary shorts and features spotlights the vital new work being created by a rising generation of female Turkish filmmakers.

    This series in entitled

    Rebel Yell: A New Generation of Turkish Women Filmmakers

    For full details of the program, venue, ticket pricing and show times check the TIFF website at:

    www.tiff.net

    Capsule reviews of 2 films in the series:

    BEGINNERS (Turkey 2013) ***

    Directed by Somnur Vardar

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    BEGINNERS is a documentary that observes the proceedings of the 2012 “Speaking to One Another” project, which brings together youth from Armenia and Turkey in a framework of camaraderie and reconciliation to revisit “sites of memory” associated with the Armenian genocide of 1915.  It begins with a tour of Mush, in Turkey where Armenians were forced to leave.  The film then moves to a tour in Armenia where the Armenians have a say to the camera.  The climax and third part of the doc is the filming of the project meeting after the memorial for the dead in which both side express their deepest emotions.  Vardar’s film is more educational as an eye-opener to those unfamiliar with the problem among the Kurds, Turks and Armenians.  It is also very motional as the audience watches the participants trying to find closure with a problem that cannot be closed.

    THE PLAY (OYUN) (Turkey 2005)***

    Directed by Pelen Esmer

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    Small budget but amusing little film about village housewives performing a play to tell their hardened stories in order to speak up and thus change tradition in the village.  One story involves a young girl being given as compensation of the family of the girl her brother ran off with.  She works all the time while the husband drinks and womanizes.  Another escapes from home to her school teacher on the nigh she is about to be given off as a bride by her parents.  These are interesting true stories.  The play director changes the names of he characters, which could be performed by the wives who actually told those stories.  Of course, conflicts like the sacrifice of family duties vs. acting come into play.  But the film is a cheerful one, with the housewives often breaking into uncontrollable laughter as they act out their true stories.  Shot like a documentary but it could very well be all these actors pretending to be in a documentary.  The end is an intriguing and rather entertaining enterprise.

     
  • This Week's Film Reviews (Aug 16, 2013)

    No super blockbusters opening this week, but there are a fair number of films that bare worth a look. KICK-ASS 2, JOBS and THE BUTLER (a sure-hit because of its wide target audience) make their debut.

     

    African American themes are found in the films THE BUTLER and CALL ME KUCHU.

     

     

     

    FILM REVIEWS:

     

    THE BUTLER (USA 2013) ***

    Directed by Lee Daniels

     

                What is it with the Lee Daniels’ film with odd titles like PRECIOUS BASED ON THE NOVEL BY (bah..blah..blah) and this one also called LEE DANIELS’ THE BUTLER?

                THE BUTLER based on the book of the same name and written by Danny Strong is best described as an epic biography of one so-called butler Cecil Gaines (another Oscar performance by already Oscar winner Forest Whitaker) who has served 6 U.S. Presidents from Eisenhower.  The film starts from Cecil’s humbler beginning as a boy on a cotton plantation.  Witnessing the killing of his father by a white man after the white man raped his mother (not shown on screen), Cecil is forced to leave the plantation after being taught to be a ‘house nigger’ by Miss Annabeth (Vanessa Redgrave).  Cecil’s self control and careful retorts eventually lead him to be employed as one of the prestigious staff of the White House.  He serves as an efficient butler, supporting his family, wife Gloria (Oprah herself) and two sons Louis and Charlie.  Louis (Owelowo) joins in black activist

                Daniels film is incident driven.  Daniels shoots each scene emphasizing emotion and drama.  But the problem is that the film is just made up of these strings of incidents so that after a while, the poor pacing leads the audience to feel the monotony.  Though the incidents are interesting enough, there is a feeling of a lack of purpose in the narrative.  So much so, that in the film’s best and most dramatic segment – the family dinner scene with the confrontation between father and Louis, the effect is tremendous, thanks to the break in the monotony.

                Daniels shows both sides of the coin in the fight of black civil rights.  He is for the rights of blacks voting and served equally in public places.  But he is against the violence of the Black Panthers.  The father/son relationship appears a major part of the story as Cecil’s service as a butler.  Daniels himself suffered father abuse as a kid for his sexual orientation.  But Daniels seems unable to convince what his main theme is really on. 

                THE BUTLER boasts an all star ensemble that includes Jane Fonda, John Cusack, Robin Williams; Liev Schreiber, James Marsden and Mariah Carey.

                THE BUTLER passes as a bio-pic but it lacks the punch of Daniels’ earlier films like MONSTER BALL and PRECIOUS.

     

    Trailer:

    http://trailers.apple.com/trailers/weinstein/leedanielsthebutler/

     

    CALL ME KUCHU (USA/Uganda 2013) ***

    Directed by Katherine Fairfax Wright and Malika Zouhali-Worrall

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    Uganda says no to homosexuality!  Homosexuality is illegal in Uganda.  95% of the population do not support it.  If caught in the act, life imprisonment will be the result.  Just as these harsh lines are narrated to the audience at the beginning of this documentary, the camera focuses on a gay couple’s 9th Anniversary in Uganda.

    The focus is the new bill (as if it can not get worse) that threatens to make homosexuality punishable by death.  The film follows David Kato – Uganda’s first openly gay man – and his fellow activists work against the clock to defeat the legislation while combating vicious persecution in their daily lives. But no one, not even the filmmakers, is prepared for the brutal murder that shakes the movement to its core and sends shock waves around the world.  This occurs just past the half way mark of the film and is enough to jolt the audience out of their seats, especially after the directors have invested so much time into this man in terms of screen time.

    The film also captures vividly the harsh environment suffered by the LGBT group and their desperation to gain acceptance.  The audience sees the same stubbornness faced here as in the U.S. decades ago, and again it is the Christian fundamentalists that preach evil than anything else.  The climax of the film is whether the bill is passed or not, whether David Kato died in vain.

    This film has a special screening engagement at the Bloor Doc Cinema from the 16thto the 20th of August.

    trailer:

     http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sID0inJO8JQ

     

     

    A HIJACKING (Norway 2012) ***

    Directed by  Tobias Lindholm

     

                A hijack drama Norwegian style, which means a freighter ransomed by Somali pirates and not an aircraft by terrorists.  Not many films have been made on this particular subject, so it is a welcome change of drama, suspense, information and education. 

    The film starts with the life of the ship’s cook, so that the audience can identify and be sympathetic to the kidnapped.  His employer, Peter who works in a no-nonsense corporate environment is a very cold, efficient bargainer, especially when coming down to business acquisitions as demonstrated by a Japanese takeover.  But negotiations are different with the pirates as lives are as stake.  The director moves his film at a tight and suspenseful pace which keeps the audience riveted and curious of the outcome throughout the film. 

    The negotiation between Peter and the pirates and the trauma suffered by the hostages are both vividly captured by Lindholm.

    But rare as this subject as in film, last year saw a riveting documentary entitled STOLEN SEAS that dealt with Somalian hijacking along the African coast.  Though both films cover the topic of hijacking and negotiating the release and payment of a ransom, STOLEN SEAS provide more insight on Somali piracy.  One argument is the lack of a central government, the other the theft of their fishing seas and poverty that surrounds them as the wealth of ships passes them by daily on their shores.  Many Somalis believe that it is their right to plight and plunder.  But it is difficult for audiences, especially those in North Americans to condone these activities, nevertheless. 

    A HIJACKING is a film as efficiently executed (though not always with happy, satisfying outcomes) as the hijacking negotiation process.

     

     

     

     

    JOBS (USA 2013) ***

    Directed by Joshua Michael Stern

     

                JOBS is a biography of Steve Jobs, best known as the founder of Apple who sadly had passed away from a brain tumor last year.  This selected biography shows the years he started out as an entrepreneur up to the time when he was brought back to Apple as CEO in 2000.   His success in the other fields in Pixar, at Disney and as an innovator for the iPhone, iPod, etc. are not included in this film.  Neither is his illness dealt with or mentioned in the film

                First thing is that despite all the negative news of Ashton Kutcher playing Steve Jobs, Kutcher does a pretty good job with both his Jobs’ mannerisms and acting.  The script by Matt Whiteley requires the audience to be on Jobs’ side and for the most part, Kutcher has his audience reeling for him.  The supporting cast that includes J.K. Simmons, Kevin Dunn, Matthew Modine and Dermot Mulroney all do impressive work.

                The film begins with a shot of Jobs, hippie like lazing around campus in 1974.  He drops out and with the aid of his best friend, Steve Wozniak (Josh Gad) gets into the computer hobby business.  His grand scale of dreams leads him to assemble a team to form a company to produce electronics thanks to the finance of Mike Markkula (Dermot Mulroney).  The film gets pretty detailed, even technically wise (there is a part talking about the substitution of a 16-bit Motorola microprocessor for the 8-bit 6805) that should not disappoint the part of the audience in the know of such stuff.  The 70’s atmosphere is also effectively created, music and all.

                But it is the business sense of Jobs that gets his company in trouble and the film going.  Like the recent THE SOCIAL NETWORK, this film concentrates on the business part of the company and how Jobs infuriates the shareholders.  This makes for high drama, which this film needs to create interest.  The audience is not really interested in the love or sex life of Jobs or how the mac was developed in detail.

                So as a film on the story of Steve Jobs' ascension from college dropout into one of the most revered creative entrepreneurs of the 20th century, all the dramatic business associations were highlighted with his vision on creating a practical computer for the ever person realized.

     

    KICK-ASS 2 (USA 2013) ****

    Directed by Jeff Wadlow

     

                When KICK ASS opened a few years ago, it blew me away making it to my best 10 list of the year.  While its sequel does not match up to the first, it still earns a 4-star rating.  The film retains the spirit of action heroes, the energy of youth while not forgetting the problems youth faces at the same time.

                KICK ASS (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) has retired from donning his mask and action hero costume.  But he still trains with Mindy (Chloe Grace Moretz) also known as Hit Girl.  Hit Girl is finally forced to give up crime fighting and keep her promise to her father (played by Nicholas Cage in the first movie) before he died.  But super villain wannabe Mother-F**ker (Christopher Mintz-Plasse) emerges, assembling his gang of baddies.  Kick Ass assembles too his troupe of super heroes resulting in a big showdown fight which forms the climax of the film.

                There are actually three stories (all just as interesting) in the script.  The first involves Kick Ass, David and his father (Garrett M. Brown) (similar to SPIDERMAN), the other Chloe and her guardian, Detective Marcus Williams (Morris Chestnut) and adapting to high-school (playing like MEAN GIRLS) and the third with the villain trying to be as bad as he can be despite counter advice from his late parents’ butler (John Leguizamo).  The film, besides being a kick-ass action film also features real teen problems, though looking at it at a humorous standpoint. 

                Jim Carrey has a role as the commando outfitted guy, Colonel Stars and Stripes and ex-mobster born again Christian who forms and trains the vigilante group.  Carrey refused to promote the film citing the film’s violence as the reason.  Of course this resulted in his co-stars rebuttal that promoted the film even more.  To his defence, KICK-Ass 2 is very, very violent with hands chopped off, stabbings, baseball bat bashing heads and mouths with lots and lots of red.  This of course, excites the audience more.  The fight scenes are also brutal especially the one involving Hit Girl and Mother Russia (Olga Kurkulina).  There is one adrenaline flowing action sequence played with the tune of “When the Saints…”

                Director Wadlow paces his film extremely well.  When Hit Girl finally dons her costume again after a spell, the action sequence of her fighting the baddies in a van on the highway is the best and obviously saved up for the last.

                KICK-ASS 2 sure kicks ass, there is no doubt about it.  It is action packed, hilarious and full of spirit and energy.  This series demands another sequel.

     

    Trailer:

    http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1650554/

     

     

     

     

    Best bets of the week:

     

    Best Film Opening: Kick-Ass 2

    Best Film Playing: Blue Jasmine

    Best Action: RED 2 and Kick-Ass 2

    Best Family: Turbo

    Best Comedy: This is The End

    Best Foreign: The Deep (Iceland)

  • TIFF Cinematheque - Leos Carax

    Les Films de Leos Carax – Modern Love

     

    The first film I have seen directed by French bad boy Leos Carax blew me away.  I went to see it again within the next 3 days.  This was the film that made him – LES AMANTS DU PONT-NEUF.  He immediately became every film buff’s dream and every producer’s nightmare.  Like his earlier works, his films are always all over the place.  Yet he knows what he want on camera.  Often on display is his incredible energy (often personified by his star Denis Lavant), his innovativeness and sharp bright coloured images.

     

    TIFF Cinematheque presents a full retrospective of his films, as he has not made hat many.  All his film are reviewed here, with a full review of his latest film HOLY MOTORS starring Denis Levant again who the TFCA (Toronto Film Critics Association) voted as Best Actor of he Year.

     

    Carax will be present himself on August the 9th and 10that the screenings to introduce his films and do a Q and A.  Check the cinematheque website at:

    www.tiff.net

    for full details of appearances, showtimes, venue, ticket pricing and other programs.

     

    CARAX FILM REVIEWS:

     

     

    LES AMANTS DE PONT-NEUF (France 1991) ***** Top 10

    Directed by Leos Carax

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    This is the tres-expensive film that put French bad boy on the director’s map but also on the most not-too-ne hired-producer’s list. LES AMANTS DU PONT NEUF is the most ferocious love story on film that I have ever seen.  The lovers (Denis Levant and Juliette Binoche) fight, make love, swear and whisper sweet nothings to each other  He drives a barge with her water skiing behind with fireworks on display during the celebrations on Bastilles Day.  He breaks into Le Louvre with her to see the painting of her wishes before she loses her sight.  Lit by a candle, she is able to fulfill her life’s dreams.  In real life, they did not allow Carax to film this scene with a candle as it would damage the painting.  So, he waited till the guards had to go to the toilet before shooting the scene.  This is inspired filmmaking all the way, aided by tremendous performances by the 2 leads.  Of course, the majority of the film is shot at Paris’s oldest bridge the Pont Neuf, when it was reconstructed.  Carax also had a huge set built that ran him way over budget. But all the effort is more than worth it.  The film is a must-see!

     

    BOY MEETS GIRL (France 1984) ***

    Directed by Leos Carax

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    Caax’s first film that is Carax himself. BOY MEETS GIRL stars again Carax’s muse Denis Levant (looking the youngest in all the films) playing again a streetwise kid again called Alex.  Alex falls in and out of love, dances and prances with his mind all over the place, just as this film is.  Though the film settles a bit at the end, the narrative is so disjointed, one often what Carax is trying to say.  But again on display here is the director’s tremendous energy, which makes the film totally watchable.  At one point in the film, Alex reminisces his dreams by saying he dreams of a 100 titles of possible films.  One wonders here is whether Alex is the character of Carax himself exposed in celluloid.  Though shot in black and white, many of the images are breathtaking.

     

     

    HOLY MOTORS (France/Germany 2012) ****

    
Directed by Leos Carax

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    Definitely a movie not to be forgotten, French enfant terrible Leos Carax returns with a stunning new film HOLY MOTORS after a 13-year hiatus.

    HOLY MOTORS is significantly different.  There is hardly any narrative sense.  The film begins when a man (Carax himself) unlocks a secret door to another world, where Monsieur Oscar (Lavant) lives.  Oscar appears to be a banker who travels the Paris streets in a stretch limo driven by Céline (Edith Scob).  But it turns out he’s got nine assignments today – all requiring disguises.  The film is thus divided into 9 parts excluding the portion that binds the parts together.

    Using his limo as a dressing room, Oscar turns himself into an old woman who begs near the Seine .  Next up, he’s a latex-clad acrobat who simulates sex with a limber lady.  Then he’s a sewer-dwelling beast who kidnaps a beauty (Eva Mendes).  This is the segment that Carax displays a full scale erection of Lavant’s penis.  But this is not the first film Carax has done this – as Lavant’s same member could be seen in a night silhouette scene in LES AMANTS DE PONT-NEUF.  Oscar is also a fretting father, a sick uncle, a hit man and more.  Near day’s end, he meets an ex-lover (Kylie Minogue) who sings a romantic song.

    The film also contains a few film references.  Lavant has one role as Monsieur Merde, a reprisal of the same one in Carax’s previous film TOKYO .  The mask that Celine wears towards the end of the film has a similar look with the ghostly face in Georges Franju’s EYES WITHOUT A FACE.

    HOLY MOTORS is not for everyone.  But with Carax’s surrealism and imagination, the film will surely fascinate cinephiles.

     

     

     

     

     

    MAUVAIS SANG (BAD BLOOD) (THE NIGHT IS YOUNG) (France 1986) ***

    Directed y Leos Carax

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    Again another love story by Carax featuring is favorite actors Denis Levant and Juliette Binoche playing young lovers  This time around Alex is a young crook who has fallen in love with Anna who has a fixation over the older Michel Picolli.  Picolli ha to steal an isolated from a lab 9similar to the AIDs virus) to el pa a debt o an American and save his skin.  How Alex is involved is a bit complicated but such are the films of Carax.  This film, is Carax’s first bigger budge film and Carax goes all over the place with his ideas from Alex leaning on a telephone wire so he can sea and speak at the same time to his sprint in tune to David Bowie’s Song ‘Strange Love’.  The climax of the film is the robbery, which Alex is forced to take part in.  But of course, nothing normal can be expected from a Carax film.

     

    POLAR X (France 1999) ***

    Directed by Leos Carax

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    POLA X (France 1999) ***

    Directed by Leos Carax

                Must be great to have as many lovers as Pierre (Guillaume Depardieu).  His young lover, Lucie, his incestuous mother (Catherine Deneuve) and male lover, Thibault.   But Pierre rides around most of the time on his motorcycle wit thins taking a turn when he decides to aid his long lost sister.  This is the story of Pierre, a successful writer whose spiral downhill begins when he meets he sister.  His intent to write a mature novel is met with apprehension from his publisher who says his charm lies in his immaturity.  Pierre’s appearance, behavior and actions take a turn for the worse.  This is material best suited for a director like Carax who is always able to bring t the demons in his characters.  It is also a welcome change to see a different actor in the Denis Lavant role.

  • This Week's Film Reviews (Aug 9, 2013)

    Quite a few big films opening this week.  The biggest is ELYSIUM followed by Disney’s PLANES, WE’RE THE MILLERS and the new PERCY JACKSON movie.  But other are other smaller gems such as INFORMANT and IN A WORLD making their debut.

    If you are in Toronto, TIFF Cinematheque begins its series on the films of Leos Carax entitled Modern Love.

    THE DEEP (Iceland 2012) ****

    Directed by Baltasar Kormakur

     

                Based on the true story of a sole survivor of a fishing boat wreck, THE DEEP is a mesmerizing, offbeat drama that plays to its roots that it is a true event.

                The actor portraying Iceland hero is an unlikely choice, Ólafur Darri Ólafsson is overweight, hairy, sloppy.  But when the end credits reveal what the true survivor, Gulli looks like, there is an uncanny resemblance. One would expect a fit, bulked seaman to survive swimming the extreme cold waters, not a fat man.  But when tests are carried out between Gulli and the local marines, it is Gulli that comes up on top.

                The film is split into three parts.  The first establishes the characters in the story.  There is Gulli, the new cook, his friend, his wife and children and a few other mates.  They take to the local bar, get drunk and fight.  Though it seems unconnected to the story, the first half of the film creates an excellent feel of Iceland, the fishermen, the cold conditions and comraderie.  In fact, without the atmosphere, the film will fall flat. 

                The second portion is the one at sea, the capsizing and Gulli’s swim to the rocky coast and 2 hour hike to safety.  It is believably shot, and very well shot at that, showing the brutal terror of nature.

                The third is Gulli’s adaptation back to normal life and the village’s acceptance of him.  Though there is no exciting climax, the drama more than makes up for it.  Kormakur also injects quite a bit of humour that results in a few laugh-out loud moments.

                THE DEEP directed by Kormakur who directed both CONTRABAND and 2 GUNS is undoubtedly his best and most meticulously made film.  It is a gripping exciting drama from start to finish and a very human one at that.  THE DEEP was Iceland’s entry to last year’s Best Foreign Film Oscar.

     

    DRUG WAR (Honk Kong/China 2012) ***

     

    Directed by Johnny To

     

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    Johnny To’s (ELECTION and SPARROW) latest crime flick is another edge of the seat thriller about the drug war between the cops and a drug gang.

     

    The film begins with drug lord Tmmy Choi (Louis Koo) arrested. He has a wide influence that includes the ownership of meth labs that have exploded causing deaths of his wife and brothers.  He is offered a reprieve of the death penalty if he cooperates with Captain Sun (Louis Koo) which he does.  But it is never certain where his loyalty ultimately lies – right to the end with the violent shoot out.

     

    To’s film, being made and shot in mainland China has a slightly different look from his other Hong Kong crime action films.  For one, the film has more sights and the action takes place in more open spaces that confined sets.  The setting including the climax is both Hong Kong and China where the drug war takes place.

     

    The climatic shoot out is exciting enough with a high body count and cars crashing into other vehicles and human beings.  One problem is that it is not always easy to distinguish the good from the bad guys.  It does not help that the plot keeps Choi’s loyalty a secret with him shooting at both parties.  Do not expect any character development or strong narrative, though the script is solid.  The strong action scenes (continuity especially the chases are excellent) more than make up for other flaws.

     

    Trailer:

     

     http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=G7vwNHnFdBE

     

     

     

     

    INFORMANT (USA 2013) **

     

    Directed by Jamie Meltzer

     

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    INFORMANT tells the intriguing story of one man, Brandon Darby – an alpha male, as described by an acquaintance.  The reason he is the subject of a full documentary, whether he is worth or not is arguable, is that this person did so much good as a radical activist aiding the Hurricane Katrina victims that it became so weird that he finally became an FBI informant.  In U.S. terms, that means he became a rat in the human race.

     

    The film begins with interviews by both the subject himself followed by those who now or who have worked with him.  Director Meltzer then uses old footage to show the ma doing work with the relief workers in the lands devastated by Katrina.  In the process, he attempts to show Brandon’s character and his ideals as they are formed.  All this, no doubt without incurring the wrath of already an inborn angry alpha male.  But the trouble is that his motives, which is what the film aims to reveal are never uncovered at the end of the film.  The mystery teased to the audience still remains a mystery.  There are only clues such as his childhood that includes running away from home at 13 is talked about by the subject himself.

     

    But a documentary is often as interesting as its subject.  Odd or weird that Brandon is, it is also clear that the world is full of such people.  Why Brandon is chosen just because he became an informant is questionable.  The subject matter and the man loses the audience’s interest quickly as the documentary progresses.  Halfway through the move, one would hardly care anymore about this egomaniac person, who cannot take orders and who is full of himself.

     

     

     

    KEVIN HART: LET ME EXPLAIN (USA 2013) *** 

     

    Directed by Leslie Small

     

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    Already opened and played a few weeks in the U.S., KEVIN HART: LET ME EXPLAIN has already grossed Lions Gate Entertainment over $30 million based on a $3 million production cost.  It is easy to see why.  The standup comic has an infectious personality.  Hart will make you laugh as you would never before, looking at everyday routines from the hilarious Hart point of view.

     

    The film opens with Hart’s throwing of his own Mingle and Mix party in which he has paid for all the drinks.  But he is given the slack by people he does not know.  For example, he is accused of not sleeping with dark skin bitches no more.  Angry, Hart decides to explain it all at Madison Square Garden.

     

    But running at just over an hour and 10 minutes, the film runs out of material.  Quite a few fillers have already been added, such as Hart’s tours around the world.  But these segments hardly make any sense in the move except to prove that Hart has been around the world.

     

    Hart’s comedy is geared towards the young adult.  He pokes the most fun on male/female relationships, his best material being his imitation of a crazy lady accusing the boyfriend of cheating.  Whether the jokes make sense or not, Hart is still funny doing his best, contorting his face, body and voice.  Vulgarity takes the form of the ‘f’ word and bitches word, with the material occasionally turning too off coloured (dick sucking jokes).  Director Small is smart enough to have the camera focus ever so often on the hysterical audience.

     

    The climax of the film is Hart’s live performance at Madison Square Garden. It is nothing short of miraculous to watch this short man wow such a large crowd.  When Hart goes teary eyed at the end of the show, one can clearly understand why.

     

    Besides being one of the few opportunities to see Kevin Hart perform, the film is a welcome change, a mix of documentary and fiction.  Hart will have you laughing out loud from the aisles.

     

     

     

     

    LA PIROGUE (France/Senegal 2012)

    Directed by Moussa Toure

               Of the 10,000 that have ventured the illegal voyage from Africa to Europe on rickety boats, more than 5,000 have drowned.  The film LA PIROGUE, an official selection at Un Certain Regard at Cannes 2012 serves as a dedication to those who have perished, as the end titles say. Pirogue is a type of fishing boat and the one used for transport of Africans in the film.  The trip here is from Senegal to Spain with 29 men guided by CaptainBaye Laye (Souleymane Seye Ndiaye).

                Director Moussa Toure’s powerful voyage drama is divided into several parts – the preparation for the journey and the introduction of key characters, the journey itself and the well-shot climatic storm followed by the conclusion on Spanish shores.  It is safe, formulaic filmmaking though not primarily commercial box-office material but still an eye-opening entertainment piece.  The story offers ample opportunities for drama that Toure utilizes to the maximum.  These include the tension between the different tribes on the boat; the rough seas and storm; the encounter of a stranded boat with similar refugees but desperate to the point of death; scanty rations to be divided among everyone; a stowaway and a passenger that goes crazy.  There hardly needs the additional story of a stepfather and son sorting out their relationship that is introduced at the start of the film.  This subplot is brought up only once or twice and after the audience had already forgotten about them.  Music is sparse with the film relying on sounds to create dramatic effect.

                There have been other films telling tales of immigrants making harsh journeys to promised lands.  In YOL, a Turk and his woman brave the bitter ice and wintry winds and other films like INCANDESTINE also portrayed ship voyages.  But LA PIROGUE is a faithfully told tale and if you ask me, there is hardly anything I could think that need be added to the film for more dramatic effect.

     

    PLANES (USA 2013) **

     

    Directed by Klay Hill

     

                Right on the heels of CARS, Disney’s PLANES with a goofy hero dreaming it big is a varied re-tread of the former, though the former was not that great an animated feature despite its huge box-office success.

     

                Dusty (Dane Cook) is a one propeller cropduster who wishes he was an ace flyer similar to TURBO in which a slug dreams of speed.  Dusty enters an around the world race, (held for no real reason) and of course comes up a hero (after saving British flyer bulldog (John Cleese) and maybe number uno in the process.  Don’t want to have to include a spoiler alert here but one can guess the film’s outcome anyway.  Dusty is trained by veteran Skipper (gruffly voiced by Stacy Keach) and serviced, mechanically that is by best friend, Dottie (Teri Hatcher). 

     

                The long race diminishes the effect of a good climax.  The villain is also not evil or goofy enough.  The film looks good, however, especially in 3D but there is more in a film than looking good. Hill’s film is neither exciting, funny or imaginative enough compared not only to recent Disney fare (MONSTERS UNIVERSITY) or others (TURBO, DESPIABLE ME 2).  The lines like: ”It does not how fast you fly but how you fly fast”, appear weak and pathetic.

     

    Lets hope that TRAINS will not be the next Disney outing after PLANES (following the John Candy comedy PLANES, TRAINS AND AUTOMOBILES).  PLANES is unimaginative, boring after the first 10 minutes (I wanted it tot end right then) and should be avoided.  But the film will make money from the tied-in toys and merchandizing and there should be enough kids who dream of becoming a pilot to make this sorry Disney film a tidy profit.

     

    BEST BETS FOR THE WEEK:

    Best Film: Opening: Elysium

    Best Film Playing: Blue Jasmine

    Best Comedy: This is the End

    Best Foreign: The Deep (Iceland)

    Best Doc: Informant!

    Best Animation: Turbo

  • This Week's Film Reviews (Aug 2, 2013)

    Early opening Wed for THE SMURFS 2.  2 GUNS and  open Friday, the latter film one of the best Woody Allen has done.

     

     

     

    FILM REVIEWS:

     

    THE ATTACK (Lebanon/France/Belgium 2012) ***

    Directed by Ziad Doueiri

               

                The film asks the question:  What if your spouse is not the person you thought  after a marriage?  Your spouse has blown herself/himself up as a suicide bomber and you are now the police’s prime suspect as a terrorist.

                Based on the international bestseller by Yasmina Khadra, THE ATTACK is such a suicide bombing in which innocent children were killed in a restaurant.  Amin Jaafari (Ali Suliman) is an Israeli Palestinian surgeon, fully assimilated into Tel Aviv society.  He has a loving wife, an exemplary career, and many Jewish friends.  His picture perfect life is turned upside down when a suicide bombing in a restaurant leaves nineteen dead, and the Israeli police inform him that his wife Sihem, who also died in the explosion, was responsible.  Convinced of her innocence, Amin abandons the relative security of his adopted homeland and enters the Palestinian territories in pursuit of the truth.

                It is exactly half way through the film that it is established that Sihem is guilty o her deed on her own accord.  And Amin realizes it!

                Though one would expect director Doueiri to have the audience be on Amin’s side, he does the opposite.  Amin becomes sarcastic to the people sympathetic to him, rude and uncooperative to everyone.  When finally provided the answers, his reaction is selfish, rude and ugly.  But one can see the reason after the movie is done.  Doueiri plays both sides for his audience to feel the full emotional effect of his film.

                But there is one major credibility flaw at the end of the film.  Amin is handed a VCR cassette in the film.  When played, it shows his wife in her last moments before the bombing allowing Amin to have a better understanding of her feelings.  Now, why would she and the other person in the video consent to this recording and who would be recording the segment anyway?

                Though one might not be familiar or care about the Palestinian/Jewish conflict, THE ATTACK is still an emotional effective film.  The basic human conflicts of race, love and trust are on trial here and everyone should feel for what the protagonist Amin goes through, as well as understand his ugly reactions.

    BERBERIAN SOUND STUDIO (UK/Italy 2011) **

    Directed by Peter Strickland

     

                It all sounds excellent for the premise of a horrific drama.  Timid Brit (Toby Jones) gets employed in a strange unfamiliar Italian town to do the sound work or a horror film only to find that working there is scarier than the movie itself.  The story allows plenty of opportunity to display the art of sound creation and sound mixing.  But director Santini (Antonio Mancini) does not seem to know where to take his material to.

                New British employed wanders into the BERBERIAN SOUN STUDIO for his new job.  He is given attitude and the run around for his expenses by the director of the film he is working on.  Nevertheless, he works the sound realizing then that many of the ‘screamers’ are upset as well.  The film has plenty to show on how sounds are created, from stabbing (done with a vegetable knife plunging into a cabbage) to a poker inserted into a vagina.

                One wonders of the unlikely choice of Toby Jones as the lead except that his small stature would be perfect for the role of a character subject to being bullied.  His character is bullied to no end, and one would wish to see him stand up for himself at the end.  He does exert his frustration but just once, at the receptionist for not getting his check.  He should be mad at Santini and the director.

    BLUE JASMINE (USA 2013) TOP 10 *****

    Directed by Woody Allen

     

                When the film opens, distraught, abandoned and neurotic Jasmine (Cate Blanchett) arrives in San Francisco to sort her life out while being put up in the simple home by her non-biological sister, Ginger (Sally Hawkins). 

                The title BLUE JASMINE comes about as Jasmine met and fell in love with her cheating and philandering husband Hal (Alec Baldwin) when the song Blue Moon was playing.  The story follows Jasmine and her sister as they find other romances whether they be the right one(s) or not.

                It is awesome and nothing short of miraculous to watch Allen wring out great American performances from two top British actresses, Oscar winner Blanchett and Sally Hawkins (HAPPY-GO-LUCKY).  Hawkins fares much, much better than Blanchett delivering a more subtle performance with a more ordinary role.  Andrew Dice Clay also stands out as Ginger’s working class desperate ex-husband as does Billy Cannavale as her current beau.

                BLUE JASMINE is Allen back in America, partly in New York and in familiar territory after films set in England, France and Spain.  Allen is in more serious mode doing, noticeably doing away with much of his sometimes distracting humour.  But when the humour occurs, like the part when Chile agrees to go into the office of Ginger’s manager after braking down, it is laugh-out loud funny.

                There are segments that remind one of his previous films.  When Jasmine breaks down in one segment, she cries: “Who must I sleep with to get a martini with a twist of lemon?”  This is similar to Bette Midler’s line in NEW YORK STORIES when she retorts: “Do you know how many animals I have to sleep with to get his fur coat?” to the accusation: “Do you know how many animals have to be killed for you to wear that fur coat?”   But it is Allen’s serious lines that moves.  “You did not lose me.  I almost lost you,” says Ginger to Chili in one of Allen’s script’s best lines.

    Allen’s typical characters like cheating husbands, coping wives and the neurotic rich are still present in BLUE JASMINE.  The adult confession Jasmine makes to Ginger’s two boys is also priceless.

    BLUE JASMINE is disciplined Allen at his very best.  And BLUE JASMINE is the best Allen film since MANHATTAN and ANNIE HALL.  The film spells Oscar all over it!

    A PEOPLE UNCOUNTED (Canada 2013) ***

    Directed by Aaron Yeger

                At the start of Aaron Yeger’s earnest documentary on the Roma (commonly referred to as gypsies) people, the voiceover narration makes it clear that the film’s purpose is not to blame any race or person or point any responsibility to the injustices done to the Roma.  The statement also prepares the audience on what is expected to be delivered on screen.

                What transpires then in the next 90 minutes or so is an informative account of the Roma people, most of which most audiences are unaware of.  True to the film’s initial statement, the film is not vindictive of any race (like the Germans) that have caused considerable harm to these people, but the archive footage is enough to anger many.

                The film tells the story of the Roma who have been both romanticized and vilified in popular culture. The Roma have endured centuries of intolerance and persecution in Europe, most notably the Holocaust genocide where an estimated 500,000 were murdered. A People Uncounted documents their culturally rich yet often difficult lives, and demonstrates how their present state has been deeply shaped by the tragedies of the past. 

                Yeger assembles a dozen or so of the Roma Holocaust survivors allowing them to tell of their experiences.  Many such as the one of the trampled mother and baby in the train carriage is nothing short of horrifying.

    Filmed in 11 countries and featuring dozens of Roma-including Holocaust survivors, historians, activists and musicians, A PEOPLE UNCOUNTED brings the Romani history to life through the rich interplay of their poetry, music, and Yeger’s highly informative film sheds light on this unique culture while placing the Romani story within the larger context of the world's legacy of racism and genocide.

     

     

     

    THE SMURFS 2 (USA 2013) ***
    Directed by Raja Gosnell

     

                It would be easy to dismiss THE SMURFS 2 (in 3D) as kiddie rubbish but the film has a few things going for it.  For one, it is the late Jonathan Winters last effort as the voice of Papa Smurf and Katy Perry lays her hand as both the voice of Smurfette and a catchy song.  The Belgian comic (by Peyo) is given a decent film adaptation complete with laugh out loud hilarity thanks a great deal to Hank Azaria as the villain Gargamel.

                The film is a combination of live animation well done as noticeable in a scene with Smurfette (Katy Perry) in the water by a waterfall.  The story involves Gargamel (Azaria), now a celebrity sorcerer travelling the world, creating The Naughties (smurf-like creatures), hoping to harness magical Smurf essence.  Using his new creation, he kidnaps Smurfette and takes her to Paris. Papa (Winters), Clumsy (Anton Yelchin), Grouchy (George Lopez), and Vanity (John Oliver) transport, using magical crystals, to the real world and seek their friends Patrick (Neil Patrick Harris) and Grace Winslow (Jayma Mays) and their son, Blue to help rescue Smurfette.

                The film contains customary messages for the family like: It does not matter where you come from but who you choose to be.  Corny, yes, but under the circumstances that this is a family film, it al should be taken in good stride.  Azaria’s villain is goofy enough aided by his live cat that steals the show from right under him, good as he is.  The ending when Gargamel gets his come-uppance is a bit violent for kids, but they might not notice and just laugh it out.

                THE SMURFS 2 is welcome family entertainment that despite its target market for littler children should still entertain the adults.

               

    Trailer:

    http://www.imdb.com/title/tt2017020/

     

     

    2 GUNS (USA 2013) **

    Directed by Baltasar Kormakur

     

                Based on the Boom! Studios graphic novels (so do not expect much in terms of plot or story) by Steven Grant, 2 GUNS is another unimaginative actioner that is churned out by the dozen (REDS2, RIPD, THE WOLVERINE), in recent months.  The niche here is the interaction between the 2 protagonists, A DEA agent and a naval intelligence officer who find themselves on the run after a botched attempt to infiltrate a drug cartel. While fleeing, they learn the secret of their shaky alliance: Neither knew that the other was an undercover agent.

                Robert (Bobby) Trench (Denzel Washington) and Marcus ‘Stig’ Stigman (Mark Wahlberg) find themselves at loggerheads fighting each other and then bonding before coming before the villain of the piece, Admiral Tuwey (Fred Ward).

                The highlight of the film and seen in the trailer is a bank robbery planned as the two visit a famous donut shop opposite that is frequented by cops.  They banter as they order breakfast and confuse the poor waitress.  Director Blatasar Kormakur (CONTRABAND) cannot and does not attempt much with the material except have guns blasting out loud (and hence the title) too often.

                The niche is not all that much opportunity for action either and the film descends quickly not only into a bore but a forgettable one too.

     

     

     

    Trailer:

     

    http://www.rottentomatoes.com/m/2_guns/

     

     

     

     

    Best bets of the week:

     

    Best Film Opening: Blue Jasmine

    Best Film Playing: This is the End

    Best Action: RED 2

    Best Family: Turbo

    Best Doc: HOW TO MAKE MONEY SELLING DRUGS

    Best Foreign: Crystal Fairy (Chile)

     

  • This Week's Film Reviews (Jul 26, 2013)


    African American film that should interest Afrotoronto readers is FRUITVALE STATION opening this week.

    THE WOLVERINE also makes its debut.

    FILM REVIEWS:

    COMPUTER CHESS (USA 2013) ***

    Directed by Andrew Bujalski

     

                This is one of he oddest films of the year.  Shot in black and white 80’s style with the period atmosphere (clothes, hair, speech and even the computers) so convincing that one can swear that the film is from those times.  Looking like a documentary, it would surprise many that what transpires on screen are all made up.

                Set over the course of a weekend tournament for chess software programmers thirty-some years ago, Computer Chess transports viewers to a nostalgic moment when the contest between technology and the human spirit seemed a little more up for grabs. On display here are the eccentric geniuses possessed of the vision to teach a metal box to defeat man, literally, at his own game, laying the groundwork for artificial intelligence as we know it and will come to know it in the future.

                Director Bujalski’s characters are all eccentric in their own way.  The tournament organizer himself is a nerd, filled with his own pride and also proud of what he thinks is the best competition ever organized.  He gets o f*** p n the last of the tournament.  The weirdest one is a cheap bloke who has no money to rent a hotel room.  The only decent person is also a nerd, who is given the runaround by his equally nerdy boss.  Also sharing the hotel is a group of new age meditators who are in search of peace and love.  The groups clash in the film with hilarious results.

                But the novelty of nerds on display in an 80’s setting can also get tiresome after a while, no matter how well the mood is created.  After half the film is through, the jokes grow less funny and the characters more annoying.  One also wonders what the point (or message) is in all this that director Bujalski is trying to show us.

    CRYSTAL FAIRY (Chile 2013) ***
    Directed by Sebastian Silva

    Chilean director next outing after his touted Best Foreign Film Oscar Nominee THE MAID, the film sees, once again an outsider (this time the American tourist Michael Cera) in an unfamiliar familial setting (Chilean 3 brothers and a Chilean free spirit).  The task again is to adjust and to come to agreeable terms with the unlikely circumstances.  Though not as satisfying as THE MAID, Silva’s new film is subtly funnier and has a winning performance from a major non-Chilean star (Cera).

    The full title of the movie is CRSTAL FAIRY AND HE MAGIC CACTUS AND 2012.  The 2012 of the title refers to the possible end of the world in the Mayan calendar.

    Cera stars as Jamie, a saggy, boorish and over-excited American tourist searching for a great hallucinogen experience hat he believes can be obtained by cooking the San Pedro, a breed of cactus.  Travelling wit three Chilean brothers, who speak Spanish most of the time, he meets a hippie at a party who he calls Crystal Fairy (Gaby Hoffman) whom he invites on their trip to the north.  Needless o say, they do not get along mainly because their cultures and beliefs are so different.  Worst still, she often parades around total nude, to the great discomfort of Jamie

    Their travels include hunting down the San Pedro, procuring it and ten cooking it.  Director Silva allows his actors a free hand during most of the film, while controlling the main sprit of the story.  Both Cera and Hoffman are excellent and they make the movie.

    The film is full of surprises though the film heads towards a predictable ending.  But the characters are hilarious, mostly because Silva allows the audience to see the imperfections of people.  The film’s funniest moment arrives when Crystal Fairy, who initially condemns processed food, takes a handful of fruit loops and gulps coco-cola early in the morning.

    The film also serves to display the beautiful scenery or Chile that most Americans are unfamiliar with.  The sandy while beaches and rough waves are beautiful rugged sights away from the crows of tourists.  And the Chileans on display in the film are largely friendly and helpful.  Everyone seems happy except the American.                                      

    Whatever the message Silva intended in the film is still unsure, but his faith in human beings shows off in films like THE MAID and this one.  Which has a major impact on the characters as well as the audience in each film.

    FRUITVALE STATION (USA 2013) ***

    Directed by Ryan Cooper

                In short, FRUITVALE STATION is a reenactment of the fatal shooting of an innocent 22-year old African American, Oscar Grant (Michael B. Jordan) by a BART police officer for no reason at all.  This is the classic case of being at the wrong place at the wrong time.  Even the young man’s mother, Wanda (Octavia Spencer) blames herself for persuading her son for taking the train when he wanted to drive on New Year’s Eve.

                With hardly any material, the first half of the film is a real bore.  It feels as if director (who also wrote the script) is out of ideas with fillers put in.  The man is shown to be imperfect (who is perfect these days?) being caught by his girlfriend (Melonie Diaz) cheating with another bitch.  A lot of family scenes are displayed on screen, obviously to evoke the audience’ sympathy even more, when the mishap occurs.  What’s on display at least appears to be what African American like these people live and go through, though it may be argued that there is nothing here that audiences have not seen before.  Or is this any masterpiece filmmaking.

                But when the fight starts aboard a train leading to huge cops taking control with that trundgeons, the film takes a dramatic turn.  The altercation between the cops (played by Kevin Durand and Chad Michael Murray) and the African Americans are executed with authenticity, brutality and conviction so that what transpires on screen comes to pass as acceptable truth.  One feels for the poor innocents being beaten up while also understanding how events can escalate to such a catastrophe.

                But once again, once the man is hospitalized and the mother visits, it feels like filler time again.

                Still, because of its volatile content, the film won the Grand Jury and Audience award when screened at Sundance.

     

    RUFUS (Canada 2013) ***
    Directed by David Schultz

     

                RUFUS is another teen vampire romance film, which no doubt the filmmakers wish would cash in on the success of the TWILIGHT films, BYZANTIUM and WARM BODIES.

                When the film opens, Rufus (Rory J. Saper) is advised by an elderly lady who could be his grandmother to try to blend in the new town he is headed.   Truck hits and annihilates her.  Rufus is taken in by a cop, Hugh Wade (David James Elliot) and his wife, Jennifer (Kelly Rowan) who look after Rufus.  Rufus befriends the neighbor girl, Tracy (Merritt Patterson) who discovers he is not normal.

                Schultz’s film is a mix romance drama with decent intentions – Rufus trying to lead a normal life.

                The film has a cool Canadian slant.  The characters are polite, always saying please, and taking risks (like the vet) risking losing his license to help others.  The atmosphere is authentic countryside Canada with vast and bare open spaces.  There is one scene featuring a deli shack featuring Shultz’s meats.  One wonders if the director really owns one and advertising his wares.  The cinematography has won Craig Wrobleski several awards.

                The script takes on too much that it can chew including a subplot involving a gay teen, Clay (Robert Harmon) who has the ’hots’ for Rufus and the couple’s dead son who Rufus is apparently filling in the shoes for.

                But the film, despite its flaws moves on at a good pace with the interest of the audience on track.  The result is a fair film that at times tries to hard but is nevertheless intriguing enough.

    Rufus music video:

    http://www.imdb.com/video/withoutabox/vi2834015513?ref_=tt_pv_vi_1

    THURSDAY TO SUNDAY (DE JUEVES A DOMINGO) (Chile 2012) ***
    Directed by Dominga Sotomayor

     

    It is really rare that two films from Chile (a rarity for a single film itself) open this week in Toronto and rarer still that both involve travel to the sea in the north of Chile.

    For this film THURSDAY TO SUNDAY,  two children go on a vacation via car with their parents to the north of Chile.  It all begins on Thursday and ends on a Sunday. Lucía (Santi Ahumada) (10) and Manuel (7) travel for the long weekend with their parents, Ana and Fernando.  The couple has decided to break up but has previously promised their children to go to the north, so they decide to travel anyway.  The journey slowly turns into a final goodbye but a long route.  The landscape's loneliness and the car's confinement begin to surface the troubles of the couple. The children just want to get to the beach; Fernando, to a piece of land his father has left him; and Ana, to a non-existent place where things are fine again.  This film is Lucía's distant and fragmented outlook on this last family trip.  The film moves at a very slow pace but patience is needed to get the feel of what is happening among the family members.

    The film is occasionally, very artfully shot, if one is into this kind of thing.  For example, there is one scene at the film’s start when an event can be observed through the reflection of a glass wall.  But the film is a slow journey just like the one Lucia experiences, and one hat can be a bit frustrating as well.

    Trailer:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xxY5b2O2-j4

    THE TO DO LIST (USA 2013) **

    Directed by Maggie Carey

     

                THE TO DO LIST is an uninspired female teen comedy that leads the protagonist Brandy Klark (Aubrey Plaza) to tick off all the items of her list like blow job, French Kissing, finger *ucking in order to lose her virginity before entering college.  This is not the first teen comedy dealing with the topic of losing ones virginity though having the story redone in a female setting is a welcome change.

                Straight A student and valedictorian high school graduate Brandy gives her speech but is booed off the stage for being a virgin.  Her two friends, Wendy and Fiona who have an obsession to watch Bette Midler's BEACHES help Judy in her quest.  Nerdy Cameron (Johnny Simmons) is in love with Judy but Judy has the hits for hunk Rusty Waters (Scott Parker).  Judy gets a job at the local pool run by Willy (Ben Heder) where Waters also works.  Judy gets item after tem ticked off and finally gets her act together in this somewhat variation of a coming-of-age losing virginity comedy.

                The list of items on the list provide ample opportunity for comedic set-ups  In fact that translates to one set-up per item.  Unfortunately, director Carey misses many chances of laugh -out loud laughs.  The dialogue could have been funnier and the timing comedic timing more precise.

                As for vulgarity, diector is not ashamed of letting everything lose.  The lewd lyrics of the opening song prepares the audience for what to expect.

                Aubrey Plaza as the main lead does a satisfactory job as do most of the other actors playing general goof balls.  One can never *uck up playing  goofy?

                The film leans towards sending the rather cool message of how important sex is to a teen.  Not that any above the age of 21 really cares anymore.  Most of the film’s antics come across more as annoying than anything else.  The climax of the film is how Brandy loses her virginity.  This does not mean much.  However, to the select target audience, this film might hit the perfect G-spot.  But thank God, I have passed this passage in life and I do not miss it at all.  Nor do I need to be reminded of it in a generally unfunny movie.

     

     

    Best Bets of the Week:

    Best Film Opening: Crystal Fairy

    Best Film Playing: This is the End

    Best Action: RED 2

    Best Family: Turbo

    Best Doc: HOW TO MAKE MONEY SELLING DRUGS

    Best Foreign: Crystal Fairy (Chile)

     

  • Nelson Mandela Celebrated in Regent Park

    A special ceremony took place last Thursday in Toronto to honour former South African President Nelson Mandela. The day marked the ailing anti-apartheid icon’s 95th birthday and the UN-recognized Nelson Mandela International Day. The Regent Park neighbourhood came alive with community members, local artists and dignitaries who converged at Nelson Mandela Park Public School. The celebrations, which ran from 1-6pm, included a live steaming applause ceremony beamed via satellite from several cities across the globe, live music from artists such as Juno Award winner Lorraine Klaasen, and family activities.

    “Because Nelson Mandela is also an honorary Canadian citizen, we decided to organize something special in this city to celebrate his life and to wish him a happy birthday” said Lloyd McKell, vice-chairman of Toronto’s Honouring Mandela Committee and veteran Toronto School Board educator and advisor.

    McKell, a Trinidad and Tobago native, became an anti-apartheid movement supported as a University of Toronto student in the late 1960s and early 1970s. He had South African friends and fellow students who were exiles from apartheid regime. “I began to learn about the system of political oppression in South Africa and that resonated and lived with me. That stayed with me all these years” as he further commented.

    He became involved with others in calling for Canada to impose sanctions on Canada and demanding the release of Nelson Mandela. When the ANC (African National Congress) was finally released in 1990, he came to visit Canada about four months later. Lloyd McKell was part of the committee that welcomed him to Canada. Madiba, as Nelson Mandela is affectionately known, came to Toronto to visit the Central Technical School where he spoke to students.

    Mandela was later invited to come to Canada in November of 2001 to receive his honorary Canadian citizenship. At that time McKell, who worked at the Toronto School Board, had been part of a group that proposed to rename Toronto’s oldest public school, Park Public School, in honour of Nelson Mandela. So on November 17th, 2001, Nelson Mandela came to Toronto for the official renaming ceremony of the newly named Nelson Mandela Park Public School. McKell recalls the day:

    “He made a very emotional speech to the kids. What I remember very much about the speech is that he told the kids he was so happy to be there among them. He told them that he loved them all as if they were his grandchildren.”

    McKell said tears were flowing down his and the children’s eyes sitting there on the floor. “Many of those children came from countries where their parents had a very difficult time with civil wars and so on. Many of them came as refugees, so to have this great man tell that he loved them as if they were his own grandchildren was very moving and emotional for them,” he added. Today, the Nelson Mandela Park Public School’s students continue to aspire to live by the values which have defined Nelson Mandela’s life and that is the values of courage, of truth, of integrity, of forgiveness, of reconciliation, and compassion. “All those things in his life are valuable lessons for children” as McKee concludes.

     

    More information

    Nelson Mandela Park Public School

    About Lloyd McKell

     

  • This Week's Film Reviews (Jul 20, 2013)

    Big weekend for new movies. TURBO and RED2 have Wednesday openings while others like RIPD and THE CONJURING open Friday.

    THE ACT OF KILLING (Denmark/Norway/UK 2012) *

    Directed by Joshua Oppenheimer

                THE ACT OF KILLING is a documentary in which ex-killers talk to he camera and explain as well as re-enact the killings they have done in the past.  Apparently the reason for the making of this film is for the killers to understand their act  But the question is that these guilt scum of the earth should be brought to trail for their wicked deeds rather than given the glory to talk on film.

                The setting is Indonesia.   When President Sukarno was overthrown by Suharto following the failed coup in 1965, the gangsters of Anwar Congo ad Adi Zulkadry in Medan in the north of Sumatra were promoted from selling black market movie theatre tickets to leaders of the most notorious death squad responsible for countless murders. Anwar personally killed approximately 1000 people, usually by strangling with wire.

    Today, Anwar is revered as a founding father of a right-wing paramilitary organization that grew out of the death squads. The organization is so powerful that its leaders include government ministers, and they are happy to boast about everything from corruption and election rigging to genocide.                                                                                                               

    Anwar and his friends eagerly re-enact the killings for the cameras, and make dramatic scenes depicting their memories and feelings about the killings. The scenes are produced in the style of their favorite film genres: gangster, western, and musical. Various aspects of Anwar and his friends' filmmaking process are shown, but as they begin to dramatize Anwar's own nightmares, the fiction scenes begin to take over the film's form, leading the film to become increasingly surreal and nightmarish. Oppenheimer has called the result "a documentary of the imagination”.                          

    Some of Anwar’s friends realize that the killings were wrong. Others worry about the consequence of the story on their public image. Younger members of Pemuda Pancasila argue that they should boast about the horror of the massacres, because their terrifying and threatening force is the basis of their power today.                                             

    This documentary has won rave reviews around the world for its content.  But this reviewer finds the whole exercise nothing short of revolting.  To watch  ex-killers bask in their glory is too much.  Their sense of regret shown at the end of the film is not enough for redemption.  If Oppenheimer made a similar film getting ex-Nazi criminals to re-enact their killing acts in the concentration camps, the result would be nothing less than an uproar.   The reason he gets away with this disgusting documentary is that the oppressed in Indonesia have lost their rights to have their say.

    Of the scrrenings, the 2pm ones daily will feature the director's cut.

     THE ACT OF KILLING:Producer Anne Kohncke will be present for a Q&A following the Friday, July 19 6:00pm screening of THE ACT OF KILLING at The TIFF/Bell Lightbox. 

    BLACKFISH (USA 2013) ***1/2

    Directed by Gabriela Cowperthwaite

     

                BLACKFISH is the name given to Orcas also known as killer whales by the First Nations people.  These mammals are strong, fierce and dominant creatures that are not to be messed around with.  So if Orcas are captured from the wild, separated from their communities, and forced to perform while living in horrid confined pools in parks like SeaWorld, it would be just a matter of time when nature will take revenge when the killer whales eventually emotionally cannot take it any more.  Unfortunately, it is not the ones who mistreat the whales that pay, but the innocent trainers at the sea parks.

                Director Cowperthwaite begins her message laden film with the supposedly ideal SeaWorld.  An ad of SeaWorld is seen with the whales diving in and out of he clouds in the sky.  Performances are show that depict he ideal relationship between man and mammal.  Then, Cowperthwaite lets the shit hit he fan with a trainer being mauled by an animal.

                The owners of the parks such as SeaWorld are clearly targeted as the enemy in the film.  The words “the owners of SeaWorld refuse to be interviewed for the film,” is boldly displayed on the screen.  And the director is also proud to include the title of ex-SeaWorld trainer when the camera focuses on one.

                Again this documentary reveals the inherent greed, evil and insensitivity of the human race.  And Cowperthwaite’s documentary also ensures the audience to take the animal’s side.

    THE CONJURING (USA 2013) ***

    Directed by James Wan

                Based on the real story of one of the supernatural cases of ghostbusters Ed and Lorraine Warren (Patrick Wilson from INSIDUOUS and VERA FARMIGA), who lectures at universities and also perform an assortment of tasks like exorcism, dispelling fears of the supernatural and logical explanation of supernatural phenomena, THE CONJURING follows this particular case till its final solution.

                A family, Roger and Carolyn (Ron Livingston and Lili Taylor) moves into a farm house.  Paranormal activity occurs – girl is dragged by her legs; a ghoulish figure descends from the cupboard; doors slam and open; dark shadows appear behind the children.  It turns out that a witch used to live in the farmhouse.  She killed her daughter before killing herself and her spirit has latched itself to the family.  The father, Roger panics and persuades Ed and Loraine to come investigate.

                THE CONJURING (more accurately called the Harrisville Horror after THEAMITYVILLE HORROR) does not contain any original ideas or new tricks.  In fact the film is a bastardized version of THE EXORCIST, POLTERGEST and the PARANONORMAL ACTIVITY films.  There are the classic scares – things that go bump in the night; creatures hiding behind corners; creepy toys like the music box; dark and long corridors and the cheap shock tactics – sudden increase of soundtrack volume; scary images suddenly jumping out of the screen (ghoul jumping from cupboard) for no reason; build up of music and then burst of blackness of screen (at the end).  Director Wan also includes a bit of blood and gore (the image or redness merging from white sheets) that was his trait in the SAW films.  The story basically is Ed and Lorraine, exorcising the demons from the house and that is it.  The witch variation of the story does not do much to the over told tale but provide a few images of hanging bodies.

                The script also contain too many convenient coincidences  Lorraine is able to use and put all the pieces of the history puzzle far to easily.  Ed saves their daughter Judy by yanking her from the door in which an object goes smashing into it.  How did Ed know this?  Or how did they manage to arrive at the grandmother’s house to save Judy just in the split second nick of time?  Based on a true story, maybe but the film sure  takes its liberty with the facts.

                On the plus side, fans of the horror genre should have enough fun being scarred out of their seats.  Wan has assembled quite the thorough assortment (though used) of scare tactics.

                So sure is Warner Bros. is of the success of this film that a sequel is already in the planning.  But this is what WB needs to make back the money lost from PACIFIC RIM.

     

    THE HUNT (JAGTEN) (Denmark 2012) ****

    Directed by Thomas Vinterberg

     

    In William Wyler’s THE CHILDREN’S HOUR, a precocious schoolgirl tells the lie of her two teachers played by Shirley MacLaine and Audrey Hepburn kissing leading to disturbing results.  A similar premise in Danish director Thomas Vinterberg’s (CELEBRATION) new film has kindergarten girl Klara (Annika Wedderkopp) make up a lie about popular childcare worker Lucas (Mads Mikkelsen) making sexual advances towards her.  This leads to his firing and the whole community turning against him.  It could not happen at a worse time when Lucas is trying for custody of his son, Marcus.  The lie grows with more horrible stories made up about Lucas.  Vinterberg also ties in the hypocrisy of small town Denmark mentality with traditions like the deer hunt when boys become men and vice versa.  THE HUNT is a harrowing film from start to finish and one wonders midway during the film how a satisfactory ending can come about all this.  Vinterwberg steers his audience to a happy (sort of) ending that is both believable and satisfactory.  Though the story of a child’s lie is by no means novel, it has been a while since THE CHILDREN’S HOUR made its debut.  Mikkelsen delivers more than a fine performance of a man torn between retreating into hopeless solitude and uncontrollable anger that won him this year’s Cannes Festival prize for Best Actor.

     

    ONLY GOD FORGIVES (Denmark/France 2013) ****
    Directed by Nicolas Winding Refn

                The second collaboration between Danish writer/director Refn (PUSHER) and actor Ryan Gosling after the sadistic satisfying thriller DRIVE delivers very much of the same but in a more violent and surreal setting.  Though realistically set in the kick boxing drug world of Bangkok, Thailand, the film possesses a western feel, which is the reason the title sounds like one of the typical spaghetti westerns that were popular during the 70’s.

    From the very start, director Refn makes authenticity of prime importance.  The colours of red and dark shadows give the film an oriental Thai look while the opening credits in both English and Thai indicate that the film could pass off as a Thai film.  As the film progresses, it becomes more surreal, from the dialogue and action.  The violence intensifies. At times, the film evokes memories of David Lynch’s BLUE VELVET with the ether inhaling villain Dennis Hopper.  (In BLUE VELVET, a kidnapped victim gets his ear cut off.  In ONLY GOD FORGIVES, an ice pick is inserted horizontally into a tortured victim’s earlobes.)

    Refn is daring enough to substitute a well known actor playing the villain for an unknown, Thai Vithaya Pansringarm playing the role of the ‘angel of death’. Though one may consider him to be the good guy, as he masters a ‘sort-of’ personal justice on those wronged in the film (the father of the prostitute’s daughter get his arm chopped off; the killer of the under aged prostitute is led to be killed by her father; the hit man hired to kill him is duly tortured), he is the film’s villain per se as he is the that goes up against the protagonist, Julian Thompson (Ryan Gosling).

                The story centres on Julian.  Julian Thompson is an American expatriate living in Bangkok, Thailand who runs a boxing club, which is actually a front for a massive drug smuggling operation.  His brother Billy brutally murders an underage prostitute before surrendering to the Thai police.  Lieutenant Chang (Pansringarm) – known as the "Angel of Death" – arrives on the scene before informing the girl's father, Choi Yan Lee. Chang allows Choi to beat Billy to death, but cuts off the man's arm for allowing his young daughter to remain in the business of prostitution.  

     But the real trouble starts when Julian's mother, Crystal (Kirsten Scott Thomas), arrives in Bangkok to identify Billy's corpse, much to Julian's surprise. Crystal implores Julian to find the men who killed Billy.  And the story twists towards a spectacularly violent ending that could be argued as predictable though Refn has infused a fair amount of shock surprises.          

     Audiences who have seen Gosling with his top off know that the actor is three times the size of Pansringarm.  Yet the boxing fight scene in which the latter beats Gosling to a bloody pulp is totally credible, thanks to Refn’s cinematic skills.                              

    Refn’s film is a fresh gory cinematic experience set in his own world of fantasy.  Do not expect realistic but instead, over-the-top dialogue.  For example in the scene in which mother Crystal hurls insults to Julian and his Thai call-girlfriend, she reasons his incapacity to perform his filial duties as akin to his cock size, while putting his girlfriend in place before apologizing.                                                                                                                   

    ONLY GOD FORGIVES was nominated for the grand Palme d’or at this year’s Cannes.  But the film was met with quite the few boos by critics during its showing.  The film might drive audiences to the hills with his violence but this critic finds the film quite the fascinating cinematic experience.

               

     

     

    RED 2 (USA 2013) ***
    Directed by Dean Parisot
                Formulaic actioner that benefits from the participation of high profile stars like Bruce Willis, Helen Mirren, Anthony Hopkins, John Malkovich and Catherine Zeta-Jones.  RED 2 is the sequel to the 1970 RED based on the limited DC comic book of retired agents.
                Standard plot has retired agent Frank Moses (Willis) attempting to settle down with his wife Sarah (Mary Louise Parker) to a normal life.  Yanked out of retirement to save the world from a weapon of mass destruction by his best friend (Malkovich) the trio enlists the help of an assortment of other killing machines. A nice touch as Sarah as an action seeker rather than the passive screaming female lead.
                The action and humour are fast and furious. Director knows how to keep audiences’ eyes pinned to the screen by a combination of music, sound effects, camera angles and sheer movement of the camera.  Even the car chase between a Porsche and motorbike is out of this world.  The James Bond like caper also takes the action to England, Russia, the U.S.  and Honk Kong.
                REDS 2 makes the better Bruce Willis vehicle than the Die Hard films.  Even the dialogue is just as sharp if not sharper.  “You have not killed anyone for months:” the Moses character is told at one point.  Action fans will not be disappointed with RDES 2 as te film has everything one wants in an action film.  And this is no simple feat.

    R.I.P.D (USA 2013) **

    Directed by Robert Schwentke

                RIPD (Rest In Peace Department) dealing with law enforcement officers capturing escaped dead people in the form of monsters unseen by other human beings sounds familiar.  In fact the entire film works like a poor man’s version of the MEN IN BLACK movies (minus slick and style, add sarcasm Jeff Bridges style).  One difference is that the human beings do not see the law enforcement as what thy really are but as someone else.  Bridges has the appearance of a voluptuous female while Reynolds in not so lucky.

                Cop, Nick (Ryan Reynolds) is shot dead by his partner, Hayes (Kevin Bacon) after he refuses to cooperate stealing evidence.  He is given one chance to be with his wife again if accepts heavenly duty of capturing monsters pretending to be human beings.  His partner, Roy (Jeff Bridges) is not easy to work with and neither is this new job.  The only main villain in the piece turns to to be Hayes whose ridiculous aim seems to bring all the undead back to earth.  The weak story suffers from a strong villain, a fresh storyline and articulate dialogue.

                At first glance, RIPB appears to be an original summer flick not based on a comic book nor is it a sequel.  But I reality it is quite the rip-off.  Whatever audiences have seen in MIB (partner train; partner bonding and respect) is repeated shamefully.

                But the special effects are quite spectacular, the vertical office of files and cabinets seen at the start of the film demanding mention.  More comedy than action, most of the laughs are provided by Bridges uttering his one-liners under his breath.  Often, what e says is so quick, that much may missed by the audience.

                Running at less than 90 minutes not counting the end credits, it is clear that the 4 writers credited for the script are unable to come up with fresh ideas.  Hopefully, RIPD should be put to rest without any sequels.

    TURBO (USA 2013) ****

    Directed by David Soren

     

                In Disney’s MONSTERS UNIVERSITY, there is one scene, the first day of class, in which a monster slug is seen trying to move as fast as he can while screaming: “I cannot afford to be late for my first class!”  Arguably the funniest joke of the film, the segment only serves to show the potential of snails in a full length animated movie.

                Director double dips into the pudding.  The story deals not with one but two sets of brothers.  Turbo has to prove to Paul he has what it takes just as Tito (Michael Pena) has to do the same with his (Luis Guzman).  Making Tito aka Taco Man round and chubby and Hispanic works extremely well.

                The story deals with a teen called TURBO (Ryan Reynolds) who has the dream of racing cars and being fast. Too bad he is as snow as a snail.  In fact, he is a snail.  And his brother, Paul (Paul Giamatti) is sick of getting him out of trouble.   A freak accident gives Turbo superpowers of being fast.  A human, Tito (Michael Pena discovers and uses Turbo to enter the Indy Race to promote his Taco Store as well as fulfill Turbo’s dream.

    The film, of course is formulaic to a certain degree.  One difference is the lack of a major villain.  The only villain, who shows his face only after the second half is actual Turbo’s role model, the racer Guy Gagne (Bill Hader).  The climax in this case, is the big race at the end in which Guy will stop at nothing, using dirty tactics to win the race.

                The script plays well with snails.  There are a lot of snail jokes playing on their slowness of pace, their fears (crows, salt and little boys on tricycles) and their livelihood (harvesting tomatoes).  There is no shortage of imagination and humour.  Snails can retreat into their shell and roll around, contort their mollusc bodies or slide their way to the audience’s heart.

                The songs are nicely blended into the film, unlike a lot of Disney films, in which the embarrassing songs can appear out of nowhere.  The new song “That Snail is fast” or the older “We are the Champions’ are played at appropriate spots.

    Animated features usually come with messages.  TURBO’s clever script does as well but the dialogue plays with them. The message comes with Guy’s saying: “No dream is too small” and then immediately followed by “No dream is too big…”.  But the funniest (and true) line; “Everyone loves an underdog to win as they wish they were the underdog themselves, able to achieve their dreams.  But in real life, these underdogs never win.” 

    Michael Pena would be an unlikely choice as the voice of a major comic character, Tito the Hispanic Taco Man who befriends Turbo.  Pena is hilarious, distinct and memorable as Tito’s voice even outdoing Guzman and Reynolds.  Samuel L. Jackson also deserves mention for his funny voice characterization of Whiplash.

                TURBO will go head to head to head with Disney’s PLANES (the sequel to CARS) to race for box-office market share as well as the Oscar for Best Animated Feature.  The climatic race between TURBO, the snail and the cars in the Indianapolis  Race comes across as dead ironic.  PLANES ad PLANES have the inherent problem of making inanimate objects animated.  They do not have arms or legs.  But slugs somehow do not have that problem, making them perfect for animation.

     

     

     

    Best bets of the week:

     

    Best Film Opening: TURBO

    Best Film Playing: TURBO

    Best Action: RED 2

    Best Family The Lone Ranger

    Best Horror: The Conjuring

    Best Doc: Blackfish

    Best Foreign: The Hunt

  • This Week's Film Reviews (July 12, 2013)

    The big film opening this week is PACIFIC RIM. Word has it that this film is going to bomb at the box-office.Warner Bros. is also being shitty (again) and granting screenings only to select outlets. Hence, there is no review of this film on this site. The other opening film competing for box-office dominance this week is GROWN UPS 2.

     

     

    Film Reviews:

    BYZANTIUM (UK/USA/Ireland 2012) **
    Directed by Neil Jordan

                BYZANTIUM returns Irish director Neil Jordan to vampire territory.  With the two leads hiding their secret that they suck blood, one also hopes for surprises for the lovers such as in THE CRYING GAME.

                But no such luck.  The vampire romance thing has already been overdone in the TWILIGHT films and the hidden vampire family tale done in Kathryn Bigelow’s NEAR DARK.  The tired and lazy script concerns a mother, Clara (Gemma Arterton) and daughter, Eleanor (Saoirse Ronan from HANNA and ATONEMENT) who moves from place to place so as to hide their vampire tracks.  They now settle in an unnamed English coastal resort.  But they tell everyone they are sisters as vampires do not age and they have lived 200 years.  Clara meets Noel (Daniel Mays) who provides her a place at the family guesthouse called the BYZANTIUM of the film’s title.  But Eleanor falls in love with Frank (Caleb Landry Jones) and tells him the secret.  Meanwhile, the past catches up with Clara as she is hunted down.

                But it is hard to believe that Noel who do such a generous thing as leave the family guesthouse to Clara or that Eleanor would fall in love with pale and sickly Frank, despite him bleeding easily.  Noel is not that much of a looker either. Some questions are left unanswered, such as the one: “How often does a vampire feed?” which is asked by one of the characters.

                Director Jordan’s pacing is off with bouts of action (though these are well executed, such as the chase scene) accompanied by long boring passages.  The film is however filled with lots of stunning images such as the waterfalls of blood, the riding home into the night and the ruins.

                Despite the stunning cinematography, Jordan’s film fails to engage.  The parts of the story are not strung together well or credibly.  This is a classic case of style taking importance over narrative. Some cases, it works (the upcoming ONLY GOD FORGIVES) and in others, it does not (as in this film).

     

    DIAZ: DON’T CLEAN UP THIS BLOOD (Italy/France/Romania 2012) ***

    Directed by Daniele Vicari

     

                DIAZ: DON’T CLEAN UP THIS BLOOD is compelling drama that recreates the shocking events on police brutality during the G7 Summit in Genoa, Italy.  Those in Toronto are already familiar the G20 Summit mayhem and how the police abused their authority and arrested hundreds of innocent people while playing into the hands of the black bloc anarchists. 

                DIAZ is the school that temporary houses social media and demonstrators or even tourists looking to spend the night.  Unfortunately, the police raided the place, treating everyone as violent criminals, thus beating, injuring and wounding hundreds.  This is Toronto G20 Summit watch gone completely berserk!  As much as Torontonians suffered enough civil rights abuse, those in Genoa underwent much, much, much worse!

                Director Vicari makes no qualms in depicting the violence generated.  Innocent people that raise their hands in surrender are nevertheless severely beaten; a girl is ordered to strip naked and forced to down a glass of water while being medically examined; injured with broken bones are dragged and forced to stand face against walls; and the nightsticks keep coming down hard on the bleeding people.

                Though, the film could have been made a documentary, the film makes a narrative based on real-life people.  Among the key participants are a good cop (Claudio Santamaria), a journalist in the wrong place at the wrong time (Elio Germano) and a demonstrator who is forced to go to the bathroom in front of jailers (Jennifer Ulrich).  Though the narrative is loose and the subplots are all over the place, it is good that the audience can at least identify with these three different people.  The blame, of course, goes to the lazy authorities who just want things done and use lies and cover-ups to hide their mistakes.

                The film takes its title from a sign that an activist erects after the attack: “Don’t Clean Up This Blood” – in other words, let’s not forget this.  And true to this, this is one film that has scenes that one cannot forget.  Amnesty International called the event “The most serious suspension ofdemocratic rights in a Western country since the Second World War.”

     

    GROWN UPS 2 (USA 2013) **                                                                               

    Directed by Dennis Dugan

     

     

     

               Dennis Dugan and Adam Sandler unite after hits like THE WEDDING SINGER, HAPPY GILMORE and BIG DADDY. None of these films were really funny but made loads of money. I recall THE WEDDING SINGER having only one joke that got me laughing. The one in which Steve Buscemi as the best man said in the wedding speech: “I don’t they were prostitutes at the stag as I do not recall paying them!” Buscemi is also in GROWN UPS 2 goofing around wedding an oriental costume complete with gong but not as funny.

               The film has garnered a record 0% rating the last time (day before film opening date) I checked on Rotten Tomatoes. To be fair to Mr. Sandler and gang that include comedians Kevin James, Chris Rock, David Spade and an assortment of other colours, ages and sizes, the film is not that bad – in other words, it is not the worst Sandler film ever but neither is it the best.

               The film traces the moves of Lenny Feder (Sandler) as he moves his wife (Salma Hayek) back to the place of his youth. There he meets with his old pals and gets into high jinx that includes him and his pals forced by college buffs to jump off a cliff to the waters below naked. There is not much story or plot in this film, but if one just sits back, relax and not worry about anything else and just consider how goofy and stupid the film is, the result is quite a few laughs and not a dull moment. Time flies fast in this movie as incident after incident occurs, funny or not, as director Dugan figures if nothing funny is in a particular scene, something funny would occur in the next.

    Lots of fart, vomit and shit jokes. I would like to think that the deer comedic set-up is one of the deer peeing and not spraying the unmentionable, but one can never tell.  As for the gay humour (the car wash scene), the homophobic segment would best be done away with. Dugan and Sandler should take lessons from THIS IS THE END on how to incorporate gay humour in a straight movie.

               But Sandler fans should not be disappointed. And the film should be an ok hit and not lose as much money as the big budget PACIFIC RIM opening this week. For this critic, I just sat back, laughed and had a so-so good time, not expecting much for a Sandler/Dugan movie.

     BEST PICS OF THE WEEK:

    Best Film Opening:  DIAZ

    Best Film Playing: THIS IS THE END

    Best Action: PAIN AND GAIN

    Best Family: MONSTERS UNIVERSITY

    Best Documentary: HOW TO MAKE MONEY SELLING DRUGS

     

  • This Week's Film Reviews (July 5, 2013)

    Early Wednesday openings of DESPICABLE ME 2 and the LONE RANGER due to the holiday on July the 4th in the U.S.  Other films open Friday.

    DESPICABLE ME 2 (USA 2013) ***

    Directed by Pierre Coffin and Chris Renaud

                To love DESPICABLE ME  and DESPICABLE ME 2 films, one must love those invented cuties called minions.  The minions are tubby little minitiasized children-like helpers of villain Dru (Steve Carell), who is supposedly turned over a new leaf in the second film.

                Both directors voice several minions themselves, so this a minion obsessed film.

                No doubt these creatures are cute, cuddly and goofy, and one film about them could have stretched their lovability to the limit.  It does not help that the directors intensify the cuteness factor in this one.  Neither does it help that the film has a thin plot relying on the affability of the minions again.

                Gru, who stole the moon in the first film is recruited by the Anti-Villain League to deal with a new super criminal (Benjamin Pratt).  His faithful second in command, Dr, Nefario (Russell Brand) turns out not to be faithful as he joins the other side.  Gru is assigned a female agent, Lucy (Kristen Wii) to help.  The two lonely souls fall in love with each other and Gru’s villainess has turned to niceness.

                DESPICABLE ME 2 is animation more inclined to the younger children.  But the blend of goofiness and cuteness work well to keep the adults laughing as well.  But this is no super animated film say compared to BRAVE, THE PIRATES MOVIE or SHREK.  The directors also resort to lots of objects hurled out from the screen to the audience in this 3D outing.

    I’M SO EXCITED! (Spain 2012) **

    Directed by Pedro Almodovar

     

                The Spanish title of the new Almodovar film which translates to “The Passenger Lovers” has been changed to the title of Pointer Sister’s song I’M SO EXCITED which is performed as a lip-sync drag queen dance style, except that the performers keep their male clothes on.  Anything can happen in an Almodovar movie, and in this case, 3 gay flight attendants perform I’M SO EXCITED to cheer the passengers of a troubled flight.

                Almodovar has opted for serious fare lately since the success of his best film LA MALA EDUCACION (BAD EDUCATION).  ALL ABOUT MY MOTHER, TALK TO HER and his previous THE SKIN I LIVE IN show the gay director in top form.  In his latest offering he goes back to the comedies that he started with that made him famous.

                Almost the entire action of the film takes place on board a passenger flight.  Due to mishandling of the plane’s landing gear (Penelope Cruz and Antonio Banderas in cameos), a flight has to keep circling till they can make a dangerous emergency landing.  The flight attendants have to save the day.  With this scenario, director Almodovar tries very hard, in fact too hard for comedy.

                All the staff are gay or if not, have tried by giving blow jobs.  One passenger is a psychic who can foresee death.  (In Almodovar’s early WHAT HAVE I DONE TO DESERVE THIS? There is also the supernatural with a child able to move objects.) 

                But the film only goes to prove how difficult it is to make a funny film.  Despite Almodovar’s gift for coming up with comedic set ups, more often that not, the timing is off or what comes off is just not funny.  One can tell from the performance of I’M SO EXCITED” how hard all the staff of this film have tried.

                The result is a slightly amusing rather than the hilarious farce that the film aims to be.  Nothing to be too excited about this film whose highlight is the performance of this song.

     

    THE LONE RANGER (USA 2013) ****
    Directed by Gore Gerbrinski

                It’s been a while since THE LONE RANGER hit movie screens.  So, as well known as his hero is, the LONE RANGER feels original in look, concept, layout and execution tough the film’s format has bee used before.

                The story of the Lone Ranger (Armie Hammr) is told from Tonto’s (Johnny Depp)’s point of view.  A boy wearing a mask visits an Indian exhibit in a museum where an older Tonto appears to tell his story.  The last time, an aged Indian told his story of the west was in Arthur Penn’s LITTLE BIG MAN with Dustin Hoffman as a 100-year old Indian telling his version of Custer of the West.

                As a Hollywood blockbuster produce by Jerry Bruckheimer, THE LONE RANGER has plenty of pyrotechnics even and special effects though one might think a western need not have any.  A bridge is blown up, trains with carriages plunge into a river and the Lone Ranger rides his white horse, Silver on the roof of the train.

                Running a two and a half hours, Vebinski’s film is well paced with more evil and plot revealed towards the climax.  At least the filmmakers realize that a good story is important to the success of a good film.  And the film has good one involving evil railroad Lords, best villains and chivalrous heroes.  The Indian is given a different more sympathetic look in the film.  This is one film in which the audience will be cheering for the Indians and booing at the Calvary.

                Depp who stars and produced the film does a good job.  Depp injects the humour, mystery and depth of the otherwise traditional tale of the west.

                THE LONE RANGER plays its safe with a look typical to the old westerns like THE HALLELUYAH TRAIL and CAT BALLOU that were all hits at the box-office.  The filmmakers also opt for more slapstick action complete with chase and wild antics at the end, similar to films with chase endings like Richard Lester’s A FUNNY THING HAPPENED ON THE E FORUM and WHAT’S NEW PUSSYCAT?  The film has lots of shoot-outs and killings but with minimum amount of blood.  The film will serve as a good family outing.

                THE LONE RANGER will likely spin off ore sequels.  But judging fro the care and effort put into this one, a few other LONE RANGER films will be welcome.

    20 FEET FROM STARDOM (USA 2013) ***

    Directed by Morgan Neville

     

                Forget DREAMGIRLS and THE SAPPHIRES!  This is the real thing!  This comprehensive documentary on back up singers takes a cross sectional look at a number of famous back up singers, all Black, who make it to the top on their own.

                Audiences seldom realize the different back up singers do to a song.  The back up singer to Mick Jagger and Michael Jackson are just two examples that both Jagger and Jackson cannot do without.

                Neville’s film starts at the very beginning when back up singers were only white who just oo-ah’ed a song without body movements.  When the Blacks took over, the back up singers practically guaranteed he success of a song.  Archival concert footage illustrates the fact.

                Neville has assembled an impressive list of interviewees that include Sting, Bette Midler, Mick Jagger and Bruce Springsteen who attest to the contribution of back up singers. 

                But the film gets a bit high ended over these singers.  At one point, backup singing is described as a higher calling in which the love of singing is put above fame.  The film then contradicts itself by displaying one such singer, Darlene Love who progressed from back up singer to sole performer.  Yet another case is denoted – the one of Judith Hill.

                The only downside that is mentioned is the decline of the industry for the need of backup singers in the80’s, but this segment is slowly shadowed by the induction t fame of back up singer Darlene Love

                But one cannot deny that the film does not shed light on the singers that stand 20 FEET FROM STARDOM.  More should be said of the future of the subject.  But the archive footage of performances is sufficient to entertain audiences for the price of their ticket.

    THE WAY, WAY BACK (USA 2013) ***

    Directed by Jim Rash and Nat Faxon

                This charming and hilarious comedy is about a teenager, Duncan (Liam James) who learns how to stand for up for himself for the first time.  This he learns during his summer break, while earning the bonus of learning to be cool at the same time.

                THE WAY, WAY BACK can hardly be called a coming-of-age story as this change in his life occurs in a short period of time (the summer break).  This is a plus, as there are already too many coming-of-age indie films.  It also helps that the script, also written by Rash and Nixon (who also have minor roles in the film) is a very funny one.

                Duncan is spending summer with his mother, Pam (Toni Collette).  He would rather be spending it with his father, though he does not realize that he is not wanted there.  But to make matters worse, he is taken to the summer house of his mother’s boyfriend, Trent (Steve Carell) who belittles and bullies him half the time.  Duncan sneaks a job at an amusement park, bonding with one of the managers, Owen (Sam Rockwell).  In the mean time, he has a crush on the neighbour’s daughter, Susanna (AnnaSophia Robb).

                The story is simple enough with Duncan proving himself at work, gaining confidence and finally standing up for himself against Trent.  The success of the film thus depends on the different set-ups that lead to the conclusion.  These are both hilarious when need be and dramatic, again when need be.

                Performances are excellent all around, especially from newcomer, Liam James.  Carell plays against type and is entirely convincing as the asshole character. Though it is easy for Sam Rockwell to steal the show as the child man who cracks his own jokes every opportunity he can, it is actually Collette who delivers the film’s best performance as the mother, who has to show affection for her son and boyfriend and needing to demonstrate the traits of both sensitivity and strength.

                Though simple in design, THE WAY, WAY BACK emerges as a winning crowd pleaser.  No wonder Fox Searchlight decided to screen several word-of-moth screenings even before its screening for the press.

     

    Best Film Opening:THE LONE RANGER

    Best Film Playing: THIS IS THE END

    Best Action: PAIN AND GAIN

    Best Family: MONSTERS UNIVERSITY

    Best Documentary: HOW TO MAKE MONEY SELLING DRUGS

  • TIFF Cinematheque - Century of Chinese Cinema

    TIFF Cinematheque presents – Century of Chinese Cinema

    TIFF Cinematheque presents a whole range of Chinese films from China, Taiwan an Hong Kong in place of Summer in France and Italy this year.   The films include several different themes from the Golden Era of the 30’s and 80’s up to gangster films of the20’s such as INFERNAL AFFAIRS that went on to become Hollywood’s remake of Martin Scorsese’s THE DEPARTED that won the Oscar for Best Picture.

    The series runs from June the 5th to August the 11th.

    For the complete list of films, ticket pricing and screening dates, check the TIFF website at:

    www.cinematheque.net

    Courtesy of TFF Cinematheque, screeners and hence capsule reviews are provided for a total of 21 films outlined below.  This article will be updated frequently to include more reviews as this critic views the films.

    These films will bee capsule reviewed.  Please check this page for daily updates.

    SONG AT MIDNIGHT (1937)                                Golden Era                  Jun 30

    SPRING IN A SMALL TOWN        (1948)             Golden Era                  Jun 25

    RED DETACHMENT OF WOMEN (1961)           New China                  June 9

    THE LOVE ETERN (1963)                           New China                  July 13

    IN THE MOOD FOR LOVE (2000)             New Directions           June 16

    KEKEXILI MOUNTAIN PATROL (2004) New Directions           June 11

    VIVE L’AMOUR (1994)                               New Directions           June 20

    A CITY OF SADNESS (1989)                                  New Waves                 July 1

    ACTRESS (1992)                                           New Waves                 June 22

    RED SORGHUM (1987)                               New Waves                 July 14

    THE BLACK CANNON INCIDENT (1985)           New Waves                 June 1

    THE HORSE THIEF (1986)                          New Waves                 June 29

    THE STORY OF QIU JU (1986)                  New Waves                 July 14

    YELLOW EARTH (1984)                             New Waves                 June 7

    DUST IN THE WIND (1986)                        New Waves                 June 9

    36th CHAMBER OF SHAOLIN (1978)        Swordsmen,                June 22

    A BETTER TOMORROW (1986)               Gangsters and June 8

    A TOUCH OF ZEN (1971)                           Ghosts                           June 15

    FIST OF FURY (1971)                                      “                              June 14

    INFERNAL AFFAIRS (2002)                                       “                              June 7

    POLICE STORY (1985)                                    “                                          June 13           

    CAPSULE REVIEWS:

    (in the order of the list above)       

    RED DETACHMENT OF WOMEN (China 1961) ****

    Directed by Jin Xie

     

                RED DETACHMENT OF WOMEN has the feel of a propaganda communist movie right from the heroic folksongs to the romantic look of the communist troops liberating villages from the evil tyrants.  But propaganda movies can turn out quite entertaining as well – the British oldie WENT THE DAY WELL? and this little known Chinese gem being prime examples. This film is set in the 1930’s when warlords and rich landowners were ruling the oppressed poor.  A housemaid, Wu (Xijuan Zhu) has been beaten and jailed by villain Na (Qiang Chen) after trying to escape several times.  She is rescued by the leader of the first female army, Hong (Xin Gang Wan).  He frees her and she joins and becomes an important leader in the RED DETACHMENT OF WOMEN.  The film has lots of exciting battle scenes done without special effects.  With solid performances and excellent period atmosphere, director Xie’s film, propaganda or not, turns out to be quite compelling and entertaining at the same time.  The audience is also spared any ridiculous romance between Wu and Hong, making the film pure action drama.

    IN THE MOOD FOR LOVE (HK 2000) ****

    Directed by Wong Kar Wai

     

    Wong Kar-Wai has been the Asian director to watch after his odd and stylized camerawork amazed critics in "Chungking Express".  IN THE MOOD FOR LOVE was originally to be shot as a low budget quickie, but the film ended up with a 14-month difficult shoot. The film is a period piece.  It is 1962 in Hong Kong. Mrs. Chan (Maggie Cheung) and Mr. Chow (Tony Leung) move into an apartment building. They discover that their respective spouses are having an affair. They become friends, face the facts and something deeper develops. The times change. There is more room for Wong to display his bag of tricks without getting into too much trouble with plot or structure. These tricks show up as the dance of a swaying ceiling lamp, a steaming kettle in the background of a scene with Mrs. Chan in the foreground or the slow-motioned drizzle of water on the street amidst Wong's favourite Latin tunes.  The Chinese culture and period atmosphere are vividly captured.  Buying noodles by going to the store with a tiffin carrier, the courtesy offered by apartment neighbours and the mah-jong games are typical of the Chinese lifestyle at the time. And the dim lighting (many scenes lit by the ancient lamps), wardrobe (Cheung in dozens of beautifully made 'cheongsams') and sets underscore the effect.  Wong knows exactly what he wants and he captures the mood and period of the lovers, with his camera that works like an extension of his inner being. Enjoyment of "In the Mood For Love" can be summed up in Maggie Cheung's line after she pays a compliment on her boss' tie, "You notice these things when you pay attention". The camerawork, techniques and storytelling that director Wong experiments with more than engages - it astounds and amazes.

     

    KEKEXILI: MOUNTAIN PATROL (China 2004) ****

     

    Directed by Lu Chuan

     

                A remarkable documentary styed action drama set in the harsh mountain ranges of Tibet, this film feels like a Chinese western, the type made by Sierra Leone.  The drifter in the film is a journalist who joins the mountain patrol hired by the government o stop antelope poachers.  But the poachers have murdered one of their won, so there is a personal vendetta involved.  The patrol drive out to the perilous terrain where they meet up an corner their enemy.  The film’s characters are as harsh as the terrain and what is seen on screen is totally expected in story or atmosphere.  Though the audience is clearly put on the side of the patrol, director Lu also offers the poacher’s points of view.  But what is missing is the Tibetan/Chinese conflict since the film takes place in Tibetan territory with Chinese characters.

     

     

    VIVE L’AMOUR (Taiwan 1994) ***

     

    Directed by Tsai Ming-liang

     

                VIVE L’AMOUR is the film that shot director Tsai and his muse Lee Kang-sheng) to fame.  The minimalist story concerns 3 urban drifters, real estate agent Mei (Yang Kui-mei) a street vendor, Ah-jung (Chen Chao-jung) who has an affair with her and gay cremation salesman, Hsiao Kang (Lee).  There is sex among the three in what is basically a very slow moving bedroom farce (or condo farce for that matter since most of the action takes place in a to be bought condo space).  Director Tsai has the uncanny ability to garb his audience with segments in which nothing happens – Hsiao Kang breaking open a watermelon with a pen knife, an extended crying scene at the climax, to mention a few.  Whether audiences will favour this art film is difficult to predict but what is on display here is originality, lots of emotion and very little dialogue.

     

    THE BLACK CANNON INCIDENT (CHINA 1985) ***
    Directed by Huang Jianxin

     

                An efficient quietly humorous satirical comedy executed without much aplomb but one that gets its message across nonetheless quite effectively.  For a film coming out of communist China, it is a wonder this film did not get banned considering that the theme stresses the ineffectiveness of the party’s bureaucracy.  THE BLACK CANNON INCIDENT is the missing Chinese chess piece that goes missing in the hotel of Chinese engineer and German interpreter Zhao (Liu Zifeng).  His telegram to the hotel to find the missing piece is intercepted by the party and taken to be soothing fishy and looked down upon, as the cost of the telegram is higher than the piece itself.  Zhao is demoted and moved to another region while the German Mr. Hans (Gerhard Olschewski) returns to work.  Mr. Hans requests the service once again of Zhao who had worked with him before.  The party refuses to do so, until the mystery of the chess piece is solved.  Mr. Hans is stuck with an incompetent nontechnical interpreter that results in costly broken machinery.  All the incidents are filmed without much fanfare, but feel authentic as if really happening in real time.  At the end, the stubborn get their come-uppance while the mystery of the missing chess piece is resolved.

     

     

    THE HORSE THIEF (China 1986) ***

     

    Directed by Tian Zhuangzhuang

     

                Director Tian’s (THE BLUE KITE) epic family drama about a horse thief and his family is set across the vast barren plains of rural Tibet.  The simple story involves the said thief, Norbu who is ousted by his tribe for his crime.  His son’s death that he attributes to his wrongdoing embarks him on  quest for redemption.  He meets and begs to be taken in with the Buddhist monks who also reject him.  Tian’s film is shot with minimal dialogue but with the stunning cinematography of the scenery making up for the simple narrative.  The film has a religious feel about it as it contains a lot of scenes with Buddhist ceremonies. 

     

     

    YELLOW EARTH (China 1984) ***

    Directed by Chen Kaige

     

    YELLOW EARTH is the first film by Chen Kaige (THE EMPEROR AND THE ASSASSIN) and shot by cinematographer Zhang Yimou before Zhang went to made hits like THE STORY OF QIU YOU, ZU DOU and RED SORGHUM.  Chen’s later films have always been problematic narrative-wise, so YELLOW EARTH with a very loose narrative seems to suit the director best.  Most of what transpires is told though images.

    A soldier is sent to outer regions of Central China to collect folk songs from the poor, so that these can be written for moral boosting songs for the soldiers.  His travel brings him to a family in which he meets 14-year old Cuiqiao forced to marry an older man against her wishes.  He also connects with the slightly dim younger brother.  Cuiqiao wishes to join the female army but escapes crossing the yellow river at the end of the film.  The film contains lots of folklore, but these sound really strange to foreigners.

    DUST IN THE WIND (Taiwan 1986) ***

    Directed by Hou Hsiao-Hsien

    Critically acclaimed early Taiwanese film from Master Hou Hisao-Hsien about a

    story of a young couple from a village in the northern-east part of Taiwan.  The boy, Ah-yuan goes to the capital of Taipeh to work after graduating from junior high school so he can earn money to send home. The girl, Ah-yun follows him the next year and they work hard to earn enough money to marry.  Then Ah-yuan gets the draft to spend three years in the military while the girl marries someone else.  Although Ah-yuan regrets (extended scene of him crying) what happened he does not blame Ah-yun.  Director Hou  givrs atmosphere and mood more emphasis than the narrative.  For example the information of the news of Ah-yun marrying someone else comes in the scene in a billiard room.  Ay-yuan’s military friends are playing pool and relay this information to each other while Ah-yan throws up in the back room.  The result is a film difficult to the point of annoying to follow, but this is more than made up by the film’s rich texture displaying the way of life of the rural Taiwanese.

    A TOUCH OF ZEN (Taiwan 1971) *****
    Directed by King Hu

    A TOUCH OF ZEN is the best swords saga ever made.  I should know as I grew up watching all the 70’s swordsplay flicks from Golden Harvest and Shaw Studios.  A TOUCH OF ZEN from Master director King Hu (DRAGON INN, SPIRIT OF THE MOUNTAIN) contains all the elements that make a perfect period actioner from the costumes, music, atmosphere, props and lighting.  The fight in the bamboo grove with the rays of sunlight shining through the trees is nothing short of spectacular as the night scenes by the dilapidated temple where just enough light is present to expose the characters’ faces.  Though basically an action film, the first fight scene does not occur till well into the first hour.  Director King Hu’s film is strong on narrative with sympathetic, identifiable characters like Ku (Chun Shih), a mamma’s boy who finally shows his true heroic colours after falling in love with a female fugitive, Yang (very popular actress of the time, Hsu Feng).  The females in the audience will also fall in love with this strong female character.  The climatic showdown at the end, full of suspense, action and special effects will leave audiences at the edge of their seats.  Ultimately, all this ties down to a love romance in which love conquers all.  The film won critical when first screened at Cannes and became the first Chinese action film ever to win a prize at Cannes.

     

    A BETTER TOMORROW (HK 1986) **
    Directed by John Woo

     

                John Woo’s films are all style and show.  When someone is being shot or beaten up, the guy has to jump up in or turn a few rounds before falling down.  Subtlety is not his strong point or a strong narrative.  If one can accept those flaws, Woo’s A BETTER TOMORROW can be quite the delight.  Two brothers (Shaw Organization Studios’ Ti Lung sporting the most horrible haircut by a lead and Leslie Cheung) are on opposite sides of the law.  Their father dies as a result on the bad one’s bad activities and the cop cannot forgive the other one.  That is about it for the storyline.  Films from Hong Kong are normally available in two versions, Cantonese and Mandarin.  This film version dubbed in Cantonese is observable at one point when the choir is singing in Mandarin, as they cannot dub the song into Cantonese.  Lots of shouting, jumping and violence in what is a typical John Woo movie! 

     

    INFERNAL AFFAIRS (HK 2002) ****

     

    Directed by Andrew Lau and Alan Mak

     

                Arguably the best cop movie ever from Hong Kong and one that spun off two sequels INFERNAL AFFARIRS 2 and 3 and the Hollywood remake THE DEPARTED that went on to win the Oscar for Best Picture.  The film opens with the training at a police academy where on display are the recruits who are surprisingly all exceptionally good looking.  Two graduates are hired for life, one as a mole for the police to work in the Triads (Tony Leung) and the other, Lau (Andy Lau) in the police force itself while really an employee of the Triad boss.  Directors Lau and Mak take their work with dead seriousness, paying attention to detail from the execution of police procedures to the staging of busts and drug deliveries.  The result is a film so tense and involving that the audience easily overlooks the thin storyline.  The audience is brought to identify with both moles, no matter which side they are on.  The two moles are unaware who the other is and are ordered to flush the other out.  The film is also riddled with Buddhist messages such as continuous hell being the worse of hells.  But the film is more emotion than action packed with the audience faced with a compelling film from start to finish.

     

     

  • The Italian Contemporary Film Festival

    THE ITALIAN CONTEMPORARY FILM FESTIVAL (TORONTO 2013)

    The second edition of the ICFF (Italian Contemporary Film Festival) runs in Toronto from June 26th to July 6th and promises a fine time of Italian films.  Judging from last year’s festival, the number of films has more than doubled to 11.  And this humble critic believes that the films screened are of a high standard showcasing both commercial and critical fare,

    The screenings take place at 3 venues, one of which is at the Royal by Little Italy.  Food and wine after the show is therefore most appropriate.  One of the films screened is set here in Little Italy.

    The films are mostly North American premieres from around the world including Japan and of course Italy . 

    Screenings will be accompanied by social events attended by celebrities from Italy or of Italian heritage, a commercial forum to bring together Italian, Canadian and international operators and a series of conferences focused (at least in part) on young filmmakers.

    For complete information on the festival, programs, films, screening times, venue and ticket pricing, please check the website at:

    www.icff.ca

    Capsule reviews for selected films:

     

    BERBERIAN SOUND STUDIO (UK/Italy 2012) **

     

    Directed by Peter Strickland

     

                It all sounds excellent for the premise of a horrific drama.  Timid Brit (Toby Jones) gets employed in a strange unfamiliar Italian town to do the sound work or a horror film only to find that working there is scarier than the movie itself.  The tory allow plenty of opportunity to display the art of sound creation and sound mixing.  But director Santini (Antonio Mancini) does not seem to know where to take his material to.

     

                New British employed wanders into the BERBERIAN SOUND STUDIO for his new job.  He is given attitude an the runaround for his expenses by the director of the film he is working on.  Nevertheless, he works the sound realizing then that many of the ‘screamers’ are upset as well.  The film has plenty to show on how sounds are created, from stabbing (done with a vegetable knife plunging into a cabbage) to a poker inserted into a vagina.

     

                One wonders of the unlikely choice of Toby Jones as the lead except that his small stature would be perfect for the role of a character subject to being bullied.  His character is bullied to no end, and one would wish to see him stand up for himself at the end.  He does exert his frustration but just once, at the receptionist for not getting his check.  He should be mad at Santorini and the director.

     

     

    LE GUETTEUR (THE LOOKUT) (France/Belgium/Italy 2012) ***

     

    Directed by Michele Placido

     

                More a typical French crime flick than an Italian film, this is a strange pick for the ICFF.  The only things Italian about this quite well executed taut rime thriller is that it is an Italian co-production and othat ne of the main characters, Nico (Luca Argentero) who gets wounded during the bank robbery is Italian.  The story centres around Detective Mattei (Daniel Auteuil).  Mattei is obsessed with capturing sniper, Vincent Kaminsky (Matthew Kassovitz) who is with the bank robbers and has something to do with Mattei’s son’s death.  A subplot involves a mad doctor Franck played by Dardennes Brothers’ favourite Olivier  Gourmet.  An entertaining rather violent film witb lots of nudity, aided by fine performances from an international cast and the excellent exciting set-up action pieces.

     

     

    THE LAST LEOPARD (L’ULTIMO GATTOPARDO)

    Directed by Giuseppe Tornatore

                THE LAST LEOPARD is an homage by award winning Italian director Giuseppe Tornatore (CINEMA PARADISO), a man who also loves the cinema and well known for his sentiment in films.  It suits things well that he directs THE LAST LEOPARD, the homage to Goffredo Lombardo, the most celebrated Italian producer of all time.  The film is so called because he produced the really costly film THE LEOPARD that starred Burt Lancaster with him actually transforming into the Lancaster character himself, as one of the interviewees in the film says.  For those who have not heard of Lombardo, this is the film that tells all of the man.  By the end, you would learn to respect this Mogul of Cinema, for what he stands for, for his love for the cinema, for a man of his Word and for his work in the medium.  Tonrnatore has assembled the most exhaustive list of talking heads I have ever seen in a documentary.  These famous film talents include directors like Tornatore himself, Ettore Scola, Francesco Rosi and actors like Alain Delon, Guillermo Gemmi, Bud Spencer, Sophia Loren, Claudia Cardinale and the list is endless.  The film moves on at a very rapid pace with Lombardo’s films playing in the background of the interviews.  THE LAST LEOPARD is a delight and a must-see for those who love the cinema.

    REALITY (Italy/France 2012) ****


    Directed by Matteo Garrone

                REALITY is director Matteo Garrone’s follow up to his 2008 Cannes Jury Prize Winner GOMORRAH which also won the same prize at Cannes this year.  Instead of the Sicilian Mafia, Garrone takes on Reality TV as his subject with lead character, Luciano (Aniello Arena) a reasonably successful family ex-fishmonger retailing pasta making robots to make a living.  His obsession into being chosen as a participant in a reality show called Big Brother eventually drives himself and his wife, Maria (Loredana Simioli) insane.  It is only him that believes that he will be selected, right down to the theatrical ending that can be described as both sad and happy.  Garrone’s Neapolitan family with chubby children and crazy relatives come right out of a Fellini movie and so are the lead’s antics in selling the robots.  Cineastes will be pleased to see the actors in GOMORRAH appear in REALITY in completely different roles.  (Example is the machine-tooting skinny youth cast as a bewildered bartender here.)  REALITY is both sad and hilarious but never far from the reality of the reality of life either.

    SHUN LI AND THE POET (Italy 2011) ***

    Directed by Andrea Seagre 

     

     

                This looks more like a Chinese than an Italian film but the setting is the little fishing town of Chioggia in Italy.  This is a sensitive story of friendship with a little romance between two lonely souls that find comfort in each other’s company.  One is Shun Li (Zhao Tao) who has to work in the local bar to pay for the debt she incurred while moving from China to Italy  She also hopes to bring her 8-year old son over.  The man is a retiring fisherman Bepi (Rade Serbedzija) who has immigrated years back from Croatia.  But the difference in cultures that initially brought them together is now posing to be a problem, thanks to Bepi’s so-called mates.  But Segre’s film is a quietly beautiful one, with lots of pleasant sights and local scenery to look at.  And one can tell from the mood o the film that only good things can happen to Bepi and Shun Li.

    THERMAE ROMANAE (Japan 2012) *

    Directed by H. Takeuchi

                The setting in this very strange box-office hit Japanese entry is 149 AD – the Roman Empire .  The current emperor has hired and is fond of current public bath architect Lucius Modestus (Hiroshi Abe).  And why not?  During his feats of unconsciousness, he is transported to the present in Japan where he steals ideas like the bathtub; milk fruit drinks and toilet flushes for his Roman designs.  There is total chaos in this film that might have succeeded if there was a bit or order in the disorder.  There is no reasoning or logic for Lucius to travel through time.  The antics are hardly funny either.   The props and atmosphere of ancient Rome with Japanese doubling as Romans and speaking Japanese are totally ridiculous.  But what is the most incredible is that the audience is supposed to believe that the Japanese playing a Roman is in reality not  a Japanese but a Roman.  Not that anyone cares in this awful film based on a manga comic book.

    The Films: (Descriptions)

    BENVENUTO PRESIDENTE         OPENING NIGHT FILM (International Premiere)

    Director: Riccardo Milani

    Cast: Claudio Bisio,Kasia Smutniak

    Country: Italy

    Running Time: 103 min.

     

    Quoted from The Guardian,-Lizzy Davies, April 17, 2013

    “Italian cinemas are this month showing a film about a bald librarian from the mountains called Peppino who, due to a voting glitch that terrifies everyone – including himself – is elected to the highest office in the land. As it charts his journey from provincial joker to maverick statesman, Benvenuto Presidente! has given viewers some much needed laughs at a time when real-life politics is every bit as strange as fiction, but certainly not as funny.” 

     

    SIBERIAN EDUCATION (Educazione Siberiana      North American Premiere

    Director: Gabriele Salvatores

    Cast: John Malkovich, Peter Stormare, Arnas Fedaravicius, Eleanor Tomlinson

    Country: Italy

    Running Time: 103 min.

    Canadian Distributor: Mongrel Media

    The story of a gang of children growing up in a lawless community in a forgotten corner of the former Soviet Union, SIBERIAN EDUCATION follows two best friends who gradually become fierce enemies as they find themselves on opposite sides of the strict code of honour of the ‘honest criminal’ brotherhood. An adaptation of the Nicolai Lilin autobiography of the same name, this thriller stars John Malkovich as a colorful Russian godfather.

    THE LAST LEOPARD: PORTRAIT OF GOFFREDO LOMBARDO

    (L'Ultimo Gattopardo: Ritratto Di Goffredo Lombardo)  North American Premiere

    Director: Giuseppe Tornatore

    Country: Italy

    Running time: 75 min.

    Legendary Italian film producer Goffredo Lombardo is one of the most celebrated producers in Italian cinema (The Leopard, Rocco and His Brothers, Il Bidone). The son of Gustavo, a pioneer of Italian cinema and founder of the Titanus Film Company, Goffredo helped to give international prestige to the Italian film industry after the Second World War. Directed by Giuseppe Tornatore (Oscar® winner Cinema Paradiso), THE LAST LEOPARD pays tribute to Goffredo Lombardo through archival footage and interviews with top actors and filmmakers.

    DIAZ:DON’T CLEAN UP THIS BLOOD (Diaz – Non pulire questo sangue)

    Writer/Director: Daniele Vicari

    Cat: Elio Germano, Jennifer Ulrich, Claudio Santamaria

    Country: Italy

    Running Time: 120 min

    Canadian Distributor: Mongrel Media

    This searing political drama retraces the seminal events which took place in the Diaz school raid during Genoa ’s violent G8 Summit in July 2001. Diaz is named after the temporarily vacant city-center school used by protest-groups as a makeshift base and sleeping quarters during the economic summit. The police stormed the school and brutally attacked young men and women from all over Europe for two hours.

    REALITY

    Director: Matteo Garrone ( Gomorrah )

    Cast: Aniello Arena, Loredana Simioli and Claudia Gerini

    Country: Italy/France

    Running Time: 115 min.

    Canadian Distributor: Mongrel Media

    Acclaimed director Matteo Garrone follows his award-winning crime epic Gomorrahwith this dark comedy about the impact of contemporary media and the nature of fame. Winner of the 2012 Cannes International Film Festival Grand Jury Prize, REALITY follows Luciano, a Neapolitan fishmonger who becomes obsessed with landing a role on the Italian version of the hugely popular reality TV series, Big Brother.

     

    BERBERIAN SOUND STUDIO

    Director: Peter Strickland

    Cast: Toby Jones, Tonia Sotiropoulou, Cosimo Fusco, Antonio Mancino.

    Country: UK

    Running Time: 92 min

    Canadian Distributor: Filmswelike – PLEASE HOLD FULL REVIEWS UNTIL AUGUST 2nd THEATRICAL RELEASE

    Compared to David Lynch’s Mulholland Drive, this smash hit at the Edinburgh Film Festival pays tribute to Italian horror master, Mario Bava. In this sinister and moody thriller, Gilderoy, a timid English sound engineer (Toby Jones - Hitchcock, Infamous), finds himself working with a group of mysterious filmmakers on a low budget horror film in 1976 Italy. Immersed in a Kafkaesque world, he slowly begins to lose his mind.

    SHUN LI AND THE POET (Io Sono Li)                            North American Premiere

    Writer/Director: Andrea Segre

    Country: Italy/France

    Cast: Zhao Tao, Rade Serbedzija, Marco Paolini, Roberto Citran, Giuseppe Battiston

    Running Time: 98 min.

    Set in Chioggia , a small village on the Venetian lagoon, SHUN LI AND THE POET is a poetic and moving film about the fragile friendship between a shy Chinese waitress (Zhao Tao) and a middle-aged Slavic fisherman (Rade Serbedzija). Zhao was named Best Actress at Italy ’s David di Donatello Awards for her role, and director Andrea Segre received the London Film Festival’s Satyajit Ray Award for his first feature.

  • TIFF Cinematheque - Jacques Demy

    Les Films de Jacques Demy

    One of the French Nouvelle Vague, coming on the scene with his first film LOLA, openly gay director Jacques Demy is known for his ‘happy’ films primarily because his LES PARAPLUIES DE CHERBOURG, a full musical is arguably the happiest film of all time, despite its tragic theme of separated lovers.  Demy is known for his other musicals LES DAMEMOISELLES DE ROCHEFORT and UNE CHAMBRE D’UNE VILLE.  The latter is a curious piece with music and songs blended into a riot scene with lots of blood and people beaten up.  Films about the director’s childhood were made by his wife, Agnes Varda, the one called JACQUOT DE NANTE (never released here but shown once at the Cinematheque years back), being really charming.

                Demy’s marriage to his wife must be a strange one.  No one relly knows.  But one might get a clue of what Demy thinks of marriage in the one scene in LA BAIE DES ANGES when Claude Mann tells Jeanne Moreau what he thinks of marriage: ”I opted out as marriage sucks the risk and love out of life!

                TIFF Cinematheque has assembled quite the exhaustive list of Demy films.  For complete details, check their website at:

    www.tiff.net

    CAPSULE REVIEWS for selected films:

    LA BAIE DES ANGES (France 1963) ****

    Directed by Jacques Demy

                BAY OF ANGELS begins when a naïve bank clerk, Jean (Claude Mann) is introduced to gambling by his colleague.  His lucky win of 450,000 fr, (6 months wages in less than half an hour) gives him the courage to tell his father off, gets kicked out of home and leave for the Cote in Nice.  Seduced there by a compulsive gambler in platinum blonde wig (Jeanne Moreau), he becomes her escort as they initially get very lucky at the roulette table.  One must love the croupier’s spin of the roulette wheel as he music of Michel Legrand’s music plays reflecting the randomness of life at the same time.  The film hooks the audience on just as gambling does.  And the effect is no less engaging!  Hot in black and white, the film still gives the impression of complete colour!

    UNE CHAMBRE UNE VILLE (A ROOM IN TOWN) ( France 1982) ****

    Directed by Jacques Demy

                It must be a Demy film when the Baroness (Danielle Darrieux) returns to playing a sonata on the piano right after a tragedy when her daughter Edith (Dominique Sandra) leaves with her gun in her handbag to confront her jealous husband (Michel Piccoli) intent to ill her.  The Baroness is out of money and forced to rent the room of the film title to a ship dockworker who falls in love with her daughter, Edith.  Edith leaves her husband while the worker gets his girlfriend, Violette pregnant.  Clashes between the police and striking workers get violent.  It is 1955 in Nantes , where Demy is from.  But tragedy never prevented Demy rom making a colorful and happy picture.  From the bright ink tea-shirt that the dockworker first wears to the fur cot donned by Edith (though she is naked underneath), there are lots to behold.  The entire film is done musical style (like LES PARAPLUIES DES CHRBOURG and LES DAMOISELLES DE CHERBOURG) in which the entire dialogue is sung instead of spoken.  The result is film so delightful that the critics in France took an ad in the paper for the public to see this film when it first came out.  This version is a restored print.  

    MODEL SHOP ( USA 1968) ***

    Directed by Jacques Demy

                Demy’s American film is a strange one, one about a handsome architect drifter, George (Gary Lockwood from 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY) going abut town trying to get $100 for the back payment of his car or lose it totally.  He gets distracted by following a French lady in white (Anouk Aimee) to a MODEL SHOP where he spends the money he got for the car photographing her.  This lady is actually Lola, the Lola from Demy’s first film LOLA who is supposedly now moved to L.A.   the Meanwhile, he is worried that he would be drafted  into the army to fight the Vietnam War.  Demy’s film is a complete tease with lots of good looking actors hinting of sex but with nothing happening.  The film shows Demy as he looks at America (this is his only American movie) and where he stands, for example on the legality of marijuana as in the coffee shop scene in which the camera lingers on the headlines on an article on marijuana that Lockwood reads.  MODEL SHOP is an observation piece in which nothing much happens in the foreground but much happens in he background.

    LOLA ( France 1961) ****

    Directed by Jacques Demy

                Demy’s first film stars Anouk Aimee as Lola, a prostitute/cabaret dancer who sleeps with visiting sailors.  She has a 3-year old, Yvon by from her first love, who abandoned her.  He still loves him and waits for him, spurning the love of every other suitor on the way.  It is Demy’s nice touch that two of her suitors other give Yvon the same identical gift, a trumpet to play with.  With Demy’s colours, Michel Legrand’s mesmerizing musical score, one cannot help but fall in love with Demy’s charming directorial debut.  Some of this music is replicated in Demy’s later success LES PARAPLUIES DE CHERBOURG as well as part of the theme of abandoned regnant girl and daughter/mother relationships.  But LOLA has a happy ending in which Lola’s love does return claiming: “I am rich!” bringing the happy film to an even happier finish.  In contrast, the separated lovers do not come together in LES PARAPLUIES DE CHERBOURG, but Demy still completes that film with a happy ending.  Both these films are the best of what Demy has to offer.

    LES PARAPLUIES DE CHERBOURG (THE UMBRELLAS OF CHERBOURG) 
(France/Wet Germany 1964) ***** Top 10

    
Directed by Jacques Demy   

    

Arguably the happiest film ever made.  THE UMBRELLAS OF CHERBOURG is the umbrella store owned by Madame Emery ( Chris tiane Legrand) who lives with her 17-year old daughter, Geneviève (Catherine Deneuve) in the apartment upstairs.  She falls in love with poor mechanic, Guy (Nino Castelnuovo) who lives with her bedridden Aunt Elise (Claire Leclerc).  Mother objects to the affair but Geneviève pursues her love.  When Guy has to leave for a 2 year military service, she is impregnated and coerised to marry another man to support the child.  In the hands of other directors, this knocked up affair of a couple forced to marry others would not have turned out like this.  Colourful (umbrellas, clothes, shop décor and even the car repair shop) with the dialogue sung out as a recital totally with music by the fabulously talented Michel Legrand, nothing can be as delightful as watching this film on screen.  The last 5 minutes of the film, the most tragic, in which the separated couple finally meet by chance is the most moving and unexpected that can be imagined.  Bring lots of Kleenex for this entry and be prepared to see this film again and again.  Michel Legrand was nominated for the Oscar for the unforgettable song he wrote for the film: “I will wait for you”.  The film was nominated for a total of 4 Oscars including Best Foreign Film and it won the Palme d’Or at Cannes 1964.

  • This Week's Film Reviews (June 28, 2013)

    Opening this week are THE HEAT, WHITE HOUSE DOWN and the doc HOW TO MAKE MONEY SELLING DRUGS.

     

    Also observing a check is the Italian Contemporary Film Festival.

     

     

    THE HEAT (USA 2013) ***

    Directed by Paul Feig

     

                From Paul Feig, the director of BRIDESMAIDS comes another female bonding movie starring McCarthy who was also in the first feature.

                The plot concerns an over confident, educated and effective FBI agent Sarah Ashburn (Sandra Bullock) assigned to Boston to work with small time foul-mouthed officer Mullins (Melissa McCarthy) to solve a drug related case.  It is a female brains vs. brawn to solve the case.

                The film demonstrates the acting talent of Bullock as well as the comedic expertise of McCarthy.  The two characters play extremely well against each other, with the audience often swayed from one side to another.  The female buddy cop movie is a welcome change from the frequent male buddy cop movies that then only populated  movie screens.  In fact Bullock and McCarthy fare so well (and better say than any Danny Glover and Mel Gibson in their LETHAL WEAPON films) that one would expect very soon a sequel such as THE HEAT 2.

                Running at over two hours, one can suspect that the film went over as the filmmakers decided to leave all the improve bits intact.  Despite the loose narrative and thin plot, the film hardly feels like 2 hours due to the fact that the film is often so funny.

                There is one scene in which Bullock confesses the difficulty of being a female in her working world.   Fortunately, the film does not delve into the serious issues but quickly switches back to comedy.

                The film is basically a two actor vehicle.  No one else is memorable or given anything important to say.  The only exception could be the ambulance segment in which a paramedic has an argument with Bullock’s FBI character.

     

     

    HOW TO MAKE MONEY SELLING DRUGS (USA 2012) ****

    Directed by Mathew Cooke

     

                Written, directed and narrated by Matthew Cooke (DELIVER US FROM EVIL, TEENAGE PAPARAZZI), the documentary HOW TO MAKE MONEY SELLING DRUGS is a surprising accurate account of the said process while being honest, funny and true.

                 Executed in the form of a guide set at different levels,  Cooke teaches the ABC’s of how to make it from Level 1 (Getting Started) to Level 5 (How to Become a Drug Lord)  In the process, the audience is taken through domestic and international distribution of narcotics from street corner seller to private distributor to Drug Lord.  Cooke enlists the aid of many past dealers and distributors as well as cops and narcotic agents.  Why would past offenders tell their stories?  The reason is that all of them are now converted and working to help those dealing with drug abuse.  A few of them, such as the Hispanic Pepe, are just plain hilarious on camera, offering tips on how to make money selling drugs.  The film starts off with marijuana and cocaine and later informs that the principles can be applied to any other drug.  Stars such as Woody Harrelson, Susan Sarandon have their say just as the film includes clips from SCARFACE and THE GODFATHER.

                It would be simple to dismiss the film as cheap entertainment because of its subject matter being drugs.  But upon careful consideration, Cooke has concocted a very well made documentary.  The subject is well researched, tested and tried, the interviewees are experts in the field on both sides, who must have been persuaded a great deal to participate in the movie and the film is surprisingly accurate from its math (a segment includes how much money can be made in just 3 months with a marijuana start-up kit) to what is happening out there in the streets.  The film is both educational and entertaining, hilarious and scary as it grows mostly serious toward the end.  But the film does lag a bit towards he second third due to the film delving a bit too much in depth with the accuracy that not everyone (unless you are in the industry) cares about.

                The setting is the U.S., so what transpires is not applicable to Canada or other countries.  The film emphasizes that guns are needed to protect the seller.  This might not be true in Canada and elsewhere where it is not the right of every individual to bear arms.  This right leading to violence and killings, according to Cooke, is what is driving the drug industry to uncontrollable violence and corruption.

                The best thing about the documentary is the overall good intention of the filmmaker.  He gives his two cents worth on how to stop the drug wars and violence and the film has the overall tone of a drug user quitting the habit and helping others.  I first saw this film a TIFF and seeing it a second time is just as much fun as it is instructional.

     

     

    STORM SURFERS (Australia 2012) ***

    Directed by Justin McMillan and Christopher Nelius

     

                The technology of 3D is most effective in films like STORM SURFERS and those on overcrowded attended concerts in which the audience would favour the same experience as being there without actually being there.

                STORM SURFERS is a character driven Aussie documentary about storm surfers and their quest to search and ride the biggest wave.  Never mind the fact that they have families or may lose their lives.  The thrill cannot be matched.  Fortunately, the film captures the high spirits of three characters and transfers them to the audience.

                The three are surfers and best friends Ross Clarke-Jones and two time surf champion Tom Carroll.  They enlist the aid of surf forecaster Ben Matson.  The trio chase giant storms and hence giant waves across the southern oceans.  The camera work is more than excellent as it seems that the lenses are on the surf board with the surfers.  Of course, the lenses are splashed with sea water, but the thrill of the rides is captured well enough.

                The technique of surf hunting through the computer is also explained quite effectively.  The three also speak to the camera as they explain their logic of their motivations.  Take it or leave it, the audience have to handed tit o them at least for being dedicated daredevils.  But one might want to hear what the families o these three has to say about the activities.

                What the film lacks in narrative material, it more than makes it up during the surf action segments when the waves are ridden.  Whether one likes this sport or not, one cannot dispute that this is one of the most exciting documentaries this year.

     

     

     

    WHITE HOUSE DOWN (USA 2013) **

    Directed by Roland Emmerich

     

                The second foray into an attack on the White House after the Gerard Butler vehicle (OLYMPUS HAS FALLEN) boasts James Vanderbilt, the writer of THE AMAZING SPIDERMAN teamed up with Emmerich, the director of INDEPNDENCE DAY.  The film promises lots of pyrotechnics and action sequences.  But apart from those, there is little else the film has to offer.  The film, of course opens on Independence in the Stats.

                The tired plot is a rehash of other films.  As already mentioned, this is already the second film on the same theme of the White House under attack.  The hero being a single father with a daughter (WAR OF THE WORLDS), a President that is black (DEEP IMPACT, THE FIFTH ELEMENT), an unexpected hero (the tour guide) varying villains, a twist with an emerging new villain at the end – are nothing new at all.  There is one scene with a gun pointed at the little girl’s head, which might upset the censors.  Even the nice little touches like Cale entering the burning White House to see a painting of the same (the old British attacking) could be easily thought off.  But upon second thoughts, no one in the audience would believe the girl will be shot.

                Cale (Channing Tatum – yes, one gets to see his shirtless upper body at least 5 times) takes his daughter, Emily (Joey King) to tour the White House.  He leads her to believe that he is up for the job of the President’s secret Service.  When the White House comes under siege, Cale has to protect the President (Jamie Foxx) while losing Emily in the washroom – about the only novelty in the story.  In the process, two others get sworn in as President.

                One cannot complain about the stupendous crashes (the helicopter shut down and exploding on the ground; car crashes; burning rooms), but it stakes more than these to make a suspenseful action thriller.  Emmerich acts like a traffic cop orchestrating one sequence after another rather than functioning as a director.

              

    UNFINISHED SONG (SONG FOR MARION) (UK 2012) ***

    Directed by Paul Andrew Williams

     

                Known for his shocking domestically violent first feature LONDON TO BRIGHTON, director Williams goes mushy in his film dedicated to the family.  Arthur (Terence Stamp) is coping with the news of his wife, Marion’s (Vanessa Redgrave) terminal cancer.  He has to put up with her perpetual cheeriness, especially when she forces him to take her to her choir practice.  Arthur also has problems relating to his son (Christopher Eccleston) though his granddaughter is quite the peach.  It appears that the family problems are all too convenient and nothing that has not been seen in other films before.  Still Williams squeezes many funny moments from the choir group (called the OAPs – old age pensioners, the common term for seniors in Britain) and the songs chosen deliberately go against type.  Redgrave and Stamp do marvels with the limited script delivering performances demonstrating them as masters of their craft.  The point that the choir is in competition also enables Williams to make his tearjerker a feel good movie.

     

     

     

    Best Bets of the Week:

     

    Best Film Opening: HOW TO MAKE MONEY SELLING DRUGS

    Best Film Playing: THIS IS THE END

    Best Action: PAIN AND GAIN

    Best Family: MONSTERS UNIVERSITY

    Best Documentary: HOW TO MAKE MONEY SELLING DRUGS

  • This Week's Film Reviews (Jun 6, 2013)

    It is Ethan Hawke week.  Two new films BEFORE MIDNIGHT and THE PURGEopen.  The first of the end of the world films THIS IS THE END makes its debut Wednesday.

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    TIFF Cinematheque opens their Century of Chinese Films series.

    Film Reviews: 

    BEFORE MIDNIGHT (USA 2013) ***

    Directed by Richard Linklater

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                Starting off with BEFORE SUNRISE and BEFORE SUNSET, the third in the trilogy of romance between Jesse (Ethan Hawke) and Celine (Julie Delpy) is pretty much more of the same.  The American and French who met years back on a train in Europe are still in love.  They make love, argue and talk, talk and talk.  If smart talk is not your cup of tea, then avoid BEFORE MIDNIGHT at all costs.  If you don’t mind the occasional banter, which a times turns pretty clever, then you are in for quite the treat.

                Jesse has divorced his wife (not seen in this film) and is now married to Celine with two daughters and living in Paris.  But the film is set in the Greek Islands, where they are vacationing.  Jesse has just said to goodbye to his son from his wife and feels guilty as hell for not being there in the States for him.  He secretly wishes Celine move with him to Chicago so that he can be with his son.  No way for Celine, who has just found her dream job.

                So sets up the big argument for the couple, which is part of the premise for the movie.  They each argue their points, almost break up, and discover that the love for each other still binds.  All this happens amidst smart talk, written by Linklater and actors Delpy and Hawke.  Though it is all an obvious set up, the film still grabs and moves as there is some truth in their arguments to very couple’s encounters.

                The climax of the film is the reconciliation of the couple.  Jesse seeks out Celine, angry and sitting lone outdoors at a cafe BEFORE MIDNIGHT.  He practically woos her again.  That makes the movie.

                Love or hate the BEFORE series of movies, one cannot deny the chemistry between Julie Delpy and Ethan Hawke.  They obviously bring their own personal baggage into their characters as well.  The series always contains interesting dialogue!

     

    THE KINGS OF SUMMER (USA 2013) **

    Directed by Jordan Vogt-Roberts

               THE KINGS OF SUMMER originally titled TOY’S HOUSE tells the story of three kids, the kings as they decide to build their own house in the middle of the woods, away from their parents and authority. They thus rule as kings and hence the film title. 

               The main protagonist is Joe Toy (Nick Robsinson), escaping his single father Frank (Nick Offerman). He brings along his best friend Patrick (Gabriel Basso) whose parents are driving him insane. A strange kid called Biaggio (Moises Arias) with a machete tags along. This is a tale of the kids, their family, their interactions as well as lessons learned.

     Example, when Kelly appears at Joe’s door, his immediate response is “I don’t do cookies!” or when Joe falls out the house window. The humour is amusing at most but hardly laugh-out loud funny. The result is either, enjoyment of the humour all the way throughout the film or pure irritation when everyone around you laughs except for yourself.

               The other flaw is the film’s credibility. It is unlikely that three kids could build such a functional house in the woods. Another factor is where they obtained all the proper building materials and haul it all to the woods.

               Performances are top-notch, given the relative experience of the newcomers. The three kids are nothing short of excellent. But it is Moises Arias as the strange Italian kid Biaggio who steals the show. Every scene he is in, he is a welcome surprise, whether it be delivering a serious line or goofing it up, dancing on the pipe in the woods.

               Another problem is the film’s predictable ending. It is clear and no surprise half way through the film how it will end. The lack of a good punch in the climax makes a let-down given the upbeat nature of the film throughout. 

    MUCH ADO ABOUT NOTHING (USA 2012) ***

    Directed by Joss Whedon

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                The William Shakespeare play MUCH ADO ABOUT NOTHING has been made into films countless of times, the latest being this one in 2012 and the last one in 1993 directed by Kenneth Branagh with an all star cast including himself, Emma Thompson and Denzel Washington.

                The 2012 one by Joss Whedon is a modern adaptation, which means it is set in the present with all the modern technologies like camera, phones fast cars and airplanes.  But the characters still speak in the Bard’s prose though one wonders the director’s decision to shoot the film in black and white.  The film is aided with a rich soundtrack by family member Jed, the highlight being an original song sung by an Asian by the piano as a trapeze act is performed by two beauties on a swing at a party.

                The actors are all apt and absolutely good-looking, right out of fairy tale territory.  It takes a while to get into the language of Shakespeare, but if English is your mother tongue, it only takes 15 minutes or so before your ears become fluent with the rhythm and rhyme of the olde English.

                But the story though universal and the Bard’s words immortal, the story of MUCH ADO ABOUT NOTHING is already all too familiar.  Whedon’s film contains no new insight or surprises, no matter how well made it is.  The film would thus not disappoint.  It is more than pleasant, entertaining and fun but unfortunately still mired in all too familiar territory.

     

    THE PURGE (USA 2013) *

    Directed by James DeMonaco

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               The film THE PURGE is set in the year 2022 when the United States has been taken over by a series of multinational corporations known only as the "New Founding Fathers of America", who in order to keep the population under control, have instituted an annual 12 hour period, commencing from 7pm on March 21st to 7am on the morning of March 22nd. During this period all criminal activity, including murder, becomes legal. This annual event is known as "The Purge". The only rules during the purge are that "Level 10 ranking Government Officials" must remain untouched and usage of "Class 4" weaponry and above is forbidden. During this emergency services are suspended and all external calls are unanswered. The Purge is designed to serve as a catharsis for American citizens, giving them a chance to vent all negative emotions however they desire and express dark impulses. The result is a prosperous America with employment rates as low as 1% and a huge decrease in crime.

               There is an inherent problem with films containing preposterous premises like THE PURGE and similar ones like THE ASTRONAUT FARMER in which the audience has to believe that a farmer is capable of building a rocket from scratch and using his brains in his backyard or WARM BODIES in which zombies can turn back to human beings. The director has to spend an enormous effort trying to convince the audience of the film’s credibility. And often and not when this does not work, the film falls completely apart, no matter how well made.

               But for THE PURGE, considering that the United States grants its citizens the right to bear arms with the result of idiot citizens blasting their weapons and killing people in schools, the premise might be quite believable. Still, during the promo screening of THE PURGE, there are lots of scatters wolf wild laughter amidst the serious scenes. 

               James Sandin (Ethan Hawke, surprisingly well groomed for a change) is a wealthy home security developer living in a picturesque neighbourhood, who has made a fortune exploiting fears of the annual purge, by flogging security systems that turn homes into impenetrable fortresses. At home, Mary Sandin (Lena Headley) struggles with her two children: teenager Zoey is dating a considerably older boy named Henry (Tony Oller) who her parents do not approve of, and Charlie (Max Burkholdr), who has autism and has been home schooled by Mary and has little knowledge of the outside world is obsessed with the moral justifications of the purge, much to the concern of the rest of the family. When the purge begins, Charlie lets a stranger into the house and the violence begins.

               The film has not much story and the basically horror flick with the futuristic premise grows boring really soon despite its 90 minute running length. The story is totally predictable from start to end, if not laughable. Hawke, Headley and cast try their damndest hard to save the film but to no avail.

               For a film that must the filmmakers be thinking when making this movie?

     

    THIS IS THE END (USA 2013) ***** Top 10

    Directed by Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg

    (This film opens Wednesday with a Tuesday night evening screening)

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                THIS IS THE END concerning the end of the world, Bible Apocalypse style in which God’s chosen ones are drawn up to heaven according to the Book of Revelations is not the kind of film Christians would condone despite its general accuracy.  The film has tons of swearing, drug abuse, foul language and wild partying.  But it is also one of the most hilarious films of the year, one filled with surprises at every corner.

                The film begins at the L.A. airport, where Jay Burachel arrives to meet buddy Seth Rogen.  After smoking up for a few hours they decide to attend a big party thrown by James Franco also attended by Jonah Hill, Craig Robinson, Emma Watson and lots of other celebrities.  (The stars play themselves in the movie.)  After Jay and Seth decide to go to the corner grocery store to buy cigarettes, all hell (literally) breaks lose with people beamed up into the sky while an earthquake swallows up the city.  The two barely escape back to Franco’s place, where nothing has happened inside except the continuing party.  Then the house shakes up.

                No one knows what is happening so the less the audience knows about he plot or story, the more entertaining the film will be.  I knew nothing of the story prior to the screening, nether had I seen the trailer.  So, as more of the story is revealed, the film grows more and more intriguing.

                The film contains more than ones share of laugh out loud moments.  The actors improvise half the time, so that the funniest scene would be the big argument between Danny McBride (the party’s uninvited guest) and Franco about masturbation.  Other surprises include the exorcism of Jonah Hill by Burachel using what he had learnt from THE EXORCIST. 

                The special effects are top notch from the car crashes, earthquakes and the gigantic monsters.  The one that shows up with a huge dick to possess Jonah Hill is an inspiration in crudeness.  Surprisingly, the film also contains a few genuinely scary scenes.

                The actors are all game for almost anything.  Take Michael Cera and Channing Tatum for example.  They play off each other characters very well and with much hilarity.  Channing Tatum’s cameo at the end is so off beat that it has to be seen to be believed.  The Back Street Boys also lend their touch in a grand musical number.  Who could tell that the end of the world could be so much fun?

     

    BEST PICKS:

    Best Film Opening: THIS IS THE END

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    Best Film Playing: THIS IS THE END

    Best Family: THE HOBBIT: AN UNEXPECTED JOURNEY

    Best Foreign: NO

    Best Doc: REVOLUTION

    Best Comedy: ADMISSION

    Best Action: PAIN AND GAIN

  • This Week's Film Reviews (May 31, 2013)

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    Lots of new movies opening this weekend the big ones being the dud AFTER EARTH. M. Night Shyamalan proves that he still has not got what it takes to make a hit.

    Also playing is the 23rd Inside Out LGBT Film Festival in Toronto. 

    Film Reviews:

    AFTER EARTH (USA 2013) *

    Directed by M. Night Shyamalan

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    Another dud from THE LAST AIRBENDER director M. Night Shyamalan.  But at least AFTER EARTH is not that bad.   But it is far from good either.  Pretentious, boring, self-indulgent and ultimately stupid with more plot loopholes than the number of craters found on the moon, AFTER EARTH also contains a performance by Will Smith that could have possibly been phoned into the studio.  His son performs better than his brooding father, but nothing can save the day.

                The film is supposedly set in the future of 1000 A.D. (the film’s original title) when the inhabitants of the planet Earth have been moved to Nova Prime.  Why the Earth is uninhabitable is never explained.  All the audience sees is burning buildings and burning oil towers, courtesy of the $130 million dollars given for this production.  There is also no bother to explain how a peacekeeping organization called the Ranger Corps came to be formed.

                It is also too convenient that the Corps is trained by a stern General called Cypher Raige played by Will Smith, the star of the movie.  Shyamalan (UNBREAKBLE, THE SIX SENSE, and THE VILLAGE) has been known to make up fantasy bedroom stories for his children, who likely never asked father any questions.  He treats his audience as kids accepting whatever they are told.

                The basis of the story is the father and son relationship.  Apparently the son, Kitai (Jaden Smith) is ill-disciplined.  Father dislikes his son’s behaviour while the son seeks approval of his father.  All this has been seen in countless other father/son relationship films.  The only difference here is that the filmmakers have $130 million to do what they want.  So, monsters are lurking everywhere, chasing the son who has to retrieve some silly beacon that would save father and mankind.  Smith broods during half of the film giving his son’s orders through some transmitting device.  

                Shyamalan’s film is also so slow and poorly paced.  Monsters chase Kitai for no reason.  Of course he escapes and saves the day and wins his father’s respect.  All this takes 90 minutes of screen time but feels over 3 hours long. 

                Shyamalan is on a roll of making bad films.  

    BLANCANIEVES (Spain/France 2012) ***

    Directed by Pablo Berger

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    BLANCANIEVES translated from Spanish to Snow White tells the old Brothers Grimm tale with a twist.  Snow White (Marcarena Garcia) is a female matador hunted down by her evil stepmother Encarna (Maribel Verdu).

    BLANCANIEVES translated from Spanish to Snow White tells the old Brothers Grimm tale.

    But the story in told in a silent film, written and directed by Pablo Berger with titles and in black and white.  After THE ARTIST, the novelty, though not well worn is already no longer a novelty.  And the Snow White take also runs low on ideas.  But on the plus side, the black and white cinematography is excellent to look at, and the expressions on the characters’ faces are more pronounced given that the film is silent.  The film is also extremely charming in parts and needless to say has more than sufficient moments to behold.  The bullfight scenes are also expected with considerable flair and provide some excitement, rare in silent films.

     But at least the film has an ending that is unexpected from the fairytale. 

    Despite a few dull spots, BLANCANIEVES is still entertaining for its most part.

     

    CHARLES BRADLEY SOUL OF AMERICA (USA 2012) **

     Directed by Poull Brien

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                Documentaries are a dime a dozen these days.  The last HOT DOCs festival in Toronto saw hundreds of new docs made by newcomers on a wide variety of subjects.  As  long as a budding filmmaker finds a somewhat viable subject, a new do is made.  Who is this Charles Bradley then, and why is this doc made about him?

                This man happens to be the son of famous blues singer James Brown though he still is a nobody waiting to break it big into the music industry.  When the film begins, the audience gets to see Bradley performing at various gigs.

                The doc takes the normal path of a doc on the subject of budding performer.  There are talking heads (friends and associates in the business who testify to the man’s talent.  The camera follows Charles on his daily routines where his poverty, poor mother and housing are on display.  There are also enactments of him reminiscing the past as well as a boy playing him sleeping on the subway trains at night.  All this is watchable but unless one has a sincere love for the blues, what transpires on screen is another sob story of a poor soul living n America.

                One scene has Bradley visiting old friends at a house.  Another two have members of the audience praising Bradley’s performance.  It seems that there is shortage of material to be put in the documentary.

                The result is a doc that has enough information on a no doubt talented singer that might interest a large enough audience.  Unless one is really into the James Brown kind of music, this relatively well made film will fail to intrigue. 

     

    THE LESSER BLESSED (Canada 2012) **

    Directed by Anita Doron

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                The coming-of-age drama is one of the most common genres used in indie movies.  In THE LESSER BLESSED, the film contains no real original material, the omly niche being that the protagonist s a First nations kid in school.

                Larry Sole (Joel Evans) is a quiet kid at school bullied most of the time by fellow classmate, Darcy (Adam Butcher).  The film lets the audience know later in the film that they were both friends before torn apart by some mystery that the script will allow the audience to now only at the end.  New school kid, also a native, Johnny Beck (Kiowa Gordon) arrives and protects Larry from Dracy.  They become reluctant friends.  The story includes a romance with Juliet Hope (Chloe Rose).  Why this character is always referred to by her full first and last name is strange, maybe to emphasize that the boy sees hope in her.  Larry’s family life is not all that smooth either.  He tries to get along with his mother’s (Tamara Podemski) new boyfriend, Jed (Benjamin Bratt) who tries to inplant some discipline into the lad.

                Nothing much really happens in the film except all the problems eventually working themselves out.  The performances from the largely unknown cast are satisfactory.  The humour is slight and the film contains no highly emotionally charged scenes.

                The final result is a somewhat satisfactory film on a well worn theme that sheds no new insight on life lessons or life in general.

     

    LORE (Germany/Australia 2012) ***

    Directed by Cate Shortland

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               LORE tells the coming-of-age tale of Lore, a Nazi SS Officer daughter survivor set just after the Germans lost WWII. There have not been many or any film told from the ‘enemy’ side of the fence, so LORE makes a welcome though dark change.

               The film begins with the SS Officer father evacuating the family home with the upset mother, puzzled Lore and her siblings, younger sister, twins Jurgens and Gunter and baby Thomas. They take refuge in a shack in the woods, but fate is not on their side. Father is taken away to prison, mother abandons them leaving poor Lore to take care of the rest of the family. Lore has to travel to paradise in the form of the grandmother’s house somewhere north in the Hamburg area. All she knows is that it is a house painted with windmills with a garden of flowers. They travel, without papers in a Germany that is no longer Germany but divided into different zones run by the Allied Forces.

               The film is necessarily bleak in outlook, with lots of scenes without sunlight and lots of shots of mud be in from the sea or ground. Director Shortland loves to play with ambiguity with the journey’s end never certain nor the identity of the young man (who appears to be a Jew) who aids them. The conflict between naïve Lore and the Jew is expectedly disturbing especially with her prejudice that stems out of her limited knowledge. The audience is similarly expected to have mixed feelings for Lore and her family – sympathetic to her dilemma and yet upset at her upbringing.

               But the preachy ending with the director displaying Lore’s hardened heart is a bit much. Something subtler would have been more appropriate as the audience would have already got the point after watching the film. Still, the atmosphere and performances from the young cast make a convincing war survival drama.

     

    NOW YOU SEE ME (USA 2013) ***

    Directed by Louis Leterrier

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               NOW YOU SEE ME, a smug film about magician tricksters pulling an ambitious heist starts off with a confident card trick performed by smart-talking Michael (Jesse Eisenberg) in which the card chosen by his audience (and the movie audience at the same time), the 7 of diamonds appears lit on a high rise building. When asked how he did it, he replied that he bribed the building technician.

               This is a clever opening sequence as it comprises a magic trick pulled on the audience as well. This atmosphere of smugness is carried on consistently throughout the film, in fact a bit too much that the audience will undoubtedly feel manipulated, if not used and played for.

               The simplistic plot is mixed with very complicated magic tricks, all of them explained fully to the audience so that there is no complaint of plot flaws. 4 individual magicians played by Jesse Eisenberg, Isla Fisher, Dave Franco and Woody Harrelson are brought together by entrepreneur Arthur Tressler (Michael Caine) to rob bank while giving the money to their audiences. The purpose is a much larger heist that one can even dream of. Hot on their case is cop Dylan (Mark Ruffalo) aided by a hot French Interpol agent (Melanie Laurent), who is played the fool most of the time.

               The 4 are as confident and smug as director Leterrier’s film. Nothing can go wrong and every job, no matter how preposterous, succeeds with the utmost efficiency. Unfortunately, the film does not turn out that way. The film moves from one robbery to another, a bit too fast. Even the Master of Suspense, Hitchcock said that a film often needs a breather. Though watchable and entertaining as one watches the 4 succeed consecutively, the credibility factor is stretched tremendously. The story contains a few twists, though it takes no genius to guess who the real trickster in all this is.

               Eisenberg is just as fast-talking as he was in THE SOCIAL NETWORK as Woody Harrelson as annoying as in his other films. Dave Franco (James’ younger brother) is immediately recognizable for his good looks, but is not given that big a role as to just smile and maybe perform a few fight scenes. Ruffalo steals the show while Freeman does his usual know-it-all bit.

               Whether this film will do well at the box-office is a good guess. Films about magicians rarely do well at the box-office, the recent Jim Carrey/Steve Carrel one being a case in point. However, one combined with a bank heist made by Lionsgate whose shares have risen 300% since the past year, the film might be another winner like its heroes.

    PIETA (South Korea 2012) ***
    Directed by Kim Ki-Duk

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                The film begins with a shot of a hook, reminiscent of the fishing hooks in a girl’s vagina in Kim’s breakout film THE ISLE.  The titles also indicate that PIETA is Kim’s 18th film.  The film has lots to remind his audience of his trademark – gross violence and angry characters – elements that keep his film a compelling watch from start to finish.

                But PIETA is less gross than most of his other films.  There are still unwatchable segments like the protagonist breaking the legs of his victim or an eel’s head being chopped off, but these are nothing compared to his early films.  Whether this is a sign of the director maturing is a matter of debate, but PIETA has a stronger narrative, more characterizations and more focus.  But his characters are no less crazy.

                The craziest of which is Kang-do’s mother who suddenly shows up out of the blue to change Kang-do’s life, the reasoning being that she had abandoned him as a baby and now wishes redemption.  But redemption in her own way.  Kang-do is a hired money collector who often maims those who cannot pay back their loans.  He takes pleasure in his work, leaving atrial of cripples on the way.

                Though not always violent, Kim’s scenes which include Kang-do raping his mother or his mother masturbating him are just as disturbing.  But the film traces the mother’s redemption in her own crazy work.

                It is hard to like a film with dislikeable characters who are self-destructive most of the time.  The result will be a film, relatively well made in the director’s own way that many would hate.  But the film did go o to win many prizes including the Golden Lion at the Venice Film festival.

    SIGHTSEERS (UK 2012) **

    Directed by Ben Wheatley

     

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               SIGHTSEERS plays like a violent serial killing diversion of Mike Leigh’s NUTS IN MAY. Even the two leads, Alice Rowe and Steve Oram in SIGHTSEERS bear physical resemblance to the couple (bearded Roger Sloman and then wife Alison Steadman) in NUTS IN MAY. They are as described in the Leigh film : English touiststs touring England. And in this one, with an angry vengeance for what has occurred in their ‘loser’ lives.

               At one point in the film, Chris, the man angrily chides the woman, Tina: “This is utter chaos. What I need is some organization in my life!” This pretty much sums up the problem with this picture. Tina and Chris, as serial killers, do away with people for no apparent reason. Initially the victims are nuisances that do the human race no good – litterbugs harming the environment or loud people with no morals (the would be bride making out with the man at a pub), but then they soon include innocent bystanders such as a jogger on the road or a harmless camper. The two quarrel and make love, switching their feelings at total random. This gives the viewer the impression that Wheatley is just aiming for cheap tricks to shock his audience rather than provide any purpose for their actions. This is unlike WHEATLEY’s other films such as DOWN TERRACE when the violent actions of a family follow a logical reasoning. The weirdness of the material might be what attracted Edgar Wright (SHAUN OF THE DEAD) to executive produce this film. 

               Worst still, Tina at the middle of the film says to Chris: “I was worried, I thought I had lost you!” this is in complete contradiction to what she does to him at the end of the film.

               The interesting relationship between the mother and daughter, brought up at he film’s start is never developed, which would have made a more interesting story giving the film a more solid purpose.

    In the end, SIGHTSEERS comes off as just a curiosity piece, entertaining in a wicked way, but rooted in, as the characters say, chaos. (Sight and Sound the British film magazine did give this film its due, with the film being on a monthly cover.) Pity as SIGHTSEERS could have developed into something more, perhaps providing a realistic insight on how society has failed on human beings

     

    BEST PICKS:

    Best Film Opening: NOW YOU SEE ME

    Best Film Playing: TRANCE

    Best Family: THE HOBBIT: AN UNEXPECTED JOURNEY

    Best Foreign: NO

    Best Doc: REVOLUTION

    Best Comedy: ADMISSION

    Best Action: PAIN AND GAIN

     

  • This Week's Film Reviews (May 24, 2013)

    Lots of new movies opening this weekend including FAST AND FURIOUS 6, THE HANGOVER 3 and EPIC.  Because of screening clashes, the latter two films are unreviewed.

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    Also opening is the 23rd Inside Out LGBT Film Festival in Toronto.

    Film Reviews:

    APRES MAI (SOMETHING IN THE AIR) (France 2012) ***

    Directed by Olivier Assayas

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               The APRES MAI (AFTER MAY) of the film title refers to the months in 1968 after a revolutional air (English title) descended upon resulting in a national wide strike.        

               But the story of the film is set in Nanterre University where a group of students with their political ideals aim to change the world. As the film progresses, they realize through family, relationships and the need to survive and pay for their existence that practicality comes into the picture as well.

               Events are shown from the perspective of Gilles (Clément Métayer), a 17-year-old high school student whose ambition is to be a prospective filmmaker, painter and a political activist. Gilles and his friends Alain (Felix Armand) and Jean-Pierre (Hugo Conzelmann) are activists. Gillea leaves Laure and finds love with his new girlfriend Christine (Lola Creton) and they leave the country for Italy. The story also concentrates on Jean-Pierre and Alain with a segment on Christine too.

               The young actors try hard but their lack of experience shows. The romantic and confrontational parts pass without much conviction. When Assayas’ camera dwells on the long legs of actress Lola Creton (playing Christine) one gets the impression that this newcomer should not deserve this type of attention usually reserved for major stars. By inevitable comparison, one recent film with excellent performances by young actors is Mia Jansen-Love’s UN AMOUR DE JENEUSSE.

               Other films like Bernard Bertolucci’s THE DREAMERS treaded similar waters while creating a stronger narrative. Though certain segments are well executed, particularly the lengthy riot scene (Assayas being no stranger to shooting mass action as evident in CARLOS) at the film’s start in which rioters are severely beaten, the fact that the story refuses to rest on one or two characters but split its attention among more, results in a weaker sprawling narrative as well as a less engaging film. The first half of Assayas’ film is noticeably better than the second.

    In the final analysis, APRES Mai comes off as a heroic failure. Just as the film’s characters idealize principles instead of practicality, Assayas’ worthwhile effort fails to engage despite its outstanding achievement in the creation of the troubled times of that period. Assayas have made simpler films like IRMA VEP and CLEAN and fared better. 

     

    FAST AND FURIOUS 6 (USA 2013) **

    Directed by Justin Lin

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                As if five entries are not enough FAST AND FURIOUS 6 sees yet another louder and even more furious film.  As expected in another entry in a well-worn franchise, the film lacks originality, imagination, creativity and everything that makes a good film. 

                To FAST AND FURIOUS fans, the many adrenaline fuelled car chases and fight sequences should be furious enough to keep them occupied.  Upon careful consideration, most of these are hastily strung together with so many cuts that there is absolutely no continuity.  With the advance of CGI to so high a level these days, what is seen on screen could be very well derived from the computer with scenes just laid out, instead of an actual car chase in the streets.  The two car race that takes place in the streets of London is executed at such break neck speed the audience can hardly tell what is real or not.  What ever happened to the long continuous chases that one can trace from street to street such as the classic one in BULLITT and in the James Bond films?

                The plot has been rehashed in countless films of this genre.  Federal Agent (Dwayne Johnson aka The Rock) forces ex-crooks (played by past FAST AND FURIOUS stars like Paul Weller and Vin Diesel) to come out (blackmail rather) of hiding to do one last job that will bring them face to face with a nasty villain (Luke Evan) and nemesis hat reflect their outer egos.  The climatic segment has them fight what looks like their muscled clones.

                Director Justin Lin who shot to fame with the well-made Asian indie BETTER LUCK TOMORROW has now prostituted himself to Hollywood with rubbish such as ANNAPOLIS.  He is one of the best paid and reliable directors for formulaic films such as FAST AND FURIOUS 6 will fall in the class of films the Studio Bosses will be satisfied with that will go on to make lots of cash but is entirely devoid of intelligence.

                This forgettable film ends with a sequence that promises another sequel.  How loud and obnoxious can a film be? 

    LOVE IS ALL YOU NEED (Denmark 2012) ***

    Directed by Susanne Bier

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                Danish film darling Susanne Bier is in lighter mood after her dead serious Oscar Best Foreign Film Winner IN A BETTER WORLD.  She is now in romantic territory mode, and her latest romantic comedy has been described as a MAMMA MIA! type romp because of its sunny holiday setting (Sorrento in Italy) or perhaps that both films share star actor Pierce Brosnan.

                The title LOVE IS ALL YOU NEED has nothing to do with that Beatles’ songs with those famous lyrics but rather the words immortalized by Arthur Miller in one of his novels.  This is what one of the characters in Bier’s film utters, as if to establish the fact that the director is a literate reader who knows what she is doing.  To Bier’s credit, her romantic comedy is many steps ahead of the terrible lot of rubbish Hollywood churns out, MAMMA MIA! being no exception.

                In the film, the story centres of the father, Philip (Brosnan) of the bride.  The big wedding of his son and bride is being planned but Philips falls in love with the bride’s mother Ida (Trine Dyrholm) who is having problems both marital (the husband is leaving her for a younger woman) and medical (she is recovering from cancer).  The film is quite similar in plot to THE BIG WEDDING in which romance between the parents takes precedence over the bride and groom.  THE BIG WEDDING turned out to be the worst film released (and perhaps the biggest money flop of Lionsgate) this year while Bier’s film turns out to be charming, funny romantic and even original.

                With love conquering all, Bier’s film turns out to be one difficult to dislike.  Just as individuality winning over the convention, this rather unique film is an example of how standard fare can be improved given a little thought and care.

     

    PICTURE DAY (Canada 2012) ***

    Directed by Kate Melville

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               PICTURE DAY is a film set in Toronto about one Torontonian, Claire. At the start of the film, Claire (Tatiana Maslany) picks up an older musician, Jim (Steve McCarthy) and has an affair with him. While in school, he meets science nerd, Henry (Spencer Van Wyck) who she used to babysit. Henry, a collector of various objects falls for her and begins collecting stuff on Claire. Living with her depressed mother (Fiona Highet) and freely having one night stands, Claire is physically stuck in adolescence and her awkward transition into adulthood is represented by these two very different guys who are both pining for her attention. 

               The PICTURE DAY of the title refers to the school’s picture day when Henry has to get his photo taken right after Claire has dyed his hair blue, to get him to be more popular with his schoolmates.

               PICTURE DAY is clearly a woman’s picture. All the females have strong characters from the lead, to her fiercely independent mother to her school counsellor. The men on the other hand are idiots like Jim or have weaker characters like boyfriend Henry. Melville also appears to despise anything that has authority from school to organization (school) or structure (the band). It does not help that she fills the film with mostly self destructive characters.

               The film is neatly shot around Toronto, displaying the weeds and more rundown areas of the city. The music by the Elastocitizens aids in the creation of a more laid back atmosphere. The result is a small little film that demonstrates that the independent spirit can finally triumphant if one keeps one head tightly screwed on.

      

    QUALITY BALLS THE DAVID STEINBERG STORY (Canada 2013) ***

    Directed by Barry Avrich

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               Described in the documentary as a cross between Woody Allen and Lenny Bruce, on can therefore establish the talent, success and fame of standup comic, comedian and director of TV sitcoms like GOLDEN GIRLS, CURB YOUR ENTHUSIASM, MAD ABOUT YOU.

               Director Avrich’s doc paints a biased favorable look at David Steinberg. His personal history is a little brief. Nothing deep is delved into his personal life. His immigration from Russia to Winnipeg, Canada is mentioned, mainly as a joke together with the real influence on his comedic career when he and his family moved to Chicago where David is mesmerized by Second City performing. “I can do that,” he imagines, and does.

               In Avrich’s documentary, this man can do no wrong. He is portrayed as intelligent, educated, respectful and mostly funny. The film is packed with archival footage of his early days performing with The Second City in Chicago and his innumerable appearances on The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson. The film explores Steinberg’s tremendous influence on comedy. It was Steinberg, along with Richard Pryor and George Carlin, who transformed stand-up in the 1960s, turning it from the delivery of zingers to personal storytelling and social satire. A who’s who of famous comedians, which Avrich has provided as talking heads in the doc, includes Jerry Seinfeld, Larry David, Dave Foley and Norm Macdonald.

               But whatever complaint one may have on the thoroughness of the doc on the man’s life, QUALITY BALLS (the term conned by Seinfeld) will generate sufficient laugh-out loud moments from Steinberg’s material.

     

    BEST PICKS:

    Best Film Opening: LOVE IS ALL YOU NEED

    Best Film Playing: TRANCE

    Best Family: THE HOBBIT: AN UNEXPECTED JOURNEY

    Best Foreign: NO

    Best Doc: REVOLUTION

    Best Comedy: ADMISSION

    Best Action: PAIN AND GAIN

     

  • TIFF Cinematheque presents - Century of Chinese Cinema

    TIFF Cinematheque presents – Century of Chinese Cinema

    TIFF Cinematheque presents a whole range of Chinese films from China, Taiwan an Hong Kong in place of Summer in France and Italy this year.   The films include several different themes from the Golden Era of the 30’s and 80’s up to gangster films of the 2000’s such as INFERNAL AFFAIRS that went on to become Hollywood’s remake of Martin Scorsese’s THE DEPARTED that won the Oscar for Best Picture.

    The series runs from June the 5th to August the 11th.

    For the complete list of films, ticket pricing and screening dates, check the TIFF website at:

    www.tiff.net

     

    Courtesy of TFF Cinematheque, screeners and hence capsule reviews are provided for a total of 21 films outlined below.  This article will be updated frequently to include more reviews as this critic views the films.

    These films will be capsule reviewed.  Please check this page for daily updates.

    SONG AT MIDNIGHT (1937)                                Golden Era                  Jun 30

    SPRING IN A SMALL TOWN        (1948)             Golden Era                  Jun 25

    RED DETACHMENT OF WOMEN (1961)            New China                  June 9

    THE LOVE ETERN (1963)                                    New China                  July 13

    IN THE MOOD FOR LOVE (2000)                        New Directions           June 16

    KEKEXILI MOUNTAIN PATROL (2004)             New Directions           June 11

    VIVE L’AMOUR (1994)                                        New Directions           June 20

    A CITY OF SADNESS (1989)                                New Waves                 July 1

    ACTRESS (1992)                                                    New Waves                 June 22

    RED SORGHUM (1987)                                         New Waves                 July 14

    THE BLACK CANNON INCIDENT (1985)            New Waves                June 21

    THE HORSE THIEF (1986)                                    New Waves                 June 29

    THE STORY OF QIU JU (1986)                             New Waves                 July 14

    YELLOW EARTH (1984)                                       New Waves                 June 7

    DUST IN THE WIND (1986)                                  New Waves                 June 9

    36th CHAMBER OF SHAOLIN (1978)                    Swordsmen,                June 22

    A BETTER TOMORROW (1986)                            Gangsters and              June 8

    A TOUCH OF ZEN (1971)                                      Ghosts                          June 15

    FIST OF FURY (1971)                                                 "                              June 14

    INFERNAL AFFAIRS (2002)                                       “                              June 7

    POLICE STORY (1985)                                               “                              June 13           

     

     

    CAPSULE REVIEWS:

    (in the order of the list above)  

          

    SONG OF MIDNIGHT (CHINA 1937) ***

    Directed by Ma-Xu Webang

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                This Chinese version of Gaston Leroux’s Phantom of the Opera plays like an old silent movie complete with a familiar typical Hollywood musical score   A fighter of freedom, Song Danping is disfigured and loses the love of his life.  He tells her that he is dead but does not realize that the announcement of his death would drive her crazy.  When an opera troupe settles into the old theatre that he resides, he enlists the help of the lead singer to make communication again with her through teaching him with song.  Shot in black and white and scary atmospheric detail, this is one of those rare Chinese horror tragedies.  The film also includes a lot of propaganda which is quite laughable – Song teaches through his darkness that people should come out of the darkness and fight for freedom.  Still, this is a universally appealing tale that translates into quite the beautiful film.

    RED DETACHMENT OF WOMEN (China 1961) ****

    Directed by Jin Xie

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                RED DETACHMENT OF WOMEN has the feel of a propaganda communist movie right from the heroic folksongs to the romantic look of the communist troops liberating villages from the evil tyrants.  But propaganda movies can turn out quite entertaining as well – the British oldie WENT THE DAY WELL? and this little known Chinese gem being prime examples. This film is set in the 1930’s when warlords and rich landowners were ruling the oppressed poor.  A housemaid, Wu (Xijuan Zhu) has been beaten and jailed by villain Na (Qiang Chen) after trying to escape several times.  She is rescued by the leader of the first female army, Hong (Xin Gang Wan).  He frees her and she joins and becomes an important leader in the RED DETACHMENT OF WOMEN.  The film has lots of exciting battle scenes done without special effects.  With solid performances and excellent period atmosphere, director Xie’s film, propaganda or not, turns out to be quite compelling and entertaining at the same time.  The audience is also spared any ridiculous romance between Wu and Hong, making the film pure action drama.

    IN THE MOOD FOR LOVE (HK 2000) ****

    Directed by Wong Kar Wai

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    Wong Kar-Wai has been the Asian director to watch after his odd and stylized camerawork amazed critics in "Chungking Express".  IN THE MOOD FOR LOVE was originally to be shot as a low budget quickie, but the film ended up with a 14-month difficult shoot. The film is a period piece.  It is 1962 in Hong Kong. Mrs. Chan (Maggie Cheung) and Mr. Chow (Tony Leung) move into an apartment building. They discover that their respective spouses are having an affair. They become friends, face the facts and something deeper develops. The times change. There is more room for Wong to display his bag of tricks without getting into too much trouble with plot or structure. These tricks show up as the dance of a swaying ceiling lamp, a steaming kettle in the background of a scene with Mrs. Chan in the foreground or the slow-motioned drizzle of water on the street amidst Wong''s favourite Latin tunes.  The Chinese culture and period atmosphere are vividly captured.  Buying noodles by going to the store with a tiffin carrier, the courtesy offered by apartment neighbours and the mah-jong games are typical of the Chinese lifestyle at the time. And the dim lighting (many scenes lit by the ancient lamps), wardrobe (Cheung in dozens of beautifully made ''cheongsams'') and sets underscore the effect.  Wong knows exactly what he wants and he captures the mood and period of the lovers, with his camera that works like an extension of his inner being. Enjoyment of "In the Mood For Love" can be summed up in Maggie Cheung''s line after she pays a compliment on her boss'' tie, "You notice these things when you pay attention". The camerawork, techniques and storytelling that director Wong experiments with more than engages - it astounds and amazes.

    KEKEXILI: MOUNTAIN PATROL (China 2004) ****

    Directed by Lu Chuan

                A remarkable documentary styed action drama set in the harsh mountain ranges of Tibet, this film feels like a Chinese western, the type made by Sierra Leone.  The drifter in the film is a journalist who joins the mountain patrol hired by the government o stop antelope poachers.  But the poachers have murdered one of their won, so there is a personal vendetta involved.  The patrol drive out to the perilous terrain where they meet up an corner their enemy.  The film’s characters are as harsh as the terrain and what is seen on screen is totally expected in story or atmosphere.  Though the audience is clearly put on the side of the patrol, director Lu also offers the poacher’s points of view.  But what is missing is the Tibetan/Chinese conflict since the film takes place in Tibetan territory with Chinese characters.

    VIVE L’AMOUR (Taiwan 1994) ***

    Directed by Tsai Ming-liang

                VIVE L’AMOUR is the film that shot director Tsai and his muse Lee Kang-sheng) to fame.  The minimalist story concerns 3 urban drifters, real estate agent Mei (Yang Kui-mei) a street vendor, Ah-jung (Chen Chao-jung) who has an affair with her and gay cremation salesman, Hsiao Kang (Lee).  There is sex among the three in what is basically a very slow moving bedroom farce (or condo farce for that matter since most of the action takes place in a to be bought condo space).  Director Tsai has the uncanny ability to garb his audience with segments in which nothing happens – Hsiao Kang breaking open a watermelon with a pen knife, an extended crying scene at the climax, to mention a few.  Whether audiences will favour this art film is difficult to predict but what is on display here is originality, lots of emotion and very little dialogue.

    THE STORY OF QIU JU (China 1992) ****

    Directed by Zhang Yimou

                THE STORY OF QIU JU is one of Zhang Yimou’s best films and made at the height of mastery after RAISE THE RED LANTERN and JOU DOU. But unlike those two films, this one is a simple peasant’s story set in a village.  Qiu Ju (Gong Li) seeks justice after the village chief kicks her husband in the family jewels.  The chief is just fined when Qiu Ju goes to the city and even to the district.  She just wants an apology and no money while the chief refuses to apologize and lose face.  So, Qiu Ju is finally convinced to file a lawsuit in order to win her case, but this does not come without dire consequences.  The story is an excellent moral tale that debates right from wrong and questions the need to satisfy ones principles despite consequences.  Director Zhang realizes tis and les the strength of the story work its wonders.  Still ex-cinematographer Zhang manages to instill bright colours into this film such as the huge bunches of red chili peppers hung from the roof and the bright red clothes worn by the partygoers during the celebration of the one-month born baby.  The film also offers as a bonus, a realistic look and feel of rural China.

    YELLOW EARTH (China 1984) ***

    Directed b Chen Kaige

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    YELLOW EARTH is the first film by Chen Kaige (THE EMPEROR AND THE ASSASSIN) and shot by cinematographer Zhang Yimou before Zhang went to made hits like THE STORY OF QIU YOU, ZU DOU and RED SORGHUM.  Chen’s later films have always been problematic narrative-wise, so YELLOW EARTH with a very loose narrative seems to suit the director best.  Most of what transpires is told though images.  A soldier is sent to outer regions of Central China to collect folk songs from the poor, so that these can be written for moral boosting songs for the soldiers.  His travel brings him to a family in which he meets 14-year old Cuiqiao forced to marry an older man against her wishes.  He also connects with the slightly dim younger brother.  Cuiqiao wishes to join the female army but escapes crossing the yellow river at the end of the film.  The film contains lots of folklore, but these sound really strange to foreigners.

    DUST IN THE WIND (Taiwan 1986) ***

    Directed by Hou Hsiao-Hsien

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    Critically acclaimed early Taiwanese film from Master Hou Hisao-Hsien about a story of a young couple from a village in the northern-east part of Taiwan.  The boy, Ah-yuan goes to the capital of Taipeh to work after graduating from junior high school so he can earn money to send home. The girl, Ah-yun follows him the next year and they work hard to earn enough money to marry.  Then Ah-yuan gets the draft to spend three years in the military while the girl marries someone else.  Although Ah-yuan regrets (extended scene of him crying) what happened he does not blame Ah-yun.  Director Hou  givrs atmosphere and mood more emphasis than the narrative.  For example the information of the news of Ah-yun marrying someone else comes in the scene in a billiard room.  Ay-yuan’s military friends are playing pool and relay this information to each other while Ah-yan throws up in the back room.  The result is a film difficult to the point of annoying to follow, but this is more than made up by the film’s rich texture displaying the way of life of the rural Taiwanese.

    THE 36TH CHAMBER OF Shaolin (HK 1978) **

    Directed by Lau Kar-leung

                Kung Fu fight choreographer Lau’s fight extravaganza has lot of authentic fight sequences but is a narrative mess.  Less an action film that one that touts the art of Kung Fu, Lau’s film contains more sequences on the training of the hero, San Te (Gordon Liu) than him fighting the bad guys.  There are the various chambers such as the head chamber, the leg chamber, etc. etc. that Sun Te have to master before graduating as a Shaolin Master.  Upon completion, he tells the head that he wishes to be in charge of the 36th chamber which trains outsiders.  The head sends him away to collect tithes as punishment.  But as the weird plot goes, he founds the 36th chamber with new recruits and the head never complains any more.  The story and logic of the film make no sense nor is it consistent in is goal.  But the training sequences are nevertheless interesting to watch.  This is the result when you get a fighter who knows nothing about movies to make a movie!  The banner another Shaw Production appears at the end of the film.  This is the kind of action film Shaw Organization used to churn out of its studios every week.  They make money but most of them are rubbish!

    A BETTER TOMORROW (HK 1986) **
    Directed by John Woo

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                John Woo’s films are all style and show.  When someone is being shot or beaten up, the guy has to jump up in or turn a few rounds before falling down.  Subtlety is not his strong point or a strong narrative.  If one can accept those flaws, Woo’s A BETTER TOMORROW can be quite the delight.  Two brothers (Shaw Organization Studios’ Ti Lung sporting the most horrible haircut by a lead and Leslie Cheung) are on opposite sides of the law.  Their father dies as a result on the bad one’s bad activities and the cop cannot forgive the other one.  That is about it for the storyline.  Films from Hong Kong are normally available in two versions, Cantonese and Mandarin.  This film version dubbed in Cantonese is observable at one point when the choir is singing in Mandarin, as they cannot dub the song into Cantonese.  Lots of shouting, jumping and violence in what is a typical John Woo movie! (The last showdown scene has bodies sail;ing in the air and bodies flying when sho instead of just falling down.)  Note that this reviewer has never been a John Woo fan!

    A TOUCH OF ZEN (Taiwan 1971) *****
    Directed by King Hu

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    A TOUCH OF ZEN is the best swords saga ever made.  I should know as I grew up watching all the 70’s swordsplay flicks from Golden Harvest and Shaw Studios.  A TOUCH OF ZEN from Master director King Hu (DRAGON INN, SPIRIT OF THE MOUNTAIN) contains all the elements that make a perfect period actioner from the costumes, music, atmosphere, props and lighting.  The fight in the bamboo grove with the rays of sunlight shining through the trees is nothing short of spectacular as the night scenes by the dilapidated temple where just enough light is present to expose the characters’ faces.  Though basically an action film, the first fight scene does not occur till well into the first hour.  Director King Hu’s film is strong on narrative with sympathetic, identifiable characters like Ku (Chun Shih), a mamma’s boy who finally shows his true heroic colours after falling in love with a female fugitive, Yang (very popular actress of the time, Hsu Feng).  The females in the audience will also fall in love with this strong female character.  The climatic showdown at the end, full of suspense, action and special effects will leave audiences at the edge of their seats.  Ultimately, all this ties down to a love romance in which love conquers all.  The film won critical when first screened at Cannes and became the first Chinese action film ever o win a prize at Cannes.

     INFERNAL AFFAIRS (HK 2002) ****

    Directed by Andrew Lau and Alan Mak

                Arguably the best cop movie ever from Hong Kong and one that spun off two sequels INFERNAL AFFARIRS 2 and 3 and the Hollywood remake THE DEPARTED that went on to win the Oscar for Best Picture.  The film opens with the training at a police academy where on display are the recruits who are surprisingly all exceptionally good looking.  Two graduates are hired for life, one as a mole for the police to work in the Triads (Tony Leung) and the other, Lau (Andy Lau) in the police force itself while really an employee of the Triad boss.  Directors Lau and Mak take their work with dead seriousness, paying attention to detail from the execution of police procedures to the staging of busts and drug deliveries.  The result is a film so tense and involving that the audience easily overlooks the thin storyline.  The audience is brought to identify with both moles, no matter which side they are on.  The two moles are unaware who the other is and are ordered to flush the other out.  The film is also riddled with Buddhist messages such as continuous hell being the worse of hells.  But the film is more emotion than action packed with the audience faced with a compelling film from start to finish.

    POLICE STORY (HK 1982) ***
    Directed by Jackie Chan

                Jackie Chan took over as box-office Champion in the East after Bruce Lee passed away.  Though his films are mainly comical Kung-Fu with his first success being the drunken Master series, there is still plenty of action sequences and well choreographed fight segments.  POLICE STORY, directed by Chan himself is typical Chan fare – he has made a dozen or so similar films, entertaining, action packed, humorous with a light narrative and a little romance..  This time around, he is as a cop assigned to protect a key drug lord witness.  She refuses protection so, he arranges for his cop friend to pose as a killer.  Meanwhie, the drug lord alos assigns a killer to silence Salina Wong for good.   Lots of comical high jinx with a few inspired stunts like Chan hanging on to a swerving bus or a baddie flung down the escalator.   In the end, Chan gets to beat up the drug lord, his smart talking lawyer and his by-the-books sup, to the audience’s delight!  A crowd –pleaser!

  • Inside Out 2013 Film Festival

    INSIDE OUT 2013

    As spring arrives, so does the annual Toronto LGBT Film Festival. Now in its 23rd year, the festival celebrates the diversity of Toronto with the wide range of gay themed films from the world over. Running from May 23rd to June 2, there will be enough films to suit any taste.

    For complete information on Inside Out 2013, check the festival website at:

    www.insideout.ca

    Complete program description, show times and ticket pricing can be found there.

    A few of the films screened are capsule reviewed below:

    CAPSULE REVIEWS:

    COCKPIT (Sweden 2012) ***

    Directed by Martin Klingberg

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                This is not the first time a male has to cross dress to land a job.  Dustin Hoffman donned wig and dress to get a role in TOOTSIE and in COCKPIT, laid off pilot, Valle (transforming into a believable Maia) dresses up as the airline only hires female pilots.  Valle Andersson’s wife has left him and he has moved into his lesbian sister’s place.  But things get better when he lands the job or so he thinks.  COCKPIT also covers the agenda of female equality and a romance between Valle and a bi flight attendant who thinks Valle is a woman.  All this high jinx is actually quite funny with the film pulling up quite the few laugh out loud moments.  This comedy is perhaps the perfect outing for a group of friends at the Inside Out Festival.

     

    FOUR (USA 2012) **

    Directed by Joshua Sanchez

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               The title FOUR could be derived from the film’s setting, which is the evening of the 4th of July or the four characters that the story is about. The film, based on the play by Christopher Shinn follows two couples, one gay and one straight related by the fact that the girl, Abigayle (Aja Naomi King) of one couple happens to be the daughter of

    Joe (Wendell Pierce from THE WIRE) a middle-aged out on an internet date with a much younger white boy, June (Emory Cohen). In the mean time, Abigayle has sex with her smart talking half spic, half white boyfriend, Dexter who turns out to be more than she bargained for. Sanchez’s film moves at a snail’s pace with characters that brood too much for their own good. The young actors King and Cohen turn out more annoying than one can imagine. If only they can stop their whining and get a life! The lacks of a satisfactory ending does not help either. The film eventually turns out to be a complete waste of time about hapless characters no one really would care about.

     

    IN THE NAME OF (W imie…) (Poland 2013) **

    Directed by Malgoska Szumowska

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               Priest, Father Adam (Andrez Chyra), a closeted homosexual is given the task of looking after teens in a parish. It does not take a genius to guess that he will begin a sexual affair with one (Mateusz Kosciukiewicz) of them, stirring up trouble in the process. It takes the entire film for Father Adam to come to terms with his sexuality and landing up in bed (at least this is a highly charged sex scene). Nothing else happens in terms of the narrative. The result is a rather boring exercise punctuated with bouts of pretentious fare like renaissance paintings and pieces of art that cannot hide what the film lacks. Everybody knows that Catholicism and homosexuality do not mix and one need not have to sit through this film to enhance the fact. This film with lots of eye candy, has been chosen to be the Opening Film of the Inside Out festival this year. Appropriate perhaps, since the world got a new Pope this year!

    INTERIOR. LEATHER BAR (USA 2013) **

    Directed by James Franco and Travis Mathews

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               William Friedkin had about 40minutes of footage cut from his gay crime cop drama CRUISING in which Al Pacino played a cop going undercover in the gay community in order to solve some grizzly murders. In this documentary actor James Franco and filmmaker Travis Matthews film what they envision could have been cut out from CRUISING. This includes a really raunchy gay segment hat takes place in a sort of leather bath house with scenes that could have been taken out of a porn movie. The film takes a major segment of its time arguing the purpose of making this film. Most of the points that include showing the public what they are not used to seeing, displaying gay sex as it really is, to break the mould, so argues Franco to his disturbed actor playing the part of Pacino. Whether one agrees with Franco is another matter, but Franco clearly is determined to make his point. The film could be both described as exploitive or perhaps a freedom of film as an art form, but there is no doubt that this film will disturb and get the audience talking. But worst of all is an absolutely ridiculous segment with the actor playing Pacino coming to terms with his part in the film. Enough is enough! It is doubtful that Friedkin would have been this graphic in directing CRUISING.

     

    LOSE YOUR HEAD (Germany 2013) ***
    Directed by Stefan Westerwelle

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               LOSE YOU HEAD traces the misadventures of a disgruntled but generally happy young gay Spaniard, Luis ( a winning performance by newcomer Fernando Tieve) who crashes the Berlin club scene after a break up back home with his lover Marcos. Luis is naïve and inexperienced. He gets robbed, taken for a ride but his good nature brings out the good in people around him. He meets a dodgy Viktor (Marko Mandic) but their love/hate relationship leaves much to be desired. Still Luis remains faithful though it is doubtful what Viktor is up to. What starts off as an easy flowing narrative evolves into something more complex – a murder and disappearance in which nothing might appear as what it seems. Director Westerwelle’s film grows more intense and intriguing at the same time. The film is supposedly based on a true story of a young Portuguese which makes the film all the more scarier.

     

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