• This Week's Film Reviews (Oct 10, 2014)

    Big Films opening include DRACULA UNTOLD and ALEXANDER.  Other films opening include THE JUDGE and KILL THE MESSENGER.

    2 series continue at Bell Lightbox.  TIFF Cinematheque presents Godard Part 2 and Wes Craven.



    DIRTY WEEKEND (LE WEEKEND) (France 2013) ***

    Directed by Christophe Granier-Deferre


    DIRTY WEEKEND, originally titled LE WEEKEND sees some pretty nastiness covered up as mild comedy.  If the script or direction took the material into farcical territory, the film could have worked better.  

    The dirty weekend takes a romantic couple to Normandy, north of France.  But do not expect to see French Normandy as the action takes place at a cottage that could very well by anywhere in the U.K.

    On a ferry boat bound for France, Trish (Kristy Oswald), a 17-year old school girl is on her way to spend a long planned weekend away with her lover and history teacher Mike Mallory (Jamie Parker of THE HISTORY BOYS and VALKYRIE), 34 years old, yet still boyishly handsome.   This is underage pedophile territory, the subject often just dismissed as a laugh in the film.  After a short drive, the couple arrive at a small idyllic country house.  Taking a tour round the house, the romantic setting is suddenly shattered as the couple discover broken glass and muddy footprints.  They search the house for the intruder and finally find Vincent (Pierre Perrier), inside the bathroom.  He lies deathly still, eyes closed and has blood caked all over his forehead with an oversized duffle bag filled with cash by his side.  Trish wants to do the right thing, but Mike convinces Trish they should stash the money and destroy the bag it came in. Meanwhile Vincent wakes up – not dead after all, but wishes he was, until he remembers the money.

    The film appears to have a simple plot, but as the saying goes, the plot thickens.  Trish is pregnant unknown to Mike.  Mike had intended to murder her to save his reputation.  Mike blackmails Vincent to do the deed as he is too chicken for murder.  Gendarmes show up and in their own words, rather let them kill each off other than interfere.

    The script does not bother to explain in detail where the gold coins came from or how this good-looking Vincent could be such a cold blooded killer.  The script has to let the audience believe that any one of the three is capable of murder, given the right opportunity.

    The film is not half bad but the laughs are few and far between.  But there is one really funny line that Trish spurts out (will not be spoiled in the review) just before she hits Vincent with a shovel.  The many plot developments distract from the film’s lack of hilarity, so the film turns up quite watchable.  the film is available on VOD and DVD from October 14th, if one wants to spend a nice evening with murder on the menu.  The film is shot in English with a little French.

    (No trailer found)


    Directed by Gary Shore


    DRACULA UNTOLD begins with a lengthy voiceover of the origin of the monster imprisoned in a cave, while the Turks invade a Kingdom to force all the boys to fight for them.  Later, one of them, Vlad, the Prince returns to his Kingdom only to be invaded again by the Turks unless 100 more children are given to them for conquering new lands.   So this Prince (Luke Evans) enlists Dracula’s power to save his Kingdom.  But in the process, puts himself in grave danger of becoming the monster forever, unless he refrains from drinking blood again for the next 3 days.  The silly script just makes rules like these as the film trods along.

    Running at around 95 minutes, the film feels like 3 hours.  The IMAX gave me a big  headache rather than spectacle.

    The film also purports the origin of Dracula.  But Dracula existed before this story, so the heading is a misnomer.  But this is not the only thing terrible wrong with the film.  There is one scene in which the enemy Turks are all blindfolded and matched to fight because as the voiceover says, “You cannot be afraid of what you cannot see….”  Not only is this a load of illogical crap, but in the film’s next segment, what has been said is entirely forgotten and the blindfolds on the men are totally gone.  The film’s original running time according to imdb is 2 hours, so something must have been cut along the way without any due consideration for continuity.

    The film is deadly serious with the humour in unintentional lines like the one uttered by Vlad: “It’s not a child’s place to save a country.  I’ll find a way.”  Or the laughable message: “Those who love last forever!”

    The film’s main plus is the CGI special effects, which are abundant from start to finish.  But if one man (Dracula) can wipe out an entire army with his bats, then the suspense is non-existent.

    Worst still, the film plays with the vampire myth.  Sunlight still burns Dracula’s flesh, but not enough for him to die.  He can still cover up to fight and win.  Dracula is now with the werewolves able to be killed now by silver bullets.  And if a vampire sucks the blood of another human being, the human being does not transform into a vampire but dies unless he or she drinks the blood of another vampire.  And the vampire is a good guy.  And what happened to his original title of Count?  This want is a King.  King Dracula!

    Luke Evans probably got the job to play Dracula because of his past successes in FAST AND FURIOUS 6 as Toronto’s own Sarah Gordon got to play the Queen because of her good looks.  The usually good British actor Dominic Cooper (THE DEVIL’S DOUBLE, STARTER FOR 10 and MAMMA MIA!) cannot do much here to help but growl and look mean.

    DRACULA UNTOLD is a tale should have been kept untold. Why play with a myth that has worked for ages?  Especially when this film wants to fool round with it for no better reason than making a quick buck.

    Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_2aWqecTTuE


    Directed by Felix Herngren


    Likely the longest title of a film released this year, this Swede box-office success is every senior’s wet dream of an adventure.  Allan Karlsson (Robert Gustafsson) escapes from a senior home only to embark on a series of outrageous adventures only outdone by his earlier adventures in real life when younger.

    THE 100-YEAR-OLD MAN WHO CLIMBED OUT OF THE WINDOW AND DISAPPEARED is about Allan Karlsson.  After a long and eventful life (told in flashbacks), Karlsson ends up in a nursing home after blowing up the fox that killed his cat, believing it to be his last stop.  The only problem is that he is still in good health, and that the days are getting tedious.  When the celebration of his 100th birthday approaches, which Allan is uninterested in at all, he decides to escape his boring everyday life.

    The film requires a bit of credibility on the audience’s side.  But since this is a fairy tale for the seniors, one can forgive the incredulous events.  He climbs out of a window and a series of events embarks him on a hilarious and entirely unexpected journey, involving a gang of criminals, murderers, a suitcase stuffed with cash, an elephant and an incompetent policeman.  His encounters, past and present include Allan’s ride on a 40-year old elephant, killing a rude punk with a mallot, saving Franco’s life, designing the atomic bomb and making away with 50 million cash.  Besides meeting Franco, Allan also met President Harry Truman, Stalin and believe it or not, Albert Einstein’s idiot brother, Herbert.

    It would be the adventure of a lifetime for anyone else, but to Allan it is just ordinary life.

    The film contains lots of quotable lines like” “Never talk too much,”, “Never plan anything,” “I eat, sleep and blow things up,” which are even funnier when heard in context of the film.

    Director Hengren stays away from sentimentality and lets the tale, based on the bestselling book by Jonas Jonasson takes its course.  It is a film that celebrates life with the message of not taking life too seriously.  Those that plan in the film do not make it.  The heroes are the ones like the guy that never finished his studies or the girl that stole the abused elephant from the circus as it was the right thing to do.

    Many critics will likely dismiss the film as forgettable whimsical nonsense.  But the film has already played 40 countries and grossed $50 million and a sequel is being considered.  There are not many films made these days that celebrate seniors.  This is one of them and should be enjoyed by everyone over the age of 60 or even earlier.

    Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6SEiaODjTZw

    THE JUDGE (USA 2014) **

    Directed by David Dobkin


    The film starts off and spends quite a bit of time investing in the lead, Chicago defense attorney Hank Palmer’s (Robert Downey Jr).  He is shown at the court washroom pissing on the prosecutor's pants, smart talking, overconfident and always right.  If one can tolerate that behaviour throughout the film as well as Downey’s over confident performance, THE JUDGE might be a treat.

    This is the story of the prodigal son who made good in law and came back home to defend his father Judge Joseph Palmer (Robert Duvall) from a hit and run.  The father and son relationship is as much the key issue as the trial.   But the dysfunctional familial drama suffers from the usual stuff - over doting grandchildren, sour wife, current swing with old girlfriend (Vera Farminga) and so on.  The silly sub plots of the challenged youngest brother with the camera and his sleeping with who cold be his possible daughter lengthens the film already too long 140 minutes running time.

    Dobkin’s (WEDDING CRASHERS) film is not short on subtlety.  It cannot be more drilled into the audience of the two highly different paths the father and son have taken that a wide shot be taken of the two walking opposite directions after coming out of their car.  Again in another highly charged argument scene, the judge and son walk out into gale winds, the ferocity of which reflects their anger.  But it then turns funny, with the prosecutor’s (Billy Bob Thornton) collapsable compact coffee mug, signifying that he can squash his opponent's defence away.

    But worse is Downey’s outburst in court when he finally breaks down.  His character is allowed to go on rambling in court, a procedure no presiding judge would allow.

    The big plus of the movie is Duvall’s brave performance as the ageing judge trying to  keep his honour and dignity something his son and the script will not allow him to keep.  The bowel loosening segment also serves to remind everyone in the audience what each has to go through with his/her parent eventually.  It is only when Duvall and Downey have it out that the film comes alive.

    The courtroom scenes are shot (example: from low so as to see Downey’s head and the ceiling fans of the court room) as if this film is going to be a courtroom classic like TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD.  The film plays overconfidently just like the Downey character.  It turns out that THE JUDGE is just a poor man’s courtroom drama mixed with too much melodrama.

    Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-qlSOBDWeO8

    Directed by Michael Cuesta


    KILL THE MESSENGER is an issue film directed by Michael Cuesta (L.I.E.) and based on the true story of Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative reporter, Gary Webb (two-time Academy Award nominee Jeremy Renner, THE HURT LOCKER and THE BOURNE LEGACY).  Based on the book of the same name by Nick Schou as well as Webb’s own book Dark Alliance, the film is pretty much a Renner vehicle, with him appearing in almost every scene, doing the acting honours as well as serving in the executive producer’s chair.  His clout likely helped the film attain an impressive all-star cast that includes Barry Pepper, Michael Sheen, Oliver Platt, Andy Garcia and Ray Liotta among others.

    Webb stumbles onto a story which leads to the shady origins of the men who started the crack epidemic on the nation's streets...and further alleges that the CIA was aware of major dealers who were smuggling cocaine into the U.S., and using the profits to arm rebels fighting in Nicaragua.  It is the conspiracy theory brought out into the open by a guy who needs to do what is right, despite all costs.

    The film displays a lot of passion as evident in Renner’s acting.  But despite the controversial nature of the material, the film fails to make the lasting impression it so strives for.  For one, the script by Peter Landesman has too many items on its plate.  First of all, it deals with the crusader Webb fighting not only the CIA but all the top honcho journals like the Washington Post, LA Times who do not want to see his small news agency get the credit for the story.  So, naturally when they use their powers to tear apart Webb’s story (breaking his sources), Webb has to face his own editor, Anna (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) and her boss Jerry Ceppos f(Platt).  Never mind, Webb has his family to deal with - his neglected wife, Susan (Rosemary DeWitt) and three sons.  The film also goes into detail of how he got the information by flying to Nicaragua and finding all the sites for flying the drugs as all as the people involved with the trafficking.  Webb also wins the Pulitzer Prize.  His speech makes the film’s climax.

    In short, the film deals with the workings of the news agency, a man’s fight for his conscience to do right, the CIA conspiracy, drug trafficking and family relationships (husband and wife/father and son).

    Renner resolves to too many gestures in his acting to get his point across.  For example in his Prize acceptance speech, he flicks on and of his glasses and even turns his back to his audience before facing them again.   And the speech on what good reporting does has already been drummed into the audience.  Director Cuesta also shoots the climatic speech scene like a sports game - editing the speech with shots of his boss’s face, then his enemies, then his family’s and back to him and the game.

    But when the film’s climax is overshadowed by the end credit shots of the real Gary Webb, one knows the film has not lived up to expectations.  “Some stories are too true to tell”, is the warning Webb gets at one point in the movie.  But at least the story is told and despite the film’s flaws, this story is one that deserves to be heard.

    Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VW4XO-52ubE


    Best Suspense: Gone Girl

    Foreign: The Notebook (Le Gran Cahier) (Hungary)

    Action: The Equalizer

    Drama: Mommy

    Family: The Boxtrolls

  • TIFF Cinematheque Presents - Wes Craven

    WES CRAVEN - Dreams, Screams and Nightmares

    Wes Craven, Master of the Macabre and Father of Freddy (Nightmare on Elm Street films), receives a TIFF tribute with this series that includes the modern horror classics A Nightmare on Elm Street, The Hills Have Eyes and Scream.  Along with George A. Romero, Tobe Hooper and John Carpenter, Craven helped reshape the American horror film not only through the intensity of his imagery, but the intellectual depth he brought to a once disreputable genre.

    Even though audiences flocked to Craven's films for the surface pleasures of gore, shocks and suspense — and make no mistake, he's a master of all these modes — it was the imaginative hold that the films exerted over their psyches that kept them coming back. Tapping into some of our most potent primordial fears — particularly, in his iconic dream-haunting ghoul Freddy Krueger, the childhood terror of falling asleep — Craven also explored numerous social, philosophical and intellectual themes in his work. Whether it be the suburban nightmare of child abuse in A Nightmare on Elm Street, the condemnation of nuclear testing in The Hills Have Eyes, the satire of Reagan-era rapaciousness in The People Under the Stairs or the playful and provocative deconstruction of the horror genre itself in Wes Craven's New Nightmare and Scream, in Craven's hands he horror film is far, far more than disposable entertainment.

    Presented almost entirely in 35mm prints, this series brings the work of a true American master back to the big, bloody screen where it belongs.

    (Above writeup taken from: tiff.net Programmer’s Essay in the Wes Craven series.)

    (Credit: Todd Brown)

    Capsule Reviews of three films from the series:

    THE HILLS HAVE EYES (USA 1977) ***

    Directed by Wes Craven


    Remade in 2006 which spawned a sequel after, Wes Craven’s 1977 original THE HILLS HAVE EYES is the cult cheap horror classic that delivers scares, violence and gore perfectly.   the victims are the Carter family traveling on vacation, towing a travel trailer from Ohio to Los Angeles; parents Bob (Russ Grieve) and Ethel (Virginia Vincent) are driving, accompanied by their teenage children Bobby (Robert Houston) and Brenda (Susan Lanier), eldest daughter Lynne (Dee Wallace), Lynne's husband Doug (Martin Speer), their baby daughter Katie, and their dogs, Beauty and Beast. They stop at Fred's Oasis for fuel, and Fred urges them to stay on the main road.  Later, they skid off a desert road and crash, due to what is later revealed to be a booby trap, and Bob walks back to Fred's Oasis to get help.  The predators are an incest family that aim among other things, to have the baby for dinner.  Craven utilizes the surroundings for maximum effect - Doug tossing rocks from the hill at his predator; a snake’s bite used to save a victim and falling off the top.  But still, this is a predictable slasher film with the slasher given many lives before being destroyed.


    Directed by Wes Craven


    Surprisingly effective horror slasher film with sufficient camp humour to both entertain and scare.  The only known name actor is Ving Rhames who is done with early in the film.  The main hero is a black boy, the actor playing him likely costing peanuts.  Poindexter Williams (Brandon Adams), known as "Fool", is a resident of a Los Angeles ghetto.  He and his family are being evicted from their apartment by their landlords, the Robesons.  Leroy (Rhames), a professional criminal, suggests to Fool that they rob the Robeson's residence for money.  They break into the house and discover people under the stairs.  It is an outrageous story involving incest, cannibalism and more.  The Robesons believe in ‘see, hear and do no evil’.  So, they butcher their children’s tongues and imprison them in the cellar.  One got away and is hiding in the walls of the house.  Only Alice (A.J. Langer) is allowed to roam the house as she says and hears nothing.  Craven incorporates another incest crazed family similar to he one on THE HILLS HAVE EYES.  Craven also brings in problems of the ghetto with a current film that climaxes with pyrotechnics and all the evil destroyed.


    SWAMP THING (USA 1982) **

    Directed by Wes Craven


    SWAMP THING is a homage to the dc comic books and the monster/mad scientist low budget B-horror films of the 50’s.  Alice Cable (Adrienne Barbeau) is a government agent sent to replace a man who has disappeared while guarding a secret experimental lab in the middle of the Louisiana bayous.   Comically and out of place dressed in heels and a skirt, Cable professes unease at her strange new surroundings, but she is soon wooed by Dr. Alec Holland (Ray Wise). Holland is working on a concoction that combines plant and animal cells.  Arcane (Louis Jourdan) is the criminal mastermind who is trying to steal the secret recipe for the potion.  Dr. Holland is killed and accidentally doused with his own formula and bursts into flames, then dives into the swamp, transforming into the SWAMP THING.  The film is unintentionally hilarious.  It is not easy to make a horror film with a man in a monster suit playing the monster and the villain (Jordan) speaking with a French accent.  It does not help either that the monster is the good guy helping Alice against the bad guys.  The monster is also invincible able to survive bullets and grenades.  So-so entertainment but Craven has made better films.

  • This Week's Film Reviews (Oct 3, 2014)

    Big Films opening include GONE GIRL and MEN, WOMEN & CHILDREN.  Other films opening include TUSKMY OLD LADY and MOMMY.

    2 series begin at Bell Lightbox.  TIFF Cinematheque presents Godard Part 2 and Wes Craven.



    GONE GIRL (USA 2014) ****
    Directed by David Fincher


    This is a film eagerly awaited by the critics, as GONE GIRL is a mystery suspense thriller in the same vein as the director’s best and most critically acclaimed movie SE7EN.  GONE GIRL is based on the 2012 novel of the same name by Gillian Flynn who also wrote the screenplay.

    The film is divided into days that make the event.  The titles that appear on screen indicate that.  The film can also be divided into 3 parts, the first when Amy goes missing, told primarily from Nick’s point of view.  Then the second, though there is an overlap in time from Amy’s point of view, and the third when Amy and Nick are in the picture.  The first part is titled as the dates, July 5, July 6th etc, the second as day gone 1 day gone 2 and the final as day back 1 etc.  A nice trick here devised by the titling department should not go unnoticed just as the product placements (e.g. Netflix) subtly included in the film.

    The trailer of GONE GIRL indicate only very little of the story.  So, unless one has read the book, a lot of the film’s enjoyment derives from not knowing the rest of the plot.  (So spoiler alert: Spoiler is outlined in red in the next paragraph.)  The brief first part of the story goes like this.  Nick Dunne (Ben Affleck) returns home the late morning on July 5th, the day after his wedding anniversary after drinks at his bar that his sister (Carrie Coon) bartends only to find his living room ransacked and wife, Amy (Rosamund Pike) missing.  As news spreads, things do not look good for Nick.  He become suspect for the murder of his wife.  Detective Rhonda Boney (Kim Dickes) and Jim Gilpin (Patrick Fugit) form a good pair of investigating detectives, a kind of good cop, bad cop variation.  The plot thickens quite the bit.  Director Fincher pulls a plot twist  ever so often with the story heading towards a whole different direction.

    Affleck delivers an impeccable performance - able to show how to pretend to act and to be actually not pretending as he goes on camera in the film.  But it is Tyler Perry (the MADEA films) who steals the show as Nick’s Defence Attorney, Tanner Bolt with his cynical and confident outlook of the case.  It also helps that the script gives him the best lines.  Rosamund Pike does not fare that well in a really difficult role.  She has to pass off as a totally intelligent psychopath that can switch from a Dr. Jekyll to Mr. Hyde.  She accounts for a few of the film’s unintentional laughs.  The script by Flynn also does not give her character consistency  For someone who has so cleverly masterminded her own disappearance, she is not smart enough to prevent herself from the obvious - getting robbed in her motel room by her new white trash girlfriend (Lola Kirke) and her boyfriend (Boyd Holbrook).  Even the audience could see that coming.

    At one point in the film, a stranger points at Amy in disguise: “I think I know you.”  Fincher should not have to resort to cheap shots like false alarms to shock the audience.  However, there is one scene in which the question is asked “Does Missouri have the death penalty?”  The answer comes 30 minutes later into the film, which is quite clever.

    Fincher also directed the hit films THE SOCIAL NETWORK, FIGHT CLUB and THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO.  Though GONE GIRL is not the perfect film with a few flaws, it still stands as one of the more memorable mystery suspense thrillers of 2014.

    Trailer: http://www.imdb.com/video/imdb/vi2583211289

    KITE (USA 2014) **

    Directed by Ralph Ziman


    A live adaptation of the anime film which is based on the 10-year old anime of the same name by Yasuomi Umetsu, KITE plunges the audience in the over-used apocalyptic landscape in which post-finance, security and order have collapsed.  The hero or heroine of the piece is Sawa (India Eisley), beautiful but emotionally detached, who lives a secret life as a covert assassin.  The daughter of a police detective involved in the investigation of human trafficking, she was orphaned at the tender age of 12 when an unknown assailant targeted both of her parents.  Now 18, Sawa is a human time-bomb undercover, intent upon eliminating members of the flesh-cartels whom she presumes murdered her family—men who exploit the defenceless children of a collapsed society for the pleasure of high-paying, foreign clients.

    Though girl action heroines were rare only a few years back, they have recently saturated the big screen with films like LUCY and KICK-ASS which has a heroine closer in age to Sawa.  In fact, Eisley bears quite the resemblance in looks and body to Chloe Grace Moretz.   Female acton heroines have never been that popular, as is evident in flops like SUPERGIRL AND CATWOMAN.   There needs another edge (LUCY has her increasing the capacity of the brain’s utilization) to keep audience’s interest.

    But KITE offers nothing new.  The surroundings and atmosphere are grey and bleak, looking like any apocalyptic horror film such as the RESIDENT EVIL films.  The occasional set deign (at the film’s start for example) impresses.  Samuel L. Jackson, though always a welcome entry this time as Sawa’s quirky boss offers nothing really new either.  He is not as mean, edgy or violent as in his other roles, particularly UNTHINKABLE.

    The result is a very average film in a well worn genre.  But anime diehards might be pleased.  The film is dedicated to David Ellis of SNAKES ON A PLANE the original director chosen for the film but died prior to the film’s start.

    The film has a limited run at the Royal Cinema in Little Italy, Toronto.

    Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=l0l7uphJ-Wg

    MOMMY (Canada 2014) ***1/2

    Directed by Xavier Dolan


    Xavier Dolan (J’AI TUE MY MERE, LAURENCE ANYWAYS, TOM A LA FERME) returns with another emotionally drama about a mother and son.

    The niche in the film is that Dolan has shot the film in a 1:1 screen ratio, a narrow frame that intensifies any dramatic motion.  Close-ups are aplenty and any emotional scene is heightened.  Lots of shouting, letting loose and a bit of domestic violence like slitting of wrists re allowed.  There are two occasions when Dolan widens the screen, when things appear king rosy for his characters.  The best segment in MOMMY is the one in which MOMMY freaks out, just like the best one in LAURENCE ANYWAYS when the woman protagonist freaks out as well.  Dolan does well in the film, as h has polished his material and his art.

    Dolan does not star in this film.  He gives the young acting honours to Antoine-Olivier Pilon who does a pretty good job as a emotionally challenged boy.

    At times, the film feels like a personal battle between mother and son, sort of like WE NEED TO TALK ABOUT KEVIN, but Dolan style.

    Steve (Pilon) is a troubled teenager.  When his mother, Diane (Anne Dorval), picks him up from a government institution to care for him at home, it is an act of deep maternal commitment — and a huge risk.   Although he can be sweet as an angel, Steve is volatile.   As Diane tries to manage her son's mood swings at home, it's clear that she's not exactly serene either.   A working-class Quebec woman with a messy personal life, she's barely keeping it together.   So when their shy neighbour Kyla (Suzanne Clément) takes an interest in mother and son, a surprising trio develops.

    All three actors deliver intense performances.  Quebec star, Patrice Huard (STARBUCK) has the small role of Paul, a lawyer.  The story leads to a dead end with little joy in between.  So, don’t expect a feel good Dolan film, though there exists moments of warmth.  The same can be said of his other 4 features.

    Dolan shared the Special Jury Prize at Cannes for MOMMY.  Is MOMMY a masterpiece or classic?  No, but his fifth film is still a pretty well made, intense film.  Dolan has not really covered any new territory with the subject matter.  In fact the film could also be called J’AI TUE MON FILS.   Dolan is more controlled and the film contains no bouts of cinematic excesses.  It is a character driven film, extremely well acted but not an easy watch.

    Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=d7rtSqI0ZeA

    MY OLD LADY (USA 2014) **
    Directed by Israel Horowitz


    MY OLD LADY is 70’s playwright Israel Horowitz’s directorial debut.  To get a perspective of his film effort, it would be good to bear in mind that the man has written seventy odd plays including the screenplays for the films AUTHOR! AUTHOR! and SUNSHINE.

    It is understandable that his film often feels stage bound,  There are two segments near the end where the actors go at each there.  One can imagine a stage being in right in front in place of the screen.  Horowitz does not modify this play much to take the action out to the open.  All we seen are the surroundings outside the flat.

    It all begins when New Yorker Mathias (Kevin Kline) journeys to Paris after learning that he has inherited a spacious apartment from his estranged father.  Mathias hopes to liquidate his new property and return home, but his plan hits a snag when he discovers that the elderly Mathilde (Maggie Smith) and her daughter (Kristin Scott Thomas) are inhabiting the space and have no inclination to leave.  The apartment, he learns, is what the French call a viager, which, in accordance with centuries-old tradition, will not revert to his possession until its present occupant passes away.  But Mathilde is 90 and totally healthy.  As he attempts to sell his contract — and even resorts to blackmail — to profit from a losing deal, Mathias comes to learn more about Mathilde, and his father, than he'd ever intended.  Yes, Mathilde and Mathias, the closeness in names indicates she is his real mother.  But things get worse.  He sleeps with the daughter after being warned and then worries if there is a possibility of incest.

    It does not help that this is a film based on quite the nasty play.  The characters are not nice people at all.  They go at each other’s throats, sleep around, attempt suicide and do the worst in order to survive.  The play has hardly a happy moment, so it is a not a pleasant sit-through for the tim either.  Though advertised as a comedy drama. the comedy is caustic at most.

    The one thing Horowitz gets right is the casting for the film.  Kevin Kline (Oscar winner for A FISH CALLED WANDA), Maggie Smith (Oscar winner for THE PRIME OF MISS JEAN BRODIE) and Oscar nominee Kristin Scott Thomas (THE ENGLISH PATIENT) are all excellent.  Kline does Jack Lemmon, only less annoying.  In fact in certain segments, the similar  looks to Lemmon are uncanny.  Smith is just wonderful as usual, looking really frail playing a woman of 90 (10 years over her age), but she still gets ones blood flowing when she tells the Kline character off.

    One wonders of Horowitz’s purpose of writing a play such as this one that has no message and displays the worse in people.  Fortunately, Thomas, Kline and Smith rise above their material but is is still not good enough a reason to sit through the film.

    Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qucX6pdg36Q

    TUSK (USA 2014) **

    Directed by Kevin Smith


    Popular podcast Wallace Tusk, note the name, (Justin Long) gets transformed into a walrus in this odd horror mix comedy from writer/director Kevin Smith (CLERKS, DOGMAN RED ALERT).

    Wallace (Justin Long) co-hosts a popular podcast in the U.S. with his pal Teddy (Haley Joel Osment), focusing on cruel, mocking cringe humour as part of their mission to keep it "real and raunchy."    Unfortunately their real and raunchy turns out to be silly and unfunny.   After his trip to Winnipeg to interview the "Kill Bill Kid" — a teen whose unfortunate samurai-sword video has gone viral — comes up empty, Wallace decides to make the trip worth his while and find a good story north of the forty-ninth parallel.   A handwritten flyer he finds in a pub bathroom leads him to a grizzled old swab (Michael Parks) full of tall tales to share from his life of adventure at sea .

    This is where Smith’s film turns into a horror movie as Wallace’s voyage to the Great White North descends into straight-up madness.

    Though Smith is no stranger to comedy. TUSK demonstrates how difficult it is to elicit laughs.  The first 15 minutes generate not even a chuckle less a smile.  Smith allows what is supposed to be a funny comedic duo, the podcasts to have their time, but - no funny!  Even the viral Kill Bill Kid episode on the internet, supposed to be laugh out loud hilarious is pitiful.

    Smith’s idea of podcasters being allowed to say anything or show anything uncensored is not a new idea.  The Trailer Park Boys’ film SWEARNET dealt with the similar theme. But Smith’s idea of infusing the horror theme and the Canadian Great White North running joke including a cameo from SCTV’s Martin Short to provide other themes does not help the film either.  His wry observations of Canadian culture have already been used in other films.  But the convenience store segment where Canadian meets American is quite funny.  But the film’s laugh out loud parts can be counted on the fingers of one hand.

    The funniest bit in TUSK is the character of ex-cop Guy Lapointe (played with comedic gusto by Johnny Depp).  A side joke is that Lapointe is also the name of hockey player defence man for the Montreal Canadiens.   Depp, speaking in a Quebecios accent is given lengthy nonsensical monologues which allows him to demonstrate the phrase ‘chewing up the scenery'.

    The walrus make-up is intentionally funny but a little scary as well, Smith probably glad with the combination of the horror comedy concept.

    Kevin Smith has made one of the funniest films ever DOGMA which is also his best film.  The humour, jokes and intelligence of DOGMA is oddly completely missing in TUSK.

    Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=83rI4jPlsJ0



    Best new Film Opening: Gone Girl

    Best Suspense: Gone Girl

    Foreign: The Notebook (Le Gran Cahier) (Hungary)

    Action: The Equalizer

    Drama: Mommy

    Family: The Boxtrolls

  • TIFF Cinematheque Presents - Godard Part 2


    The massive second half of our Godard retrospective traces the French New Wave master's journey from the political turmoil of May '68 to this year's elegiac Adieu au language.

    Warning: His second half is to so narrative based and might be a burden to comprehend, though many will argue that one needs to work ones pleasures.  But the Master is working at his eccentric peak, so it will not be empty viewings.

    PASSION (Switzerland/France 1980) ***

    Directed by Jean-Luc Godard


    PASSION begins with a trail made in the sky by a plane followed by a woman in a factory pushing a cart on a trailer followed by a girl on a bicycle holding on a car door and trailing it.  Godard plays parallel images while telling simultaneous stories, woman about to be laid of at work (Isabelle Huppert), unsympathetic boss (Michel Piccoli), tried relationships, filmmaker running into financial difficulties for directing a film on painting by Goya without a story and so on.  Not all these make sense in the entire picture - but this is Godard, full of teasing and playfulness.  PASSION contains the making of the film of the same name.  The lighting is never ok; the budget is way over; the girl is too beautiful for the scene and the director, Jerzy (who looks like Godard with his glasses) who has lost focus in making his film says its hard making a film that shows nothing.  Godard also provides his thoughts on dialogue which may be deemed a prologue to his latest film ADIEU AU LANGUAGE.

    PRENON CARMEN (France/ 1983) ***

    Directed b jean-Lu Godard


    This is typical Godard.  Multiple stories are loosely intercut into a single film with no clear narrative.  Lots of Godard’s musings are interspersed with the proceedings (sayings like: If money is worth shit, then the poor will have no assholes) with anything happening according to the world of Godard.  This time around, the Godard like director (there is often one in a Godard film), Uncle Jeannot is played by Godard himself.  He sleeps in a hospital hoping to keeping staying there free by having a temperature which he thinks he can get by putting his fingers up the nurses’ ass.  But the main protagonist is Carmen X (Maruschka Detmers), a female member of a terrorist gang.   She asks her Uncle Jeannot, the washed-up film director if she can borrow his beachside house to make a film with some friends, but they are in fact planning to rob a bank. During the robbery she falls in love with a security guard, Joseph (Josep Bonaffe), begging a love/hate relationship.  The film intercuts between Carmen's escape with the guard, her uncle's attempt to make a comeback film, and a string quartet attempting to perform Beethoven.  All the nonsensical action culminate in a shoot out at a posh hotel.  Very amusing or annoying, depending on whether one likes Godard or not, but the film did win the Golden Lion at the 1983 Venice Film Festival.


    France/Germany/Austria/Switzerland 1979) *** Directed by Jean-Luc Godard


    Godard’s first second film, as stated by the director himself, whatever that means.  Godard is a complicated filmmaker and it is difficult attires to know what he is trying to say.  It does not tell that he doesn’t care what people think.  The three lead characters are Isabelle, a prostitute (Isabelle Huppert), Denise (Nathalie Baye) and Paul Godard (Jacques Dutronic).  The film charts the different combinations of the three.  Co-written by Godard with the Paul character an extension of himself, it is a beautifully shot film though one should not expect a story in a Godard film.  he one scene involving Isabelle working as a prostitute deserves mention.  It works lie a option picture put together, analyzing each movement, then adding components, then sound and then putting it all together.  Godard uses different filming techniques like slow motion, jump edits, freeze frames to accentuate different parts of the story.  Baye is wonderful winning the Best Supporting Cesar for her role in this film.


    The massive second half of our Godard retrospective traces the French New Wave master's journey from the political turmoil of May '68 to this year's elegiac Adieu au language.

    Warning: His second half is to so narrative based and might be a burden to comprehend, though many will argue that one needs to work ones pleasures.  But the Master is working at his eccentric peak, so it will not be empty viewings.

    PASSION (Switzerland/France 1980) ***

    Directed by Jean-Luc Godard


    PASSION begins with a trail made in the sky by a plane followed by a woman in a factory pushing a cart on a trailer followed by a girl on a bicycle holding on a car door and trailing it.  Godard plays parallel images while telling simultaneous stories, woman about to be laid of at work (Isabelle Huppert), unsympathetic boss (Michel Piccoli), tried relationships, filmmaker running into financial difficulties for directing a film on painting by Goya without a story and so on.  Not all these make sense in the entire picture - but this is Godard, full of teasing and playfulness.  PASSION contains the making of the film of the same name.  The lighting is never ok; the budget is way over; the girl is too beautiful for the scene and the director, Jerzy (who looks like Godard with his glasses) who has lost focus in making his film says its hard making a film that shows nothing.  Godard also provides his thoughts on dialogue which may be deemed a prologue to his latest film ADIEU AU LANGUAGE.

    PRENON CARMEN (France/ 1983) ***

    Directed b jean-Lu Godard


    This is typical Godard.  Multiple stories are loosely intercut into a single film with no clear narrative.  Lots of Godard’s musings are interspersed with the proceedings (sayings like: If money is worth shit, then the poor will have no assholes) with anything happening according to the world of Godard.  This time around, the Godard like director (there is often one in a Godard film), Uncle Jeannot is played by Godard himself.  He sleeps in a hospital hoping to keeping staying there free by having a temperature which he thinks he can get by putting his fingers up the nurses’ ass.  But the main protagonist is Carmen X (Maruschka Detmers), a female member of a terrorist gang.   She asks her Uncle Jeannot, the washed-up film director if she can borrow his beachside house to make a film with some friends, but they are in fact planning to rob a bank. During the robbery she falls in love with a security guard, Joseph (Josep Bonaffe), begging a love/hate relationship.  The film intercuts between Carmen's escape with the guard, her uncle's attempt to make a comeback film, and a string quartet attempting to perform Beethoven.  All the nonsensical action culminate in a shoot out at a posh hotel.  Very amusing or annoying, depending on whether one likes Godard or not, but the film did win the Golden Lion at the 1983 Venice Film Festival.


    France/Germany/Austria/Switzerland 1979) *** Directed by Jean-Luc Godard


    Godard’s first second film, as stated by the director himself, whatever that means.  Godard is a complicated filmmaker and it is difficult attires to know what he is trying to say.  It does not tell that he doesn’t care what people think.  The three lead characters are Isabelle, a prostitute (Isabelle Huppert), Denise (Nathalie Baye) and Paul Godard (Jacques Dutronic).  The film charts the different combinations of the three.  Co-written by Godard with the Paul character an extension of himself, it is a beautifully shot film though one should not expect a story in a Godard film.  he one scene involving Isabelle working as a prostitute deserves mention.  It works lie a option picture put together, analyzing each movement, then adding components, then sound and then putting it all together.  Godard uses different filming techniques like slow motion, jump edits, freeze frames to accentuate different parts of the story.  Baye is wonderful winning the Best Supporting Cesar for her role in this film.

    SYMPATHY FOR THE DEVIL (France 1968) **

    Directed by Jean-Luc Godard


    The title of the film is also the piece the Rolling Stones are recording in a London sound studio.  Godard travelled to London after May 1968’s protests in Paris to film the Stones.  So one an naturally expect the controversial vociferous director to put his mark on this then new film.   He intercuts the film’s recording of the Stones with a scene involving a camera crew following a woman about, played by Anne Wiazemsky in a yellow peasant dress, in an outdoor wildlife setting, and no matter what she's asked, always answers "yes" or "no". As can be seen from the chapter heading to the scene, she is supposed to be a personification of democracy, a woman named Eve Democracy.   Interwoven through the movie too, are outdoor shots of Black Panthers milling about in a junkyard littered with the rusting cars heaped upon each other. They read from revolutionary texts (including Amiri Baraka) and toss their rifles to each other, from man to man, as if in an assembly line, or readying for an impending battle. A group of white women, apparently kidnapped and dressed in white, are brutalized and ultimately shot, off-camera; their bloody bodies are subsequently seen in various tableaus throughout the film.  If all these sound confounding, they are.  And it can be very infuriating.  So be forewarned!  Rubbish or acceptance of Godard’s occasional incomprehensible musings - that is up to the viewer!

    TOUT VA VIEN (France/Italy 1972) ***
    Directed by Jean-Luc Godard and Jean-Pierre Gorin


    TOUT VA BIEN (Everything is Fine) is one of the more accessible of Godard’s work in this series.  It is also the most entertaining, funny and colourful.  If you want to see a non confusing Godard film, this is it.  The film centers on a strike at a meat factory which is witnessed by an American reporter (Jane Fonda) and her French husband (Yves Montand), who is a commercial director.   There is always a film director in a Godard film, sort of representing the director himself.   The film has a strong political message which outlines the logic of the class struggle in France in the wake of the May 1968 civil unrest.   It also examines the social destruction caused by capitalism.   The audience is always reminded that they are watching a movie.  The performers like the director and the head of the workers union speak at length to the camera.   The factory set consists of a cross-sectioned building (see film image above) and allows the camera to dolly back and forth from room to room, theoretically through the walls.  Godard’s message is for once, clearly audible and understood by the audience.

    - Gilbert SEAH -

  • This Week's Film Reviews (Sep 26, 2014)




    THE BOXTROLLS (USA 2014) ***1/2

    Directed by Graham Annable and Anthony Stacchi


    THE BOXTROLLS is the eagerly awaited animation 3D fantasy from Liaka (PARANORMAN, CORALINE) based on Alan Snow’s novel “Here Be Monsters”.  From the first shot, the animation is top notch with the atmosphere and feel of a gothic British hamlet.  All the accents are British, which might be a problem for young children to understand.  But it works!  (Who cares about the little brats, anyway?)

    It seems that way in the film too.  The baby boy, Eggs (Isaac Hempstead-Wright) is stolen by the Boxtrolles while the daughter, Winnie (Elle Fanning) of the town mayor and the leader of the white hats (Jared Harris) is constantly ignored by him.

    The film tells the story of an orphaned boy named Eggs (Isaac Hempstead-Wright) who was raised by underground cave-dwelling trash collecting trolls called the Boxtrolls. The Boxtrolls are targeted by an evil exterminator named Archibald Snatcher (Ben Kingsley) and Eggs has to save his family from Snatcher.

    The script by Irena Brignull and Adam Pava stays away from any romance between Winnie and Eggs.  They are just good friends.  But clearly missing from the script is goofy humour which is the key feature often in the making or breaking of an animated feature.  Don’t get me wrong.  There are funny comedic set-ups, many of which are slapstick and inventive.  But the manic humour say in SHREK or ARTHUR CHRISTMAS is clearly missing.

    The best thing about the film is the character of Archibald.  He covets the white hat and eating fromage in the special ‘tasting’ room.  Unknown to him and hidden from him by his henchmen, is the fact that he is extremely allergic to cheese, breaking out immediately into swelling and bumps as brilliantly animated in the film.  It is ironic that he wants something so bad his body rejects it.

    Ben Kingsley and Wright are excellent in their voice characterizations.  Other well known names in the cast include Toni Collette, Simon Pegg, Nick Frost and director Richard Ayoade (THE DOUBLE and SUBMARINE) though their voices are hardly recognizable.

    The city that the animation takes place is given the name Cheesebridge, which looks very British.  The name is also appropriate as cheese is loved there.  But the atmosphere could be stolen from the film CHITTY CHITTY BANG BANG.  When Archibald hunts the boxtrolls, it is very similar to the child catcher hunting down children in the country of Vulgaria in CHITTY CHITTY BANG BANG.

    Stop motion animation is a very painstaking process compared to CGI animation.  The directors ensure the audience is aware.  During the closing credits, the voiceover announces it takes days to shoot the blinking of an eyelid.  But it pays off.  It is the stop motion animation and stunning visuals that make THE BOXTROLLS.  By the way, there are boxtrolls in the real world.  But they are given another name - raccoons.

    Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Y9-Df4ITW7o

    Directed by Hamish Hamilton, Katy Mullan


    DAVID BOWIE IS HAPPENING NOWis a documentary film of the groundbreaking ‘David Bowie is’ exhibition created by the Victoria and Albert Museum, London (V&A).  This exhibition continued in Toronto and then goes off to Brazil and to the rest of the wold.  The exhibition features a remarkable collection of photographs, stage costumes, and other rare possessions from the David Bowie Archive.  Why the hype?   besides the super star himself, the exhibition was the fastest selling in the V&A's history.

    The film takes the audience on an extraordinary journey through the David Bowie is exhibition with special guests including legendary Japanese fashion designer Kansai Yamamoto, Pulp front-man Jarvis Cocker, and other collaborators, to explore the stories behind some of the key objects that document Bowie's artistic career.  The exhibition curators, Victoria Broackes (with glittered dress and visage earrings and immaculately suited Geoffrey Marsh, provide fascinating insight into the most memorable music videos and original costumes, as well as more personal items such as never-before-seen handwritten lyrics, album cover artwork, set designs and diary entries, which reveal the creativity and evolution of Bowie's ideas.

    Bowie only appears in one segment talking to the audience about his work.

    As for performances, there are sufficient to satisfy his music fans including the one performed after the 9/11 bombing.  For film fans, Bowi’s most iconic film, Nicholas Roegs’ THE MAN WHO FELL TO EARTH is talked about and brought into perspective by a film historian.  The only film clips are taken from Jim Henson’s LABYRINTH in which Bowie plays the Goblin King.

    True David Bowie fans would be ecstatic at the chance of watching this documentary on What David Bowie Is.  One cannot complain about the doc as it achieves directors Hamilton and Mullan’s aim at - which is to inform and exhilarate Bowie’s fans.  For all others, the 90-minutes make up just another information session.

    The exhibit is presently at the MCA in Chicago until January 4 2015.  Going to the actual exhibit would be a better but for the rest, the film is the alternative.

    Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vItKeQzN0pk

    THE EQUALIZER (USA 2014) ***
    Directed by Antoine Fuqua


    THE EQUALIZER is so called because if someone has a problem, if the odds are stacked against them and if they have nowhere else to turn,  McCall (Denzel Washington) will help.  Therefore he is called The Equalizer.  In other words, just as in the terminator films, he terminates.  Denzel Washington inhabits the terminator role.  Director Antoine Fuqua’s (TRAINING DAY) film has hardly any narrative or story but plays like a terminator or action hero film.  Those who like stylish action (like the John Woo films) will find THE EQUALIZER pleasing.

    Not much background is given on the equalizer’s (Washington) background.  He is an ex-ops killing machine and has been left alone to lead a new life.  After witnessing a sex worker, Alison (Chloe Grace Moretz) beaten up, he ties it to the the Russian mobsters and takes it to teach those responsible a lesson.  But he has to deal with another killing sadistic machine, Teddy of the Russian Mafia (Marton Csokas).  That is as much as the story goes.

    As is typical in action pics the killings must be savage and stylish.  Fuqua repeatedly does close up of McCall’s eyes, then cuts to the tattoos and markings of the Mafia, then fast forwards to the killings.  The climatic confrontation scene is done in a home improvement warehouse, complete with sprinklers spraying water after an explosion and the killings executed in slow motion.

    But for all the well executed pumped up action scenes, Fuqua removes one from the movie.  (Perhaps it will be available on DVD release in the deleted scenes section.)  One shot has McCall removing a giant hammer from a rack and then replacing it later.  It is assumed that he has entered the robber’s house and retrieved the stolen goods from the robber after using the hammer.  There is another odd segment that suffers from continuity.  It has McCall in the bathroom heating up honey to tend his wounds.  I have never heard of this one before.  The scene before did not emphasize that McCall was hurt either.  So, Fuqua’s film is not without flaws, though one might argue that the high octane action scenes might make one forgive him for them.

    Washington plays a general action hero role in the film.  Moretz’s role is really small in this film, despite her getting almost top billing.  Csokas (New Zealand actor who was in the Lord of the Rigs films) is sufficiently menacing.

    At least the audience is spared from listening to any song that singer/songwriter wannabe Alison has done.  The first meeting between Alison and McCall involving Hemmingway’s Old Man and the Sea metaphor is explained too much, as if audiences know nothing about literature.

    Antoine Fuqua offers his audience nothing new in the genre except for his personal style, which is a combination of what other action directors have done.  To his credit, he knows how to pump up the audience’s emotions in the confrontational scenes, which are many.  THE EQUALIZER was exciting for the first half or so before turning into predictable fare.  The action segments are brutal and bloody enough to satisfy action fans.  But there should be more to movies than recycled rubbish.

    Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jAI7rF0eQyQ

    FRONTERA (USA 2014) ***

    Directed by Michael Berry


    Written and directed by Michael Berry, FRONTERA is a film that pits fate against the goodness of human nature.  It seems that Murphy’s Law rules Berry’s script but the goodness of the heart of the protagonist saves the day.

    The film is no LONE STAR, the excellent film by John Sayles on the similar theme of Mexican/American racial problems.  But films on this topic are rare and make FRONTERA a welcome film.

    Set in the tumultuous Border area of Arizona and Mexico, FRONTERA follows the events that take place after a former Arizona Sheriff's wife, Olivia (Amy Madigan) is killed while riding on their Ranch property.  It would appear a Mexican man, Miguel (Michael Pena) crossing in to the US illegally is at fault.  As former Sheriff  Roy (Ed Harris) and current Sheriff, Randall Hunt (Aden Young) search for answers, Miguel is caught and jailed.

    Complications arise.  It is Randall’s son who is involved in the accident of the killing.  Miguel’s pregnant wife, Paulina (Eva Longoria) leaves Mexico to help her husband but is kidnapped and violated by ‘The Coyote’.  Yes, a bit too much occurs in the short span time of the film’s 105 running time.  The film lacks any character development with the result of it feeling ‘hollow’ at times.  But the script turns to the good and common sense of Roy who sets the record straight in the toast third of the film.

    Ed Harris delivers the excellent performance needed to carry the film.  His role is so opposite the racist one he had in Louis Malle’s ALAMO BAY.  His real wife Amy Madigan does an impressive job in the short span of time she is on screen.

    The film cottons a few loose ends.  Nothing is explained of what happened to ‘The Coyote’ or of Miguel’s friend after being caught at the road block.

    The film is a timely piece dealing with problematic unsolvable issues.  The film shows that there are bad and good people on each side of the border.  And it is a  fine line of why will prevail - good or evil.

    Berry cannot resist the segment of American Roy and Mexican Miguel shovelling shit out of the stable, the obvious metaphor for two races working together to clean out their troubles.

    The film has a nice taut twist ending, which will not be revealed in this review.  Though it is a bit far-fetched, the ending is still a good shocker.

    Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6Fl6iBQPjqc

    THE NOTEBOOK (LE GRAND CAHIER) (Hungary/Austria/Germany/France 2013) ****
    Directed by Janus Szasz


    THE NOTEBOOK has nothing to do with the Ryan Gosling Rachel MacAdams romantic weepy, in fact it is quite the opposite.  It is a feel-bad film that will make one squirm in ones seat.  The French title LE GRAND CAHIER goes with it as the film is based on the novel by Hungarian novelist Agota Kristof who wrote it in French.

    THE NOTEBOOK feels like the Grimm’s fairy tale Hansel and Gretel.  But with twins played by Laszlo and Andras Gyemant.  They are sent by mother and father to their evil grandmother’s (Piroska Molnar) farm at the endue of the Hungarian German border to survive World War II.  No one in the story has a name.  Mother is called mother or bitch, father called father, the granny called witch for she had poisoned her husband who she still curses and the children termed bastards.  All this should be taken all in good fun, with a big lump of salt.

    On day one at the farm, the twins are left outside the house, hungry and cold.  Only when they make up their minds to chop wood does the witch allow them into the house for some food.

    Following their father’s instructions, the twins record everything that happens in a notebook, decorating it with line drawings and dead insects. They also institute a regimen of exercise and self-punishment, beating each other with sticks and belts and going for days without food.

    One must hand it to director Szasz for keeping his film compelling.  The story is not short of fascinating or horrible people.  There is the gay Nazi Officer that is also a pedophile.  He saves the boys’ lives so he can’t be all that bad.  There is the neighbour’s girl called harelip for obvious reasons who steal to support her blind and eat mother.  Coming into the picture too, is a pro-Nazi girl who is horny as hell wishing the tins were older.  All these incidents occur one after another, so that there is not a boring moment.  If the film looks a bit like the other horror-kid’s Michael Hanake film THE WHITE RIBBON, it is because the two films share the same cinematographer.

    The film contains lots of irony and satire for those who like this sort of thing.  The liberators are shown to be worse than the Nazi occupiers.  The grandmother that is the most detested at the beginning is eventually taken care of by the twins.  Even the audience would have a change of heart for her.

    All the events, characters, atmosphere and setting make excellent cinematic fare.  The film had been selected as HuIt might be deliberately too grim a movie but one can never tell.

    Watch the awesome trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XmAxu0kLRg8


    PRIDE (UK 2014) ***
    Directed by Matthew Warchus


    What happens when the group your group is raising money for does not want it or anything to do with your group?

    The two groups under attack here are the striking Welsh miners and the gays and lesbians.  The latter group decide to support the former to show what it is like to be under fire.  But not all agree as miners have been known to beat up certain queers in the group.

    The contrast between the two highly different groups - one solidly male machosistic and the other flamboyant makes the brunt of the film’s jokes.  The sudden break out into dance of one of the gay members, Jonathan is singled out to be a highlighting moment in the film.

    It is 1984 Thatcher’s Britain, a ragtag band of activists from London’s queer community form an unlikely, anti-Thatcherite alliance with striking Welsh miners.  As new wave music had taken over the clubs, Thatcher's government was battling mining unions, and London's queer communities were perfecting artful activism.  Into that mix walks Mark (Ben Schnetzer).  Out, proud, and always ready for a righteous battle, he can't accept that any one form of oppression should outrank another.  The LGSM (Gay and Lesbians Support Miners) activists crash into small-town South Wales (Brechan Beacon) in their brightly painted communal bus.   They meet a the hard-working Welsh woman whose support group holds the community (Oscar nominee Imelda Staunton) together, a forward-thinking union organizer (Paddy Considine),the local pub historian.  (Bill Nighy) among others.

    The mining village overcome their homophobia while the gay activists have to get over themselves.

    The 80’s when it was a tough time.  Gays were looked upon as perverted and disgusting.  It was also the era of the beginning of AIDs.  The Pride Parade was less a parade than a march, many joining in the march to show that make a stand as a gay person.   But as well-intentioned as Warchus’s film is, it looks like he is aiming for the good feel of THE FULL MONTY or KINKY BOOTS.  The result is a tivialization of the many issues of the day.  It is puzzling how comedic set ups like the one with the old ladies laughing at porn and their discovery of a dildo in hotel room has to do with the film.

    The 80’s  period atmosphere is effectively created without waste of money.  Props like the look of the clothes, use of print photos and dialogue show that there is no need to have expensive 80’s cars on the streets (in bigger budget movies) to evoke the 80’s.

    The script is also too eager to please.  Most of the members of the LGSM group are given romances.  Each is also given a happy ending.

    There is one scene in a gay London drag club where the straight Welsh union organizer is about to be introduced.  The drag queen gets up to the mike and screams: ‘Shaddupp, you fuckers,” before introducing him.  This raw spontaneous humour is what is more needed in this film.

    Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rThtRkV2Pyc


    Best Suspense: The Drop

    Horror: The Notebook (Le Grand Cahier)

    Action: The Equalizer

    Foreign: Snowpiercer (South Korea)

    Family: The Boxtrolls

  • This Week's Film Reviews (Sep 12, 2014)


    Films opening this week are THE DROP, DOLPHIN TALE 2 and LITTLE TERRORS



    A DOLPHIN TALE 2 (USA 2014) ***
    Directed by Charles Martin Smith

    The sequel to A DOLPHIN TALE made in 2011 revolves around more true stories from Clearwater Marine Aquarium, including both Winter (from the first film) and the baby dolphin, Hope.  Winter is still be the central dolphin character in the film, now fitted with the prosthetic tale that saved her.  Her companion has passed on due to old age and Winter needs another female companion.  Enter a rehabilitated dolphin Mandy but hopes are dashed at her being Winter’s companion after Clearwater Marine Aquarium successfully releases her back into the wild.  They find another damaged dolphin ‘Hope’ which is Winter’s last chance or she would be deported.  Like the first film, director Charles Martin Smith (NEVER CRY WOLF) based his script on real events that have occurred at the aquarium. 

    The human elements are the two returning lead characters, Sawyer (Nathan Gamble) and Hazel (Cozi Zuehlsdorff), who know what is like to lose a parent.  The Aquarium/marine hospital is run by Dr. Clay Haskett (Harry Connick Jr.) with his father (Kris Kristofferson).  Sawyer is offered a scholarship which his mother Lorraine (Ashley Judd) wants him to accept.  But Sawyer is more concerned about being there for Winter who has become more and more aggressive.

    Like A DOLPHIN TALE, the sequel is well made animal (or mammal) family fare.  Messages are there - like moving on after being too comfortable at one place, care for the injured (both dolphins and humans) and the importance of family values.  The camera work and editing are well done so it is difficult to tell when a different dolphin is used to film certain scenes.

    The two kid actors Zuehlsdorff and Gamble are truly believable as growing teens torn between their love for dolphins and their careers.  The script moves away from any budding romance between the two  One close kiss is interrupted by the sudden appearance of Dr. Haskett and another is prevented by the swimming dolphins.

    The only flaw is the story’s predictability which could be forgiven given the film’s good intentions.  The film deals with issues too mature for children under the age of 5 to understand, though the film tries its best at including very young children in it - like the very young girl who first notices the injured Hope at the start of the film.   DOLPHIN TALE 2 should still be a hit at the box-office given its family target audience and it being wholesome entertainment for the family.

    Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ztM-ajPfcfs

    THE DROP (USA 2014) ****
    Directed by Michaël R. Roskam

    A random bar is picked at a random day for the purpose of what is termed THE DROP.  Money from questionable sources are dropped several times at night and collected once done.  All this is explained via voiceover by Bob Saginowski (Tom Hardy).  “All I do is tend bar and wait!”  Bob remarks.

    What happens during one of these days is that the bar gets robbed.  Marv (James Gandolfini), the bar owner warns the robbers of what they are doing.  What transpires is a slow but effective tension build up to the film’s climax.

    The film’s climax does not deliver in terms of action sequences but does in terms of plot twist and shocks.  But Roskam’s build up of tension during the entire film is nothing short of amazing.

    Director Roskam rose to fame years back with his Oscar nominated Belgian film BULLHEAD which had a similar dark thriller theme.

    Tom Hardy looks perfectly like the corner neighbourhood bartender.  His appearance and mood indicate pent up anger.  For one, he attends mass religiously but never takes communion.  His humanity is lightened when he starts taking care of a beaten up puppy who he affectionally names Rocco.  Noomi Rapace plays Nadia, the slightly nuanced girlfriend while Gandolfini proves once agin he is always good in everything he is in.  This is his last film with the film dedicated to him.  Matthias Schoenaerts (BULLHEAD, RUST AND BONE) is also particularly menacing as a local hood.

    The film is based on the book “Animal Shelter” and one can see the humour in this when one views the film.

    One odd thing about the film is the disappearance of New Year’s Eve.  The film begins on the 27th of December and at another point in the film, Nadia wishes Bob a Happy New Year.  NYE is a big celebration everywhere and did the two spend NYE alone?

    Roskam’s film has an underlying violence.  Each character is well written from Bob to Marv to Nadia and each has some skeleton hidden in their closet.  The local cop (John Ortiz) is much smarter than he lets up.

    For film critics, we do very much the same job as Bob. We watch movies and wait.  Fortunately for THE DROP, the waiting in this otherwise slow-paced  movie pays off.

    Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7lCiDIcqMe0

    LITTLE TERRORS (Canada/India 2012) **

    Directed by Maninder Chana

    The reason this 2012 film took two years to reach theatres could be the other Indian film THE RELUCTANT FUNDAMENTALIST that dealt with a similar theme and more effectively released in 2012/2013.

    The plot involves a 13-year-old American boy recruited by terrorists to bomb a U.S. embassy in Delhi.   His brother had already killed himself as an unsuccessful suicide bomber.  After being brainwashed he is sent to live with a Muslim family prior to the attack.  The film’s third act takes an odd turn with the man harbouring him convinces the boy not to go through with the bombing.

    In LITTLE TERRORS, it is a terrorist who turns to the other side while in THE RELUCTANT FUNDAMENTAL , it is the other way around.  Unfortunately, it is not less interesting to show a terrorist converted, and director does not do that good a job.  Chana spends the first half of the movie with the boy trained to be a suicide bomber and the other half convincing the boy to do the opposite.  Her film, naturally does not turn out convincing.  The terrorist cell training looks like a poor man’s Shao-Lin Kung fu training monastery from a bad Shaw Brothers movie.  The film also ends with a hollywood style chase that runs in contradiction to the otherwise serious tone of the film.

    Performances are passable at best.  Veteran Om Puri lands a hand but has only a small role as leader Abdul Kamil.

    LITTLE TERRORS turns out to be a false alarm.

    Best Film Opening: The Drop

    Comedy: 22 Jump Street

    Action: Transformers: Age of Extinction

    Foreign: Snowpiercer (South Korea)

    Doc: An Honest Lie

    Romance: The One I Love

  • African Movies at TIFF


    Far From Men

    Beyond the Lights
    Dir. Gina Prince-Bythewood

    A rising young musician (Gugu Mbatha-Raw,Belle) falls into a passionate love affair with the cop assigned to protect her (Nate Parker), in this moving and inspirational romance from writer-director Gina Prince-Bythewood (Love & Basketball).

    Sat. Sept. 6 | Winter Garden Theatre | 6PM
    Sun. Sept. 7 | Scotiabank 12 | 8:30PM 


    Dir. Céline Sciammae

    Céline Sciamma (Water LiliesTomboy) returns to the Festival with this raw, raucous but tender look at a group of black high school students living in the tough banlieues of Paris.

    Tue. Sept. 9 | Scotiabank 2 | 8:45PM
    Thu. Sept. 11 | TIFF Bell Lightbox 3 | 9AM
    Sun. Sept. 14 | Scotiabank 3 | 9:30PM 

    Infinitely Polar Bear

    Infinitely Polar Bear

    Dir. Maya Forbes

    A loving husband and father struggling with manic depression (Mark Ruffalo) is forced to raise his two young daughters on his own, in this moving and inspirational drama based on writer-director Maya Forbes' own childhood experiences.

    Wed. Sept. 10 | Roy Thomson Hall | 6:30 PM
    Thu. Sept. 11 | Winter Garden Theatre | 12:30PM

    May Allah Bless France

    May Allah Bless France
    Dir. Abd Al Malik

    French rapper, author, and spoken word artist Abd Al Malik makes his directorial debut with this adaptation of his 2004 autobiography, chronicling his upbringing in the crime-and drug-ridden streets of Strasbourg and his life-changing encounters with hip hop and religion.

    Sat. Sept. 6 | TIFF Bell Lightbox 2 | 10:15PM 
    Mon. Sept. 8 | Bloor Hot Docs Cinema | 4:15PM
    Sat. Sept. 13 | TIFF Bell Lightbox 2 | 9:15PM


    Dir. Szabolcs Hajdu

    A mysterious wanderer (Isaach De Bankolé) settles into a strange homestead on the parched Hungarian plains populated by an odd assortment of outcasts, in this stunning, dreamlike reverie from ambitious director Szabolcs Hajdu.

    Fri. Sept. 5 | TIFF Bell Lightbox 2 | 6:45PM 
    Sat. Sept. 6 | Isabel Bader Theatre | 1: 45PM
    Wed. Sept. 10 | Scotiabank 8 | 9:15PM

    Murder in Pacot

    Murder in Pacot
    Dir. Raoul Peck

    In the aftermath of the 2010 earthquake, a middle-aged Port-au-Prince couple come face to face with the stark contradictions of Haitian society when they are forced to rent out their villa to a foreign aid worker and his enterprising local girlfriend.

    Fri. Sept. 5 | Isabel Bader Theatre | 6PM 
    Sun. Sept. 7 | TIFF Bell Lightbox 3 | 10:45AM
    Sun. Sept. 14 | TIFF Bell Lightbox 3 | 9:30AM

    National Diploma

    National Diploma
    Dir. Dieudo Hamadi

    Director Dieudo Hamadi follows a group of teenagers in his hometown of Kisangani in the Democratic Republic of Congo, whose struggles to pass the state exam that is the key to their future are further complicated by their country's endemic culture of corruption.

    Thu. Sept. 11 | TIFF Bell Lightbox 2 | 8:30PM
    Fri. Sept. 12 | AGO Jackman Hall | 9AM
    Sun. Sept. 14 | Bloor Hot Docs Cinema | 3:15PM

    Second Coming

    Second Coming
    Dir. Debbie Tucker Green

    A married, middle-class London couple (Nadine Marshall and Idris Elba) are shocked when they seem to have been blessed — or cursed — with an immaculate conception, in the provocative second feature by award-winning British playwright Debbie Tucker Green.

    Sun. Sept. 7 | TIFF Bell Lightbox 2 | 9PM 
    Tue. Sept. 9 | Scotiabank 3 | 9:45PM
    Sun. Sept. 14 | TIFF Bell Lightbox 3 | 6:45PM


    Dir. Abderrahmane Sissako

    Following the recent jihadist takeover of northern Mali, a proud cattle herder comes into fateful conflict with the fundamentalist rulers of the provincial capital, in this luminous, lyrical and poetic drama from the great African filmmaker Abderrahmane Sissako.

    Tue. Sept. 9 | TIFF Bell Lightbox 1 | 6:15PM
    Fri. Sept. 12 | TIFF Bell Lightbox 1 | 2PM

    Top Five

    Top Five
    Dir. Chris Rock

    Written, directed by, and starring Chris Rock, Top Five tells the story of New York City comedian-turned-film star Andre Allen, whose unexpected encounter with a journalist forces him to confront both the career that made him famous and the life he left behind. Starring Chris Rock, Rosario Dawson, J.B. Smoove, Gabrielle Union, Tracy Morgan, Cedric the Entertainer, Kevin Hart, Jerry Seinfeld, Adam Sandler, Whoopi Goldberg, Sherri Shepherd, Jay Pharoah, Anders Holm and Michael Che. And featuring music by Questlove.

    Sat. Sept. 6 | Princess of Wales | 10PM
    Sun. Sept. 7 | Princess of Wales | 12PM
    Sat. Sept. 13 | Ryerson Theatre | 9PM

  • This Week's Film Reviews (Aug 29, 2014)

    Films opening this week are THE CALLING, THE CONGRESS and LIFE OF CRIME.



    TIFF Cinematheque is running a Robert Altman retrospective and a series on 'sequels'.

    THE CALLING (Canada 2013) ***

    Directed by Jason Stone


    (In THE CALLING, Topher Grace plays a gay detective rookie in Hamilton, Ontario.)

    Based on the novel by Inger Ash Wolfe, THE CALLING sees veteran female detective Hazel Micallef (Susan Sarandon) solving a series of murders in a small town.

    The Coen Brothers’ FARGO immediately comes to mind.  But both are highly different films, the only common thread being the female detective in a small town.

    The small town in question is Port Dundas (now incorporated into Hamilton) a few hours drive from Toronto.  This is a Canadian made and Canadian set story, with murders taking place in all the different provinces of Canada.  It appears that the killer is fulfilling a higher calling, and hence the film’s title.  The result is a mixed horror detective film.

    The story is nothing out of the ordinary.  In fact, the script by Scott Abramovitch contains nothing that audiences have not seen elsewhere before.  Detective Hazel is a hard-drinking detective with a large skeleton in the closet.  She defies her superiors, disobeys orders and obviously does not go by the book in solving her case.  She is aided by veteran Detective Ray Green (Gil Bellows) who goes by the book and an eager new recruit from Toronto, Ben Wingate (Topher Grace).  A mother (Ellen Burstyn) daughter relationship is thrown in as a side plot.

    But it is great to see Sarandon deliver an Oscar winning performance in a Canadian film.  She also has the choice lines in the film including the words: “f*** you!”  Donald Sutherland lands his hand as an elderly priest who helps in the case.

    The timeline in Hazel’s solution of the case is only indicated by the seasons.  But we see only one winter scene - the murder and the dogs eating a victim’s stomach on a frozen pond.  So, it is assumed the story takes place within a year.

    Director Stone does not shy away from violence.  There s one scene that will a lost guarantee the audience turn away.  (I did, and I can normally take a lot of on screen violence.)

    It is surprising that director Stone executively produced the hit Seth Rogen comedy THIS IS THE END.  THE CALLING is downright dead serious, like FARGO without the humour.  But it is is not a bad movie and though a bit slow moving, THE CALLING is an absorbing watch from start to finish.

    Trailer: (No trailer can be found)

    THE CONGRESS (France/Lux/Israel/Germany/Belgium/Poland 2014) **
    Directed by Ari Folman


    Directed by Ari Folman (the equally compacted and animated WALTZING WITH BASHIR), THE CONGRESS is a mixed live action and animation fantasy abut a utopian society acing conscience issues.

    The star of this movie is Robin Wright who bravely carries the film against all odds.  She delivers a performance in which she is unafraid of growing old (in one interview she confesses she never pumps Botox into her face) though she looks much older abated than in real life.  Wright plays a version of herself with her real past as her roles in THE PRINCESS BRIDE bringing hr fame in this story.

    It all begins with Robin Wright (Wright herself) decides to take her final job: preserving her digital likeness for a future Hollywood.  Through a deal brokered by her loyal, longtime agent (he always excellent Harvey Keitel) and the head of Miramount (name is conned from Miramax and Paramount, obviously) Studios (Danny Huston), her alias will be controlled by the studio, and will star in any film they want with no restrictions. In return, she receives healthy compensation.

    The film then shifts to 20 years later and into full animation.  This is when director Folman goes crazy with his philosophy animation the film fails. Whatever intrigue was initially generated is dispersed as the audience realizes that whatever happened to Robin Wright has already occurred in animation and stop action animation.  Only the public still wants the old actor in person.  When Forman takes his film one step further with Wright being offered to become a product, one can only wonder what else Folman ma be thinking.

    The romance and animated sex scene between Wright and Joe Hamm feels uncomfortable and unnecessary.  Ad why is Wright he only actress targeted.  There are man others more famous than her in the field.  (Unless they all use Botox)

    For those who love to recognize film references, there are many for example the coloured pills in THE MATRIX and the riding of the attic bomb in DR. STRANGELOVE.  The Futurological Congress is also populated by the likes of an animated John Wayne, Tom Cruise, Conan O’Brien, Gandhi and even Hitler among others.

    THE CONGRESS ultimately gets bogged down by Folman’s over ambitious animation, messy story-telling and often incoherent ideas.  Instead of his film heading towadsan exciting climx, its gets more boring towards the end.

    Trailer: http://thecongress-movie.com/watch-the-trailer.htm?lng=en

    LIFE OF CRIME (USA 2013) ***

    Directed by David Schechter


    The plot: the wife of a wealthy man is kidnapped but he does not want to pay the ransom.  This is not the first film to be based on this premise.  Bette Midler made her big comeback in RUTHLESS PEOPLE playing one such unfortunate wife who was left in the kidnapper’s basement only to lose weight and get fitter with the exercise equipment there.

    But LIFE OF CRIME, based on Elmore Leonard’s book ‘The Switch’ is no comedy though dark elements of humour are present. The kidnapped is Mickey (Jennifer Aniston) who is just about to be served divorce papers by her husband, Frank (Tim Robbins reprising his obnoxious husband role from SHORT CUTS) when she is kidnapped.  The unlucky kidnappers are Louis (John Hawkes) and Ordell (Mos Def) with a hired Nazi helper hand, Richard (Mark Boone Jr.).

    The story works for Leonard’s colourful characters.  Director Schechter is bright enough to realize this.  So he shifts focus from one (or one group) to another.  The film begins centring on Louis and Ordell before shifting to the dysfunctional marriage of the Dawsons.  Surprises are always on the horizon with the husband cheating with Melanie (Isla Fisher) who is clearly not just a supporting character as envisioned when she first appears.  Mickey is no angelic wife either, cheating on the side.  The all-star cast inhabiting these roles fare pretty well, delivering caustic yet sympathetic characterizations.

    Double crossing, a key element in Elmore Leornard’s books is also present here.  But there is a lower body count though a little violence is still present that ups the angst in the film.  The introduction of a crazed gun-totting peeping Tom (Richard) who has his eye eventually burnt by a cigarette is a nasty but welcome treat.

    With a good solid story with plot twists, real life imperfect characters and a solid moody atmosphere, LIFE OF CRIME is a worthy Elmore Leonard adaptation.

    Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xnaI-w8h8Ls

    SWEARNET: THE MOVIE (Canada 2014) ***
    Directed by Warren P. Sonoda


    This is officially not THE TRAILER PARK BOYS sequel.  This is the premise and the script is written by the infamous trio: Fed up with being censored in their post-Trailer Park Boys lives, the out of work stars/world-renowned 'swearists', Mike Smith, Robb Wells and John Paul Tremblay decide to start their own uncensored network called ‘swearnet’ on the internet.

    It is a simple story that sounds pretty awful on paper for a full length feature.  But one can never know what to expect from these overgrown kids.

    SWEARNET has the most swearing f**K words recoded in a movie according to the Guinness Book of Records.  (The previous holder was the film WOLF OF WALL STREET.)  The film is outrageously adult in frontal nudity, high jinx and of course swearing.  There is one ‘swearoake’ segment in a bar in which Swearman (Patrick Roach, who plays the dandy, Randy in the TRAILER PARK BOYS) which is just a blast.  The climax of the film is a race in which they boys have to win the prize money in order to pay their loan sharks.  Never mind, the sponsored car has been recalled and the drivers are high on acid.

    SWEARNET should have enough fans locally and even abroad (heard the boys have a following in Ireland and in the U.K.) for it to do well.  Cameos by Canadians Tom Green and Scott Thompson (as Carrot Top) help in the madcap craziness.

    The laugh out loud segments (the swearoake, post Acid race, roasting Swearman on the spit, Swearman at the hockey game) are plenty enough and definitely memorable.

    SWEARNET is actually really funny.  If foul language does to bother you, the film provides quite the different night out at the movies.

    Trailer: http://www.hollywoodreporter.com/video/swearnet-movie-trailer-698155


    Best Pics of the Week:

    Best Film Playing: Calvary

    Comedy: 22 Jump Street

    Action: Transformers: Age of Extinction

    Foreign: Snowpiercer (South Korea)

    Horror: Under the Skin

    Doc: An Honest Lie

    Romance: The One I Love

  • Toronto International Film Festival 2014 (Film Reviews)

    2014 Toronto International Film Festival Capsule Film Reviews - Gilbert Seah

    (First posted Aug 12, last update 12th Sep)


    Updated daily during the festival, so keep logged to this site.

    New to this year is that trailer links will be added (if available) at the end of each capsule review.

    Capsule Reviews:-

    LE BEAU MONDE (HIGH SOCIETY)(France 2014) ****

    Directed by Julie Lopes Curval


    Director Curval’s very assured piece stars mesmerizing Ana Giradot (daughter of Hippolyte Giradot) as 20-year old Alice who finds a way into a fashion prestigious School in Paris with the help of a rich Parisian lady, Agnes (Aurelia Petit).  Alice leaves current simple boyfriend Kevin (Baptiste Laplain), a car mechanic behind for Agnes’ son Antoine (Bastien Bouillon), attracted obviously for his passion and expression for art.  They fall passionately in love.  He loves her for the bourgeois life she lacks and she for the high society he inherits.   Curvals’ film is fresh on emotions, traditional in ideals, dramatic on life and totally relevant in the feel of today’s youth.  Performances are rich and the film works wonders.  Though the seaside scenes and film’s extended dialogue often reminds one of Eric Rhomer’s films (SUMMER, LE RAYON VERT), this is pretty much a woman’s (particularly Curval’s) film.  The scenery and cinematography are stunning, an additional bonus to the film.

    Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=a4tKdiJwojU

    BIG MUDDY (Canada 2014) **
    Directed by Jefferson Moneo


    Elmore Leonard goes to Saskatchewan.  Moeno’s missed opportunity results in a mixed bag of tricks in the family tale of Martha Barlow (Nadia Litz), her son and her father.  Martha has a dark bad history in which all the skeletons start coming out of the closet just when she wants to protect her son, Andy (Justin Kelly).  His father has just escaped from prison, her boyfriend (Rossif Sutherland) just got shot and a crazed horse owner and his sidekick are after Martha and Andy now holed out at Martha’s father’s (Stephen McHattie) farm.  It is a question of too much happening at one time and too many killings occurring too soon, so that all the drama turns unintentionally laughable.  In the hands of a more experienced director, this murder ballad could have turned out to be a solid western classic instead of a western classic wannabe.  The whole film falls into the hand of main actress Litz who tries very hard, but is unfortunately no prairie beauty queen.

    BLACK SOULS (ANIME NERE) (Italy 2014) ***

    Directed by Francesco Munzi


    After Francis Ford Coppola’s GODFATHER films, it is hard to top a Mafia movie about the family business.  So, one must give credit to director Munzi for trying with a smaller budget and more modest story.  Again, it is the familiar theme of getting out of the business but the business never lets that happen.   The setting shifts from Amsterdam to Milan,  a change from Puzo’s NYC.  A former narcotics trafficker now living peaceably, raising goats in the Calabrian hills is drawn back into his family’s drug.   The problem is that Luciano's son, the bored and restless Leo, idolizes his charismatic uncle Luigi, who is still deeply involved in the narcotics trade with his middle brother, the bespectacled mastermind of the family business.  Munzi’s film gets away from the graphic violence and concentrates on the drama without the cheap theatrics.  The result is a focused and quite authentic film aided by the simpler story.

    CART (South Korea 2014) **

    Directed by Boo-Ji-Young


    In the spirit of NORMA RAE and MADE IN DAGENHAM, CART, set in a discount retail store, CART is a social critique of the injustice done by huge companies on workers without a union.  The film starts off with the striking workers before settling down to concentrate on a few subjects, like a single mother, an an older custodian and another with two young children, one of which is a rebellious son.  All these are well intentioned but do not really work as the film is messy and all over the place.  An ensemble of incidents is the term best used to describe this film, but director Boo should have done more in the editing room to make more head and tail of the film so that it has a strong narrative with a greater effect.  The film just ends at another losing battle with the police in riot gear brutalizing the striking women.  Boo also turns up the melodrama that makes the film seem more hokey.
    Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yu5_u7piDYw

    THE CLOUDS OF SILS MARIA (France/USA 2013) ***
    Directed by Olivier Assayas


    A smart script written about women on the dual theme of aging vs. youth and life imitating art written by director Olivier Assayas deserves better but unfortunately fails to attain the height it seeks to achieve.  Part of this is due to the complexity of the plot but also due to main lead actress Juliette Binoche’s annoying character.  For a character that sophisticated and learned in life’s lessons, she comes across as crass (laughing too loudly and expressing outwardly too many times her emotions) and common.   The audience is supposed to side and feel sympathetic for this character, but Binoche’s performance does not allow it.  Kristen Stewart steals the show as her super-efficient and patient personal assistant.  There are parts of the script that are just plain brilliant.  The sudden disappearance of the personal assistant in the mountains with no explanation give, obviously a reflection of life imitating art as the actress’s young lover in the play had the same fate occur.  The spilling of the cloud of Sils Maria into the valley signalling a final escape is not only gorgeously shot bit instrumental in Assayas’ metaphor on his characters.

    Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3fkRzbL_Qwc

    COMING HOME (China 2014) ****
    Directed by Zhang Yimou


    COMING HOME is a welcome return for director Zhang and his actress Gong Li who have not made a movie this good since RAISE THE RED LANTERN and THE ROAD HOME.   The film begins with the setting of the cultural revolution when imprisoned Lu (Chen Daoming) escapes to see his wife Feng (Gong Li).  Their teenage daughter Dandan (Zhan Huiwen) reports him and during his recapture at the station, Feng suffers a head jury causing her amnesia.  The larger part of the film now takes place 3 years later when the revolution is over.  Lu is released to go home to his wife.  Feng does not remember him at all.  The film goes into full melodrama mode with Lu trying to cure his wife so that she can recognize him again.  This is all heart breaking stuff made more desperate with issues like politics, family values, redemption and love at play.  Director Zhang’s backdrop is the poor housing area where the family dwells.  The piano music by Lang Lang aids the atmosphere of desperation and hope.  And as in the best of Zhang’s films, Gong Li shines once again - the Chinese beauty ageing to an old age in the film while never losing her love for her husband.

    Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0GsKijZmtlM

    CONFESSION (South Korea 2014) ***
    Directed by Lee Do-yun


    Similar to PARTNERS IN CRIME from Taiwan, CONFESSION deals with the similar theme of school buddies running into trouble.  The film starts by introducing the 3 high school graduating students, Hyun-tae (Ji Sung), In-chul (Ju Ji-hoon) and Min-soo (Lee Kwang-soo) euphoric on the day of their graduation.  But instead of taking part in the ceremony, they sneak off to hike up a local mountain where Min-soo suffers a fall.  Flashforward to the present when the 3 are now grownups but eating into more hot soup.  Hyun-tae's mother approaches the men for help in a clearly shady job, their friendship is tested. She wants him to stage a robbery of her gambling arcade as a way to cash in on an insurance policy.  The botched robbery tests their friendship.  The film and the 3 actors are more animated than PARTNERS IN CRIME that does not help its credibility.

    Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JpRDHVlG2zk

    A DREAM OF IRON (USA/South Korea 2014) ***
    Directed by Kelvin Kyung Kun Park


    Media artist filmmaker Kelvin Park’s A DREAM OF IRON reminds one instantly of Jennifer Baichwal’s MANUFACTURED LANDSCAPES as both films give cinematic form to industrial and manufacturing landscapes.  Park’s film, set in the South Korean port of Ulsan focuses primarily on the shipping industry the start and end of his film framed with overhead shots.  But Park brings in more meaning that Baichwal, with a voiceover that puts a story to the images.  The score is classical mixed with sounds like whale noises and industrial drones.  Still, this is a artistic piece that often moves at a snail’s place.  The film is stunning to look at and put into perspective with ancestral tales of early man and whales, but the long takes can be quite testing.  The best segment has the engineers of the shipyard discussing, at ease,  the massive details of the ship drawings that makes no sense to the ordinary viewer.

    Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kDBTfCjPh-c

    FORCE MAJEURE (Swe/Den/Nor/Fra 2014) ***
    Directed by Ruben Oslund


    A hit at Cannes, Östlund’s FORCE MAJEURE is a moral tale examines the breaking down of a family due to unexpected behaviour resulting from some impending catastrophe.

    It begins with a family’s skiing vacation in the French Alps.  The scenery is breathtakingly captured on film.  Tomas (Johannes Bah Kuhnke) and Ebba (Lisa Loven Kongsli) are enjoying lunch with their two children when their meal is suddenly interrupted by thunderous booms emanating from the mountain above them.  The complacent Tomas initially dismisses the possibility of danger — but when it appears that there may be an avalanche, he grabs his cellphone and bolts, leaving his wife and children to fend for themselves.  He denies running away and called the bluff by his wife.  The fallout is both scary and occasionally funny.  Oslund pulls a good one at the end with fate turning the tide on the wife.  The film is necessary slow paced but it pays off.

    Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fm7Ux_SkG78

    THE FORGER (USA 2014) ***
    Directed by Philip Martin


    Philip Martin’s directorial debut is a competent piece that combines the elements of family drama and heist suspense.  The film is held together primarily by John Travolta, who has shaped up lean and mean for the role and who appears in almost every scene.  He plays forger, Ray Cutter who gets out of jail in order to be with his dying son Will (Tye Sheridan), a brave role that is surely most difficult to play, given what has happened to him in real life.  His get out of jail card has to be paid by pulling off a heist as payment.  The job involves snatching Claude Monet's Woman with Parasol from the museum and replacing it with a replica so perfect that no one will notice.   The suspense scenes are handled efficiently enough and so are the dramatic and few action scenes.  Solid supporting performances by Christopher Plummer as Ray’s onerous dad and Abigail Spencer as an undercover cop deserve mention.

    FOXCATCHER (USA 2014) ***
    Directed by Bennett Miller


    FOXCATCHER, based on a true story tells of two brothers, both former Olympic wrestling champions Mark and Dave (Channing Tatum and Mark Ruffalo respectively) and their encounter with a neurotic millionaire (Steve Carell).  Bennett Miller who won the Best Director prize for this film at Cannes, directs this sports psychological drama darker and moodier than his other two films, CAPOTE and MONEYBALL.  Mark is summoned by John du Pont (Steve Carrell) to join the US team preparing for the 1988 Olympics in Seoul.   John also wants Dave who initially refuses to uproot his family for the sake of glories already achieved.  Tatum, Ruffalo and Carrell deliver performances against their usual type.  Director Miller likely forced them to tone down they acting several notches down as what we get her are really subdued though effective performances.  FOXCATCHER is also the name of the estate and du Pont’s Wrestling team.  It is clear that the fox (as in the hunting game) is a more elusive prey than imagined and perhaps the perfect American dream can never be attained.  Nor the perfect film to relay this message.

    Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7xYav--slEg

    LE GRAND HOMME (THE GREAT MAN) (France 2014) **
    Directed by Sarah Leonor


    Hamilton (Jeremie Renier) and Markhov (Surho Sugaipov) are scouts in the Foreign Legionnaire.  Though they begin at loggerheads, they become like brothers after being forced to work together.  In Afghanistan, Markhov saves Hamilton’s life.  Markhov has a son Khadji (Ramzan Idiev).  Due to a car accident Markhov is killed and his family, illegal aliens are taken away by French Authorities.  Hamilton is now served by conscience to look after the kid of the man who saved his life.  Director Leonor tells her tale in three parts - firstly, the brotherhood of the two men, then Markhov’s reunion with son and family and thirdly with Hamilton coming to save the son.  For a film title like LE GRAND HOMME with such an important theme, Leonor’s film is bland with just the necessary dramatization.  Perhaps she wishes her audience to think for themselves and not be too influenced by cheap theatrics.  But the result is a slow moving mediocre piece.

    Trailer: http://www.allocine.fr/video/player_gen_cmedia=19546345&cfilm=224586.html

    GOOD KILL (USA 2014) **
    Directed by Andrew Niccol


    Director Andrew Niccol and Ethan Hawke re-unite since their hit GATTACA years back, once again targeting the topic of the toll of battle technology on the human soul.  The timely plot involves drones.  Major Tommy Egan (Hawke) is in charge of directing drone strikes in Pakistan while working in an air-conditioned shipping container somewhere in the Nevada desert.  But the best line, "I blew up six Taliban in Pakistan today," Major Egan tells a convenience store clerk. "Now I'm going home to barbecue.” is soon lost in a tale that never has anything new to offer but repetition.  Most of what is expected in a film about troubled soldiers is here - the fits of rage; the bouts of drinking; the distancing from the family and so on.  The film offers no real insight into the problem though it is still troubling to see how easy to blow up human beings with the pressing of a button.  Hawke is also all buffed up for his role.

    THE GUEST (USA 2014) ***
    Directed by Alan Wingard


    British actor Don Stevens (DOWNTON ABBEY) plays the handsome guest that appears from nowhere to change the lives of an entire family.  The film reminds one of the 70’s film SOMETHING FOR EVERYONE, in which a handsome Michael York appears and changes the lives of the aristocratic family headed by Angela Lansbury.   Son dies in Iraq war; mother devastated; enter stranger who claims knows Caleb; befriends and helps each member of family; things go wrong; guest might not be who he seems; guest turn from saviour to devil; someone has to slay him to save the day.  If all this sound predictable, it is and I could guess what happens right down to the detail of who puts out the final lights out for THE GUEST.  Still, this horror/action flick is entertaining enough, as director knows when to press the right buttons.  The last segment in a Halloween maze is a nice touch.

    Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-psayRM1XqU

    A HARD DAY (South Korea 2014) ***

    Directed by Kim Seong-bun


    It is an extremely hard day for Detective Ko.  Everything has gone wrong on the day of his mother’s funeral.  He hits and runs, get caught in his corruption scams and misses the funeral rites.  A further string of events that pushes him deeper and deeper into a swamp of criminal activity.  Kim’s movie moves as fast as the speeding car with an unexpected turn around every corner.  Both noir-ish and hilarious, this commercial fare is both entertaining and exciting.

    Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-r1lJuk4EjA

    HEARTBEAT (Canada 2014) **

    Directed by Andrea Dorfman


    Justine (Tanya Davis) is stuck in a rut with her mind-numbing job as a data management copywriter and a relationship that is going nowhere.  The aim of the film appears to be her adult coming-of-age.  Her encounter with her supervisor are the brightest parts of the film.  She lives in her grandma's old house, and wears questionable fashioned clothing.  There are no real reasons offered in the script that substantiates Justine’s self discovery.  She is encouraged by Ruby to perform, bonds with an older guitar store owner and quits her job.  The only slight hints are the effects of her friend’s new baby and Ben leaving town.  Dorfman’s film just plod along, aimless just as her Justine.  Actress Tanya Davis wrote and performs her own songs in the film.  But her songs are far from spectacular or even memorable.  Dorfman’s film occasionally has the odd animated objects moving around the screen.  Again, there is really nor purpose for this and the animation serves more as a distraction, like a kid drawing on the wall for nothing else better to do.  HEARTBEAT as a film moves along, but only too slowly as if there is no life in it, though the heart is still beating!

    HILL OF FREEDOM (South Korea 2014) ****
    Directd by Hong Sang-soo


    There is much to enjoy in Hong’s observational tale of a lovesick Japanese man, Mori (Kase Ryo) who comes to Korea to meet his loved one, Kwon (Seo Young-hwa).  She is not there.  While waiting for her at the HILL Of FREEDOM cafe, he meets other interesting folk including his guesthouse owner’s niece who he sleeps with.  Hong’s film jumps in time and from one scene to the next an from narrative to the next, like a fantasy of Mori’s imagination.  Korean vs. Japanese culture, male vs. female ideology and behavioural traits are also brought into the picture, often with hilarious results.  The pick up scene that turns foul is priceless.  All this is eluded to the book that Mori is carrying around and reading called Time.  Hong’s characters philosophize but in broken English.  HILL OF FREEDOM is totally unexpected fun!

    I AM NOT LORENA (NO SOY LORENA)(Chile/Argentina 2014) **
    Directed by Isidora Marras


    As the title of the film implies, this is a story of identity theft.  Actress Oliva (Loreto Aravena) gets calls from an unknown person Lorena asking for her bills to be paid.  A series of incidents, not to her favour such as losing her i.d.’s in a club do not help either.  She also has other problems like an ailing mother, her acting job and her previous boyfriend.  Director Parras weaves all these elements into her story while displaying a rather bleak outlook of Chilean society.  Her film, though slow, is quite intense.  But she cannot decide whether her film is supposed to be a thriller, suspense mystery, parody of society or personal self-discovery.  As a result, the film has a bit of everything, a kind of Jack of all trades but unfortunately, master of none, the film ending up not accomplishing too much.

    Trailer: http://vimeo.com/104762440

    Directed by Morten Tyldum


    Everyone loves a good secret.  Britain apparently kept the secret of the Enigma and the code breaking team for 50 years.  There are countless quotable lines in the script.  A code is not a secret as it is in the open only that no one can understand its meaning.  A secret of why people love violence is revealed.  Graham Moore’s brilliant script that is surely deserved of an Oscar nomination.  THE IMITATION GAME is the story of the mathematics genius Cambridge Professor, Alan Turing (the excellent Benedict Cumberbatch) who spearheaded the code breaking machine during World War II.  The film also time shifts, intercutting the war effort with the 1951 year when pan was persecuted for his homosexuality.  He was also accused of being a Soviet spy, though this was the least of his worries.  Kiera Knightley has the role of his girl, Joan Clarke who almost marries him and Matthew Goode as Hugh, the hot headed member of the team.   But it is Cumberbatch who delivers an impeccable performance of the man and machine who is a genius and a monster.  The film is also about the beginning of computer, as observed by the first huge monster of mechanical rotors and number of cables which make up Turing's Enigma Breaking machine.

    Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ayErt0N2L3A

    IN HER PLACE (South Korea/Canada 2014) ***

    Directed by Albert Shin


    The film begins with the shot of the back of a Mercedes driving to the farmhouse.  The camera shifts to show the front of the car approaching, then a woman exiting to knock on the door.  The impression here is a slow moving pensive film in which the director allows the incidents to unfold while allowing the audience to digest the emotional consequences.   Yoon Da Kyung plays an urban woman fleeing her own life of omission.  Trying to avoid telling her friends and family the truth of a miscarriage, she moves in with an impoverished farm-working mother (Kil Hae Yeon), and her lonely teenage daughter (Ahn Ji Hye), who are key in maintaining her lie.  The woman is intending to adopt the illegitimate baby of the expecting teen.  As expected in a moral fable about lies, turmoil and tragedy are the expected results.  Shin’s film is shocking at times with violence and raw emotions on display, but Shin has a soft spot which shows at the film’s end.  An unforgettable well made moral tale dramatically told to great effect!

    Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tinR_7nQV88

    THE INTRUDER (Netherlands 2014) ***
    Directed by Shariff Korver


    A crime thriller with an identity issue, THE INTRUDER concerns a Moroccan, Sam (or Said) Almaleh (Nasrdin Dchar) in the Amsterdam police force ordered to go undercover and infiltrate a Moroccan drug family.  He discovers the feeling of brotherhood and sees the ways in which these criminals can be honourable and the authorities corrupt.  Director Korver, himself from Venezuela and living in both Venezuela and Holland brings his real life experiences and emotions in this related drama.  He plays  his film more a a thriller than a morality tale of loyalties, which makes sense.  He takes the film to a satisfying and logical ending in which Sam’s choice does not come into the ending, but his course of actions pays him back, metaphorically speaking, by biting him in the ass.

    IT FOLLOWS (USA 2014) ***
    Directed by Robert David Mitchell


    David Robert Mitchell's (THE MYTH OF THE AMERICAN SLEEPOVER) second feature has a simple premise.  A person is stalked by another for the purpose of murder.  No one can see the stalker except the stalked unless this curse is passed on to someone else through sexual intercourse.  The latest victim is nineteen-year-old Jay (Maika Monroe) stuck with the sexually transmitted serial haunting.  In the light of day, she is stalked, followed, and attacked by terrifying, half-naked figures that none of her friends can see.  Jay eventually passes it to someone else who is willing to take the risk for her (or rather have sex with her for the price of death).   Monroe is quite drop dead gorgeous.  Though a bit slow paced for a horror film, director Mitchell keeps the scares coming steadily.   IT FOLLOWS is basically a cheap rip-off of the zombie movie.  It is cheaper in IT FOLLOWS as there in only one zombie needed and with minimal make-up.  And the person playing it changes, so that if there is a sequel, another low paid newcomer can be hired.

    THE JUDGE (USA 2014) **

    Directed by David Dobkin


    This is the story of the prodigal son, Hank Palmer (Robert Downey Jr) who made good in law and came back home to defend his father Judge Joseph Palmer (Robert Duvall) from a hit and run.  The father and son relationship is as much the key issue as the trial.   But the dysfunctional familial drama suffers from the usual stuff - over doting grandchildren, sour wife, current swing with old girlfriend (Vera Farminga) and so on.  The silly sub plots of the challenged youngest brother with the camera and his sleeping with who cold be his possible daughter lengthens the film already too long 140 minutes running time.  The big plus of the movie is Duvall’s brave performance as the ageing judge trying to  keep his honour and dignity something his son and the script will not allow him to keep.  The bowel loosening segment also serves to remind everyone in the audience what each has to go through with his/her parent eventually.  It is only when Duvall and Downey have it out that the film comes alive.   It turns out that THE JUDGE is just a poor man’s courtroom drama mixed with too much melodrama.

    Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-qlSOBDWeO8

    LABYRINTH OF LIES (West Germany 2014) ***1/2

    Directed by Giulio Ricciarelli


    The film is set in Frankfurt, of 1958. Johann Radmann (Alexander Fehling of Inglourious Basterds and Young Goethe in Love) is the young prosecutor trying to climb the ladder in a major law firm.  When he learns of hidden criminals in prominent institutions and branches of government entangled in a conspiracy to cover up the crimes of Nazis during World War II,  Johann works obsessively alongside journalist Thomas Gnielka (André Szymanski) and Jewish concentration camp survivor Simon Kirsch (Johannes Krisch) to uncover the evidence.  And to hunt and prosecute them.  But director Ricciarelli shows more of the resistance and obstacles in the task.  But what is most moving abut the film that plays like a thriller, is that it is based on true events, and it is the first time Germany is taking responsibility in prosecuting her own Nazi criminals.  But what is most striking is the fact that a large number of young Germans have never heard of the Holocaust.  One of the best lines in the film is that the that the purpose of the trials is not to punish but to educate.

    LEARNING TO DRIVE (USA 2014) ****
    Directed by Isabel Coixet


    This sweet comedy about two lonely people a Sinkh cab driver, Darwan (Ben Kingsley) and a recently separated woman, Wendy (Patricia Clarkson).  The best thing about this smartly written script by Sarah Kernochan, based on, believe it or not, an article by Katha Pollitt is that it is that rare film about a relationship between two people that is not a romance nor about family members.  Wendy takes driving lessons from Darwan.  The driving lesson is obviously a metaphor for life lessons.  The two characters are highly different, and play very well against each other.  The film is also tolerant of race, age another prejudices.  It also contains the best joke in a film I have heard so far during TIFF regarding the reason why that sexual act is called a blow-job.  A small movie that turned out to be a big surprise!

    LEVIATHAN (Russia 2014) ***** Top 10
    Directed by Andrey Zvyagintsev


    Winner of the Best Screenplay prize at Cannes in Un Certain Regard, LEVIATHAN is yet another tale, loosely based on the Book of Job but set in the coastal town of the Barrents Sea in Russia.  Weather-beaten patriarch Kolya (Alexey Serebryakov) lives with his teenage son Roma (Sergey Pokhadaev) and second wife Lilya (Elena Lyadova).  Their idyllic homestead harbours deep-rooted familial resentments that are aggravated by the aggressions of the local mayor Vadim (Roman Madyanov), a drunken, corrupt bureaucrat set on grabbing their land for himself.  Kolya calls in his lawyer friend Dmitri (Vladimir Vdovitchenkov) from Moscow, but this defensive tactic triggers a series of dramatic events.  Unlike the other recent film on Job, A SERIOUS MAN by the Cohen Brothers, Andrey Zvyagintsev’s (THE RETURN) tale is drop dead serious but rich occasionally in dark black humour.  The best scene has Kolya and son Roma kidding at why lawyer Dmitri took so long to arrive.  “Did you lay a cable or find a good book to read?”  They joke unaware that he reason Dmitri is late is that Dmitri was screwing Kolya’s wife.  The other best scene has the drunk major show up at Kolya’s house only to find an equally drunk Kolya before they start an argument.  But it is also the stunning cinematography by Mikhail Krichman which gives a pensive and lyrical atmosphere to the story.   Though the film lasts around 2 and a half hours, the film hardly feels it as the events flow so smoothly proving Andrey Zvyagintsev not only a master storyteller but master filmmaker.

    LIFE IN A FISHBOWL (Iceland/Sweden/Finland/ Czech 2014) ***

    Directed by Baldvin Z.


    Three intertwined stories in this film set in the capital of Iceland is Baldvin Z.’s plot line.  Eik is a single mother struggling to make ends meet by any means possible.  Sölvi is a former athlete who's now trying to climb the corporate ladder and deal with a dictatorial boss whose ethics leave more than a little to be desired.  Mori is a once-well-respected author who now appears to be a full-time drunk.  Eik is the link  She is ires as a prostitute at one of Solvi’s company parties award a yacht wile getting Mori to look after her kid.  LIFE IN A FISHBOWL offers a good look at Icelandic life and it did well at the local box office.  Apparently the film depicts actual such swindles in Iceland and the commentary on artists runs quite true as a whole.  The whole exercise feels like a smaller 23-story version of Robert Altman’s SHORT CUTS which I was bot particularly impressed with either.

    LI’L QUINQUIN (France 2014) ***** Top 10
    Directed by Bruno Dumont


    Dumont’s (L”HUMANITE) latest feature is once again set out in the moonies, the Boulonnais region around Calais where a series of murders have taken place.  A county sheriff Van der Weyden (Bernard Pruvost) and his assistant, Carpentier (Philippe Jore) are assigned the case.  The sheriff is a bungling proud man, unable to control his facial features (always twitching and blinking) as well as the locals who make fun of him.  Most of his theories are stolen from his assistant.  But the murders are puzzling.  Body parts are found in a cow in a bunker that has an entrance too small for the cow to enter.  The solution is proved to the Police Captain by LI’L QUIN QUIN who is a brat that goes around betting up blacks and getting in trouble.  This is Dumont’s first comes and a very funny and observational one.  Running at 3 hours, the film is quite unlike his early art films but nevertheless just as eventful and entertaining.

    Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=grkfB4t2sPQ

    THE LOOK OF SILENCE (Denmark/Indonesia/Finland/Norway/UK 2014) **|

    Directed by Joshua Oppenheimer


    A sort of guilty sequel to his overrated 2012 documentary THE ART OF KILLING that are many critics best10 of the year, not because the doc was any good but for its subject matter.  THE ART OF KILLING had interviews of killers of communists brag about their deed.  The film glorified violence without any hint of repercussions with director Oppenheimer benefiting from it.  In THE LOOK OF SILENCE, there is more conscience.  He follows a family who, after viewing the previous film, discovered and confronted the former right-wing militiamen who murdered their son during Indonesia's anti-communist purges of the mid-1960s.  The film's key figure is Adi, whose older brother was murdered five decades ago during the bloodletting. A village optometrist, Adi travels the back roads with his vision-testing refractor instrument.  While conducting eye exams, he quizzes his patients about their memories of the violent era that most would prefer to forget.  Then, through Oppenheimer's work with perpetrators, Adi discovers how his brother was murdered, and decides to confront each of his brother's killer.  That is pretty much Oppenheimer’s film.  There is not much research, head or tail or climax to this film, which will likely be just as popular as ACT OF KILLING, again for its subject matter  When will this all end?

    MAGICAL GIRL (Spain 2014) ***

    Directed by Carlos Vermut


    MAGICAL GIRL begins with a girl in school, Barbara caught by her teacher and forced to read her note out loud to the class.  The note magically disappears, a trick that is used at the end of the film to bring the story to closure.  This is a neat trick as there are so many loose ends in the film that closure makes no sense.  But the loose ends in this case are not a deterrent but work well into the film.  It shows that not every mystery needs to be explained for a film to maintain its hold on the audience.  Luis (Luis Bermejo) is desperate to fulfill his terminally ill daughter's last wish.   Luis turns to extortion when he crosses paths with the beautiful, mentally disturbed Bárbara (Bárbara Lennie).  Seeking revenge on Luis, she turns for help to the only person who truly knows how damaged she is: retired math teacher Damián (José Sacristán).  MAGICAL GIRL an arguably be awarded the creepiest film at TIFF.  Scenes like the forbidden room that has a lizard as a clock and the unmentionable sexual act that pays more the longer one stays are examples.  Goodness does not necessarily pay off.  The film is disturbing for the very fact that the film contains no message, need for redemption and badness pays off.  

    MAY ALLAH BLESS FRANCE (France 2014) **

    Directed by And El Malik


    This is French rapper, author, and spoken word artist Abd Al Malik’s directorial debut with this adaptation of his 2004 autobiography.  He has no qualms on displaying that he is the best thing on the planet, which is the main downfall of this awfully made egoistic film.  He stars, writes  and directs.  Malik shows himself in the film as talented, educated, smart, romantic and handsome.  Whatever wrong he does is forgivable, such as the brutal beating up of his friend, his drug dealing and his pickpocketing of seniors.  His music is not all hat impressive either.  Enough is enough!

    MEN WHO SAVE THE WORLD (Malaysia/Neth/Fra 2014) **
    Directed by Lieu Seng Tat


    A dilapidated house is the star of this boisterous observational comedy.  The owner Pak Awang (Wan Hanafi Su) has big restoration plans, aiming to make the house a wedding present to his only daughter.   The village men engage in the comical task of moving the house to its new location.  The house attracts an unexpected guest, Solomon (Khalid Mboyelwa Hussein), a Nigerian immigrant fleeing the mean streets of Kuala Lumpur who adopts Pak's house as a hideout.  Liew’s film is not as funny as it appears on paper.  The two narratives do not really gel well and the comedy seems forced.  The overacting and introduction of incidents like the village’s camel, its slaughter cross dressing and a visit by a government official do not help either.

    Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0DoUf5jSq_s

    Directed by Robert Kenner


    Documentarian Robert Kenner (FOOD, INC) takes on in his latest feature the MERCHANTS OF DOUBT, professional skeptics, whose services are bought and paid for by corporations, think tanks and other special interests to cast doubt and delay public and governmental action on climate change.  The main targets in Kenner’s film are the tobacco companies and oil companies.  The battleground is to have the public doubt global warming and the dangers of smoking.   The delays in the public learning the truth is enough for these companies to generate profit during the interim.  Kenner has assembled quite the impressive interviewee list but he concentrates on three.  One is the enemy Marc Morano. "I'm not a scientist, but I play one on TV," says Marc Morano, a man frequently cited as a specialist on climate change who goes down so dirty that he writes death email threats to the scientists claiming climatic controls.  On there other side, he lets Dr, James Hansen speak on how frustrating it is to have he public believe that the truth has been hidden from then.  The third is Congressman Bon Inglis who has crossed the political divide once he learns the truth.  It is a film that will make you both angry and surprised at the state of deception carried on by big corporations.

    NATIONAL GALLERY (UK/France 2014) ***** Top 10

    Directed by Frederick Wiseman


    Master documentarian Frederick Wiseman (La Danse, Crazy Horse, At Berkeley) takes his audience in his latest film inside the inner workings of London’s National Gallery.  Shot in over 12 weeks in 2012, director Frederick Wiseman takes in visitor tours, staff meetings, restorations, classes, and protests.  The result is often extensively lengthy segments, but the result pays off.  In one informative segment, Wiseman takes the time to include a budget proposal during a committee meeting.  The various art experts/guides who offer their ideas are what makes this film soar.   For those in the know, there are sufficient paintings on display together with informed narratives.  Wiseman concentrates mostly on Old Masters, and his visit coincides with major exhibitions at the National Gallery of Titian, Leonardo Da Vinci, and J.M.W. Turner.

    Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GoE1NA_zi1M

    NED RIFLE (USA 2014) ***1/2
    Directed by Hal Hartley


    NED RIFLE is the third of writer/director Hal Hartley’s trilogy that began with HENRY FOOL and FAY GRIM.  The film includes those characters Henry (Thomas Jay Ryan) and Fay (Parker Posey), but they are secondary characters in what turns out to be a film about their short of f***ed up son, Ned Rifle (Liam Aiken).  Ned is now eighteen and recently released from a witness protection program.  Despite the Christian upbringing he received from his foster parent, a church minister (Martin Donovan), Ned sets out to kill his father.   This is the typical Hartley film with Hartley type dialogue of smart, hilarious and irrelevant lines, quirky characters in quirky situations in which anything can happen, as in the in the climax.  One can complain that no one speaks the Hartley way, but it is this specific point that makes this film so entertaining.

    Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OTGs1V-KzK0


    Directed by François Ozon


    Ozon (8 FEMMES, SITCOM, THE CRIMINAL LOVERS, JEUNE & JOLIE) does Ozon and much more.   The film adapted and directed from a novel by Ozon centres on Claire (Anais Demoustier) and her late best friend’s husband, David (Romain Duris) who cross dresses.  Claire develops a relationship (girly-wise) with David where they go shopping and he dresses up sexily as Virginia.  They go dancing and even take off secretly on  the weekends.  Ozon takes his film up several levels because he is not afraid to take his material seriously but still with a pinch of very salty humour.  There is sex and nudity to amuse his fans, male and female, female and female, male and male and even more……  The film gets a bit too serious towards the end with a car accident and David (or Virginia) going comatose.  But like any Ozon film, a happy ending is around the corner as is a very satisfying and saucy film.

    1001 GRAMS (Norway/Germany/France 2014) ***
    Directed by Bent Hamer


    Bent Hamer makes quirky little comedies like EGGS, KITCHEN STORIES and O’HORTEN.  1001 GRAMS (Norway’s entry to the Oscars in 2015 for Best Foreign Film) is no different.  Norwegian scientist, Marie attends a seminar in Paris (the film is shot in both French and Norwegian) on the standard of the exact weight (mass actually) of a kilogram and brings it back in an encased bell jar.  Unfortunately, she has a car accident and the package is damaged.  She finds herself coming to terms with what is truly important (i.e. what weighs) in her life..  She falls in love.  Hamer’s humour here is derived mainly from observing the meticulousness of scientists in their pursuit of what is deemed the most important.   Those who have seen Hamer’s previous films know ‘exactly’ the kind of film to expect here.

    Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FVIAtIHcehM

    OVER HER DEAD BODY (Japan 2014) ***

    Directed by Takashi Miike


    Director Takashi Miike who rose to fame with the unforgettable gory AUDITION returns to the horror genre in a story that blurs reality and horror.  Here,  life imitates art and horror imitates life following.  It all starts when a star, Miyuki Goto (Ko Shibasaki) plays Oiwa, the protagonist in a new play based on the ghost story Yotsuya Kaidan (audiences will be familiar with the Japanese horror classic KAIDAN) pulls some strings to get her lover, Kosuke Hasegawa (Ebizo Ichikawa) cast in the play, even though he’s a relatively unknown actor.  Other performers Rio Asahina (Miho Nakanishi) and Jun Suzuki (Hideaki Ito) lust after Miyuki.  Off stage the cast’s possessive love and obsessions exist as reality. Trapped between the play and reality, the cast’s feelings for each other are amplified.  Miike spends more time building up the suspense than in his other films.  The first gore only appears after half the film has transpired, but then it never stops.  From beheadings to gouged out eyes to self induced abortions, the faint hearted should beware!  The art and set direction which is stunning deserves mention.

    Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ljT3sxER6fA

    PARTNERS IN CRIME (Taiwan 2014) ****
    Directed by Chang Jung-chi


    Three schoolboys spot a dead schoolgirl in an alley.  One discovers a note and forms a theory on why she might have been murdered.  They decide to punish the one responsible and tis become PARTNERS IN CRIME.  Unfortunately, one drowns as a result, a case of curiosity killing the cat.  Chang’s film is a mystery in which the plot thickens and never relents.  He weaves his tale with expert editing and intercutting like creating the pieces of a very big jigsaw puzzle.  A good look at Taiwanese school and life style is also on display here.  The film is also very dark with current issues like death (when you are dead, there is nothing), bullying (even the most ordinary people are capable of bullying) and use of Facebook and cellulars in the story.   A nice unexpected surprise from Taiwan and a relatively new director (TOUCH OF LIGHT).

    Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cecCpLP75-s

    PAS MON GENRE (NOT MY TYPE) (Belgium/France 2014) *

    Directed by Lucas Belvaux


    The film begins with young Parisian philosophy professor Clément (Loïc Corbery) transferred to the northern French town of Arras.  His bourgeois educational world is turned upside down. In this small working-class community far from the wonders of Paris, he meets Jennifer (Émilie Dequenne), the simple, charming and brassy blond coiffeuse from the local hair salon.   The romantic comedy has the audience believe that the two have nothing in common and that their differences will break down to show that there is something deeper between them.  This is worse than any Hollywood shtick.  For one, the two leads have no chemistry.  The pretentious philosophy stints of Clement teaching his Arras class and quoting Kants are not fooling anyone.  The dance segments with the two, especially with Jennifer flaunting her stuff is nothing more than annoying.  This is below par commercial romantic fluff  -  et pas mon genre de film!

    PRICE WE PAY (Canada 2014) ***
    Directed by Harold Crooks


    The subject on display here is tax evasion.  Director Harold Crooks (SURVIVING PROGRESS, THE CORPORATION) tackles the dirty world of corporate malfeasance with this incendiary documentary about the dark history and dire present-day reality of big-business tax avoidance, which has seen multinationals depriving governments of trillions of dollars in tax revenues by harbouring profits in offshore havens.  Very well organized with a slew of informed international experts Crooks takes his audience on an informative journey as he analyzes the origins, damaging repercussions, and complex moral issues arising from corporate tax dodging.  Tracing the increase in off-shoring of corporate assets to the City of London in the sixties, and charting its dramatic rise in the eighties during the Thatcher and Reagan administrations, Crooks follows the thread through to the present day, where tax avoidance has directly contributed to the dominance of the "one percent" and further deepened income disparity and wealth inequality.   If the purpose of Crooks is to rile up the audience to action, he succeeds.  The protestors on screen serve to promote his message.

    Trailer : http://vimeo.com/103132639

    Directed by Zvonimir Juric


    Many films have been made in which a murder is unsolved but served to demonstrate the way of life of a people - Nilge Ceylon’s ONCE UPONG A TIME IN ANATOLA and this year’s Bruno Dumont’s LI’L QUINQUIN and now Juric’s THE REAPER.  All three films are very slow paced but each have much to show.  In THE REAPER, the murderer is an ex-rapist in prison for 20 years.   He is Ivo (Ivo Gregurevic), a quiet labourer in the employ of an agro-industrial conglomerate, coming to the aid of a woman whose car has run out of petrol on a dark, deserted road.   Though he first appears in the guise of a saviour, the truth is that Ivo is anything but a hero.   Two other characters are cleverly woven into the plot - one a policeman and the other a gas station attendant.  The film shows the history of the town, the way of life, the behaviour, culture and history of non-acceptance emerging.  Ivo ends up dead but no one is sure that he killed himself.

    Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mGoza029rdk

    RED AMNESIA (China 2014) ****
    Directed by Wang Xiaoshai


    Deng (Lu Zhong), a retired widow has her daily routine derailed when she starts receiving mysterious, anonymous phone calls.  But these are just the tip of the iceberg of her problems.  She is struggling with the loss of her husband, her two sons, a young stranger who keeps following her and a past skeleton in the closet.  Director Wang (BEIJING BICYCLE) plays his drama as a chilling contemporary thriller with Chinese politics thrown in.  A lot of the movie’s weight lies on the actress Lu Zhong who appears in every scene, delivering an impeccable and unforced performance.  But the smart narrative all falls into place at the very end.  A bit low moving but the patience more than pays off.

    RED ARMY (USA/Russia 2014) ***1/2
    Directed by Gabe Polski


    No need to be a hockey fan or need to know anything about the sport to enjoy this immensely engaging documentary RED ARMY.   Director Gabe Polksi (born of Soviet parents) delves inside the Soviet Union team that dominated the sport at the height of the Cold War.  Like Communism, emphasis was not on individuals but on the team, which moved like the Bolshoi Ballet.  Polski interviews a wide spectrum of experts, the most time given to the team’s charismatic captain Slava Fetisov – one of the best hockey players of all time, with two Olympic golds, seven world championships and eventually three Stanley Cups.  Fetisov appears proud, and without the patience to take nonsensical questions.  But when his story unfolds, one understands the reason.  This man has demonstrated patriotism, familial values, and even torture and beatings.  Others interviewed include an ex-KGB officer, sports journalists and Slava’s wife.  But the footage of the Soviet team playing in top form is well worth the price of the admission ticket.  The bonus of the film is the Russian 5, the unstoppable team of five formed of which Slava is the head.

    Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kZxiPwGjqAE

    THE RIOT CLUB (UK 2014) ****
    Directed by Lone Sherfig


    It has been a while since any film dissected the class and eduction system since Lindsay Anderson’s IF.  Danish director Sherfig’s (ITALIAN FOR BEGINNERS, AN EDUCATION) THE RIOT CLUB (based on the play by Laura Wade) is a secret prestigious Oxford University club of 10 in which they carry on their awful tradition of indulgence and debauchery to excess.   The club is introduced to the audience with the induction of two new members, Miles (Max Irons) and Alistair.  Miles is plain curious but has a conscience.  Things go out of hand at one of their dinners at a Welsh pub with the owner almost beaten to the point of death.  No stranger to drama and conflict, Sherfig’s satire works well with a simple plot, allowing him to make the most of the crucial dinner that is central to the story.  The violence particularly the beating up of the pub owner is not easy to watch, but that is exactly the aim of Sherfig.  The slight twist at the end is predictable for the satire to be effective. The only complaint is that the film feels like a play.

    Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RfYsW7wIlRQ

    RUN (France/Ivory Coast 2014) ***
    Directed by Philippe Lacote


    RUN is rare film to come out of the Ivory Coast and is about the last two decades of the country's blood-drenched history through the experiences of a young man drawn into the spiral of political violence.  Born into a country mired in wars and corruption, the film's protagonist has been on the run all his life — hence his name, Run (Abdoul Karim Konaté).  When the film begins, Run enters a church and assassinates the Prime Minister.  The rest of the film, told in flashback, follows Run’s twenty-year trajectory from country boy to political militant to assassin.  Isaach De Bankole (the gay maid in LA CAGE AUX FOLLES, the recent CALVARY) has the role of Run’s mentor.  The film explores how violence's twisted logic takes hold of a society, but the whole tale looks a bit simplistic despite Lacote’s effort to make his film more epic.  The violence is balanced by some humour in the segment in which Run encounters sex in the form of a fat woman called Greedy Gladys.

    SAMBA (France 2014) ***
    Directed by Olivier Nakache, Eric Toledano


    From the directors of LES INTOUCHABLES, SAMBA the film has the subject matter again similar to their smash hit.  The person needing care of this time around is a black illegal worker called SAMBA (Omar Sy also from INTOUCHABLES) and the one looking after him is white and female (Charlotte Gainsbourg).  Samba has just been arrested without papers and his immigrant lawyer rookie has to learn the ropes.  Romance is in the air.  If all this sounds awful, it is not that bad as it sounds in the hands of our fearsome directors.  Quite a bit of insight is provided in terms of the justice system and the workings of illegals.  The numerous bouts of humour helps too.  The proceedings are livened up by Rahar Tahim (UN PROPHET) who plays a fellow illegal alien.

    Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-tqzwbjy0WQ

    A SECOND CHANCE (EN CHANCE TIL) (Denmark 2014) ***1/2

    Directed by Susanne Bier


    Veteran police officer Andreas (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau) is happily married to the beautiful Anne (Maria Bonnevie).  They have a baby that dies from what he thinks is baby sleep syndrome.  He steals the abused child from an abusive junkie named Tristan (Nikolaj Lie Kaas), and girlfriend Sanne (Lykke May Andersen) to pass as theirs. This infant son is neglected, often lying in its own filth for hours.  This is their SECOND CHANCE.  The audience knows that the act is wrong, and something will go wrong.  Bier ups the angst from there and the suspense is mind boggling.  Director of films like BROTHERS, AFTER THE WEDDNG and the Oscar Winning IN A BETTER WORLD, A SECOND CHANCE is the most commercial of her work.  Which does not mean that she has compromised her films nor that his one is less important. The film does touch sensitive issues (like police abuse) and the drama fits into the suspense and bit of action that occurs.  It is good to see Bier flexible and still making a compelling film.

    Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yDQ7mX3SA80

    SENZA NESSUNA PIETA (Italy 2014) ***
    Directed by Michele Alhique


    An Italian mafia version of The Beauty of The Beast is what SENZA is all about.  A great bear of a man, Mimmo (Pier Francesco Favino), the beast is a mob enforcer, the guy the boss sends out on dirty jobs when the money needs to be collected.  He's a loyal soldier to his uncle but he boss's son, Manuel, a serial womanizer, growing too big for his boots.  When things turn ugly during Manuel's "date" with an escort Mimmo was sent to pick up, Mimmo snaps and almost kills Manuel.  The Beauty is the woman (Greta Scarano) he doesn't even know but protecting.   This is not a Hollywood film, so no happy ending should be expected.  The film takes its obvious course leading to its obvious ending.  There is no redemption for the Beast for almost killing Manuel, but he tries his hardess.  Alhique should have provided more history and details on his two main characters, that will make the film more effective.

    Trailer: http://www.huffingtonpost.it/2014/07/31/senza-nessuna-pieta-trailer-pierfrancesco-favino_n_5637302.html

    SHELTER (USA 2014) **
    Directed by Paul Bettany

    SHELTER is actor Paul Bettany's (GANGSTER NO. 1, A BEAUTIFUL MIND) directorial debut about two homeless people in New York in winter.  The end credits claim that the film is dedicated to the couple outside Bettany’s building.  Whether the story is true does not really matter, as it is a simple one that could be the lives of any two homeless people.  Bettany does not provide much detail into the background of either Hannah (Bettany’s wife Jennifer Connelly) or Tahir (Anthony Mackie), except that she is an addict trying to quit.   The two meet by accident when Hannah has Tahir’s jacket and this develops into an unconvincing love story.   For one, the romance is inter-racial which makes credibility more difficult.  For a film on this subject, the film naturally rests a large part on the performance of its two leads.  Mackie fares better while Connolly hams it up way too much, especially in the segment with the helium balloon and the (we get the point already) sex scenes.  The film offers no real insight on the homeless that audiences are not already aware of, and the film is not a pleasant watch either.

    THE SHREW’S NEST (MUSARANAS) (Spain 2014) ***

    Directed by Juanfer Andrés, Esteban Roel


    Many will see this film for the fact that it is produced by Alex de la Iglesia, director of previous TIFF hits like PERFECT CRIME, WITCHES AND BITCHES, THE LAST CIRCUS and PERDITO DURANGO.   But THE SHREW’S NEST is deadly serious horror, with hardly any humour, the key trait in his films.  The story concerns two sisters, one pretty and one crazy (Macarena Gómez and Nadia de Santiago)with agoraphobia.  When the handsome upstairs neighbour (Hugo Silva) falls down the stairs in their apartment building, the crazy one keeps him imprisoned in the bedroom with his very bad leg.  This all looks familiar, as it is MISERY territory with a twist.  Trouble is that I guessed the twist at the very end of the film.  Still, the film is very violent and nasty stuff, if one can bear it.

    Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mSCO95qb4Ss

    Directed by Nick Broomfield


    The  grim sleeper is the serial killer in South Central Los Angeles so-called because everyone thought he took a sabbatical in his killings.  But he did not.  The police failed to inform that the killings never stopped.  Documentarian Nick Broomfield (Aileen Wuornos: Portrait of a Serial Killer, Biggie and Tupac) digs into the case of this notorious serial killer, Lonnie Franklin Jr. while uncovering other major issues such as class inequalities, race, police incompetence and the justice system while at it.  Broomfield demonstrates an easy-going way of shooting, often carrying his equipment in his car with his interviewees.  He even films himself getting a traffic ticket for not wearing a seat belt, while asking the officer afterwards whether he knows anything of the killer.  Broomfield asks questions to anyone he can get into contact with, fearless a man that he is.  The result is overwhelming with a lot of material on display.  The audience gets a full feel of what filming a doc is like and it is eye-opening and funny.  Broomfield does not takes sides or judge, asking questions in an unbiased way thus obtaining amazing results in this otherwise awesome documentary.

    Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MspO5rC6Vps

    LE TEMPS DES AVEUX (THE GATE) (France/Belg/Cambodia 2014) ****

    Directed by Regis Wargnier


    Regis Wargnier’s (EST-OUEST, Oscar Best Foreign Film Winner INDOCINE) latest film is a no nonsense account of the true story of French ethnologist, Bizot (Raphael  Personnaz) set in the brutal era when the Khmer Rouge was gaining power in Kampuchea.  The film is split into 3 parts. The first concerns Bizot’s ordeal after being captured and falsely accused of being a foreign spy.  He meets and is ultimately saved by Duch (Phoeung Kompheak), a young K.R. zealot who believes his innocence.  The second, worthy of any Hollywood thriller, is his escape back to France with his daughter and wife’s friend.  Duch rises to power in the ranks and becomes involved with the torture and execution of hundreds of innocent lives.  When The K.R. fell from power, Duch is imprisoned and faces sentence.  The last part of the film - the shortest but most harrowing - deals with the meeting, again of the two men.  Shot in actual locations in Cambodia and using many non-professional actors, Wargnier’s film is chillingly effective (and not overly dramatized) in its portrayal of the folly of war.   This is as good as INDOCINE, if not better.  For a film about the killing of thousands, not on killing is shown on screen.

    THEEB (Jordan/Qatar/UK 2014) ***

    Directed by Naji Abu Nowar


    This rare film set in the Hejaz Province of the Ottoman Empire centres on a young Bedouin by the name of Theeb (Jacir Eid) which means wolf.  It is  coming-of-age, self discovery story but also one in which survival (i.e. his life) is at stake.  He has to make life decisions on who or whom not to trust.  His teacher is elder brother Hussein (Hussein Salameh) who ends up dead while doing what is right helping a British soldier (Jack Fox).  The First World War is also raging in Europe while the Ottoman Empire is coming undone and the Great Arab Revolt brewing.   The film is beautifully shot on location against the ravishing desert landscape of Wadi Rum and Wadi Araba.  The film just won Nowar the Best Director Award at the Venice film festival.



    Directed by JP Valkeapää 


    They Have Escaped opens with youth Joni (Teppo Manner), whose stutter forced him to flee military service, being given his orders working at a halfway house for troubled youth by a no-nonsense sadistic supervisor.  Joni is under the threat of a prison sentence if he runs away again.  He soon befriends bleached-blond punk Raisa (Roosa Söderholm) and the pair escape after he witnesses the brutality enforced on the inmates.   This is a sort of road movie - Finnish style, which means than weirder things can happen compared to American films.  Their journey takes them from a drug-fuelled island idyll to a brief sojourn in Helsinki, to an encounter with a hippie trinket salesman, and eventually a trip to Raisa's childhood home.  Valkeapää’s film, that plays like a nightmarish Grimm’s fairytale illustrates the joy and desperation of youth set in both an urban and country landscape.  But the violent ending is puzzling when the two are subject to torture when caught trespassing.

    Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MdUa4Haw04k

    TIGERS (India/UK/France 2014) ***** Top 10

    Directed by Danis Tanovic


    Director Danis Tanovic (NO MAN’S LAND) has hit the jackpot again with a controversial - see it and it will change your life - film.  The story tells of Ayan (Emran Hasmi), hired by Lasta Foods (fictitious name) as a representative in north east Pakistan to sell infant formulas substituting for breast milk.  But the poor dilute the formula with contaminated water resulted in hundred of deaths of babies.  Ayan learns the truth, quits the job and whistle blows.  His story is about to be made into a film to expose the companies but the film faces legal consequences of being made.  Tanovic’s film is layered showing both how hard it is to fight a system and of getting a controversial film made.  Tanovic directs his film as a thriller.  The film zig zags between the two issues and the audience is constantly placed at the edge of the seat as to what will happen next.  It helps too that Ayan’s character is shown with all the faults of a human being, being tempted to take the company’s bribe.

    TOUR DE FORCE (Germany 2014) **
    Directed by Christian Zubert


    TOUR DE FORCE is a film about a group of friends that do a last bicycle ride with their friend, Hannes who is about to end his life through assisted suicide as he has deteriorating ALS.  Zubert’s film is pretty standard, the parts introducing each friend including Hannes, then the ride and finally the final step.  The ride is across the Belgium countryside, because Belgium has legalized attempted suicide.  But Zubet’s film is neither insightful nor inventive, relying on melodrama and cheap jokes (like each friend having to do a ‘task’ on the way).  Sad to say, all this is a boring exercise and one cannot wait for it all to end.

    Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AjtGjCad0PQ

    THE TRIBE (Ukraine 2014) ****
    Directed by Myroslav Slaboshpytskiy


    THE TRIBE, which garnered three Critics' Week awards, including the Grand Prix — is an unforgettably original drama set entirely in the world of the deaf.  The film begins with the warning that there is no subtitles or voice over.  The result is a film that often is difficult to understand, less put together unless one understands sign language.  The protagonist is teenage Sergey (Grigoriy Fesenko), arriving at a boarding school for the deaf and mute, and greeted by more than the usual challenges of integration.  He is put through the requisite initiation rites, he proves himself worthy and is brought under the protective wing of the school's gang leader.   But he falls in love, setting up major problems.  The main gist of the story can easily be understood.  Trying to understand exactly what is happening, might not really be necessary, (another example being last year’s STARRED UP), but THE TRBE is definitely a compelling watch from start to finish.

    Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bpLj9WYBK_c

    TRICK OR TREATY? (Canada 2014) ***
    Directed by Alanis Obomsawin


    The treaty in question is the 1905 James Bay Treaty #9 signed over 100 years ago that is called into question today to set the record straight in terms of fairness and respect.  Directed by First Nations Activist Alanis Obomsawin, the documentary is moving and dramatic stuff and like a protest, the purpose is to create awareness, peacefully.  She also generates anger through the introduction of the government’s two omnibus bills.  The film records in detail two movements, the Idle No More Move by Cree Chief Theresa Spence and a 1,600 kilometre walk on foot by 16-year old David Kawapit from a Cree village in Quebec to Ottawa.  One wishes more information came about or if any meeting occurred after the walk.  But TRICK OR TREATY? is not only educational but essential viewing for every Canadian who now live on First Nation’s land.

    Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Lst4meSmVck

    UNLUCKY PLAZA (Singapore 2014) ****
    Directed by Ken Quek


    Singapore seems to be consistently delivering above average films (SAND CASTLES, ILO, ILO) to TIFF considering that the island republic never had a film industry when I left in 1984.  UNLUCKY PLAZA, the title is so called as a lot of the action in the film originates from that Singapore shopping centre called Lucky Plaza.  For one the main protagonist has a food store there.  The film begins with an interview of three, involved in a hostage taking scheme gone wrong.  The Filipino is the hostage taker, the woman the wife of the owner of the apartment who is having an affair with her pastor. and the third, her husband. The film is very convincing, incorporating the different languages (Filipino, Mandarin, pigeon English and Malay) together with the accents used.  The camera work is impressive and Kwek’s film has a good balance of suspense, satire (film may be banned), humour and suspense.  The film deals with the touchy topics of the Chinese mafia, rioting (racial) and other topics that do not make Singapore look good.  Director Quek’s last short was banned by the Singapore Government.  Kwek relents a bit in his view when in the film the Filipino is asked if the Singapore Government failed him, and he said, “no”.  But I doubt that this will be a good enough reason for UNLUCKY PLAZA not to be banned, given its sensitive subject matter.

    Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=29BU1cGnpr8

    WET BUM (Canada 2014) ***
    Directed by Lindsay MacKay


    WET BUM is a rare piece of work that deals on a pre-teen’s (she is 14) relationship with two aged seniors.  Writer/director Lindsay MacKay has developed a thoughtful, slow moving but compelling piece that is full of heart and emotional drama.  Sam (2014 TIFF Rising Star Julia Sarah Stone) has two things on her plate.  She is working for her mother (Leah Pinsent) while taking swimming classes to improve herself.  At work, she develops a relationship with two residents, the silent Judith (Diana Leblanc) and the boisterous Ed (Kenneth Welsh).  Ed rants non-stop.  Meanwhile, her swimming instructor is hitting on her, good for her as her classmates are bullying her.  The atmosphere of an Ontario small town is well captured in both the story and looks.  Once Sam is in a car and drives off, she is out of the town in the country.  Though MacKay’s film moves slowly, she tells a clear story with a clear goal in mind.  The result is a film with a strong narrative with no loose ends.

    Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=o8Rq78ZJfMo

    WHOAMI (West Germany 2014) ****

    Directed by Baran bi Odar


    From the director of THE SILENCE comes a current computer hacker thriller, as fast moving as the time it takes to compute logic.  Benjamin (Tom Schilling) is the prototypical twenty-five-year-old computer geek: no fashion sense, no friends, and definitely no girlfriend.  But he is like super hacker and the best in his ‘work’.  With charismatic Max (Elyas M'Barek), a would-be revolutionary who yearns to "hack the world," but needs Benjamin's prodigious skills and with fellow wunderkinds Stephan (Wotan Wilke Möhring) and Paul (Antoine Monot, Jr.), they form the hacker collective called CLAY (Clowns Laughing @ You). But they run into trouble with the German Secret Service, Europol when a sinister rival hacker adopts Benjamin’s identity and sells hacked information to Soviet cyberspace.  As in the film where Benjamin uses the adage, “Everyone is gullible and avoid conflict” to get into any place, director Odar follows the same idea with a clever script that does not confront any controversy to entertain.  One does not need to be a computer geek to enjoy this film!

    Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3MPFY6quEdM

    WILD TALES (RELATOS SALVEJES) (Argentina/Spain 2014) ***** Top 10
    Directed by Damian Szifron


    The film’s title tells it as it is.  This is a film consisting of 6 WILD TALES.  The common theme is revenge.  They are inherently wild and the humour can get really dark.  The first story is “Pasternak” which completes just before the opening credits roll.  This tale is arguably the funniest, shortest and the freshest.  The second is my favourite entitled “The Rats”.  A waitress (Julieta Zylberberg) in a diner discovers her only and extremely rude customer (Cesar Bordon) is the loan shark who drove her father to kill himself.  The third “Road to Hell,” has Diego (Leonardo Sbaraglia), a hotshot businessman in an Audi, insult a redneck Peugeot driver (Walter Donado).   The fourth is “Bombita”.  Simon (Ricardo Darin), a demolition engineer  has his car impounded and goes through “I’m as mad as hell” routine.  The most serious “The Bill” is also the most unexpected and I cannot complain about this one.  Mauricio (Oscar Martinez) is a wealthy man which his lawyer (Osmar Nunez) milks to get his son, Santiago off a hit and run accident.  The last and my least favourite “Till Death Do Us Part,” set at a Jewish wedding reception sees bride Romina (Erica Rivas) discovering her groom Ariel (Diego Gentile) sleeping around with a guest.  This is a rare case of watching a film that you want never to end, though WILD TALES runs more than 2 hours. Besides saying this is the most fun I had in a movie this year!

    Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3BxE9osMt5U

    THE WORLD OF KANAKO (Japan 2014) **
    Directed by Tetsuya Nakashima


    Fukamachi's novel Hateshinaki Kawaki big-screen adaptation is director Tetsuya Nakashima new violent movie.  Kôji Yakusho (The Eel, Cure, Babel) gives a ferocious performance as Akikazu Fujishima, a hot-tempered ex-police force officer who got thrown off the force after assaulting his wife's lover.  It gets worse.  Years later, his downward spiral is interrupted when seventeen-year-old daughter Kanako (Nana Komatsu) goes missing.   Kanako’s world is worse that an father can even imagine.  There needs to be some order in a film about chaos so that there is some perspective or standard. Unfortunately, there is none here, and the result is film filled with nonsensical violence with non head or tail.  The film is so over the top that no one can gets killed, hero or villain either.

    Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CJoHWFXpp4c

    X + Y (UK 2014) ***

    Directed by Morgan Matthews


    A socially awkward teenage math prodigy, Nathan (Asa Butterfield from HUGO), lands a spot on the British squad at the International Mathematics Olympiad.  The film is divided into three parts, besides having lots of mathematic riddles for those interested in the subject.  The first deals with the boy’s background (father’s death; behaviour in school) before going to Taiwan for selection into the squad, the second part.  The final is the Olympiad in Cambridge where he learns a more important lesson in mathematics.  The film is a feel good weepie and director Matthews does well in the film’s buildup considering that there is no climax of a final contest in which the audience is cheering the contestants winning.  The film benefits greatly from two of the best actors in Britain, united together again since Mike Leigh’s HAPPY-GO-LUCKY.  Sallly Hawkins plays the boy’s thankless mother and Eddie Marson the mathematics squad leader.  The film celebrates differences in people.

    Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tWAS-q2PpnA


    CHOP MY MONEY (Congo 2014) ***

    Directed by Theo Anthony


    Lively, musical, lyrical yet disturbing doc/drama following three  street kid who don’t give a damn about anything in east Congo.  They think it cool to fight, drink and smoke weed.  Patient, Guillain and David share their dreams and philosophies to the rhythm of Montreal-based musician Dirty Beaches.

    Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=avez_pDvSk0

    THE GOAT (South Africa 2014) ***
    Directed by John Tengove


    After being subjected to a ritual circumcision intended to usher him into manhood and purge him of any homosexual desires, a young Xhosa teenager is painted white as a goat and isolated in a remote mountain hut, where his desperate desire to escape grows as his pain and panic mount.  Tengove contrasts the darkness of the hut to the bright sunshine outside where it is too bright to see.  It is clear that Tegove intends to illustrate the folly of he manhood ritual which he does well, with an ambiguous endng that is up to the viewer to interpret.


    UNE INDEE DE GRANDEUR (Canada 2014) **

    Directed by Vincent Biron


    The 14-minute short shows middle geared Louis Belisle, defeated in his re-election campaign for town mayor.   Louis tries to find some way to escape the bitter taste of failure, but nothing too interesting happens on screen.  It is all a too dead-pan affair and the disappointment Louis feels rubs off on the viewer as well.

    INDIGO (Canada 2014) ***

    Directed by Amanda Strong


    No narrative - nothing really needed to be followed n terms of story.  Just sit back, relax and enjoy the hand-crafted, stop-motion figures come to life in this dreamlike tale inspired by Native mythology.  A confined woman is liberated by a grandmother spider while opaque memories are projected in an effort to restore her spirit as life nears its end.

    INTRUDERS (Canada 2014) ***

    Directed by Santiago Menghini


    3 short shorts in this short about mysterious forces at work in the dark of night or early dawn.  Menghini’s camera movement and motion of objects that include swinging doors indicate that he could be a new director to watch for chilling horror films.

    Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5bXZn2xl56c

    MYNARSKI DEATH PLUMMET (Canada 2014) ***

    Directed by Matthew Rankin


    The 8-minute short is about the death plummet with a parachute unopened of Winnipeg’s doomed Second World War hero, Andrew Mynarski (1916-1944).   The descent is with classical and avant-garde animation techniques (including stop-motion, silhouettes, bleaching, scratching, hand-painting and rubbing letratone patterns directly on the celluloid).  There is no narrative or nothing to be understood, but to enjoy the colour and black and white.  The film also looks often like a Guy Madden film.

    PLAGE DE SABLES (THE SANDS) (Canada 2014)**

    Directed by Marie-Ève Juste


    A group of friends retreat to a cottage for a weekend in the wood by THE SANDS, and tensions rise when the presence of a newcomer — the black, much younger boyfriend of one of the group.  The black is belittled (asked to get the bottle of Pinot Noir and then made fun of) and doted upon by an older blonde  Things turn to a head during the night.  But it is unclear what director Juste is trying to say or what actually is happening.  I take it that the boy stood up for what he believed in at the end.  But her shots of the night and the beach are gorgeous.

    SALE GUEULE (BROKEN FACE) (Canada 2014) ****

    Directed by Alain Fournier


    Brilliantly done striking animation in which old man Morlaix lives as a mad recluse in a remote lighthouse.  When a disfigured sailor (the Sale Gueule of the title) is sent to join him, a lifetime’s worth of pain and fear resurfaces as a storm brews over the sea.  The film is told from the point of view of Broken face who despises the old man, but when death comes face to face with both men, he takes the side of the living.  Eerie, captivating and excellent story and animation of two men and the sea.

    Trailer:- https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Nzy38sJFSK0

    SLEEPING GIANT (GEANT ENDORMI) (Canada 2014) ****

    Directed by Andrew Cividino


    Impressive 16-minute short on the theme of boys will be boys.  While spending a boring summer on Lake Superior, Adam falls in with two local boys and begins to fill his days attempting ever more hazardous stunts.  The stunt of jumping off the higher cliff into the lake forms the climax after a girl, Taylor enters the picture.  Stunning photography of the dives, the underwater shots and the realistic wrestling put this film one up above the other short films.

    Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SQQLy0o2Ias&feature=youtu.be

    SUR LE CIMENT (ON CEMENT) (Canada 2014) **
    Directed Robin Aubert


    The film begins with an elderly lady staring at graffiti on cement, and hence the film ON CEMENT.  This is a daring lady who when witnessing another elderly French kissing a youth in a restaurant decides to go for one last sexual encounter.  Aubert’s short shifts between the two and the highlight seems to be the sex scene.  One wonders the point he is trying to make in this exercise.

    Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NSe061YnHzw

  • Adam Solomon: Raising awareness through music

    “Music plays a big part in the world,” says Kenya-born Toronto musician Adam Solomon. From the sound of birds singing outside to a TV ad, music manifests itself in many different ways to speak to our souls. Solomon was raised in a musical family in Mombasa, Kenya. He recalls how his father played guitar as a regular hobby until the day he stored the instrument away, leaving it to collect dust. One day a cousin retrieved it, cleaned it, and started teaching Adam how to play. “We played together in a family band. I later progressed and left the family band to develop on my own and with other collaborators,” as he recounts. He also played kivoti (flute) and kayaamba (shaker) at village celebrations and festivals.

    His musical journey took him eventually to Canada, where he landed and making it his home, in 1992. His musical style, blending blues with traditional African sounds, allowed him to get good recognition both as a soloist and with his bands. Soon after arriving in Canada, he founded a pan-African band, the Afronubians, with whom he toured Western Canada in 1993. Over the years, he continued to collaborate with various musicians such as Madagascar Slim, Donne Roberts, Pa Joe, Alpha Yaya Diallo and The Mighty Popo. These musical alliances culminated in the publication of a CD, in 2004, called “African Guitar Summit,” which went on to win a Juno for Best World Music Album of the Year in 2005.

    The Business of Music

    “Music is my full-time career,” he proudly says. When asked to explain the secrets of his success, Solomon compares himself to any other type of businessman. “Music is a business. Putting aside the spirituality aspect, music is a business like any other business. If somebody sells vegetables, and has five tomatoes of different sizes, they will sell them according to their weight and their size.”

    While Adam Solomon has made a name for himself with his distinctive brand of African renaissance blues, he’s also adept in a variety of styles including jazz, Latin, African, Caribbean, R'nB and funk.

    As he cautions, “if you’re not successful, you need to learn more. It’s just like anything, it’s all depends on you.” So he’s become a constant student of his craft and market.

    He also enjoys meeting many people and fans of his music through his busking sessions in the TTC’s subway platforms. “I get to meet interesting people there. Passengers sometimes buy my CDs, ask for my business card, and invite me to go play at their events, parties and even festivals,” he says.

    Music for a Good Cause

    His music has taken him to many places across North America. While he hasn’t been back to his home country of Kenya to perform his music yet, he has gone back to visit family and hopes to soon reconnect musically with his homeland. In the meantime, his music career in Canada continues to give him opportunities to discover new horizons, people, and ways to share his artistic gift.

    The many years he as spent busking in the subway, for instance, has helped him to forge a network of musicians. “Between us musicians who play in the subway, we have our own mailing list. We do contact each other,” as he explained. It’s through those TTC channels that he came to know more about Scotiabank BuskerFest -- North America's largest street performers festival, and the world's largest epilepsy event – and the opportunity to get involved. So this year her decided to take part.

    Running throughout this weekend, from August 21-24, along Yonge Street from Queen Street to College Street and surrounding areas, Scotiabank BuskerFest, is attended annually by around 1.5 million people. The international audience is treated to enthralling performances from world-class street artists from around the globe – including from Canada and the U.S., and as far away as Australia, Austria, Argentina, Belgium, Germany, Hungary, Ireland, Italy, Japan, Mexico, New Zealand, Russia, Spain, Sweden and the United Kingdom.

    Adam Solomon had originally heard about BuskerFest, North America’s biggest street performer’s festival and the largest Epilepsy awareness-raising event in the world, particularly through his African blues trio drummer who also works for the cause of epilepsy awareness in Toronto.

    Performing as a solo artist today and tomorrow at the festival, Solomon said “this issue of epilepsy is a cause that why I believe in getting involved with. What they’re doing it they’re bringing awareness of epilepsy and also supporting services for those who are living with epilepsy.”

    Related Links


  • This Week's Film Reviews (Aug 22, 2014)


    WHEN THE GAME STANDS TALL  and SIN CITY: A DAME TO KILL FOR  are two blockbusters opening this week.



    TIFF Cinematheque is running a Robert Altman retrospective and a series on 'sequels'.


    Are You Here (USA 2014) **

    Directed by Matthew Weiner


    Writer/director Matthew Weiner’s (TV’s MAD MEN) feature debut is a mixed bag of ticks.  Looking like a comedy perhaps like THE HANGOVER, it also treads serious dramatic water.  Weiner’s film is actually mostly about pretty serious stuff, and deals with a lot of key issues like the environment, family dysfunction, bromance and romance, some done well and others not.

    The film starts off as a buddy movie with Steve Dallas (Owen Wilson) and Ben Baker (Zach Galifianakis).  The two are complete opposites, Steve holding a TV local weatherman job and bedding the girls while Ben is jobless, clueless and womanless.  But Ben has a thing about helping the environment though has not clyde how to go about it.  Then Ben inherits his estranged father's fortune. but has to battle the legal challenge brought by his formidable sister (Amy Poehler), who claims him mentally unfit.

    There are a few weird things that run throughout the film.  Steve and Ben always end smoking up, thought there is really any need to show this.  Te running appearance of Amish folk, often giving solid advice, however, is hilarious though it does not enhance plot credibility.

    But Weiner basically cannot decide how t play his film.  As stated, this film can hardlybe called a comedy or a serious drama.  The mood swings.  When Ben finally shaves off his bear near the last third of the film (the first time audiences see Galifianakis clean shaven), the character and actor both undergo welcome change. To this critic. jack Black and Galifianakis are  the two most irritating actors on the planet.  The often scream out their lines, try their best to look cool when they are not and just create unfunny jokes half the time.  But when Ben is clean shaven, he actually stops shouting his lines (ok - he does just once) and creates a changed character.  But it is Amy Poehler that steals the show as the hateful sister who eventually turns over a new leaf.

    Weiner’s introduction of the romance between Steve and Ben’s stepmother (Laura Ramsey) is awkward and does not match the proceedings.  Worst is the fact that Ben has slept with her too.  And even worst is the corny scene of kissing in the rain.

    WERE YOU HERE? also contains a boing middle before getting moving along.  But Weiner’s film contains nothing sensational or different that has not seen seen in buddy or dysfunctional family film before.

    The film opens simultaneously in theatres and on VOD (video on demand) on the 22nd.

    Trailer: https://www.yahoo.com/movies/are-you-here-exclusive-trailer-zach-galifianakis-87904092037.html

    THE ONE I LOVE (USA 2014) ****

    Directed by Charlie McDowell


    There has been many films about doppelgangers (last year had THE DOUBLE and PRISONER) but never one with double dopplegangers.

    A rare experience an an excellent movie going one, McDowell’s meticulously plotted film written by Justin Laser works so well that it was a surprise that he revealed that a lot of the lines were improvised by the actors.

    Though light and humorous, the film is more a drama with lots of anticipation, much, much more than found in a whodunit.  For those who like a good suspense thriller THE ONE I LOVE is it, and though the last twist in the plot is predictable, the film still satisfies.

    The film starts off with a couple, Ethan (Mark Duplass) and Sophie (Elisabeth Moss) having a session with their therapist (Ted Danson).  Having insurmountable relationship problems the therapist suggests they spend some quality time at a retreat.  At this time, the film feels like a romantic drama.  But at the retreat home, Ethan engages in wonderful sex with Sophie the first night after smoking some pot.  The next morning, Sophie denies that they had sex.  Later, she has a nice encounter with Ethan that Ethan denies ever happened.   It becomes apparent to Ethan (who hilariously describes it both as Twilight Zone shit and a cosmic aberration) what is going on and he confronts Sophie that there exists doubles of themselves.  They play the game to their advantage but things get messy.

    This is not the first time fantasy has been used to solve relationship problems in a film.  Woody Allen used the premise in THE PURPLE ROSE OF CAIRO and MIDNIGHT IN PARIS.  In fact, THE ONE I LOVE has the same feel as those Allen moves till the last third when things get really weird and the film heads into Lynchian territory.  But unlike MULHOLLAND DRIVE where David Lynch drives his film to an illogical end, everything is mostly explained here.  The best thing about McDowell’s film is that it feels wholly original.

    To help the audience tell one character from another, the real Ethan goes around wearing glasses while his doppelganger goes without.  Moss and Duplass make an excellent befuddled couple who radiate that their love for each other is not lost despite the current state of affairs.

    But the film is so well constructed that it is hard to pinpoint any flaw in the logic of events.  McDowell also takes his film to a perfect ending to the Mamas and Papas familiar song ‘Dedicated to the One I Love’.

    This Film can also be labelled a romantic comedy or dramedy of sorts and one wishes romantic comedies had more ingenuity like his one.

    Highly recommended!

    Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jCOvhojlZzQ

    SENORITAS (Colombia/Canada 2014) **

    Directed by Lina Rodriguez


    SENORITAS is the feature film debut of TIFF publicist Lina Rodriguez Colombian descent living in Toronto.

    Her minimalist film follows a girl, Alejandra (Maria Serrano) in her late 20’s or perhaps early 30’s hanging around a bunch of friends.  She lives with her mother (played by Rodriguez’s real mother) who is a tad too nosy on her whereabouts and friends.

    In one interview with Lina Rodriguez, she mentioned the 8-minute take of her protagonist  walking home in the night.  She mentioned that the intention is to show her loneliness while also indicating a fear factor as anything could happen to her.  (But it is to be noted that a song with the lyrics and title of ‘Loneliness’ has just blared on the screen, so the first part of the intention is already realized.)  For a 90-minute movie, this is a tenth of the film’s running time, not to mention that there are 3 segments with the camera behind Senorita’s back neck with nothing much going on.  Is the Rodrigues doing the Dardennes Brothers and Bela Tarr (apparently Rodriguez’s influence).

    Nothing much happens in SENORITAS.  The film can best be described as an observational film.  If one wants to read more into the movie, one can, especially in the climatic swimming pool scene, but the discovery can be personal and inconsequential.  But the film, while moving at a snail’s pace, teases more than reveals - and this can be quite the annoyance to the typical commercial moviegoer.

    Rodriguez’s camerawork is basically similar from start to finish.  Her camera is stationary and her actors act within the frame.  The only time a mild difference occurs is towards the end of the film when the camera moves left to right and then right to let to capture the actor’s dialogue.  One can imagine the frustration of the actors working within the frame and likely having to do multiple takes.  One immediately is aware to that there are no drops of water on the camera lens in the swimming pool scene to Rodriguez’s credit.  One wishes that she would pull her camera back more often instead of having her actors in the audience’s face most of the time.

    Rodriguez said during that interview that she had problems with funding as the short features she had to show were basically experimental works (rhythm and shadow) with no narrative.  So it is not surprising that SENORITAS turns out to be a non commercial film with no strong narrative.
    Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2C0jDXQJmPQ

    Directed by Robertson Rodriguez and Frank Miller


    Frank Miller’s (writer and co-directer) graphic novel adaptation into comic book style the graphic movie would be more appropriately called SIN CITY: A DAME TO DIE FOR as more guys end up dead rather than alive for their one sin - love for the voluptuous dames.

    This R-rating film has lots of gory and violence to satisfy adults - especially those that might be disappointed with THE EXPENDABLES 3’s downgraded R-Rating.  This film will have the audience cringing at the fingers broken by pliers, eyes gouged out from the head and multiple dismemberments during the many gory segments.   But all this should be taken in good stride as it is all good old dirty fun, if audiences just remember that this is only a movie.

    The plot is made up of 4 independent stories but linked with one or more common characters.  The film begins with ‘Just Another Saturday Night’ with John Hartigan (Bruce Willis) reuniting with stripper Nancy (Jessica Alba) as witnessed by Marv (Mickey Rourke) as he awakes after being beaten up.  The story shifts to “The Long Bad Night” with young Johnny (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) beating Senator Roark (Powers Boothe) at poker only to end up physically beaten up.  Then the shift is to “A Dame to Kill For” in which Dwight McCarthy (Josh Brolin) struggles with his inner demons and tries to maintain control until his former lover, Ava Lord (Eva Green).  she returns, wanting his help to escape her abusive husband, billionaire Damien Lord (Arton Csokas) and his massive bodyguard Manute.  The last story is ‘Nancy’s Last Dance’ in which Nancy of the first story hunts down the Senator.

    The graphics and visuals of the film (as in the first SIN CITY and 300 films) are stunning.  At times, the film appears like a moving comic book.  The dames are usually coloured while the rest of the frame remains black and white.  The blood is usually red but not all the time.  The portrayal of SIN CITY as a downtrodden sin-filled dump is done ever so well.

    But as amazing as the film looks, the novelty still wears down.  Just like the 3D effects, where audiences normally get used and not feel the 3D after a while, audiences want more from the film than looks.  The multiple stories tied loosely together mainly with the Mickey Rourke character works but the intercutting among the different tales loosens the momentum and buildup of each one.

    It seems that the criteria to get hired in this film is to be extremely sexy if you are a lady or extremely ugly (Joseph Gordon-Levitt has undergo ugliness touch-ups) if you are a guy.

    Directors Rodriguez and Miller do know how to build up the tension in a scene - the poker game segments are the best.  And  they keep the action segments slick, gory and violent.

    Not for everyone, but for those able to handle the sex, action and violence, IN CITY: A DAME TO KILL FOR has lots to offer.

    Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nqRRF5y94uE


    Directed by Thomas Carter


    There words ‘inspired by a true story’ flashes on the screen at the start of the football movie WHEN THE GAME STANDS TALL.  One can take it that the events occurred, i.e. the  winning and losing games on display but that the filmmakers have taken certain liberties in dramatizing the characterizations.

    The selling point of the film is the remarkable feat of legendary football coach Bob Ladouceur (Jim Caviezel), who took the De La Salle High School Spartans (California) from obscurity to a 151-game winning streak that shattered all records for any American sport.  It is surprising that a documentary has not been made of this journey.

    But the film begins with the 151st game. So the audience knows that the game is a winner but the one following is a downer with the streak lost.  This is the story the filmmakers wish to tell.  Coach Lad must teach his players - and the entire town - that the streak is not the game, a point drummed into the audience time again and one last time at the end of the film.

    The film leads to a final climatic match in which the Spartans has to win the game or lose everything they have worked for.  The usual editing is there, typical in a sports match - the intercutting among the players, the ball, the spectators, the coaches on both sides, the injuries etc.  The dialogue contains the usual pick up speeches.  The script also contains the lives of the poverty stricken players and goes so far as to emphasize the accidental death of one.  But despite all those distractions, the film is supposed to be about Coach Ladouceur.  But when the film dwells back on him, as in the end game or during a funeral, the flow is erratic.

    At its worst, the film dips into melodrama.  This happens when Coach lad invites the team to say whatever they want to say during a training session.  What follows are sob stories and pseudo inspirations relayed by the players.  One goes on to say that his grandfather ridden with cancer waits for him to cmd home to tell how the team played.

    For a dramatic film about Coach Lad, actor Jim Caviezel delivers a very subdued performance.  Even his speeches to the team are delivered soft like advice given by a father to a son (example: the perfect effort not the perfect play is what counts) than revving up spirits.  Laura Dern makes the most of the minor written part of Lad’s wife.  The performances of the actors playing the high school kids are however, fresh and winning.

    Director Thomas Carter (the forgettable SWING KIDS in 1993) has made an exciting enough sports saga but formulaic so that the winning point is the underlying story and not an major surprises.  As expected, the closing credits come with shots of the real Bob Ladoceur and a few of the footballers.  Sports fans and commercial audiences should be pleased with this film, but don’t expect anything else.

    Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qT0aE4iAnJo

    Best Pics of the Week:

    Best Film Playing: Calvary

    Comedy: 22 Jump Street

    Action: Transformers: Age of Extinction

    Foreign: Snowpiercer (South Korea)

    Horror: Under the Skin

    Doc: An Honest Lie

    Romance: The One I Love

  • This Week's Film Reviews (Aug 15, 2014)

    THE EXPENDABLES 3  and THE GIVER  are two blockbusters opening this week.


    Smaller films include YVES SAINT LAURENT and FRANK.

    TIFF Cinematheque is running a Robert Altman retrospective and a series on 'sequels'.

    Best Pics of the Week:

    Best Film Playing: Calvary

    Comedy: 22 Jump Street

    Action: Transformers: Age of Extinction

    Foreign: Snowpiercer (South Korea)

    Horror: Under the Skin

    Doc: An Honest Lie

    Romance: Magic in the Moonlight


    THE EXPENDABLES 3 (USA 2014) ***
    Directed by Patrick Hughes


    The 3rd foray into THE EXPENDABLES franchise is less serious than the original and less funny than the second.  Falling in between the two, the film recognizes its limitations of older actors and have included a younger cast of 20-somethings to join in the ranks. Patrick Hughes (RED HILL) lands a hand at the director’s wheel this time around.

    The film has Barney Ross (Sylvester Stallone), Lee Christmas (Jason Statham) and the rest of the team come face-to-face with Conrad Stonebanks (Mel Gibson), who years ago co-founded The Expendables with Barney.  Stonebanks subsequently became a ruthless arms trader and someone who Barney was forced to kill... or so he thought.  Barney decides that he has to fight old blood with new blood, and hires with his recruiter (Kelsey Grammer) to help him.

    The film is not short of action. From the opening prison break sequence on a travelling train, the action quickly moves to the operation the prisoner (Wesley Snipes) was sprung for.  One cannot say that the film is boring though may be far from perfect.

    There is always lots to complain about a blockbuster action film.  But for the plusses, it is good to see an action film done with minimal CGI, where real stunt work has to take place, with real explosions and crashing of vehicles, and where the actors have to sweat and run about.

    The visuals range from ugly (lot of mechanical and dilapidated warehouses) to stunning (scaling of a high rise building with reflecting panels).  The old fashioned special effects make a welcome change.

    The film contains lots of humour that can be read between the lines.  After Doctor Death (Wesley Snipes) is rescued from prison, his answer to what he was there for is: ‘tax evasion’.  Jokes abound too of the young vs. the old.  The best joke has the young recruits termed ‘the deletables’ for their tech know-how.  Gibson’s character also has his say as to how he is treated that is reflected in Gibson’s real life.  But Stallone is clearly on an ego trip with this film, though credit has to be given tom him for the difficult job of putting everything together.

    Of all the stars, Mel Gibson does the best as the villain and saves the film.  The best of the others include Antonio Banderas and Harrison Ford.

    Background information for the film?  A near perfect DVD copy has been available on the net and has been downloaded as many as 300,000 times when this review was written.  The film has also been downgraded from an R-rating which means adults can expect less violence and blood and language while the younger can watch action figures their father’s age do their thing.  Bet is that EXPENDABLES 3 will only do so-so at the box-office.

    Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4xD0junWlFc

    FRANK (UK/Ireland 2013) **1/2

    Directed by Lenny Abrahamson


    The FRANK of the film title is the eccentric titular character and leader of the band called Soronprfbs (yes, the name is unpronounceable) who wears a large papier-mâché head throughout the film.  He finally has to take it off at the end of the film revealing a Michael Fassbender, who is supposed to have played the character throughout the film with that head on.

    But the lead character of the film is not Frank but Jon (Domhnall Gleeson), a younger musician wannabe.  When he witnesses a man’s attempted suicide, he is offered the man’s job as guitarist in the band for the night’s concert.  After the disastrous performance, Jon is then whisked to joining the band and be put up at a rental cottage in Ireland to record the band album.  Jon begins posting videos on the internet of the band's rehearsal sessions as they aim to appear at the South by Southwest festival.  Fame makes strange bedfellows.

    If his sounds a bit weird, the film is weirder.  Frank, the band leader never takes the head off.  Jon wonders how Frank brushes his teeth but told not to ask any questions.  There is Clara (Maggie Gyllenhaal), who is clearly in love with Frank and willing to stab Jon if he gets in the way.  The other band members are just as crazy.

    The film knows its music and the audience is given a good lesson on song writing - the problems, inspirations as well as the mechanics of it (i.e. the chords, scales etc.).

    Domhnall Gleeson is winsome as the naive Jon, growing a full beard at one point in the film, only to have it shaven off again. But it could be anyone inside Frank’s head for that matter.  When Frank takes his clothes off, the body bearing the head did not look like Fassbender’s body, but a much smaller one. (But I could be wrong.)

    The film works well as a life lesson rather than a lesson on what has to go through to attain fame as a musician.  Jon sacrifices his inherited nest egg to the band he believes in - only to have the money squandered away.  Still, he remains loyal to the very end.  But besides being a mean film most of the time, Abrahamson’s film occasionally takes a flight into fantasy.  The most uplifting segment has Frank show an European tourist the enlightenment in life.

    Abrahamson’s film is weird and different that puts it one step up the pedestal compared to other films.  But it suffers in that  the climax and lack of a happy ending fails to satisfy audiences expecting a big punch given all the film’s build up.

    Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Wk-hWzq67w4

    THE GIVER (USA 2014) **

    Directed by Phillip Noyce


    Films on teens in a futuristic, dystopian society appear to be the big moneymaker in Hollywood these days.  THE HUNGER GAMES and DIVERGENT series have proven that.  But THE GIVER which is set in a supposedly planned perfect world where there is no conflict, envy, hatred or sickness, is different in that it is not an action movie.  The novel uses the term ‘sameness society’.

    In DIVERGENT, society is separated into classes.  Similarly in THE GIVER, every member of society has a specific role.  16-year old Jonas (Brendan Thwaites) is selected to be the Receiver of Memory.   As Jonas uncovers the truth behind his world's past, he discovers that many years earlier, his forefathers gave up humanity in order to have a stable society.   The Giver (Jeff Bridges) is training Jonas under the suspicious eye of the Chief Elder (Meryl Streep).

    The film plays like the the old sci-fi ZERO POPULATION GROWTH, where the main characters are running away from the government.  But director Noyce seems to be at a loss on how to play his film.  There is not enough thrills or excitement nor is there a strong enough romantic element.  The trouble is that the film is predictable and the audience knows from the start, that the boy is going to rebel, be hunted down by the authorities and eventually escape.

    The novel has Jonas at the age of 12 (as the the book on which the film is based is a children’s novel) but the film matures the main character to the age of 16.  It makes the story more believable as one can hardly expect a 12-year old to be in love or matured enough to carry on his intuitive feelings

    Brenton Thwaites is credible as the boy in turmoil.  But Noyce is unable to illicit memorable performances form the more well-known actors like Alexander Skarsgard or Katie Holmes whom play Jonas’ father and mother.  Holmes and Skarsgard just stand around like models, obey or look bewildered.  The chief elder is one of Meryl Streep’s) silliest roles, one that would normally be played by Tilda Swinton (as in SNOWPIERCER and THE BEACH).

    The film is shot largely in muted colours, the screen turning into full brightness during the segments where memories are recalled

    It is surprising that Australian director Noyce who has directed on of the best Aussie films NEWSFRONT and the exciting DEAD CALM has directed such a bland film about human nature’s most essential traits - love.  When Jonas discovers the re-birth of love, one would have expected a solid power punch emotional ride.  All the audience got is the fizzle of a kiss.

    Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iJNNugNe0Wo

    HARD DRIVE (Canada 2014) **

    Directed by William D. MacGillivray

    Laura Slade Wiggins and Douglas Smith as Debs and Ditch in Hard Drive.

    Canadian director William MacGillivray’s (LIFE LESSONS) latest feature is another Life lesson in a sort of way.  Based on the novel Ditch by Hal Niedviecki, the story centres on two teens that find love amidst a world that does not dish them life on silver platters. In Nova Scotia, Ditch (Douglas Smith) is a slacker still living with his mother.  His mother nags him to go to Community College as he is good with his hands.  But he meets instead and falls in love, much to the mother’s chagrin, with runaway teen named Debs (Laura Slade Wiggins).  Director MacGillivray shows that she is not good for him.  But he still drives her back to her father in the U.S. The film is filled with a different indie music track that suits the theme of runawaysvin a road movie.  But the movie just struggles along and the script or story does not offer the two a decent way out of the rut. It does not help that Debs is portrayed as a complete crazed floozy.  She drinks most of the time despite Ditch’s objections.  She screams at him for looking at her computer (claiming privacy and liking it to reading her brains) and is completely ungrateful for what he is doing for her.  The film offers no reason for Ditch to be in love with her.  So the idea of the two lovers running away together is not very believable. The contemporary love story also contain quite a bit of nastiness that includes a segment of ironing out an old tattoo.  The other secret is in the hard drive of Debs’ computer.  The film might be an ok watch for those not too fussy about their entertainment, but otherwise there are no real life lessons learnt here. (No trailer found)

    L’ECUME DES JOURS (MOOD INDIGO) (France/Belgium 2013) ***

    Directed by Michel Gondry


    Based on the 1947 book ‘Froth of the Daydream’, Michel Gondry’s (ETERNAL SUNSHINE OF THE SPOTLESS MIND) whimsical romantic fantasy draws its inspiration from the gadgets and the then futuristic look of the past.  That is where the strength of the film as well as its failures lie.

    The story is centred on Colin (Romain Duris).  Colin has a very pleasant life: he is rich, he loves the food his cook, Nicolas (Omar Sy) makes.  Colin loves his pianocktail (contraction of piano and cocktail, a word invented by Vian) and his friend Chick (Gad Elmaleh).  One day while having lunch with Chick, Chick tells him that he met a girl named Alise (Aissa Majga) with whom he has a common passion: the writer Jean-Sol Partre (a spoonerism of Jean-Paul Sartre who was Boris Vian's friend).  Colin meets Chloe (Audrey Tautou from AMELIE) at a party Chick invited him to.  They fall in love, marry, but Chloe becomes ill during their honeymoon. As time passes, Chloe's condition deteriorates while the relationship between Chick and Alise turns sour.

    The setting is the future as observed in the past ie. the 40’s.  What this means is that automation is shown with conveyor belts of old fashioned typewriters, electronics displayed as solid state and cathode ray tubes and the future is seen as in the old 60’s and 70’s films.  

    The best thing about the film is the Duke Ellington music numbers that add a fresh turn to the proceedings.

    Nothing is bothered to be explained.  How did Colin come about his independent wealth and then run out of money?  Why the interest in all the odd inventions?  Who is this mouse and where did he come from?

    It does t help that the film heads towards an unhappy instead of a happy ending.  The film also turns black and white.  The romances also turn bad.

    Charlotte Le Bon who was practical unheard of this year, has the small role of Isis in this film.  She has major roles in two other films this year, YVES SAINT LAURENT, which also the same day as this film and THE HUNDRED-FOOT JOURNY that opened last week.

    The film should be seen for the ingenious props that include everything from the door alarm running around like a roach to a workplace filled with typewriters set up like convey manufacturing. The colourful visuals that include wardrobe and set decoration are out of this world.  Unfortunately, these dwarf the main plot which ultimately turn out too whimsical at the end.

    Faults aside, one has to credit the filmmakers for trying extremely hard to make a different kind of movie.  This they succeed but whether it is a satisfactory and entertaining one is up to the audience’s individual taste.

    Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=38ugyccL5zU

    THE TRIP TO ITALY (UK 2014) ***
    Directed by Michael Winterbottom


    THE TRIP TO ITALY follows the camaraderie and misadventures of two British friends hired by The Guardian paper to do a culinary article based on gourmet restaurants in several cities in Italy.

    Director Michael Winterbottom’s (24-HOUR PARTY PEOPLE, JUDE) second edited film from the hit TV series on culinary critics Rob (Rob Brydon) and Steve (Steve Coogan) has one of the shortest introductions.  Within 2 minutes or so, Rob and Steve are whisked off to Italy doing much of the same shenanigans as in their first film THE TRIP.

    At the film’s start, Steve tell Rob that sequels are rarely ever as good as the original, referring to their second excursion.  He also tells Rob, ‘No more impersonations’ during the trip, an instruction that is quickly forgotten.  One of the best things about THE TRIP was to watch the two at it competing who can do the best impersonations of selected celebrities.  This time around they do Al Pacino and Michael Caine again, the various actors that have played James Bond, Marlon Brando, Robert De Niro, just to name a few.

    One can find it hard to complain about a film that has to amusing actors at the helm, beautiful scenery (of Italy) and mouth-watering gourmet dishes on display.  Winterbottom does away with the wives  as if it is ok to indulge in infidelity on holiday.  The film also displays what it is to enjoy the good life - when one has fame, money and rich connections.

    But Winterbottom’s film runs out of material in the last third.  So, he brings in a meeting with Coogan’s son visiting.  The last scene with the two (father and son) swimming in the sunset appears clear that there is nothing more to be said.

    Trailer: http://trailers.apple.com/trailers/ifcfilms/thetriptoitaly/

    YVES SAINT LAURENT (France 2013) ***

    Directed by Jalil Lespert


    The film opens in 1957 with the camera on the back of a young Yves Saint Laurent (Pierre Niney of the Comédie-Française) as he sits at a desk working gazing out of the window.  But the man is sketching dresses rather than writing and his elegant attire coupled with the antique furniture prepares the audience to an immaculately art and wardrobed designed biopic.

    Lespert’s stylish film traces the start of YSL’s career just as Christian Dior passes on and wills him the prestigious spot of the one taking over the Dior house.  His mental instability erupts but the film does wise not to  dwell too much on this dark side of the designer genius.  Laurent’s drug use is also just shown in passing of him doing a line of cocaine. The film concentrates on the human aspects, particularly his relationship with his business partner, Pierre Berge (Guillaume Gallienne, also of the Comédie-Française).  The love/hate relationship portrayed is typical not only of gay designers but of many gay couples - so nothing too much shocking here.  Laurent is displayed occasionally as a spoilt child, but not without some good sayings: "Without inspiration, there is no life!"  But the man’s occasional foray into the dangerous zone is still scary.  Lespert does well to end the film on a high note.

    As expected, the film is not always easy to watch.  But the designer gowns are gorgeous and the various shows are themselves worth the ticket admission price.

    Young Pierre Niney is really good (and sexy, especially in the scene in his swimming trunks) as Saint Laurent and manages to carry the film’s heavy tone from start to finish.  Charlotte Le Bon (THE HUNDRERD-FOOT JOURNEY) has the role of Victoire, Laurent's model and muse.

    There are no French films that made a commercial release this year except this one.  Hopefully its deserved success will spurn more interest in French fare.

    Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bXQoO9r_CuY

  • TIFF Cinematheque Presents - Sequels

    TIFF Cinematheque Presents - Sequels

    The title of this program, SECOND COMINGS consists of the finest follow-ups (sequels) paired with the originals.  Cinema’s Greatest Sequels runs from August 8th to the 31st, starting with THE GODFATHER PART II, in 4K digital restoration, opening on August the 7th.

    For complete program listing, ticket pricing and venue, please check the TIFF Cinematheque website at


    Capsule Reviews for selected films follow:

    BATMAN (USA 1989) ***
    Directed by Tim Burton


    Michael Keaton plays Batman and millionaire Bruce Wayne in this Tim Burton version that arrives hot on the heels of their success.  But Jack Nicholson as the Joker gets top billing and almost equal screen time as Batman.  The femme fatale is Kim Basinger who is torn between her loyalty to Wayne and Batman.  The film follows true to the roots of the d.c. comic books unlike the Christopher Nolan DARK KNIGHT films (that have become too serious for their own good with Christian Bale training in Tibet and have taken too many liberties with the stories like Batman getting married and Alfred dying).  Burton’s BATMAN is creepy and dark but the film still manages to be fun (courtesy of Nicholson hamming it up) even if it is a tad too long.  All the special effects are there from the batmohile and batplane and Burton’s surrealism is also ever present as seen in the petrified forest around Gotham City.  Prince lends his hand at the songs and music during the 200th year celebration of Gotham City.

    THE EVIL DEAD (USA 1981) ***

    Directed by Sam Raimi


    THE EVIL DEAD is the first of three and a reboot of EVIL DEAD films that spun a cult following.  This one is more horror and less comedy compared to the sequel, and really nasty in terms of scares, blood and gore.  Five college students vacation in an isolated cabin.  They find an audiotape and book that releases a legion of demons and spirits that begin possessing the members of the group.  Unlike most horror films, the men are the survivors with Ash (Bruce Campbell) being the last one surviving (or not) into the sequel.  Though this film contains potential for humour, Raimi only taps it in the sequel.  This is the perfect film to bring up to the cottage to watch in the night.

    THE EVIL DEAD 2 (USA 1987) ***

    Directed by Sam Raimi


    This is a weird sequel.  It starts off where the original left off with Ash (Bruce Campbell) being the last survivor than being possessed by the evil dead.  The tim then goes on to retell the story, an alternate version.  Ash and his girlfriend Linda are now in a remote cabin in the woods. There he discovers a tape recorder that a professor had used to record incantations from the Necronomicon XMortis - the Book of the Dead.  When he turns it on, the recording releases a dark, sinister force from the woods.  It turns Linda into a zombie, her soul possessed by some hideous demon, and then tries to do the same to Ash.   The sequel is more comedy horror then horror and so it would be more fun to watch this in a theatre full of enthusiastic horror fans.  The segment with the spirit chasing Ash all around inside the cabin is particularly hilarious as the one with him trying to get rid of his possessed hand.

    FISTFUL OF DOLLARS (Spain/Italy/W Germany 1962) ***
    Directed by Sergio Leone


    This is the film that started the popularity of the spaghetti western.  Different from American westerns, the spaghetti western was always  shot in sparse barren landscapes in Spain that doubled for the west in America.  Mexico was always in the foreground with bounty hunters looking to make a small fortune hunting down bandits.  There are no ranches, or wagons or calvary in these films.  In FISTFUL OF DOLLARS, the first of its kind, the man with no name (Clint Eastwood) enters a remote town and sells his services to two waring factions.  If the plot sound familiar, it is a copy of Akira Kurosawa’s classic YOJIMBO.  The film resulted in legal problems that delayed its release in the U.S. for about 3 years.  Still, the resetting from japan to the west is a well done if not a more serious version of YOJIMBO.

    FOR A FEW DOLLARS MORE (Italy/Spain/W Germany 1965) ****
    Directed by Sergio Leone


    “Where life is cheap, death comes with a price.” The humorous titles state in the beginning of the film, which is the justification for bounty hunters.  Two of them, the man with no name (Clint Eastwood) and the Colonel (Lee Van Cleef) are bound to join forces to take on the biggest prize (Gian Maria Volente) who is planning a big bank robbery complete with a full gang of misfits.  The film has plenty of action and shoot-outs amidst the dry bare landscape that is  typical of spaghetti westerns.  Leone’s brand of humour is just too funny - from the buck-teethed busty woman at the hotel trying to pick up the man with no name to the little kid that asks for money any time he divulges information to the man with name.  The Ennio Morricone score makes this the perfect Sergio Leone western.

    FRANKENSTEIN (USA 1931) ****

    Directed by James Whale


    The most iconic horror film of all time based on the play and novel of the same name, FRANKENSTEIN has all the elements of a classic horror movie - a scary enough looking monster, a madman, storms always lurking in the background, a huge castle (lighthouse, actually) and a damsel in distress.  It is 1894 in Nyon, Switzerland and Henry Frankenstein, a young scientist, and his assistant Fritz, a hunchback, piece together a human body, the parts of which have been collected from various sources. Frankenstein desires to create human life through electrical devices which he has perfected.  The black and white visuals are stunning as anything seen lately in CGI current horror flicks.  Boris Karloff with make up by Jack Pierce makes the excellent monster while Colin Clive overacts to perfection as Dr. Henry Frankenstein.  Mae Clarke is suitably distressed and puzzled as Elizabeth over her fiance’s obsession to create life while Dwight Frye plays hunchback Fritz with a good balance of humour and creepiness.

    Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BN8K-4osNb0

    Directed by James Whale


    The much critically acclaimed sequel to FRANKENSTEIN follows on immediately from the events of the earlier film.   A chastened Henry Frankenstein (Colin Clive) abandons his plans to create life, only to be tempted and finally coerced by the Monster, encouraged by Henry's old mentor Dr. Pretorius, (Ernest Thesiger) into constructing a mate for him.  Elsa Lanchester plays both Mary Shelley who appears in the film as the author of the novel, who tells the continuation of the story and the monster’s mate.  A lot happens in the last climatic 5 minutes of the film, that includes the monster’s mate’s creation, the mate’s reaction and what happens to Henry and Elizabeth.  The burning windmill at the climax of FRANKENSTEIN is matched by the burning and blowing up of a castle in the sequel.

    Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=r9t6NHlPJHA

    THE GODFATHER (USA 1970) ***** TOP 10

    Directed by Francis Ford Coppola


    The original Best Picture Oscar winner that spurned two critically acclaimed and box-office successful sequels Parts I and II still stands at the best of the three.  Based on the novel and co-written by Mario Puzo, this is the epic story of the Corleone Mafia clan, its troubles and how it finally manages to stay on top by extremely violent means.  The film opens with the wedding of the Godfather’s (Marlon Brando) daughter’s (Talia Shire) wedding.  As the Don is being greeted by various ‘guests’ requesting favours (See Image), Coppola’s film cuts to the celebrations in which many things are going on in between the lines or images.  The sons are introduced from hot-tempered Sonny (James Caan), adopted Tom Hagan (Robert Duvall) to eldest Alfredo (John Cazale) to the favourite youngest Michael (Al Pacino) who will eventually inherit the position of Godfather.  The film is scattered with violent killings from strangulation, knifing, gunning to the beheading of a horse.  The ending is a brilliant intercutting of the assassination of the 5 other family heads amidst the christening of Michael’s Christening of his Godson in which he denounces Satan and his deeds.  Everything else about the film is near perfect including Nino Rota’s riveting score and Brando’s performance that won him the Oscar for Best Actor.

    THE GODFATHER PART II (USA 1974) ***** Top 10 

    Directed by Francis Ford Coppola

    (sequel to THE GODFATHER)


    Co-written by Francis Ford Coppola and Mario Puzo, PART II is both the prequel and sequel to THE GODFATHER that went on to win 6 Oscars including Best Picture.  An epic film running at 200 minutes, the film tells the dual stories of Michael Corleone (Al Pacino) , the new Don of the family and his ‘business ventures’ after an attempt was made on the life of his family and the other of Vito Don Corleone (Robert De Niro) of his escape from Sicily in 1901 to the rise in his empire in New York City.  Both stories are absorbing and aptly executed.  De Niro and Pacino are both excellent with the former winning the Oscar for Best Supporting Actor and the latter nominated for Best Actor.  Coppola intercuts both stories with grace and expertise, often switching the stories at their highlights - example at the crucial family fight between Michael and his wife, Kay (Diane Keaton).  The mood and atmosphere of PART II are maintained, with the music of Nino Rota and the cinematography of Gordon Willis.  Though not as violent but just as disturbing in its portrayal of organized crime, THE GODFATHER II was released in 1974 to great acclaim and deservedly so.  Arguably the best sequel (and prequel) ever made!

    SANJURO (Japan 1963) ****

    Directed by Akira Kurosawa


    Director Kurosawa and actor Toshiro Mifune unite in the sequel to YOJIMBO.  Mifune reprises his role as a clever and expert masterless Ronin for hire who help a clan rid itself of the vermin.  The superintendent of the clan is the traitor aiming to blame the Chamberlain for corruption and hence take over the clan.  The Ronin aids the clueless good guys.  The best line in the film, as uttered by the Ronin: “It’s a stupid plan, but the excitement will keep me awake!”.  SANJURO is more entertaining and more fun than YOJIMBO and not as confusing in terms of plot.  The villains are also, in the words of the Ronin, quite clever and often comes one up on top in ideas before the good guys.  Kurosawa’s humour is ever present in the form of the Ronin’s behaviour.

    YOJIMBO (Japan 1961) ****
    Directed by Akira Kurosawa


    The year is 186o in feudal Japan.  A ronin (masterless samurai) (Toshiro Mifune) wanders into a small village and hires himself between the two warring gangs, Seibei and Ushitora.  The ronin stays with the old man, Gonji at the inn who feeds him and grumbles half the time about him and the town.  At the same time, he feeds the Ronin information.  The film contains lots of comical characters from Gonji, to the major to the henchmen on both sides.  But Kurosawa does not shy against violence and brutality.  There are lots of beatings and dismemberments with blood spurting out everywhere.  But Kurosawa has a soft side shown when the Ronin rescues a mother and child and when he offers his enemy some sympathy.  A rare chance to see two Japanese greats together - director Kurosawa and actor Mifune.

  • This Week's Film Reviews (Aug 8, 2014)

    TEENAGE MUTANT NINJA TURTLES  and INTO THE STORM two blockbusters open this week.


    Smaller films include CALVARY and THE HUNDRED-FOOT JOURNEY.


    ABOUT ALEX (USA 2014) **

    Directed by Jesse Zwick


    One might have expected director Jesse Zwick to have picked something more original than this well worn used story for his debut feature.  Not only is this a take off of THE BIG CHILL, but the story is an almost complete ripoff of the 2009 Iranian film by Asghar Farhadi entitled ABOUT ELLY.

    This is a film about really annoying characters who sleep with each other, taunt the hell out of each other, argue and fight and then somehow get their act together by the end of the last reel and take a lovely group photo.  It all begins with Alex’s (Jason Ritter, son of John Ritter) attempted suicide.  So his circle of 20-something college buddies reunite for a weekend to cheer him up and yes, irritate the hell out of each other (and the audience) in the mean time.  Despite the group's best efforts to keep it light and enjoy themselves, a tinderbox of old jealousies, unrequited love, and widening political differences leads to an explosion that, coupled with the flammable combination of drugs (- but not to worry, only pot here), wine, and risotto, cannot be contained.  (See image of asshole and prude.)

    The most interesting character is Josh (Max Greenfield), the biggest asshole of the group.  It is interesting to see how Zwick has written the worst lines for him and then turns him into a likeable guy at the end, for no reason at all.  For a film of this genre, all the predictable elements are present.  The group break out into impromptu dance; they cook fantastic meals in the kitchen and some talk about the old days with shots of the characters younger.   But Zwick’s film should contain more humour than at present.  THE BIG CHILL was funnier and though the gathering of a dysfunctional college group is the least of my favourite film genres, humour would have elevated the film’s bogged down artificial drama.

    When the film finally comes to a close, it will turn out that the film’s most likeable character is the black dog.  And not because the dog is so cute, but that it has the least dialogue to say.

    Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YGraucjOUGI

    CALVARY (UK/Ireland 2013) ****
    Directed by John Michael McDonagh


    John Michael McDonagh’s (THE GUARD) critically acclaimed Irish-set film opens with Father James (Brendan Gleeson) listening to a confession.  His unseen parishioner explains that he had tasted semen when he was only seven, and had been abused orally and anally since then.  When Father James asks if he should file a complaint, the reply is that the guilty priest is already dead and he want to kill up righteous priest Father James as revenge and retaliation as that would make the difference.  Father James is given the following Sunday to put his affairs in order and to meet his death on the beach.

    That is quite the beginning.  McDonagh’s film works then on several levels - a whodunit, an examination and criticism of the Roman Catholic priesthood and on the cinematic level, a black comedy and drama.

    CALVARY is a brilliant little film in many ways.  It teases and wallows in the mud to reveal the light.  The film is so dark at times,  it will disturb and yet the dark humour is hilarious.  It also works as a whodunit with the many suspects thrown out to the audience that the guilty one is hard to predict.  The best thing  is what the script delivers as obvious turns out to be a decoy at the end.

    McDonagh is brave enough to cast many comedians in serious roles.  Chris O’Dowd from BRIDESMAIDS plays the smart husband who figures out his wife and himself are better off with her being infidel while FATHER TED’s Ardal O’Hanlon plays the insecure sex addict.  But it is Gleeson that carries the film off, delivering a sensitive, intelligent yet fierce performance, dwarfing all the other actors, but in a  good way.

    The film is set in Sligo County where the nearby beach is comprised of black rocks washed by high waves.  The beautiful Irish landscapes is the film’s added bonus.

    CALVARY finally triumphs, just as it is the good will of man that eventually triumphs over evil.  But it is a wicked journey to the road to CALVARY.  But it is a well rewarding journey though a difficult one to make.  In the film, a character tells Father James: “This is what like about you.  You are too sharp for this parish.”  CALVARY is one of the most intelligent films I have seen this year.  Hopefully the film will not be too sharp for audiences to appreciate.

    Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LGM5rq_vX4U

    AN HONEST LIAR (USA/Spain.Italy/Canada 2014) ***
    Directed by Tyler Measom, Justin Weinstein


    In the film, an honest liar is one that lies to reveal as opposed to one that lies to deceive.  The subject of this documentary of one such honest liar is the world-famous magician, escape artist, and world-renowned enemy of deception, James 'The Amazing' Randi.

    The film brings to life Randi's intricate investigations that publicly exposed psychics, faith healers, and con-artists with quasi-religious fervour.   The film follows Randi around on his exploits while he speaks directly to the camera on his philosophy on life.  He basically wants to save those fooled by psychics and healers who dupe the public out of their money.  A nice turn near the end of the film has thee people turn on him.  These people are shown as ‘idiots’ who want to be duped for being afraid of the truth while all Randi can do is glare in disbelief.

    The audience is most riled up during the segments when Randi uses his expertise to reveal the dishonest liars.  The top two on his list are the metal bender and Reverend Popov (who Randi admits is the bottom of the sum) what Randi finally exposes.  Directors Measom and Weinstein allow these two to defend themselves, but it is clear that they haunting much to say after the embarrassment.

    Directors Measom and Wesinstein play their film well.  The film won the Best Documentary award at the Newport Beach Film Festival.  They chose a fairly intriguing subject, an honest man who has made his life long goal a worthwhile one.  Randy is a  great man in his own way, but he is shown to he human with problems of his own, and also a sad man despite all the jokes he constantly cracks around people.   The film reveals more towards the end with a neat twist when Randi himself is forced to come out of the closet (at the age of 81) and stop living that lie.

    The film turns dramatic when Randi's created fictional characters, fake psychics, and even turned his partner of 25 years, the artist Jose Alvarez, into a sham guru named Carlos.  At one point, he is angry at the filmmakers for revealing too much about his personal life.

    The audience grows to respect the bearded man known as Randi James by the end of the last reel, the same person that appears annoying at the film start, a Houdini wannabe.  A nice feat from directors Measom and Weinstein who unfortunately claim at the end of this entertaining documentary that they are still in debt and asking the audience for donations.

    Randi himself will be present on the Friday Aug 8th 6.30pm showing for an Q&A after the screening.  That should be a blast!

    Trailer: http://vimeo.com/91847894


    Directed by Lasse Hallstrom


    Swede director Lasse Hallstrom (MY LIFE AS A DOG, CHOCOLAT,  WHAT’S EATING GILBERT GRAPE?) is well known for his sentimental melodramas that often delight audiences so much so that critics will forgive him for his excesses.  In his latest THE HUNDRED-FOOT JOURNEY, he goes overboard with the culinary nonsense of blending Indian and French cuisine (with maybe fusion); an awkward inter-racial romance and the old bullshit that the patriarch of the family is always right.

    The story, based on a novel by Richard C. Morais and adapted by Stephen Knight (LOCKE) follows an upcoming Indian chef, Hassan Kadam (Manish Dayal) who has moved with his family from Mumbai due to political unrest.  After trying London, Papa (Om Puri) settles instead for a small cozy town in France after the car breaks down there.  The silly reasoning of the brakes breaking down for a reason is given.

    Ones tolerance for Hallstrom takes its limits in the scene in which one of Madame Mallory’s chefs, Jean-Pierre is fired for burning down the Indian restaurant.  Madame makes him read out in both French and English the French National Anthem and then goes on about Liberty, Fraternity and Equality before telling him to pack his knives and get out.  This is cheap theatrics in the highest order aimed to manipulate audiences to believe in the the colours of the French flag.

    The romance between the two budding chefs, Hassan and Madame Mallory’s sous-chef, Marguerite (Charlotte Le Bon) looks and feels awkward.  Thank God they left the probable romance between Madame Mallory and Papa alone.  The other part with Chef Hassan attaining fame in Paris and finally getting his Michelin third star is pushing the limit.  Not only that, but the film starts to really lag in interest.

    One bright surprise comes a cameo by Michel Blanc (MONSIEUR HIRE) playing the bewildered but always well fed town major forced to listen to the squabbles of the two restauranteurs.  Helen Mirren is excellent in the role of the pompous Madame Mallory and the fact that she had a role in THE QUEEN is briefly made mentioned in the script’s dialogue.  But she is British and one would have hoped to see one of France’s prominent actresses in the role of Madame instead - say Catherine Frot.

    Besides the culinary scenes where one can drool over both the Indian and French cuisine, the tired tale of the coming together of two cultures is drab and dull for the most part.  The lack of humour in what is expected to be a comedy/drama is glaringly obvious.  Even the Queen cannot save the day!

    Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yEO1TWeM5JU

    INTO THE STORM (USA 2014) **

    Directed by Steven Quale


    INTO THE STORM is one film that audiences will see for their insatiable curiosity for tornadoes.  The film satisfies visually in terms of special effects courtesy of CGI, but the other aspect i.e. the education is sadly missing.

    INTO THE STORM is not the first film made on storms.  THE PERFECT STORM and TWISTER are two films that immediately come to mind, and many still have the latter film with the flying cows still fresh in the mind.  In INTO THE STORM, as in TWISTER, the core group on screen is a group of tornado chasers, this one led by Pete (Matt Walsh).  At the start of the film, it appears that a random group of characters are dumped into the script (as disaster films often do) but these characters are linked together quite soon, thankfully.  Some human element, no matter how silly has to be included into action blockbusters or else the film feels empty.  Like in TRANSFORMERS 4, it is the father children relationship (replacing the romantic element) that is put into the picture.  The Vice President of a high school (the role of the President is reserved for the Obama actor look-alike), Gary Morris (Richard Armitage) is having relationship problems with the elder son, Jacob (Jeremy Sumpter), who takes off during the graduation ceremonies to be at a chemical site with his girl friend, Kaitlyn (Alycia Debnam-Carey).  Lo and behold, the twister strikes both places, the high school ceremony and the site and a major part of the film has him looking for his son.  Another subplot (hum drum duplication here) has a member of the twister case team, Allison Stone (Sarah Wayne Callies) needing to spend more time with her 5-year old daughter.  So-so comical relief is provided by the two drunk slackers who want to capture the action to upload on YouTube.

    No one really cares for these human stories.  Director Quale takes a full 40 minutes of screen time before the first storm appears.  But the wait is worthwhile and the audience is wowed as the sky turns dark and the twisters form on screen.  Quale also ups the angst by putting the audience in the eye of the tornado.  The film’s best segment has the tank is taken up for a twirl right up into the sky.

    The ‘found footage’ approach helps distracts the audience a bit from the hollowness of the plot.  The 25-year time capsule video project attempted by the Morris sons is more laughable than believable.

    But one would imagine the audience would just be as interested in the theory of the twisters - how they are formed, how long they last and what paths they take.  The script only offers a few teasing solutions like giving the speed of the winds.  Apparently, one character in the film, Stone has a degree on the subject of storms so more theory should have been included in the script.

    The climax is neatly put together with the biggest tornado hitting the characters all holed up in a hint manhole.  But the casualties in the film are too predictable (not mentioned in the review).  No cows are killed in the film a well, only large numbers of tractors, planes, buses, trucks and cars.

    Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LnTnbdd859A

    LAND HO! (USA/Iceland 2014) **

    Directed by Martha Stephens and Aaron Katz


    A pair of ex-brothers-in-law (the reason for ‘ex’ is explained early on in the film) set off to Iceland in an attempt to reclaim their youth through Reykjavik nightclubs, trendy spas, and rugged campsites.

    Mitch (Earl Lynn Nelson) is the one paying for the trip and the wild one.  Paul (Paul Eenhoorn) is the tamer but he is still game for a good time.  This bawdy adventure is a throwback to 1980s road trip comedies with lots of movie references thrown in along the way.   The film touches practically the issues aging, loneliness, and friendship without being preachy.

    But one wishes that directors Katz and Stephens did not go for the cheap laughs.  The smoking of joints, flirtation with younger women and smart talk are supposed to let the audience believe that Mitch and Paul are pretty cool guys and not dirty old men.

    Nothing much happens in this film.  And that is the trouble with LAND HO!  Nothing much happens.  But the Icelandic landscape from the unfrozen ponds, to the geysers and hot springs to the volcanic soil is stunning.

    It is difficult to crucify a film like LAND HO! which is simple, good hearted and well-intentioned.  But it is like watching a teen comedy, only at the other end of the spectrum.  Fart jokes are also present.  The jokes may be more meaningful and funnier if one is around the age of 60, if not LAND HO! is quite the boring affair.  The film does provide a good travelogue guide and an incentive to visit Iceland.

    Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VOrALE_pBxU&feature=kp

    SENORITAS (Colombia/Canada 2014) **

    Directed by Lina Rodriguez


    SENORITAS is the feature film debut of TIFF publicist Lina Rodriguez Colombian descent living in Toronto.

    Her minimalist film follows a girl, Alejandra (Maria Serrano) in her late 20’s or perhaps early 30’s hanging around a bunch of friends.  She lives with her mother (played by Rodriguez’s real mother) who is a tad too nosy on her whereabouts and friends.

    In one interview with Lina Rodriguez, she mentioned the 8-minute take of her protagonist  walking home in the night.  She mentioned that the intention is to show her loneliness while also indicating a fear factor as anything could happen to her.  (But it is to be noted that a song with the lyrics and title of ‘Loneliness’ has just blared on the screen, so the first part of the intention is already realized.)  For a 90-minute movie, this is a tenth of the film’s running time, not to mention that there are 3 segments with the camera behind Senorita’s back neck with nothing much going on.  Is the Rodrigues doing the Dardennes Brothers and Bela Tarr (apparently Rodriguez’s influence).

    Nothing much happens in SENORITAS.  The film can best be described as an observational film.  If one wants to read more into the movie, one can, especially in the climatic swimming pool scene, but the discovery can be personal and inconsequential.  But the film, while moving at a snail’s pace, teases more than reveals - and this can be quite the annoyance to the typical commercial moviegoer.

    Rodriguez’s camerawork is basically similar from start to finish.  Her camera is stationary and her actors act within the frame.  The only time a mild difference occurs is towards the end of the film when the camera moves left to right and then right to let to capture the actor’s dialogue.  One can imagine the frustration of the actors working within the frame and likely having to do multiple takes.  One immediately is aware to that there are no drops of water on the camera lens in the swimming pool scene to Rodriguez’s credit.  One wishes that she would pull her camera back more often instead of having her actors in the audience’s face most of the time.

    Rodriguez said during that interview that she had problems with funding as the short features she had to show were basically experimental works (rhythm and shadow) with no narrative.  So it is not surprising that SENORITAS turns out to be a non commercial film with no strong narrative.
    Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2C0jDXQJmPQ


    Directed by Jonathan Liebesman


    TEENAGE MUTANT NINJA TURTLES is a reboot of the original 1990 film adaptation of the Peter Laird comic book TV series that also spurned two sequels and one other TNMT.

    The film opens with darkness settling over New York City as Shredder and the Foot Clan hold politicians in their power.  Crime is out of hand.  Meanwhile the TMNT are still being trained beneath the sewers and not allowed to appear in public till ready.  All this is told via voiceover before the film settles on the film’s protagonist, which happens to be human being, a fearless news reporter, April O’Neil (Megan Fox) who would do anything to get a story.

    The dark atmosphere of the comic book is kept in the film while keeping the action and dialogue tongue-in-cheek.  The story is pretty much unchanged except for a few changes. Whoopi Goldberg has a welcome part as Bernadette Thompson, April’s supervisor who finally fires her.  April’s romantic interest (Will Arnett) is also present, but not enough to distract the audience too much from the action.

    As the original audience of the series are presently in their 30’s the humour is catered towards the more mature.  For example, there is a sexual innuendo joke about the ‘froth’ on coffee.  There are also plenty of product placements (Pizza Hit, Victoria Secret) to annoy critics. But they are done so blatantly unlike with humour as in Michael Bay’s TRANSFORMERS 4.

    The final climatic fight sequences are exciting enough (too much CGI and 3D) but nothing than has not been seen in recent action films like TRANSFORMERS 4 and DAWN OF THE PLANET OF THE APES.

    Director Liebesman (BATTLE: LOS ANGELES, WRATH OF THE TITANS) does an ok job but there is no ingenuity or innovation on display here.

    The first TEENAGE MUTANT NINJA TURTLES film cost $13.5 million to make and made over $200 million box-office.  This new reboot cost $125 million with super special effects and the Michael Bay touch.  It would be interesting to see how much it will make.

    Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dwXFsrp6WBs



    Best Pics of the Week:

    Best Film Opening: Calvary

    Comedy: 22 Jump Street

    Action: Transformers: Age of Extinction

    Foreign: Snowpiercer (South Korea)

    Horror: Under the Skin

    Doc: An Honest Lie

    Romance: Magic in the Moonlight

  • TIFF Cinematheque Presents - Robert Altman


    TIFF Cinematheque Presents – Robert Altman

    As TIFF Bell Lightbox presents the Canadian premiere of Ron Mann’s new documentary Altman on August 1, TIFF Cinematheque presents some of the greatest films from the iconoclastic director’s long, rich, and remarkably eclectic career. Films include Altman’s breakthrough success M*A*S*H (1970), which firmly established his directorial signatures (long takes, restless zooms, overlapping dialogue, a fondness for improvisation, and a unique degree of collaboration with his cast and crew); his brilliant excursions into genre revisionism McCabe & Mrs. Miller (1971), The Long Goodbye (1973) and Thieves Like Us (1974); the wacky comedy-spoof-fable Brewster McCloud (1970); the panoramic, multi-character masterpieces Nashville (1975), Short Cuts (1993) and Gosford Park (2001); the acclaimed theatrical adaptations Come Back to the Five and Dime, Jimmy Dean, Jimmy Dean (1982) and Secret Honor ( 1984); and his swan song A Prairie Home Companion (2006).
    Company Man: The Best of Robert Altman screens from August 7 to 31 at TIFF Bell Lightbox.

    Special guests include Ron Mann and Robert Altman’s widow, Kathryn Altman, to introduce a one-night only premiere screening of Mann’s new documentary Altman, on Friday, August 1 at 7 p.m.; and on Friday, August 8 at 6:15 p.m., Academy Award-winning Cinematographer Vilmos Zsigmond will introduce Altman’s McCabe & Mrs. Miller, a hauntingly gorgeous revisionist western that is rightly regarded as Robert Altman’s masterpiece.

    IMAGES (UK/USA 1972) ***

    Directed by Robert Altman


    Altman alternates between big budget all start cast productions like GOSFORD PARK, THE PLAYER, SHORT CUTS and small budget indies like THAT COLD DAY IN THE PARK and this film IMAGES.  Ironically, his small films are harder to watch than his biggies.  IMAGES follows the emotional downward spiral of a children’s book writer of unicorns, Cathryn (Susannah York) as she juggles three lovers while trying to remain faithful to one awkward husband , Hugh (Rene Auberjonois).  The husband and wife retreat to their secluded cottage out in the beautiful and stunning countryside.  What turns up instead is blood in the hall, unexpected guests and images of past lovers.  It is hard to make sense of all this except to dismiss the unexplained to the girl’s mental state.  The scariest segment has a ghost giving the girl a rifle and asking her to shoot him.  This is when it dawns on her that she has to kill all her ghost lovers in order for them not to appear again.  But can she distinguish reality from images?The film is still a disturbing tale beautifully shot.  This is rare Altman rarely seen and my first viewing of this film.

    THE LONG GOODBYE (USA 1973) ****
    Directed by Robert Altman


    Marlowe has only two friends.  One is his cat and the other is a murderer.  If you enjoyed the smart talking Trapper character in M*A*S*H*, THE LONG GOODBYE contains a full film full of smart-ass dialogue mouthed by Private Investigator Philip  Marlowe (also played with relish by Elliot Gould).  Marlowe is paid a visit in the dead of night by a friend who he drives to Tijuana.  He is arrested the following morning on the account of harbouring a criminal.  It turns out according to the newspapers that his friend has beaten up his wife and the committed suicide, a situation that Marlowe does not believe.  He takes a case of finding a missing writer who is blackmailed into paying a large sum for this therapy.  It turns out that there is a connection.  There is much to be enjoyed in this film, besides the wry dialogue.  Marlowe’s sexy neighbours are always dancing in the nude; there is a twist in the plot that occurs ever so often and the performances are great.  Be cautious of the spouts of unexpected violence (the smashing of a bottle on a girl’s face, for example), but that should keep the audience on their toes.  Film noir – Altman style, and never has it been this effective or distinctive!

    M*A*S*H* (USA 1970) ***** TOP 10

    Directed by Robert Altman


    The film that spurned the famous TV series of the same name, M*A*SH* the film is a black satire rather than the harmless sitcom that most people are familiar with.  The Mobile Army Surgical Hospital Unit is assigned two replacements ‘Hawkeye’ (Donald Sutherland) and ‘Duke’ Forrest (Tom Skerritt) who arrive in a  stolen jeep.  They are later joined by Trapper (Elliot Gould).  The trio take the unit apart by their womanizing, insubordination, drinking and wild parties.  But there are very good at their work as surgeons – so no one can complain.  The main victims are religious surgeon Frank Burns (Robert Duvall) and the new head nurse, “Hot Lips’ Houlihan (Sally Kellerman).  There is much to offend in the movie, politically and religiously especially the staging of a ‘last supper’ for a suicidal dentist.  The climax of the film is the unit winning a football match, by no fair means.  M*A*SH* shot Altman (and its three actors) to fame and won the film an Oscar for Best Adapted Screenplay and nominations for Best Picture and Director as well.  The film is absorbing from the opening song “Suicide Is Painless by Johnny Mandel with lyrics by Altman’s son to the very end.  M**S*H* is my best Altman film which I have now viewed 4 times.

    Trailer: http://www.imdb.com/video/screenplay/vi3013083417/

    MCCABE & MRS. MILLER (USA 1971) ***** TOP 10

    Directed by Robert Altman


    Deemed by many critics as Altman’s Masterpiece, this near perfect anti-western tells the unlikely romance between McCabe (Warren Beatty) and Mrs Miller (Julie Christie).  McCabe arrives at a mining town to set up a gambling and whore house.  But with the arrival of Mrs. Miller, the two start a strange partnership that brings in more money for McCabe while providing more class to his business.  The mining company offers to buy McCabe out, but when he refuses, three bounty hunters are dispatched to kill him.  There is much to admire in this western including Vilmos Zsigmond’s cinematography (the man will be present to introduce the screening) and Leonard Cohen’s music.  But it is the climax of the movie that mass the film what it is – a showdown in which McCabe defends himself against the three killers amidst the town putting out a fire in the church.

    NASHVILLE (USA 1975) ****
    Directed by Robert Altman


    NASHVILLE is the ambitious almost 3-hour Altman film made for a paltry $2 million that ended up winning numerous awards.  The film takes a snapshot of people during 5 days in Nashville culminating at the outdoor concert at Parthenon.  The ensemble cast includes Altman regulars Keith Carradine singing the Oscar winning song “I’m Easy”, Shelley Duvall, Elliot Gould (playing himself), and others like Lily Tomlin, Geraldine Chaplin, Karen Black, Julie Christie, Ned Beatty and Ronee Blakley.  They play hilarious characters that pop up like running gags in the film.  There is the husband that is forever looking for his runaway wife (Barbara Harris) looking for her big break, a girl that cannot sing, an army guy that keeps popping up, a Gospel singer with two deaf children, and a country singer who sleeps around as if it was his last day on the planet.  Altman’s film contains plenty to laugh at, while remaining true to the spirit of country and Gospel music.  The film contains a whole lot of original songs, the majority written and sung by the actors themselves.  The film is a good solid look of reality and life, cruelty and hilarity and an altogether unforgettable experience.

    SHORT CUTS (USA 1993) ***

    Directed by Robert Altman


    Based on 9 short stories and a poem by Raymond Craver, and re-set in L.A., SHORT CUTS opens as a fleet of helicopters sprays for medflies, revealing all the characters along the path of their flight.  These are the numerous characters in the 3-hour film.  Dr. Ralph Wyman (Matthew Modine) and his wife, Marian (Julianne Moore), meet another couple, Stuart (Fred Ward) and Claire Kane, (Anne Archer) at Zoe Trainer’s (Lori Singer) cello concert and make a spontaneous Sunday dinner date.  Marian’s sister Sherri (Madeleine Stowe) is married to philandering cop Gene (Tim Robbins), who makes up unbelievable but humorous stories to hide his affair with Betty Weathers (Frances MacDormand).  Betty is in the process of divorcing one of the helicopter pilots, Stormy (Peter Gallagher). Waitress Doreen Piggot (Lily Tomlin) is married to an alcoholic limo driver named Earl (Tom Waits). TV commentator Howard Finnigan (Bruce Davison) lives with his wife Anne (Andie MacDowell) and their young family next door to Zoe and her mother (Annie Ross), cabaret singer Tess Trainer. Their pool cleaner is Jerry Kaiser (Chris Penn), whose wife, Lois (Jennifer Jason- Leigh), works from home as a phone sex operator, tending to the children while she talks off strange men. Jerry and Lois are friends with Doreen’s daughter, Honey (Lili Taylor) and her husband Bill (Robert Downey, Jr.), who works as a makeup artist.  If all these characters are too many to keep track off, Altman’s film is not, with the audience able to to identify with each.  Altman divvies almost equal time to each culminating with an earthquake that rocks L.A. that forms the climax of the film.  SHORT CUTS is long but watchable but nothing like his other longer classics.

    Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aQZD0vKvSJY

    THIEVES LKE US (USA 1974) ***1/2

    Directed by Robert Altman


    Based on the book by Edward Anderson, the three thieves of the film title in question are

    Bowie (Keith Carradine), a youthful convicted murderer, and bank robbers Chicamaw (John Schuck) and T-Dub (Bert Remsen).  They escape from a Mississippi chain gang in the depression 1930s.  They continue robbing banks and show no sign of remorse.  When Bowie is injured in an auto accident, he takes refuge with the daughter of the gas station attendant, Keechie (Shelley Duvall) and a love relationship, the key to the film develops.   It is hard to feel sympathetic for hard criminals who have no qualms about putting a bullet into their fellow man, but there is something about young lovers that keeps the audience on their side.  Altman’s film is moody, stylish and realistic and he gets his tale told effectively in what might be described as a disturbing film to watch.

  • This Week's Film Reviews (Aug 1, 2014)

    GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY and GET ON UP, two blockbusters open this week.




    THE CALLING (Canada 2013) ***

    Directed by Jason Stone



    Based on the novel by Inger Ash Wolfe, THE CALLING sees veteran female detective Hazel Micallef (Susan Sarandon) solving a series of murders in a small town.

    The Coen Brothers’ FARGO immediately comes to mind.  But both are highly different films, the only common thread being the female detective in a small town.

    The small town in question is Port Dundas (now incorporated into Hamilton) a few hours drive from Toronto.  This is a Canadian made and Canadian set story, with murders taking place in all the different provinces of Canada.  It appears that the killer is fulfilling a higher calling, and hence the film’s title.  The result is a mixed horror detective film.

    The story is nothing out of the ordinary.  In fact, the script by Scott Abramovitch contains nothing that audiences have not seen elsewhere before.  Detective Hazel is a hard-drinking detective with a large skeleton in the closet.  She defies her superiors, disobeys orders and obviously does not go by the book in solving her case.  She is aided by veteran Detective Ray Green (Gil Bellows) who goes by the book and an eager new recruit from Toronto, Ben Wingate (Topher Grace).  A mother (Ellen Burstyn) daughter relationship is thrown in as a side plot.

    But it is great to see Sarandon deliver an Oscar winning performance in a Canadian film.  She also has the choice lines in the film including the words: “f*** you!”  Donald Sutherland lands his hand as an elderly priest who helps in the case.

    The timeline in Hazel’s solution of the case is only indicated by the seasons.  But we see only one winter scene - the murder and the dogs eating a victim’s stomach on a frozen pond.  So, it is assumed the story takes place within a year.

    Director Stone does not shy away from violence.  There is one scene that will almost guarantee the audience turn away.  (I did, and I can normally take a lot of on screen violence.)

    It is surprising that director Stone executively produced the hit Seth Rogen comedy THIS IS THE END.  THE CALLING is downright dead serious, like FARGO without the humour.  But it is is not a bad movie and though a bit slow moving, THE CALLING is an absorbing watch from start to finish.

    Trailer: (No trailer can be found)

    GET ON UP (USA 2014) **

    Directed by Tate Taylor


    GET ON UP is the biopic of Godfather of Soul, James Brown (a riveting performance by Chadwick Boseman of the film 42) by the director of THE HELP, Tate Taylor.

    GET ON UP bursts into life whenever James Brown performs - whether in the studio or on stage.  The choreography, songs, screaming and excitement are what made him famous and the film tick.

    On the editing side, the film is a complete mess, all over the place.  But director Tate probably wanted a non-chronological narrative.  So, the film begins with a shotgun wielding James Brown at a auto seminar immediately following him transported on a plane to perform for the Vietnam soldiers.  Then in one scene, there is the car broken down, then another at a diner where a label scout is hunting down Brown and then a segment with Brown’s private plane on the tarmac.  His love life is shown sporadically on screen and one is never sure who his real woman is.  It is not surprising then that his mother (Viola Davis) shows up out of the blue, only to disappear again without a trace.  One is never too, know how one scene is going to lead.  When you think the band is going to be right telling Brown off, the scene turns out the opposite way around.    One realizes then, after seeing GET ON UP, how undisciplined THE HELP was, due to its long running length.

    The biopic, like most, shows Brown’s ups and especially downs.  His wife beating, bad business sense (he never pays his band or keep finances) and vulgar outbursts are emphasized.

    Boseman would likely earn himself an Oscar nomination for Best Actor given James Foxx’s success with Ray Charles biopic RAY.  Viola Davis does her dramatic best as Browns’ mother but Octavia Spencer has only two scenes in the film as the surrogate mother.  One scene has her telling the boy has the spirit - a key scene in the movie.  But the other one has her dancing with the spectators during a performance.

    The film is supposedly told non-chronologically as in the titles that list the year and the songs or Brown’s nicknames as the film progresses.  Still, the continuity is in question as the film is not hard to understand but hard to follow.

    The film also concentrates on key segments on Brown’s career such as the relationship between him and his promoter (Dan Akryod) which suddenly ends in a funeral scene followed by him (the promoter) collapsing from a heart attack during a gold game.  But Taylor does not attempt to link the relationship to any other part of the narrative., except to emphasize it as a highlight in Brown’s life.  As such the many highlights are displayed with no connectivity except it being the timeline in Brown’s life.  At least the film ends with his Brown’s death on Christmas Day.

    Running at 133 minutes, the biopic runs too long and bores after it fails to engage this viewer.  Boseman’s performance and the the energetic songs are not enough to lift the film to the heights of Brown’s achievements.

    Trailer: http://www.getonupmovie.com/post/79573996508/teaser-trailer


    Directed by James Gunn


    The third action blockbuster screening 3 days in a row, after LUCY and HERCULES can be a bit much even for the avid film critic.  And that is after TRANSFORMERS and SNOWPIERCER the last 2 weeks.  Again this is not the first Marvel comic book adaptation on screen this year, so watching GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY can prove quite tiring.

    It does not help that the story or premise provide nothing new to the genre.  Like a cartoon version of THE DIRTY DOZEN or THE MAGNIFICENT SEVEN, a band of prisoners are picked up to save the galaxy.  An orb of some sort is supposed to be the prize catch and there is an assortment of villains wearing masks and speaking with coarse voices that makes the whole enterprise look like STAR WARS.  But do not be mistaken, this is formulaic, copied in everyday, with supposedly smart talk from each of the troop of heroes, complete with what is supposedly catchy tunes from the past.

    The band of heroes is led by Star-Lord or Peter Qui (Chris Pratt).  The band includes ext Gamora (Zoe Saldana), Drax the Destroyer (Dave Bautista) and two animated  characters Groot (Vin Diesel) and Rocket, a genetically engineered racoon (Bradley Cooper).  Everyone appears to want to put their two cents worth of smart talk and one liners into the film, from start to finish.  This gets pretty tiring, not to mention that the one-liners are not that hilarious.

    Gunn directed SUPER and SLITHER and appears unable to surprise audiences in any manner.  Worst of all, language, nudity and violence have been toned down for this film which is obviously catered towards a family friendly audience.

    The 3D and special effects are all right and up to par for an action pic like this blockbuster production.  But the audience should be able to expect more than banter from a racoon voiced by Bradley Cooper and repeated dialogue like “I am Groot” from Vin Diesel.

    Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=B16Bo47KS2g


    Directed by Woody Allen


    MAGIC IN THE MOONLIGHT opens impressively with a Chinese magic theatrical show in Berlin 1928.  The theatre is packed full with an audience all impeccably dressed and there is a live elephant on stage.  Woody Allen’s film never matches this feat, but as in every Allen film, there are enough neat touches, sly humour and references from his previous films to satisfy his fans.

    The Chinese conjuror is Wei Ling Soo (Colin Firth) the most celebrated magician of his age.  In real life, he is Stanley Crawford, a grouchy and arrogant Englishman with a sky-high opinion of himself and an aversion to phoney spiritualists' claims that they can perform real magic.  Persuaded by his life-long friend, Howard Burkan (Simon McBurney), Stanley goes on a mission to the Côte d'Azur mansion of the Catledge family: mother Grace (Jacki Weaver), son Brice (Hamish Linklater), and daughter Caroline.  He presents himself as a businessman named Stanley Taplinger in order to debunk the alluring young clairvoyant Sophie Baker (Emma Stone) who is staying there with her mother (Marcia Gay Harden).  But it is romance in the air in this Allen movie, with Stanley falling for Sophie.

    The MAGIC IN THE MOONLIGHT refers to the midnight drive of the couple, when the car breaks down and they take refuge from the rain in a planetarium.  This is the part when the two fall in love.  But the segment is highly reminiscent of the run for cover from the rain with Woody Allen and Diane Keaton in ANNIE HALL.

    But despite the film’s flaws, Allen’s film is gorgeous to look at.  He always utilizes the services of the best cinematographers, in this case the French Iranian Darius Khondji (EVITA, DELICATESSEN) who has worked with Allen twice before.  The film is set in the 30’s but there are no Cole Porter music here though the selection of tunes is impressive.

    The romantic chemistry between Firth and Stone does not really work, as the 30-year difference between the two is clearly visible.  But this is an Allen film and age difference seldom make a difference, as in MANHATTAN and Allen’s real life.  The segment in which Stanley, Sophie and her mother go swimming is indicative of that.  Firth does not show his body only his arms resting on a rock.  In a previous shot, the age difference of the couple is emphasized with Sophie’s fiancé (Hamish Linklater) looking very comfortable in sexy bathing trunks in comparison.

    The segment in which Stanley believes that Sophie is for real occurs too suddenly - especially when this event is followed by a press conference.  The same flaw occurs when Stanley suddenly realizes the futility of prayer when he regains his senses.  But Allen treats his film like a whodunit saving the revelation of the mystery’s solution at the very end.

    At one point in the film, Stanley Crawford verbally despises the spiritualists that prey on the gullible but then goes on to say that the gullible are so stupid they deserve it.   In a weird referenced way, Allen is insulting his audience for believing everything he (the director who weaves his magic) puts on screen.  But Allen uses cheap tricks like the re-entry of Sophie Baker back into Stanley’s life.

    MAGIC IN THE MOONLIGHT is average Allen, using reused tricks with little surprises with some lazy writing.  The only turns in the film is a bit more philosophy on life thrown in at the film’s end.  The film comes across more like used tricks rather than real magic in he moonlight.

    Trailer: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LAwbwKURvm0

    THE ZERO THEOREM (UK/France/Romania 2013) ***
    Directed by Terry Gilliam


    THE ZERO THEOREM, the latest film from Monty Python’s Terry Gilliam (BRAZIL, TWELVE MONKEYS) is as eccentric a film its main character, Qohen Leth (Christoph Waltz), a programmer that has the job ‘crunching entities’ for the company Mancom.  The theme of meaning of life appears in the film as a major concern for Qohen.  He is supposed to get an important phone call for the answer which he eagerly awaits.

    He gets in trouble with management (Matt Damon) and assigned Dr Shrink-Rom (Tilda Swinton) while his supervisor Joby (David Thewlis) toys around with him.  Qohen has a fling with Bainsley (Melanie Thierry) on a beach,which is the highlight of his existence.

    The dystopian future depicted here is absurdist as in Kafka-ish logic.  Human beings form an insignificant part of the big machine that ultimately does nothing.  The actual Zero Theorem described in the film is absurdly comical too.

    The script is by Pat Rushin who was inspired by the Book of Ecclesiastes.  It was reported that after writing a 145-page draft, he admitted he had no idea what he was doing.  It shows in the film though this is not necessarily a bad thing.  The film flows without a strong narrative, but this gives director Gilliam more play with his material.  He milks it with all that is imaginative worth with the result of a Monty Pythonish logic type film except without the humour.

    The film’s highlight are the amazing visuals.  Like THE IMAGINARIUM OF DOCTOR PARNASSUS, the inventive innovation found in the exterior shots are mind blowing from talking lips advertising billboards to the surreal beach swim segment.  The interiors with massive computers and peripheral machinery would delight BRAZIL fans.  The streets and buildings are instantly recognizable instantly as the Soho London area with the Zip cars whizzing past.  The CGI special effects are mostly used in Qohen’s dreams and computer.

    Director Gilliam called this film the final of his dystopian satire trilogy after BRAZIL and TWELVE MONKEYS.  But the film is nowhere as good as those two classics.  It has, however, the same feel in look and atmosphere with his last film THE IMAGINARIUM OF DOCTOR PARNASSUS and hopefully would not be as forgettable.

    The film has a limited run in Toronto and also available on VOD.  The colourful and visual ecstatic film is best seen on the big screen. 

    Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nhatScsOQhc


    Best Pics of the Week:

    Comedy: 22 Jump Street

    Action: Transformers: Age of Extinction

    Foreign: Snowpiercer (South Korea)

    Horror: Under the Skin

    Doc: Life Itself

    Romance: They Came Together

  • This Week's Film Reviews (July 25, 2014)

    HERCULES and LUCY, two action packed blockbusters open this week.




    AND SO IT GOES (USA 2014) ***

    Directed by Rob Reiner


    AND SO IT GOES is billed as a romantic comedy drama.  Directed by Rob Reiner (WHEN HARRY MET SALLY, THE PRINCESS BRIDE, STAND BY ME and Meathead in ALL IN THE FAMILY), one can expect the film to waver closer to emotional tear-jerker territory than laugh out loud humour.  One wishes Rob had more of his father’s (Carl Reiner) sense of humour.  The father directed really funny comedies like OH, GOD!, THE JERK and a lot of other Steve Martin comedies.

    No luck here, the humour is only slight and Rob Reiner’s film leans safely on what works in the past.  The script is also careful not to offend anyone.  If a black couple is singled out as not good real-estate subjects, the fault is corrected with an intelligent black couple who have all the bright dialogue following.  Diane Keaton, who has been starring these days in too many elderly romantic films, does a variation of her ANNIE HALL ‘lah-dee-dah' routine that worked for her in the Woody Allen days.

    As in Carl Reiner films, Carl always gives himself a small role in his films.  Rob follows his dad’s footsteps, playing the bumbling not-too-observant pianist for singer Leah (Keaton).

    The story concerns an egoistic realtor, Oren (Michael Douglas) who has lost all compassion since his wife passed away from cancer.  A twist of fate forces him to look after his granddaughter, Sarah (Sterling Jerins) who takes after Oren’s neighbour Leah (Keaton).  But this is a romance of when Oren met Leah with slight variations thrown in.

    Reiner throws in lots of sentimental songs from “Both Sides Now” to “Shadow of Your Smile”.  He also required Keaton to cry on cue, which she seems to have no problem doing.  JERSEY BOYS fans will like the cameo from Frankie Valli.

    As the title of the film goes, AND SO IT GOES.  This is not an exceptional film but an ok one, and so it goes!

    Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7rNfgLbwJIA

    HERCULES (USA 2014) **

    Directed by Brett Ratner


    The second HERCULES film after the dismal failure earlier this year of Lionsgate’s THE LEGEND OF HERCULES is expected to be a hit as Ratner’s (X-MEN, RUSH HOUR) film is as formulaic as it gets.  The only thing left out is a romantic slant, that no one would want anyway in a film about a macho-man with huge muscles set in Ancient Greece.

    Having endured his legendary twelve labours according to legend, Hercules (Dwayne Johnson, looking really ugly unshaven but extremely buffed), the Greek demigod, has his life as a sword-for-hire tested when the King of Thrace (John Hurt) and his daughter (Rebecca Ferguson) seek his aid in defeating a tyrannical warlord.  But this is based on the Radical Comics' Hercules by Steve Moore, so this ensemble-action film takes a revisionist take on the classic myth.  Whether Hercules here is a God or human is up to the audience to decide, but the formulaic message of being one own hero is a well-worn one.

    Hercules appears here with a band of fighters.  But they don’t seem to do that much and are not that distinguishable one from another, except for Atalanta (Ingrid Bolso Berdal), the only female warrior in the group and the young storyteller, Iolaus (Reece Ritchie).

    The film can be seen in 3D as well as in IMAX.   Most of the battle scenes are exciting enough and I have never seen that many arrows coming out of the screen as in this film.  But once the CGI comes to play, with the thousands of characters seen in battle on screen, the film starts looking ridiculous like a video game.

    Ratner plays his film for a bit of fun, so one can hardly tell if he taking the Hercules myth seriously or not.  He keeps the film as an action pic, but one remembers that he is a director too, of comedies like the RUSH HOUR movies and the upcoming BEVERLY HILLS COP 4.  The script contains a few unexpected plot twists towards the end that keeps the film interesting.  But it is basically the same old story, and with an action blockbuster appearing every week, one would expect something fresher than another son of Zeus pic set in ancient time.

    HERCULES is a Ratner film.  So expect a fast paced action film with humour be it a forgettable one.

    Trailer: http://www.imdb.com/video/imdb/vi459057689/

    I ORIGINS (USA 2014) **

    Directed by Mike Cahill


    Originally screened at Sundance, I ORIGINS, the second sci-fi romance from Mike Cahill writer/director of ANOTHER EARTH, I ORIGINS is also a sci-fi romance but tamed down a notch, thankfully from ANOTHER EARTH. I ORIGINS is more credible and the romance more believable while toned down as well.

    It all starts at a Halloween party and a sex fling with PHD student Ian Grey (Michael Pitt).  The two eventually wed and have a blissful marriage.  As he is a doctorate in molecular biology or something, specializing in the ‘iris’, he photographs her eye.  He attains fame while doing research with Karen (Brit Marling), who Sophie (Astrid Bergés-Frisbey), the new wife gets intensely jealous with.  The tables are turned when Sophie dies of a freak accident.  He marries Karen and they have a child.  He finds Sofie’s iris in a database with an identical one from girl in India.  He travels there to make a remarkable discovery.

    The remarkable discovery is revealed (not to be spoiled here) and the film fizzles to the end.  Despite the rather ingenuous plot, Cahill’s film is extremely slow and ‘moody’ as its main lead actor Michael Pitt.  Pitt loves to brood and brood.

    Despite story’s inclination to the iris, no reference has been made to the naturopathic subject of  Iridology which is the study of a patient’s past medical history as captured by a shot of the human iris.  Here, the novelty is that no two humans can have the same eye.  But hey!  No two humans can have the same fingerprint.  So a film could have more easily been made about two humans with the same thumbprint.

    Another flaw of the story is the sudden shift of focus from the son Tobias’s autism tests to the discovery of the Indian girl’s identical eye.  It seems that Cahill has lost focus of his story which results in the film losing whatever message he wants to deliver.

    Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zPuoWzLjhFo&feature=kp

    LUCY (France 2014) **

    Directed by Luc Besson


    Excellent premise and trailer that sadly does not transform into the exciting film that is expected of French Master Luc Besson.  LUCY combines the femme fatale of NIKITA and LE CINQUIEME ELEMENT with the innocent Lucy (Scarlett Johansson) forced to transport a satchel of drugs sewn into her body.  When her body absorbs some of the chemicals, her brains begin operating at higher capacity from over 10 % to 100% by the film’s climax.

    To tie in credibility to the plot, the script by Besson incorporates a character who is a professor and expert of brain neurology, Professor Norman (Morgan Freeman).  As he lectures his students, the audience is fed cinematic sci-fi bullshit that somehow sounds credible to action movie fans.  The audience is delighted then when Lucy uses her super powers to turn the tables on her enemies that include drug dealers, Korean thugs or anyone who stands in her way.

    Besson is known for his cinematic excesses. One can become immune to them quite soon.  After all the shootings, bloodshed and violence, the segment in which Lucy puts her hand into a carrier’s body to retrieve another satchel of CPH4 hardly seems shocking any more.  The film works better in the first third where there are lots of action with Lucy thrashing all her Korean captors.  Once the film settles into its sci-fi component, the momentum slows down and interest wanes.  It is worse when Besson begins displaying his style of philosophy on life, knowledge and the future.  The last part of the film, a high adrenaline paced 2001 A SPACE ODYSSEY segment looks silly and does not really come off as believable or innovative.  There are points that could have turned the film around.  The sweet kiss Lucy plants on her French detective, Pierre Del Rio (Amr Waked) is not developed into any romance.  Nothing is known too, about Lucy’s family except for a brief call she makes to her mother.  The reason she is abroad studying is just left hanging.  (All is said in the film is that she has to study for examinations.)

    Besson builds up the film’s pace with Lucy’s brain raging from 20% to 99% to final 100% utilization.  But what occurs on screen, action-wise does not match the brain build-up.

    Still it is entertaining fun to see an attractive lady (like Anne Parrillaud in NIKITA) kick butt.  All else, like the rest of the film looks pale in comparison.

    Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RnKVv8Lp_xU

    A MOST WANTED MAN (USA 2014) ****
    Directed by Anton Corbijn


    The film begins with a brutally tortured half-Chechen, half-Russian Issa Karpov (Grigoriy Dobrygin) turning up in Hamburg's Islamic community, laying claim to his father's ill-gotten fortune.  Both German and US security agencies take a close interest: as the clock ticks down and the stakes rise, the race is on to establish this most wanted man's true identity - innocent oppressed victim or destruction-bent extremist.

    It should be clear to anyone contemplating watching this film that this is a John Le Carre spy adaptation.  So, don’t expect any James Bond type action fare with pyrotechnics and car chases.  In fact the only car chase lasts maybe 20 seconds at the climax of the film.  But this is a spy film, in which the pleasure derives from having to decipher a story that is here, compelling to an attentive audience.  Still, the film is not as difficult to follow compared to the last Le Carre film SOLDIER, TAILOR, TINKER, SPY.

    The script is by Andrew Bovell, responsible for the excellent Aussie flick, LANTANA, a sort of detective whodunit years back.  Corbijn’s best film is CONTROL which displayed Joy Divison’s lead singer’s downward spiral from fame.  There is much to be praised in the film.  One is its meticulously calculated humour.  The element of Good Spy, Bad Spy is incorporated in the interrogation of Issa’s lawyer Annabel Richter (Rachel McAdams).  This, combined with the debate on “Why are we doing all this?” make both good subtle and out-front humour.

    The story is centred on Gunther Bachmann (Philip Seymour Hoffman), an out of luck spy in charge of a small, low-profile intelligence, invisible unit dedicated to tracking Hamburg’s large Muslim community, in which the terrorists’s U.S. attack was plotted.   He tracks Issa’s arrival.  But the other groups are also after Issa, wanting to take him out before more can be used out of the situation.  Issa works through a human rights lawyer Annabel Richter (Rachel McAdams) while laying a claim to the contents of his late father’s account in a private German bank headed by Thomas Brue (Willem Dafoe).

    Hoffman, once again proves himself almost perfect in the role of the tortured hero trying to do his best with limited resources working under extreme pressure and against time.  Though his last role is in the upcoming final HUNGER GAMES series, this is his last big leading role.  His performance is worth the price of admission, if not for anything else.  The supporting cast, both young and older is just as perfect.  And the city of Hamburg, with its dull and muted colours add to the perfect picture.

    The film’s best 2 segments deserve mention.  One is the chase on foot between Issa and Annabel and Gunther’s men.  Both are good sides and the audience is at this point torn to whether they want the two to escape or not to escape.  It is an emotion never or very rarely felt in a chase film before.  The other is set in a bar where Gunther angrily punches up a another customer abusing his girl, which convinces Gunter’s American date/observer to give him more time. in the assignment.

    The best thing about this film’s is its effectiveness as a thriller despite the lack of a villain.  The only evil forces on display are the human elements of pride and impatience which clearly make their point in the film’s climax.

    A MOST WANTED MAN is a most satisfying spy film that still manages to surprise with a twist ending.  As a bonus, a discreet message, not a positively one like the unhappy ending is presented but it is swell observed intelligent one - like Corbijn’s film itself.  A highly recommended film for the thinking man!

    Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cYORzJ3e-Og&feature=kp

    Best Pics of the Week:

    Comedy: 22 Jump Street

    Action: Transformers: Age of Extinction

    Foreign: Snowpiercer (South Korea)

    Horror: Under the Skin

    Doc: Life Itself

    Romance: They Came Together

  • This Week's Film Reviews (July 18, 2014)

    The Disney animated PLANES: FIRE AND RESCUE opens with SEX TAPE, a naughty romantic comedy.  Other openings include Canada's CINEMANOVELS, SNOWPIERCER, BOYHOOD and WISH I WAS HERE.

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    BOYHOOD (USA 2014) ***

    Directed by Richard Linklater


    BOYHOOD is the intriguing notion of a movie 12 years in the making.  A short film is shot every year for 12 years so that the primary character, a boy is seen actually growing and maturing from boyhood to the time he goes to college.

    The film’s most absorbing segment involves the one with the boy’s step father, a college professor who marries the mother, only to turn out to be an abusive alcoholic.  The film bares a tense similarity to Ingmar Bergman’s FANNY AND ALEXANDER regarding child abuse.  And the film is extremely tense and frightening, something rare in a Linklater movie.  Unfortunately, the film never reaches this height again.

    BOYHOOD suffers from the same flaws as Linklater’s BEFORE SUNRISE and BEFORE MIDNIGHT improvisation drama films.  Some parts are manipulative and the same feel occurs in BOYHOOD.  The segment in which Ethan Hawke teaches his daughter and son about safe sex comes off as too smug.  The film takes off though when the country style music sets in.  This is when the film glides on naturally and has an easy flow.

    Patricia Arquette delivers an Oscar winning performance as the single mother of two kids that goes through more marriages in order to stabilize her family life.  Arquette shows both vulnerability and strength, sexiness as well as a fading beauty that has now become a mother.  Hawke, the perpetual smooth talker talks himself out of most of his difficulties in the film.  But the two kid actors are superb.  One wonders the reason Linklater picked the boy instead of the girl (his real daughter) as the protagonist in the film.  He could go either way.

    BOYHOOD is more interesting as a project than what has turned out.  Unfortunately, in the 12 years, something got lost in the way.  Linklater’s film runs way too long at 160 minutes with a cop-out ending.  But the most important question is whether anyone cares for the kid?  The audience did at the start but the filming got lost in the way with the character developing into a slacker from a victim.

    Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ys-mbHXyWX4&feature=kp

    CINEMANOVELS (Canada 2013) **

    Directed by Terry Miles


    The Canadian film CINEMAVOVELS, shot in Vancouver tells the story of a young woman, Grace (Lauren Lee Smith) prepares a memorial film retrospective for her late estranged father, his work begins to influence her life in strange and significant ways.

    Miles has worked before with bother Jennifer Beals and Smith.  Their last film A NIGHT FOR FLYING TIGERS also observed destructive relationships.

    Director Miles does not create a very likeable heroine.  It is often that a viewer connects with the lead and liking the film often follows liking the lead.  Grace here, cheats on her husband, rampages into her father’s mistress’ house, makes no effort to plan the retrospective for her father and tells off her confidante (Jennifer Beals).

    There is a scene in which Grace appears upset with Ben for falling asleep when they both watch one of her father’s past films.  This is counteract to her ignoring all other father’s films before his death, so who is she to suddenly judge?

    Ben Cotton is the ideal actor to portray Ben, the sleazy, weirdly off husband, Ben  He comes right across from the start as a bit of a weirdo, which director Miles uses t maximum effect especially in the sex scene,

    The idea of showing clips of the father’s successful art films imply that director Miles is capable for doing the same.  But what appears on screen is far from similar.  Making up unconnected segments with artsy looks and odds dialogue like: “Don’t wear underwear,” comes across as unintentionally funny.  Miles’ intentionally funny parts, however, like the sexual innuendo segment are nut funny at all.  The central ideal of the film of art imitating life an vice versa is also a well worn up hem especially in the Woody Allen films.

    Though there is nothing major wrong with CINEMANOVELS, the film just plods along.  One wishes for something more drastic or exciting to happen in Mile’s effort.  The film feels like  Woody Allen film with much less humour and fewer characters.

    Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Yal5FzNXe4k


    PLANES: FIRE & RESCUE (USA 2014) **

    Directed by Roberts Gannaway


    PLANES: RESCUE & FIRE or simply PLANES 2 is the third of the Disney toy vehicle animated features after CARS and PLANES.  PLANES was original made intended straight for video, so like that one, not that much money had been invested into production of this latest feature.  It shows though the film will undoubtedly be a big money maker (with the toys tie-in) for Disney Studios.

    PLANES: FIRE & RESCUE inherits all the same problems with the initial two of the series.  It is difficult to identify vehicles to human beings.  The vehicles have no arms or legs, just painted eyes and a smiling mouth.  It is also difficult to identify one vehicle from the other, though director Gannaway (director of other Disney videos - this is his first feature) has gone through great lengths to make them distinguishable from one another, such as voice, size and colour of the planes.

    The central character is once again Dusty (Voiced by Dane Cook) who now is unable to race due to faulty engine parts which cannot be replaced due to absolution of Dusty’s damaged parts.  Dusty opts to join the firefighters under Blade Ranger (Ed Harris) and applies to get certification.  In the process, he proves his bravery and of course, saves the day with the possibility of another film in the making.

    One must admire the filmmakers for trying very hard to humanize the story and to provide a fresh look to the story-line.  But it is still a monumental task and the film fails to engage from start to finish.  The film plays it safe and formulaic, a fixed trait in Disney films that have proven time and again to bring in money for their films.  But critically-wise, there is little that have not been seen here before.

    It does not help that the film lacks a true evil villain.  The park superintendent with his eye for money appears to be the best the story can come up with.  But the fire fighting scenes (the film is shot for 3-D and real 3-D and all that) are stunning to look at and aids distracting of the film’s lack of a strong narrative.

    The jokes are plentiful but not that funny.  Rudy Rotter is a character and the big party is held at the ‘fusilage’.  The music is mostly country western to tie in with audiences that favour working with vehicles in their spare time.

    The film contains a few eye-opening information bits like the red spray used by the fire fighting planes to control the forest fires.  The film is dedicated (as indicated in the opening credits) to firefighters who have risk their lives to saver others.  That is as inspirational as the film gets.!

    Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OzWygkJlGcQ


    SEX TAPE (USA 2014) *

    Directed by Jake Kasdan


    A simple bawdy premise of a married couple, Annie (Cameron Diaz) and Jay (Jason Segel) filming their own sex tape that is accidentally uploaded on the internet turns out to be a tired one-joke unfunny comedy.

    Besides the main plot, the subplots involve the couple trying to steal an iPad from her new prospective boss, Hank (Rob Lowe) with their friends, Robby (Rob Corddry) and Tess (Ellie Kemper); then breaking into a YouPorn facility to retrieve their tape and a few other unfunny unimaginative ones.  The result is a total bore lasting a full 90 minutes.

    Segel has lost a whole lot of weight since his FORGETTING SARAH MARSHALL and actually looks slim and sexy enough for this sex video comedy that has to include ‘mild’ sex scenes.  He and Diaz both bare skin.  But like their marriage that has lost the spark, Diaz and Segel lack the chemistry that makes a good romantic screen couple.  Their kissing less sex scenes make the audience feel terribly uncomfortable.

    Kasdan’s film has no flow or pacing and the script primarily written by Kate Angelo is short on laughs and uninspired comedic set-ups.  A typical unfunny segment involves 5 minutes of Jay getting off Annie's roller blades before having sex.

    The only pleasant surprise is a cameo appearance by Jack Black as the head of a YouPorn facility turning in the most non-irritating performance of his career.

    There is nothing much else to say about this bad film except for the fact that I laughed only once.  This has to do with the repeated joke of eccentric Hank hanging portraits of his face in weird film scenes around his mansion.

    Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UONPSa1VgWw


    SNOWPIERCER (USA/South Korea 2013) ****

    Directed by Bong Joon-Ho


    SNOWPIERCER is nasty piece of work.  The film is disturbing in the sense that it highlights the evil in man from start to finish and seen in both the hero and various villains.  At one point, the film got so intense I was almost unable to bear watching what is occurring on screen.  But don’t get me wrong.  Bong’s (MOTHER, THE HOST, MEMORIES OF MURDER - all excellent films) is literally a hell of a ride from start to finish filled sight spectacular special effects with hardly a dull moment.

    SNOWPIERCER is based on the French graphic novel Le Transperceniege by Jacques Lob.  It was reported that Bong was so enthralled by the novel that he read it from start to end at the book shelf.  A labour of love, the film cost $40 million to make and has already grossed double that in South Korea.  Surprising that The Weisntein Company is playing down this rather awesome film.

    In 2014, an experiment to counteract global warming causes an ice age that kills nearly all life on Earth.  The only survivors are the inhabitants of SNOWPIERCER, a massive train, powered by a perpetual-motion engine, that travels on a globe-spanning track.  A class system is installed, with the elites inhabiting the front of the train and poor inhabiting the tail.  The train circles the earth once every year.

    The film takes place in 2031.  There is a slight flaw here in that the Jamie Bell character, Edgar was a baby when the train began and 2031 makes him the age of a mere 17.  Bell looks young but 17 is pushing it.  The hero of the piece is Curtis (Chris Evans) leading the tail inhabitants in revolt, forcing their way through several train cars to the prison section. There,  they release prisoner Namgoong Minsu (Song Kang-ho), the man who built the doors dividing each car, and his daughter Yona (Go Ah-sung). They offer him Kronol, an addictive drug, as payment for unlocking the remaining doors.   The film is highlighted by several villains, the best of which is Mason (Tilda Swinton), ready to betray anyone for her own purpose.

    The film is shot in various languages, English, Korean and a little French included and includes an international cast.  But the logistics of the train is what steals the show.  The train’s interior is frighteningly claustrophobic while the exterior is a frozen ice age.  The battle scenes are inventive (in the dark when the train enters a tunnel) and a kaleidoscope of colours and riches as Curtis and his men advance towards the front of the train.  The climax includes a good plot twist, indicating that story is of prime importance in any film including an action blockbuster.

    But the film is not without humour.  The kids classroom segment in which the children are brainwashed by ‘teacher’ (Alison Pill) is both laugh-out loud hilarious and satirical.

    SNOWPIERCER will inevitably be compared to the Hollywood blockbuster TRANSFORMERS: AGE OF EXTINCTION due to the proximity of their releases.  It is wishful thinking that SNOWPIERCER will get the credit it deserves, if not make a portion of the money it deserves at the box-office.

    Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=r6UmqNuMdY4&feature=kp

    WISH I WAS HERE (USA 2014) ***
    Directed by Zac Braff


    From the writer/actor/director of the cult Sundance hit GARDEN STATE, WISH I WERE  HERE again playing an actor dealing with his father Saul’s (Mandy Patinkin) upcoming death due to cancer.  In GARDEN STATE, it was the mother’s death.

    As Braff is Jewish, his film is naturally Jewish as well.  Aidan Bloom (Braff) sends his children to a private Jewish school.  The script contains lots of Hebrew words and the film is filled with Jewish jokes, which are actually quite funny.

    WISH I WAS HERE is a comedy drama dealing with death and relationships.  The family is stressed as the number one importance.  (“If you don’t believe in God, believe in family!” - is a line in the movie.  Aidan is always keeping the kids and his wife (Kate Hudson).    As the ‘death’ topic is rather heavy, Braff fills his film with lots of jokes.  “What are you growing?”  Saul asks at one point, “Typhoid of Hepatitis B?” referring to his son’s empty pool.  The jokes elevate the movie over dreariness for sure.

    Braff, quite a good-looker judging from all the magazine shoots he has been in, mopes around the film, unshaven and with hair dishevelled most of the time.  Braff is generous to give his co-star Kate Hudson the best looks as well as the script’s best lines, as in the daughter-in-law/father death bed scene.

    WISH I WERE HERE is as good as GARDEN STATE though less inventive, and is the typical indie film that emerges from Sundance.

    Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aCponfeWNOI&feature=kp

    YOU ARE NOT I (USA 1981) ***

    Directed by Sara Driver


    TIFF Cinematheque presents indie filmmaker Sara Driver.  She will introduce her 58-minute feature, a low budget but mesmerizing work elegantly shot by Jim Jarmusch.

    Directed by Driver and written by Jarmusch, YOU ARE NOT I follows a woman that walks as if unseen and not much unlike the undead.  The narrative voice over informs the audience on what is going on, so that the audience is not in the dark like the protagonist.  Slow moving but never dull, the film has been appropriately described as a dreamlike psychodrama reminiscent of David Lynch’s ERASERHEAD.

    YOU ARE NOT I will be preceded by the 10-minute short entitled THE BOWERY - SPRING 1994, a deftly edited but exhaustive portrait of the infamous Lower East Side neighbourhood, tracing its history from one-time prominence to the prototypical Skid Row.

    Trailer: http://www.dailymotion.com/video/xlc0ld_you-are-not-i-trailer_shortfilms

    (Special Screening is on July 24th at 630pm at Bell Lightbox)

    Best Pics of the Week:

    Comedy: 22 Jump Street

    Action: Transformers: Age of Extinction

    Foreign: Snowpiercer (South Korea)

    Horror: Under the Skin

    Doc: Whitey: United States V. James J. Bulger

    Romance: They Came Together

  • This Week's Film Reviews (July 11, 2014)

    The Ape movie DAWN OF THE PLANET OF THE APES breaks into theatres this weekend.  Other openings include the documentaries LIFE AGAIN and DOC OF THE DEAD.

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    BEGIN AGAIN (USA 2014) **
    Directed by John Carney


    Writer/director John Carney is the wonder behind the small budget hit Irish movie ONCE that went on to win the Oscar for Best Original Song “Falling Slowly” that also spawned a Tony Award wining musical and a documentary  about the film.  ONCE celebrated the romance between two musicians united by their love of music.  the actors were new, they wrote the hit song and their performances demonstrated sincerity and honesty.

    BEGIN AGAIN follows in the footsteps of ONCE and might be appropriately be entitled TWICE.  Again, the two leads are musicians both caught this time with bad relationships.  They find each other with romance slowly blooming, and again the relationship united by the love of music.  But this time, the story is set in NYC instead of Dublin and the film features big names stars Kiera Knightley and Mark Ruffalo in the leading roles instead of unknown songwriters.  They do a good job though they lack the sincerity of the unknowns in ONCE.

    BEGIN AGAIN, as the title implies tells of the story of starting over again.  The film devotes equal time to the two leads Gretta (Knightley) ,a Brit songwriter/singer in NYC after a breakup with Dave (Adam Levine).  While performing a song at a pub, she meets Dan (Ruffalo), an out of luck music label executive separated from his wife (Catherine Keener).  It does not help yo include an estranged relationship between Dan and his daughter (Hailee Steinfeld) into the already cliched plot.

    Besides telling an already familiar tale, BEGIN AGAIN offers none of the freshness of ONCE.  The songs Knightley croons are also nothing memorable or catchy.  The result is a a boring romantic drama about a couple no one really cares about.

    Trailer:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uTRCxOE7Xzc

    Directed by Matt Reeves


    The third in the reboot of the PLANET OF THE APES films, DAWN OF THE PLANET OF THE APES exist in the series quite different from the original series.  (The third one was ESCAPE FROM THE PLANET OF THE APES).   DAWN takes place 10 years after the last RISE OF THE PLANET OF THE APES, where the human race was threatened at the end of the film by a deadly virus while the apes escaped to the Muir Woods in northern San Francisco.

    Everything in the RISE movie is gone in DAWN, except for a found video of the human character (that does not look like James Franco) nursing a baby Caesar.  DAWN begins with a rather clumsy assembled footage explaining the current apocalyptic state of the human race. The human race disappears like the lights of a training aid going out.  The footage is mixed fake and genuine CNN News type that even includes a speech by President Obama.   Then the silliness continues with the ape colony and a hunting sequence in which the son of Caesar is taught n important lesson, almost being killed by a bear.  “Think Before You Act!”

    The next 15 minutes have the apes communicate in a mixed grunt sign language with the apes slowly graduating into the English language, with no real reason given.  The human race is supposedly extinct until humans suddenly appear who suddenly need power within the next 2 weeks to survive.

    As if the plot does not get sillier but the human are able to re-generate power from the  dam, never mind the fact that relays are broken down and wires worn out.

    The film takes a whole two thirds of its running time before any action starts.  Director Reeves takes his movie too seriously.  The film take turns with ape vs.ape, human vs. human and ape vs. human in repeated boring sequences before one can say enough is enough.

    Actor Andy Serkis has been praised for his great acting in motion capture, but it this really acting or ape imitation?  Jason Clarke and Keri Russell deliver unmemorable lead performances.  The usually good Gary Oldman cannot do much with his cliched role as Dreyfus, a human leader.

    The sight of apes swinging in the Muir Woods hanging from branches in 3D is impressive enough to draw audiences to pay money to watch this film.  The special effects and spectacle are the film’s the saving points.

    The scariest thing about DAWN OF THE PLANET OF THE APES is that the sequel is already in the making with the same director Reeves at the helm.  The storyline has run out, DAWN had ended just the same way it began with the humans and apes at a stand-off.  This film might be proof that human beings are not the smartest race.

    Trailer:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3sHMCRaS3ao&feature=kp 

    DOC OF THE DEAD (USA 2013) ***

    Directed by Alexandre Philippe


    Everything you always wanted to know about zombies but never knew what to ask!  DOC OF THE DEAD is the definitive documentary about zombies from its origin (the first movie was WHITE ZOMBIE) to its roots in black slavery to its re-invention through George A. Romero’s DAWN OF THE DEAD and NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD movies.

    There are lots of interviews taken from venues from Comicon and zombie conventions that include zombie celebrities like Romero himself, Sid Haig, director Alex Cox, Simon Clegg (director of  SHAUN OF THE DEAD) and other notables.  The film also records various zombie walks around the world and talks to organization selling zombie survival kits.  This is not that far-fetched an idea after diseases like mad-cow and mad-human disease have become widespread.  Philippe’s film is quite exhaustive in dealing with its topic.  One cannot complain.  But the film is truly dedicated to zombie fans all round the world.  If you are not one of them, you would find the entire exercise very strange though still fascinating.  I could do with a lot more footage of zombie films though.

    Trailer:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gZHLS2PwMKs

    LIFE ITSELF (USA 2014) ***

    Directed by Steve James


    Steve James (HOOP DREAMS, STEVIE) directs the documentary of America’s most definitive main stream film critic Roger Ebert that recounts the inspiring and entertaining life of world-renowned film critic and social commentator.

    The film begins with Ebert’s rise to fame, his winning of the Pulitzer Prize, then settling a great deal of its middle section to the relationship with Gene Siskel with their hit show Siskel and Ebert at the Movies. The film ends on a more sombre note with his fight with cancer.  Running close to 2 hours, director James has lots to reveal about the man.  But the problem is that as an interviewee says on the film, Ebert is a nice man but not that nice.  So, to be an entertaining doc, James also shows the proud, egoistical and stubborn side of the man.  But eventually, Ebert is humbled by his cancer (though I do not wish this on anybody), forced only to be jovial at a very unpleasant situation.

    Also deserving mention is the much unknown family life of Ebert.  He married a black woman, Chaz and had children.  They were a loving couple.  Chaz remained true to Ebert right to the very end - something that is beautiful in real life and also beautiful to be seen on screen.

    As Ebert put it very well at the film’s start, what his life and indeed everyone else’s is too.  A big movie in which we are the film’s players.  Steve James has made an exhaustive documentary of Roger Ebert.

    Trailer:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=z4SgwBRq-fU


    Best Pics of the Week:

    Comedy: 22 Jump Street

    Action: Transformers: Age of Extinction

    Foreign: Like Father Like Son

    Horror: Under the Skin

    Doc: Whitey: United States V. James J. Bulger

    Romance: They Came Together

  • TIFF Cinematheque Presents - Oshii

    In Conversation With... Mamoru Oshii

    The visionary director of the fantastically influential anime hit Ghost in the Shell joins TIFF Cinemtheque for this rare onstage interview to discuss his long and multifaceted career in animation, live action, television, film, radio and manga.

    Date: Saturday July 12, 2014 (at 18h30)

    A series of films by Oshii is also programmed.  Capsule reviews for 2 of the films follow the article below.

    Director Oshii will also be present to introduce the screenings of GHOST IN THE SHELL on July 12 and THE SKY CRAWLERS on July 13.

    For complete program listing, venue and ticket pricing, please check the TIFF Cinematheque website at:



    GHOST IN THE SHELL 2: INNOCENCE (Japa 2014) **

    Directed by Mamoru Oshii


    GHOST IN THE SHELL 2: INNOCENCE is the sequel and very elaborate and ambitious sequel to Number 1 and the first manga film screened at Cannes.  Set in 2032 in Public Security Section 9, whatever that means, the story follows operative cyborg Batou teamed with the more human Togusa investigating a series of deaths reaped to gynoids, doll-like sex robots.  The gynoid company Locus Solus turns out to be tied to the Yakuza and the plot thickens and confuses.  Into all this, director Oshii infuses his philosophy an thoughts with references to fantasy, Zen, philosophy and sci-fi.  The references are too many to list and the quotations too abstract at times to make any sense.  Despite the attention to detail of the anime and the great deal of work involved, GHOST IN THE SHELL 2 remains too confusing to follow and impossible to comprehend.

    THE SKY CRAWLERS (Japan 2008) ***
    Directed by Mamoru Oshii


    Feeling like last year’s Hayao Miyazaki’s THE WIND RISES, Oshii’s film is similar to WWII fighter pilots stuck in the task of battle in the skies.  This manga anime difference is that the pilots are half humans, Kildren that do not grow old, created for the sole purpose of fighting companies so that the world can live in peace.  Human nature still craves the clash of battle, however, so private companies now stage "war as entertainment," creating fictional wars for ordinary people to read about in the paper. The film centres on a young man named Yuichi - has been newly assigned to a base in the fictional war, but with no memory of his past and a mysterious woman named Suito watching his every move.  Yuichi is about to find that this made-up war isn't as harmless as it seems.  Oshii’s animation is a marvel with many animated segments looking like the real thing.  His story is less confusing than GHOST IN THE SHELL 2 and this film is more watchable and entertaining.


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