• 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.



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


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

    Directed by David O. Russell


    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




    Directed by Adam McKay


    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


    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


    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


    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


    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


    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

  • TIFF Cinematheque - Studio Ghibli

    TIFF Cinematheque present – The Films of Studio Ghibli

    This is the second time TIFF Cinematheque is presenting the Japanese animated works from the legendary Studio Ghibli.  And the magic arrives just n tie for the holidays.  There will be a screening of a total of 18 films including classics like SPIRITED AWAY, PRINCESS MONNOKE and HOWL’S MOVING CASTLE and the seldom seen acclaimed GRAVE OF THE FIREFLIES.

    Note that some films will be shown in their original version with subtitles while others dubbed in English.

    For complete film listing (including which is subtitled or dubbed), ticket pricing and venue, check the cinematheque website at:


    Capsule reviews for select films:

    CASTLE IN THE SKY (Japan 1986) ****
    Directed by Hayao Miyazaki


                The CASTLE IN THE SKY is the mythical Kingdom that all the film’s characters are looking for, for different reasons.  Pazu, a farm boy is n search of it to clear his late father’s name, the air pirates led by Granny (Cloris Leachman) for riches while the villain to unveil its secret power and rule the world.  The common element in all this is a stone possessed by the Kingdom’s princess (Anna Paquin)  CASTLE IN THE SKY is more ambitious in both story and animation compared to the other Ghibli Studio films but the common elements of first and true love, fantasy and stunning graphics are still present.  Reminiscent of Hollywood epics like RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK and STAR WARS, the film comes complete with a climax that includes a showdown between the hero and villain, a damsel in distress, a fight between good and evil with the future of the Planet at stake.

    GRAVE OF THE FIREFLIES (Japan 1988) ****

    Directed by Isao Takahata


    The film opens on September 21, 1945, shortly after the end of World War II at a local train station.  Here, a boy, is dying of starvation.  Later that night, a janitor digs through his possessions, and finds a candy tin, which he throws away into a nearby field. From the tin spring the spirits of Seita and his younger sister Setsuko as well as a cloud of fireflies.  Seita's spirit narrates their story alongside an extended flashback to Japan in the final months of the war.  There is not much story but in the film but what it lacks in plot is more than made up n terms of raw emotion.  The film traces Seita and Setsuko as they try to survive after being orphaned and left with no money.  But they retain their dignity never succumbing to their uncaring relatives and love for each other.   My mother, a child during WWII used to tell me stories of her running to the air shelters amidst bombing (but by the Japanese) n Singapore, so watching this film has meant much more to me.

    KIKI’S DELIVERY SERVICE (Japan 1989) *****

    Directed by Hayao Miyazaki


    This charming tale based on a1985 novel by Eiko Kadano, an author of children’s literature tells the coming-of-age story of a teenage witch, Kiki.  At the age of 13, witches have to leave heir home and spend a year on their own.  So Kiki (dubbed voice of Kirsten Dunst in the English version) takes her broom and flies to a coastal town to find her true calling.  She starts a flying delivery service while finding first and true love a local boy. This a splendid children’s tale full of wonderful characters that include a talking black cat, Jiji (Phil Hartman) a kind baker who takes Kiki in and an old granny that bakes delicious pies.  A pop soundtrack helps in the proceedings that eventually aid Kiki find herself. This is the first Ghibli film released under the partnership of Ghibli and Disney Studios.

    MY NEIGHBOR TOTORO (Japan 1988) ****

    Directed by Hayao Miyazaki


                Totoro is a huge smiling gremlin that only children can see, and only if they are lucky enough  The film is a family based drama that charms on fantasy creatures, childhood memories, perfect parents and beautiful countryside farms.  A brother and his younger sister are left to tend for themselves when their father moves them to a farm while waiting for their mother to return from hospital due to a named illness.   They encounter mystic creatures that include the huge Totoro of the title, who eventually helps them visit mother in hospital by loaning them a cat-bus.  The film makes living on a farm paradise.

    PONYO (Japan 2008) *****

    Directed by Hayao Miyazaki


    A fish with a girl’s face, Ponyo escapes her father wizard in the sea and lands on land where she falls in love with a boy called Sosuke.  She tastes blood (licking the cut on Sosuke) and develops hands and feet to become a girl.  Unfortunately this causes an unbalance in nature resulting in tsunami like conditions in the fishing town.  This is an excuse for animation so stunning (and the most colourful I have ever seen) that the film won the Japan Academy Prize for animation of the year.  Miyazaki’s film is filled with emotions as the young Ponyo and Sosuke relate to the unstable marriage of Sosuke’s parents and the old folks home at the top of the hill.   Love conquers all in the end.  The English version is dubbed by the voices of Cate Blanchett, Matt Damon, Tina Fey, Liam Neeson, Betty White and Cloris Leachman.


    Directed by Hayao Miyazaki


    Based on the manga comic series that was also written by Miyazaki, this animation plays like a STARWARS episode in which kingdoms fight for survival and for unity and stabilization of their species.  Also there is a princess warrior, bad guys that look like Darth Vader and animals that could be taken right out of Episodes 1 and 2 of the STAR WARS series.  The story is set in apocalyptic Earth which has almost all of the human race destroyed due to toxic pollution.  The angry insects must be calmed or they will attack the humans.  The princess is a kind soul who is well respected by everyone and she has to prove her worth when attacked by an invading Tolmekians.  The film contains lots of galatical battles, made all the more impressive by Miyazaki’s imagination and animation.  More action and adult than the other films in the series but by means no less enjoyable.  Voices of Shia Laboeuf, Uma Thurman, Patrick Stewart and other Hollywood stars land their voice characterizations.

  • This Week's Film Reviews (Dec 13, 2013)

    The big film opening this week is Peter Jackson’s THE HOBBIT: THE DESOLATION OF SMAUG.  Disney’s SAVING MR. BANKS is also worth a look.


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


    BLOOD BROTHER (USA 2013) ****

    Directed by Steve Hoover


    BLOOD BROTHER is the true to life document of Rocky Braat, an American graphic artist who gave up everything to do work with the suffering HIV Children in India.

    Shot and directed by his best friend Steve Hoover, who also made a trip to the Indian continent, the film offers an authentic first hand account of the work done there by what I would consider a modern-day saint.

    The film offers a horrid look at the Indian continent.  The poverty, the flies the overpopulation and the sicknesses are all on full display here.  A disturbing segment has ants carrying away a dead cockroach depicting an uninviting climate in which the toughest survive.  Yet, there is something in the documentary that is inviting to outsiders.  Though one might be living in the comfort zone of a first world country, the need to learn more, to do good is there in every human being.  And watching Rocky Braat (nicknamed Rocky Anna meaning Rocky Brother by the children) do his thing brings out the best in human beings.

    Though not an exhaustive documentary in any matter – it does not go into the details of the origins the HIV positive children; the conclusion of the disgruntled villagers on the intrusion of the children has been left out as well as the future of the children etc.- but who really cares?  By omitting these facts, director Hoover is able to concentrate more on Rocky, his work and the fruits of his work.  The film lets the audience determine on their own the motivation force behind Rocky’s dedication and the reason for his marriage to an Indian and to finally spend the rest of his life in India.

    There are two exceptional segments in the film.  One is his scurrying on his bike of a dying young girl to the hospital.  The scene of the stop at the railway crossing as the girl writhers in pain is worthy of any Hollywood suspense movie.  The other is Rocky’s nursing back to life a young boy, Surya who all the doctors at the hospital was sure would die.  As the camera shows the boy’s open sores, his eyes clammed shut from the hardened mucus and his spitting of thick blooded phlegm with his lips thick, red and bleeding as if falling off, one can only echo the words of the doctors.  Yet Rocky bandages, feeds and sings to the boy who miraculously lives.

    BLOOD BROTHER is the exceptional rare film that brings out the power of love.  Rocky Braat comes across as a saint as he sacrifices his life for the children.  If there is one moving documentary that should be seen this year , BLOOD BROTHER is it!




    THE CRASH REEL (UK 2013) ***

    Directed by Lucy Walker


    London born director Lucy Walker takes on the documentary genre with a heart felt tale of snowboarder Kevin Pearce.  A champion in his own right, Kevin pushed his body to the limit while training for the X Games till a crippling accident landed him a brain injury.

    Walker’s tale is told primarily from sports footage, family interviews and camerawork while Kevin was recovering.  Many of the footage is gut wrenching stuff.  Many of the tough family arguments are captured on film.  Kevin wants to keep snowboarding but another crash to the head might leave him vulnerable for life, and the family is upset that Kevin can be so insensitive.  What makes the doc so moving too, is that Walker captures other skiers who suffer identical accidents and who do not make it.

    But despite the depressing side of the story, the film also has its uplifting moments.  This is particularly seen from the side of Kevin’s family.   Kevin’s younger brother, David suffers from Down’s Syndrome.  But David has succeeded in the handicapped Olympics scoring wins in swimming and skiing.  And his parents say to the camera that they would never give David up for anyone else.

    Walker’s film ends up as the occasional life lesson to pick up on life no matter what.  And one has to admire those who dabble in Extreme Sports. As the saying goes, the cautious are those that have never lived.


    Directed by Peter Jackson


    The second in the trilogy of epic fantasy HOBBIT adventure films based on the J.R.R. Tolkien 1937 novel THE HOBBIT, which together act as the prequel to the already released LORD OF THE RING films, the film THE  HOBBIT: THE DESOLATION OF SMAUG offers pretty much more of the first and the same.  And that is not at all a bad thing.

    There is no real need to read up on the story of the first film, as there is hardly any (story).          The storyline continues the events of AN UNEXPECTED JOURNEY, in which the hobbit Bilbo Baggins (Martin Freeman) travels with the wizard Gandalf (Ian McKellen) and 13 dwarfs led by Torin Oakenshield (Richard Armitage) into the Kingdom Erebor to fight the dragon called Smug (voiced by Benedict Cumberbatch) underneath the mountain in order to reclaim their stolen kingdom.  As the first film ended, the company had made the journey to the mountain after many battles.  Now thy still have to open a door at the mountain as well as to travel to the foot of it.  This takes them through the Mirkwood spiders Esgaroth and Dale where they finally awake Smaug.

    Do not expect any conclusion as there is none.  This film is the prep for the last of the trilogy.

    As in the first film, this one uses a higher frame rate of 48 frames per second.  Jackson’s film delivers in terms of the excitement, colour, special effects, CGI (especially the Smaug), beauty (shot in New Zealand) and awe of under Earth  as well as the new and old creatures including the White Elves played by Orlando Bloom, Lee Pace and Evangeline Lilly.

    Peter Jackson is in fine directorial form here and Tolkien fans will be more than pleased!

    Trailer:  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oGjmAQdQ8uY


    Directed by Sophie Fiennes


    Fiennes’ new documentary is a sequel to her 2006 doc THE PERVERT’S GUIDE TO CINEMA.  The film is written by the well-known Slovene philosopher and psychoanalyst, Slavoj Zizek.  This is not the first film on Zizek, another doc entitled ZIZEK! was made sometime back.

    Zizek talks throughout the film on the mechanisms that shape what human beings believe and how we behave.  Well-known films are used to illustrate his theories.

    One flaw of the film is that there seems to be no head or tail of the topic.  Zizek throws ideas at random and rattles on and on throughout the lengthy 136 minutes of the film’s running time.

    But Zizek is a very enthusiastic speaker.  He talks and emphasizes every point as if they are the most important.  Though he speaks in perfect English and uses lots of philosophical jargon, his accent and mannerisms (he keeps brushing his nose every so often) distract a bit.

    But the films used to illustrate his ideas are famous ones such as THE SOUND OF MUSIC, FULL METAL JACKET, JAWS, CABARET, TITANIC, A CLOCKWORK ORANGE as well as foreign classics as TRIUMPH OF THE WILL and THE FIREMAN’S BALL.  Zizek’s sense of humour is also catching.  Audiences should stay to the end credits for the big TITANIC joke.

    A lesson in philosophy has never been this entertaining!

    Trailer:  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NUKbhKV7Ia8



    SAVING MR. BANKS (USA 2013) ****

    Directed by John Lee Hancock


    Disney has been providing solid family entertainment for decades past and present.  SAVINGS MR. BANKS is for a change, Disney magic for the adult, as it deals with the hardships of the adults face in bringing fantasy to the children. The plot concerns Walt himself (Tom Hanks) fulfilling his 20-year promise to his daughters to make a movie of their favorite book, P.L. Travers’ MARY POPPINS.  It must not strike many that the daughters must be in their mid-20’s by the then present, and not really care about the promise any longer.

    The film opens with a young girl in the Australian outback.  Her love for her father (Colin Farrell) who eventually succumbs to death by consumption is what deters the adult Mrs. Travers (Emma Thompson) from giving the rights of the book.  She has her demons to exorcise.  But when money becomes tight, she reluctantly agrees to travel to L.A. to hear Walt’s plans.  Walt pulls out all the stops suing storyboards as well s the songs of the Sherman Brothers to enchant the stubborn lady.

    The magic of this film occurs on at the end when Mrs. Travers is converted by the movie.  The film also has a wonderful 5-minute condensation of the musical MARY POPPINS complete with clips from the mot essential parts.  Of course, the soundtrack from the Sherman Brothers is heard throughout the film.

    The success of this film hinges on the performances of the leads playing Disney and Mr. Travers.  Both Tom Hanks and Emma Thompson deliver sensitive yet powerful Oscar worthy performances.

    The only complaint is the clumsy intercutting of the Australian flashbacks with the real story.  The flashbacks basically repeat the same point and could be shortened as the intercuts also break the dramatic flow of the main story.

    The film also ends with an old tape recorder playing the actual grumblings and objections of the real Mrs. Travers over the making of certain parts of MARY POPPINS.





    Best Bets of the Week:

    Best Film Opening: The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug

    Best Film Playing: Philomena

    Best Horror: Oldboy

    Best Animation: Frozen

    Best Action: The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug

    Best Documentary: Blood Brother

  • This week's Film Reviews (Dec 6, 2013)

    Not much opening this week, after the U.S. Thanksgiving weekend – the lull before the storm with HOBBIT opening next week. OUT OF THE FURNACE and a few documentaries make their debut.


    The Bette Davis and Coen Brothers retrospectives continue at the TIFF Cinematheque.



    Directed by Nicholas Wrathall



    HOT DOC SOUP (Dec 4,5 2013)


    Hot Docs is pleased to announce that December’s Doc Soup will present the Toronto premiere of GORE VIDAL: THE UNITED STATES OF AMNESIA (D: Nicholas Wrathall, USA, 89 min.) An official selection of the 2013 Tribeca Film Festival, GORE VIDAL: THE UNITED STATES OF AMNESIA will screen on Wednesday, December 4, at 6:30 p.m. and 9:15 p.m., and on Thursday, December 5, at 6:45 p.m. at the Bloor Hot Docs Cinema, 506 Bloor St. West. Filmmaker Nicholas Wrathall will be in attendance to introduce the film and answer questions following the screenings.

    Single tickets for GORE VIDAL: THE UNITED STATES OF AMNESIA 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 atwww.hotdocs.ca, in person at the Bloor Hot Docs Cinema box office, or by phone at 416-637-5150.

    Upcoming screening dates for Toronto’s Doc Soup are January 8 and 9, February 5 and 6, March 5 and 6 and April 2 and 3. Doc Soup titles are announced at least one month prior to their screenings and, whenever possible, guest directors are in attendance.




    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 the book of one of the worst movies of all time – MYRA BRECKINRIDGE.  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 films 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. have forgotten what they stood for.

    THE LAST DAYS ON MARS (UK/Ireland 2013) **

    Directed by Ruairi Robinson


    This is a strange film.  Directed by L.A. based Irishman Ruairi Robinson and scripted by Clive Dawson based on a short story The Animators, THE LAST DAYS ON MARS tells the story of a space crew waiting to leave Mars for home before the horror – ALIEN style begins.  Apparently, bacteria infects the crew, one by one and they transform into zombie-like creatures.

    There is nothing here that has not been seen before in terms of horror films like ALIEN or THE THING.  The only main difference is that the film is set on Mars (shot in the Jordan desert) in which the landscape is full of dust an opening crevices in which the color blue (not explained) is missing.

    The 8-crew members (Schreiber, Elias Koteas, Romola Garai, Olivia Williams, Johnny 
Harris, Goran Kostic, Tom Cullen and Yusra Warsama) wind down a six-month stint.  They are 
disappointed about their failure to find life there.  But, less than a day 
before heading home, a renegade crewmember, Marko (Kostic) discovers bacterial 
cell division.  Not wanting to share the credit, he secretly heads out 
to collect further samples.  A routine excavation turns into disaster 
when the ground gives way and swallows him up.  Then another 
crew member vanishes.  But they show up as zombie like creatures with super fighting strength.

    Robinson’s film is all over the place with confusing technical jargon thrown in that makes little sense even when understood.  It dos not help that Schreiber mumbles most of his lines.  It is not explained the reason so many of the crew is British.  Did the Brits suddenly have a space program with the U.S.?  And how did the bacteria suddenly come about during the last days?  A ridiculous love romance is also thrown an then left hanging.  The only interesting character of the film is the queen bitch, Kim (Williams) of the crew who is actually smart and has all the answers.  And all other things considered, the cinematography isn’t half bad given the small budget of the film.

    Trailer: http://www.imdb.com/video/imdb/vi1046194457


    LET THE FIRE BURN (USA 2013) ***

    Directed by Jason Osder


    The documentary begins with the disposition of a Michael Ward aka Birdie Africa as he is asked to tell the truth of what happened on the fateful night of May 13, 1985.  The film then flashes back to that night in which footage is shown of a 5-alarm blaze that went out of control.

    LET THE FIRE BURN is a somewhat angry documentary in which the events are unfolded of the burning of a house on Osage Avenue.  The story is told from the hearings filmed as well as from newsreel footage.   What occurs can easily piece together but what caused the events and the ones responsible are still in question.  Director Osder leaves the audience to form their own conclusions.

    Amidst all then anger and blame slinging, Osder managers to single out a hero in all the mayhem, a police officer who risked his life to save a boy, the Michael Ward during the fire.  This welcome bit of film reminds the audience that there is still some good to be found in human beings.  But his reward is far from desired – with the trauma and name calling (he being called a nigger lover after the brave deed) causing him to leave the force.

    LET THE FIRE BURN is a safe, well-constructed documentary.  It traces the beginnings of the group ‘Move’ and the incidents that have led to the Osage Avenue burning.  The burning takes place two-thirds through the film with the final third of the film relevant to the title LET THE FIRE BURN.  Director Osder obviously is not on the side of the Fire and Police Chief showing clearly how these two can twist the truth to suit their needs.  But Osder also points out the evils of the ‘Move’ Group. It therefore comes across that no one group is in the right and that the catastrophe comes from the result of anger, intolerance and the human need for the satisfaction of revenge.

    Trailer: http://vimeo.com/74386937

    OUT OF THE FURNACE (USA 2013) ***

    Directed by Scott Cooper


                Ridley Scott, Tony Scott and Leonardo DiCaprio must have quite a bit of faith in co-writer and director Scott Cooper to produce his film.  To Cooper’s credit, his American dramatic thriller earns a high score on reality with the film set in the poverty stricken, economically hard times of the Rust Belt in the town of Braddock, Pittsburgh.

                Worst still, hard luck befalls on the central character of the piece.  Russell Baze (Christian Bale) ends up in prison by a cruel twist of fate.  His brother, Rodney (Casey Affleck) in the mean time, gets into bare knuckle fighting.  The two unite when Rodney picks Russell up upon his release from prison.  But things go out of hand when Rodney ends up missing while going up against Curtis DeGroat (Woody Harrelson) in order to clear a debt.  As the law, in the form of Wesley Barnes (Forest Whitaker) get no results, Russell takes matters in his own hands.

                The bare knuckle fights are brutal to watch.  So is the sex scene in which Curtis does his lady in the hot tub.  The question is that do we all need to see this?  Of course it enhances the credibility of the story, but Cooper’s film is at time hard to watch.  Affleck is excellent and in shape for his role as the fighter and Bale plays the angry brother out for revenge the best he can play angry, which is pretty well.  Harrelson is plain ugly in the role that everyone in the audience loves to hate.

                OUT OF THE FURNACE ends up a compelling though difficult watch because of its grisly content.  Cooper succeeds well directing this piece and here’s hoping his next project will be more pleasant.     

    Trailer: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mn5KB1y-HDE


    Best Bets of the Week:

    Best Film Opening: Out of the Furnace

    Best Horror: Oldboy

    Best Animation: Frozen

    Best Action: Homefront

    Best Documentary: Spinning Plates

  • Hot Doc Soup December - Gore Vidal: The United States of Amnesia

    HOT DOC SOUP (Dec 4,5 2013)


    Hot Docs is pleased to announce that December’s Doc Soup will present the Toronto premiere of GORE VIDAL: THE UNITED STATES OF AMNESIA (D: Nicholas Wrathall, USA, 89 min.) An official selection of the 2013 Tribeca Film Festival, GORE VIDAL: THE UNITED STATES OF AMNESIA will screen on Wednesday, December 4, at 6:30 p.m. and 9:15 p.m., and on Thursday, December 5, at 6:45 p.m. at the Bloor Hot Docs Cinema, 506 Bloor St. West. Filmmaker Nicholas Wrathall will be in attendance to introduce the film and answer questions following the screenings.

    Single tickets for GORE VIDAL: THE UNITED STATES OF AMNESIA 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 atwww.hotdocs.ca, in person at the Bloor Hot Docs Cinema box office, or by phone at 416-637-5150.

    Upcoming screening dates for Toronto’s Doc Soup are January 8 and 9, February 5 and 6, March 5 and 6 and April 2 and 3. Doc Soup titles are announced at least one month prior to their screenings and, whenever possible, guest directors are in attendance.




    Directed by Nicholas Wrathall


    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 the book of one of the worst movies of all time – MYRA BRECKINRIDGE.  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 films 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. have forgotten what they stood for.

  • TIFF Cinematheque - The Coen Brothers

    TIFF Cinematheque presents – The Coen Brothers

    Ethan produces, Joel directs and both write the scripts.  Among them are Oscar winners at the Oscars and Palme d’Ors at Cannes and indeed the best films of the decade.  Just before their Christmas Day release of their newest hit INSIDE LLEWYN DAVIS, TIFF Cinematheque presents a retrospective of most of their films.

    These are my favourite TOP 5 Coen Brothers films in alphabetical order:

    BURN AFTER READING (not screened at the retrospective unfortunately)





    Their films are characterized by stylized set pieces, kinky violence, ripe dialogue and over the top characters.  The characters are sometimes too dumb (Tim Blake Nelson’s Delmar in O BROTHER WHERE ART THOU?, too literary for their own realization (John Turturro’s BARTON FINK) or too mart for their own good (Gabriel Byrne’s gangster in MILLER’S CROSSING).

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


    Capsule Reviews of 4 of the Coen Brothers Films are provided below:-




    BARTON FINK (USA 1991) ***

    Directed by Joel Coen


    The strangest of al the Coen films, BARTON FINK tells the story of a NYC playwright (John  Turturro) who is hired and moves to Hollywood to write film scripts.  Fink stays at the rundown Earle Hotel in which the wallpaper peels and the temperature too high.  He meets the neighbor in the next room, Charlie, who he confides in (John Goodman) but who might not be what he seems.  Complications arise when he gets writer’s block and falls in love with a fellow writer’s girlfriend, Audrey Taylor (Judy Davis) who ends up murdered in a surrealistic scene.  The film contains lots of references to the Bible, other writers, Hollywood moguls, that would make interesting discussion.  But the story meanders along with quite he few events unexplained.  But the sets especially the burning walls at the film’s climax are unforgettable.  Barton Fink is an idealist whose writing is not appreciated by the commercial Hollywood producers.  Ironically, this film, which is not half bad, only made 2/3 of its budget when released even though it won the Palme d’Or at Cannes as ell as awards for Best Director and Best Actor.

    BLOOD SIMPLE (to be posted)


    MILLER’S CROSSING (USA 1990) ****

    Directed by Joel Coen


    One of the lesser seen and lesser successes of the Coen Brothers, MILLER”S CROSING made only $5 million on its $14 million budget  But the film has won critical acclaim nevertheless.  The story sees an American city during the prohibition era run by two rival bosses, one Italian, Johnny Caspar (John Polito) and the other Irish , Leo O’Bannon (Albert Finney).  The protagonist of the piece is Tom (Gabriel Byrne) who plays both sides.  Every act is almost perfect in its setting from the stylized set-ups, choreographed movements to the superb acting.  The script contains lots of jargon with lots of nicknames for each character that might get a bit confusing at first.  But Coen’s film demands attention to reap its rewards.  The assassination scene at MILLER”S CROSSING in the woods is reminiscent of the betrayal scene in Bernardo Bertolucci’s THE CONFORMIST.

    O BROTHER, WHERE ART THOU? (USA 2000) ****

    Directed by Joel Coen


                Based loosely on Homer’s The Odyssey, this is an immensely enjoyable film on many levels, one of them being the music.  With period folk music including that of Virginia bluegrass singer Ralph Stanley, the soundtrack went on to win a Grammy for the Album of the year 2001.  Set in 1937 Mississippi, the plot revolves around three escaped convicts.  Everett (George Clooney) is too smart for his own good while Delmar (Tim Blake Nelson) too dumb for anyone’s good.  Pete (John Turturro) is right there in between.  Their search for the lost treasure of $1.2 million leads the trio to a series of adventures including escaping the Ku-Klux Klan and singing a top hit song as the Soggy Bottom Boys.  Those who are familiar with Homer’s Odyssey will have the additional bonus of identifying the various characters in the film with that of The Odyssey (Everett is Ulysses; Everett’s wife is Penelope; the blind station manager is Homer etc.)

  • This Week's Film Reviews (Nov 29, 2013)

    The U.S. Thanksgiving this week sees a lot of early Wednesday openings.  These include BLACK NATIVITY, OLDBOY, FROZEN and HOMEFRONT.  More opening Friday that include THE ARMSTRONG LIE and PHILOMENA.

    The Coen Brothers retrospective begin at the TIFF Cinematheque.


    frozenposterba oldboyposterba homefrontposterba 

    FILM REVIEWS:  (more to be posted Friday)


    Directed by Alex Gibney


                THE ARMSTRONG LIE refers to the big lie sports cyclist celebrity American Lance Armstrong told the world that included his fans, his sponsors, his family and his friends.  Finally in 2013, he admits to telling the big lie on the Oprah show resulting in the wrath of everyone.

    Lance Armstrong had already won the title 7 times for Le Tour De France by 2009.  He was then struck with cancer.  Coming back and intending to be clean, he admits doing sports enhancing drugs.  The doc documents all the people involved he has damaged by going on to say that he has lied.  And on and on and on.  It is easy to see the reason Gibney included all the footage as it was likely a lot of work to get what he shown on screen.  But a lot of the footage is the same variation of the same lie.  It is not necessary to know all the people involved with the lie.

    But is more interesting in the film is to watch how a person like Armstrong can lie so defiantly on record.  A film like this shows the lowest behaviour in human beings.  And Armstrong comes across as just that – a lying, cheating over egoistic son of a bitch who will stop at nothing to further his own selfish aims (yes, a bit like Toronto’s major Rob Ford.)

                Running overlong at over two hours, Gibney could have easily cut a more concise 90 minute film.  Gibney did a whole lot of summarizing during the film’s last 10 minutes to bring it to an effective conclusion. He could have done so for the other rest of the film.

    Fortunately Mongrel Media that is releasing this doc on low life scum like Lance Armstrong also has a doc on a saint that sacrifices all for the children in India entitled BLOOD BROTHER that should be seen to redeem ones faith in the human race.

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


    BLACK NATIVITY (USA 2013) **

    Directed by Kasi Lemmons


                Kasi Lemmons (EVE’S BAYOU) proves herself too serious a director for the new African American contemporary update of the Nativity story, based on Langston Hughes’ celebrated play.

    The film follows Langston (Jacob Latimore), a street-wise teen from Baltimore raised by a single mother, as he journeys to New York City to spend the Christmas holiday with his estranged grandparents Reverend Cornell and Aretha Cobbs (Forest Whitaker and Angela Bassett).  Unwilling to live by the imposing Reverend Cobbs' rules, a frustrated Langston is determined to return home to his mother, Naima (Jennifer Hudson). Langston embarks on a surprising and inspirational journey and along with new friends, and a little divine intervention, he discovers the true meaning of faith, healing, and family.

    If the above story sounds too much even at Christmas, it is.

    The songs vary from Gospel to rap.  But none stand out, and some just really awful (motherless child).  The film moves predictably towards the end when the entire family reunites in the church with Christian love and the congregation applauding.  I never knew I had so many goose pimples.

    Acting is just horrendous.  But what can one expect?  Whitaker is unable to save the show and his dead seriousness in the role of the grandfather makes this worse.  As for the kid Latimore, I have never seen any live person who can pout as much as him.  Mary J. Blige has a cameo role as a white-haired angel, if that is not enough to make one choke.

                Lemmons emphasis the story milking it for every once of sentiment and song.

    It is all a case of too much sweetness that it leaves an awful bad taste in the mouth.  (See Image above)  The best I can do is to politely shrug as I left the cinema at the end of the film.



    FROZEN (USA 2013) ***

    Directed by Chris Buck and Jennifer Lee


    Disney’s FROZEN is a wintry fairy tale set in a fairy tale like Kingdom of Arendelle, based loosely on THE SNOW QUEEN by the Brothers Grimm.

    The story involves two Princesses of Arendelle: Elsa (stage star of RENT Idina Menzel), the soon-to-be Queen, and Anna (Kristen Bell).  Elsa has the ability to create snow and ice, yet has been suppressing these powers after a traumatic childhood incident involving her sister. After letting her icy powers get out of hand during her official July coronation, she goes into hiding, only for her emotions to trigger a magical, eternal winter that freezes the whole kingdom of Arendelle in solid ice. The arrogant Duke of Weselton (Alan Tudyk) plots to turn everyone against “the monster” Elsa for his own devilish needs.   Sister, Anna, a fearless and daring optimist, journeys to find Anna to save the day.

    The film is a bit serious for the typical Disney outing like the recent TANGLED, for example.  But when she teams up with extreme mountain man Kristoff (Jonathan Groff and reindeer sidekick Sven in an epic journey, encountering mystical trolls, a comical snowman named Olaf (Josh Gad), the film turns into lighter, comical mode.  No need to say more abut the film as the happily ever after ending is expected.

    The film poses a few but not insurmountable problems.  For one, there are two beaus that Anna must decide on.  But the script conveniently turns the first romancer into the bad guy.  The opportunity of humour is less than in other animate features as the film’s tone is more serious in nature.  But characters such as Olaf save the day.  The lack of a super villain also hampers a more exiting climax.

    FROZEN contains more songs than the typical Disney animation though only ‘the first is forever’ is memorable.  The voice characterizations are mostly done by stage performers except for the lead Kristen Bell, likely to keep production costs down.  But the animation is impressive, the one with Anna crossing the ice bridge as it forms demanding mention.

    For holiday (American Thanksgiving and Christmas) entertainment, FROZEN should satisfy but it does not stand out as one of Disney’s more memorable outings.



    HAWKING (UK 2013) ***

    Directed by Stephen Finnigan


    From his first book, ‘A Brief History of Time”, Professor and Doctor Stephen Hawkins has astounded the world for two reasons.  Hawkins is arguably the most intelligent physicist still alive, and he has outlived his disease of ALs to the current age of 70.

    HAWKING is the exhaustive and comprehensive story of this great man – humbled by the disease that sees a totally functioning mind in a totally failing body.  The film also tracks his years from boy to undergraduate to doctor to author to the present right through two marriages.  The film also contains extensive interviews with his first wife Jane, who were wed with Stephen for more than a decade.  The voice heard through most of the film is that of Hawking before losing his ability to speak.

    Physics especially the mathematics governing it is not something the layperson can easily understand.  Though a film critic at present, I am an engineer by profession who studied two years of Physics in University.  I can attest that the mathematics is both scary and difficult,  But director Finnigan allows a few of the scientific intellectuals have their say.  They speak of the concept of singularity and how the past has to be proven to be affected or unaffected by the present with the math that includes symbols of summation and probability density on paper.  The diagrams on paper are what I recall to be similar to those found in my Quantum Physics studies.  Though what is seen on screen brings back fond memories, they also recall hours of trying to comprehend the incomprehensible.

    The film is fascinating primarily of its subject and how Hawking has survived so many near death experiences.  It is also good to see how a human being has endured and won in his fight with the Grim Reaper.  Also, that there are two good women who love and have given up their lives o be with a helpless man.

    Ultimately HAWKING is less a documentary about science o about survival but about the triumph of the human spirit over the greatest adversity.  Director Finnigan realizes this power of his film and fortunately gets his audience to feel the film’s highs.

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


    HOMEFRONT (USA 2013) ****

    Directed by Gary Fleder


    This film has been touted as the film written by Sylvester Stallone.  To the Stallion’s credit, scripts penned by him are actually quite good, a good example being the Oscar winning ROCKY which he starred and wrote.  Being in countless action films, this is one man who knows his action material.

    The most noticeable thing about HOMEFRONT is the tension that Stallone builds before each fight scene.  At the start, the bully taunts the girl so much that when she eventually breaks his nose, the audience is at the point of cheering.  The same goes when the protagonist Phil Broker has an encounter with the baddies.  The torture segment also goes beyond the limit so that the audience is really riling before Broker gets his punches in.  All this make perfect sense as director Fleder and writer Stallone pushes all the right though violent buttons.

    The story has ex DEA agent Broker (Jason Statham) moving his daughter to new town.  But the quiet that he expects is dashed when the bully his daughter had beaten up turns out to be the nephew of the meth drug lord, Gator Bodine (James Franco).  Stallone’s script is smart enough to create a plausible villain who has same good points and business sense.  He understands the meth business – which is that it is the distribution that counts.  But the compromise is a less evil villain.  The real nasty one with absolutely no redeeming qualities is Cyrus, and it is a shame that Broker has to fight Gator after Cyrus, forming a sort of anti-climax in the film.  The story also assumes that Gator is totally over-the-top once his meth lab is destroyed.  But forming new lab is not that difficult and it is the distribution rather than the production that makes the business, as had been established earlier on.

    Kate Bosworth delivers an incredible performance, as the low life trashy mother of the bully.  She belittles her husband though is addicted to the meth her brother Gator manufactures.  Others like James Franco and Win Ryder are also good, but no one comes close to Bosworth.

    Stallone’s script contains some sentimental rubbish involving the death of Broker’s wife from cancer.  “I miss her till my stomach hurts,” cries Broker’s daughter.

    The film contains some stunning photography as it is set in the south.  The scene with Ryder driving a boat with her black hair blowing in the wind is worthy of mention.

    Despite a few minor flaws, HOMEFRONT is an action film and the film more than delivers.  It is also one of Jason Statham’s best films.

    Trailer:  http://movies.yahoo.com/video/homefront-trailer-154037823.html



    OLDBOY (USA 2013) ****

    Directed by Spike Lee


    OLDBOY is the long awaited Hollywood remake of the hit cult Korean classic made in 2003 of the same name by director Chan-wook Park.  That film grossed less than $1million in the U.S., so this remake by Spike Lee will allow the fantastic yet credible story of an imprisoned man be told.

    Spike Lee lands the director’s shoes and his adaptation of the story to the U.S. can be seen in certain scenes.  As the imprisonment takes place for 21 years (but only 15 years in the Korean original), the news of events past can be seen to include the 9/11 and the Katrina Hurricane.  (Lee made a documentary on Katrina a few years back.)  But Lee’s version is a faithful adaptation, nevertheless, having kept the two original writers  Garon Tsuchiya and Nobuaki to fashion the screenplay.

    The film contains a few segments that is distinct Lee.  When Joe finds himself imprisoned in a hotel room, there is a poster of a black bellboy with the words: ‘What Can We do To Improve Your stay?’  Later, Joe hallucinates the bellboy sitting on his bed.

    The film benefits from one of the most underrated actors of all time – Josh Brolin (OLD COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN).  He is one hell of an actor and in this film, he undergoes both an emotional and physical transformation of his character (from a full gut to a lean 6-pack abs fighting machine.)   Samuel L. Jackson plays the role of a real baddie -  a sweet talking foul mouth motherf***ing son of a bitch who takes pleasure in torture.  If one can remember the role he played in UNTHINKABLE, this role is pretty much in the same rein.

    The story centres on a hard-drinking, obnoxious advertising executive, Joe Doucette (Brolin) who loses his job and his latest client.  Joe is not a nice man.  He hits on his client’s wife, vomits on the street and drinks himself to a stupor.  Then one day, he is kidnapped and imprisoned for 21 years before being let go.  During that time, his wife is raped and murdered with him being the prime suspect.  His daughter grows up knowing very little, the police keeping the information from her in order to protect her.  But Joe is let go after 21 years.  As the ad of the movie asks: The question is not why he was imprisoned but why he was released.  Joe attempts to find the answers with the aid of a beautiful young medical worker, Marie (Elizabeth Olsen).

    For those who like a true mystery, OLDBOY more than does the trick.  No one can guess what the kidnapper stranger is up to, even at the very end.  The film has the most unexpected ending since THE SIXTH SENSE and PLANET OF THE APES.

    Being not one who fancies remakes of foreign films, OLDBOY makes a welcome surprise.  And after almost 10 years since the original was released, I had forgotten the entire story of the original.

    Trailer:  http://movies.yahoo.com/video/oldboy-trailer-2-202007328.html



    PHILOMENA (UK/Ireland 2013) ****

    Directed by Stephen Frears


    Philomena is the name of an Irish Catholic woman  who searches for her lost son, given up for adoption.  Ex-BBC reporter Martin Sixsmith (Steve Coogan) now a journalist aids her in the quest.

    It all started in 1950s Ireland, when Catholic authorities shamed thousands of "fallen" Irish women into giving their children up for adoption, with no hope of ever seeing them again.  Philomena Lee (Judi Dench) was one of these women. Director Stephen Frears tells her story in his new heartfelt drama, adapted by Steve Coogan and Jeff Pope from a celebrated book by Martin Sixsmith.  Based on that true story, Frears wrings out both tears and subtle laughter in a well-paced heart felt drama.

    Dench and Coogan complement each other just as their characters do.  Martin is cynical, angry and rude while Philomena is kind, polite and forgiving.  The script uses the best and worst of their personalities.  Lots of surprising twists too, in this human (and very gay positive) story that marks one of the best films of the year!

    Trailer:  http://trailers.apple.com/trailers/weinstein/philomena/


    Best Bets of the Week:

    Best Film Opening: Philomena

    Best Film Playing: Philomena

    Best Horror: Oldboy

    Best Animation: Frozen

    Best Action: Homefront

    Best Documentary: Hawking

  • This week's Film Reviews (Nov 22, 2013)

    Opening this week is the most anticipated film of the year THE HUNGER GAMES: CATCHING FIRE.  Everyone is looking to see how much it will gross this weekend.  On a smaller scale, Alexander Payne’s excellent NEBRASKA also opens.


    The Bette Davis retrospective continues at the TIFF Cinematheque.



    DELIVERY MAN (USA 2013) **

    Directed by Ken Scott


    The 2011 Quebec film STARBUCK was quite the hit when first screened at the Toronto International Film Festival earning it the runner up prize for the most Popular Film.  Doing also well at the box-office, Disney picked it up for an Americanized version, hiring the original director Ken Scott to write and direct the new version.

    This could be a good or bad thing.  For one, the original film, which was ok and not that impressive anyway, stays pretty much the same in the new film now called DELIVERY MAN.  It is the story of a sperm donor who fathered 533 children, all who now demand to know who their father is, despite them having singed an anonymity clause.  In the mean time, David Wozniak (Vince Vaughn) searches out his children and helps a few of them (a playwright, a hotel worker, a street performer, a lifeguard) with their lives.  Besides Steve being the delivery stock for babies, he also delivers meat and sausages from his father’s butcher business, so the title referring to either or both of these tasks.

    With a story like this and with the Advent season approaching, the film banks on lots and lots of sentiment and the feel good pulls.  The two films are too similar and the climatic scene at the end of the film when the camera looms above for the overhead shot of Steve hugging his 533 children in the hospital lobby is taken right from the first one.  The romantic subplot is just as clumsy in this one as in the original.  If you have seen the first one, which is slightly better than the new version and less sappy, the advice is not to bother with this over saccharine sweetness.  The few changes such as the protagonist changed from Italian to Polish (as Vaughn does not look a bit Italian) do not make much difference.  The title change from STARBUCK is typical of Disney Studios as not to offend anyone.

    The result is a comedy that was a bit raunchy in the Quebec version that starred Quebec hottie now turned into family fare with overweight Vaughn.  Actor Chris Pratt gained 60 pounds for his role as Steve’s buddy in the film, but it serves absolutely no purpose or makes the slightest difference.



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

    Directed by Peter Stebbings


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

    Trailer:  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ob6oEyuNxQI



    Directed by Francis Lawrence


    Based on the second of the three books that are being made into films, THE HUNGER GAMES: CATCHING FIRE looks just like that.  It is a continuation of the first story and though a bit of introduction is given on what has happened, it is best advised that one does a bit of reading up if you have not caught the first film.  The film has an abrupt end prompting the next movie (or next two movies if you will, as they have split the last novel into two films like the last HARRY POTTER franchise.)

    CATCHING FIRE is pretty much more of the same.  It is a second installment and looks just that – a high-end production of a fictitious reality show in which contestants have to kill each other off the island (instead of voting other out of the show.)  At the centre of all this is returning heroine Katniss (Oscar Winner Jennifer Lawrence) who must use her skills to win in the new Games.

    A few famous names appear in the cast (Toby Jones, Phillip Seymour Hoffman and Donald Sutherland) though they do not have much to say. This is pretty much a special effects action film, and if one can ignore minor things like character and plot development, then the film may makes more sense.  CATCHING FIRE the film serves its purpose.

    Trailer:  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EAzGXqJSDJ8



    NEBRASKA (USA 2013) ****

    Directed by Alexander Payne


    Payne’s latest road film displays the connection the director has with geography.  THE DESCENDENTS had George Clooney preserve the rights to a beautiful portion of Hawaii while the same justice was done for the wine areas in SIDEWAYS.  Though there is no fight for land in NEBRASKA, the stunning black and white cinematography parading the open spaces, mountains and rolling country is unmistakably mesmerizing.

    The story from the script, which for this time Payne did not write himself, is slight.  A son, David (Will Forte) and father Woody (Bruce Darn from FAMILY PLOT and POSSE) take a road trip to the town of Lincoln in Nebraska to claim a $1,000,000 lottery prize.  David fails to convince Woody that it is s sham but takes him there anyway.

    En route they stop at the town of Woody’s long abandoned home in the fictitious town of Hawthorne where they meet relatives and an old crony of Woody’s (Stacy Each) who all want a part of the million dollar winnings.

    Bruce Darn gives an Oscar winning performance that already won this year’s Cannes prize for Best Actor.  But Woody’s wife, the sharp-tongued Kate (June Squibb) has the best lines and steals the show. Tempers flare, old skeletons emerge from the closet and the father and son team escape a few times by the skin of their teeth.

    The end of the film has Woody and David arriving at the rundown publicity shack, the one that holds the address on the lottery ticket.  No prizes here to guess whether Woody got his million bucks.  And the lesson to all this?  Did father and son bond during the trip?  A little.  Did they learn important life lessons?  Well, perhaps.  This is the wonder of Alexander Payne’s excellent new movie – life just goes on.  One just has got to accept that and keep going on.

    Trailer:  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aA98dqgJBgQ




    Best Bets of the Week:

    Best Film Opening: Nebraska

    Best Film Playing: Blue Jasmine

    Bes Comedy: This is The End

    Best Foreign: Les Salauds (Bastards)

    Best Animation: Turbo

    Best Action: Ender’s Game

    Best Documentary: Red Obsession

  • This week's Film Reviews (Nov 15, 2013)

    Opening the week of Nov 15th


     | November 16, 2013Reply

    Opening this week are THE BEST MAN HOLIDAY and THE BOOK THIEF.

    The Bette Davis retrospective also begins at TIFF Cinematheque.





    Directed be Malcolm D. Lee


    The long waited (whether this is a good thing is yet to be debated) sequel to THE BEST MAN sees the same group of Afro Americans getting together for the Christmas holidays.  Less the audience forgets that they are viewing a Christmas movie that is released a bit too early, the captions, ‘Christmas Eve, ‘Christmas Day. ‘December 28th’ are splashed on the screen, not to mention Christmas songs played throughout the soundtrack.

    The story has old skeletons coming out of the closet.  So serious writer/director Lee is of the subject that he brings the drama o the point of a vicious catfight in front of the children. “Mother, are you all right,” cries the daughter, which shows how ridiculous the entire the film is.

    All the actors are drop dead gorgeous and hold perfect jobs and live in dream surroundings.  This is the type of Hollywood movie is so far fetched from the reality that real Afro Americans are going through.  But one can complain that there is n harm dreaming the good life.  And to put money in the pockets of the Studio executives that have come up with this idea of a movie.

    For a film about nothing, THE BEST MAN HOLIDAY stretches too long.  Lee does not know when to end his film.  The film include both a funeral and a childbirth and a climatic football game that occurs too early in which the hero must save the game not once but three times.

    Festive films contain a few good moments.  THE BEST MAN HOLIDAY contains a few, one that offers a saccharine sweet rendition of the Christmas Cantata by two tots.  Other that ha, it is best that people that a holiday from this one.  One hopes Tyler Perry’s Christmas Medea outing opening soon can be much better!




    THE BOOK THIEF (USA/Germany 2013) ***

    Directed by Brian Percival


    Advertised as the film studio that brought THE LIFE OF PI, THE BOOK THIEF shares common traits with the latter box-office success film.  For one, both films are based on best sellers, starred no big name stars and possess a magical story for its telling.  One would only guess that THE BOOK THIEF will likely not do as well, but one can never know.  PI was expected to do below $100 million despite its huge production costs but went on to make much, much more based on good word of mouth and its Oscar winning success.

    Based on the popular novel by Markus Zusak, THE BOOKTHIEF tells the tale of an orphan girl (Sophie Nelisse) who lives with her adoptive parents (Geoffrey Rush and Emily Watson) in a small German hamlet just when the Nazis were coming into power.  As a result they hide a Jew in their basement, which account for most of the film’s suspense.  Other than that, the film is an overly saccharine sweet tale of how a girl steals books and grows up to be a great writer.  Though set in dim times, the film has a fairy tale feel, as there is always snow on the ground.  The film is also narrated by an unseen ‘death’ though even if it sounds grim, death can pass up different souls to let them live.

    Nelisse is wonderful as the little girl possessing both the childlike quality and adult features necessary in her role.  Rush has the best lines while Watson has the best character role as the over stern mother who eventually warms up to the surroundings.

    Shot largely at Studio Babelsberg, the film is almost too picture perfect aided to a fault by a musical score by John Williams.

    Though many films have been made before of coming-of-age during the war, THE BOOK THIEF is still welcome entertainment despite its flaws of everything looking too perfect including the incidents that occur.  Perhaps ‘death’ could have taken a few more victims to save the movie.




    GEOGRAPHY CLUB (USA 2013) ***
    Directed by Gary Entin




    Based on the Brent Hartinger’s series of books, GEOGRAPHY CUB is a small budget film about coming-out in school while dealing with normal teen issues like bullying, girlfriends, sex and friendship.


    The film centres on hunk 16-yeear old Russell (Cameron Deane Stewart) who has a gift or sprinting making him an ideal pick for the school’s football theme.  But he is coming out gay and shares a kiss with the football quarterback Kevin (Justin Deleley).  A girl Min (Ally Maki) witnesses the kiss and gets Russell to join her GEOGRAPHY CLUB, which in reality is the secret name of a gay support group.


    GEOGRAPHY CLUB is a small well-intentioned film that serves its purpose – which is to stand up for your sexual orientation – no matter what!  The film also shows the strength of friendship, in the way Russell and his best friend stand out for each other.






    WHEN JEWS WERE FUNNY (Canada 2013) **


    Directed by Alan Zweig




                Winner of this year’s Toronto International Film Festival Best Canadian Feature, WHEN JEWS ARE FUNNY is Toronto director Alan Zweig ‘s (A HARD NAME, FAMILY SECRETS) broad survey on Jewish comedy.


                Zweig poses several questions to his interviewees, the majority of which are Jewish comics.  These questions ask: Why  are so many comedians of the 50’s and 60’s Jewish?  Is the Jewish humour derived from the hardships they have faced in the past which included the holocaust; Is Jewish humour losing its grip?  The trouble is that most of these questions are not that relevant except to Zweig himself, as can be observed by the looks on the faces of the interviewees when posed the questions.  Many respond out of politeness while others (Bob Eisntein) with a little anger.


                Zweig interviews some of America’s most successful and influential comics including Shelley Berman, Jack Carter, Shecky Greene, David Steinberg, and Super Dave Osborne.  Clips from their performances are included from archive footage providing humour in this documentary.  But noticeably missing is mention of the most famous Jewish comedians like Woody Allen and Sarah Silverman though just the names of Jack Benny and Phil Silvers are just mentioned in passing.


                Zweig never brings his material to any conclusion. But the main enjoyment from this documentary are the laughs generated by the jokes of the Jewish comics on display.







    Best Bets of the Week:

    Best Film Opening: The Book Thief

    Best Film Playing: Blue Jasmine

    Bes Comedy: This is The End

    Best Foreign: Les Salauds (Bastards)

    Best Animation: Turbo

    Best Action: Ender’s Game

    Best Documentary: Red Obsession

  • TIFF Cinematheque - Bette Davis

    The Films of Bette Davis

    TIFF Cinematheque’s Fall season of Hollywood Classics is dedicated to Bette Davis, one of the greatest actresses to emerge from the studio system. Curated by TIFF Cinematheque Senior Programmer James Quandt, this delectable tribute features 15 films that trace Davis’ four-decade evolution from glamour girl to Grande Dame to Gothic gargoyle.

    Featuring a new digital restoration of the cult classic What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? (1962), as well as a host of other Davis favourites including the film that shot her to stardom Of Human Bondage (1934), Dangerous (1935) which garnered Davis her first Best Actress Oscar win for her turn as a self-destructive, tempestuous Broadway actress, and the endlessly quotable All About Eve (1950), an Academy darling, that received a total of six Oscars that year. Also included in the retrospective are Davis’ trilogy of films from her frequent collaborator, and favourite director, William Wyler, referred to as “the male Bette Davis” by Davis herself, including the superb Malay-set noir, The Letter (1940); the powerful costume drama, Jezebel (1938); and the viciously entertaining adaptation of the Lillian Hellman play, The Little Foxes (1941).

    The Hard Way: The Films of Bette Davis runs at TIFF Bell Lightbox from November 15 to December 8, 2013.

    See below for complete schedule.

    Of Human Bondage

    dir. John Cromwell | USA 1934 | 83 min. | PG | 35mm
Bette Davis finally became a star with her performance as a blowsy, malicious Cockney waitress who manipulates and torments the sensitive painter (Leslie Howard) who loves her.
Friday, November 15, 6:30 p.m.

    The Letter

    dir. William Wyler | USA 1940 | 95 min. | PG | 35mm
An ice-cold murderess (Bette Davis) plots to recover the incriminating letter that could send her to the gallows, in William Wyler's superb Malay-set noir.
Saturday, November 16, 4:30 p.m.

    All About Eve

    dir. Joseph L. Mankiewicz | USA 1950 | 138 min. | PG | Digital
The bitchery is exquisite, the invective divine in Joseph L. Mankiewicz's classic, Academy Award-winning tale of backstage ambition and deceit.
Sunday, November 17, 1:00 p.m.

    Now, Voyager

    dir. Irving Rapper | USA 1942 | 118 min. | PG | 35mm
Bette Davis goes from frumpy to fabulous as a repressed spinster who blossoms after emerging from psychoanalysis, in this classic romantic melodrama.
 Tuesday, Nov 19th 630 pm

    The Great Lie

    dir. Edmund Goulding | USA 1941 | 108 min. | PG | 35mm
Bette Davis stars opposite Mary Astor (who won the Best Supporting Actress Oscar for her performance) in this tale of two women who discover that they are married to the same man.
Saturday, November 30, 4:15 p.m.


    dir. Alfred E. Green | USA 1935 | 79 min. | PG | 35mm
Bette Davis won her first Academy Award for Best Actress in this story of an alcoholic, self-destructive former Broadway star who makes a final bid to return to the Great White Way.
Tuesday, December 3, 6:30 p.m.

    Three on a Match

    dir. Mervyn LeRoy | USA 1932 | 64 min. | PG | 35mm
Three childhood friends (Bette Davis, Joan Blondell and Ann Dvorak) tempt fate when they violate the old superstition about lighting three cigarettes on one match, in this crackling pre-Code drama.
Friday, December 6, 6:30 p.m.

    What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?

    New digital restoration!

    dir. Robert Aldrich | USA 1962 | 132 min. | 14A | Digital
Robert Aldrich's Grand Guignol cult classic about a pair of aged, ex-starlet sisters (Bette Davis and Joan Crawford) bound together in bitter (and lethal) rivalry in a fetid Hollywood villa returns in a special fiftieth anniversary digital restoration.
Saturday, December 7, 4:00 p.m.

    Hush... Hush, Sweet Charlotte

    dir. Robert Aldrich | USA 1964 | 133 min. | 14A | 35mm
Bette Davis reunited with director Robert Aldrich following their unexpected hit What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? for another mossy modern Gothic, about a reclusive Southern spinster who becomes the target of a murderous family plot.
Sunday, December 8, 4:30 p.m.

    (writeup above courtesy of TIFF Cinematheque)

    CAPSULE REVIEWS for 4 of her films are provided below, screeners provided by courtesy of TIFF Cinematheque.  All these 4 films won Davis Oscar nominations for Best Actress.

    ALL ABOUT EVE (USA 1950) ****

    Directed by Joseph L. Mankiewicz


                High drama begins backstage when an innocent young Eve Harrington (Anne Baxter) meets her idol Margot Channing of the stage (Bette Davis), introduced by her best friend (Celeste Holm).  Eve turns out to be not that innocent and plots to take over an important role in a new play written specifically for Margot.  At the centre of all this is the excellent George Sanders playing the most dislikeable play critic Addison DeWitt.  Mankiewicz’s film contains two of the best scenes ever staged.  One has Bette Davis freaking out and giving off her spill on what the evil Eve has been up to while pleading for every ounce of sentiment from her disgusted friends and the other has Celeste Holm laughing her head off at the dinner table after realizing how ironic fate had turned out.

    DARK VICTORY (USA 1939) **

    Directed by Edmund Goulding


    Bette Davis plays Judith Traherne, a young, carefree, hedonistic Long Island socialite who suffers from headaches, dizziness and lost of sight and balance.  She has what she believes is a malignant tumor that is removed by Dr. Steele (George Brent).  Dr. Steele hides the fact that the tumor will recur again.  Judith has a few months to live.  This is the story of how she finds out, and how she deals with the fact while romancing the good doctor.  Based on a play and scripted by Casey Robinson, the film unfortunately does not work.  Davis looks like a spoilt adult kid half the time that the audience can hardly care for.  In one scene, Judith’s best friend, Ann (Geraldine Fitzgerald) can only describe Judith’s best qualities as never ever being mean.  This is so laughable and one can only imagine this trait being possible only with the rich and famous who have never experienced suffering.  The segment in which Humphrey Bogart (as a stable hand) expresses his love for her is just as silly.  Davis won an Oscar nomination for her role despite the fact that she has likely delivered the most outrageous performance (pretending to be blind, groping around) of her career.

    THE LETTER (USA 1940) ****
    Directed by William Wyler


    The first few minutes of THE LETTER shows Bette Davis firing a number of shots into the body of her lover while prancing around like diva as if life hardly matters.  She, Leslie Crosbie then recounts the events to her husband (Herbert Marshall) so cool and calculated a state that it seems she is hamming it up.  Under the hands of a less talented director or actress, all that befalls on screen could be dismissed as melodramatic rubbish, but under the direction of William Wyler and with the grand performance of Bette Davis, THE LETTER succeeds as melodrama at its peak and most effective.  Leslie, the rubber plantation manager’s wife (Davis) is arrested for murder and would be acquitted except for the existence of a letter that compromises her case.  She buys the letter, which proves her infidelity, which is gradually exposed at the film’s end.  Wyler shoots his melodrama with the greatest seriousness, specially the scene in which Davis meets the Eurasian widow in order to purchase the letter.  The locals are stereotyped with the greatest hilarity but the film also excels in the wry humour all around the film’s plot.  The shot of the lawyer’s sleazy Chinese clerk opening the car door of his employer followed by him driving off in his own car is priceless.  The film is based on the play of the same name by gay British playwright W. Somerset Maugham whose stories always ridicules (like this one) the institution of marriage.


    Directed by Robert Aldrich


                Robert Aldrich’s camp classic (his other being THE KILLING OF SISTER GEORGE) written by often collaborator Lukas Heller, has the ageing Bette Davis now playing a gothic gargoyle, child star Baby Jane Hudson now living in her faded glory looking after her crippled sister, star Blanche (Joan Crawford).  When Blanche acquires new fame when her old films are played on TV, Jane Hudson’s jealousy gets the better of her.  Jane tortures her poor sister (dead bird on her dinner platter; snide remarks; tossing away her personal letters) who is desperately tying to call outside the villa for help.  Aldrich’s film moves like a real horror story in which a helpless protagonist’s fate lies in the hands of a crazed sister.   One must hand it to Davis (she won an Oscar nomination) for doing this incredible role of a real ugly monster covered in over-caked make-up and shuffling around in oversized slippers.  This is a digital restoration print screening marking the film's 50th anniversary.

  • This Week's Film Reviews (Nov 7, 2013)

    THOR: THE DARK WORLD opens this week and should take a big chunk at the box-office.  Two highly charged emotional dramas open as well, one straight THE BROKEN CIRCLE BREAKDOWN and the other gay BLUE IS THE WARMEST COLOUR if you want to watch something more down-to-earth.






    Directed by Felix van Groeningen


    The first few minutes of the film which shows the little daughter Maybelle getting cancer treatments at the hospital while her parents wrestle with their daughter’s fate sets the angry tone of the film.  This is the story of the stormy relationship of tattoo artist Elise (Veerle Baetens) and banjo-playing bluegrass musician Didier (Johan Heldenbergh) put to the ultimate test when Maybelle eventually dies early in the film.  Elise joins the band and the band does well.

    The film is intensely authentic with the fights and screaming.  But we have seen films like this before in which each parent blames the other for the death.  Elise blames Didier’s family cancer history while he on her smoking and drinking the few months of pregnancy.  Though there is validity in their arguments (Elise did not realize she was pregnant the first weeks and it is not fair to blame family history), it is really annoying to watch lots of screaming and shouting knowing that the result is a lose/lose situation.

    Heldenbergh wrote the play in which this film is based and it gives him too much opportunity to vent his anger at worldly issues.  The film takes the audience through full circle of life from meeting, romance, love, parenthood and death.  There is a long vent at American President George Bush’s veto on cell stem research in the U.S. and an even longer display of anger at God after one of the band’s performances.  With shouting like that, one would hardly take the side of Heldenbergh even though one might agree with the issues because of his extreme obnoxious behavior.

    Director Groeningen shoots his film in non-chronological order jumping all over the place.  Didier and Elise’s first meeting is seen midway during the film and Elise’s suicide at the film’s start (therefore not being a spoiler in this review).  The narrative is hugely compromised as a result with the success of the film built entirely on drama of the relationship.

    The film lasts almost two hours.  It is quite a chore to watch two unlikeable characters dish it out with each other.  The only watchable segments are the band’s on stage performances.  The soundtrack album containing a mix of traditional and original bluegrass compositions became a bestseller in Belgium.




    Directed by John Krokidas


    Set in the Beat Generation years of the 1943, New Jersey, KILL YOUR DARLINGS is the story of a young Allen Ginsberg (Daniel Radcliffe) and William S. Burroughs (Ben Foster) embroiled in the notorious 1944 murder of Burroughs’ friend

    David Kammerer (Michael C. Hall), which their friend Lucien Carr (Dane DeHaan) is suspect.

    Krokidas who co-wrote the script plays with the law and with his film as a whodunit.  But the revelation of the murder is observed by flashback, which kills the mystery so created.  The interaction of the literary figures are also examined in the film but Krokidas cannot concentrate on what his film should be about.

    Though the atmosphere is effectively created, aided by an impressive musical score that includes a few bright tunes to liven up the proceedings, KILL YOUR DARLINGS is still a rather boring piece of work that seems to have no goal.

    The script hinders any of the performances to shine outright, but Krokidas’ film does have a few moving segments in between.




    THE HUMAN SCALE (Denmark 2012) ***


    Directed by Andreas M. Dalsgard




    THE HUMAN SCALE is about people and cities.  Like a travelogue, the film takes the audience across the globe from China, to Denmark to the U.S. to explore city planning and how people live.  Though the film appears quite ‘ordinary’ at the start, the film grows more intriguing as it progresses.


    To make his point, director Dalsgard choses certain architects that the film follows as they plan and improve cities.  One is the Danish architect Jan Gehl.  His studies include a physical count of the number of pedestrians that walk past a street corner, what they are doing, how they interact and so on.  And in relation to these, how the street is performing according to these users.  Cities around the world like Melbourne, Dhaka, New York (the most fascinating segment of the film), Chongqing and Christchurch are examples inspired by his work.


    THE HUMAN SCALE is a film that flows smoothly from one segment or one city to another.  Not much concentration enough is required to absorb Dalsgard material.  But the film is nevertheless eye-opening and those who have seen this film would definitely want to visit Copenhagen, which is prided as the most people-oriented of all the cites in the world.


    OIL SANDS KARAOKE (Canada 2013) ***
    Directed by Charles Wilkinson




    OIL SANDS KARAOKE is a Canadian documentary set in Fort McMurray, Alberta around 5 oil workers vying to win the local karaoke contest at the local Bailey’s bar.  The 5 are from different backgrounds but they share the common aim of making fast money in a remote and cold environment.  They are aware of the environmental issues surrounding their work.


    There have been many documentaries centering on a contest involving several contestants.  These usually get the audience to root fro a few with the end result of the competition forming the climax of the film.  SPELLBOUND dealt with the national spelling bee while MAD HOT BALLROOM on kids’ ballroom dancing.  But in Wilkinson’s film, there is no one that is the underdog or favorite.  The result is a rather climaxless film though the film concentrates on other issues.


    The karaoke contest is not the most interesting part of the movie.  Though the 5 croon out sing-along tunes, the work they are involved in is more captivating.  The huge trucks drive, the spoilt landscape (also seen in WATERMARK), and the private lives of the 5 form more intriguing fodder.






    THOR: THE DARK WORLD (USA 2013) ***

    Directed by Alan Taylor


    From the film’s opening shot, the voiceover narrative goes into a length full explanation of what has happened to the universe as well as its present state.  The universe was in total darkness because of the Dark Elves.  The explanation deals with Bor, father of Odin (Anthony Hopkins) who vanished the Dark Elves led by Malekith (Christopher Eccleston) using a force known as the Aether.  Meanwhile on Asgard, Loki (Tom Hiddleston) stands before Odin and sentenced to life imprisonment.  And meanwhile again, our hero Thor (Chris Hemsworth) alongside warriors Fandral, Volstagg and Sif, who the audience does not see again till the end of the film, repel enemies making peace in the Nine Realms.

    If all this sounds a bit too much, the film’s story goes into more confusing mode with Thor and his astrophysicist girl friend, Jane Foster (Natalie Portman) who somehow carries the Aether force inside her.  What is truly incomprehensible about all this is not the story but the way the audience is drawn into the world of Thor, no matter how illogical everything is.  If one throws logic and reasoning to the wind and goes with the flow, the result will be mindless entertainment.

    The film’s climax has for example, creatures appearing and disappearing out of nowhere as a result of the alignment of the Nine Realms which somehow takes place at Greenwich on the outskirts of London.  The scene in which the collector having given the Aether to safe keep, who then remarks: “One down and five to go,” also makes little sense to most.

    Never mind the logic of the outer world but the script throws away reality as well.  In one funny scene, Thor takes the underground at Charing Cross Station and asks a fellow passenger where to get off for Greenwich.  “Three stops”, is her reply.  But there is not Greenwich stop on the tube in London except for North Greenwich, which is far from Charing Cross and requires a change at Waterloo Station.  One wonders whether the print in the U.K. has a different editing.

    Those who stay for the end credits will be glad they did.  Half way through the end of the credits, a major plot twist (though unexplained) is revealed.  And yet another revelation when all the end credits are done.

    Will THOR 2 make enough money?  The film already grossed more than a million worldwide before opening in North America.  This might be the film that will take 2013 out of the box-office doldrums.





    Never mind the logic of the outer world but the script throws away reality as well.  In one funny scene, Thor takes the underground at Charing Cross Station and asks a fellow passenger where to get off for Greenwich.  “Three stops”, is her reply.  But there is not Greenwich stop on the tube in London except for North Greenwich, which is far from Charing Cross and requires a change at Waterloo Station.  One wonders whether the print in the U.K. has a different editing.


    Those who stay for the end credits will be glad they did.  Half way through the end of the credits, a major plot twist (though unexplained) is revealed.  And yet another revelation when all the end credits are done.


    Will THOR 2 make enough money?  The film already grossed more than a million worldwide before opening in North America.  This might be the film that will take 2013 out of the box-office doldrums.




    LA VIE D’ADELE (1 &2)

    (BLUE IS THE WARMEST COLOUR) (France 2013) ***  

    Directed by Abdellatif Kechiche


    The odd title BLUE IS THE WARMEST COLOUR has nothing to do with the French translation of THE LIFE OF ADELE.  Blue is the Emma’s dyed hair and also of the dress that Adele wears at the end of the film to Emma’s Exhibition.

    This is a 3-hour lesbian film, the sound of it sufficient to drive audiences away in droves.  But the film did win Cannes Palme d’Or this year.  The film does drag on and thee is no break between the two parts.  The film generally charts the life of Adele (Adele Exarchopoulos) from the age of 15 at school to her sexual awakening.  She finds no sexual attraction to the boy she dates, who eventually dumps her.  She meets blue haired Emma (Lea Seydoux) and many long and repeated sex scenes result with lots of moaning and groaning.  The sexual scenes are erotic enough but one can even tire of too much of a good thing.  There is not much anticipation in the story.

    The final confrontation between Emma and Adele when Emma finds that she has been cheated for a boy seems forced from Emma’s part.  And what has the boy have to say, as he just conveniently disappears.  But the reason of the breakup, which implies that their relationship has not grown and grounded too much in sex, is nevertheless quite accurate.  A 3-hour mixed bag of tricks!




    Best Bets of the Week:

    Best Film Opening: Thor: The Dark World/Blue is the Warmest Colour

    Best Film Playing: Blue Jasmine

    Bes Comedy: This is The End

    Best Foreign: Les Salauds (Bastards)

    Best Animation: Turbo

    Best Action: Ender’s Game

    Best Documentary: Red Obsession

  • Reel Asian Fim Festival 2013


    The 17th REELASIAN Film Festival runs from November 5th to the 15th in downtown Toronto and Richmond Hill.  Besides films, the festival offers other events such as dance performances, galleries, talks and industry seminars.

    There is a retrospective of Toronto filmmaker Richard Fung’s works that include the screening of 3 of his films as well as his personal appearance.

    This year the festival expands to include films from South Asia.  Countries now include India and Pakistan.  The opening night gala is BOMBAY TALKIES that comprise four films from 4 well-known Mumbai directors.

    For prices, ticket venues, full listing of programs, please check the website at:


    Capsule Reviews from selected films are provided below.  Online streaming of these films is provided, courtesy of Reel Asian.

    CONFESSION OF MURDER (South Korea 2013) ****

    Directed by Jeong Byeong-gil (director in attendance)


    This impressive edgy action packed film includes an over-the-top exciting car chase that will put Hollywood blockbusters to shame.  The story concerns a cat and mouse chase between a detective, Lt. Choi (Jeong Jae-yeong) and a serial killer of 10 women.  10 years after the murders were committed and after the statute of limitations has passed, Lee Du-seok (heart throb Park Si-hoo) reveals himself as a killer only to publish a book on the murders that turn out to be a massive best seller hit.  But another character J also reveals himself as the killer providing doubt if Lee is an imposter promoting his book.  The script has many plot twists that should keep audiences thinking.  The fight scenes are a little too animated but it fits into the general feel of the film.  But CONFESSION OF MURDER is top notch entertainment – never mind the foul language, which at least is not translated into subtitles.


    Directed by Ramona S. Diaz


    Winner of the Audience Award at Palm Springs International Film Festival, this crowd pleasing documentary charts the rise to fame of Filipino Arnel Pineda.  Arnel is the charismatic but odd replacement (being Asian) of the lead singer Steve Perry whose voice is recognized in classics like the song name of the film’s title.  With exclusive footage of Arnell – singing goofing it up; talking about his life and experiences – it might seem that the film is an ego trip for the man who found fame through his voice.  But his adrenaline flowing performances are nothing short of stunning and should get your juices flowing.  Arnel’s rough childhood following the death of his mother, his rehabilitation from drugs an alcohol, diligence and humility amidst racism and expectations all make this documentary even more interesting.


    FARAH GOES BANG (USA 2013) **

    Directed by Meera Menon


    FARAH GOES BANG is a free-wheeling road trip movie that follows three 20somethings as they embark on a John Kerry campaign trail.  FARAH is also intent to lose her virginity and her two friends are here to help.  They meet an assortment of characters, a few good and a few bad, and they learn a few life lessons on their way.  The trouble with Menon’s movie is that it tries too hard to be cool and ends up pretentious.  All the characters the trio meets pop up too conveniently and one knows that Farah will eventually meet ‘the right one’.  The trio also swears too much for its own good as if swearing depicts the desired freedom one desires in girls who past their late teens.  Annoying to a point, these are three creatures that would have done John Kerry more harm than good.

  • This Week's Film Reviews (Nov1, 2013)

    Lots of new openings this week to choose from!  Among them the excellent DALLAS BUYERS CLUB about AIDS drugs, MAN OF TAI CHI, LAST VEGAS and FREE BIRDS 3D.


    Also opening at TIFF Bell Lightbox is the Cronenberg retrospective.


    DALLAS BUYERS CLUB (USA 2013) ****

    Directed by Jean-Marc Vallee


    Homophobe Rodney Woodroof, (Matthew McConaughey) is diagnosed with AIDs and given 30 days to live.  He sources FDA unapproved drugs outside the U.S. (Mexico, Japan…) and sells membership at $400 a month into the DALLAS BUYERS CLUB which grants free access drugs for HIV and AIDs sufferers. This sounds like a very intense, depressing and dramatized film.  Fortunately, under the expertise of director Jean-Marc Valee (C.R.A.Z.Y., YOUNG VICTORIA), DALLAS BUYERS CLUB turns out to be a controlled, insightful and occasionally uplifting piece of work aided by outstanding performances.

    The success of a film about terminally chronic characters would understandably depend on the actors’ performances.  McConaughey who, as everyone knows, had shed loads of muscle to inhabit the role of a scrawny sick patient delivers an Oscar worthy performance.  But it is Jared Leto as his drag queen business partner Rayon who steals the show in a performance that guarantees an Oscar for Best Supporting Role.  If his Rayon does your swell up your tears, you should seriously check your emotions.  Other supporting roles by Steve Zahn and Jennifer Garner are just as impressive.

    The story of Woodroof is simple enough.  Diagnosed with the illness, he discovers help in unapproved drugs, which he obtains and sells to desperate patients who would do anything not to die.  The Feds and the FDA swoop down to stop him in another tale of the underdog fighting the big companies. Woodroof is aided in his fight by the very people he despises.

    Vallee hits the right notes and knows how to play the audience.  As expected, the supermarket scene in which Woodrow would finally protect the gay person he initially despised is firecracker material.  The film plays out well despite its rather predictable story.  The drama is at least controlled though effective.

    DALLAS BUYERS CLUB would be the rare film about a gay disease that has a central straight character that undergoes a change of heart.  Hopefully, the target audience will not be only gay or only straight people but for both who would be able to get some insight of the drugs fight to save people with AIDs.



    THE DISAPPEARED (Canada 2013) **

    Directed by Shandi Mitchell


    From Nova Scotia, a Canadian Atlantic Province comes a film about a shipwreck survival or non-survival, depending how one looks at director Mitchell’s account.

    When the film opens, a sordid band of misfits are found in two lifeboats after what apparently occurred was a shipwreck.  Director Mitchell, who penned the script gives no detail of what happened.  Of course, what happened would not affect what would transpire but if he wants the audience to feel for his characters, it would be best if he delivered some detail.  But there is a captain (Brian Downey) who somehow managed to obtain a gun, several mates and a young kid, Dickie who is bullied half the time.

    For a film about a shipwreck, the film does not contain lots of scenes of open water and the boat.  In fact, the feeling of claustrophobia is eminent from start to finish of the film – in the sense that there is nowhere to go in the boats.  Being in Atlantic waters, the cold is felt more than the heat.  The foggy atmosphere and rain comes down more than the sunshine.  Of course, what is expected occurs.  Tempers flair, the men argue and fight, drink and make merry, laugh and cry.  That is pretty much what happens during the 90 minutes screen time.  Mitchell bothers not with life lessons, action scenes, suspense or tips on survival skills.  The result is a very dry film, despite water, water everywhere.

    Mitchell opts for a noncommercial ending.  Unfortunately, the film meanders all over long enough, and such an unsatisfactory ending only serves to frustrate audiences even more.  The end is a total boring exercise.  One would have gotten more from the reading of The Ancient Mariner.




    ENDER’S GAME (USA 2013) ***1/2

    Directed by Gavin Hood


    Set in the future in which the earth’s future is at stake, the premise involves training new warrior combatants so that the earth can win the next attack by the aliens nicknamed ‘buggers’.  One child is observed to be the talented savior and the story reflects the boy’s training, rise to glory and the climatic fight.  But the film has an unexpected twist that will not be revealed in the review.

    Director Gavin Hood (TSOTSI) who also penned the script based on the bestselling novel by Orson Scott Wood has made a film that hits all the right notes.  Hood has captured key points in hit films such as the HARRY POTTER series (boy pulled from home to save the world while studying in strange school) as well as key issues such as bullying, teenage romance and familial ties.  It also works wonders that the romantic element in the film is not the conventional falling in love but his strong sibling tie with his sister Valentine (Abigail Breslin).

    What lacks in humour is more than made up by audience anticipation.  Hood has the audience rooting for the boy from start to finish. The underdog making good theme is prevalent from the film’s start to finish.

    The boy, Ender is played by British Asa Butterfield who carries the entire film remarkably well, standing well among reputed stars like Harrison Ford, Viola Davis and Ben Kingsley.

    The battle scenes are mostly the combat games carried on in the school.  The climatic battle is exciting enough but is kept to a minimum amount of screen time so as not to spoil the plot twist.  The special effects in this $110 million production are used to full effect in the battles, dream sequences and sets of the space school.

    It should be noted that the author’s publicized criticism of gay marriage invoked controversy with LGBT groups though the film in no place reflects (except for the aliens nicknamed buggers) the author’s views.  The filmmakers have made it clear that they do not share the author’s dated and biased views so that there is no purpose in boycotting this film, which surprisingly has a tolerant side towards aliens in it.

    But ENDER’S GAME is an adrenaline rush from start to finish.  It is noted that the word ‘game’ is in this film’s title as it is in the other Lionsgate series THE HUNGER GAMES.  If this film does just half as well as THE HUNGER GAMES, another hit series will be underway that will boost the already successful Lionsgate stock price.




    FREE BIRDS (USA 2013) **

    Directed by Jimmy Hayward


    As Thanksgiving approaches, an animated film about turkeys trying to save their skin is the order of the day.

    The ridiculous plot has two turkeys (voiced by Owen Wilson and Woody Harrelson) travel through time to the period before the bird was on the menu.  One of them is directed by a higher power known as ‘the great turkey’.  Their quest is to save turkeys all over the world.  Of course, as everyone knows, they hardly succeed as the world still serves roast turkey during Thanksgiving.

    The film has goofy characters.  But there is goofy funny and goofy unfunny.  Unfortunately, the film falls into the latter category.  Running into doors, repeating ones lines and talking to a reflection not realizing it is one are examples here that generate no laughs.  Everything about this feature is on the mediocre level, even the sorry romance that leads nowhere.  The funniest thing about the film is the time machine called Steve but that still generates no laughs.

    It does not help that there is no single villain in the piece.  Human beings (the hunters) are the general enemy.  Other standards fare that makes good animation like cutesy characters, song and dance numbers and layered humour in the background (example in SHREK) are noticeably missing.  The end result is a boring animated feature even for the kids.

    It is just too easy to call a film about turkeys a turkey but this film is pretty close.





    Directed by Jacob Kornbluth


    The topic in this documentary is the income gap in the U.S between the middle class and the top 1% wealthy.  Director Jacob Kornbluth’s film is basically an economics lesson with Richard Reich as the lecturer whom he features throughout the movie.

    At the start of the film, Reich proposes to answer three questions in relation to the topic.  What is happening?  Why?  And is this a problem?

    The first question is answered though statistics and the number of graphs displayed on the screen.  The other two are answered by Reich as he goes about his duties, at work, lecturing and as advisor to Bill Clinton during his tenure that he swears made a difference to the U.S. Economy.  The film is quite the ego trip for Reich who appears to be having a helluva great time making the film.  Fortunately, this short 5-foot man (there are countless jokes on his height) is charismatic enough and he does have good intentions to make the world a better place to eliminate poverty and stimulate the economy.

    Kornbluth’s climax of the film is the last lesson of Reich’s university course in which he delivers a standing-ovation final speech.  The film then moves on to the credits, which display sites to go to if one wishes to help make a difference.

    INEQUALITY FOR ALL provides a little insight on a problem most Americans are already aware of.  But at least Kornbluth does so in an entertaining fashion with a short protagonist who more than meets the height of his endeavours.

    Trailer:  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9REdcxfie3M

    LAST VEGAS (USA 2013) *

    Directed by John Tutteltaub


    Four friends take to Vegas for the bachelor party of 60ish Billy (Michael Douglas) about to wed his 32-year old girlfriend.  The other 3 are Sam (Kevin Kline), Archie (Morgan Freeman) and Paddy (Robert De Niro).  Skeletons in the closets surface, enmities arise and the old quartet have the most fun of their lives.

    But a comedy this film is not.  For one, there are too many dramatic subplots that outshine the comedy and even if this film is a comedy drama, the script is so bad, I did not laugh once.  The typical joke?  The friends comment on where Billy get all his head hair – whether the hair came from his ass.  Or to brush his hair or wipe it.  Worse – the script attempts a few in really bad taste such as Billy’s marriage proposal during the eulogy at a funeral.

    This is the kind of film where the older folk always have to prove that they are better at getting the girls than the young male hunks.  Then they realize to settle with females their own age.  Also, in LAST VEGAS as in films of this kind, the only people that go to sunbathe at the pool with their clothes full on are the aged and overweight stars.  Everyone else have their tops off.

    The climax of the film is the solution of the long enmity between John and Billy.  Without a comedic climax, it would be assumed that LAST VEGAS is more a drama.  But being advertised as a comedy would result in a huge disappointed fan base but also box-office disaster.  Robert De Niro has this year’s record of being in the year’s two worst films THE WEDDING and this film.  50 Cent has a cameo in the film and the film’s funniest joke is likely the one in which the credits use his real name, Curtis Jackson

    The film ends with the group’s possible reunion at Disney World.  Heaven forbid!   There is not one redeeming feature in this film.



    MAN OF TAI CHI (USA/China 2013) **

    Directed by Keanu Reeves


    The directorial debut of actor Kean Reeves sees his interest in Kung Fu and experience in THE MATRIX films on screen.  MAN OF TAI CHI is a martial-arts action flick with the occasional set design looking futuristic like the MATRIX sets.

    Tai Chi student Linhu (Tiger Chen) masters the art but his Master warns him of his lack of control over power.  When the temple where he trains comes into financial difficulties, he accepts a dodgy deal from dirty fight club promoter Donata Mark (Keanu Reeves).   Of course, Linhu stands up for his principles and eventually to the climatic fight between him and Dagoda.  The fight choreography us my Matrix’s Yuen Wooping.

    There are plenty of things wrong with Reeves’ film among them the climatic fight not being exciting enough.  Linhu’s fight with Donata occurs just after his last big match that is better choreographed and more dangerous for Linchu.  Though an action film, MAN OF TAI CHI gets boring quite soon.

    The reason Danata hires Linhu is to tape all the fights so that he can make tons of money by showing the world the fighter’s loss of innocence.  Reeves obviously believes this point to a fault with a film about a fighter who losses his innocence to a point.

    There is nothing in MAN OF TAI CHI that is novel that audiences have not seen before in a Shaw Brothers or Golden Harvest film.  In fact it is better to just rent one of those old films.







    Best Film Opening: Dallas Buyers Club

    Best Film Playing: Blue Jasmine

    Bes Comedy: This is The End

    Best Foreign: Les Salauds (Bastards)

    Best Animation: Turbo

    Best Action: Escape Plan

    Best Documentary: Design One: Lella and Massimo Vignelli

  • TIFF Cinematheque - David Cronenberg

    Toronto director David Cronenberg earns another retrospective of his films from his first film STEREO to his latest COSMOPOLIS.  The films tie in with the Cronenberg exhibit that begins November 2 at the TIFF Bell Lightbox.

    A number of his films will be introduced by special guests.  The opening night 31st will have DEAD RINGERS which was the opening film at TIFF way back when, introduced by both the director Cronenberg and its star Jeremy Irons.

    Being familiar with the films will make the exhibit a more rewarding experience.  The exhibit includes stills from all his films, costumes, instruments used as props and special effects on display.

    My favorite Cronenbergs are eXistenZ, SPIDER and A HISTORY OF VIOLENCE which were made in consecutiveness.  eXistenZ was released the same time as THE MATRIX and made that look childish in comparison.

    For a complete listing of the films, venue and ticket pricing, please check the TIFF website at:


    Capsule Reviews for Select Films:

    THE BROOD (Canada 1979) ****

    Directed by David Cronenberg


    This is the story of a man’s (Art Hindle) desperation to save his daughter, Candice (Cindy Hinds) from the clutches of his ex-wife, Nola (Samantha Eggar) under the care of a cult (psychoplasmics) like doctor Dr. Hal Raglan (Oliver Reed, hamming up the best he can).  Apparently, the wife’s anger is personified, literally in the form of mutant children that go about killing whoever she dislikes.  This is like the CHILDREN OF THE DAMNED in action and scarier than that movie at that!  Cronenberg does not compromise on the gore, violence or language.  THE BROOD, like many of Cronenberg’s films contains many classic unforgettable scenes.  One is the ex-wife giving birth to a new mutant baby and another is the sight of a deformed Nola as she lifts up her dress.  Despite the predictable ending, THE BROOD is one true horror film and Cronenberg at his best!

    CRIMES F THE FUTURE (Canada 1969) **

    Directed b David Cronenberg


    The second feature by Cronenberg, also running just over an hour, is very much similar to his first STEREO and despite its intriguing premise, is unfortunately just as boring.  Shot this time in color, the otherwise silent movie has it soundtrack mainly a voiceover narrative dubbed over.  The story set in an institution follows a reluctant dermatologist (Ronald Mlodzik) roaming around the premises trying to get things sorted after the founder, Antoine has mysteriously disappeared and presumed dead.  Apparently, his cosmetics have killed off the women.  CRIMES OF THE FUTURE is quite advanced of its time considering that it deal with taboo issues like pedophilia, homosexuality and sexual revolution.  But don’t expect any conclusive messages from this strange little entry.

    FAST COMPANY (Canada 1979) ****

    Directed by David Cronenberg


    A film about funny car and drag car racing, FAST COMPANY appears like the only Cronenberg out of place in the retrospective.  But it is his love or cars that got this excellent film and CRASH also about cars (and sex) made.  Even though one might not be fan of car races, FAST COMPANY is remarkably compelling and drags the audience right into to the business and people involved.  It helps that Cronenberg draws the audience into the drama of each character.  Lucky Lonnie Johnson (William Smith) stands up for his principles and loses his sponsor Fastco.  Cronenberg understands that a good villain is important and his evil man takes the form of John Saxon who does a great job as the guy Fastco hires to keep the racers in place.  Exciting speed racing, exciting drama and great looking characters all around make this unexpected racing film several notches above the average.  Ironically the lead actress Claudia Jennings died in a car crash not long after making the movie.

    SOCIETY (USA 1989) ****

    Directed by Brian Yuzna


    This horror cult classic got a release 3 years after 1989 but it became a hit in Europe.  It is the classic tale of a protagonist; in this case Bill Whitney (Billy Warlock) who believes the society surrounding him including his parents is engaged in a cult orgy.  Of course no one believes him or those who do like Blanchard (Tm Bartell) mysteriously disappears.  At times the film has a look like Stanley Kubrick’s EYES WIDE SHUT.   Paranoia sets in and it turns out that the doctor Bill is seeing is in cohorts with the cult.  Though the film plays tongue in cheek with the terror, the climatic horror scenes with special effects by Screaming Mad George is really frightening.  The orgy scene is disgusting to the point of nausea but I suppose that is a good thing.

    STEREO (Canada 1969) **

    Directed by David Cronenberg


    His first feature running just a little over an hour is a black and white largely silent feature imposed intermittently by a voiceover explaining the experiments and laws of telepathy.  A young unnamed man (Ronald Mlodzik) in black cloak arrives at the academy studying telepathic abilities of a group of 8 through sexual exploration.  The film looks static and there is too much technical jargon (though this is likely the intention) for a largely silent film.  The experimental segments are very sexual in an eerie sort of way.  Those who are scientifically inclined will be more amused at the laws and theories of telepathy concocted.  STEREO is not very good but marks the beginning of Cronenberg’s career as well as well as themes recurring in his later films.  Cronenberg shot his film at the Scarborough campus of the University of Toronto and gives the setting a futuristic large laboratory look.

  • This Week's Film Reviews (Oct 25th 2013)



    One might also want to check the TIFF Cinematheque series on the films of Danish director Nicolas Winding Refn that begins this week.



    THE COUNSELOR (USA 2013) **

    Directed by Ridley Scott


                Touted as a suspense thriller written by Cormac McCarthy who wrote OLD COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN, the film THE COUNSELOR has high potential.  Added to that, it is directed by ALIEN’s Ridley Scott with 5 big name stars, Michael Fassbender, Penelope Cruz, Javier Badem, Cameron Diaz and Brad Pitt to its credit.

                The film even begins stylishly enough with a steamy sex scene between Fassbender and Cruz under the sheets.  With a wind swept sheet by the window and the camera panning the room to reveal two unseen figures beneath bed sheets, Scott appears to go for style.  This style is maintained throughout the entire film, often slowing the action too much or even distracting from the story.  Where it works, for example in Westray (Brad Pitt) assassination scene in London, the film soars.  But largely, the film is more style than substance.

                McCarthy’s script is fancy on words.  The telephone conversation between the counselor (who has no name) and a high-connected Mexican is both bitingly funny and sarcastically philosophical but that is as much as McCarthy can provide.  His script fails in the most essential elements in that none of the 5 characters develop in any way.  His cardboard characters remain stagnant from the start to finish.  Worst still, the counselor is depicted as a crybaby loser with no redeeming features that the audience could care for.  In fact, none of the 5 characters are likeable.

                It is clear that McCarthy penned his script following the Coen Brothers’ NO COUNTRY OF OLD MEN, an excellent dark comedy.  As in that classic, characters disappear suddenly just as they appear out of nowhere.  But in THE COUNSELOR, when this happens it feels like a script flaw, or an incident that is not seen through (like the biker son killed on the road).       

                One can only guess what this film might have been in the hands of the Coen Brothers, directors who have proven their genius in stylized films on overblown characters.  Under Scott’s hands, the result is a complete stylized bore.



    THE SUMMIT (UK/Ireland 2012) **

    Directed by Nick Ryan


    This year sees two documentaries on climbing expeditions.  The soon to be released BEYOND THE EDGE from New Zealand traces the exhilarating climb to the top of Mount Everest.  In contrast, THE SUMMIT is an account of the 2008 tragic climb up and down K2, first conquered in 1954.  This film captures the horror of the deaths of 11 climbers, ill prepared of what is considered the most dangerous mountain in the world.  Both films combine interviews, archive footage and reenactments of the climbs.

    The narrator in THE SUMMIT emphasizes the difficulties of K2 conditions – the disorientation from the high attitude sickness, darkness and physical separation existing among multiple teams from many countries and eyewitness accounts of the tragedy.  Till this day, no one is sure what actually happened and how the 11 climbers got killed.

    Ryan’s film is chilling enough entertainment if not information.  There are scenes of complete darkness, howling winds and drifting snows.  But there are also stunning scenes of the ice and snow of the mountains and even of the deadly bottleneck ridges that the climbers have to conquer.  These account for the best that this film offers.

    But Ryan’s film often shifts from the present (interviews) to the past from 3 weeks before the accent to a few months before to the night before the accent.  The organization of the timing of the interviews appears haphazard.  Ryan purposes to provide heroics to the killed Irish climber Ger for saving the lives of other climbers.  Whether Ger really saved those lives is likely to be true though it could still very much be speculation.

    At the film’s end, the film turns out to be just as confusing as the tragic events that took place in 2008.  No conclusive answers are provided but the audience is at least treated to the feel the horrors that took place.




    Best Film Opening: - (none)

    Best Film Playing: Blue Jasmine

    Bes Comedy: This is The End

    Best Foreign: Les Salauds (Bastards)

    Best Animation: Turbo

    Best Action: Escape Plan

    Best Documentary: Design One: Lella and Massimo Vignelli



  • Tiff Cinematheque - Nicolas Winding Refn

    TIFF Cinematheque Presents – Nicolas Winding Refn

    The series of films by Nicolas Winding Refn is appropriately titled “With Blood on His Hands” for the graphic violence that characterizes his films.  His latest films ONLY GOD FORGIVES and DRIVE featured star Ryan Gosling and enjoyed a healthy commercial release.  (Refn won the Cannes award for Best Director for DRIVE).  But Ref had his start with his PUSHER trilogy that brought him international recognition.  A documentary of his work and financial hardship GAMBLER is also screened.

    The series runs from Oct 23rd to Nov 5th.  Refn was scheduled to be preset but had to cancel unfortunately.

    For complete list of films, program, ticket pricing and venue, check the TIFF website at:

    tiff.net under the series section.

    REVIEWS of Selected Films:


    BLEEDER (Denmark 1999) ****
    Directed by Nicolas Winding Refn


    BLEEDER, Refn’s earlier film is a good example of classic filmmaking.  It begins with the camera on the legs of the characters as they stroll down the street in a working class Copenhagen neighborhood before their faces are shown, one by one as they are introduced as Lenny (Mads Mikkelsen), Lea (Liv Corfixen), Louise (Rikke Louise Andersson), brother Louis (Levino Jensen) and boyfriend Leo (Kim Bodnia).  The story follows the five characters as they interact with each other.  To those who know Refn’s films, the consequences are dire.  For example, Refn gives the most unsteady character Leo a gun.  Leo has become more and more aggressive after finding out that Louise is again pregnant.  But upon closer observation of this strange and somewhat wonderful film, BLEEDER is essentially a love story of two very lonely people, who finally find themselves amidst all the violence surrounding them.  An absorbing, smart piece of movie making in which the unexpected happens in terms of a subplot transforming into the real story!

    BRONSON (Denmark 2008)(to be posted)


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


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

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

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

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

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

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

    Refn’s film is a fresh gory cinematic experience set in his own world of fantasy.  Do not expect realistic but instead, over-the-top dialogue.  For example in the scene in which mother Crystal hurls insults to Julian and his Thai call-girlfriend, she reasons his incapacity to perform his filial duties as akin to his cock size, while putting his girlfriend in place before apologizing.                                                                                                                    ONLY GOD FORGIVES was nominated for the grand Palme d’or at this year’s Cannes.  But the film was met with quite the few boos by critics during its showing.  The film might drive audiences to the hills with his violence but this critic finds the film quite the fascinating cinematic experience.

    PUSHER (Denmark 1996) ****

    Directed by Nicolas Winding Refn


    The film and the first of the PUSHER trilogy that shot the then 24-year old director Refn to fame.  Already remade into a British film of the same title, this one is the original and should be the one seen.  The film traces 7 days in the life of a drug dealer (Kim Bodnia) who likely has the worst week of his life.  After borrowing gear to make a sale, Frankie has to dump it in the lake to destroy evidence.  Unable to pay his guy, he is badly beaten and given a dateline to come up with the cash.  Just as he does, his hooker girlfriend steals it from him.  Refn’s no-nonsense uncompromising look at the low-life drug world is edgy, scary and not for the weak of heart.  Still, he instills the audience’s sympathy for the protagonist.  Bodnia is excellent in the main role of Frankie, as he is in Refn’s later BLEEDER and his name comes up in the PUSHER II movie which is about his best friend Tonny (Mads Mikkelsen) who he beats up bad in this movie.

    PUSHER II (Blood in His Hands) (Denmark 2004) ****

    Directed by Nicolas Winding Refn


    The second of the PUSHER trilogy benefits from having the most famous of the Danish stars Mads Mikkelsen play the title role of loser Tonny who is always all coked up.  Tonny is released from prison to find his outside world just as imprisoning.  His father barely take him back in, his mother has passed away and his girlfriend is pregnant.  Worst still a drug deal goes sour and Tonny is forced to help out his partner who flushed the gear down the toilet to avoid being busted.  Tonny who has the wrd ‘respect’ at the back of his head, is perhaps the most sympathetic of all the three characters that are each featured in the PUSHER trilogy.  But he is the most intriguing as he is always the man stuck in the middle – the helper who gets caught on both sides of the fence.

    PUSHER 3  (I'M THE ANGEL OF DEATH) (Denmark 2005) ****

    Directed by Nicolas Winding Refn


    The last of the trilogy which director Refn has fortunately kept just as edgy and intriguing as his first two films.  This film centres on the Bosnian pusher’s drug lord, Milo (Zlatko Buric) from the first 2 PUSHER fims.  Refn demonstrates that the ageing drug lord is still one that faces identical problems as the other drug sellers down the drug chain.  He still owes money, buys bad stuff and has to del with cops and other assholes.  At the same time, he is trying to go clean attending Narcotics Anonymous while cooking for 50 for his daughters 25th birthday.  But as in all of Refn’s films, plans go awry.  He ends up killing two thugs.  The last segment of the film (which forms the climax in a way) is the darkest and nastiest, with him and his crony gutting and disposing of the two bodies.  A worthy conclusion to the PUSHER trilogy, this conclusion is the most unforgettable.

  • This Week's Film Reviews (Oct 18th 2013)

    Opening this week are the remake CARRIE, the TIFF opening night film THE FIFTH ESTATE, COTTAGE COUNTRY and the $70million action blockbuster ESCAPE PLAN.




    COTTAGE COUNTRY (Canada 2013) **

    Directed by Peter Wellington


                COTTAGE COUNTRY is a very Canadian term and so is the film.  The scenes o red and yellow leaves on  trees and the waters of the lake are typical of what can be seen driving in the country roads of southern Ontario.  But the tale that is about to be told in the film COTTAGE COUNTRY is far from the typical story.

                An outwardly nice looking couple Todd (Tyler Labine) and Cammie (Marly Akerman) head up their parents cottage to spend quality time together.  Todd intends to propose to Cammie though she has already found the engagement ring in his suitcase.  But when Todd’s obnoxious slacker brother Salinger (Daniel Petronijevic) shows up with his dumpy girlfriend, a fight and constant nagging from Cammie result in Todd accidentally axing his brother. One murder leads to another in a film that plays along similar lines to the murdering couple in Ben Wheatley’s SIGHTSEERS

                But s the script gets blacker, the film begins to stumble.  Besides credibility issues, there are segments that do not work.  The appearance of Salinger as a ghost or Cammie’s hallucinations distract from the flow of murders.  The events occur to fast for credibility and a slower pace might have helped.  The subplot about their quarreling  parents is nasty but it works.

                But the actors do a good job particularly Tyler Labine as the likeable buffoon who just can’t help but get his hands in hot water all the time.

                Upon careful consideration, the story likely looked very good on paper.  It all goes to show how difficult it is to make a good black comedy, or even a good comedy.  But COTTAGE COUNTRY has its moments, and quite a few of these, to the director’s credit.  COTTAGE COUNTRY is a good failure and still welcome entertainment despite its flaws.



    ESCAPE PLAN (USA 2013)***

    Directed by Mikael Hafstrom


    The film’s start traces the seemingly simple escape from the Colorado penitentiary by one ‘lucky’ Ray Breslin (Sylvester Stallone).  As the story goes, Ray is one man who makes his living in prisons – studying how to break out and then escaping.  He is the top dog for hire to test prison security.

    As the rather preposterous plot goes, he is hired again to escape from a super security prison.  The only trouble is that his trace is erased and he is all on his own by a betrayal.  This is the story of his escape, aided by fellow inmate Rottmayer (Arnold Schwarzenegger).

    It takes a while for the film to get into action gear.  The first 30 minutes or so of the movie is all set-up and introduction.  Fortunately, the smart script and deft direction keep the audience at their full attention The only true action (gunfire, pyrotechnics) segments only occur during the last 30 minutes or so.  So the film is mixed suspense, prison escape, and action.  So fans of the different genres should be warned that this film might not be what is expected.

    The film relies quite a bit on flashbacks to reveal the story.  At the start, a flashback is used to explain how Ray escaped and at the end used again to explain how Ray and his aide connected.  For an action flick, ESCAPE PLAN has more story than the average.  And that is a good thing.

    A part of the film has Ray building a sextant in secret.  The script does not insult its audience by explaining the use of the sextant and assumes the audience is able to figure that one out.

    There is a brilliant hidden message in the film as well.   The duo enlist the help of a Moroccan in their escape.  His Islamic region is well respected and the sacrifice this Muslim makes as a martyr for the cause serves as an excellent anti-racial message that all races can work together for a common good.

    For a $70 million production, the sets look really impressive, together with all the CGI generated effects of the prison cells vertically designed.

    It is no doubt that Summit (owned by Lions Gate) hopes to make big dollars with this film.  For one, it boasts 2 stars Schwarzenegger an Stallone (though both have yet to have recent hits).  Lions Gate’s RED2 bombed and it would be a surprise if this huge production earns its profit.  Nevertheless, ESCAPE PLAN is an above average actioner, complete with funny on-liners and expertly executed action sequences.



    THE FIFTH ESTATE (USA/UK/Belgium 2013) ***

    Directed by Bill Condon

                Chosen as the opening film for this year’s Toronto International Film Festival, THE FIFTH ESTATE is the typical academic exercise that should fascinate both cineastes and an adult audience.

                This is the story if Wikileaks as well as its founder Julian Assange (Benedict Cumberbatch), who in a recent BBC interview expressed hi dissatisfaction at the film.  And no wonder!  Condon’s film depicts Julian as a egocentric personality who is frequently given to outbursts of anger and indecision.  The hero of the piece is his bets friend and committed worker, Daniel Domscheit-Berg (Daniel Bruhl, recently in RUSH) whom he constantly abuses.  He is the reason behind Wikileaks and often offers ignored advice to Julian.

    The film is a mesmerizing, complex portrait of an embattled new-media luminary.  It details WikiLeaks's rise to international notoriety and the subsequent souring of relations between Julian and Daniel.  Though it takes 30 minutes or so for the film to get its footing, this is the part that makes the movie. 

                                                                The revelation of the identities of the whistle blowers pose the main problem of wikileaks.  When the film resorts to concentrate on this part, it fails.  There is one odd segment about an Egyptian whistle blower brought to safety to the U.S. that looks out of place in the movie.        

     Cumberbatch is excellent in his role as well as the supporting cast that includes Stanley Tucci, Anthony Mackie and especially Laura Linney.                                                           

    The last segment of the film featuring Cumberbatch talking to the camera as if interviewed brings a good perspective overall to the film and brings it to a satisfactory conclusion.



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

    Directed by Jia Zhangke


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

    Trailer: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VUJt_kf7uKQ

    12 YEARS A SLAVE (USA 2013) ***

    Directed by Steve McQueen


    A simple but true 19th century story of a free man captured and sold as a slave story is given the full McQueen (HUNGER) treatment (artistic panning shots; stunning outdoor cinematography; outstanding elicited performances) that should not disappoint fans.

    A black freeman by the name of Solomon Northup (Chiwetel Ejiofor) is kidnapped and sold as a slave under the name of Plank.  The film tracks his 12 years of suffering under slavery till his eventual release back to his family.  It is a difficult journey and an even more difficult one to imagine.  But all the drama is emphasized a great deal with the result of the film winning the Audience Choice Award at the Toronto International Film Festival.

    The atmosphere and period from costumes, wardrobe and hair are convincing enough as is the dialogue spoken.  Each period of time under different masters is given equal screen time.  The audience is exposed to the brutality and inhumanity of the white masters.  McQueen (himself black) is not shy to show the lashings the slaves receive or the torture undergone that include rape, verbal abuse and human degradation.  Yet the dialogue also examines the feelings and points of view of both the whites and the slaves.

    Performances are often more than not outstanding.  Surprisingly, the best ones come from the actors playing the good masters rather the cruel ones.  The best of these belong to British actor Benedict Cumberbatch (recently voted sexiest man alive) as master John.  Sympathetic to Plank, he also shows his vulnerability to been exposed to the discrimination of the white man.  Paul Dana and Paul Giamatti also shine as an abusive supervisor and slave buyer respectively.  Producer Brad Pitt give himself a cameo as an important character in the film.

    It is only during the last few minutes of the film that Plank is finally freed.  The last few moments in which he is rescued as a free man are priceless high drama.  The film should do wonders at the box-office judging that tickets were being sold on eBay at $300 each for the sold out performances during TIFF.  Bu it is no doubt not an easy film to watch, (and even more so than Tarrantino’s  DJANGO UNCHAINED) because of the sensitive content of black slavery.







    Best Film Opening: The Fifth Estate

    Best Film Playing: Blue Jasmine

    Bes Comedy: This is The End

    Best Foreign: Les Salauds (Bastards)

    Best Animation: Turbo

    Best Action: Escape Plan

    Best Documentary: Design One: Lella and Massimo Vignelli

  • TIFF 2013 Report


    The 13th annul Toronto International Film Festival comes to an end after 11 grueling days with more than 300 films from more than 70 countries.  The festival sees cineastes from all walks of life – buyers, publicist, producers, critics and of course the public.  Getting to see the films one wants and getting tickets is a nightmare , but one manages well, if one can put up with long waits.

    If there is a trend among the films screened, one I detected is one involving the common theme of bettering oneself (or redemption in the extreme case) and getting back to life.  From films like THE RAILWAY MAN in which the Colin Firth character has to deal with his past in WWII before living back a normal life to divorced couple Emma Thompson and Pierce Brosnan getting back together again, the path might not be so easy.  In Kurosawa’s REEL, the protagonist has to enter the mind of his lover to bring her out of a coma so that they can be together again.  In the Romanian film  CHILD’S POSE, it takes a car accident to shake sense into the matriarch of a family to change things to for the betterment of her family.  In THE PAST, a French woman wishes to put her past behind her an live a new life with her new Arab lover.  In Kim Ki-Duk's MOEBIUS, a father resorts to genital transplant to being normalcy for his son castrated by the distraught wife.  And the list goes on.

    The crop of is above average this year with fewer one star and 2-star films I have seen.  This reviewer viewed a total of 50 films over the 11 days being given the cold shoulder by TIFF.  (TIFF did not grant me press accreditation this year for the 1st time in 13 years.)

    However, from the 50 films seen, these are the top 10 personal favorites in alphabetical order:











    Afro American films were moderately strong this year.  The most notable of all was 12 YEARS A SLAVE directed by Steve McQueen (HUNGER, SHAME) about the true story of Solomon Northup, a free man who was kidnapped and sold as a slave in the south.   A compelling film given McQueen’s artistic touch should shock as well as dramatize the horrors of slavery.  The tickets for the sold out performance was welling for as much as $300 each on eBay.  Another film that demands mention is one that that is lighter though still dramatic.  LES ETOILES (UNDER THE STARRY SKY) by Dyana Gaye.  Shot in French, Senegalese, Italian and French, this 3-city (NYC, Turin and Dakar) LES ETOILES charts the accidental intersections of characters in transit. Plans are derailed, happenstance meetings change courses, and destinies intertwine. Sophie (Marème Demba Ly), a young Senegalese bride, follows her husband, Abdoulaye (Souleymane Seye N'Diaye), from Dakar to Turin , where he has travelled without papers to look for work. Meanwhile, Abdoulaye has already has left for New York , lured by his cousin, Serigne (Babacar M'Baye Fall), and a promise of better opportunities.

    Here is the list of the other awards given by TIFF juries during the festival.  Now cineastes in Toronto can take a rest until next year.

    People’s Choice Award:  12 YEARS A SLAVE

    (Runner Ups: PHILOMENA and PRISONERS)

    People’s Choice (Midnight Madness): WHY DON’T YOU PLAY IN HELL?

    People’s Choice (Doc): THE SQUARE

    Best Canadian Feature: WHEN JEWS WERE FUNNY

    Best Canadian First Feature: ASPHALT WATCHES

    FIPRESCI (Special Presentations): IDA


  • This Week's Film Reviews (Oct 11, 2013)

    CAPTAIN PHILLIPS  is the big film opening this week.   Other openings include the Canadian comedy THE RIGHT KIND OF WRONG and the comedy action MACHETE KILLS.


    TIFF Cinematheque in Toronto begins a series of film by Claire Denis beginning with her latest film LES SALAUDS (BASTARDS)



    BASTARDS (LES SALAUDS) (France 2013) ****

    Directed by Claire Denis


    French auteur Clair Denis has been known for her shocking and intense films.  A story of revenge would therefore be the ideal vehicle for her.  BASTARDS deals with a merchant seaman’s return to Paris to avenge the wrongdoing on his family.

    Marco (a very intense Vincent Lindon) rents an apartment and has an affair with a sleazy financer’s mistress (Chiara Mastroianni).  The financer has bankrupted his sister and caused the husband to commit suicide.  The daughter is used by the financer as a call-girl.  Denis utilizes all he sleaze to the full with lots of graphic nudity including bold shots of the vagina.

    Denis also loves to film during the night and cinematographer Agnes Godard has created some  stunning night shots.

    Linden is just excellent as the tormented soul.  Denis has also assembled quite the list of new young actors including her regular Gregoire Colin and Lola Creton from LE PERE DES MES ENFANTS and UNAMOUR DE JEUNEUSE.

    But the film has a few loose ends that are unexplained.  How did Marco know where to find his daughter-in-law and how did the financer find out that Marco was sleeping with his wife?  It also takes a while to figure who is who in eth film as it is difficult at times to distinguish among the characters during the night shoot.

    Still, this is one of Denis better films – a mix between fiction and reality. And very dark!



    In-person director intro and Q&A —
    Friday, October 18 at 6:30pm 


    Directed by Paul Greengrass


    CAPTAIN PHILLIPS is the story of a hijacking by Somali pirates and the aftermath.  But this is not the first film about Somali pirates to hit the screen recently.  Last year saw the documentary STOLEN SEAS and a few months back the Norwegian thriller A HIJACKING.  All 3 films  are different in their own  good way, highlighting different viewpoints.  CAPTAIN PHILLIPS, which the film makes clear right at the beginning that it is based on a true story is the most Hollywood action type of the three, but that does not mean that the film does not get certain messages through at the same time.

    Based on the book ‘A Captain's Duty: Somali Pirates, Navy SEALs, and Dangerous Days at Sea’, by Richard Phillips himself with Stephan Talty, the story is seen from the point of view of the Captain, obviously a very organized man, as established by director Greengrass at the start of the film when he has conversation with his wife (Catherine Keener) about his family.  The same can be observed as he boards his ship, seen as endless mechanical compartments and takes control.

    Running at over 2 hours, CAPTAIN PHILLIPS achieves capturing the audience’s attention for the most part, though one could complain that the end result is predictable, never mind that it be true.  But the first half of the film is more exciting than the second half especially with the segments involving the ship trying to outrun the pirates.  The boarding  of the pirates on the ship is also nail-biting exciting, which is no match for the rescue of the ship by the Navy SEALs during the second half.  Understandably, Greengrass resorts to drama, particularly the conflict between captain Phillips and his Somalia counterpart, Muse (Barkhad Abdi) and he emotional toil on each.

    But credit should also be accredited to the master camera work (often handheld) by precious Ken Loach collaborator Barry Ackroyd for his exciting images, camera angles and shots and viewpoints.

    Two time Oscar winner Tom Hanks  has the title role of the able Commanding Officer of the Maersk Alabama cargo ship.  Though the script by Billy Ray displays Captain Phillips as a courageous and selfless  leader, the audience is at least spared from a gun tooting type Hollywood hero.  His heroics are quiet, calculated and smart.  The only complaints that there is just too much Tom Hanks, especially the moaning and the crying, in the final reel, in the segment where he is medically examined by a medic.  The actress playing the medic must be complemented as she embodies so perfect the stereotype of a police or medical officer that  it is hard to stifle sniggle.

    Ultimately, it takes a Hollywood blockbuster like CAPTAIN PHILLIPS to bring audiences awareness to the global economic problem resulting in Somalian piracy.  STOEL SEAS, the best source for the look at the problem and A HIJACKING hardly brought in the numbers needed.  His film should do the trick while providing exciting entertainment at the same time.

    Trailer:  http://www.imdb.com/video/imdb/vi2534778393/


    Directed by Kathy Brew and Roberto Guerra


    “If you can’t find it, design it!”  That is the motto of the 50-over year working husband and wife relationship of the Italian Vignellis whose renowned work ranges from ‘the spoon to the city’.

    Just as one would think twice about watching entire documentary on one designer couple, directors Kathy Brew and Roberto Guerra bring out the best there is to learn about design and the Vignellis.  From their humble beginnings as immigrants to the U.S. to their establishment of their own Institute of Design, one cannot must admire their work and gifted design talent.

    There is much to learn in this documentary as well.  The most interesting is for example the fact that there are only two fonts – the serif and he sans serif.  The one this review is using is Times new Roman which is a type of serif, which means ‘it has feet’.  Other examples include the fascinating example of one of the ahead-of-its-time design of a cup with a place to place the thumb.

    But it is also marvelously entertaining to hear both husband and wife speak as they are funny, entertaining and also intelligent.

    Also on display are hundreds of their designs over the years.  These are not only inspirational but pleasure for the eyes to behold.  What more can one want in a documentary on design?






    MACHETE KILLS (USA 2013) ***

    Directed by Robert Rodriguez


    MACHETE KILLS that began as a fake trailer directed by Rodriguez in Quentin Tarantino’s THE GRINDHOUSE gets its full feature version as n almost perfect B action flick.  Prior to the feature, Rodriguez does another fake trailer entitled MACHETTE KLLS AGAIN... IN SPACE.  Or is this jot another fake trailer?

    MACHETE KILLS has all the elements of a B-movie – the bright red/blue fading colour titles; the loud screaming music soundtrack; the scratched images on screen etc.  The story is typically the type found in the 60’s and 70’s spy rip-off films – with Machete (Danny Trejo) as the James Bond type spy complete with villain (Mel Gibson) with his plan to take over the world with a bomb ticking to go off.

    The plot of MACHETE KILLS begins with Machete teaming up with the U.S.  President (Charlie Sheen) in a bid to capture Voz (Gibson) who has a plan to lie in outer space while destroying the world.  Machete works with gorgeous Michelle Rodriguez ho has a climatic catfight with bad girl Amber Heard.  All this is good clean fun except there are lots of blood, severed heads and chopped limbs.

    Rodriguez has assembled an impressive list of cameos that includes Lady Gaga (playing herself basically), Antonio Banderas not to mention of course, Gibson and Estevez.

    Guilty entertainment, which will be followed by maybe the sequel MACHETE KILLS …IN SPACE?




    THE RIGHT KIND OF WRONG (Canada 2013) **

    Directed by Jeremiah Chechik


    THE RIGHT KIND OF WRONG is the type of romantic fantasy in which the man will always get the girl no matter how impossible the situation may be.  The target audience would then be surprisingly male, as was noticed when flyers were offered for a free screening of this film early this year.  You had to be male and of a certain category before you got the free invite.

    The story is of a Leo Palomino’s (Ryan Kwanten) quest to win the heart of the bride, Collette (Sara Canning) he happens upon at her church wedding.  This is the wrong type of script – credibility-wise.  Just because Collette can kick a football makes him go crazy in pursuit after her.  Never mind the big punch she gives him in the face when he crashes the wedding.

    Everyone in the town knows the loser – as his ex-wife has written an amazing blog that eventually becomes a bestseller entitled ‘why you suck’ about all the things the loser does wrong.  The script tries to play with the phrase ‘right kind of wrong’ many times.  But the script fails to convince the audience that Leo is any bit of a writer.

    Chechik’s film contains a few laugh out loud laughs but it is too smart for its own good – like a wrong type of right.  Comedienne Catherine O’Hara as Collette’s mother, two cutie cats and a ghost bear are unable to help much.  The characters are too smug to be likeable and the situations seen previously in countless romantic comedies.  The result is a still a very tired old spin on the romantic comedy genre that has already flooded the cinema this year.




    Best Bets of the Week:

    Best Film Opening: Captain Phillips

    Best Film Playing: Blue Jasmine

    Best Comedy: This is The End

    Best Foreign: Les Salauds (Bastards)

    Best Animation: Turbo

    Best Action: Kick-Ass 2 and RED 2

    Best Documentary: Red Obsession

  • TIFF Cinematheque - Claire Denis

    Les Films de CLAIRE DENIS

    Claire Denis is a renowned French director with a huge body of work based on colonial and post-colonial West Africa, as well as issues in modern France.  A French director and writer for more than 25 years, she is also a Professor of Film at a graduate school in Switzerland since the year 2002.

    Her break out and first film was CHOCOLAT, an autobiographical film set in colonial Cameroon, Africa.  The film had a successful debut in Cannes and won critical acclaim. TIFF Cinematheque’s retrospective of her films range from CHOCOLAT to her latest LES SALAUDS (BASTARDS), which has been released this year in France.  BASTARDS will be released in Toronto and other major cities.

    Her films are lyrical, dark, intense and full of personality.  Never dull, her films pull audiences right into the world of her characters.  Her films often feature her favorite actors such as Gregoire Colin, Michel Subor an Isaac de Bankole.

    Denis herself will be making two appearances, October 18th 630pm for BASTARDS and on Thursday, October 176:45 p.m. to present her Carte Blanche selection, a restored 35mm print of Djibril Diop Mambéty’s Touki Bouki (1973), the Senegalese art-house favourite that follows the exhilarating odyssey of two alienated lovers through Dakar.

    For complete information or the Denis program, show times, venue and ticket pricing, please check the Cinematheque website at:


    Capsule reviews of a few of her films follow:-

    BEAU TRAVAIL (France 1999) ***

    Directed by Claire Denis


    Arguably the most lyrical of all her films, this one has the weakest narrative but strongest passion in her characters.  The theme is the French Legion in which she records the routine of training as see from the point of view of a sergeant (Denis Levant) who has a distaste or a new younger recruit (Gregoire Colin) but respect for his commander (Michel Subor).  No reason is given for this and when the Sergeant warns his superior of his feelings, he gets an admonishment that legionnaires do not discriminate.  With this darkness in the background, Denis shows the men ironing their uniforms to create the perfect crease, in hand-to-hand combat training and doing the obstacle course.  It is a tough life for a legionnaire and the film is at times too, a tough watch for the viewer.

    CHOCOLAT (France 1988) ****

    Directed by Claire Denis


    Claire Denis’ film opens with a young adult, France hitching a ride to Doula in Cameroon.  As she is travelling, France remembers as the film takes the audience back to her childhood as a little girl (Cecile Ducasee) living with her parents in Cameroon.  Her parents Marc and Aimee Dalens (Francois Cluzet ad Giula Boschi) are French governor and wife.  The family home is maintained by a number of Africans, one of which is sexy Protee (Isaach De Bankole) who becomes good friends with France.  But sexual tensions between Protee and France’s mother come to a boil when other white visitors stop by.  This is a story centred on racial tensions.  In fact, the CHOCOLAT of the title is a slang meaning ‘being cheated’, which is the way the Blacks are treated there.  But they hold their own against their white man, also poking fun whenever they can.  CHOCOLAT is Denis’ funniest film, but the humour is largely subtle that can evoke laugh-out laughs when the film is seen a second time.  The segments in which the cook quits on Aimee and the one in which a visitor tries to buy services are particularly worth noting.  The complete folly of colonism is well displayed here.  The film also has added significance as Denis herself lived in colonial Africa as a child with her Governor Father and mother.

    NENETTE ET BONI (France 1993) ***

    Directed by Clair Denis


    Nennette (Alice Houri) and Boni (Gregoire Colin) are separated siblings, the brother living with the mother (now deceased) and the sister with the father.  Things come to a boil when Nenette suddenly runs away from hoe and appears at Boni’s door.  She is pregnant and wants to abort.  Denis examines the love/hate relationship of two not very likable characters with few redeeming qualities.  Even the father (Jacques Nolot) has a questionable incestuous relationship.  But Denis’ film is not without tenderness (Boni and the baby) and humour (Boni kneading pizza dough while thinking of his lover).  A difficult but quietly beautiful film at the same time.

    S’EN FOUT LA MORT (France) ***

    Directed by Claire Denis


    S’E FOUT LA MORT or NO FEAR NO DIE is the name of the champion rooster trained by one of the characters in the movie.  At the film’s start, director Claire Denis quotes “Everyone, no matter what race, creed, religion or ideology is capable of everything.  The film hen centers on the 2 central characters of the film – 2 black immigrants Dah (Isaac de Bankole) and Jocelyn (Alex Decas).  They train roosters in cockfights.  They team up with a sleazy promoter (Jean Claude Brialy) h the seedy suburbs of Paris.  The film traces their monetary success as well as Jocelyn’s downward spiral into drunkenness.   This is no easy film to watch, made more difficult for the fact that the film contains o likeable characters.  The cockfights are exciting and look realistic enough and it is hard to believe that no animals were harmed (as the disclaimer goes at the end of the film) in he making of the film.

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