• This week's Film Reviews (Mar 21, 2014)

     

    Big films opening this week are DIVERGENT, the new TWILIGHT and HUNGER GAMES hopeful and MUPPETS MOST WANTED.

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    Both are expected to be hits.

    FILM REVIEWS:

    DIVERGENT (USA 2014) ****

    Directed by Neil Burger

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    The most anticipated film opens this week and proves to be hit entertainment.

    This story takes place in the city of Chicago in the distant future. The city is divided into 5 factions: Abnegation, meant for the selfless; Amity, meant for the peaceful; Candor, meant for the honest; Dauntless, meant for the brave; and Erudite, meant for the knowledgeable. On a given day each year, all sixteen-year-olds take an aptitude test that will tell them for which faction they are best suited. After receiving the results of their test, they must decide whether to remain with their family or transfer to a new faction.

    At 16, Tris (Shailene Woodley) is tested DIVERGENT, which means she belongs to more than one faction.  Divergents are deemed threats to peace as they do not fit into any faction, and are hunted and eliminated by Dauntless.  Tris has to keep the secret while she opts to enter the Dauntless faction for training.

    The film goes on with her training before revealing half way through the film, a plot by Erudite to eliminate Abnegation, which was Tris’ birth faction.

    Director Burger is no stranger to the action sci-fi genre.  His LIMITLESS was a delight and THE ILLUSIONIST was mesmerizing..  Focusing on story and a strong romantic element (between Tris and her leader, Four played by Theo James), all the action is meaningful.  Ethical issues such as the price of peace are cleverly tied to the plot.  Special effects are of course present, and are kept at a minimum thus aiding credibility.  There are no meaningless action sequences or silly car chases.

    Shailene Woodley, best remembered as George Clooney’s daughter in THE DESCENDENTS fares well as the heroine, requiring her to display strength in the fighting scenes and in emotion as with the death of a loved one.  Hunky Theo James proves that he not just a pretty face or body.  Trained in London theatre, he shows great promise as a talented good looking star.  And Oscar Winner Kate Winslet offers star power as Jeannine Matthews, the female villain of the piece.

    Running at 2 hours and 20 minutes, the film covers all the material in the Veronica Roth novel.  The book was reviewed in The New York Times as rich in plot and imaginative details.  The film matches the standard.

    The plot contains all the elements that make good storytelling of film adaptation series.  Tris is in training school in preparation for some higher purpose, just as Harry Potter in the HARRY POTTER films.  She learns of her strengths just as action heroes learn how to use their super powers (e.g. SPIDER-MAN).  War games as in HUNGER GAMES exists where one must be able to fight individually as well as in groups.

    DIVERGENT cost $80 million to make.  The bar of success is $70 million in box-office for the first weekend.  On the first day of advance sales, half the tickets were sold surpassing the TWILIGHT film five times.

    Also, this paragraph contains a disclosure regarding conflict of interest.  I own $30 grand of Lionsgate stock, the company responsible for HUNGER GAMES and DIVERGENT.  Though it can be argued that I should not write this review as it might be deemed a conflict of interest, I do believe that my readership, though substantial will not affect the stock price of Lionsgate.  And after all, it is an excellent dystopian commercial movie.

    Trailer:  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=S6HHCxLZftQ

    THE LUNCHBOX (India/Fr/Germ/USA 2013) ***

    Directed by Ritesh Batra

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    One of the daily routines in busy Dubai is the receiving of the dabba or lunchbox.  These boxes are prepared by wives that are delivered to their husbands at work.  The film tells the tale of a wrongly delivered box and the relationship that develops between the neglected woman, Ila (Nimrat Kaur) and the government worker, Saarjan (Irrfan Khan from last year’s THE LIFE OF PI).

    But it is hard to believe that the lunchbox delivered to the wrong recipient would continue again and again.  The problem is addressed at one point in the film when she confronts the carrier who insists that there has been no mistake in the delivery.  But this does not answer the nagging question.

    THE LUNCHBOX is neither a love story nor a film that settles the problems of the characters’ lives.  In fact, it is quite the opposite.  Whatever problems still exist at the film’s end, though the characters have a clearer idea of what they are facing.  The film does, however, paint a good portrait of the hustle and bustle of the subcontinent city life.  In fact the first 10 minutes, in which the camera depicts the goings-on of the city (over-packed trains and overcrowded streets) is quite like Alfred Hitchcock’s NORTH BY NORTHWEST where Hitchcock shows the craziness of an advertising executive’s life in the New York.

    The relationship between the accountant and his understudy turns out to be more interesting that that of the man and the woman who makes the lunchbox.  It is easy to see why as the two men interact whereas the man and woman do not.  But the two stories come together at the end when the understudy guesses that the girl in his supervisor’s life is the one that cooks his lunch meals.

    THE LUNCHBOX is entertaining as an observation piece – of both of how relationships work (or fail).  Though THE LUNCHBOX has a look similar to SLUMDOG MILLIONAIRE, there is no fairy tale ending.  But the film won the viewers’ choice award at the Cannes Critics’ Week.

    And just incidentally, in Britain, what Saarjan receives is not called a lunchbox but a tiffin carrier.

    Trailer:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nKggd5rAdYc

    MUPPETS MOST WANTED (USA 2014) ****

    Directed by James Babin

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    MUPPEST MOST WANTED is the sequel to the reboot of THE MUPPET MOVIE , that being Disney’s THE MUPPETS which made a ton at the box-office that I hated.  Thankfully, this film beats a lot of odds in the sequel being better than the original.

    The plot has The Muppets hiring a manager in the form of the number 2 biggest crook in the world, Dominic played by Ricky Gervais.  He has teamed up with Number One, Constantine, a Kermit look alike who has just escaped from The Gulag in Siberia.  Kermit is kidnapped and replaced with Constantine.  The Muppets, unaware of the switch, tour Europe while Number 1 and 2 rob buildings next to the performance venues.  Humour is also provided by Interpol agent Jean Pierre Napoleon (Ty Burrell) working with Muppet character Bald Eagle in solving the case together caustically and then amicably.

    The film stays true to the success of its roots.  The film contains plenty of silly puns, musical numbers (including the outrageous Gulag Follies) and lots of star cameos – all of which made The Muppets TV series addictive to watch week after week, even by adult audiences.  The Kermit Piggy romance is still there, with a wedding as a clever plot twist.  And all the favorite Muppet characters get to do their famous acts like the Swedish Chef, Gonzo the Great, Animal and of course, Fuzzie Bear.

    The actors in MUPPETS MOST WANTED are a 100% improvement over the last film.  For one, they replaced my two most unfunny, obnoxious comedians (Jack Black, and Ken Jeong) in cameos in the last film with the funniest (but still obnoxious hilarious as a Golden Globe Awards host) as the main lead in the film.  Whereas Disney’s THE MUPPETS only had a limited number of guests like Chris Cooper and Amy Adams, MUPPETS MOST WANTED has a slew lot more that incudes Sean “Diddy” Combs, Salma Hayek, Lady Gaga, Danny Trejo (with the best cameo joke in the film) and Christophe Waltz as themselves while others like Celine Dion, Ray Liotta and Stanly Tucci, just to mention a few, play pop up characters.

    But what works is that this film has taken the MUPPET series to a new success level.  While Disney’s THE MUPPETS was basically one stretched out TV Muppets episode disguised as the Muppets Telethon which turned out boring (I rated this film 2 stars), this one is multiple episodes set in different countries with different stars (Christophe Waltz, yes doing the waltz in Germany, Salma Hayek dodging bulls in Spain etc.).

    The film also parodies lots of escape films from THE SHAWSHANK REDEMPTION to every other escape movie including THE SOUND OF MUSIC.  My favorite is the prison escape sequence where the convicts escape during their musical performance and when the warden realizes this during the scene curtain call, just as the Von Trapp family escapes during their performance.  But the last scene in which the Muppets, one by one shout out; ’Take me too (back to the Gulag)’ could and should have been made into a parody than left as a clichéd ending.

    MUPPETS MOST WANTED are up to the box-office test opening the same week as the much anticipated DIVERGENT, the next HUNGER GAMES hopeful.  Though both films stand a good chance as they target different audiences, it would be a good close fight for the number one spot.

    Trailer:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dUMVmK6tPac

    NYMPH()MANIAC (Denmark 2013)  ***
    Directed by Lars Von Trier

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                A bit of background is needed before watching NYMPH()MANIAC or reading the review.  The film is screened in two 2-hour parts, Volume 1 and Volume 2 and is the abridged, cut version of Von Trier’s original opus.  The only time the five and a half version was shown was at the 64th Berlin International Film Festival.  All over the world, which includes North America, audiences will have to pay and watch individual films as Vol. 1 and Vol. 2.  But both parts were screened together for press and both parts will be released (at least in Toronto and most of Canada) together.  But both parts should be seen, not too far apart from each other, so that the film makes sense (at least in Von Trier’s way of making sense) and that each part will remain fresh in memory.  Vol. 1 opens in the U.S. only an Vol. 2 later in a few weeks.  But the review will be an aggregate of both volumes.

    NYMPH()MANIAC is the third and final entry of Von Trier’s ‘Depression Trilogy’ the other two being ANTICHRIST and MELANCHOLIA.  But the stories of each film are independent of each other.

    The almost soft pornography tells of a woman's erotic journey from birth to the age of 50 as told by the main character, the self-diagnosed nymphomaniac, Joe (played by Charlotte Gainsbourg and in her earlier years by Stacy Martin).  It all begins on a cold winter's evening, when an old, charming bachelor Seligman (Stellan Skarsgard) finds Joe beaten up in an alleyway.  He brings her home to his flat where he tends to her wounds while asking her about her life.  She tells of her erotic life in the film’s 8 chapters (Vol.1 containing the first 5 and a half).  Seligman and Joe interact as she recovers, though caustically.

    Von Trier’s film opens with a 2-minute blank grey screen.  The camera then pans down a wall with dripping water, all of which is the set for Seligman to find the beaten Joe in the alleyway.  So, despite the abridged version, do not expect the film to move fast.

    Von Trier’s film is stylized, and filled with artistic references  (Faust, Bach) wit much to read between the lines (or images as they may be).

    But what is notable is the reason for Joe revealing all to a total stranger.  Is she hoping for redemption or perhaps a reward to her rescuer, as Seligman is revealed as an asexual character incapable of having sex with either male or female.  In one key scene, Seligman moves in to Joe with his private part showing, so perhaps Joe’s storytelling has achieved some good, though not to her advantage.  There is much to ponder on, when watching the film aided by the fact that Von Trier’s film moves at an extremely slow pace.

    Vol. 2 is the more disturbing half with segments such as a naked Joe in front of two African men with erect penises, and the one aforementioned with Seligman approaching Joe.

    But the conclusion in Vol. 2 (conclusion in the Von Trier sense) still leaves much to be explained as to what really transpired.  But, hey!  This is a Lars Von Trier film.

    Trailer:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ow0Coe8bnTk

     

     

    Best Bets of the Week:

    Best Film Opening: Divergent

    Best Films Playing: Like Father, Like Son, The Grand Budapest Hotel and American Hustle

    Best Action: Divergent

    Best Animation: The Lego Movie

    Best Documentary: The Galapagos Affair: Satan Comes to Eden

    Best Foreign: Like Father, Like Son

    Best Comedy: The Grand Budapest Hotel

  • This week's Film Reviews (Mar 14, 2014)

    Wes Anderson's new film THE GRAND BUDAPEST HOTEL is a real delight.

    Big films opening this week are NEED FOR SPEED and the new Wes Anderson comedy THE GRAND BUDAPEST HOTEL.

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    FILM REVIEWS:

    ENEMY (Canada/Spain/France2013) ****
    Directed by Denis Villeneuve

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                Viilleneuve does David Lynch in ENEMY. 

                In MULHOLLAND DRIVE, Lynch’s film makes total sense the initial 75% of the film before taking off on a tangent to an illogical narrative for its last quarter.  In Villeneuve’s ENEMY, the film makes no sense from the very start.  That is the beauty of ENEMY.

                The plot (apparently based on a novel by Jose Saramago) has a successful college professor, Anthony (Jake Gyllenhaal) leading a comfortable life with his expecting wife (Susan Gadon).  A colleague recommends him a film in which he recognizes his doppelganger in it.  Compulsively, Anthony looks him up and finds him to be an unemployed actor living with his girlfriend (Melanie Laurent).

                Weird as weirdness goes, the two start about exchanging partners.  Though it gets a bit confusing trying to decipher whether the Gyllenhaal we see on the screen is the professor or actor, t all comes to place within a while.  Or does it?  Villeneuve brings his audience for quite the ride that includes a giant spider clambering the apartment wall and a secret meeting of gentlemen and prostitutes delivering spiders on a tray. 

                The film is set in Toronto as recognizable by its skyline and an early morning radio show announcing traffic problems along one of Toronto’s expressways.  But the city is shot in a grey misty atmosphere offering the notion that something is amiss in the city.

                ENEMY is the most dumbfounding film I have seen this year.  And I mean this in a good way.  Villeneuve has kept his audience glued to the screen from tart to finish trying to follow his narrative 100% only to leave everyone mind f***ed!  But he does give a warning at the start of the film with these words splashed on the screen: “Order is chaos yet un-deciphered.

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

     

    THE GRAND BUDAPEST HOTEL (U.K./Germany 2014) ***** Top 10

    Directed by Wes Anderson

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    THE GRAND BUDAPEST HOTEL tells the story of the hotel’s most famous concierge, M. Gustave (Ralph Fiennes).  It is told by storyteller meister Wes Anderson (THE FANTASTIC MR. FOX, MOONRISE KINGDOM, THE DARJEELING LIMIED, THE ROYAL TENENBAUMS) with his famous filmmaking traits such as his wide-pan tracking shots, colour, spot-on and bitingly funny dialogue and contains a whole slew of actors (Bill Murray, Jason Schwartzman, Adrien Brody, Edward Norton) that have appeared in his previous films.  THE GRAND BUDAPEST HOTEL is also his best movie.

    As in true classic storytelling a teenage girl approaches a statue in a courtyard and leaves it at the end of the film while reading a chapter in the book about the author’s visit to the hotel.  The young hotel (Jude Law) is invited in the most polite of manners for dinner with its owner, Mr. Moustafa (F. Murray Abrahams).  Zero (Tony Revolori), as he is known when he was a lobby boy under the charge of concierge Gustave had a whole series of adventures that started from Gustave’s great affinity to the hotel guests.

    These adventures include cat-and-mouse between Gustave, Zero and Madame D’s (Tilda Swinton) henchmen, a ski/bobsled chase, theft of a priceless painting all set during the beginning of the War, which makes great filmmaking.  Anderson’s film has chases, action, romance, period atmosphere, humor but most of all great dialogue.  The film contains so many quotables that it would be wise to bring a notebook and someone who know shorthand.

    Surprisingly, Anderson keeps the momentum paced well all throughout the film.  Surprisingly, the lack of a climax does not help the film, but the story comes full circle.  The result is one of the most entertaining and colorful pieces of the year.  If you stay for the end credits, you can enjoy the dancing of an animated Moustafa dancing at the bottom right of the screen.

    Trailer:  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hgGXL5lJ-6g 

    NEED FOR SPEED (USA 2014) **

    Directed by Scott Waugh

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    As the title of the film implies, NEED FOR SPEED is a high-octane chase and race film in which plot does not matter.  It is based on a video game.

    After being released from prison for a crime that he didn't commit, a street racer, Tobey Marshall (Aaron Paul), is set to race cross-country and to avenge the death of his friend Pete (Harrison Gilbertson).  The villain of the piece is Dino Brewster (Dominic Cooper from THE DEVIL’S DOUBLE) who framed Tobey and is also Pete’s sister’s boyfriend.

    Tobey’s character is supported by a bunch of loyals who all try the best to be cool.  Benny (Kid Cudi) teaches rap fitness while serving time, Finn (Rami Malek) bears all when he quite his tiresome job while Monarch, the eccentric organizer of the race (Michael Keaton) hams in up the best he can. The result is all of them looking incredibly childish and idiotic.  The coolest actor of the lot turns out to be Dominic Cooper as the villain.  These people should learn that one is either born cool or not they can die trying.

    The entire story is an excuse for racing.  The segment in which Tobey’s car has to be refueled at red neck speed, of course makes no logic as is the need to travel to California in the neck of time.

    The races are all aptly shot but the audience could do without all the high fives and self congratulationary remarks of the characters.

    Running at over 2 hours, NEED FOR SPEED is a tad too long.  There is the race before the race, which is the climatic race in which 5 entries compete.  The race before the race should have been totally edited out and the action sequences there incorporated into the final race.  The audience is all ‘raced-out’ by the time the climatic race arrives.  The story is all too predictable in it dos not take a genius to guess that only Tobey and Dino will be left of the 5 to compete with each other as rivals.

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

     

     

    Best Bets of the Week:

    Best Film Opening: The Grand Budapest Hotel

    Best Films Playing: Like Father, Like Son, The Grand Budapest Hotel and American Hustle

    Best Animation: The Lego Movie

    Best Documentary: Money for Nothing: Inside the Federal Reserve

    Best Foreign: Like Father, Like Son

    Best Comedy: The Grand Budapest Hotel

    Best Suspense: Enemy

  • This week's Film Reviews (Mar 7, 2014)

     

     

    The documentary BETTIE PAGE REVEALS All has a limited run this week.

     

    Big films opening this week are 300 –RISE OF AN EMPIRE and the animated MR. PEABODY AND SHERMAN.

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    But the Japanese gem LIKE FATHER, LIKE SON that won last year’s Cannes Jury Prize is a must-see.

     FILM REVIEWS: 

    ALAN PARTRIDGE (UK/France 2013) ****
    Directed by Decran Lowney

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    To Americans, the name of Alan Partridge rings no bells.  This is likely the reason the film has been released in North America with the title as just his name instead of ALAN PARTRIDGE: ALPHLA PAPA in the U.K.  Alan Partridge is a British household name after 2 successful seasons on sitcom television.  The series received rave reviews and the upcoming film is actually pretty good.  Not only is the hit and miss ratio high but the film contains many, many laugh out loud moments making this perhaps the funniest film to be released this year.

    Alan Partridge is a fictional presenter who has played on various BBC radio and television shows since 1991.  The character was invented by Steve Coogan.  The film written by him (just as he starred and wrote the recent PHILOMENA) as well.

    The story centers on ambitious Alan Partridge whose career is about to take a turn when his radio station in Norwich, Norfolk is bought out by a multinational conglomerate.  In the downsizing, his colleague Pat Farrell (Colm Meany) is let go.  Farrell goes berserk entering the station with a shotgun and taking the staff hostage.  The police forces Alan to be the negotiator with obvious hilarious results.

    The clever script milks the situation well coming up with price comic bits such as broadcasting under siege and a runaway radio van under cheering listeners.  The film also takes aim at commercialism vs. art as the disk jockeys complain that they can only play what they are told to.  It also works well that the hero of the piece is something like an asshole, which Coogan portrays quite well.  Though the film contains segments in which violence could be the order of the day, the film stays true to its comedic roots.  The only times fires are shot are in the dream sequence and mostly by accident.

    The film contains priceless hilarious segments like the one with Partridge’s face peering at Farrell’s from inside the toilet bowl as he hides in the van’s portaloo and another when Partridge appears in a dream sequence as Jason Statham, Jason Bourne and Jason Argonaut (though it should be Jason and the Argonauts).

    The film made number one at the box-office when opening in the U.K.  Whether it does well across the Atlantic is hard to predict, but this is one pretty hilarious comedy.

    Trailer:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LKYkWa9JBu4

     

     

    BETTIE PAGE REVEALS ALL (USA 2012) ***

    Directed by Mark Moni

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    The iconic Bettie Page is the pin up girl the whole world got to know and love.  In Mark Moni’s ‘revealing’ documentary on Page, he tries to capture the charisma and appeal of his bubbly subject.  This he succeeds, but whether ‘all is revealed’, that is up to the audience to decide.  The audience sees her life, her aspirations but still quite a bit of secrecy has been kept.  Perhaps that is what has kept her so popular and mysterious.

    Through interviews of her friends and colleagues and also through her voiced interviews (at various stages of her life as reckoned from the sound of her voice), Moni paints a good history of her life.  From the age of her marriage to her rise to success in her business life to her mental instability, one cannot help but admire this independent woman for what she stands for – her principles and beliefs.  Bettie also was a staunch Christian, which is really weird, all things considering.

    It was widely believed that Bettie Page knew when to appear and when to disappear.  Throughout the entire film, he audience never gets a glimpse of Paige in her later years.  The closest they get is to hear is her hoarser voice.  So when she said that she always wanted the world to remember her by her photos and pin ups, this smart woman kept her word.  So, do not believe then the title of the movie that BETTIE PAGE REVEALS ALL.

    Those who grew up in the Bettie Page years will likely love the film for all the nostalgia it brings.  For those who did not, the film offers a few lessons in life, through observation of what this respectable lady has gone through.

    Trailer:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ke41T0eXG7g 

    LIKE FATHER, LIKE SON (Japan 2013) Top 10 *****

    Directed by Hirokazu Kore-Eda

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    Director’s Hirokazu Kore-Eda’s breakout film AFTER LIFE about the recent dead filming their fondest memory to take it forever into eternity is a minor masterpiece.  The British magazine Sight and Sound did a 4-page article on the then undistributed film that eventually got the film a distributor with the film earning the recognition it deserved.  Hirokazu Kore-Eda never matched the greatness of that earlier film till this new entry that won the grand Jury Prize at last year’s Cannes Film Festival.

    LIKE FATHER, LIKE SON is the story of two babies switched by birth.  The hospital calls the two families 6 years later to reveal the catastrophe with the families deciding on whether to keep the boys or exchange them.

    The film centers on the father of the richer family, Ryoto (Masaharu Fukuyama) a successful architect who spends more time at work than with his son, Keita.  Success is all that matters to him, disappointed at his son’s piano performances (in a quietly humorous segment in which the son plays baa baa black sheep while a girl classmate accomplishes a classical piece).  He puts pressure on his wife Midori and it becomes clear in the film that there is no love in the family.  He gets a call from the hospital 20 minutes into the film.

    Director Hirokazu Kore-Eda switches to the other family, the Saikis’s showing how the poorer family, this one with the father, Yudai  a shopkeeper who spends more time with the family lives.  Hirokazu Kore-Eda then alternates the screen time between both families miraculously revealing the true feelings of both the mothers and the two boys in the short period of time.  This is the reason the film works – so much is accomplished in so little time.  The story is told, emotions unfurled and principles, views and social mores explored.  The story is also set in modern Japan where it s competitive and the pressure is on everyone in a family to do well.

    The film contains two segments that pack quite the emotional wallop.  One occurs in the middle of the film when the real reason of the baby switch is revealed.  The other is the confrontation between the nurse’s son and the architect father outside their house.  The second demonstrates the power of a son’s love while the first the folly of mankind.

    But the film poses the important question of what makes the true son – the upbringing or the blood relation?

    Hirokazu Kore-Eda elicits the best performances from children as are evident in his films I WISH and NOBODY KNOWS.  The performances and expressions of the young actors portraying the two sons are priceless.

    But despite all the tension Hirokazu Kore-Eda creates especially for the slim chance of a happy ending, the film more than satisfies.  Kore-Eda treats all his characters with respect and the best thing is that those who have done wrong are given a second chance at redemption.  But make sure you bring lots of Kleenex.

    DreamWorks has already purchased the film rights to make an American adaptation of the film. It is doubtful that the remake can match the emotional powerhouse of this one. So make sure you catch Hirokazu Kore-Eda’s LIKE FATHER, LIKE SON, which comes with this critic’s highest recommendation.

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

     
     


     

    MR. PEABODY AND SHERMAN (USA 2014) ***1/2
    Directed by Rob Minkoff

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    This fast paced, action packed animated adventure sees genius dog Mr. Peabody (Ty Burrell) and his adopted son Sherman (Max Charles) take their time machine (WABAC) to various time periods to save the day.

    It all starts when Sherman’s girl classmate takes the WABAC back into time.  Sherman and father dog travel to bring her back.  But it is much of the same subplot regenerated again.  They save her at different time periods (the Trojan War, Egypt) before the film comes to a climax.  The script attempts to put into the film some scientific mumbo jumbo, something like breaking the time space continuum that actually makes no sense.  There is enough in the dialogue that the audience will understand so that they will believe that the rest of the logic makes sense.  Anyway, director Minkoff moves his film so fast that one can hardly have time to notice the film’s flaws.

    Though the film contains no clear messages, it does address key issues like bullying, adoption, the school system and social classes.

    The film contains enough goofy stuff for the kids and some adult stuff coming from Mr. Peabody who is supposed to be a genius.  Adults will likely grow nostalgic from this old cartoon, though it is reset to the present.  Mr. Peabody and Sherman live in an ultra modern penthouse.

    But the film scores top marks in its 3D animation.  MR. PEABODY AND SHERMAN has really classy and astounding animated effects that can be noticed throughout the film’s entirety.

    Trailer:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=za56MdewGzM

    NO CLUE (Canada 2013) **

    Directed by Carl Bessai

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    This Canadian slant (British Columbia, actually) of detective film noir comes complete with a blonde femme fatale and missing person and is not that bad a film.  But one comes out of the movie with the feeling that: “there is something missing.”  One wihses that Bessai’s (LOLA, NORMAL) film would have fared better, as everyone – director, writer and actors – all work at their material enough.  The plot is intriguing, the characters relatively interesting and the atmosphere sufficiently menacing, but still something is missing besides the person in the story.

    A beautiful blonde, Kyra (Amy Smart) shows up asking a private investigator to hunt down her missing brother.  The person Kyra is asking happens to be Leo Falloon (Brent Butt), as she has entered the wrong office.  Leo, infatuated by her, helps her nevertheless.  The plot thickens.  Nothing is what it seems but Leo turns out to be pretty apt in mystery solving.

    The film plays as a comedy.  Though the dialogue is occasionally smart, it is not laugh-out loud funny.  Actor Brent Butt is likely funny as a comic but he is no leading man. An actor playing the role straight (like Humphrey Bogart) might have gotten this hole exercise right.  Director Bessai, not known for comedies has his comedic timing all wrong.  He seems unaware on what generates the laughs.  Certain missed jokes should have been left on the cutting room floor.

    The result is a film that is half funny and half mystery leaving the audience amiss at what really happened.

    Trailer:   http://www.traileraddict.com/no-clue-2014/trailer

     

    Best Bets of the Week:

    Best Film Opening: Like Father, Like Son

    Best Film Playing: Like Father, Like Son and American Hustle

    Best Animation: The Lego Movie

    Best Drama: The Wolf of Wall Street

    Best Action: Stalingrad

    Best Documentary: Money for Nothing: Inside the Federal Reserve

    Best Foreign: Like Father, Like Son

     

  • TIFF Cinematheque presents - Pasolini

    TIFF Cinematheque presents – Pier Paolo Pasolini

    (Please note that the article that follows is reproduced from TIFF Cinematheque.

    While the capsule reviews are written by Gilbert Seah.)

     

    Pier Paolo Pasolini: The Poet of Contamination

    March 8 to April 12

    TIFF Bell Lightbox

    “In an era when Italy produced a bumper crop of difficult, passionate artists, especially in the cinema, he may have been the most difficult of all, and arguably the most prodigiously talented. . . . More than three decades after his death, his best films still feel like news.” — A.O. Scott, The New York Times

     

    “Pasolini is like a God to me, a god of aesthetic, majestic style” — Sergei Paradjanov

     

    “Pier Paolo Pasolini is the major Italian poet of the second half of this century. One poet is not more valuable than another, but Pasolini has said more important things with greater force than the others.” — Alberto Moravia

     

    “If you know that I am an unbeliever, then you know me better than I do myself. I may be an unbeliever, but I am an unbeliever who has a nostalgia for a belief.” — Pier Paolo Pasolini

     

    Filmmaker, novelist, linguist, critic, playwright, painter, journalist and poet, Pier Paolo Pasolini (1922–1975), was one of the most important and controversial intellectuals of postwar Italian culture. Employing raw, street-shot imagery of the poor, disenfranchised and unfortunate, Pasolini was a fierce critic of his country’s complacency and bourgeois aspirations as it underwent the economic transformation into modernity.

    Pier Paolo Pasolini: The Poet of Contamination opens on March 8 with an archival print of the raucously funny and woundingly moving Mamma Roma (1962), featuring the volcanic Anna Magnani in a tour-de-force performance as an ex-prostitute whose class aspirations and unconditional love for her no-good son lead to tragic results. The screening will be introduced by Luca Caminati, Italian cinema scholar and Associate Professor of Film Studies at Concordia University, who will discuss Pasolini’s representation of the urban landscape in the film as exemplary of the director’s cinematic pastiche. Pasolini’s eclectic oeuvre ranges from classic texts refashioned to stress their pagan qualities, such as his version of Euripides’ tragedy, Medea (1970), starring Maria Callas in her only major non-operatic role in cinema, to political fables such as Porcile (1969), an outrageous and touching portrait of the hypocrisy and greed of contemporary life starring Jean-Pierre Léaud and Pierre Clémenti. Based on the three most famous works of omnibus fiction in world literature, Pasolini’s Trilogy of Life celebrates sex as the conduit to the sacred. Visually spectacular and juicily sacrilegious, The Decameron (1971) turns Boccaccio’s blasphemous tales about lusty nuns, reprobate priests and thieving sacristans into a glorious celebration of fleshly pleasure. Banned in Italy despite having won the top prize at the Berlin Film Festival, The Canterbury Tales (1972) is a wild refashioning of the famous medieval text, populated by copious codpieces, copulation and scatology. Intoxicating in its eroticism, The Arabian Nights (1974) is a daring and debauched festival of the bizarre shot in the mirrored palaces and labyrinthine streets of Yemen, Nepal, Iran and Ethiopia. In conjunction with the Italian Cultural Institute’s photo exhibition Pasolini’s l’Oriente: Arabian Nights Through the Photographs of Roberto Villa, photographer Roberto Villa will introduce the screening of The Arabian Nights on March 23.

    Pasolini’s extreme vision ended with what was to be his last film, Salò, or the 120 days of Sodom (1975), a legendary work of utter disgust and rage against a world distorted by the desire for power and privilege. Banned, censored and reviled the world over since its first release, the film is an unflinching tableau of degradation and humiliation based on The 120 Days of Sodom by the Marquis de Sade, with the setting transposed to Mussolini’s miniature Fascist Republic of Salò in 1944. Other highlights include Teorema (1968), one of Pasolini’s most provocative and formally daring fusions of sex and the sacred staring Terence Stamp as an otherworldly visitor that serenely seduces and spiritually transforms each member of a wealthy Milanese household; The Gospel According to St. Matthew (1964), Pasolini’s starkly beautiful and brutely physical rendering of the Biblical text has exerted an immeasurable influence on such directors as Martin Scorsese and Jean-Luc Godard; La Ricotta (1962), Pasolini’s cheerfully blasphemous short starring Orson Welles; and rare works such as Notes for an African Oresteia (1969-70), which follows Pasolini as he scouts locations and actors for a prospective version of Aeschylus’ tragedy to be set in then contemporary Uganda and Tanzania; and Pasolini & Giuseppe Bertolucci’s La Rabbia di Pasolini (1963/2008), a recent restoration and reconstruction of a political found-footage essay film by Pasolini that was censored and cut before its release due to its polemics.

    Featuring 15 feature films and 6 short films presented almost entirely in new 35mm prints, several restored for the occasion, Pier Paolo Pasolini: The Poet of Contamination invites audiences to experience the stylistic experiments in Pasolini’s fiercely enduring and legendary cinema and the eternal beauty and emotional power of his work. TIFF Cinematheque is the sole Canadian venue for the North American tour of this rare and imperative event, running from March 8 to April 12.

    In conjunction with TIFF Cinematheque’s retrospective, the Italian Cultural Institute hosts the exhibition Pasolini’s l’Oriente: Arabian Nights Through the Photographs of Roberto Villa, a selection of photographs shot by master Italian photographer Roberto Villa on the set of Pasolini’s The Arabian Nights. One of the most comprehensive photographic exhibitions ever devoted to the great Italian poet, writer and filmmaker Pasolini’s l’Oriente runs from March 11 to April 26 at the Italian Cultural Institute, 496 Huron Street, Toronto.

    See below for complete schedule for Pier Paolo Pasolini: The Poet of Contamination at TIFF Cinematheque.

     

    PIER PAOLO PASOLINI: THE POET OF CONTAMINATION

    Luca Caminati on Mamma Roma

    Approx. Duration: 2 hour 15 minutes

    Luca Caminati, Italian cinema scholar and Associate Professor of Film Studies at Concordia University, opens the retrospective with this discussion of Pasolini’s representation of the urban landscape in Mamma Roma as exemplary of the director’s cinematic pastiche, which deploys the painterly tradition as a critique of the industrial modernization process in late 1950s Italy.

     

    Mamma Roma

    dir. Pier Paolo Pasolini | Italy | 1962  | 105 min. | PG  | 35mm

    Archival Print!

    Anna Magnani gives a tour-de-force performance as an ex-prostitute whose class aspirations and unconditional love for her no-good son lead to tragic results.

    Saturday, March 8 at 4 p.m.

     

    Accattone

    dir. Pier Paolo Pasolini | Italy | 1961 | 116 min. | PG | 35mm

    New 35mm Print!

    As important a debut as any in film history, Pier Paolo Pasolini’s portrait of a scrounging thief struggling to survive in the netherworlds of Rome remains one of his most moving and powerful works.

    Sunday, March 9 at 6 p.m.

    Medea

    dir. Pier Paolo Pasolini | Italy/France/Germany | 1970 | 118 min. | PG | 35mm

    New 35mm Print!

    Opera legend Maria Callas brings fierce beauty and harrowing power to Pasolini’s version of Euripides’ tragedy.

    Thursday, March 13 at 6:30 p.m.

     

    The Gospel According to St. Matthew (Il vangelo secondo Matteo)

    dir. Pier Paolo Pasolini | Italy | 1964 | 137 min. | G | 35mm

    New 35mm Print!

    A surprise international hit that became a beloved classic of world cinema, Pasolini’s starkly beautiful and brutely physical rendering of the Biblical text has exerted an immeasurable influence on such directors as Martin Scorsese and Jean-Luc Godard.

    Friday, March 14 at 6:30 p.m.

     

    Teorema (Theorem)

    dir. Pier Paolo Pasolini | Italy | 1968 | 98 min. | 14A | 35mm

    New 35mm Print!

    An otherworldly visitor (Terence Stamp) serenely seduces and spiritually transforms each member of a wealthy Milanese household, in one of Pasolini’s most provocative and formally daring fusions of sex and the sacred.

    Saturday, March 15 at 5 p.m.

     

    Hawks and Sparrows (Uccellacci e uccellini)

    dir. Pier Paolo Pasolini | Italy | 1966 | 86 min. | 14A  | 35mm

    New 35mm Print!

    The great comedian Totò and Pasolini regular Ninetto Davoli star as a hapless father-and-son team who wander the roads of Italy in the company of a talking crow, in Pasolini’s marvellous Brechtian comedy.

    Sunday, March 16 at 3 p.m.

     

    Seeking Locations in Palestine for the Film The Gospel According to St. Matthew (Sopralluoghi in Palestina per il film Il vangelo secondo Matteo)

    dir. Pier Paolo Pasolini | Italy | 1964 | 52 min. | 14A | 35mm

    New 35mm Print!

    A highly personal, enlightening document of Pasolini’s search for landscapes and locations to use in The Gospel According to St. Matthew.

    Followed by

    Notes for an African Oresteia (Appunti per un’Orestiade Africana)

    dir. Pier Paolo Pasolini | Italy | 1970 | 63 min. | 14A | 35mm

    New 35mm Print!

    This rarely screened documentary follows Pasolini as he scouts locations and actors for his never-completed version of the classic Aeschylus tragedy, which he planned to set in contemporary Uganda and Tanzania.

    Followed by

    Walls of Sana’a (Le mura di Sana’a)

    dir. Pier Paolo Pasolini | Italy | 1971 | 13 min. | 14A | Digital

    A ravishing documentary portrait of the Yemeni capital of Sana’a, which entranced Pasolini during the shoot of The Decameron and whose threatened old quarter he hoped to preserve by having it declared a UNESCO World Heritage site.

    Tuesday, March 18 at 9 p.m.

    The Decameron (Il Decameron)

    dir. Pier Paolo Pasolini | Italy | 1971 | 110 min. | R | 35mm

    New 35mm Print!

    Pasolini’s visually spectacular and juicily sacrilegious adaptation of Boccaccio’s Decameron inaugurated his joyous Trilogy of Life.

    Friday, March 21 at 6:30 p.m.

     

    The Canterbury Tales (Il racconti di Canterbury)

    dir. Pier Paolo Pasolini | Italy | 1972 | 110 min. | R | 35mm

    New 35mm Print!

    Pasolini himself plays Chaucer in this wild refashioning of the famous medieval text full to overflowing with rutting, ribaldry, and roistering.

    Saturday, March 22 at 4 p.m.

     

    The Arabian Nights introduced by Roberto Villa

    Approx. Duration: 2 hour 38 minutes

    In conjunction with the Italian Cultural Institute’s photo exhibition Pasolini’s l’Oriente: Arabian Nights Through the Photographs of Roberto Villa, photographer Roberto Villa introduces our screening of the concluding chapter of Pasolini’s Trilogy of Life.

    The Arabian Nights (Il fiore delle mille e una note)

    dir. Pier Paolo Pasolini | Italy | 1974 | 129 min. | R | 35mm

    New 35mm Print!

    Shot on location in Yemen, Nepal, Iran and Ethiopia, the conclusion of Pasolini’s Trilogy of Life employs Scheherazade’s stories to explore the “idyllic sexuality” Pasolini sought in countries unsullied by European culture.

    Sunday, March 23 at 3:30 p.m.

     

    Love Meetings (Comizi d’amore)

    dir. Pier Paolo Pasolini | Italy | 1965 | 90 min. | 14A | 35mm

    New 35mm Print!

    Pasolini travels through Italy asking his country’s people about love, sex, divorce, homosexuality, marriage, prostitution and more in this landmark portrait of postwar Italian culture.

    Tuesday, March 25 at 6:30 p.m.

     

    Oedipus Rex (Edipo Re)

    dir. Pier Paolo Pasolini | Italy | 1967 | 110 min. | 14A | 35mm

    New 35mm Print!

    Filmed in the harsh, parched landscape of northern Morocco, Pasolini’s Oedipus Rex recasts the ancient Greek drama about the prince who kills his father, marries his mother, and blinds himself in contrition as a psychological “family romance” that owes as much to Freud as it does to Sophocles.

    Sunday, March 30 at 6 p.m.

     

    Primo Pasolini: Four Short Films

    Approx. Duration: 99 min.

    A quartet of Pasolini’s glorious short films, each made for one of the superstar-auteur “anthology films” that were a mania in sixties European cinema.

     

    La ricotta

    dir. Pier Paolo Pasolini | Italy | 1962 | 35 min. | 14A  | 35mm

    New 35mm Print!

    Orson Welles stars in Pasolini’s cheerfully blasphemous short about the disastrous production of a would-be Biblical spectacular.

     

    The Earth as Seen from the Moon (La terra vista della luna)

    dir. Pier Paolo Pasolini | Italy | 1966 | 30 min. | 14A | 35mm

    New 35mm Print!

    In this outlandish, surrealist fable, a dim-witted, green-haired boy-man (Ninetto Davoli) and his hapless, recently widowed dad (Totò) look for a new mother/wife, only to find their lives in the hands of a non-speaking Silvana Mangano.

    What are the Clouds? (Che cosa sono le nuvole?)

    dir. Pier Paolo Pasolini | Italy | 1967 | 22 min. | 14A | 35mm

    New 35mm Print!

    Invoking Velázquez’s Las Meninas, this wild little film stars Totò, Ninetto Davoli, and Laura Betti as puppets acting out a most peculiar version of Othello.

    The Paper Flower Sequence (La sequenza del fiore di carta)

    dir. Pier Paolo Pasolini | Italy | 1968 | 12 min. | 14A | Digital

    Ninetto Davoli walks down the Via Nazionale, blissfully unaware of the sufferings of the world such as the bombing of Vietnam. Like the fig tree that Christ strikes down in March because it is not bearing fruit, the innocent is hardly at fault, though Pasolini states that “not to be aware is to be guilty.”

    Saturday, April 5 at 5 p.m.

    Porcile (Pigpen)

    dir. Pier Paolo Pasolini | Italy/France | 1969 | 99 min. | PG | 35mm

    New 35mm Print!

    A modern-day narrative of bourgeois bestiality is paralleled with the primeval tale of an unrepentant cannibal, in one of Pasolini’s most notorious and outrageous films.

    Sunday, April 6 at 3 p.m.

    La rabbia di Pasolini (The Rage of Pasolini)

    dir. Pier Paolo Pasolini, Giuseppe Bertolucci | Italy | 1963/2008 | 83 min. | 14A  | 35mm

    New 35mm Print!

    A restoration of Pasolini’s searing, long unavailable essay film, which offers the director’s probing and caustic commentary on celebrity culture, the Cold War, Italy’s postwar economic boom and the world’s rampant injustices.

    Tuesday, April 8 at 6:30 p.m.

     

    Salò, or The 120 Days of Sodom (Salò o le 120 giornate di sodoma)

    dir. Pier Paolo Pasolini | Italy/France | 1975 | 116 min. | R | 35mm

    New 35mm Print!

    Pasolini’s updating of the Marquis de Sade’s 120 Days of Sodom to Mussolini’s short-lived Fascist republic of Salò in 1944 is one of the most harrowing and controversial films ever made.

    Saturday, April 12 at 7 p.m.

    TRAILERS

    Mamma Roma http://www.criterion.com/films/375-mamma-roma

    1. Accattone http://www.dailymotion.com/video/xqxkc7_accattone-1961-official-trailer-masters-of-cinema_shortfilms
    2. Medea https://mubi.com/films/medea–2

    The Gospel According to St. Matthew (Italian) https://mubi.com/films/the-gospel-according-to-st-matthew

    Hawks and Sparrows http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8riUlf9dAaY

    The Decameron https://mubi.com/films/the-decameron

    1. Porcile http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=c22GE3ldZ3o

    La rabbia di Pasolini http://rarovideousa.com/The-Anger-La-Rabbia

    Salò, or The 120 Days of Sodom http://www.criterion.com/films/532-salo-or-the-120-days-of-sodom

    CLIPS

    La ricotta (Italian) http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iNbjp6F7lx0

    CAPSULE REVIEWS:

    ARABIAN NIGHTS (Italy 1974) ****

    Directed by Pier Paolo Pasolini

    arabiannightsba

    The film is the last of Pasolini’s “Trilogy of Life” which is based on the Arabic anthology The Book of One Thousand and One Nights”.  The main story concerns a young virgin man Nur-e-Din (newcomer Franco Merli) who falls deeply in love with his slave girl, Zamurrud (Ines Pellegrini).  Fate causes her to be stolen from him one night and he spends the rest of the film hunting her down.  She, however, escapes her captor and becomes King of a faraway Kingdom.  Several other romantic and saucy tales are nterwove into the story, tough not all comfortably.  When each of these tales end, the main one between the boy and the slave girl is kindled.  As in the other trilogy films, ARABIAN NIGHTS contains lots of humour, graphic violence (a demon chops off the limbs of his lover) and sex scenes (mostly heterosexual here) which makes the film distinct Pasolini.  The film won the Special Grand Prix at the 1974 Cannes Film Festival.

    THE CANTERBURY TALES (Italy 1972) ****

    Directed by Pier Paolo Pasolini

    canterburytalesba

    Based on the medieval poem by Geoffrey Chaucer, Pasolini shot these 8 tales in English featuring a few well-known English actors like Hugh Griffith (the first story) and Robin Askwith (later famous for his CONFESSIONS series of sex comedies).  Pasolini leaves his imprint, which means that the film contains lots of nudity, wry humour and slapstick as well as sex including sodomy.  The last tale is a bit much to swallow with devils farting out more little devils from the arse in hell but all this should be taken with a sense of humour.  His two most humorous tales, ‘the students and the miller’ and ‘Perkin the festive’ with a Chaplin-like character are the best of the lot. The film won the Silver Bear at the 22nd Berlin International Film Festival.

    MAMMA ROMA (Italy 1962) ****
    Directed by Pier Paolo Pasolini

    mammaromaba

    An ex-prostitute, Mamma Roma (Anna Magnani in her best role), tries to start a new life selling vegetables with her 16-year-old son Ettore (Ettore Garofolo). When he later finds out that she was a prostitute, he succumbs to the dark side ending with the petty theft of a radio in a hospital and goes to prison.  This is a tragic tale of mother and son, mother wanting too much for her son while he just wanting to be left to his own devices. Pasolini’s film contains lots of homoerotic images like Ettore’s friend wrestling him to the ground and Ettore being strapped down to his underwear in the hospital.  Pasolini also captures the period, classes atmosphere and hopeless of is tale with clarity and emotion.

     PORCILE (PIGSTY) (Italy 1969) ****
    Directed by Pier Paolo Pasolini

    porcileba

    PORCILE is two paralleled stories intercut with each other.   The one set is the past tells the story of a young man (Pierre Clementi) who wanders around a volvano who ends up being caught after turning into a cannibal.  The second and more hilarious story is about two industrialists, Herr Klotz (Alberto Lionelli) and Kerdhitze (Ugo Tognazzi) solving is rivalry with each other while Klotz’s son (Jean-Pierre Leaud) has this odd obsession about pigs.  Both stories depict the downfall of society in one way or another and whether the two stories are linked is u to the viewer.  Pasolini’s stories are not only compelling to watch much outrageously funny at the same time.

    LA RABBIA (RAGE) (Italy 1063) ***

    Directed by Giovannin Guareschi and Pie Paolo Pasolini

    rabbiaba

    Using old footage, LA RABBIA is a political documentary that likely shows most accurately the soul of director Pasolini.  The film is a criticism of society as told by two intellectuals, directors Guareschi, a right winged Monarchist and Pasolini, a Communist militant.  The film is in two parts, each done by each director.  The classical musical enlivens the grim nature of the material, though there are bits of humour thrown in occasionally.  Each have their say, and though one may not agree fully with the ideals and principles, LA RABBIA illustrates the ‘rage’ of the film’s title at what the world has become or is becoming.

     

  • Doc Soup March - La Maison de la Radio

    DOC SOUP – March: LA MAISON DE LA RADIO

    Hot Docs is pleased to announce that March’s Doc Soup will present the Toronto premiere of LA MAISON DE LA RADIO (D: Nicolas Philibert; France, Japan; 99 min.) Called “humorous … insightful” by Variety, LA MAISON DE LA RADIO will screen on Wednesday, March 5, at 6:30 p.m. and 9:15 p.m., and on Thursday, March 6, at 6:45 p.m. at the Bloor Hot Docs Cinema, 506 Bloor St. West.

    LA MAISON DE LA RADIO is a vibrant film about listening and the value of great public institutions. Master documentarian Nicolas Philibert, director of award-winning TO BE AND TO HAVE (2002), turns his probing, sensitive camera on the inner workings of the inspirational public broadcaster Radio France—the French equivalent of the BBC—to enchanting, enlightening and frequently humorous effect.

    Single tickets for LA MAISON DE LA RADIO are $15 and can be purchased in advance online at www.hotdocs.ca or in person at the Bloor Hot Docs Cinema box office. In the event advance tickets sell out, a limited number of tickets may be available at the door on the night of the screening. Tickets can be purchased online atwww.hotdocs.ca, in person at the Bloor Hot Docs Cinema box office, or by phone at 416-637-5150.

    CAPSULE REVIEW:

     

    LA MAISON DE LA RADIO (France/Japan 2013) ***
    Directed by Nicolas Philibert

    maisondelaradioba

    March Doc Soup filmgoers are in for a treat.  Master documentarian, best known for his Award Winning TO BE AND TO HAVE about school kids has his new film about a public radio house, Radio France screened.  Like his TO BE AND TO HAVE, Philibert adopts a free-wheeling approach allowing the energy of his subjects take the limelight.  There is no narrative but the subjects are shown on camera at their work, be in announcing, playing music, performing administrative or managerial duties or just talking about what they think are important in general, like potatoes saving the world.  The result is a charming, entertaining film that requires no great concentration or work.  Just sit back and enjoy, life and life at LA MAISON DE LA RADIO.

    Trailer:  http://vimeo.com/64874771

     
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  • This Week's Film Reviews (Feb 28, 2014)

    Best film opening is Palestine’s Best Foreign Film Oscar nominee OMAR.  This is my pick for the winner in this category.

    Also opening this week are NON-STOP and Russian blockbuster STALINGRAD.

     stalingradposterbaNST_31_5_Promo_4C_4F.indd

    Two film festivals make their run – Irish and Human Rights Watch,

    FILM REVIEWS:

    NON-STOP (USA /France 2014) **

    Directed by Jaume Collet-Serra

    nonstopba

    NON-STOP is billed as an action/thriller mystery.  The mystery element is the film’s strongest component, thanks to Spanish director Collet-Serra’s effort, him being made famous for his ghost stories ORPHAN and UNKNOWN.  But when the film changes gear to action and thriller, it gets too silly, over-the-top.

    The central character of the story is federal air Marshall Bill Marks (Liam Neeson) who is alcoholic and a complete mess owing to marital and other problems.  So when he boards a plane and receives a series of threatening text messages stating that a passenger will be killed every 20 minutes unless $150 million is deposited into an offshore account, no one believes him.  Bill takes things into his own hands.  He gets fired while at it and incurs the wrath of all the passengers, except of course, Jen Summers (Julianne Moore), his love interest.

    The script contains too many details that need to be explained.  Not all these are explained satisfactorily but credibility gets pushed further as a bomb on the plane finally explodes and the plane lands safely while t\its body is torn apart.  All this looks good on screen, special effects-wise, but upon careful consideration is in reality all very silly and unbelievable.

    When the location of the bomb is revealed in the film, one member of the audience laughed his head off for a full 5 minutes, bringing the rest of the audience laughing as well.

    There is a segment in which Bill comforts a lone little girl passenger, which reminds him of his won daughter.  This is emotion generated in a film at the lowest level.

    NON-STOP is non-stop Hollywood kitsch at its very best or at its very worst, depending how one wants to look at it.

    Trailer:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nODrjQUR5YU 

    OMAR (Palestine 2013) ****

    Directed by Hany Abu-Assad

    omarba

    OMAR is the story of Omar (Adam Bakri), a mischievous, bright but always in trouble youth who has to fight for his true love and freedom.

    When the film opens, Omar is scaling a wall to meet his secret love, Nadia (Leem Lubany).  But Omar is also a freedom fighter who with two friends, Tarek (Eyad Hourani) and Amjad (Samer Bisharat) shoot a military sentry.  Omar is captured and tricked into working for the military police.  But the appeal of the story is how Omar and the military police play the constant cat-and-mouse game.

    The Israelis are the bad guys in this film with the Palestinians as the good ones.  However, director Hany omits any political issues.  The conflict is just present and that is left at that.  The conflict could exist in any other country or at any other time.  Or it could be the Palestinians and Israelis in reversed roles.

    The film is as exciting as it is suspenseful.  Director Hany keeps the audience constantly on their toes.  The torture scenes are a bit too severe at times to watch, but the audience knows that what is shown on screen happens in real life.  The film contains all the elements that make a good suspensor – betrayal, love, loyalty, sacrifice and the fight for freedom.

    Bakri is excellent as the youth Omar, charismatic and indeed the best looking Palestinian I have ever seen.  Bakri looks even more dashing with the scars left by the torture.

    IMAX claims to create a new viewing experience for audiences with the use of both sight (in the form of a gigantic screen) and sound system but this film does the same without the expense but by director Hany’s excellent story-telling skills.  OMAR is Palestine’s Best Foreign Film Oscar hopeful this year.  The film also won the Jury prize at this years Cannes in the Un Certain Regard section.

    Trailer:  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=v5dSeBD-qiY

     

    STALINGRAD (Russia 2013) ***

    Directed by Fedor Bondarchuk

    stalingradba

    STALINGRAD will attract audiences for the fact that it is the first Russian and non-American movie to be made using the IMAX format with stupendous war footage that will rival the best of sci-fi futuristic and action hero films.

    One would say that the film is inspired by true events.  STALINGRAD is not based on any literary source but from diaries of the participants of the battle of Stalingrad.  The action takes place in 1942 when the German troops occupied the bank of the Volga River.  Having failed while attempting to cross the Volga to launch a counteroffensive on the German Army, the Russian troops were forced to retreat. However, a few soldiers managed to get to the shore on the enemy's side. They remained hidden in a coastal house where they met a girl. The Germans had occupied her home, and she did not have time to leave the front lines.  The film is the story of 5 combatants and the girl.

    The film begins with he aftermath of the Tsunami in Japan.  One immediately wonders what this has to do with Stalingrad but the film eventually explains why.

    Or a full two-hour film, director Fedor Bondarchek knows how to engage his audience into the narrative.  There are 5 Russian and 2 German characters and 2 females with two love stories.  The human element is of prime importance to draw the audience into a film that would otherwise just become meaningless fighting.

    Bondarchuk has also taken great pains to ensure his battle scenes are exciting and authentic.  The film is also shot both in German and Russian with a little English.

    Hopefully the subtitles and the fact that the film is in Russian will not deter audiences from the film.  The film has everything audiences love such as action, romance, and special effects though it does not have that much humour.  The film cost a modest $30 million and it has already made double that amount internationally.

    Trailer:  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=R0aVDDvmr0g

     

    Best Bets of the Week:

    Best Film Opening: Omar

    Best Film Playing: American Hustle

    Best Animation: The Lego Movie

    Best Drama: The Wolf of Wall Street

    Best Action: Stalingrad

  • The Toronto Irish Film Festival

    THE TORONTO IRISH FILM FESTIVAL 2014

    The ultimate Irish pub crawl, a boxing legend at the height of his career, a madcap chase for missing millions, an Irish bird who’s afraid of flying and personal reconciliation are among the themes at this year’s Toronto Irish Film Festival.  This first wee film festival takes place from Friday, February 28 to Sunday, March 2 at TIFF Bell Lightbox. TIRFF 2014 delivers a weekend of Irish cinema with North American and Canadian Premieres, a classic Irish pub-night and very special guests from Ireland.

    The Opening Night Gala on Friday, February 28, sponsored by Tourism Ireland, features the North American Premiere of THE IRISH PUB by filmmaker Alex Fegan,who will be in attendance.  THE IRISH PUB is a loving tribute to the most important institution in Irish society and the publicans who run them.

    John Galway, TIRFF co-founder adds, “This year, we’re bringing together all four corners of the Toronto-Irish community like never before and we’re delighted to present Irish content in all genres, including animation, documentary and, a television-first for TIRFF, the Season 2 launch of “Moone Boy”, winner of the 2013 International Emmy for Best Comedy, in partnership with BITE TV and Blue Ant Media”.

    TIRFF’s annual SHORTS PROGRAM, sponsored by the Embassy of Ireland in Ottawa, showcases a strong line-up of Ireland’s up-and-coming filmmakers.  Saturday’s schedule continues with “When Ali Came To Ireland”, sponsored byKPMG, which captures the lead up to the historic 1972 Muhammad Ali boxing match which captured the attention of the entire country.  Also screening Saturday is the Northern Ireland drama “Made in Belfast”, by first-time director Paul Kennedy, about a successful novelist returning home to confront those he left behind.  On Sunday, TIRFF audiences will be the first in Canada to see the much-anticipated Season 2 launch of ”Moone Boy”, the wildly popular Irish sitcom created, co-written and co-starring Chris O’Dowd.   Back by popular demand after its premiere at TIFF 2013, Lance Daly’s madcap “recession” comedy “Life’s A Breeze”, sponsored by The Ireland Fund of Canada, starring Pat Shortt, Fionnula Flanagan, Brendan Gleeson and introducing newcomer, Kelly Thornton, wraps the weekend on a comedic high-note.

     

    TIRFF 2014 FILM PROGRAM

     

    OPENING NIGHT GALA – THE IRISH PUB (North American Premiere)

    Sponsored by Tourism Ireland

    Director: Alex Fegan in attendance/Q & A following screening

    Running time: 75 mins.

    Friday, February 28, 2014, 7:00pm

     

    Alex Fegan’s feature documentary is a eulogy to the greatest institution in Irish society, and the legendary Irish publicans who run them.  An ode to the traditional Irish pub in all its glory: solid wood, stone floors, no music, little TV, knick-knacks and yellowed ceilings, Fegan’s camera slips from pub to pub meeting interesting and quirky publicans and patrons each step along the way.

    Director Alex Fegan is available for interviews in Toronto beginning February 27.

    OPENING NIGHT PARTY: Dora Keogh’s, 141 Danforth Avenue, 9:30pm

    Present your TIRFF ticket stub from ‘The Irish Pub’ to meet director Alex Fegan and join us in celebrating TIRFF 2014.

    FOY VANCE – RECORDING NOTHING (Ireland 2013) **

    Directed by Babysweet

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    This short documentary of 25 minutes documents 4 days with Foy Vance between May 2012 and February 2013 as he recorded bits for his new album called ‘Joy for Nothing’ and hence the title.  Vance sings his songs, talks to the camera and makes a few remarks here and there about nothing important in general.  Judging from the length of Foy’s moustache, the doc is not sot time linearly.  The images often go too bright as the director loves to shoot with too much sunlight.  Foy’s songs are all right but they are not something one would write home about.  The director must think a world of Foy Vance hoping that his unrecorded hits might make millions in the future.  But like the tile of the film, this film is about nothing, but literally.

    THE IRISH PUB (Ireland 2013) ***

    Directed by Alex Fegan

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    The Irish Pub is an Irish institution.  THE IRISH PUB is a documentary on just that and the film is appropriately chosen to open the First Toronto Irish Film in Toronto.  Director Alex Fegan travels around the different counties of Ireland to look at all the pubs, singling out that have resisted change and have stayed the same over the hundred years that they have opened.  The pub owners have thy say on everything from the customers, the culture, the Irish, the past and almost everything they can think of under the sun.  Fegan’s film is light hearted and entertaining as it is nostalgic, especially those with an Irish heart.  The film ends with the pub owners answering to the question as to what they think is the meaning of life.  There is a lot of truth in what they have to say in this beautiful little film.

     

    Trailer:  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=N9uaboCF1N4

    MADE IN BELFAST (UK 2013) ***

    Directed by Paul Kennedy

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                MADE IN BELFAST is a comedy drama about Jack Kelly (Ciaran McMenamin), a successful author now living in Paris who returns to Belfast after hearing that his dad is on his last days.  Jack is not welcome back home as he left his girlfriend, Alice (Shauna Macdonald) behind while writing about his friends in his first book that caused them a lot of grief.  Jack learns to forgive, make peace and becomes a better person.  Here is nothing in this micro-budget film that audiences have not seen before but the film does contain lot of Northern Ireland charm that is missing (charm in general, that is) in many films these days.  Director Kennedy gives himself a small role as the friend whose marriage was destroyed by Jack’s book.  An overall likeable crowd-pleaser!

     

  • The Human Rights Watch Film Festival

    THE HUMAN RIGHTS WATCH FILM FESTIVAL - Toronto

     Because the festival is on Human Rights, the documentaries screened are undoubtedly the most moving one will ever experience in any festival this year!

    HRWFF runs from Feb 27 (Thursday) to March 6 at TIFF Bell Lightbox, and features eight films that call for justice and social action with stories of human rights violations from Canada and around the world. 2014 will be the Festival's 11th edition in Toronto, and it continues to be Human Rights Watch Canada's most important outreach event, bringing these empowering stories to Toronto audiences.

    For complete schedule and show times, please check the TIFF website at:

    www.tiff.net

    Capsule Reviews of 4 prominent films follow:

    HIGHWAY OF TEARS (Canada 2014) ***
    Directed by Matthew Smiley

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    "Highway of Tears" is about the missing or murdered women along a 724-kilometer stretch of highway in northern British Columbia.   None of the 18 cold-cases had been solved since 1969, until project E-Pana (a special division of the RCMP) managed to link DNA to Portland drifter, Bobby Jack Fowler with the 1974 murder of 16 year-old hitchhiker, Collen MacMillen.  Smiley’s documentary questions the more than 500 cases of Aboriginal women that have gone missing or been murdered since the 1960s.   Half the cases have never been solved.  The film shows viewers generational poverty, residential schools, systemic violence, and high unemployment rates have done to First Nation reserves and how they tie in with the missing and murdered women in the Highway of Tears cases.  Though the human rights issue appears to only affect Northern B.C, the larger issues here are the neglect of women safety and respect for the First Ntion women.  Some good have at least come about from all this, like the introduction of transportation and delivery of essential medical supplies to First nation Communities.

    THE MISSING PICTURE (L’IMAGE MANQUANTE) (Cambodia/France 2013) ****
    Directed by Rithy Panh

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                The film is a part archival footage part clay animation documentary of the horrors of life under the Pol Pot regime when the dreaded Khmer Rouge Army destroyed all individuality of the Cambodians.  Director Panh took two decades to create this impressive body of work.  Panh was only 11 years old when the Khmer Rouge took over and his story also explored the suffering of his own family, making the film both personal and highly effective.   The film contains unforgettable horrific images many that will surely bring tears to ones eyes, especially the tale of hungry children crying themselves to their death.  He film is rendered more beautiful by the flute and strings score and Panh’s poetic narrative. 

    SAVING FACE (USA/Pakistan 2011) ****
    Directed by Sharmeen Obaid Chinoy and Daniel Junge

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                SAVING FACE is a disturbing yet uplifting 52-minute documentary on the subject of acid violence against women.  Pakistan documents over 100 such attacks on women.  The attackers, mostly jealous husbands and men generally get away with the heinous crime.  The human rights issue here is the bill proposed to Parliament for life sentences on the guilty party.  The hero of the piece is London based plastic surgeon, a Pakistani himself who performs reconstructive surgery pro bono on scarred victim.  The film rightly centres only on two such victims and how Dr. Mohammad Jawad helps them normalize their lives.  The film is difficult to watch due to the awful destroyed faces of the women shown on screen.  While the film shows the worst in human beings, it also shows the best in the form of the work of Dr. Jawad.  The film won Pakistan’s fist Oscar for Best Documentary Short Feature!

    VALENTINE ROAD (USA 2013) ***** Top 10

    Directed by Marta Cunningham

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                The setting of this must-see documentary is Oxnard, California, close to L.A., where 8th grade Brandon shot Larry King at the back of the head in a classroom.  Larry King had previously asked Brandon to be his Valentine while wearing in high heels in front of his laughing friends.  The film tells the story through interviews, revealing both sides of the story though it is clear director Cunningham has hidden agenda in her documentary.  But the main message is tolerance to everyone which is told through speeches at the school’s graduation and indirectly (and most effectively) through conniving Jurors who show on screen not only how intolerant but how stupid they are.  But it is clear that both Larry King and Brandon are victims though there is no excuse for the killing and bullying.   There is one great truth revealed in a small segment in the middle of Cunningham’s film when Larry’s friend and classmate tells how she stopped Brandon from calling her a nigger.  She went up to him in the middle of a class and punched him in the head several times.   Brandon never bothered her again.

  • This Week's Film Reviews (Feb 21, 2014)

    The Film of the Week is the animated Japanese feature from Studio Ghibli THE WIND RISES.  It is Master animator Hayao Miyazaki’s last film and it is a worthy swan song.  Wonderfully animated, poetic, entertaining and based on a true story.

    Big Films opening this week are POMPEII and 3 DAYS TO KILL, which are both pretty bad.

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    REVIEWS:

    MONEY FOR NOTHING: INSIDE THE FEDERAL RESERVE (USA 2013) ***

    Directed by Jim Bruce

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                This informative and often amusing documentary charts 100 years of the history of the U.S. Federal Reserve.  It would be easy to dismiss the film as one aimed at Economics geeks, but to writer/director Jim Bruce’s credit, he has inserted enough bits (animated, comedic routines, old film footage) to keep his audience entertained.  And the bonus of it all is that the secret of making money is embedded in the film’s message, which will not be revealed in this review.

                Director Bruce begins his film with the saying: "When you or I print money it's called counterfeiting."  "When the Fed does it, it's called monetary policy."  It is the simple formula of lowering interest rates by printing money in order to stimulate the economy and vice versa.  The film begins with the burst Economic bubble resulting in the Feds bailing out companies like AIG and General Motors a year or so ago and comes back to the present time.  In the meantime, the audience is treated with an amusing history lesson beginning with the Depression leading up to Black Monday (October 19th 1987) up to today.  While all these take place, the Fed Reserve under chiefs like Alan Greenspan and others weave their web of intervention.

                The highlight of the film is the segment with Greenspan as Chief of the Fed Reserve.  He kept interest rates low (close to zero, such as 1%) with the result of the stock market rallying positively.  The film cries out the dire consequences.  But the lessons learnt here can make one a wealthy man.

                Watch the film and get rich!

    Trailer:  http://moneyfornothingthemovie.org/trailer/

    MOULIN ROUGE – THE BALLET (USA 2013) ***
    Directed by Pierre and Francois Lamoureux

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    MOULIN ROUGE – THE BALLET would be more appropriately called Moulin Rouge – The Ballet – The Movie.  The 2 hour 40 minute is a full recording of one performance that includes the intermission time and the curtain calls at the end of the film.  Watching it is close to being seated at a performance.

    MOULIN ROUGE is performed by the Royal Winnipeg Ballet Company under the choreography by Jorden Morris.  It is the RWB biggest success to date  though a few empty seats can be observed when the camera pans he theatre.

    The story is the basic passionate love story between Nathalie (Armanda Green) and Matthieu (Christian Clark) with a nasty villain, Didier.  The ballet features high-kicking choreography Can-Can style.  The music includes the much beloved French songs like La Vie En Rose and classical pieces like Debussy’s Claire de Lune.

    Screenings are on Feb 23, 26 and March the 8th, 2014.

    Trailer:  http://videos.cineplex.com/All-Videos/2952409181001/MoulinRougeTrailer/Video/

     

     

    POMPEII (USA 2014) **

    Directed by Paul W.S. Anderson

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    Everyone is familiar with the story of the doomed city of Pompeii with volcano Mt. Vesuvius erupting; so don’t expect any surprises even though they added a story of a gladiator in love with a lovely upper class merchant’s daughter.

    Director Paul W.S. Anderson (the RESIDENT EVIL films) appears just to going through the motions with uninspired stuff that is only given the occasional lift by the special effects, like the addition of the tsunami.  But tsunamis have already been given the full-blown treatment in many other films including Cline Eastwood’s THE HEREAFTER.

    Even the hero and villain are mediocre.  Milo (Kit Harington) would look much better without his silly moustache, as he did in GAME OF THRONES.  The villain, the Roman Senator Corvis played by Keifer Sutherland is not evil enough nor does he appear long enough in the film.  This is a surprise as three writers of the script would have been able to figure this out.

    The mundane plot involves Pompeii in the year 79 AD where a slave turned gladiator, Milo (Harington) races against time to save true love Cassia (Emily Browning).  Her mother, played by Carrie-Anne Moss has star billing as her mother with an over-wrought death scene.

    For a 3D film, it is hard to see all the images, as everything is really dark.  (If you are going to see POMPEII to watch the scantily clad bodies, good luck!)  POMPEII is a boring mess and it would do wise to skip this.

    Trailer:  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6UqaCUAGCOk

     

    TIM’S VERMEER (USA 2013) ***
    Directed by Teller

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    Written by both Penn and Teller, the magic duo famous for their Las Vegas act, TIM’S VERMEER is a quietly humorous film directed by Teller (the silent one) that contains a few scenes with Penn in it.

    The Dutch painter Johannes Vermeer is famous for his photograph real looking paintings.  The Tim of the film title is a Texas inventor by the name of Tim Venison who sets out to prove that the unfathomable genius of Vermeer is actually fathomable.  By the use of a mirror contraption, he attempts to prove that a non-artist like himself can reproduce one of Vermeer’s great works in this case, The Music Lesson.

    Teller allows Tim to often speak to the camera and talk about his quest.  It is a very long and tedious process longing close to 150 days, which Tim constantly grumbles to the camera, to the audience’s amusement.

    Though the film is occasionally slow paced, the you-can-almost-watch-the-paint-dry film is however, never boring but in fact quite amusing in Teller’s apt hands.  The film also proves that one can succeed if one puts ones heart and soul into a project.  One cannot help but come out of this film with a great deal of admiration for Tim Venison.

    Trailer:  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CS_HUWs9c8c

    THE WIND RISES (Japan 2013) ****

    Directed by Hayao Miyazaki

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    Miyazaki’s films constantly demonstrate common treads like Japanese mythology and fantasy and true love.  While THE WIND RISES  centers on two real life characters for a change (one an author an the other the engineer, Jiro) with no journey into the unknown such as SPIRITED AWAY, the beginning of WIND contains a fantasy dream sequence in which the young hero, Jiro dreams of flying high in the clouds in an airplane.  Jiro and Caproni, the Italian aeronautical designer share the same dream in a inspiringly imaginative sequence.

    The love element here is as strong as in PONYO, made a few years back where the love between a young girl and a human boy threatens the stability of Earths elements.  In THE WIND RISES, Jiro spends a good many years of his life before he finds the girl he once met during an earthquake.  After the encounter, he finds that the relationship is tested once again when she reveals to him that she suffers from Tuberculosis.  It will be almost impossible to hold the tears back in the segment where she runs away from the sanitarium to get married to Jiro, at the danger of her health.

    The version I am reviewing (I have seen the film twice) is the original Japanese version with English subtitles.  The version being screened at the theatres, however is the dubbed version.  (My preference is always the original foreign language version though Disney and Studio Ghibli have gone to great pains at getting the dubbing done well.)

    The film’s title is taken from the French Paul Velry’s lyric, “The Wind is Rising, so we must attempt to live.”  As poetic as the verse goes, the mood of the poetry is alive and felt throughout the film.

    Miyazaki’s animation is as detailed as ever, the most beautiful sequence being a shot of the real Mt. Fuji with the (supposed) camera moving below to reveal the girl’s sanatorium.  The aerial (animated) shots, especially with little figures moving around are stupendous.

    The film deals with the sensitive topic of the design of WWII fighter planes for the enemy, as Japan was an ally of Nazi Germany.  The film also contains segments in which Jiro spends time in Germany learning German aeronautical design.  But as the setting of the story is pre-war, Miyazaki gets away with Jiro’s verbal denunciation of his plane design being used for the purpose of bombing.

    THE WIND RISES is Miyazaki’s more mature work and is said to be his last film.  Even the music heard on the soundtrack is more somber compared to his other features.   The film is a worthy swan song for this Japanese Master of animation that has no comparison.

    Trailer:  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PhHoCnRg1Yw

     

    Best Bets of the Week:

    Best Film Opening: The Wind Rises

    Best Film Playing: The Selfish Giant

    Best Animation: The Lego Movie

    Best Drama: The Wolf of Wall Street

    Best Action: The Hobbit2: The Desolation of Smaug

  • This Week's Film Reviews (Feb 14, 2014)

    n time for Valentine’s Day, 3 big romantic films open. ABOUT LAST NIGHT andENDLESS LOVE are remakes (not reviewed because of screening ashes) and the fantasy romance WINTER’S TALE.

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    The $130 million blockbuster has an early Wednesday opening.

     REVIEWS:

    GLORIA (Chile/Spain 2013) **

    Directed by Sebastian Leilo

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                Paulina Garcia won the Silver Lion (Berlin) Award for Best actress as Gloria a 12–year divorcee looking for love once again.  And what is wrong with that as everyone is human wants to be loved.  This she finds in the form of ex-Navy man keeps his life with his ex and two daughters away from her.  Worst still is that he disappears and abandons her for no apparent reason.

    When the film opens, the scene is in a club.  At the bar, having a drink is Gloria standing alone, wanting to dance.  She takes to the floor, her sour face turning cheerful as she meets with Rodolfo.  But what expects to turn out to be an edgy, hilarious and maybe eye-opening comedy turns out quite plain with a single layered story of a woman unable to find love once too often.

    No doubt Garcia delivers a wonderful both charming and sad performance, but one wishes the script would do more justice to her role than a rather humdrum film abut a failed woman who finally gets her revenge.  She does bare all in the film.

    GLORIA was selected as Chile’s entry for this year’s Best Foreign Film Oscar but did not make the grade.

    Trailer:   http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=h9PrVESAYeA

     

    HERE COMES THE DEVIL (Mexico 2012) ***

    Directed by Adrian Garcia Boglian

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    HERE COMES THE DEVIL begins with a well-executed lesbian scene that progresses from darkness to daylight while in total mayhem.  The audience’s attention is grabbed though one will argue later on if this scene has anything substantial to do with the film’s storyline.

    As the eloquent straightforward title HERE COMES THE DEVIL implies, this is a graphic horror film. The story however is short, simple and nothing that has not been seen before in other films in this genre.  While on a short car trip holiday, the children (Alan Martinez and Michele Garcia) of a couple Felix (Francisco Barreiro) and his wife (Laura Caro) disappear one night after an excursion to the hills.  But they show up the morning.  They start exhibit strange behavior.  It becomes apparent to the mother that something is wrong.

    But to the director’s credit, he has assembled quite a few scary footages.  The sight of the two children constantly holding hands and going to the hills is enough to awaken the deepest fear in any parent.  The subplot of the deterioration of the husband and wife relationship works well – in fact garnishing more interest than the actual plot of the film.  The local police investigation of the murder of the town’s weirdo also creates Hitchcockian suspense.

    But one wishes that there is more to the story that demon possession of the children.  Once that has been revealed in the film, the film loses the audience’s attention.  Bogliano often indulges in excesses of violence, blood and gore to get his story across.  But despite that, director has created enough scares and anticipation from the audience to make up the price of the admission ticket.

    The film won Best Horror Film at the Fantastic Fest 2012 where it also swept prizes for Best Director and Screenplay.

    Trailer:  http://www.imdb.com/video/imdb/vi2984421401/ 

    ROBOCOP (USA 2014) ***
    Directed by Jose Padilha

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    Based on the 1987 Paul Verhoeven classic of the same name, ROBOCOP 2014 is distinguished by the presence of Brazilian director Jose Padilha, famous for his doc on the bus hijacking BUS 173 and his action packed two ELITE SQUAD films.

    Though ROBOCOP is pegged as an action flick, the action really is secondary to the more important issues the film addresses such as police corruption, conglomerate politics and crime control.  But when the action comes, it arrives fast and furious.  Yet despite the low percentage of action segment time, Padilha’s film is still compelling to watch as he keeps the audience attention maintained by the use of close-ups and concentration of key emotional factors.

    As in the Verhoeven film, the story is set in the year 2028 (actually 2029 in the original, but close enough) in crime ridden Detroit.  OmniCorp wants their robot to oversea crime but the public has voted against it, as they are afraid, for the robots have no human emotions.  So when Officer Alex Murphy (Joel Kinnaman from EASY MONEY) is critically injured by a car bomb, Dr. Norton (Gary Oldman) puts the human in the robot, which serves to satisfy the public, much to the delight of Raymond Sellars (Michael Keaton), the villain of the piece.

    The script for both films is noticeably different, though it is doubtful if audiences can remember mucho the original.  Alex Murphy’s last cop partner is removed from the story.  Alex’s wife, Clara (played by Abbie Cornish) has a much larger role and she provides much of the film’s emotion.  But audiences will remember how satirically funny the original is.  This version, the humour is replaced by drama and emotion.

    Gary Oldman is excellent as Dr. Norton torn between his principles and the funding of his research program.  Samuel L. Jackson provides the only humor in the film as Pat Novak, a TV personality prejudiced with OmniCorp. His greased groom hair is enough to keep one laughing.  Joel Kinnaman, the Swedish-American actor, in my opinion is the most handsome actor at present, and he is totally watchable on screen.

    While the Verhoeven film is definitely the better film showing director Verhoeven at his prime, Padilha’s version is not without merits.  For one, the special effects are stupendous as is the sound, which makes the film ideal to be seen on IMAX screens.

    Trailer:  http://www.tribute.ca/trailers/robocop/19492/

     

    WINTER’S TALE (USA 2014) *

    Directed by Akiva Goldsman

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    WINTER’S TALE is director Akiva Goldsman’s (un-credited director for BATMAN FOREVER and BATMAN AND ROBIN) directorial debut but unfortunately, it is an awful one.

    Based on the novel of the same name by Mark Helprin, the film is a $46 million fantasy romance with big stars, glossy cinematography and high aspirations, like the plot that deals with destiny, true love and the fight between good and evil.  Unfortunately if a director cannot tell a coherent story, then what would mean is millions of dollars flushed down the toilet.

    Within the first 15 minutes of running time, the film, set in NYC, already flips among three times – 2014, 1895 and 1916.  A story that is set in 3 different times that takes place only in the forward direction need not be told going forward and back and forwards in time, obviously creating confusion.  The voiced over narrative (in flowery language – make sure you listen or you would be lost soon) explains what is happening but it is basically telling us to listen as to what will occur onscreen will make little sense.

    The plot involves a present day thief, Peter Lake (Colin Farrell spotting the worst haircut in any actor’s career) falling in love with a dying girl, Beverly Penn (Jessica Brown Findlay).  The thief is under chase through time by Pearly Soames (Russell Crowe) under instruction from Lucifer (Will Smith) himself.  Nothing else makes much sense.

    Farrell, normally not too bad an actor is at a total loss here  as the helpless romantic.  Crowe looks as if he also did besides time travel, film travel, emerging here from His Inspector Javert role in LES MISERABLE.

    Never mind the poor story telling and that the film is all over the place.  Nothing is explained.  How did Pearly Soames get the job of miracle crusher?   And the fact that Lucifer (Will Smith looking totally ridiculous here and getting laughs when on is first appearance) suddenly comes into the picture?  So, Peter saves the girl with tuberculosis, but what about the millions of other dying children (like those in India of AIDS)?  WINTER’S TALE is totally set for the romanticized and totally out of sync with reality.

    If there is only one reason to see this film, it is for Eva Marie Saint (NORTH BY NORTHWEST) playing the adult Willa who provides the must needed humour and bite to the story.  In the film, a person who dies might transform to a star in the sky.  Well, this film died ten minutes into its running time and turned into a film with a one star rating.

    Trailer:  http://trailers.apple.com/trailers/wb/winterstale/#videos-large

     


     
     
     
     
     

    Best Bets of the Week:

    Best Film Opening: Robocop

    Best Film Playing: The Selfish Giant

    Best Animation: The Lego Movie

    Best Drama: The Wolf of Wall Street

    Best Action: The Hobbit2: The Desolation of Smaug

    Best Documentary: Gore Vidal: The United States of Amnesia

    Best Foreign: The Great Beauty

     

  • This Week's Film Reviews (Feb 7, 2014)

    Opening this week are two movies that not only meet expectations but should top the box-office during the weekend.

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    THE LEGO MOVIE and THE MONUMENTS MEN are both excellent.

     FILM REVIEWS:

    GORE VIDAL: THE UNITED STATES OF AMNESIA (USA 2013) ***

    Directed by Nicholas Wrathall

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                It is often said that a documentary is only as good as its subject.  Fortunately, the subject of Nicholas Wrathrall happens to be one of the wittiest, sarcastic and charismatic critics and writers of all time – Gore Vidal.  He is already well known in film circles as the writer of one of the worst movies of all time – MYRA BECKINRIDGE. 

    The documentary traces the life and work of Vidal.  Featuring never before seen interviews and candid footage of Vidal in his final years, the film explores his enduring global impact on art, politics, and everything in between.  Commentary by his life partner, Christopher Hitchens, old friend, Mikhail Gorbachev, Burr Steers, Stephen Fry, Tom Ford, Sting, David Mamet, William F. Buckley, Norman Mailer, and Dick Cavett, blends with footage from Vidal’s legendary on-air career to remind us why he will forever stand as one of the most brilliant and fearless critics of our time. 

    The best line in the film has him saying: “We had bad presidents in the past, but this one (referring to Bush Jr.) is a goddamn fool.”  (The Dixie Chicks would be in good company.)  The film shows his utter disgust and disappointment with the U.S.   The title comes from the fact that ever since being founded, Gore maintains that the U.S. has forgotten what they stood for.

     Trailer: http://www.traileraddict.com/gore-vidal-the-united-states-of-amnesia/trailer

     

    THE LEGO MOVIE (USA 2014) ****
    Directed by Phil Lord and Chris Miller

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    It would be unfair to quickly dismiss THE LEGO MOVIE as childish fodder unfit for the sophisticated moviegoer.  As it turns out, THE LEGO MOVIE not only meets the expectations of the trailer but exceeds it a dozen times.

    Based on the Lego construction toys many of us are not bright enough to play with, animated by Australia’s Animal Logic Studios and directed by CLOUDY WITH A CHANCE OF MEATBALLS’ Phil Lord and Chris Miller, THE LEGO MOVIE follows the adventures of a boring construction worker called Emmett (Chris Pratt) who is suddenly given the awesome task of saving the universe.  This is the premise of every blockbuster action movie in which the super hero saves the world or universe.   In this case, it is the story of a nobody saving everybody.

    The film is frantic action and hilarity mayhem from start to finish.  And the humor is goofy enough to entertain the kids and smart enough to bring laughs to the adults.  The famous YouTube Lego Clip with Eddie Izzard playing Darth Vader in a canteen getting food without a tray clearly exemplifies the type of humor found in the film.  The humour is Monty Pythonish.  Example is when the villain tells the old man not to move.  “You always move when I speak to your wife.”  The old man stands still with his wife.  The moment, the villain talks to his wife, he moves again.

    Animal Logic has done a find job with the Lego animation as is apparent with the segment with an ocean made up of Lego blocks and yet another with space made up of them.  Of course, as in a 3D film, there will be objects spewed out of the screen at the audience.  But this is so well done that I actually (how embarrassing!) ducked.

    Animation with songs sometimes does not work, especially when the songs appear at odd places.  But the Lego tune “Everything is Awseome!” is very catching and is played quite a few times throughout the film.  The dance of the Lego characters to the tune as well as their staccato’ed way of walking suits the song.

    Lots of surprises are scattered throughout the film, the most welcome of which is an unexpected live action climax involved Will Ferrell with a tube of Krazy Glue.  The film also contains a cameo of Lego super heroes (Superman, Batman, Michelangelo the ninja turtle, Abraham Lincolnand many, many more) attempting to save the universe.

    Imaginative, brilliantly executed, hilarious and exciting, THE LEGO MOVIE goes into my books as the best animated film of 2014.  This one will be hard to beat!

    Trailer:  http://ca.movies.yahoo.com/video/lego-movie-trailer-3-211046998.html?.tsrc=appleww 

    THE MONUMENTS MEN (USA/Germany 2014) ****

    Directed by George Clooney

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    The MONUMENTS MEN is a World War II Allied platoon formed in the U.S. that is comprised of seven members formed of museum curators, directors and art historians.  Though not in active combat, these magnificent seven have an equally dauntless task. Their mission is to rescue artworks plundered by the Nazis, saving them from destruction and returning them to the rightful owners.

    The seven members are played by George Clooney, Matt Damon, John Goodman, Jean Dujardin, Bill Murray, Hugh Bonneville and Bob Balaban.  One cannot expect a more impressive cast.

    Clooney’s film paints some excellent viewpoints of WWII never seen before in war films.  One segment shows the beach on Normandy before the crucial Allied landing.  The beach is filled with war props but looks really different empty of people.  Another is the view of the Germans as in a German town just after the Germans had surrendered and lost the war.  The Germans acting as if they have still the upper hand is quietly disturbing.

    The film also contains nice touches such as red tie Ganger returns to Rose Valland on a train.

    The impressive cast delivers the goods.  Cate Blanchett more that stands out as the Nazi hating French arts collaborator Rose Valland.

    It should be noted that THE MONUMENTS MEN is not an action film but a suspense drama.  The script is clever enough to blend in humour and suspense.  The running joke of Ganger’s inability to speak Parisienne French is particularly funny, especially when he boasts that he learnt it in Montreal, Canada much to the disapproval of the French.  Or the part where Ganger accidentally steps on a land mine.  The film is moving as well, with the film stressing the bravery of THE MONUMENTS MEN.

    The question of whether the saving of the art pieces is worth the life of a human being ultimately arises.  This point is dealt with not only at the film’s beginning but stressed again at the end.  Clooney’s speech that bookends the film serves as proper narration that strengthens the narrative of the film.

    What stands out is the film’s perfectly captured atmosphere and mood.  The entire film is meticulously put together as is evident in every well crafted segment.

    The film suffers from the lack of a climax.  The discovery of some major artifacts to the utter delight of Stout and Ganger serves as the somewhat ‘happy’ ending that will ultimately disappoint many commercial filmgoers looking for an action finale.  But the delay in the film’s release from Christmas 2013 to February due to postproduction definitely pays off.  Clooney’s film succeeds 100% in capturing WWII’s period and atmosphere.  And it gets my vote as a film well worth seeing.

    Trailer:  http://www.tribute.ca/trailers/the-monuments-men/19332/

     

    SEX AFTER KIDS (CANADA 2013) ***

    Directed by Jeremy Lalonde

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    SEX AFTER KIDS, an ensemble sex comedy attempts to prove and disprove (obviously nothing is clearly now black or white) the notion that sex after having kids can never be as good as before.  Through a few couples, sex after kids could be better but even if not, something else more worthwhile (such as growth in the relationship) appears to take its place.  Dr. Keaton (Gordon Pinsent) advises a couple having sex problems thus starting the ball rolling on several emotional issues.

    The couples involved include the one aforementioned, an older couple whose daughter is leaving home, a British single mother afraid of touching her own child, a lesbian couple whose son distracts their sexual intimacy and a few others.  All the characters are played (except for Pinsent) by unknowns, which helps credibility, as it is difficult to watch well known stars making out, as audiences often know what they are in real life or in previous roles.  And the unknown faces perform remarkably well in their varied roles.  The sex scenes are tastefully done with restraint and thought.

    To the writers’ (Lalonde co-wrote the script) credit, the stories touch relevant relationship issues such as overfamiliarity in a relationship, changes in sexual expectations, just to name a few.  It helped that Lalonde himself just had a baby and he writes from his personal experience.  It should be noted too, that the writing came after he cast his actors so that when roles were written, they were also for specific persons.  If the comedy occasionally doesn’t work, there is always more to come around but the drama in the film actually moves.  The audience will see part of themselves (at least I did) in at least one of the relationships on display.  Lalonde still sticks to the basic rules.  The one that commits on the spouse is in the wrong no matter how imperfect the spouse may be.

    SEX AFTER KIDS finally emerges as a sweet, well-intentioned comedy drama adequately performed and written with sympathy and from experience.  And a film difficult to dislike.  And who knows?  One might also learn a thing or two on what is missing in our very own sex lives.

    Trailer:  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WIHhbwMNz4o

     

     

    Best Bets of the Week:

    Best Film Opening: THE LEGO MOVIE and THE MONUMENTS MEN (tie)

    Best Film Playing: The Selfish Giant

    Best Animation: The Lego Movie

    Best Drama: The Wolf of Wall Street

    Best Action: The Hobbit2: The Desolation of Smaug

    Best Documentary: Gore Vidal: The United States of Amnesia

    Best Foreign: The Great Beauty

  • This Week's Film Reviews (Jan 31, 2014)

    Opening this week are romantic drama LABOR DAY and romantic comedies, AT MIDDLETON and  in prep for Valentine’s Day.

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    TIFF Cinematheque continues two series of films by Godard and Verhoeven.

    FILM REVIEWS:

    AT MIDDLETON (USA 2012) ***

    Directed by Adam Rodgers

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    Written by Glenn German and director Adam Rodgers, AT MIDDLETON is a sweet romantic comedy about a man and a woman who fall in love while getting lost during the college tour while with their children at Middleton College.

    For a romantic comedy, AT MIDDLETON does away with the obstacle bit which is usually a pain to sit through, as these are quite bogus as can be found in any Harlequin novel.  But as expected the parents George Hartman (Andy Garcia) and Edith (Vera Farmiga) are at loggerheads with their kids, who again as expected, seem to have more level heads over their shoulders.  Still, the initial argument between George and Edith is quickly diffused with some humor, at the expense of the geeky tour guide, Justin who is actually trying his best to impress.  Oddly enough, when the tour ends, the script labels him an idiot for putting his love interest above the tour job.

    For a romantic comedy, the script goes through a risk, as the dramatic parts are over serious, such as the improvised play George and Edith agree to perform.  But once they get into it, they manage to unexpectedly capture the audience’s attention.

    The chemistry between Garcia and Farmiga works well.  Her youngest sister plays her daughter in the film and the two look quite identical, which explains that fact.

    Like the college MIDDLETON which is a small campus trying to compete with the bigger universities, this little low budget romantic comedy succeeds when compared to the Hollywood blockbusters.  It is also good to see distributor Anchor Bay venture into a different genre than horror.

    Trailer:  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vQK7Ve3Ag0Q

     

     

    THE GREAT BEAUTY (EL GRANDE BELLEZZA) (ITALY 2013) ****

    Directed by Paolo Sorrentino

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    From the opening shot of director Paolo Sorrentino’s (IL DIVO) new film, of a shell fired from a cannon, the audience knows that they are in for a spectacular ride.  The journey is the life of successful journalist Jep Gambardella (Toni Servillo) which his closest friends acknowledge (him) as just Jep.

    Jep frequents lavish parties in Rome’s high spots while bedding the beautiful women of everyone’s dreams.  Jep is a smooth talker, as evident in one of the film’s best segments in which he puts down a haughty self-righteous bitch.  At times, Sorrentino’s film reminds one of Fellini’s LA DOLCE VITA for the lavish parties, the decadence and recognizable spots of Rome.

    It is THE GREAT BEAUTY that Toni is seeking.  Whether he finds it or what it turns out to be will not be revealed in this review, but it forms the crux of the film.

    The film is beautifully shot.  From the natural beauty of a speedboat splashing across the blue sea, to the rocks that house the Italian sunbathers by the hundreds, this is a film of exquisite beauty.  At the same time, Sorrentino captures the club scene with mature partiers.

    At the same time, Jep reflects on life’s disappointments and what truly mattered in his life.  The result is an excellent film that has won accolades wherever it has been screened.

    Trailer:  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fJfvX6zPAuQ

     

     

    LABOR DAY (USA 2013) **

    Directed by Jason Reitman

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    Based on the novel by Joyce Maynard, LABOR DAY is the story of an escaped convict who forces himself into the home of a depressed mother, Adele (Kate Winslet) and son.  The son is, at present, looking after his mother, the best he can, serving often the husband role, except for that one important chore.  The Stockholm Syndrome comes into play between kidnapper and mother, with the two falling in love and trying to escape to Canada to live a new life. The story told from the boy’s point of view.

    The trouble with this film is twofold.  Firstly, it is obvious from the first quarter of the film that Frank, the convict (Josh Brolin) is going to get caught and the two lovers will not make their escape.  Second is that director Ivan Reitman’s film quickly turns into a sentimental chick flick.

    But as the script the story from the son’s (Gattlin Griffith) point of view, the film results into a mix romantic drama and a coming-of-age story.  It is a comfortable blend so that the film caters also to the needs of the male audience.  Henry is taught baseball by Frank, and Henry learns about love though he is only in the seventh grade.

    The film is set in 1987 as stated in the credits at the early part of the film.  But as the film is basically shot in the house with a few scenes in the town, the only props needed to indicate the 80’s setting is a few cars and the appropriate music.  With that, Reitman has crafted a modestly budgeted little crowd pleaser that studio heads should be pleased about.

    If one wonders about the credibility of two people falling in love within the couple of only two days, the explanation is offered with confidence by Henry’s quirky love interest who explains how things like this are common once sex occurs.

    But Reitman’s film meanders along its predictable path.  Reitman, responsible for films like UP IN THE AIR, JUNO and THANK YOU FOR SMOKING is unwilling to take many risks with his material.  The only time the film comes into life is when Henry’s quirky love interest offers her weird lessons of life.

    But given the talents of Kate Winslet an Josh Brolin, LABOR DAY could have been evolved to a more daring film than this forgettable time waster.

    RHYMES FOR YOUNG GHOULS (Canada 2013) **

    Directed by Jeff Barnaby

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    Much anticipated full-length debut of Award winning native director Jeff Barnaby (the short, THE COLONY) is an ambitious, uncompromising but confusing look at the tragedy of Canadian aboriginal children.  The film is steeped in mythology, violence and anger which are apparent from the film’s start to end.

    The film centers on 15-year old Aila (Kawennahere Devery Jacobs) who is the young drug queen of her local Indian reservation.  Things get complicated when her father, Joseph (Glen Gould, not to be confused with the pianist) is released from prison.  Hot on the heals of trouble is the corrupt and sadistic Popper (Mark Antony Kruper) who wants Aila and Joseph not only beaten up but crushed.  He has no qualms on abusing his authority including an attempt rape of Aila towards the end of the film.

    All this makes interesting fodder for drama and a bit of action thrown in.  The trouble is that Barnaby is not that good a storyteller.  His film is hard to follow.  For example, it takes a while to determine who Aila’s brother, father and mother are in the film.  The incidents occurring are even more difficult to follow.  So, it is just best to realize the gist of the story and not to worry about the details.  Michel St. Martin’s cinematography, however, is stunning especially the night scenes and his use of lighting, which makes up for the film’s shortcomings.

    Barnaby cannot decide whether he should go for surrealism, visual poetry or just plain graphic messaging.  The result is a rather unsatisfactory though predictable yet gorgeous looking film.  The film was based on the novel by H.E. Hilton.

    Trailer:  http://www.traileraddict.com/trailer/rhymes-for-young-ghouls/trailer

     

    THE STORY OF CHILDREN ON FILM (UK 2013) ****
    Directed by Mark Cousins

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                From the director of THE STORY OF FILM: AN ODYSSEY comes a less ambitious though just as moving an effective a documentary on cinema.  This time around, writer/director Mark Cousins focuses on children, stressing that no other art form but the cinema has devoted so much time to children.

                It all begins with Cousins setting up his camera in the home of his nephew and niece over a couple of days.  As Laura and Ben move in and out of the frame, playing and shouting, Cousins draws parallels with children in the history of film.

                Cousins first looks a the stares of the youngsters.  He claims that it is this stare that is most important in children’s films, drawing then, examples of films with kids’ stares from French, Russian to Japanese films.  Next he mentions, and is observant from the accents, that Ben and Laura have North English accents and that there are from the working class.  He hypothesizes that children are stuck in their class, drawing from films like the Russian classic in which a boy plays the violin for a working class man and of course, Ken Loach’s KES.  Cousins narrates the entire film with his North English accent, often instructing the audience on the composition of the shot, thus providing an education on film.

                But what transpires on screen is his personal view and one might not totally agree with the strength of his convictions.  But the main pleasure of this film is more of the clips of the classic films that audiences are familiar with (E.T., THE KID, NIGHT OF THE HUNTER, YELLOW EARTH) as well as countless other little gems (MOVING, I WISH) that I am sure audiences have never heard of.  To watch someone like Cousins so involved in his work and convictions is also inspiring.

                THE STORY OF CHILDREN ON FILM is both entertaining and informative and a super treat especially for the cinema buff.

    Trailer:  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5l0k7Jld5tI

     

    THAT AWKWARD MOMENT (USA 2013) **

    Directed by Tom Gormican

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    THAT AWKWARD MOMENT refers to the moment when the question is asked: “So?”  i.e. when the boy is asked if it is the start of a relationship after the dating has come to a point.

    As the film begins three best friends, Jason (Zack Efron), Daniel (Miles Teller) and married Mikey (Michael B. Jordan) who has just been filed papers of divorce for a very stupid reason to stay single and answer no at that ‘So’ question.  It does not take a genius to guess that they will really fall in love and the girls will be upset to find the boys just playing around.  And so another predictable romantic comedy is turned out of the mechanical film factory.

    It takes a talented director (like David O. Russell) and a equally good cast to pull out a smart comedy without being too smug.  Unfortunately director Gormican is no such talent.  The characters spurn out dialogue that is too smart and unfunny for their own good.  An example is the running joke Daniel makes about his girl, Chelsea’s (Mackenzie Davis) granny.  The joke is not even remotely funny and the only two laughing at it are Daniel and Chelsea.  It does not help that Efron, Teller and Jordan are not comedians.

    A real life example is Justin Bieber getting DUI charges and trouble for drag racing.  He thinks it is cool but everyone else thinks NOT.  As the adage goes, one is born cool.  One cannot learn to be cool!

    THAT AWKWARD MOMENT comes pretty quickly in the film that the film is just not working.

     

     

     

    Best Bets of the Week:

    Best Film Opening: The Great Beauty

    Best Film Playing: The Selfish Giant

    Best Drama: The Wolf of Wall Street

    Best Action: The Hobbit2: The Desolation of Smaug

    Best Documentary: The Story of Children on Film

    Best Foreign: The Great Beauty

     
  • TIFF Cinematheque - Paul Verhoeven

    TIFF CINEMATHEQUE presents: FLESH + BLOOD: The films of Paul Verhoeven

    This new series of films from Dutch auteur turned Hollywood director runs from January 24th to Apr 4th, 2014.  Those unfamiliar with his films will be in for a major surprise if one were to take his films from the beginning of his career to the present.

    Paul Verhoeven is well known for his Hollywood action blockbusters ROBOCOP and TOTAL RECALL.  His sleazy SHOW GIRLS and BASIC INSTINCT also did extremely well at the box-office.

    Film buffs will know Verhoeven from his Dutch days with art-house hits such as SOLDIER OF ORANGE and THE FOURTH MAN (my personal favorite).  Also presented are the less seen films but equally popular FLESH + BLOOD and TURKISH

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

    www.tiff.net

    Capsule Reviews of Selected Films Below:

    FLESH + BLOOD (Netherlands/USA 1985) ****
    Directed by Paul Verhoeven

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    Set in Western Europe in the medieval ages, FLESH + BLOOD is the story of a free lance fighter. Martin that has been cheated out of his spoils after aiding a captain win a kingdom back for a King.  The thing too is that Martin (Rutger Hauer) falls for the virginal princess (Jennifer Jason Leigh) destined to marry the Prince (Tom Burlinson).  He and the princess have lots of sex (after he rapes her) while falling in love for each other though the princess is till in love with the prince, who seems to do anything to get his bride back.  FLESH + BLOOD is the typical Verhoeven film, which means that there is plenty of nudity (I cannot believe how much bare skin Jennifer Jason Leigh has displayed in this film), gore, violence and foul language, with the addition of pestilence, plague and pillaging.  This is the type of medieval film that is so well made that one will lose his dinner appetite after watching the film.

    THE FOURTH MAN (Netherlands 1983) *****

    Directed by Paul Verhoeven

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    The last of his Dutch films before moving to Hollywood, THE FOURTH MAN is likely the most violent (the last scene in the construction yard is unforgettable) of his films.  This is my personal favorite for the fact that Verhoeven is uncompromising in his vision of telling the tale.  His imprint and view of religion is seen throughout the film from the lead character Gerard (Jeroen Krabbe) drinking a Bloody Mary to his visions of her warnings.  The story is centred on a bisexual novelist Gerard Reve who is also an alcoholic.  He falls for a sexy treasurer at a literary society, Christine (Renee Soutendijk), a black widow who has done away wither first three lovers.  Gerard’s life is spared but he warns her next lover of being THE FOURTH MAN.  Nothing more should be said but that this film has to be seen to be believed!

    SOLDIER OF ORANGE (SOLDAAT VAN ORANJE) Netherlands 1977 ****

    Directed by Paul Verhoeven

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    One of the most expensive and most successful Dutch films (even to this day) of all time, SOLDIER OF ORANGE shows director Verhoeven in more controlled mode with a film about Dutch heroes during World War II in occupied Netherlands.  A group of students from the town of Leiden led by Erik Lanshoff (Rutger Hauer) aid the Resistance in the fight against the Nazis.  Part of the story is also set in London where Queen Wilhelmina (Andrea Domburg) resides.  The students are aided by Colonel Rafelli (Edward Fox) but the fight is hard and not without casualties.  A classic war story with heroes, traitors, lost lives, lost loves that makes SOLDIER OF ORANGE an excellent war film worthy of its box-office success.

    TURKISH DELIGHT (Netherlands 1973) ***
    Directed by Paul Verhoeven

    This difficult to watch film (because of language, violence, and nudity) tells the stormy relationship between Dutch sculptor, Erik Vonk (Rutger Hauer) and his wife, Olga (Monica van de Ven).  The story is told in flashbacks from the time they met, till they are separated and then get back together again.  Stormy is too soft a word to describe the couple’s relationship.  They make love, fight, scream and turn violent with not much help from Olga’s crazy unsettling mother (Tonny Huuderman).  It is hard to sympathize with these two caustic characters that have no redeeming qualities.  (Witness the scene in which Olga turns on a waitress who gave her coffee instead of tea though she had ordered coffee and not tea).   When Olga is diagnosed with a brain tumour (which could be the cause of the coffee/tea confusion), the audience is hardly sympathetic.  These two deserve each other.

  • This week's Film Reviews (Jan 24, 2014)

    Great little British Film opening this week THE SELFISH GIANT is a must-see!

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    TIFF Cinematheque begins two series of films by Godard and Verhoeven.

     

    DEVIL’S KNOT (USA 2013) ***1/2

    Directed by Atom Egoyan

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    DEVIL’S KNOT is a biographical crime drama based on the book by Mara Leveritt that tells of the wrongful conviction of three teenagers for the murder and sexual abuse of three 8-year old boys.

    The film begins with the disappearance of the boys, the search and the conviction of the three teenagers.  Enter the hero of the piece, Ron Lax (Egoyan’s regular Colin Firth), a private investigator working pro bono as he believes that the three are innocent an that the community has determined who the killers were and fixed the evidence and trial to get their personal satisfaction.  But the film is wise to concentrate on one of the murdered kid’s mothers (Reese Witherspoon), Pamela Hobbs.  Through Pamela, the audience sees both a mother’s grief as well as suspicion that the convicted could be innocent.

    Egoyan is no stranger to the murder mystery genre having made films such as his best film THE SWEET HEREAFTER and others.  He knows how to filter the important facts from a story and intersperse the reactions of the characters at various points of the plot, resulting in a well paced film that is compelling from start to finish.

    But Egoyan overuses his extras to the point of embarrassment.  When the accused are bought to court, the extras in the courtroom will hurl insults and make the typical degrading remarks expected to be heard. When a new piece of evidence is turned up, the members of the jury will feign surprise.  It is as if Egoyan is using all the extras to indicate how the audience should feel at various parts of the film.

    But made at a very modest cost compared to Hollywood blockbusters, Devils’ Knot is an example of efficient filmmaking.

     

    LINSANITY (USA 2013) ***
    Directed by Evan Jackson Leong

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    Any sports fan has heard of the term LINSANITY.  NBA worldwide phenomenon, Jeremy Lin has donned the cover of Time Magazine and countless other magazines as he rose to fame.  The documentary tells the story of Jeremy Lin, from his point of view.

    From the very start, Lin is portrayed as the underdog, a Taiwanese American who is as humble as he is devoted to his belief in Christianity and that he is part of God’s plan.  It is hard to dislike a hardworking person like Lin who often never brags his talent.  Yet his winning swagger at the games are often more inspirational than boastful.

    Director Leong began Lin’s chronicle in 2010 when Lin was looking to burst out into recognition.  In February 2012, the world of basketball unexpectedly went “Linsane.” Stuck in the mire of a disappointing season, the New York Knicks did what no other NBA team had thought about doing—they gave an undrafted, Taiwanese-American, third-string point guard from Harvard named Jeremy Lin an opportunity to prove himself.   He took full advantage, scoring more points in his first five NBA starts than any other player in the modern era, and created a legitimate public frenzy in the process.  Prior to this now-legendary run, Lin had faced adversity in his career at every turn.

    On initial appearance, it would appear that this would be another typical run of the mill story of an underdog star.  But director Leong is smart enough to include plenty of footage of Lin’s games in which he scores by tossing the ball through the net no matter how far the distance he is from the net.  With the crowds cheering and Lin scoring, the film transforms into an adrenaline rush that has to be experienced to be believed.

    Lin is no stranger to working with the issue of race in basketball.  The Asian American is looked down upon in this game and many believe should no have a place in basket ball.  But director Leong, who had worked with director Justin Lin in BETTER LUCK TOMORROW some 10 years back about Asian Americans surviving in a white environment, covers the racial issue with restraint and tact.                                                                 

    LINSANITY finally emerges as an informative documentary of a talented sportsman who has seen his dream come true as a result of perseverance, hard work and devotion to family and faith.  It thus encompasses good human values making it an excellent family outing.

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

    Directed by Asghar Farhadi

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                From the director of last year’s Best Foreign Film Oscar Winner UNE SEPARATION comes another high drama about separation.  This time around the subjects are trying to build their lives back together but unavailable to do so easily because of incidents of THE PAST.

    When the film opens, Marie-Anne (Berenice Bejo) meets her Iranian ex-husband, Ahmad (Ali Mosaffa) at the airport. Marie-Anne is about to remarry an Arab, Samir (Tahar Rahim from UN PROPHET), but her daughter, Lucie is totally against it and doing all in her power to prevent it.  Lucie hates the mother’s lover, Samir whose son and him are also currently staying with them.  Ahmad finds all this too much for him, especially when he is obliged to sort out differences.

    The film’s ending has Samir asking his wife, who is in a coma at the hospital to squeeze his hand if she can smell the perfume he is wearing.  The camera pans down the arm to her hand, where the audience’s eyes are glued to see if she will manage the squeeze.   The brilliance of it all is that whether the hand is squeezed or not would make no difference to the events that have occurred just as the key point on whether the wife red he emails or not mattered in the story.

    Director unveils bits of his plot little at a time, so that this drama plays like a whodunit (like UNE SEPARATION) complete with a twist at the end.  Great performances especially from the young children help.  Like his previous film, LE PASSE puts director in a class of his own.  His films have demonstrated both a good blend of story telling and drama.  And not a dull moment from beginning to end, making the film already the top 10 of 2014!

    Trailer:  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iFTK5yFV0K4

    THE SELFISH GIANT (UK 2013) TOP 10 *****

    Directed by Clio Barnard

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    THE SELFISH GIANT is the BEST film I have seen this year and is going to be a very hard one to beat.  An emotional powerhouse of a movie that takes the audience on a roller coaster ride right up to its crash bang finale, director Clio Barnard (THE ARBOR is her first other film) treads on Ken Loch territory of social drama, also set in Northern England.  THE SELFISH GIANT is reminiscent of Loach’ best early works especially KES also about a boy and his pet kestrel, a wild bird (like him) impossible to domesticate.

    Clio Barnard’s protagonist is also a boy (Conner Chapman), an angry but ambitious Arbor (probably so-named after Barnard’s last film) who suffers from the mental ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder) illness causing him to be super hyper half the time.  His best mate, Swifty (Shaun Thomas) helps him out and vice versa.  When the two get excluded (Brit term for expelled) from school, the two go stealing cables for the local scrap man, Kitten (Sean Gilder) who has a penchant for racing horses, notably his own horse.  Swifty has a gift with horses and helps Kitten with his horse.  But Barnard’s tale set in Bradford, is one that does not compromise her convictions.  And the result shows on the screen at the ending that will definitely blow audiences away.

    The film is inspired by a real life encounter of the director’s personal encounter of a boy and a horse.  The inspiration is tied in with her very loose adaptation of the well-known story of THE SELFISH GIANT by Oscar Wilde.

    But the brilliance of THE SELFISH GIAN is no flash in the pan.  Barnard understands hardship and raw emotions and transmits them to her audience.  The film is also beautifully shot showing the metal wastes in the scrapyards and the barren unfarmed lands around Bradford.  Her actors also radiate a certain authenticity to the bleakness of the tale.  But her ‘chariot’ race with Kitten’s horse racing his competitors, shot amidst speeding cars is incredibly exciting, if not stunning.

    As an additional bonus, North Americans will get to see the people of a land they are not familiar with.  The northern accent is strong, and a bit different from the Geordies that most Americans might be more familiar with in the Loach and Shane Meadows films.  But the film comes compete with English subtitles, so there is no worry about comprehending the dialogue.

    THE SELFISH GIANT, a film about hope and redemption amidst despair has been voted Film number 6 in the Sight and Sound’s poll of the Best Films of 2013.  It stands on my list as number one, which means it is a must-see for anyone reading this review.  You will not be disappointed!

    Trailer:  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jrHcLLWCVI0

     
     
     
     
     

    Best Bets of the Week:

    Best Film Opening: The Selfish Giant

    Best Film Playing: American Hustle

    Best Drama: The Wolf of Wall Street

    Best Action: The Hobbit2: The Desolation of Smaug

    Best Documentary: Linsanity

    Best Foreign: Le Passe (The Pasat)

     
  • TIFF Cinematheque - Godard Forever

    GODARD FOREVER PART 1

    The first part of a Jean-Luc Godard retrospective entitled GODARD FOREVER PART 1 runs from Jan 23rd to Feb 13th at the Bell Lightbox.  The film series includes Godard’s first breakthrough film A BOUT DE SOUFFLE (BREATHLESS) and ends with his apocalyptic WEEKEND. These films are the more accessible and ‘happier’ films compared to his more difficult films that he made during his later years.

    For complete details and program listing, please check the TIFF Cinematheque website at:

    www.tiff.net

    Capsule Reviews for Selected films in this series are provided below courtesy of screeners provide by TIFF Cinematheque.

    CAPSULE REVIEWS:

     

     

     

     

    A BOUT DE SOUFFLE (BREATHLESS) (France 1960) ****

    Directed by Jean-Luc Godard

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    Godard’s first film that made a name for himself as part of the Novelle Vague for its bold visual style and the use of jump cuts especially during the extended death run at the end of the film.  Shot in stunning black and white by Godard’s regular cinematographer Raoul Coutard, A BOUT DE SOUFFLE (more accurately translated as the last breath, referring to Michel’s last breath after his death run) tells the story of criminal Michel (Jean-Paul Belmondo) who is on the run after shooting a policeman in the countryside.  He is completely in love with an American girl, Patricia (Jean Seberg) who sells the New York Herald Tribune at the Champs Elysee.  Michel and Patricia hang out together in Paris while he attempts to get money back from a loan.  But she eventually gives him up to the police in one of the typical Godard reasonings that make no sense.  Still, A BOUT DE SOUFFLE is an unforgettable exercise in style and cinema and a film that demands to be re-seen every decade.

    ALPHAVILLE (France/Italy 1962) ****

    Directed by Jean-Luc Godard

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    This is the strange adventure of American Agent Lemmy Caution.  Lemmy Caution (Eddie Constantine) enters the space city of under the name of Mr. Johnson, a journalist.  His aim is to find a missing person and destroy the city of ALPHAVILLE.  But he falls in love with Natacha von braun (Anna Karina), the missing person’s daughter.  This is film noir meets sci-fi with a touch of Kafka.  Cinematographer Raoul Coutard shoots Paris with lightings that make it look strange and futuristic.  The Godard touch is everywhere again in this film, despite it being sci-fi.  His philosophical musings are apparent and hilarious during the questioning of Mr. Johnson in the control room of Alpaha60.  Franois Truffaut’s regular Jean-Pierre Leaud has a cameo in the film as a waiter in a hotel.  Also a strange film, but by no means uninteresting!

    UNE FEMME EST UNE FEMME (A WOMAN IS A WOMAN) (France 1961) ****

    Directed by Jean-Luc Godard

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    Who says Jacques Demy owns the rights to colorful French musicals?  In UNE FEMME EST UNE FEMME, Godard has a go at the musical with extremely pleasant results.   His traits of colorful word credits, relationship arguments, philosophical musings and humour are ever present as well.  The film centers on the relationship of striptease dancer Angéla (Godard’s wife Anna Karina) and her lover Émile Jean-Claude Brialy). Angéla wants to have a child, but Émile isn’t ready. Émile’s best friend Alfred Lubitsch (Jean-Paul Belmondo) also says he loves Angéla, and keeps up a gentle pursuit. Angéla and Émile have their arguments about the matter.  In the film’s best segment, as they have decided not to speak with each other, they pull books from the shelf and, pointing to the titles, continue their argument.  The film also has surprise guests such as Jeanne Moreau taking her break from filming JULES ET JIM.  Of course, the film has a fairytale ending in which the couple live happily ever after.  This is Godard’s most delightful film!

    LE MEPRIS (CONTEMPT) (France/Italy 1963) ****

    Directed by Jean-Luc Godard

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    One of Godard’s best films, LE MEPRIS, based on the Italian novel Ghost at Noon by Alberto Moravia tells of the contempt a couple, playwright Paul Javal (Michel Piccoli) and his wife Camille (Brigitte Bardot) have for each other at the end of their relationship.  The setting is both indoors and outdoors with the famous critically praised extended apartment sequence and the gorgeous scenery of Capri.  Paul is hired to rewrite the script of the film produced by American Jeremy Prokosch (Jack Palance) who has a crush on Camille and not afraid of showing it.  LE MEPRIS is a very layered film with the story of Homer’s Odyssey being filmed reflecting the characters on film who reflect also the failing relationship of then Godard and his wife Anna Karina.  In the film, Bardot dons a black wig and rattles off lines that are filled with metaphors.  If all this is not enough to satisfy audiences, the performances of the then in demand, Piccoli, Bardot, Palance and also famous Fritz Lang (who plays the director) are an additional bonus.  Raoul Coutard, who also worked on A BOUT DE SOUFFLE (BREATHLESS), shoots the film in incredibly bright colors, from the sets to the scenery to the wardrobe.

    Trailer:  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IT7P7ijpAPY

    LE PETIT SOLDAT (THE LITTLE SOLDIER) (France 1960) ****

    Directed by Jean-Luc Godard

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    One of the most serious of the Godard films, the story of 26-year old soldier Bruno Forestier (Michel Subor) has him blackmailed by French Intelligence to assassinate Palivoda in exchange for a safe passage for him and Veronica Dreyer (Anna Karina) to Brazil.  It the war between the French and the FLN (National Liberation Front of Algeria).  Both sides supposedly never use torture as a means of extracting information.   But Godard’s film has extended scenes of torture used by both sides that resulted in the film banned in France for 3 years.  Shot in stunning black and white by Godard’s regular cinematographer Raoul Coutard, the film also examines the logic, thinking and resulting actions of Bruno.  LE PETIT SOLDAT is a complex film effectively executed by Godard.

    VIVRE SA VIE (France 1962) ****

    Directed by Jena-Luc Godard

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    VIVRE SA VIE starring Godard’s wife Anna Karina is a black and white film odyssey of Nana, an enthusiastic stage actress who moves to Paris with the hope of becoming a famous actress, on stage on in film.  Unfortunately, luck is not on her side- vocation and relationship-wise.  She ends up as a prostitute forced to accept every single client she gets.  But Godard’s film is surprisingly not depressing but full of joie de vivre.  Besides his film providing the know-it-alls about being a prostitute in the city, his film contains entertaining musings on the philosophy of life.  He film is divided into parts into parts consisting of phrases on what Godard is going to show on film.  Though the film has a shock ending, VIVRE SA VIE is more exhilarating than anything else resulting in another delightful entry with a great score by Michel Legrand into this TIFF series.

     
  • This Week's Film Reviews (Jan 17, 2014)

    Lots of new films opening this week.  These include JACK RYAN: SHADOW RECRUIT, THE NUT JOB, RIDE ALONG and DEVIL’S DUE.

               

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    FILM REVIEWS: 

    BIG BAD WOLVES (Israel 2013) ****

    Directed by Aharon Keshales and Navot Papushado

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    BIG BAD WOLVES has been touted as director Quentin Tarantino’s best film of 2013.  Despite the extremely high expectations audiences would then take to the film, BIG BAD WOLVES does deliver the goods. For one, it is a compelling film from start to finish, sickly hilarious at parts while being inventively brilliant at times.

    BIG BAD WOLVES is a revenge torture flick.  A serial killer of little girls chops off their fingers, tear away their toenails before sawing their heads off with a rusty saw.  He then buries them headless.  When prime suspect, Dror, (Rotem Keinan) a religious teacher is brought open to the public, one victim’s father, Gidi (Tzahi Grad) kidnaps him and tortures him the same way (breaks his fingers; tear out his toenails) in order to find out where his daughter is buried.  There is one renegade detective, Miki (Lior Ashkenazi) involved, who loses his job as a result of a video of his beating up of the suspect going viral on You Tube.

    If the plot sounds familiar, it has just been used in the highly visible Warner Brothers’ film PRISONERS directed by Denis Villeneuve and starring Hugh Jackman as the father and Jake Gyllenhaal as the detective.  PRISONERS, by inevitable comparison looks tame and flawed compared to BIG BAD WOLVES, in which directors Keshales and Papushad appear totally in control of their material.  Both films are similar in a way.  They share the same twist in plot at the end of the film in terms of the identity of the serial killer.

    Yet the films contain distinct differences.  In BIG BAD WOLVES, the detective is initially out to get the suspect, as he believes that, that would enable to get his job back.  The directors also realize how much humor there exists in the material despite the grim nature of the film.  The three main leads also play extremely well against each other, in terms of plot as well as characterwise. But be forewarned that the torture scenes might be too violent for some to watch.

    The result is a totally delectable film for the audience who likes their entertainment highly skewed.  The directors have shot to fame after making RABIES, which was what had been touted as the first Israel horror film and I bet the best is yet to come from this invincible duo.

    Trailer:  http://www.canada.com/entertainment/celebrity/Trailer+Wolves/8958538/story.html 

    L’INCONNU DU LAC (STRANGER BY THE LAKE) (France/Belgique 2013) ****

    Directed by Alain Guiraudie

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                The most touted gay film of 2013 and winner of the gay Palm d’Or; STRANGER BY THE LAKE has more going for it than say its lesbian counterpart, BLUE IS THE WARMEST COLOUR.  For one, this film is less pretentious and more sincere, which director Guiraudie achieves despite his film being more artsy.  Just as erotic, STRANGER contains lengthy sex scenes between the two main leads that include both a cum shot and a full hard-on blow job.

    For male gays, STRANGER BY THE LAKE is a Godsend.  It has been ages since something this original has appeared on screen.  Of course when gay themed films first started appearing, there were lots of new material (coming out; acceptance; bullying; parenting) but fresh material soon ran out.  Though cruising has been explored before in films such as William Friedkin’s CRUISING, Guiraudie has injected his own inventiveness.

    The film begins with a far shot of cars being parked around trees by a lake.  Franck (Pierre Deladonchamps) appears and cruises while making friends with a pudgy, Henri (Patrick D’ssumcao).  That night, Franck witnesses Michel (Christophe Paou) drown his lover.  But Franck is attracted to Michel, nevertheless and a hot affair ensues.  Henri warns Franck of the danger while an inspector appears asking questions.

    In the midst of all the sex and killing going on, Guiraudie infuses his own two cents worth in terms of moralizing.  In one unexpected confrontation, the inspector in charge of the murder at the cruising lake expresses his disgust to Michel and Franck how cruising continues just two days after the murder, claiming that gays do not take care or respect their own kind.  This remark might have caused Michel to take repercussions, but the beauty of the film is the constant ambiguity present in the film.  The background of Michel is also in question.  Why is he so secretive of his private life?  Does he have a family and kids?  Not much detail except his profession of a vegetable stall seller is also given of Franck.  Surprisingly, the audience knows the most of the supporting character Henri that allows the audience to have greater respect for the man.

    The film is shot without music.  The sounds of the water, the rustling leaves of the trees blown by the wind are some examples that form the natural score for the film.  The night scenes are also beautifully shot as are the sex scenes erotically hot.

    A film like this does not warrant a Hollywood ending in which the killer is caught.  That would be a betrayal of what Guiraudie has given already on screen.  But STRANGER BY THE LAKE is a fierce exercise of an art form true to its roots of male eroticism.

    Trailer:  http://trailers.apple.com/trailers/independent/strangerbythelake/#videos-large

     

     

    THE INVISIBLE WOMAN (UK 2013) ***

    Directed by Ralph Fiennes

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    English actor Ralph Fiennes’ second directorial effort THE INVISIBLE WOMAN seems like just as improbable a project as his first, one of Shakespeare’s most unpopular plays CORIOLANUS.  The film tells the secret affair of one of England’s greatest authors Charles Dickens (played by Fiennes himself) and an actress half his age, Nelly Ternan (Felicity Jones).

    Nelly was performing in London’s Haymarket Theatre (still in existence today) when she (then seventeen) was first spotted by Dickens.  He cast her in his new production THE FROZEN DEEP. This did not stop their torrid love affair, kept secret from the public.

    Though Fiennes could have played this affair to be one of the greatest love stories in literary history on film, as alluring for the speculation it inspires for the details on record as fact, he treats it as a common love affair with problems, arguments and authenticity.

    Dickens the Master is depicted here as the callous victimizer.  Though his wife warns Nelly at one of the film’s most dramatic segments that the man loves the public more than his woman (yes, a bit clichéd here), Dickens is shown often as the wolf in prowl.  In one key scene, Nelly stops short of his advances, reminding him of the fact that he is a married man.  Though the two eventually consummate, the sex scenes are controlled to a minimum of nudity.

    Fiennes captures the period atmosphere adequately that includes the crucial train crash towards the film’s climax.  He also captures Dickens’ mixed emotions, torn between his love for Nelly and the need to keep the secret for fear of losing his loyal readership.

    But by the end of the film, the audience feels cheated that nothing has been resolved and what transpires would have come about even if the lovers had not done anything different.  Though the film might have opened ones eyes to the real story of Dickens’ life, one cannot claim that one has gained that much more knowledge of the man either.

     

    JACK RYAN SHADOW RECRUIT (USA 2014) ***1/2

    Directed by Kenneth Branagh

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    An update and welcome one of Tom Clancy’s hero Jack Ryan (Chris Pine) pits our London economist graduate against Russia in a cold war post 9/11.

    The script moves efficiently and quickly to establish Jack Ryan’s need to serve America.  A bombing helicopter accident forces him to take a desk job as an analyst only till he discovers a Russian global plot to topple the U.S. and hence world’s economy.  In the meantime, he has to keep everything secret from his doctor girlfriend, Cathy Muller (Kiera Knightley) who had nursed him back to health.

    Though audiences have seen similar material before in the James Bond, Mission Impossible and Bourne Ultimatum movies, Branagh’s film still manages to impress with high-octane action sequences, suspenseful nick-of-time set-ups and a strong romantic element.

    Watching Branagh’s film makes one wonder how much he borrowed from Hitchcock’s TORN CURTAIN, which had a similar plot of Julie Andrews trailing her professor husband Paul Newman behind the Iron Curtain suspecting him of cheating on her.  Knightley as Cathy does the same and is eventually forced to help Ryan in his mission.  In TORN CURTAIN, Hitchcock had a scene in which he demonstrated how difficult it is to kill  man without a gun.  In this film, Branagh does the same with an extended sequence in which Ryan has to kill his Ugandan assassin sans weapon.

    The best moments have Jack Ryan and his mentor, Thomas Harper (Kevin Costner) sitting on public steps in Russia discussing the fate of the world and Jack Ryan and the villain, Viktor Cheverin (Branagh himself) have a go with word insults (Russians are soft while pretending to be poetic while Americans are rude while pretending to be forward).

    The film plays well as both an action thriller and a suspense thriller.   The segment in which Ryan saves his fiancée from the light bulb almost rammed down her throat just in the nick of time cannot be matched by the climax at the end of the film.

    Despite the film feeling as if it is split into two distinct parts, JACK RYAN: SHADOW RECRUIT still delivers edge of the seat excitement from start to finish.

    Trailer:  http://www.bing.com/videos/search?q=trailer+jack+ryan&docid=4772942556169925&mid=E11DC61EEF02B073A6C5E11DC61EEF02B073A6C5&view=detail&FORM=VIRE5#view=detail&mid=F143F6FE10095A63ABE5F143F6FE10095A63ABE5

     
     
     

    THE NUT JOB (USA 2013) ***1/2

    Directed by Peter Lepeniotis

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    THE NUT JOB is an action packed 3D animated comedy involving Surly, a squirrel (Will Arnett) attempting a nut heist at Maury’s Nut Store so that he can comfortably live out the winter.

    Initially banished from the park to the city as a result of an accident that destroyed the winter storage supply, Surly is aided by a sympathetic female, Andie (Katherine Heidl) and two sidekicks, one egoistic, Grayson (Brendan Fraser) and the other a silent rat (money saved for voice characterization here).  The irony of it all is that as Surly plans his job, crooks plan to rob money from the adjacent bank.  The two groups clash of course, giving the story ample opportunities for high jinx.  The 3D effects are good, the highlight being the corn burnt in an explosion in one scene with popcorn spewed out at the audience.

    The NUT JOB has satisfactory goofiness, action and hilarity but nothing really outlandish memorable, except the last credit sequence as explained in the last paragraph.  The romance is thankfully kept at a minimum and the film is devoid of any songs, again, except for the end credit sequence.

    THE NUT JOB had every single one of the audience at the promo screening stay for the entire end credit sequence.  This is no simple task for any film to achieve but it is easy to see why.  Immediately after the director’s credit comes on, an animated pudgy South Korean figure (immediately recognizable as South Korean rapper Psy in real life) with hat and suit jumps out of a door and performs his infamous rap sequence Gangnam Style, which is soon imitated by all the characters in the film.  The song and dance routine is so amusing as already 800 million You Tube fans know, that one cannot help but sit back and gawk.

     

    Best Bets of the Week:

    Best Film Opening: Stranger by the Lake (L’Inconnu du Lac)

    Best Film Playing: American Hustle

    Best Drama: The Wolf of Wall Street

    Best Foreign: Stranger by the Lake (L’Inconnu du Lac)

    Best Fantasy: The Hobbit2: The Desolation of Smug

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

    New films opening this week are AUGUST:OSAGE COUNTY, GABRIELLE and LONE SURVIVOR.

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    REVIEWS:-

    AUGUST: OSAGE COUNTY (USA 2013) ***

    Directed by John Wells

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    If you quiver at the notion of having to watch another film about a dysfunctional family, there are actually two good reasons to see AUGUST: OSAGE COUNTY.  One is that it is based on a very well-written play by Pulitzer Prize winning Tracy Wells (last film made was KILLER JOE) who also adapted it for the screen and the other are the performances of the ensemble cast led by Oscar winners Meryl Streep and Julia Roberts.

    Beverly Weston (played by Sam Shepard) is an Oklahoma poet battling alcoholism, while his caustic wife Violet (Meryl Streep) suffers from cancer and a new-found drug dependency.  Not long after hiring a live-in caregiver for Violet, Beverly vanishes, prompting the family to unite in a search that ends with a morbid discovery. Mother and daughters (Julia Roberts, Julianne Nicholson and Juliette Lewis) are left to deal with the aftermath, and each other — the four women have never exactly seen eye-to-eye.

    Of course, as in all dramas on dysfunctional families, there are hidden skeletons in the closet – all waiting to provide more drama during the funeral.  Director Wells (THE COMPANY MEN) knows drama well and milks it for all its worth.  The only tender moment with Little Charles (Benedict Cumberbatch) playing his written song to his sweetheart (Nicholson) is even cut short with the appearance of high drama in the form of his mother (Margot Martindale).

    Streep, Roberts and Chris Cooper outshine the cast and these are obviously Oscar performances here.  Despite the cinema of discomfort, AUGUST: OSAGE COUNTY is compelling drama from start to finish.

    Trailer:  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9Hd_uO72h1s

     

    GABRIELLE (Canada 2013) ***

    Directed by Louise Archambault

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                In her introduction to the public screening of GABRIELLE at TIFF, director Louise Archambault emphasized how much love went into the film making and how she wanted this love not only to spread but people to sing out loud whether they can sing or not.

    Her spirit is clearly portrayed in her tender drama, about a developmentally challenged young woman’s quest for independence and sexual freedom.  Slightly challenged Gabrielle (Gabrielle Marion-Rivard who has Williams syndrome in real life) and Martin (Alexandre Landry) want to explore their feelings for one another physically, but are not allowed.  Convinced that living alone will allow her to have the intimate relationship she so desperately craves, Gabrielle tries valiantly to prove she can be independent.

    But good intentions, though evident in her film do not always make a good film.  For the one and all too familiar story of an individual trying to break out on his/her own is nothing new, despite the different setting.  Archambault’s film also suffers from a weak narrative that cannot pin down on what the climax of the film should be – the choir’s performance, Gabrielle’s independence or the rekindle of the love affair.

    The film has been selected as Canada’s entry for the Best Foreign Film Oscar.

    Trailer:

     http://www.tribute.ca/trailers/gabrielle/14380/

     

     

    HER (USA 2013) ***

    Directed by Spike Jonze

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    As the film Awards season approaches, Spike Jonze’s new difficult film comes as a worthy contender.  The director of hits like BEING JOHN MALKOVICH, WHERE THE WILD THINGS ARE and ADAPTATION, Jonze is one in which originality is the director’s forte.

    Creating quite the buzz as the closing film at this year’s New York Film Festival, HER is another fine writing and directing from Jonze.  The story concerns a tortured soul, Theodore Twomby (Joaquin Phoenix) a writer for a letter website who is recovering from a divorce from his wife, Catherine (Rooney Mara).  When Theodore gets a new Artificial Intelligence Operation System (OS1) for his new computer, he falls in love with her.  The OS calls herself Samantha and the two develop a difficult relationship.

    If all this sounds ridiculous, it might be – but Jonze gives his subject the deadliest of seriousness and he creates a credibility that surprisingly works.  The biggest test is the sex scene between Samantha and Theodore, which is done in good taste with  black screen and encouraging music by Ren Klyce.

    Phoenix delivers a more restrained performance compared to last year’s as the shouting and screaming mental character in THE MASTER.  Phoenix does not raise his voice even once in HER.  The strength of his performance can be observed in the segment when he has lost contact with his operating system and he knows not what to do.  Deserve of mention is Scarlett Johansson who voices the operation system HER.  She replaced Samantha Morton (no reason given in the press kit) who is not a bad actress herself.

    But full credit should be given to Spike Jonze for treading unchartered territory.  Though the film is long and contains a few predictable segments, it is still a worthy effort.  Just as the character HER describes falling in love – an acceptable form of insanity.

    Trailer:  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WzV6mXIOVl4

     

    LONE SURVIVOR (USA 2013) ****

    Directed by Peter Berg

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    Peter Berg writes and directs this action drama based on Marcus Luttrell’s nonfiction book of the same name.  The film is an account of SEAL Team 10’s failed mission Red Wings that was to capture a Taliban leader during the Afghanistan War.

    Peter Berg shot to fame with the buddy movie VERY BAD THINGS about buddies doing all the wrong things.  Berg has directed many other films, the most well known being THE KINGDOM.  LONE SURVIVOR, which encompasses the two themes in these movies therefore seem an ideal project to Berg, who directs competently in LONE SURVIVOR.

    The title of the film/book is already a spoiler as the audience knows the outcome of the film despite all attempts of the SEAL Team to stay alive.  Marcus Luttrell (Mark Wahlberg) will eventually be the only one alive. The film therefore does not work in the first third when Berg devotes the film towards the other men in the team.  There is the typical military camaraderie, male chauvinism, daily routines and team’s reminiscences of their loved ones.  All that go on appears authentic enough, though no one really cares and the film feels like it is just going through routine formula.  And the only survivor will be Luttrell, anyway.

    When Luttrell’s group is finally forced into combat with the Talibans on the hill, which begins a third into the film, the action takes off.  Berg does not skimp on the blood and gore.  Certain scenes like the two in which the Americans have to tumble from the top to the bottom of a rocky slope are excruciating to watch.

    Berg treats the American as chivalrous heroes, especially with the decision to let suspected Talibans go, which proves a fatal mistake.  They also go through great lengths to help each other out during the fight.  The Talibans have little to say, and when they do, they do so indistinguishly in their own language, but they are clearly the bad guys with little compassion shown.  But Berg makes a point to make it known that not all Afghanistan villagers are part of the Taliban.

    Wahlberg (delivering an excellent performance) is supported by quite the well-known cast that includes Taylor Kitsch, Eric Bana, Emile Hirsch, Ben Foster and Alexander Ludwig.

    But as one wonders what the director’s message is regarding all that have occurred, one becomes totally clear by the end of the final reel.  Berg takes his time to make his point but creates quite the jolting impact!

    Trailer:  http://trailers.apple.com/trailers/universal/lonesurvivor/#videos-large

     

     

              

     

    Best Bets of the Week:

    Best Film Opening: Lone Survivor

    Best Film Playing: American Hustle

    Best Drama: The Wolf of Wall Street

    Best Action: The Hobbit2: The Desolation of Smaug

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

    The holiday films continue through the New Year.  It is unlikely that you would have seen all of them and there would be still plenty to choose from.  Only one new film opening this week: PARANORMAL ACTIVITY: THE MARKED ONES.

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     FILM REVIEWS:- 

    Hot Docs Soup – January 2014: A FRAGILE TRUST

    Hot Docs is pleased to announce that January’s Doc Soup will present the Canadian premiere of A FRAGILE TRUST (D: Samantha Grant, USA, 75 min.) Nominated for the Special Jury Award at the 2013 Sheffield/Doc Fest, A FRAGILE TRUST will screen on Wednesday, January 8, at 6:30 p.m. and 9:15 p.m., and on Thursday, January 9, at 6:45 p.m. at the Bloor Hot Docs Cinema, 506 Bloor St. West. Filmmaker Samantha Grant will be in attendance to introduce the film and answer questions following the screenings.

    A FRAGILE TRUST tells the shocking story of Jayson Blair, the most infamous serial plagiarist of our time, and how he unleashed a scandal that rocked The New York Times and the world of journalism. In 2003 Blair was caught plagiarizing the work of other reporters and supplementing his own reporting with fabricated details in dozens of different stories published in the Times. The ensuing media frenzy surrounding the “Blair Affair” served sordid details in a soap opera-style tale of deception, drug abuse, racism, mental illness, hierarchy, white guilt, and power struggles inside the hallowed halls of The New York Times. Featuring an exclusive interview with Blair, and unprecedented access to his notes, reflections, and private email account, A FRAGILE TRUST is a compelling, character-driven narrative about an important chapter in the history of journalism, and a complex story about power, ethics, representation, race, and accountability in the mainstream media.

    Single tickets for A FRAGILE TRUST are $15 and can be purchased in advance online at www.hotdocs.ca or in person at the Bloor Hot Docs Cinema box office. In the event advance tickets sell out, a limited number of tickets may be available at the door on the night of the screening. Tickets and Student 6-Packs can be purchased online at www.hotdocs.ca, in person at the Bloor Hot Docs Cinema box office, or by phone at 416-637-5150.

    A FRAGILE TRUST: PLAGIARISM, POWER AND JAYSON BLAIR AT THE NEW YORK TIMES (USA 2013) ***

    Directed by Samantha Grant

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    Samantha Grant’s account of serial plagiarist, Jayson Blair whose massive scandal rocked the New York Times and the journalism world is an intriguing enough documentary that covers her subject in satisfactory detail.  The film’s three main interviewees are Jayson Blair himself, Seth Mnookin, the reporter who wrote the exposing article on Blair for Newsweek and Howell Raines, one of the higher-ups at the Times who got the sack because of Blair.  They provide a good round picture of the man, with Blair himself talking about himself, about his crime and how sorry he is at what had transpired.  Director Grant has not taken sides, but it is difficult to feel sorry for this man, whose only redeeming feature appears to be his sincere regret although he has a written a money-grabbing book (that got scathing reviews) on the subject.  Grant also brings other key issues such as racism, substance abuse and bureaucracy into the issue.  But what is missing is what his close friends and family have to say about all this.

    Trailer:  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rRHiRW91pY8 

    PARANORMAL ACTIVITY: THE MARKED ONES (USA 2013) **1/2

    Directed by Christopher Langdon

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    The 5th (yes, already) of the PARANORMAL ACTIVITY films, THE MARKED ONES is sort of a sequel following the lines of shaky handheld camera, constant filming footage that made famous the BLAIR WITCH PROJECT and other PARANORMAL ACYIVITY films.  These are low budget horror flicks that turn out a tidy profit for the studios.

    So from the very start of THE MARKED ONES, the ‘really’ shaking camera serves to remind (before settling to just normal shaky) the watching audience that this film treads similar territory.  THE MARKED ONES refer to the characters in the film destined to be vassals for the demons at work.

    The film is set in a Hispanic neighborhood in California.  Teen, Oscar (Carlos Pratts) delivers his valedictorian speech following his graduation party in which friends Jesse (Eddie J. Fernandez) and Hector (Jorge Diaz) attend.  As the story unfolds, Jesse acquires strange powers, which is preliminary to him being chosen to be possessed by demons.  Hector intervenes to save his friend with the help of others.

    For a cheap horror flick, Langdon’s film delivers.  The story is fresh, the setting more in the open, the characters (mostly latinos)  original enough and the scares, all taken from previous horror flicks, regenerated and still workable.  There is the ghoul from the top of the cupboard or stairs suddenly descending on the unsuspecting victim, the glowing white faces that suddenly appear in the dark and dark corners, the odd sounds that go bump in the wide spaces and so on.  Though these techniques have been used countless times. A visual scan around the cinema will prove the tactic sill working, judging from the number of people still jumping out of their seats.

    But the three leads Diaz, Fernandez and Pratts are unable to carry a feature length film on their own.  The weak narrative is also at fault for failing to keep the audience attentive from start to end.  The film also contains many loose ends.  What happened to the tattooed Victor after he fires and kills two witches?  An hour into the film feels close to two hours of running time.  The scares are ok but there is nothing holding the entire film together.  The subplots are loosely connected, but at least the silly humor alleviates the boredom.

    There will likely be another PARANORMAL ACTIVITY, but one can sure do with normal horror storytelling without the found footage and shaky hand held camera.  The novelty is over!

    Trailer:  http://trailers.apple.com/trailers/paramount/paranormalactivitythemarkedones/#videos-large

     

    Best 5 films of the Week: (alphabetically)

    1. American Hustle
    2. The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug
    3. Inside Llewyn Davis
    4. Philomena
    5. The Wolf of Wall Street
     
  • Christmas Week Film Reviews and the Best of Christmas

    All new films this week open Wednesday, Christmas Day.  There are lots of big ones including THE WOLF OF WALL STREET, MANDELA: LONG WALK TO FREEDOM, GRUDGE MATCH and THE SECRET OF WALTER MITTY. 

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     FILM REVIEWS:

    THE EXPEDITION TO THE END OF THE WORLD  (Denmark 2013) ***

    Directed by Daniel Dencik

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    The end of the world has always fascinated human beings.  In this documentary, a boat tags along an assortment of professions from an artist, marine biologist, art photographer, archaeologist, just to list a few travel to the seas along Greenland, north of Iceland.

    Global warming has allowed a track of ice to be melted as the boat breaks the ice towards unchartered waters.

    One thing amazing about this doc is that director Dencil does not compromise and allows his film to play as it is.  This is territory in which there is no sign of life, no birds or humans or animals.  And the landscape is often more bleak and grey than stupendous.  So, if one is expecting an Arctic Expedition Cruise, one will be sorely disappointed.

    The characters on the ship all have different agendas.  They communicate but have their own ideas on the meaning of life.  The music that plays on the soundtrack also varies from classical to heavy metal.

    Still, Dencik’s documentary is a fascinating look at the Greenland landscape, one that many have never seen before.  What the characters say, however is a different matter.  It depends whether one agrees with their views.

    Trailer:  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5_Bkpa3jKfI

    GRUDGE MATCH (USA 2013) **

    Directed by Peter Segal

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    GRUDGE MATCH is as the title implies, the boxing match between two long time rivals played by Sylvester Stallone and Robert De Niro.  Both have been successful playing boxer in their prime (ROCKY and RAGING BULL), but does one really want to see a film about two old has-been stars?  Especially when De Niro has had at least 4 comedies out this year, two (THE BIG WEDDING and LAST VEGAS) being the worst films of the year while Stallone has not got a hit in ages (EXPENDABLES 2 barely broke even and ESCAPE PLAN lost money).

    Stallone has always been fit but his face cannot hide the signs of ageing.  To De Niro’s credit, he lost quite a bit of weight for the climatic match in the film, and his gut can be clearly seen to be down several inches.  Still, a match about two rivals in which the film spends equal time on each character means that there is no villain or hero.  So, exciting as the final match may be shot, there is no winner the audience would be rooting for.  One would expect the two rivals to emerge as friends at the end of the film, especially when this film is out during the season of good cheer.

    As a comedy, the film is not all that funny, despite a few good setups, including a pudgy lazy magazine-reading new trainer for The Kid..  Comedian Kevin Hart steals all his scenes coming off a the most hilarious thing about the movie.  Alan Arkin as Sharp’s trainer steals most of the comic scenes as well.  But it is the same old story with lost loves, and a lost girl stolen by one rival boxer and a father/son relationship that has to be redeemed, With two instead of one lead character, the film grows tedious quite fast.

    So who would one want to win the GRUDGE MATCH at the climax?  Stallone or De Niro?  It makes no difference whatsoever.

    Trailer:  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1bQSOBJCPQE

     

     

     

    MANDELA: LONG WALK TO FREEDOM (South Africa 2013) ***

    Directed by Justin Chadwick

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    The film MANDELA: LONG WALK TO FREEDOM based on the autobiography of the recently just passed Nelson Mandela has all the aspirations of being an epic movie on freedom in South Africa.  It begins with a horde of children in the African wilderness running about in the bush and local river about to make the transition from child to manhood.  The scene recalls images of THE LION KING and indeed aspires to that grandeur.

    Chadwick’s (THE OTHER BOELYN GIRL) film traces Mandela’s life from the time he was imprisoned to the time he was elected President.  His presidential term and his work with AIDs (South Africa has the highest percentage of AIDS population in the world) have been clearly left out.

    The film tells the story of Mandela’s trials and tribulation and his victory in ridding the country of Apartheid without much fanfare.  This is expected as the film is based on the autobiography written by the man himself.  It is unlikely that a man imprisoned for almost 3 decades and one who has forgiven his captors and also one who has won the Nobel Peace Prize be one to blow his own horn.  The film contains only a few segments that gives this great man his due.  One is the speech he gives on television when he publicly declares his leadership and that as a leader he has to tell his people to take the option of peace followed by his confession that he has forgiven his captors in order to achieve the peace needed for his country.

    The film also gives a bit of information of Mandela’s wife, Winnie.  Winnie is shown to be a hardheaded woman, who Mandela decided has to be left on her own.  The film does not do her justice and leaves her as an unexplained commodity.

    Iris Elba does a good and credible Mandela invoking both the audience’s respect and sympathy.

    The film opens at a timely period just after Nelson Mandela’s death.  The film serves as a worthy (though not complete) tribute of a great man who has changed the lives not only of the people of South Africa but for the world.

    Trailer:  http://media.brisbanetimes.com.au/entertainment/trailers/trailer-mandela-long-walk-to-freedom-4985658.html 

    THE SECRET LIFE OF WALTER MITTY (USA 2013) ***1/2

    Directed by Ben Stiller

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    There is a brilliant self realizing piece of advice given by Sean O’Donnell (Sean Penn) to Walter Mitty (Ben Stiller), the LIFE Magazine still photographer Mitty has spent the entire film looking for, at the end of the movie.  Sean tells him that he prefers to savour his personal moments and not be distracted by the camera.  It seems that Ben Stiller (in his directorial debut) has taken this line of dialogue to heart.  His fantasy film, which contains lots of CGI effects, especially in the first third, eventually relies on human drama to make its point.  The result is a very sweet film – typically unexpected from the man who has acted in over-crazed films like THERE IS SOMETHING ABOUT MARY and TROPIC THUNDER.

    Based on a short story by James Thurber (well-known cartoon satirist) and written by Steven Conrad (THE PURSUIT OF HAPPYNESS), Stiller’s film is a remake of the 1947 Danny Kaye film, but with quite the few differences.  The changes suit the actor Stiller playing Mitty, rather than Kaye.  Stiller as Mitty does many crazy stunts like skateboarding at super high speeds and leaping between building (courtesy of CGI), but these antics occur in Mitty’s mind while he is daydreaming.

    Mitty is the negative (as in photography negatives) assets manager at Life Magazine.  Shy but diligent, he is taken to bouts of day-dreaming.  One day, his company is taken over and the magazine is to be terminated.  Sean O’Donnell has sent the negative that is to be on the cover of the last issue but Mitty cannot locate it.  He literally has to scale great heights, the Himalayas in this case to hunt O’Donnell down.

    WALTER MITTY is a very likeable film, suitable for the festive season for many reasons.  For one. Mitty himself is a likeable character, with hardly a mean bone in his body.  He does not resort to revenge or anger when bullied by Hendricks (Adam Scott), the guy hired for downsizing the company and on his case to locate the negative.  Mitty is an underdog who falls in love for the first time to a girl (played by Kirsten Wiig) who is also very shy and sweet.  The ending has no action type climax but a real feel good satisfactory ending in which the good people get their reward.  The overbearing mother in Danny Kaye’s film is toned down to a tolerable one played by Shirley MacLaine.  (She accepts the sale of her grand piano for Mitty’s needs).

    Jim Carrey was originally slated to play the Mitty character.  Judging from the result of this film, Stiller’s Mitty is a less funny, more thoughtful, sweeter and eventually more effective one.  This makes THE SECRET OF WALTER SMITTY the most festive appropriate film for the holidays.

    Trailer:  http://www.bing.com/videos/search?q=walter+mitty+trailer&docid=4609669379457894&mid=254C837FF9E509FDC259254C837FF9E509FDC259&view=detail&FORM=VIRE3#view=detail&mid=254C837FF9E509FDC259254C837FF9E509FDC259

     
     

    THE WOLF OF WALL SREET (USA 2013) ***** Top 10

    Directed by Martin Scorsese

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    THE WOLF OF WALL STREET is a 3-hour epic by Oscar Winner Martin Scorsese based on the autobiography by Jordan Belfort.  Scorsese has made epic duds like GANGS OF NEW YORK and HUGO but he has also helmed classics like THE DEPARTED, GOODFELLAS and RAGING BULL.  THE WOLF OF WALL STREET falls into the latter category.

    The credits at the end of the film state that many of the events depicted in the film had been dramatized for effect and did not necessarily happen.  Scorsese really ups the angst in his latest film that contains spirited madness such as in the office orgy scene and ripe, sardonic dialogue.

    The film, based on the script by Terence Winter traces the quick rise and slow fall of stockbroker Jordan Belfort (Leonardo DiCaprio).  Starting from humble beginnings including a loving wife, Teresa (Cristin Milloti) and a level entry job with a weird mentor, Mark Hanna (Matthew McConaughey), Jordan transforms into a coke-snorting monster who needs hookers to satisfy his sexual appetite even though he owns a mistress (Margot Robbie).  But the financial wizard resorts to crooked schemes that eventually run him foul of the Feds led by Greg Coleman (Kyle Chandler).  The confrontation between the two aboard Jordan’s yacht is exceptionally hilarious.

    Being the 5th collaboration between DiCaprio and Scorsese, Scorsese allows the actor the freedom to strut his stuff.   There are lengthy segments including a 10-minute long office setup in which DiCaprio overacts or performs his best stuff, depending on  how one looks at it.  Supporting cast wise,  Rob Reiner as Mad Max or Jordan’s dad stands out.  Jonah Hill, Joanna Lumley (from Absolutely Fabulous) playing Ant Emma and Jean Dujardin (THE ARTIST) also provide a lot of the film’s black humor.

    This is one Scorsese film that shows the director at his most edgy.  But Scorsese is still under control.  He has one segment in which the camera pans from the front to the back of  Jordan’s Wall Street office illustrating the reactions of all his staff during an IPO (Initial Public Offering) announcement.  This is redone towards the end of the film when Jordan announces his decision not to resign.  Scorsese is also unafraid to compromise with the result of a film full of drug induced and sexually charged scenes.  Dialogue is also quite foul at times.  But all in moderation, though this rule is not applied by Jordan in the film.

    THE WOLF OF WALL STREET follows the same idea of many of his previous films like TAXI DRIVER, RAGING BULL, THE KING OF COMEDY and GANGS OF NEW YORK.  They all track the downfall of the protagonist though the protagonist has taken many forms from comedian, aviator,  boxer and now world-class stockbroker.  But the variations are sufficient to keep audiences not only entertained and hooked but also often unable to realize the difference of one from another.

    Trailer:  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iszwuX1AK6A

     

     

    Reviewer’s Best 5 films (in order) of the Week Currently Playing:

    1. American Hustle
    2. The Wolf of Wall Street
    3. Inside Llewyn Davis
    4. The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug
    5. Philomena
     
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  • This Week's Film Reviews (Dec 20, 2013)

    Lots of new films opening this week on the 20th and more on Christmas Day 25th next week.  These are the Christmas films and the best of the year.

    ANCHORMAN 2 has an early opening Wed while AMERICAN HUSTLE, WALKING WITH DINOSAURS and INSIDE LLEWYN DAVIS open Friday.

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    The Studio Ghibli animated series continues at the TIFF Cinematheque.  These Japanese gems are a must-see!

    FILM REVIEWS:

    AMERICAN HUSTLE (USA 2013) ***** TOP 10

    Directed by David O. Russell

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    From the humble beginnings of comedies like SPANKING THE MONKEY to complex family dramas like THE FIGHTER, writer/director Russell has come full circle with his best film to date, the Oscar worthy AMERICAN HUSTLE.  Russell rewrites the script based on the FBFI ABSCAM of the 70’s and 80’s originally written by Eric Warren Singer.  His film encompasses the best bits from all his previous films with the addition of the suspense element in a story that is strong on both plot and drama.  It is often the drama that drives the film to its edginess, with the characters pushed towards their end points of emotional endurances.

    The film begins with a setup in which a briefcase containing money is refused in a hotel suite.  Obviously, the film flashes back to the incidents that will lead back to this scene, which at least is not repeated as is in most other films.  The action centers on a con-artist couple, Irving Rosenfeld (Christian Bale) and his mistress, so-called  Sydney aka Edith from British royalty (Amy Adams).  But they are caught by Agent Richie DiMaso (Bradley Cooper) who offers them a way out but only if they hand over some dirty big shots in the scamming business.  This they agree.  But things get complicated as DiMaso falls in love with Edith and Irving’s wife, Rosalyn starts spilling the beans to the wrong people.

    Performances are more than excellent all around from Cooper to Bale.  Bale put on quite the paunch, which he appears keen to show off ever so often for the film.  But the prized one comes from already Oscar winner Jennifer Lawrence who out does herself as the floozy, yet self-righteous and very sexy wife, Rosalyn.

    Russell concocts a few inspirational setups, the most worthy of mention being the steamy sex scene in a club toilet stall.  They burst into the ladies’ and brush through the queue and into a stall while the line screams obscenities at them as they make out in the stall.

    The story contains two love affairs – one between Edith and Irving and the other between her and DiMaso.  But Russell ensures the audience knows the one that will last.  Edith and Irving meet and share Ellington?  And this, of course means much more than the wild sex in the club toilet stall.

    The intercutting between the family drama and con business at he middle of the film is worthy of Francis Ford Coppola’s ironic intercutting between the Corleone’s family dinner and Mafia assassinations at the end of THE GODFATHER.

    The dialogue is razor edge sharp.  The one scene in which Rosalyn turns around her goof of blowing up the new microwave (just invented at that time) by placing metal in it has her telling her husband that thank God for her as she had read that microwaving removes all the nutrients from good.  Also, her logic of divorcing her husband while stating at the start of the film that divorce is out of question in her family is priceless.

    The music by Danny Elfman is great.  Oldies are nicely mixed from Elton John numbers to the corny, Puppy Love to club anthems.

    The drama, suspense, twists and the especially sardonic humor all work great in a film that surprises if not shocks.  Russell does a nice hat trick with this marvelous film in a year in which there are few films that dare take risks like he does.

    Trailer:  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=h5Cb4SFt7gE

     

     

    ANCHORMAN 2: THE LEGEND CONTINUES (USA 2013) **

    Directed by Adam McKay

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    The sequel of the 2004 comedy hit, ANCHORMAN: THE LEGEND OF RON BURGUNDY took close to 10 years for its sequel due to constant rejections between Ferrell and gang vs. the studios on the production go-ahead till the film’s budget finally got approved.

    A good thing then?  Arguable as I personally did not utter more than 4 laughs throughout the sequel.  Once a comedy starts off bad, it is usually a bad roll for me all the way.  The budget goes all out to generate the laughs, a question of too much money per joke ratio, as indicative during the final fight (showdown) in the film.  But to give credit its due, most of the cast, cameos and stars included (including Ferrell, Carrell and Rudd) all took pay cuts) in order to get its budget approved.  The laborious jokes are incredibly silly, some racist and in bad taste, the plot regenerated from countless other films and the comedy questionable.  But despite my dislike for the film, my partner laughed his head off and my fellow critics at the promo screening unanimously found the film funny. (Just a point to note!)

    The plot involves the formation of a 24-hour news channel.  At that time as plot has it, Ron Burgundy (Will Ferrell) has just gotten himself fired (no difficult task here) while his wife (Christina Applegate) gains a promotion.  Ron recruits his disbanded Channel 4 news team, Brick (Steve Carrell), Fantana (Paul Rudd) and Champ Kind (David Koechner) to join the new enterprise.  They succeed as Ron deals with other issues such as reconnection with his son.

    The story is clichéd with segments seen too many times in other films.  We see the lead character trying to bond with his son who he has not been able to spend enough time with due to his job.  There is the sex hungry female boss who goes berserk once Ron becomes a success, the ambition conflict between spouses in the same line of work and the competition (here in the form of a good-looking star anchor played by John Marsden) forced to eat humble pie and a large helping of groveling.  But ANCHORMAN 2 is a comedy, but even as long the jokes flow hilariously (which they don’t or do depending on the individual), one should still expect some originality in plot and not rehashed material.

    ANCHORMAN 2 will be 2013’s number one film in terms of the largest number of celebrity cameos.  Too many to list everyone, but they include Will Smith, singer Drake, Sacha Baron Cohen, Nicole Kidman, Tina Fey, Liam Neeson, John C. Reilly, Kirsten Dunst and Jim Carrey.  The main cast is impressive enough and the number of stars present in the film is already worth the price of the admission ticket.

    ANCHORMAN 2 will undoubtedly be a huge hit as this is the only supposedly real comedy out this festive season, discounting GRUDGE MATCH which is a comedy drama.  This will likely spurn a third Burgundy film, which hopefully will be funnier to me.

    Trailer:  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Elczv0ghqw0 

     

    GOOD VIBRATIONS (UK/Ireland 2012) ***

    Directed by Lisa Barros D’Sa and Glenn Leyburn

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    The film, which feels like a documentary is the chronicle of the life of Terri Hooley (Richard Dormer) a record store owner who develops Belfast’s punk rock scene.

    Terri is depicted as an everyday irate Irishman.  Things are not going well with political unrest and with the constant beatings and abuse he faces in terms of business and personal dealings.  He survives by distracting himself with the setting up of a record shop called GOOD VIBRATIONS and in the process discovers punk rock bands.  Teenage Kicks by he Undertones is one song that is featured.  He also signs them up on a record label.  Dormer’s Hooley is not the perfect man but one with faults like a temper, drunkenness and tom foolery.  But that is where the beauty of the performance lies.

    But the film contains one strange segment in which Terri gets drunk after failing to get a local band get recognized while his missus delivers his baby.  The next scene has him and the wife (Jodie Whittaker) and baby all happy.  It appears that the argument of the couple has been snipped of from the reel.

    The film captures the period atmosphere of the times as well as the beginning of the head-banging punk rock scene.  The real Terri Hooley has a cameo in the film as well

    GOOD VIBRATIONS can be nowhere be compared to Alan Parker’s THE COMMITMENTS.  Still, this is a true story and the directors tell it as it is, without adding too much icing to the cake.

    Trailer:  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DruhJkZU4EI

     
     

    HAUNTER (Canada 2013) ***

    Directed by Vincenzo Natali

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    HAUNTER, directed by Canadian Vincenzo Natali (CUBE, SPLICE) grabs the audience from the very first reel and holds on For quite a while.  A combination of mystery and horror, the entire film is set in a house with no big name stars.  Working very well with a small budget, HAUNTER delivers despite letting the audience go during the third of the movie.

    The protagonist is 15-year old Lisa (Abigail Breslin from LITTLE MISS SUNSHINE).  It is the day before her sixteenth birthday but she never reaches that day.  As in GROUNDHOG DAY, she wakes up to the same routine every morning. Mother (Michelle Nolden) calls her to do the laundry, she gets called up for a talk with mother and dad (Peter Outerbridge) for her attitude and there are missing clothes after she has done the laundry.  And it is the same meal of pancakes in the morning and mac and cheese at night.   Lisa decides she has to break the routine to find out what is going on.  But when she does it, she does not like the truth.  Father turns into a different person.  Lisa connects with other dead girls.  Mother finally realizes what Lisa is saying is true.

    This is an excellent setup.  When the film weaves the audience into its labyrinth of mystery, the film is mesmerizing.  The bright light outside (no one can leave the house), the secret room underneath the boards and other scary props all heighten the tension and mystery.  It therefore comes as quite the letdown after the solution (the missing clothes; the repeating routines etc.) is slowly revealed to the audience in the third half.  The film transforms into the genre of a damsel in distress in a slasher movie.  The lack of a strong climax does not help either.

    HAUNTER fortunately does not have to resort to cheap tricks for scares and foul language to make a point.  For a horror film, the film is quite family friendly.

    But the for the first two thirds of the film, HAUNTER is excellent and delivers good mystery and scares.  Breslin is ok and one can see the difficulty of her carrying the entire film.

    The film opens Friday Dec 20th and is also available on UVOD on the same day.  If the family wants to huddle together for a good scare before bedtime, HAUNTER is the perfect film.

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

     

    HER (USA 2013) ***

    Directed by Spike Jonze

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    As the film Awards season approaches, Spike Jonze’s new difficult film comes as a worthy contender.  The director of hits like BEING JOHN MALKOVICH, WHERE THE WILD THINGS ARE and ADAPTATION, Jonze is one in which originality is the director’s forte.

    Creating quite the buzz as the closing film at this year’s New York Film Festival, HER is another fine writing and directing from Jonze.  The story concerns a tortured soul, Theodore Twomby (Joaquin Phoenix) a writer for a letter website who is recovering from a divorce from his wife, Catherine (Rooney Mara).  When Theodore gets a new Artificial Intelligence Operation System (OS1) for his new computer, he falls in love with her.  The OS calls herself Samantha and the two develop a difficult relationship.

    If all this sounds ridiculous, it might be – but Jonze gives his subject the deadliest of seriousness and he creates a credibility that surprisingly works.  The biggest test is the sex scene between Samantha and Theodore, which is done in good taste with  black screen and encouraging music by Ren Klyce.

    Phoenix delivers a more restrained performance compared to last year’s as the shouting and screaming mental character in THE MASTER.  Phoenix does not raise his voice even once in HER.  The strength of his performance can be observed in the segment when he has lost contact with his operating system and he knows not what to do.  Deserve of mention is Scarlett Johansson who voices the operation system HER.  She replaced Samantha Morton (no reason given in the press kit) who is not a bad actress herself.

    But full credit should be given to Spike Jonze for treading unchartered territory.  Though the film is long and contains a few predictable segments, it is still a worthy effort.  Just as the character HER describes falling in love – an acceptable form of insanity.

    Trailer:  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WzV6mXIOVl4

     

    INSIDE LLEWYN DAVIS (USA/France 2013) ***1/2
    Directed by Joel and Ethan Coen

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    The Coen Brothers’ latest film, which won the Palme d’Or at Cannes this year, is a strange entry.  The film embodies a bit of their previous films (it is a musical like O BROTHER, WHERE ART THOU? A struggling artist like BARTON FINK), but the result is a less than satisfactory film – no fault of the brothers (except perhaps for their choice of the subject), but largely due to the fact that their protagonist is a very ordinary man and not a very likeable one at that.

    The ordinary man is not the first time it has been chosen as the subject for a Coen Brothers’ film.  In A SERIOUS MAN, the protagonist underwent a series of life’s mishaps (broken down marriage, loss of his job tenure, impending tornado) but due to no fault of his own.  It was a modern day telling of the biblical story of God testing Job.  But in INSIDE LLEWYN DAVIS, the film starts with the performance of Davis (Oscar Isaac) at the Gaslight Café in Greenwich Village, NYC, before being told by the manager that a well-dressed gentleman friend is waiting for him outside.  Upon meeting, Davis is beaten up and left bloodied.  It is only at the end of the film that the audience knows why – but this mishap is entirely the fault of Davis and not anyone else, less a test from God.

    As the film flashes back, the audience learns more of Llewyn Davis including his weird spelling name.  He is of Welsh origin.  Llewyn Davis is a folk singer trying to make it (and big if possible) on records while doing the odd gig. He first has one at the Gaslight Café, performing with two friends. Jean (Carey Mulligan) and Jim (Justin Timberlake).  It is clear that he is ok but not that good.  He is over confident, self-righteous and quite an asshole.  For one, he has slept with Jean causing her to be pregnant and Jill is terribly upset with him.  In the mean time, Davis has barely enough money to survive the winter and sleeps on the couch of his friends, who he often mistreats and other acquaintances.

    Davis hitches rides to Chicago so that the film becomes a sort of road trip movie in which the lead meets an assortment of characters.  The most interesting of these is a big, vociferous man, Roland Turner, (played by Coen staple John Goodman) who gives Davis what he bargained for.

    The bit that the Coen Brothers put in about the cat is simply hilarious and the humor derived here is typical Coen Brothers.

    Davis’ trip takes him full circle back to the Gaslight Café where he finally performs again before meeting up with the well-dressed gent that beat him up at the start of the film.

    INSIDE LLEWYN DAVIS the title is so called because it takes importance to know what is inside an artist’s mind before appreciating the performance.  But one wonders the purpose of the Coen Brothers making a film about quite the unlikeable character though their film is quite near flawless.  If for anything else, those who have lived in that era of American folk music should be able to enjoy the film more than anyone else.

    Trailer:  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=X8eKgUW5XxQ

     

    WALKING WITH DINOSAURS (USA/UK/Australia 2013) **

    Directed by Barry Cook and Neil Nightingale

    walkingwithba

    This $80 million dinosaur family movie attempts to put the audience in the ultimate immersive experience using 3D state of the art in the midst of a prehistoric world when dinosaurs ruled the Earth. The poster also boasts  the greatest adventure in 70 million years.  But it is often not the story that is important but how the story is told.

    The film begins with a skeptical boy, Ricky (Charlie Rowe) unhappy to follow his Uncle Zack (Karl Urban) look for dinosaur fossils.  But lo and behold!   Talking bird (John Leguizamo), supposedly  a dinosaur descendent, takes Ricky on an educational trip that will open his eyes to the prehistoric world.  An underdog lizard, Patchi (Justin Long) takes into the footstep of his grand Father (THE DINOSAUR KING?) to overcome obstacles, save the herd and get he girl, Juniper (Tiya Sircar).  Someone should remind writer John Collee hat Juniper is the name of a bush.

    BUT WALKING WITH DINOSAURS is no LION KING.  The bad decision to treat the film is a kiddie flick has condescending dialogue so childish that even the littler ones should gawk.  Silly jokes that are just not funny complete with a film ending that turns too violent is an example of a family film that is a complete mess.  When the final dinosaur utters the final loud roar at the end, the audience can only mimic a loud grunt in response.

    Trailer:  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=P7lBKBxIwGM

     

     

    Best Bets of the Week:

    Best Film Opening: American Hustle

    Best Film Playing: American Hustle

    Best Horror: Oldboy

    Best Animation: Frozen

    Best Action: The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug

    Best Documentary: Blood Brother

     

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