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  • This Week's Film Reviews (Oct 27, 2012)

    Lots of Halloween movies playing.  SILENT HILL REVELATION and IN THEIR SKINare two new horror flicks opening.

    Screening at TIFF Bell Lightbox are the Bond films and the Romero films as well.  The Polish Film Festival makes its run from the 25th.

    CHASING MAVERICKS (USA 2012) **

    Directed by Curtis Hanson and Michael Apted


    CHASING MAVERICKS is the true story of Northern Californian surfer Jay Moriarity (newcomer Jonny Weston) who achieves his dream of riding the huge white waves known as mavericks.

    The end credits indicate Jay lived a short life though one can only guess he died while continuing to surf bigger challenges.  The film centres on Jay as he trains and struggles through life.  The climax has Jay riding mavericks successfully.  This is hardly sufficient fodder for a good film.  There is no villain, no convincing drama (only predictable melodrama) and a barely satisfying climax of Jay riding the big wave at the end.

    But the film, directed by Curtis Hansen and later taken over by Michael Apted after the former took ill mainly lacks conviction.  Unless one is really interested in the sport of surfing, most of what transpires on screen comes off as unaffecting action.  It does not help that the weak script digs into melodrama – one between Jay and his non committal mother (Elizabeth Shue), the romance with his childhood sweetheart (Leven Remben) and his relationship with both veteran surfer Frosty Hesson (Gerard Butler) and his best pal who runs into bad company.

    Butler looks miscast as the experienced over the hill surfer dude while Weston looks like the bright blue eyed boy right out of a Disney family movie.

    At least the climax of the film with Jay riding the big wave is stunning cinematography.  Though it is hard to tell what are the special effects, CGI or true photography, what comes off on screen is still quite majestic.

    CLOUD ATLAS (Germany 2012) **
    Directed by Lana Wachowski, Tom Tykwer and Andy Washowski


    CLOUD ATLAS is a very ambitious film from the MATRIX Wachowskis and German’s RUN LOLA RUN’s Tom Tykwer.  Running at 163 minutes in length, the film is far too long and it feels it.

    Based on the novel by David Mitchell, CLOUD ATLAS how the actions and consequences of individual lives impact one another throughout the past, the present and the future.  Action, mystery and romance weave dramatically through the story as one soul is shaped from a killer into a hero and a single act of kindness ripples across centuries to inspire a revolution in the distant future.  In short, anything that can happen, does and the result is a film with so many stories that it takes forever to tie the loose ends together in order for it to end.

    Tykwer and the Wachowskis weave the various narrative threads that include these various stories. In the mid-nineteenth century, notary Adam Ewing (Jim Sturgess) keeps a journal of his voyage across the Pacific. In 1931 Belgium, musician Robert Frobisher (Ben Whishaw) writes of his experiences in letters to a male lover. In 1975 California, journalist Luisa Rey (Hally Berry) investigates a murder at a nuclear plant, and her story takes the form of an unpublished novel. In present-day England, the story of publisher Timothy Cavendish’s (Jim Broadbent) pursuit by gangsters is rendered as a film within the film. In a dystopic future Korea, robotic clone Sonmi-451 (Bae Doona) is interviewed on the eve of her execution after rebelling against the totalitarian government that created her. In a post-apocalyptic Hawaii, tribesman Zachry (Tom Hanks) is visited by Meronym (Hally Berry), one of the last survivors of a dead civilization.

    With the huge stellar cast performing multiple (including cross gender) roles, the directors keep the audience’s interest piqued.  The best is Hanks doing Broadbent at one point in the movie.

    But CLOUD ATLAS is alas too much of a good thing that eventually gets monotonous, loud and pretentious after the two hour mark.  Yet, there is much to see and the special effects are impressive at least.

    FUN SIZE (USA 2012) *
    Directed by Josh Schwartz


    One would think Hollywood would have learnt from the God awful recent ADVENTURES OF BABYSITTING movie with Jonah Hill as THE SITTER.  In less than 6 months arrives FUN SIZE, about a teen who loses her little brother and spends the rest of the movie looking for him.  The difference here is that the action or non-action rather, takes place during Halloween.

    Wren (Victoria Justice) is invited to a Halloween party by her crush, Aaron Riley (Thomas McDonell), but she is also ordered by her mother (Chelsea Handler) to take her oddball little brother Albert (Jackson Nicholl) with her when she goes out trick-or-treating on Halloween.  When she goes to the party instead, she loses him and must find him before her mother finds out.  So she ends up borrowing a car from some nerds, Roosevelt (Thomas Mann) and Pelt (Osric Chau) and they team up to find Wren''s brother.  They end up going through a lot of trouble to find him and go through some crazy shenanigans which in this case, are just not funny at all.

    FUN SIZE is director Schwartz’s debut feature but the film shows lack of any talent.  The prize scene with a giant chicken sign humping the car containing the teen heroes was already seen in the trailer and thus does not come off as funny any more.  It just seems that Schwartz just films one segment (though done just all right) without any thought or initiative.  The one segment done to the song of the Beastie Boy’s “You Got the Right to Party” is done muffled.  He could have at least copied the lively original music video.

    The funniest moments of FUN SIZE lies when the end credits roll, when Jackson Nicholl who plays the little brother doing his ‘thing’.  But alas!  One has to sit through the entire unfunny movie to come to this part.

    IN THEIR SKIN (Canada 2010) ***
    Directed by Jeremy Power Regimbal

    IN THEIR SKIN is a horror film, which is quite scary for the reason that the horrors are not supernatural in nature but come from the emotions and behaviour of human beings.        The audience can relate and the film is more effective.

    The film deals with home invasion.  Films such as PANIC ROOM and particularly Michael Haneke’s FUNNY GAMES deal with identical themes but Regimbal’s film is quite different.

    For one, this film deals with two families socially different.  Though both comprise one father, one mother and same aged-son, one family is financially dependent and socially inept while the other whose home is invaded is cultured and wealthy.  When the cultured Mary (Selma Blair) knowledgeable in wines, asks Jane (Rachel Miner) what wine she would she would like for dinner, Jane can only answer: “Whatever you are having.”

    The sight of one boy taking a knife to the throat of is also quite disturbing.  The fact that both couples are made to look alike (both men bear a moustache and the women have similar hair) is a good move.

    One problem of the film is that the audience is initially mores sympathetic toward the villainous couple as they have nothing and are not so fortunate.  The film is scarier in the first half when tensions mount during the couples’ first meeting and during the dinner.   Once the blood and weapons (knife, rife and gun) appear, the film reduces back to the slasher film genre which audiences are already saturated with.

    There is one scene during a stand off when Jane confronts Bobby in the way in which she is treated.  But the script never follows up on this interesting conflict but instead goes on to the next scene in which Bobby forces Mary to have sex with him in front of Mark.

    Made in 2010, but only just released, the home invasion horror film IN THEIR SKIN though flawed, show much promise and thus worth being seen for its potential.

    THE SESSIONS (USA 2012) ***
    Directed by Ben Lewin


    Based on a true article by Californian poet and journalist Mark O’Brien (John Hawkes), THE SESSIONS refer to the sex sessions experienced or enjoyed by man with iron lung Mark O’Brien with sex surrogate Cheryl (Helen Hunt).  O’Brien’s body was contorted by polio but he wanted to lose his virginity at the age of 39.

    The film goes about how he conquered the love of three separate women.

    A film with this sex theme requires nudity as a necessity.  This the stars provide with the sensitive segments done with taste and restraint.  It is without doubt that Hunt feels uncomfortable with the filmed nude shots and it shows.  This discomfort rubs off on the audience all the same but it is meant to be this way.

    Hunt is winning in her role and one has to love that smile of hers.  William H. Macy has the role of Father Brendan, a beer drinking, smoking priest that tries his best to comfort Mark in his condition.

    The film was likely made for its provocative theme.  As it turns out, THE SESSIONS is in reality a charming and sensitive slice of life as experienced by a disabled man who strives and succeeds in attaining normalcy in his sex life.  Though the film is slow moving, it is necessarily so, but the end result is an uplifting piece of entertainment that is true to the wonders of what life has to offer.

    SILENT HILL REVELATION (France/Canada/USA 2012) **

    Directed by Michael J. Bassett


    Taking over from the 1st SILENT HILL French director Christophe Gans (BROTHERHOOD OF THE WOLF), director Michael J. Bassett did number 2 and this 3rd installment of the SILENT BHILL franchise.  This is also the only one that he wrote as well.

    Based on the video game of the same name, the film’s story is all over the place with little explained.  There are huge gaps as to what is happening.  Take for example the slow motioned attack of the underlings that stop amidst their attack for no apparent reason.  But on the bright side of this dark tale, the graphics are amazing and the atmosphere scary enough to frighten even the seasoned horror fan.  Shot in 3D, the action and killings give director Bassett plenty of opportunities to have objects jump out at the screen at the audience.

    The story has a girl called Heather Mason (Australian actress Adelaide Clemens) lose her father Christopher (Sean Bean) to evading forces of a nature that she does not fully recognize.  On the eve of her eighteenth birthday, plagued by nightmares and Christopher''s disappearance, she discovers that her presumed identity is false and her life''s origins as well. This revelation leads her to an alternate dimension in Silent Hill,with the latter also entered by her classmate Vincent (Kit Harington) who aids her find her father and escape the dark forces.  However, Vincent is a member of the dark forces himself, and his defection is hardly convincing at all.

    Neither is the rest of the film.  The rather notable cast of supporting actors such as Martin Donovan, Carrie-Anne Moss, Radha Mitchell, Malcolm McDowell and Deborah Kara Unger is largely wasted in this silly horror tale of escape from Silent Hill.

    Just watch the special effects, creature makeup (including a rather silly gothic spider) and set decoration.  All else should be buried in the underworld!

    Best Film Opening: The Sessions

    Best Film Playing: The Imposter

    Best Action: Argo
    Best Drama: The Sessions
    Best Foreign: Crulic: The Path to Beyond (Ekran Polish Film Festival)

    Best Comedy: Pitch Perfect
    Best Family: Frankenweenie
    Best Documentary: The Imposter

  • TIFF BELL Lightbox - James Bond

    BOND

    Ever since Sean Connery uttered the lines: “My name is Bond.  James Bond”, the character, double O Seven or 007, has been embedded in the minds of moviegoers.  It has been 50 years since the first Bond film DR. NO appeared on the screen in 1962.  It is 50 years later with SKYFALL ready to hit theatres in November.

    The actors that have worn the tuxedo of James Bond are almost too many to innumerate.  The first was Sean Connery, followed by George Lazenby in just one film ON HER MAJESTY’S SERVICE, then Roger Moore, Timothy Dalton, Pierce Brosnan and now Daniel Craig.  In between, the spoof CASINO ROYALE had multiple stars playing Bond including David Niven, Peter Sellers with Woody Allen playing Jimmie Bond, James’ nephew.  And the list goes on.

    And the Best Bond actor?  Most cineastes of the old school prefer Connery while a younger audience Roger Moore.  Moore was too comical while the latest Craig, on the other end of the spectrum took Bond too seriously.

    TIFF Bell Lightbox present the almost complete (where is NEVER SAY NEVER AGAIN?) series of Bond films.  The capsule reviews below are a cross section of different actors playing Bond.

    As to my favourites?

    Bond Actor: Sean Connery

    Film: GOLDFINGER

    Bond girl: Ursula Andress (DR. NO)

    Villain: Telly Savalas (ON HER MAJESTY’S SERVICE)

    Bond ripoff: CASINO ROYALE

    Least Liked: QUANTUM SOLACE and LIVE AND LET DIE

    For full programming of the Bond films, description, venue show times and ticket pricing, please check the TIFF website at:

    www.tiff.net

    CAPSULE REVIEWS:

    DR. NO (USA 1962) ****
    Directed by Terence Young

    Perhaps the only Bond film that does not begins with an action sequence, the film is still memorable for its opening with the 3 assassins crossing the street to a Jamaican mix of the Three Blind Mice tune.  DR. NO is the first and many fans’ favourite Bond film and it is not difficult to see why.  Stripped of CGI, as the film was behind then in the technology, DR. NO still manages to fascinate in its primitive special effects.  Doing away with Bond involves tacky methods like letting loose a Black Widow in his hotel room or have a henchman hide behind the curtains waiting for Bond to enter the room.  Coincidentally this henchman is Anthony Dawson who played Grace Kelly’s would be killer in Hitchcock’s DAIL M FOR MURDER.  Dated in the way the Chinese were all played by Caucasians in make up including the villain Dr. No (Joseph Wiseman) though the excuse given is that he is half Chinese, half German, the film has all other Chinese women played by whites with heavy makeup.  Still, this is the film that made the spy genre so popular.  The filmmakers got it 100% right, right from the very start with a gun barrel’s view of the figure of Bond in the aperture to the famous Bond theme by Monty Norman.  Ursula Andress as Honey Rider is so memorable as the Bond girl here that her appearance out of the water is copied in a later Bond film, CASINO ROYALE by Halle Barry.  DR. NO is a delight when it first appeared in 1962 and still a delight when viewed again, dated or not.

    GoldenEye (UK 1995) ***
    Directed by Martin Campbell

    Average Bond film noted for the first Bond after a 6-year hiatus (due to legal quarrels) with Pierce Brosnan to step in the 007’s shoes and also the first one to first one to feature actress Judi Dench as his boss M, with whom he addresses as ‘mum’.  Dench was so popular as the stern mistress that she went on to keep her role up to this present Bond.  None mostly to keep Bond in his place and not to particularly like him (this she confesses in this film), she also says to him: “But do come back alive.”  Martin Campbell directs the first time with a story not taken from an Ian Fleming novel.  Here, Bond fights to prevent an arms syndicate from using the GoldenEye satellite weapon against London in order to cause a global economic meltdown.  The Bond girl here is a Georgian sex murderer (Famke Janssen) who kills her victims during the act.  She obviously meets her match with Bond.  Gottfried and Sean Bean make above average villains  and it interested to note that actor Joe Don Baker returns playing a good guy in this film though he played the main villain in THE LIVING DAYLIGHTS.

    GOLDFINGER (USA 1966) *****

    Directed by Guy Hamilton

    For many and for this reviewer too, the best of the Bond films in the series!  Sean Connery returns in the third Bond film with an extended pre-credit action sequence that led to all the following Bond films copying suit.  GOLDFINGER also has my favorite Bond song, GOLDFINGER by Shirley Bassey, the best name for a Bond girl, Pussy Galore (Honor Blackman) as well as the funniest line ever uttered by Bond.  When Bond wakes up from unconsciousness and sees Blackman, he asks: “And who are you?”  She replies: “I am Pussy Galore” to which Bond replies: “I must be dreaming!”  It also contains one of the best fight sequences; the one with Harold Sakata as Oddjob wielding a steel killer bowler hat.  The film''s plot has Bond investigating gold smuggling by gold magnate Auric Goldfinger (Gert Frobe) and eventually uncovering Goldfinger''s plans to attack the U.S Bullion Depository at Fort Knox.  The film also contains a very cleverly written and executed sequence of how Bond gets his own back on Goldfinger during a golf game in which the latter cheats.  GOLDFINGER is so much fun from start to finish and so super smug with its self mockery and outrageousness.  Notably, GOLDFINGER is also the Bond film that started the gadgetry and the extensive use of technology.  Norman Wanstall won the Academy Award for Best Sound Effects Editing.

    LIVE AND LET DIE (UK 1973) ***

    Directed by Guy Hamilton

    This is Roger Moore’s first Bond film after Connery declined to reprise the role of agent 007.  Though directed by Hamilton again (his third Bond film) LIVE AND LET DIE turns out to be a bit too playful compared to the other Bond films.  Take for example, the extended boat chase scene with Sheriff J.W. Pepper (Clifton James) hamming it up for too long a time.  Still, this Bond adventure though mostly shot in the States and perhaps the most American of the series is colourful enough with lots of voodoo dances and cult practices.  The plot concerns the smuggling of heroin to destroy all the current competition so that Mr. Big (Yaphet Kotto) can come up as number one in the business.  Mr. Big has an underground fortress, just like in the other Bond films, that will eventually get destroyed by Bond.  The film has an anticlimactic ending with a villain still on the train that Bond is on.  LIVE AND LET DIE is mostly famous for its title song written by performed by Paul McCartney and his band Wings which was nominated for the Best Song Academy Award.

    THE LIVING DAYLIGHTS (UK 1987) ***1/2

    Directed by John Glen

    The first Bond with Timothy Dalton filling in Roger Moore’s shoes!  Critically praised and a success at the box-office, Dalton does well as Bond though many thought him too dark to play the M16 agent.  Dalton looks like a grown up version of Ezra Miller the actor who plays the disturbed kid in the recent movie WE NEED TO TALK ABOUT KEVIN.  But looks aside, Dalton is suave, sexy and believable as Bond.  The story concerns Bond acting as a counter sniper to protect a Soviet defector, Georgi Koskov (Jeroen Krabbe). He tells Bond that General Pushkin (John Rhys-Davies), head of the KGB, is systematically killing British and American agents. When Koskov is seemingly snatched back, Bond follows him across Europe, Morocco and Afghanistan landing the film in the exotic locations required in a Bond film.  Compared to the other Bond films, this one has more emotions running. The romance between Kara (Maryan d’Abo) is stronger than most though she can be hardly remembered as a Bond girl.  Thoguh running a bit long, THE LIVING DYLIGHTS contains enough distractions and exciting action scenes (including a good fight one in a plane) to make this one of the better Bond films.

    ON HER MAJESTY’S SECRET SERVICE (UK 1969) ***
    Directed by Peter Hunt


    Film editor and second unit director of the earlier Bond series Peter Hunt takes over the director’s chair in his only attempt at directing Bond.  His effort is not so bad, though his film is remembered as the only Bond film that starred George Lazenby and the one Bond got married.  In this film Bond faces once again Blofeld (this time played with subsequent relish by Telly Savalas) who is planning to sterilise the world''s food supply through a group of brainwashed "angels of death".  Sot partly in Switzerland, the film has lot of chases in the snow, included a ski chase and a bobsled ending in which Bond’s wife, the Contessa Teresa di Vicenzo (the excellent Diana Rigg) meets her fate.  Australian Lazenby is the most cardboard of all the Bonds though Bond fans would not really complain with all the action happening around him.  At least he fights well, as evident in the exciting first fight scene on the beach at the start of the film.

  • Ekran Polish Film Festival

    EKRAN Polish Toronto Film Festival

    October 25th to October 28th


    It is with great pleasure that EKRAN welcomes you to the 4th Annual Ekran Polish Film Festival in Toronto. This year promises to be even better than the last, and EKRAN is simply thrilled to see the festival grow from strength to strength with each and every year.  This would not have been possible without your support, and EKRAN is immensely grateful to everyone who has contributed to our efforts, whether through official sponsorships or by participating in the events that are organized.

    As always, in making this year’s film selection EKRAN aims to showcase the best of contemporary Polish cinema.  Many of the works included in the program are debut feature films, and we look forward to the day when you have a chance to say that it was at the Ekran Film Festival in 2012 that you first encountered the work of Tomasz Wasilewski (In the Bedroom), Bartosz Konopka (Fear of Falling), or the Toronto-based Tom Sokalski (Tourist), to name only a few of our debutants. EKRAN is also proud to have been able to include a significant number of female film directors in our 2012 line-up (Barbara Białowąs, Anca Damian, Maria Sadowska, and Anna Plutecka-Mesjasz), and for finding a balance between films that espouse more traditional approaches to film narrative (such as Wojciech Smarzowski’s Rose, or Mitja Okorn’s Letters to Santa), and those that treat their celluloid medium in innovative ways (for example Jan Komasa’s Suicide Room, or Przemysław Wojcieszek’s Secret).

    For complete information of the festival, please go to the Ekran website at:

    www.ekran.ca

    Capsule Reviews of a few films screened at EKRAN:

    MY NAME IS KI (Poland 2011) ***
    Directed by Leszek Dawid

    Ki, short for Kinga (Roma Gasiorowska) is almost like a single mother.  The father Antoni (Krzysztof Ogloza) shirks responsibility for looking after their son Pio (Kamil Malecki).  Trying to etch out a living, getting social insurance and dancing to make some extra cash, Ki is still human in wanting to have a good time at clubs.  After all, she is young and pretty.  So, director Dawid shows the audience her good and bad side, leaving them to judge whether to be on her side or not.  She is quite demanding and gets annoying (when she turns the radio full blast without consideration for others) though she is a responsible mother who does love her son.  Gasiorowska delivers an exceptional performance as the young mother, winning her the Best Actress Award in the Polish equivalent of the Academy Award.  A mix between comedy and drama, Ki’s tale is a familiar one which many can relate to.

    THE PATH TO BEYOND (Poland 2011) ***

    Directed by Anca Damian

    This curious Kafka-styled animated biography tells the true story of a Romanian by the name of Claudiu Crulic (Vlad Ivanov), who died in a Polish prison from a hunger strike.  Crulic went on it to prove his innocence for a theft he did not commit.  No authority listened to him and he was given the run around in as absurd a manner as in any Kafka story.  There is an actor playing Crulic as the film is a mix technique of hand-drawn animation, photographs and other artwork blending in real objects and human beings.  The result is an amazing looking piece of film that is as colourful as it is transparent, lively as it is aimless, and as captivating as the story unfolds.  Damian tells the story as narrated by the dead man, first telling of his childhood, background before coming on to the tragic event that led to the hunger strike.  This is a story of an unfortunate man who led an unfortunate life, a sort of really depressing tale, but never has one been told with such vivid imagination.  Artwork and animation was done at the animation studio DSG, by Dan Panaitescu, Raluca Popa, Dragos Stefan, Roxana Bentu and Tuliu Oltean. The film won the Cristal for Best Feature Film at the 2012 at the Annecy International Animated Film Festival in France.  Highly recommended!

    SECRET (SEKRET) (Poland 2011) **

    Directed by Przemysław Wojcieszek


    SECRET is a psychological drama focuses on the story of a 30-year-old drag queen (Thomasz Tyndyk) who learns that his grandfather, to whom he owes his happy childhood, might or night not have murdered a Jewish family trying to return to their home at the end of the Second World War.  This is THE CSCERET of the film title.  His girlfriend (Agnieszka Podsiadlik) is intolerable to this fact, suspects the grandfather and gives him trouble to no end.  Director Wojcieszek is fond of using jump cuts throughout the film, giving it an edgy feel.  The drag queen is also shown with her strange performances.  But Tyndyk is as annoying as in her performances and director Wojcieszek cannot decide what to do with him or her, shifting her from one sexual preference to another.  The one secret/theme film runs out of steam very quickly.

  • TIFF BELL Lightbox - Romero

    If ever a name is synonymous with the word zombie, it is horror director George A. Romero.  Romero is the horror master of the zombie movie, having made classics like NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD and DAWN OF THE DEADwhich is reviewed below.

     

    Arriving just in time for Halloween, the zombie films together with a slew of other horror films Romero has made, Romero’s films should both delight and scare.

    Romero himself will be present on the 31st Octobr as a special conversation presentation.

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

    www.tiff.net

    Capsule reviews of a few of the films are provided below courtesy of screeners provided by TIFF Toronto.

    CAPSULE REVIEWS:

    CREEPSHOW (USA 1982) ***

    Directed by George A. Romero

    This collaboration with horror master Stephen King (he wrote the script) is more camp horror that anything else but the success of his low budget production which went on to gross millions just goes to show what horror fans want – a little wicked humour in their horror.  The film is made up of 5 horror short stories with the characters played by a stellar cast that includes Ted Danson, Ed Harris, Adrienne Barbeau, Hal Holbrook, Leslie Nelson with Stephen King himself and his son who plays Billy in the story that bookends the five horror stories.  The stories are entitled “Jolting Tales of Horror”, “Weeds”, “Father’s Day”, “They’re Creeping Up on You!”, “The Crate” and “Something to Tide You Over.”  “Weeds” which stars Stephen King as a dumb buck-toothed yokel is less a horror story that silly comedy except for the meteorite that falls in his farm backyard.  The film maintains the spirit of comic books like Tales from the Crypt and everyone loves to be scared silly once ever so often. 

     DAWN OF THE DEAD (USA 1978) ***

    Directed by George A. Romero

    The sequel to NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD, DAWN takes all the reasoning behind the zombie invasion as a given.  Nothing is explained and when the film begins, the zombies are already attacking the U.S. towns with our small group of heroes trying to escape no matter what it takes.  It happens that one is a helicopter pilot (David Emge) who flies his girl (Gaylen Ross) and two cops (Ken Foree and Scott Reiniger) to safety.  Before that, they get supplies from a mall where most of the action takes place.  DAWN is like a zombie epic.  Despite the thin story line, Romero’s film captures the audience’s attention from start to finish.  There is always something interesting happening.  Be warned though that there is a lot of swearing and gross scenes of zombies eating flesh and the innards.  The film ends with the group of 4 attacked by a biker gang that serves more of a threat than the zombies.  Though Empire Magazine rated DAWN OF THE DEAD as one of the best 500 films of all time, the film is ok, but not that good.

    MARTIN (USA 2012) ***1/2

    Directed by George. A. Romero



    Touted as Romero’s personal favorite, MARTIN about a would-be vampire feature is the only Romero film delving in the vampire genre.  After establishing himself as the Master of the zombie genre, Romero plays around with the rules of vampires.  Martin (John Smack) can eat garlic, toss away crucifixes and not burn to a crisp in sunlight.  However, the cursed teen has a genuine lust for blood.  The trouble is that he is staying with his uncle who believes in all the vampire lore.  The fact that madness runs in this family does not help either.  In fact it blurs the line between reality and fantasy.  Romero puts all this into good use and sets his story in a rough run down Pittsburg neighborhood where a lurking vampire is the least of the city’s problems.  In fact Martin is quite the lad’s man and when his blood thirst is kept in check, he functions well in society.  The beginning sequence in which he sucks the blood while having sex with a lady passenger in a cramped compartment is not for the squeamish!  (Screening at TIFF Bell Lightbox)

    MONKEY SHINES (USA 1988) ***1/2

    Directed by George A. Romero


    MONEKY SHINES is Romero’s big studio flop at the box-office that resulted in his going back to indie productions.  The studios wanted a happy ending and forced on a shock ending, which is in reality not that bad a way to end this film.  Ironically, this is my favourite Romero film.  The film tells the story of an athlete, Alan Mann (Jason Beghe), who is rendered quadriplegic when struck by a truck.  Mann fails to adjust to his condition, becoming suicidal and despondent.  When Geoffrey (John Pankow in a hammed performance), a scientist friend of his, who has been experimenting with the injection of human brain tissue into monkeys, learns this, he is prompted to supply one of the experimental monkeys, named "Ella" to Alan as a helper.  But the bond leads to something sinister with the monkey becoming a telepathic receptacle for Mann''s anger at his state and his desire for revenge against friends and family for slights both real and imagined.  The film contains some great moments like the way Mann’s nurse and Mann torture each other in their hate/care relationship, an intimate love scene between the love interest, Melanie (Kate McNeil) and Mann and Mann’s love/hate relationship with his overbearing mother (Joyce Van Patten).  Ella is both extremely cute and horrific which gives the films a certain extra edge.  Overall, a satisfying but rather nasty little movie, which is likely the reason audiences stayed away.

  • This Week's Film Reviews (Oct 19, 2012)

    New films openinhg are THE PAPERBOY, PARANORMAL ACTIVITY 4 and ALEX CROSS with the latter two expected to dominate the box-office this weekend.

    CAPSULE REVIEWS:

    ALEX CROSS (USA 2012) ****

    Directed by Rob Cohen

    ALEX CROSS the film is based on the character of the same name in the James Patterson’s books.  But the scriptwriters and director of the ALEX CROSS film have made quite a lot of changes lifting the location from Washington DD in which Cross works in the FBI in most of the books, to Detroit.

    In Detroit, Cross is a cop.  He wishes to get out of the dangerous job by accepting an FBI desk job in Washington.  But his wife, Maria (Carmen Ejogo) is against the move as she works in Detroit and the children do not want to change schools.  So far, 2 films, ALONG CAME A SPIDER and KISS THE GIRLS have been made of the Cross character, both starring Morgan Freeman in the title role.  Tyler Perry plays Dr. Cross in this film, the first role in a film he did not direct.  Perry is actually very good in as Dr. Cross, who holds a psychology degree.

    But the more interesting character in the movie is the hired assassin, known as The Butcher or as Picasso (Mathew Fox who lost all his excess fat for this role.)  If the term lean mean killing machine is to be applied to anyone, it is to the Butcher who thrives on violence.  When Cross’ partner Tommy (Edward Burns) asks why a victim had all her fingers cut off as the Butcher only required her to answer to one question during the torture, the reply was that he did it for pleasure after getting the answer after one digit was chopped off.

    ALEX CROSS is an ultra-violent film, slickly made and executed.  The villain in the film is one step smarter and stronger than Cross or many men put together.  The scene in which the Butcher enters a caged match just to make some money is a compelling watch never mind it being a distraction to the plot.

    The best thing of the film is the unexpected twist at the end.  When one is about to question the motive of The Butcher, as there is none to the killings, the final twist reveals something completely different.  The fact that the movie does off with key characters makes this film unsuitable to general audiences who might like this level of violence.  (Consider UNTHINKABLE, another ultra violent torture cop film that starred Samuel L. Jackson)

    The film also contains a great cast with superb supporting roles by Giancarlo Esposito as super gangster Daramus Holiday and Cicely Tyson as Cross’ grandmother who he calls Nana Mama.

    Despite its flaws, ALEX CROSS is a totally exciting pulp thriller from start to finish.  I loved the ultra violence, action and gore!  And the tables are turned with a black man being the good guy with the brains (Mr. Tibbs of IN THE HEAT OF THE NIGHT taken to the limit) and the white guy being the villain.

    THE PAPERBOY (USA 2012) **

    Directed by Lee Daniels


    Lee Daniels’ follow up of his 2009 cult drama PRECIOUS is so full of atmosphere that one could almost smell the stench of the dirty southern swamps of Florida.

    The film begins with a trashy black woman. Anitx (Macy Gray) being interviewed in relation to the murder of a racial fat sheriff.  In her own words: “Someone got fed up with his fat ass and killed him.  That’s what happened!”  This is the funniest line in the movie.  But apart from that interview where it appears that the story is told from the Anita’s point of view, the film shifts all over the place from ne protagonist to another with the story ending up not seen from anyone’s pint of view despite the narration.

    The murder is pinned on Hillary Van Wetter (John Cusack) whose wife, Charlotte Bess (Nicole Kidman) has a love/hate relationship with him.  The Miami Times sends two reporters Ward Jensen (Matthew McConaughey) and his black partner (David Owelowo) into town to do the story but they take it upon themselves to do the right thing to clear Hilary’s name.  Ward is from the town.  Into the picture comes Jack (a very buffed up Zac Efron who prances around in his white underwear as they were going out of style), unemployed and creating trouble such as falling in love with Charlotte and lusting over Anita.

    Apparently Jack is not the only one in the family who fancies the darker skin.  Brother Ward does too, but of the other sexual orientation that leads him to almost beaten to death in one disturbing scene.

    Director Daniels seems fond of jolting his audience out of their seats with uncomfortable scenes such as the bloody gutting of an alligator, a no-touch sex scene and an all touch violent sex scene in which one wonders whether Charlotte is screaming out of sexual pleasure or out of hurt.

    But with the narrative jumping all over the place, whatever atmosphere created is lost in the muddle of the story.  No one really cares about the murder or the romance or anything else in the story.  The story seems to be plodding along aimlessly.

    Kidman is marvelous as the sexual Sothern belle but the prize performance goes to Marcy Gray as Anita the maid.  Too bad all the performances seem wasted to nought in a film that should have all come together.

    PARANORMAL ACTIVITY 4 (USA 2012) **

    Directed by Henry Joost and Ariel Schulman


    The film begins with ‘found footage’ of the sudden disappearance of a mother and son.   It continues, years later, with teens Ben (Matt Shively) shooting Alex’s (Kathryn Newton) brother Wyatt (Aiden Lovekamp) at his soccer game.  Ben then continues filming Alex in her tree house suddenly find the neighbour’s kid Robbie (Brady Allen) there.  When Robbie’s mother is suddenly taken ill to hospital Robbie stays over at Alex’s place and it is here the paranormal activity begins.  End of story.  Or end of any reasoning to the plot of the film

    Found footage is the order of the day.  It does not make sense that the entire film is shot with shaky camera or grainy footage.  A few times, these footages are explained.  At the film’s start, Ben is supposed to be shooting Wyatt’s soccer game.  In another scene, Ben’s camcorder was supposed to be left on overnight capturing what happens in the girlfriend’s house and in yet another, Ben shoots again through infra red tracking dots.  But the excuses slowly become incredibly silly and after a while the directors do not attempt to explain any longer the reason the film is still shot in the way of found footage.

    PARANORMAL ACTIVITY contains a few genuinely scary segments.  The best of these is the boy Wyatt disappearing under the water of his bath tub.  The camera lingers for a few minutes with a shot of the still water in the tub with the audience probably wondering if the boy has drowned.  This is a classic case in which nothing happens can be more frightening than quick edits and cheap fast shocks.

    But most of the scares are done in classic form with numerous false alarms, things that go bump in the night and sudden loud noises.  The directors are also fond of placing the camera up close to the front of a character and then have something in the back suddenly pop out to scare the audience.

    But the main flaw of the film is that there is hardly any story or continuity.  The film is just a bunch of scary scenes loosely joined together without any regard for narrative.  Scary though these scenes may be, the collective whole can hardly be said to constitute a proper movie.

    PARANORMAL ACTIVITY 5 is already in the making.  Now, that is really scary!

     

    WILLIAM KURELEK’S THE MAZE (Canada 2012) ***

    Directed by Nick and Zack Young


    Directors Nick and Zack Young are brothers who produced, restored and imagined their father William Kurulek’s 1969 film about himself and his art.  The father was diagnosed as autistic, suffered mental illness, institutionalized but did not fail to put his art on canvas.  This disturbing film shows Kurelek, the man and his art.

    The title THE MAZE comes from the title of one of Kurelek’s most famous and best works.  The painting shows Kurelek’s imagination of what is contained in a man’s skull – chambers that hold contents too disturbing perhaps to be put don in this review and has to be seen to give the artist justice.  This is painted while in England as a patient in Maudsley and Netherne psychiatric hospitals.  As the film is narrated, Kurulek’s other disturbing works are also displayed on the screen.

    Running at slightly over an hour, the brothers’ film cuts to the chase.  The film contains no distractions but follows the father’s life chronologically as he is institutionalized and talks to the camera of his childhood, influences and finally his adulthood.  It is a disturbing life not only to be rejected by society but being unable to function due to his mental illness.  Many of his family interviewers also lend their say making the story complete. The most intriguing fact is his getting married and bearing children.  The interview giving by his wife is undoubtedly the most moving and shows what true love and endurance are.

    For those who have not heard of William Kuruleks’ works and to those familiar, this documentary will still fascinate, if not to illustrate the mysteries of the human condition.

    October 19, 2012 - 7 p.m./8 p.m. film screening
    St. Anne''s Church, 270 Gladstone Avenue

    SPECIAL:

     

    Toronto Jewish Film Festival

    Presents 

    The Rabbi’s Cat / Le Chat du Rabbin

    Directed byJoann Sfar and Antoine Delesvaux

    French with English Subtitles

    France / Austria 2011 – RT: 100 min

    CHAI TEA & A MOVIE

    Sunday, October 21, 2012 

    Cineplex Odeon Sheppard Cinemas –  4861 Yonge Street (Sheppard subway station)

    Tea – 4:00pm  |  Film – 5:00pm

    Tickets:  $15 can be purchased in advance at WWW.TJFF.COM or by calling 416-324-9121

    More information available at WWW.TJFF.COM

    Tickets are also available at the door(cash only, subject to availability) $15

     

    (Toronto – September 27, 2012) TJFF presents The Rabbi''s Cat (Le Chat de Rabin) the big screen adaptation of the internationally-beloved graphic novel of French comic artist Joann Sfar. The film makes its Toronto premiere at this special screening, co-presented with The Beguiling comic art shop.

    In this whimsical and visually-stunning animated film set in pre-war Algiers, Rabbi Sfar lives a quiet life by the sea with his beautiful daughter Zlabya and her talking cat. Along with a Russian painter and a wise old Arab Sheikh, the rabbi and the mischievous pet set out on a quest into the unknown depths of Africa. Using hand-drawn animation, Sfar and co-director Antoine Delesvaux recreate the multicultural community of 1920s Algiers in vivid and loving detail.

    In January 2002, Dargaud published the first volume of Joann Sfar''s graphic novel, an atypical series that drew inspiration from Voltaire, the Jewish culture of Algeria and the novelist Albert Cohen. The Rabbi''s Cat has sold over 900,000 copies, joining  Marjanne Satrapi’s Persepolis in triumphant confirmation of the new wave of French graphic novelists. A success that transcends borders: the series has been translated into fifteen languages and was especially well-received in the United States. Only logical that the film industry took a keen interest in The Rabbi''s Cat, but Joann Sfar refused all proposals to adapt his story for the big screen, until the day he considered making the film himself.

    BEST BETS OF THE WEEK:

    Besr Film Opening: 

     

    Best Film Playing: 

    Best Action: Argo
    Best Drama:
    Best Foreign: None

    Best Comedy: Pitch Perfect
    Best Family: Frankenweenie
    Best Documentary: William Kurelek''s The Maze

  • This Week's Film Reviews (Oct 12, 2012)

    Films from TIFF like THE THIEVESand ARGO (Most Popular (Audience) film Award runner-up at this year''s TIFF) begin their run this week.

    ARGO (USA 2012) ****

    Directed by Ben Affleck

    Smart-ass Hollywood action suspense flick that is based on the true story of the rescue of American hostages by Canadians when the Iranians went berserk and stormed the American Embassy in Tehran after the overthrow of the Shah.

    During the embassy siege, 6 Americans hid in the residence of the Canadian Ambassador till a plan was hatched for their escape.  The Americans were grateful and praised their northern Canadian neighbours for helping.  Canadian American diplomacy had never been so cordial.  And when this praise occurred on screen, the audience cheered proudly.  But not as loudly when the Americans narrowly escaped on their airplane.

    Affleck directs and acts with great flair capturing the 70’s look on film 100% though the events took place in the early 80’s.  Affleck, who looks like Warren Beatty in the film (a joke is made of this as well) plays the mastermind of the rescue operation.  He comes up with the best of the bad ideas, as the script says.

    Affleck plays his film safe with lots of suspense and action interlaced with humour.  A fake film crew from Canada is supposed to be making a sci-fi film called ARGO and the crew which the hostages will pretend to be, will board a plane from Tehran.  A simple plan but executed with much danger.  From the film’s start, the audience is given a 3-minute history briefing of the Shah and the then current situation.  A lot of ranting and shouting is shown with the angry Iranians (though all the screaming is in Farsi) burning the American flag, hanging traitors and storming the Embassy gate.  The humour comes mostly from inside jokes about Hollywood filmmaking.  Alan Arkin and Robbie Coltrane are winning in their roles as studio big shots.

    The running joke of why the fake film is called ARGO is the film’s best joke.  Other jokes involve politics though no judgment is made on the Shad’s regime or the new Khomeini government.

    With a thoroughly convincing period look, edge of the seat excitement and countless laugh-out loud humour, ARGO is the best and most satisfying action flick this year blowing The Avengers, The Dark Knight and Spiderman away.

    THE IMPOSTER (UK 2011)***

    Directed by Bart Layton

    THE IMPOSTER is a documentary centered on a young Frenchman who convinces a grieving Texas family that he is their 16-year-old son, Nicholas who went missing for 3 years.

    It is clear from the film’s start that Frederic Bourdin is an imposter, as he speaks directly to the camera how he got himself into the situation from the very start.  Director Layton shoots the first part of his film as a mystery thriller, with as little light as possible and with the characters (especially Bourdin) almost always in the shadows.

    This film could have been made as a fiction style non documentary film.  But as this is done as a documentary, the film is even more chilling for the main reason that the audience knows that what transpires on screen is true, re-enactment or not.

    Director Layton uses this point to his full advantage, even taking his audience for a ride with a revelation towards the end (not to be revealed in the review) that is not true.  But Layton lays out a few major twists in the story – so unexpected that the film turns out to be rather disturbing in the way human beings can act and behave without conscience.

    As the truth is finally revealed to the Barclay family, most of the family especially the mother is ridiculed.  But at least Nicholas’ sister admits that she had been f**king stupid to accept a total stranger as a member of her family in the first place.

    THE IMPOSTER is a totally absorbing mystery thriller documentary (one of the first of its kind) that is as entertaining as it is disturbing!

    SINISTER (USA 2012) ***

    Directed by Scott Derrickson

    SINISTER is a very appropriate title for this movie as every character has a sinister side to him/her.

    The protagonist is New York Bestselling crime author, Ellison (Ethan Hawke) who desperately needs a hit novel to shape his family life together.  So he moves his family into the house where a quadruple hanging took place hoping to discover some new evidence for his book.  The sheriff (Fred Dalton Thompson) does not take too kindly to his move into his town but one deputy, calling himself Deputy so-and-so (James Ransone) admires him and aids in his solving of the strange killings.

    Derrickson’s film is longer than necessary and lasts almost 2 hours.  Nothing much really happens in the time that passes, but Derrickson take an ample lot of time creating a scary and spooky atmosphere.  To his credit, he has fashioned quite a creepy little film complete with false alarms and real scary pieces.

    The film contains more drama than most horror films.  The confrontation between him and Tracy when she finds out about the house is quite the scene.  Fortunately, Derrickson plays the segment for a bit of comedy.

    It is not difficult to see the reason Hawke was drawn to the film.  Hawke get a chance to show his acting abilities in playing an author’s decent into madness.
    Credit is to be given to Derrickson for his success at creating compelling scenes both scary (as in the grainy hanging segment at the film’s start) and dramatic (father and daughter and father and sheriff, also at the film’s start).

    Once the mystery is revealed at the end of the film by courtesy of Deputy so-and-so, the film descends into predictability.  Fortunately, he film has only 5 minutes left to go and director Derrickson has managed to hold the audience’s attention for a sufficient amount of time.

    STORIES WE TELL (Canada 2012) ***
    Directed by Sarah Polley


    STORIES WE TELL is writer/director Sarah Polley’s third and most ambitious feature that blurs the line between fiction and documentary.

    The newspapers reported a while back that Sarah Polley had recently discovered that the man that brought her up with her mother is not her true biological father.  STORIES WE TELL attempts to tell the story of her family, but as constructed from the stories told from the different family members through interviews.  Those interviewed (the storytellers) include the biological father Harry, the other father, Michael (who is he most vocal and thus understandably given the most screen time) and Sarah’s other siblings.  The mother is seen mostly through archive footage and shown to be the independent vivacious and misunderstood woman that films written and directed by females love to have as their main protagonists.

    At one point in the film, it is suggested that people might be bored with the story of this family.  Polley’s film proves this statement only too true though not for lack of trying. It is a boring too personal a family tale, one that is common with not that much excitement, no matter how the story is told.

    It should be noted that the interviewees in the film are not the real family members, but actors re-enacting parts.  This is only apparent when the end credits roll.  This fact gives Polley more artistic credit.  One wonders then how much of what transpires on screen is really true or just concocted in the artist’s mind.

    But it is at times when Polley gets too smart for the film’s own good.  Parts like when sibling John turns the tables and questions the interviewer what the doc is about or when she includes a senseless montage of her father, fully clothed descending into the water of a swimming pool.  Whatever feeling of honesty is immediately lost.

    In the hands of a more experienced filmmaker maybe Jacques Rivette or Ingmar Bergman, this great idea might turn into a film of great profundity and insight that examines the human soul. Though STORIES WE TELL is occasionally funny and dramatic, Polley’s film is a mismatch of smugness and originality.  But one has to give her credit for trying.

    THE THIEVES (South Korea 2012) ***1/2

    Directed by Choi Dong-hoon

    (The review contains a spoiler alert typed in italics)

    South Korea has in the past decade rivalled Hong Kong as Southeast Asia’s production of high octane action films, but this phenomenon has not been really experienced in North America.  THE THIEVES is one of the first of South Korean films of this sort that premiered at this year’s TIFF to reach our shores.

    And what an octane ride!

    The film also rivals the best of Hollywood caper (OCEANS ELEVEN) flicks.  Mixed with action with plot twists and slick execution, THE THIEVES must be seen to be believed.  Though a bit overlong with a convoluted plot of too many double crosses, directed Choi’s film contains enough highs for these flaws to be overlooked.

    The heat is on for Popie (Lee Jung-jae) and his team after they pull off their latest heist which takes the start of the film, just as done in the opening of a Bond film.  It is time to leave South Korea until things cool down. Ever the opportunist, Popie has lined up a lucrative job for his associates in Macau, but there’s a catch: they have to join forces with Macao Park (Kim Yun-seok), the former partner who double-crossed Popie years before.  The target is a $20 million diamond that Park has connections to sell it off to.   Popie assembles his gang of usual suspects: a "wire team" consisting of the sexy and hilariously self-absorbed Yenicall (Jeon Ji-hyun) and her hopelessly infatuated partner Zampano (Kim Soo-hyun); the older hard drinking con artist Chewingum (Kim Hae-sook); and lock-picking expert (and Macao’s former flame) Pepsee (Kim Hye-soo). Macao meanwhile brings his own motley crew into the mix: the crude and volatile Andrew (Oh Dal-soo), seasoned pro Chen (Simon Yam), safe-cracker Julie (Lee Sinje), and point man Jonny (Derek Tsang).

    Though the elaborate plan requires each member of the team to play a crucial role, the film contains too many characters.  It is easy to confuse one character from another (like the safecracker and the lock expert) unless one is familiar with the stars.  Each actor is given sufficient screen time and they do strut their stuff making a lasting impression, though this results in the overlong film.

    The action segments are the best that can be seen.  The wire hanging scenes rival Tom Cruise’s in MISSION IMPOSSIBLE GHOSTS PROTOCOL.  Other memorable segments include action scenes include an escape by car in a car park and busy street, escape from a trapped car underwater and suspense set-ups such as the beginning robbery.  The script also contains lots of smart talk and excellent one-liners.

    (Spoiler Alert!)  But as good as all the actors are, the best scenes are stolen by veteran actors Kim and Yam who play Chewinggum and Chen who fall in love during the caper.  Making a run in a stolen car from the cops, Chewinggum finally finds love and is happy but when discovers then that Chen had been shot says: “I have closed the wrong dream.”  As the car swerves to a crash in slow motion like a well orchestrated opera, this is when Choi’s  film soars.

    The film is shot in 4 languages, Mandarin, Cantonese, Korean and Japanese.  As the Koreans meet the Chinese, they insult each other face to face, speaking their own language.  Those unfamiliar to the sound of the languages can only guess the fact.  The translation into English of words to ‘godammit’ instead of ‘cunt’ also takes away the effect of certain scenes. 

    But ace action director Choi keeps his propulsive caper going full-throttle right until the very end.  The film is currently the highest grossing movie in Korean film history.

    BEST BETS OF THE WEEK:

    Besr Film Opening: Argo

    Best Film Playing: Easy Money

    Best Action: Premium Rush
    Best Drama: Laurence Anyways
    Best Foreign: Easy Money (Sweden)

    Best Comedy: Paranorman
    Best Family: Frankenweenie
    Best Documentary: Beauty is Embarrassing

  • This Week's Film Reviews (Oct 5, 2012)

    Tim Burton’s FRANKENWEENIE begins its run this week to compete with HOTEL TRANSYLVANNIA.  Bell TIFF Lightbox presents a restored 3D version of Hitchcock’s classic DIAL M FOR MURDER .  Remember the identical latch keys?

    DIAL M FOR MURDER (USA 1954) ****
    Directed by Alfred Hitchcock

    The famous murder suspense by Hitchcock gets a run again at TIFF Lightbox in restored digital 3D.  Not that 3D is a necessity to enjoy Hitchcock’s work, but it does give another dimension to the world of suspense.

    Jealous husband, Tony Wendice (Ray Milland) plans the perfect murder blackmailing an ex-colleague to murder his wife, Margot (Grace Kelly) who has taken fancy to a mystery writer, Mark Halliday (Robert Cummings).  But things never go as planned.

    Though based on a one-act play, Hitchcock takes the play out into the open unlike ROPE.  The first scene shows a copper outside a residence and so does the film ends with a copper.  When it is mentioned that the mystery writer is to arrive on the Queen Mary, Hitchcock has a shot at the docks.

    The Master’s camera work and touches are evident throughout the film bringing additional enjoyment to Hitchcock cineastes - the shadows of the lovers part as reflected on the door as the husband enters; Hitchcock makes his comical customary appearance; the fear of the police.

    The humour is as subtle as the Master’s famous practical jokes.  Just when you though you had planned the perfect murder, the killer’s watch stops when he is supposed to make the timed phone call.  Worse still, when he progresses to make the call, he finds the booth used.

    Ray Milland is the typical Hitchcock villain, sufficiently menacing while sounding very much like James Mason in NORTH BY NORTHWEST.  Grace Kelly’s first film with Hitchcock, Hitchcock knows how to show Kelly at her sexiest, especially during the attack scene which close rivals PSYCHO’s shower scene.  But the actor that steals the show is John Williams who plays chief inspector Hubbard (the one that solves the crime) with proud restraint and suave, relishing his discoveries and he goes along like a kid in a candy store.

    It was reported that Hitchcock was not too pleased with the large cameras required for the 3D process.  The film was largely screened in 2D during first release and nothing much could be lost if the film is watched in either format.

    As a Hitchcock film DIAL M FOR MURDER is more stagey than most, but the Master still holds the audience’s attention from start to finish. Be excused for a moment and one would feel that something important would have concurred in the plot.  Ultimately satisfying, his is one film that can stand the test of time despite certain dated events (like travel by the Queen Mary and lack of telephone extensions).

    (Screening of this film is at TIFF Bell Lightbox.)

    Dial M at TIFF Bell Lightbox
    - The theatrical release of this new digital restoration is exclusive to TIFF as of the present in Canada. The film will also screen at Film Forum in New York from Sept 26 to Oct 4.
    - Given that Warner Brothers was restoring the film for Blu-Ray, TIFF worked with them to make a theatrical version (no easy feat because as the theatrical 3D is different than Blu-Ray 3D) in order to bring this restored classic to the big screen, as the remaining 3D prints are no longer in pristine condition. This allows audiences to experience the film as it was intended, for the first time since it was released - even then it was mostly shown in 2D, then in the 80s'' it had a marginal re-release (it actually played TIFF back then - but extremely limited).

    FRANKENWEENIE (USA 2012) ****

    Directed by Tim Burton


    A simple take on the Frankenstein story, FRANKENWEENIE has poor Victor Frankenstein (Charlie Tahan) bringing his dead dog back to life after it has been run over by a car.  Using what he has learnt in his Science class from the new odd teacher, Mr. Rzykruski (Martin Landau), Sparky is back as part of the school science project.  Too bad the secret leaks out, and Vic’s other classmates have other dead creatures to be brought alive too.

    Shot in black and white, obviously to capture the look of the old Frankenstein films of the past, a drawback is that the day scenes look like night.  The night scenes look even gloomier.

    But Burton proves that scary can group with a lot of other genres.  In FRANKENWEENIE, scary blends in with cutesy (long nose spouts of the hounds), comedy (the Science class teacher; fat lady screaming) tragedy (loss of Sparky) and a whole lot of issues like bullying, prejudicial ignorance and social acceptance.  Burton pays tribute to classic film like VERTIGO, GREMLINS, GODZILLA v.s. BAMBI and of course the FRANKENSTEIN films including THE BRIDE OF FRANKENSTEIN.

    But the best thing about the movie is Burton’s imagination which comes through his dark animation.  The dead come to life, even the nastiest of insects and sea monkeys.  The attention to detail of his animation that includes shadows and innovative camera angles give the film an extra lift.  The blending into animation of real life (the characters carrying torches that shine real beams of light; the parents watching real life television; the rain falling when the characters try to harness electricity through lightning) are reflective of Victor trying to bring the dead back to life.

    The voice characterizations are way better in FRANKENWEENIE compared to other recent animated features.  Martin Landau excels as the science teacher matched only by Atticus Shaffer playing the weirdo Igor-like hunchback kid, Edgar.

    Characters from horror films have often been used in animated features.  Burton does a fine job here.  Compared to the recent bland HOTEL TRANSYLVANNIA which has an unimaginative storyline involving Dracula and his daughter, FRANKENWEENIE the movie is full of wonderful innovation and imagination, that takes its characters more than one more step into the beyond.  Next to BRAVE, FRANKENWEENIE is the best animated feature in cinemas this year.  It looks like Disney is on the roll.

    SAMSARA (USA 2012) ***
    Directed by Ron Fricke

    From director Ron Fricke and producer Mark Magdison (BARAKA and CHRONOS) comes another visually stunning film combining camerawork and music with the aim of mesmerizing audiences with a unique sensory experience.

    Samsara is a Sanskrit word that means "the ever turning wheel of life" and is the point of departure for the filmmakers as they search for the elusive current of interconnection that runs through our lives.

    Filmed over a 5-year period in 25 countries, SAMSARA transports the audience to sacred grounds (monasteries), disaster zones (barren landscapes), industrial sites (manufacturing of food produce; farming of chickens and cattle) and natural wonders (forests), though some material; have been duplicated from KOYANIQAATSI (the fast motion photography of vehicles on night lit highways).

    What stands out is the filmmakers’ decision not to use descriptive text or voiceover dialogue, thus encouraging the audiences’ own interpretations.  But in most cases, especially in one odd segment involving a man putting on scary make-up, the end result is confusion.  A little description of what is being watched is a good thing and would not have hurt that much.  In a lot of segments, the audience is left in the dark of what is happening, visually stunning or not!

    TAKEN 2 (France 2012) ***

    Directed by Olivier Megaton


    Those familiar with Luc Besson action flicks and the first TAKEN film know what to expect from this formulaic actioner.

    The story involves former government agent Bryan Mills (Liam Neeson) who has retired and attempts to reassemble his old life, after years of overseas employment have left him estranged from his teenage daughter, Kim (Maggie Grace). But when he and wife Lenore (Famke Janssen) are kidnapped while in Istanbul, Bryan must revert to his old skill set to rescue her, but with Kim’s help before she disappears forever.  The villain is Murad (Rade Sherbedgia) the father of the men Bryan killed to save his daughter in the first TAKEN film.

    The addition of the daughter element into the story to differentiate the two TAKEN films is trite.  Most of the scenes involving both father and daughter turn out funny (the driving test; the boyfriend encounters), intentional or not.  The daughter’s role is much stronger that the wife’s who is not given much to do except to moan most of the time.

    Dialogue is unintentionally funny (Bryan protecting Kim for her boyfriends) and also especially in the chase scene when Kim is driving.  The words of the father: “Go faster”, with the daughter’s reply: “I can’t!” are repeated ever so often.

    The message of the movie, if ever there was one is that father knows best or father kills best.  The efficiency at which he dispatches the Albanian villains whether by gun, blade or bare hands is unbelievable.  He also offers precise information to his daughter to find his whereabouts or memorizes the route when blindfolded to his kidnapped spot.

    The sound of the prayers from the mosque in Istanbul right after the Mills are kidnapped unconsciously puts the Muslims in a bad light.  Other than that, the terrorist element in the movie could well apply to both the Americans as to the Albanians, observing the way lives are dispatched.  At one point, Bryan tells his daughter that the local police are now after them after casually mentioning that he had killed one of them.  The scene of a diplomat playing golf amidst the terror of the Mills suggests that that Americans just sit back and treat the foreign affairs lightly.

    But to director Megaton’s credit, he follows much in the same footsteps of TAKEN’s director Pierre Morrel.  The action is nonstop and the editing is quick and short.  The result is the audience having a jittery feel at the expense of film continuity.

    As he old adage goes, don’t fix it unless broken.  TAKEN 2 is so similar and familiar that the audience could be watching an action scene from another Besson film as TRANSPORTER 3 or TAKEN 1 without realizing the difference.  At least the film contains a neat little twist at the climax when Bryan faces off the villain.  Other than that, the audience is taken for a similar ride.

    The end of the film has Bryan confronting Murad that if he kills him, Murad’s other sons will come after him.  This promises another sequel in the future.

    BEST BETS OF THE WEEK:

    Best Film Opening: Frankenweenie

    Best Film Playing: Easy Money
    Best Action: Premium Rush
    Best Drama: Laurence Anyways
    Best Foreign: Easy Money (Sweden)

    Best Comedy: Paranorman
    Best Family: Frankenweenie
    Best Documentary: Beauty is Embarrassing

  • This Week's Film Reviews (Sep 28, 2012)

    ARBITRAGE (USA 2012) ****

    Directed by Nicholas Jarecki


    ARBITRAGE is a remarkable first directorial debut by 25-year old Richard Jarecki.  His film, which he also wrote, is a taut suspense thriller/drama that keeps the audience on edge from start to end.

    ARBITRAGE tells the story of New York Hedge fund magnate, 60-year old Robert Miller (Richard Gere).  On the surface he appears to be the American success man.  But in reality he is about to be unveiled as a big fraud unless he pulls the sale of his company to a large bank, hiding falsified accounting figures of unaccountable assets.  At the same time, an automobile accident leaves his mistress Julie (Laetitica Casta) dead and him slightly injured.  Detective Michael Bryer (Tim Roth) is all out to get Miller at all costs.  In short, Miller is trouble on legs.

    The clever script works as a detective cat-and-mouse game, a family drama, and a financial suspense nail-biter.  And the film works on all three levels with a clever plot twist that almost makes everything right at the end, but also gives morality its fair due.  Nothing is predictable here and the script has quite a few neat tricks such as the falsifying of Jimmy’s (Nate Parker) license plates.  There is a sarcastic song entitled “One More Chance” that plays half way through the film.

    Director Jarecki who is only 25 is definitely a director to watch.  This is no easy feat – a movie of this calibre – smart, current and entertaining.  Jarecki also draws one of the best performances of Richard Gere’s career.  At age 60, Gere demonstrates maturity, restraint and thought in this fine performance.  Tim Roth is also excellent as the weasily detective who makes his character’s actions and behaviour totally believable.

    The two confrontational scenes between Robert and Miller and daughter (Brit Marling) and then wife (Susan Sarandon) are both different and unforgettable.

    What is totally striking is how the film transforms from drama into a little satire of the financial world at the very end.  The looks on both the daughter and father’s faces as they praise each other in public are well captured by the camera.

    Though most of the film’s premise is really nothing novel, the ways in which events and incidents develop are.  And the way Miller fights to save his sinking ship and the way his wife fights to save her family are remarkably feels remarkably real as to the lengths people will go through. And all this is made totally believable and suspenseful in this gem of a brilliantly made movie.

    BEAUTY IS EMBARRASSING (USA 2012) ***

    Directed by Neil Berkeley

    “Who said there are no second acts in American life?  F. Scott Fitzgerald?  Fuck you F. Scott Fitzgerald.”  - Wayne White.  The last statement sounds ludicrous, but when White says this at the end of the movie, it is a laugh-out loud feel good moment.  This is when you know director Berkley has successfully captured the essence of artist White’s formula for feeling good.

    Neil Berkeley’s doc BEAUTY IS EMBARRASSING is about the life and artistic works of Wayne White over a period of 30 years.  A visual artist, illustrator, puppeteer, cartoonist, sculptor, musician, the multi faceted White is most famous for being one of the crazed creators of Pee-Wee’s Playhouse.  The film starts off with the man delivering a lecture to a full auditorium of a very attentive audience as he details his philosophy on life and enlightens the impetus behind his work.  The film ends as he concludes the lecture but the film also contains interviews of him talking to the camera as well.

    For two years, Neil Berkeley traveled with White through Houston, Miami, New York, Chattanooga, Nashville and Los Angeles retracing Wayne’s steps from childhood to parenthood.  He peeled back layer after layer of Wayne’s singular creative process and his astonishingly prolific career. In addition to the 300+ hours of footage shot by Berkeley and his team, the director discovered hours of video which White shot throughout his career including never-before-seen behind the scenes footage of the making of Pee-Wee’s Playhouse.

    The film gets at times a bit confusing as Berkeley does not tell his tale chronologically.  There are scenes with White’s grown children at the start and towards the end of the movie, they are shown as younger kids.  The intercutting of White’s lecture, his interviews and his musings add to the confusion.  The film also diverts to tell the story of White’s collaborator at Pee-Wee’s Playhouse.

    Berkeley also shows the dark side of the man’s genius.  His rise to fame, fall from grace and rise again are depicted on film without restraint.  But Berkeley also shows the brilliance of White, from the children’s shows like Beakman’s World to the music animated videos for The Smashing Pumpkins.

    But overall, the film is clear to state White’s (and likely Berkeley as well) outlook in life which is positive and inspiring.  The film ends on that high note leaving the audience feeling entertained and enlightened at the same time.

    EDDIE (Canada/Denmark 2011) **

    Directed by Boris Lorenzo


    The original title of this film is EDDIE: THE SLEEPWALKING CANNIBAL.  Though the title has been modified, the film still looks like a cheapie grade B horror flick especially when Eddie walks around with carnage in his mouth.

    The protagonist is Lars Olafssen (Thure Lindhard) once a young celebrity in the art world who is slipping away fast into the land of has-beens.  His long-time art dealer, Ronny (a wry comedic turn by Stephen McHattie) is now an ungracefully aging hipster who desperately wants his meal ticket back.  But Lars refuses to paint.  His creativity comes at too high a cost - his inspiration is carnage - blood, guts and limbs.  Nevertheless, an eager Ronny arranges a teaching job for Lars at an art school in Koda Lake, a small Canadian town in the middle of nowhere.

    There, he meets backward Eddie (Dylan Smith) who he helps the town care for.  But Eddie is a sleepwalking cannibal and leaves behind the blood, guts and limbs required to inspire Lars.  Lars paints ‘masterpieces’ selling enough paintings to help save the art school that is in financial dire straits.

    And so the silly plot goes.  But this dark comedy is neither dark nor funny enough.  The story just plods on lamely just as a romance that blossoms between Lars and the unaware Lesley (Georgina Reilly), an unsuspecting co-teacher.  A nosy cop finds himself at the slaughtering hands of Lars who still needs more carnage to paint.

    The Canadian background of woods and lake and the lead actor being Danish is what gives this Danish Canadian coproduction its look.

    All this is in actuality quite a bore.  The premise is not that believable either.  And neither is the romance between Lars and Lesley.

    The few bits of humour are provided by Ronny and the nosy cop who takes an instant dislike to Lars.  Apart from that, EDDIE is as uneventful as the fictitious town of Koda Lake.

    HOTEL TRANSYLVANIA (USA 2012) ***

    Directed by Genndy Tartakovsky

     

    Sony Animation’s HOTEL TRANYLVANIA is a marvelously looking 3D animated comedy that centres on Count Dracula (Adam Sandler) letting his little 118 year-old (the film’s running joke) daughter, Mavis (Selena Gomez) of his strings to find her romance and own life.  She has been kept away from the human world in the hotel the father had created to let monsters vacation away from humans. Mavis finds love in human form (Andy Samberg).

    There is nothing really wrong about this animated feature.  It hits all the right notes – superlative animation, a good enough storyline, family message and entertainment and so on.  But the trouble is that the film is not inventive, funny or goofy enough.  Dracula is not typically a character that has traits to be made fun of, and this is obvious when Dracula claims that he does not go: “Blah, blah, blah,” as people think.

    Other monster animations like SHREK is way funnier, with even more going on in the background than in the foreground.  No such luck here.  HOTEL TRANSYLVANIA often has Sandler trying his desperate best to be funnier than the material he has to work with.

    LOOPER (USA/China 2012) ***
    Directed by Rian Johnson


    LOOPER is an action thriller set in the near future that looks stunning on screen.  Chosen to open the Toronto International Film Festival, the film is a Chinese coproduction which suits the festival’s Asian Summit, but the film is at times all show, as TIFF is.

    The setting is the near future when the mob can get rid of someone by sending the target 30 years into the past, where a hired gun awaits.  Someone like Joe (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), who one day learns the mob wants to ''close the loop'' by transporting back Joe''s future self.  The reason is that if an assassin lives past the 30 year mark, he will be a threat to the organization.

    So the film is the future Joe (played by Bruce Willis) against the present self.  In the story the present Joe meets a mother (Emily Blunt) protecting a precocious child.

    But the film is narratively weak with the film badly joined together by mere action set pieces.  Johnson (BRICK, THE BROTHERS BLOOM) does not even get the year right.  If the film is set in 2044 and they time travel back is 30 years, the year is 2014, whereas it should be 2012 or 2013 when the film is screening.  The film contains lots of unexplained facts such as where the government is and how come it is doing nothing when the criminals run loose.  And why is it the city of Shanghai picked in the film?  The likely reason is that LOOPER is a China/U.S. coproduction.

    The characters are hollow emotionless human beings despite the theme of the mother saving the son and Joe saving both the mother and son.  The future and present characterizations are so different that bit is hard to believe both are the same person.

    The action scenes are stylized.  Bodies suddenly appear out of nowhere and the pyrotechnics look stunning on screen.  But the excitement and continuity are missing, substituted by hollow eye candy.

    As for the paradox logic in time travel movies, the script does not intrigue as much as recent fare like MEN IN BLCK III or past fair like TIME AFTER TIME.  The ending solution in the climatic scene is far from novel least predictable

    THE PERKS OF BEING A WALLFLOWER (USA 2012) ***

    Directed by Stephen Chbosky

    Based on his book, first time director makes his debut with a heart felt comedy drama THE PERKS OF BEING A WALLFLOWER, about a guy called Charlie (Logan Lerman) suffering trying to get through his high school days.

    One can see author Chbosky’s dedication to his subject matter.  He intensifies the best parts of the story, such as the part of the drives through the tunnel with the tunnel song.  But his inexperience as a director shows.  The first half of the film is extremely slow-paced containing lots of smug dialogue that is not funny in the least bit, in a film that has a theme that is dramatic and light.  The film takes half of its running length to get its footing before it takes off.  Fortunately, it comes together in the second half.

    The story contains many endearing secondary characters, the most intriguing being Charlie’s gay best friend, Patrick (Ezra Miller from WE NEED TO TALK ABOUT KEVIN) whose character turns out to be more interesting that Charlie’s.  His need to find a soul mate overshadows that of Charlie’s need for the same, and not for lack of trying.  Miller also steals the show from Leman in the acting department.  There is more to be learnt about growing up from Patrick than from Charlie.  Charlie’s parents (played by Kate Walsh and Dermot McDermott) have underwritten roles,

    The film succeeds as a fable about growing up a it contains a good number of adolescent issues.  Bullying, first love, coming out, sibling rivalry, partying are just a few of the important issues teens go through.  Basically a coming of age story from Charlie’s point of view, the romantic drama is the issue that Chbosky is primarily interested in.  Charlie is in love with Sam (Emma Stone) while dating Mary Elizabeth (Mae Whitman).

    The wallflower of the title?  That is someone who sits back and observes rather than acts.  This is a person between geek and jock, a group that has made it very popular in the British hit TV series and upcoming film THE INBETWEENERS.

    Just as the film is about the dizzying highs and crushing lows of growing up,

    Chbosky’s well-intentioned film contains moments of intense delight as well as boring lows.

    PITCH PERFECT (USA 2012) ****

    Directed by Jason Moore

    It is tough to be a successful moneymaking DJ.  Everyone who has been to a dance club would likely at one time or other aspires to be the cool dude mixing the tracks. The trouble is that there are too many (even talented) ones and too few opportunities to go around.

    Anna Kendrick plays Beca, an aspiring DJ.  Her father forces her into college with the condition that he will let her do her stuff if she cannot adapt to any campus activity group.  Beca ends up joining a acappella singing group led by control freak Aubrey (Anna Camp) who lost the last contest to the all male Treblemakers largely because she projectile vomited during the group’s (the Bellas) performance.

    PITCH PERFECT plays like a dance competition movie like the STEP UP series, but with a twist.  Beca does not end up winning at the spinning contest but uses her mixing skills to put together a singing mixed track the Bella’s performance leading to a victory.

    PITCH PERFECT should be a total hit.  During the first 15 minutes in which the camera shows Beca at her mixing, anyone who has been to a club can tell how awesome the mixing is.  The Bella’s rendering of a dance vocal version of a Bruno Mars’ hit Just the Way You Are is an adrenaline high performance.  And if that is not enough, the different vocal musical numbers of other popular songs like Ace of Base’s The Sign and Gloria Estafan’s Turn the Beat Around (though performed more than once) are also funny, inventive and catchy.

    Kendrick is nothing short of marvellous in a role of an isolated freshman, smart enough to hold her won against the mean girls, the weird girls and other distractions.  But it is a pity that the film does not show much in the way of academic learning in the campus.

    As for the members of the Bellas, the film concentrates on a few – Fat Amy (Rebel Wilson), the butch lesbian and the soft-voiced Asian.  The two politically incorrect commentators (Elizabeth Banks and John Michael Higgins) who just happen to be present at every competition are inspired hilarity.   The silly puns with as many words beginning with aca- as in acappella also work.

    Major surprise that this girly teen movie is based on a book (by Mickey Rapkin)!  If one can forgive the tedious romance between Beca and a nerdy Treblemaker, PITCH PERFECT is quite the riot with lots of spirited re-mixed song and dance numbers. Director Moore’s film with the help of Anna Kendrick and the capable cast lift the material high enough to become the best teen comedy so far this year!

     

    THE SOURCE (USA 2012) ***

    Directed by Jodi Wille and Maria Demopoulos

     Disturbing, informative and ultimately satisfying, THE SOURCE is a comprehensive examination of a religious cult, an ‘aquarian’ tribe of the said name.

    Set in the 70’s when communes and new religions were on the rise, Wille and Demopoulos’ film looks just like a film made at that time, as the doc is made mostly of archive footage, stills and photos intertwined together to form a chronological narrative.

    The research is quite thorough, to the directors’ credit.  They have found some of the cult followers at the present time giving their testimonies of what things were like when they were in the Source in the 70’s.  It would have been even better if Father Yod, the guru would be able to be interviewed as well.  But for reasons not to be revealed in this review, this is not possible.

    But this is the story of a man who followers worshipped as a God and teen girls worshipped as a sex Master.  If not for anything else, THE SOURCE is intriguing enough entertainment that has never a dull moment.

    (Special One Day screening part of the Docs Soup Series on October 3RD at the Bloor Cinema.)

    BEST BETS OF THE WEEK:

    Best Film Opening: ARBITRAGE

    Best Film Playing: EASY MONEY

    Best Doc: BEAUTY IS EMBARRASSING

    Best Family: BRAVE

    Best Comedy: PARANORMAN

    Best Re-release: DIAL M FOR MURDER

    Best Foreign: EASY MONEY

  • This Week's Film Reviews (Sep 21, 2012)

    Opening this week are DREDD 3D in spectacular 3D (not just 3d enhanced, please read review below) , HOUSE AT THE END OF THE STREET and END OF WATCH.

    DREDD 3D (South Africa) **

    Directed by Pete Travis

    A reboot of the Sylvester Stallone movie based on the Brit comic character, Judge DREDD (Karl Urban) is the lead law enforcer forced to take down Drug Queen Ma-Ma (Lena Headey).  In the process, he is assigned a psychic-powerful rookie, Cassandra Anderson (Olivia Thirlby) who he is supposed to grade a pass or fail as the two begin their take down in a high rise apartment.

    It all takes place in the dystopian future, as the film introduces at the start.  The future America is an irradiated wasteland. On its East Coast, running from Boston to Washington DC, lies Mega City One - a vast, violent metropolis where criminals rule the chaotic streets. The only force of order lies with the urban cops called "Judges" who possess the combined powers of judge, jury and instant executioner. Known and feared throughout the city, Dredd is the ultimate Judge, challenged with ridding the city of its latest scourge - a dangerous drug epidemic that has users of "Slo-Mo" experiencing reality at a fraction of its normal speed.

    Karl Urban does most of his acting with his lower jaw, which is the only part of his head that can be seen outside the mask/helmet.  To his credit, it is a handsome jaw.

    But the overall narrative is weak and the film lacks any twists in plot or inventive subplots.  The takedown looks very similar to the recent Indonesian entry THE RAID: REDEMPTION, with more special effects than manual martial-arts.

    But what DREDD falls short of, the film more than makes up for in its 3D effects.  Everything and all details are 3D mastered here, from when the film was first shot, not just given the last touch up.

    END OF WATCH (USA 2011) ***

    Directed by David Ayer


    David Ayer of TRAINING DAY plunges audiences into the lives private and working, of 2  LAPD cops, Taylor (Jake Gyllenhaal) and Zavala (Michael Para).  This time around, both are dedicated men, as outlined by the monologue at the start of the film on what the police are – brothers belonging to the good fighting crime.  The daily routines eventually get the boys face to face with drug traffickers who want vengeance.  In order to achieve authenticity of the use of the handheld camera, Ayer gives the excuse of Taylor a night-school student in film production, thus allowing him to affix tiny cameras to his and Zavala's uniforms to record their daily routines, collecting material for a short video about the real lives of the LAPD.   This is a bit much as there is also a member of the drug trafficker filming stuff.  If that is not enough, Ayer includes ‘a morning of the event’ sequence after the climax of the film that serves no purpose at all.  Other than that, Ayer’s film is a riveting examination of the LAPD that should excite, thrill and entertain.

     HOUSE AT THE END OF THE STREET (USA 2012) **

    Directed by Mark Tonderai


    The new horror film HOUSE AT THE END OF THE STREET has its scary moments but the film also includes other genres such as family drama (mother/daughter relationship), teen romance and bullying.

    Just after a divorce, mother Sarah (Elizabeth Shue) moves into a cheap large house with her daughter, Elissa (Jennifer Lawrence).  The price is affordable for the fact that the neighboring house (which can be seen from the property) has a history of a double murder.  The daughter apparently murdered her father and mother and drowned though the body is not found.  When the two move in next door, things go creakity creak in the dark.  It is discovered then that Ryan (Max Thieriot), the boy of the murdered family is still living next door.  As the murder history brings the price of real estate down, the boy, the townsfolk treat Ryan unfairly.

    As it happens, daughter falls for Ryan and mother becomes concerned.  The film does contain a killer and it is revealed that there is a mad girl confined in the room of the house at the end of the street.  Though there is no shortage of suspects, it is not difficult to guess who the killer is.  At the same time, the audience is served with a mother and daughter confrontation.  The local cop (James Thomas) comes into play half way through the movie, and as in all films (example PSYCHO) in which this occurs, the killer does with the cop away.  The fall down the stairs is reminiscent of Martin Balsam’s fall down the stairs in PSYCHO.

    The film contains nothing new in the genre of horror slasher movie.  The false alarms, revelation of killer’s identity (I guessed it within the first 15 minute of he film), clichéd bits are all there as expected.  The film is relatively well done - just don’t expect anything novel.

    Don’t be fooled by the title.  HOUSE AT THE END OF THE STREET is not a haunted house movie.  It is a slasher flick.  Unfortunately, that is the only surprise of the film.

     AURENCE ANYWAYS (Canada/France 2012) ****

    Directed by Xavier Dolan

    A romantic epic of an untenable love affair lasting 160 minutes, LAURENCE ANYWAYS is nevertheless an excellent film in all sense of the word. 

    Xavier Dolan’s (J’AI TUE MA MERE) third feature, LAURENCE ANYWAYS is his most stylish and mature work to date. The film centres on the tortured, on-again, off-again relationship between Laurence (French actor Melvil Poupaud), a writer and teacher, and his girlfriend Fred (Suzanne Clément), a line producer on film productions. As the film opens, they’re ensconced in one of their favourite places: the car wash, a fitting emblem for their claustrophobic relationship. Devout bohemians who have little interest in conventional mores, they lead a charmed existence buoyed by their contempt for virtually everyone else on the planet.  One day out of the blue, Laurence confesses that he believes he’s a woman trapped in a man’s body. Initially shocked, Fred soon decides to carry on as if nothing has happened. But as family pressures and her own doubts begin to mount, the couple drifts apart. 

     No stranger to drama and conflict, Dolan’s film contains the most arresting confrontational scenes.  Those that stand out include the ones between Laurence and his mother (Nathalie Baye) and one in the coffee shop.  The latter that involves Fred losing it at the waitress has the camera following the couple out of the restaurant and even following Fred home as if to highlight even more the lady’s distress. 

      Dolan who also masterminded the costumes has created some very impressive set pieces, especially those involving the squad of performing cross-dressers that Laurence meets.  The film contains a few indulgences (water pouring from the ceiling in a living room) but these can be forgiven, as they are visually stunning.

    Acting in the acting department is nothing short of superb.  Clement and Baye excel just as Poupaud is just as good.  The actors are Quebecois except for the leads Poupard and Baye, who are French French.  The likely reason is the film being co-production between France and Canada.  The accents spoken by the Poupard and Baye, son and mother characters retain their French origins whereas others speak with the Quebec accent.  The brief and acceptable explanation is that the mother moved from Europe to Quebec early on. 

      If Canada were to submit this excellent film as it entry for the Best Foreign Film Oscar at this year’s Academy Awards and it was nominated, it would be interesting to see what would happen.  The Academy would favour the film for its content, as it likes to show his openness but on the other hand might not want to hand the prize to such a young filmmaker.  Nevertheless, Cannes shunned this film but it is with great pleasure that Canada recognized its own by giving it the prize for the Best Canadian Feature this year’s Toronto International Film Festival.

    THE MASTER (USA 2012) **

    Directed by Paul Thomas Anderson

    Like Anderson’s last feature THERE WILL BE BLOOD, THE MASTER is a test of two wills between a veteran huckster and a young angry man.  And the film features both actors’ best performances.

    Joaquin Phoenix plays Freddie Quell, a troubled soldier in post–World War II America. Stripped of every common civility, he rages through life like an animal, unable to keep a job, to attract a woman, to live in his own skin. By chance one night he jumps on board a docked ship and stows away as it sets sail. He soon discovers that the ship belongs to one Lancaster Dodd (Philip Seymour Hoffman), the charismatic founder of a new religion. With his wife (Amy Adams), Dodd probes the unconscious minds of his subjects, driving them to reveal hidden vulnerabilities. The cerebral Dodd and his feral stowaway appear to be complete opposites, but they strike up a surprising friendship. In scenes of sometimes shocking soul bearing, the two forge a primal bond — until the disciple begins to question his authority.

    The real problem with Quell’s personality is assumed to be derived from the war.  But from what particular incident, nothing is mentioned.  If this was the case, there would be hundred more Freddie types creating havoc in the U.S.  When Anderson is short of dialogue material in the script, he reverts to screaming matches between Freddie and Dodd.  The prison cell sequence involving an embarrassing moment in which Freddie breaks the toilet bowl is unnecessary.

    The choice of the type of cult Dodd dabble in could have been more selected for more credibility.  The one chosen involves time travel and out of body spirits.  During arguments, especially the one (the film’s best segment) between Dodd and a John More (Christopher Evan More) favors More’s arguments.  The scene in which Dodd explains to Freddie their first meeting as pigeon postal workers during the Persian War is ludicrous.

    The sparse musical soundtrack by Radiohead’s Jonny Greenwood only reflects the sparseness of the story.  At a cost of $40 million, Anderson’s first period piece (this is set just after WWII) is shot in dimly lit colors.

    The problem of THE MASTER is the whimsical storyline coined up by Anderson and the fact that he is re-using material of the hotheaded protagonists.  Anderson could have done better!

     TROUBLE WITH THE CURVE (USA 2012) ****

    Directed by Robert Lorenz


    Clint Eastwood takes a break from the director’s chair - a good break after the horrid EDGAR J, to take the main role in the baseball film TROUBLE WITH THE CURVE.

    Though not directed by Eastwood, the film plays like many of his critical hits like MILLION DOLLAR BABY in which near the end of the film, it is revealed that the film is actually a love story.  In the case of MDB, it was between coach and boxer but in this film it is one between a father and daughter.  The baseball is just the background.  But this film grabs you, though it plays so safe with the storytelling that many critics will complain it to be a predictable.

    Interesting enough, the film plays in a complete different field in comparison with the last major baseball film MONEYBALL.  Whereas that film dealt with the importance of statistics and numbers on the success of the game, this one dispels anything to do with computers and such.  It is old school.  Eastwood plays Gus Lobel, a baseball talent scout that relies on observation in order to select the next season’s winner.  Nevertheless, Gus-who can tell a pitch just by the crack of the bat-refuses to be benched for what may be the final innings of his career. He may not have a choice. The front office of the Atlanta Braves is starting to question his judgment, especially with the country''s hottest batting phenomenon on deck for the draft. According to Gus, no statistics or numbers can predict someone’s comeback.  But his failing health forces his best friend Pete (John Goodman) to ask his daughter, Mickey a successful lawyer about to make partner (Amy Adams) follow Gus to his next scouting city to watch him.  Of course in the process, she meets love in the form of an old baseball discovery, Johnny (Justin Timberlake) of his father’s.

    The script loves baseball.  The script is filled with baseball trivia that the two lovers throw at each other.  But for me, a nonbaseball fan that generally hates baseball fans, I was on over by the script and the ease at which the film wins non-fans over.  But there is no climatic game in this movie for cheering and such.  The film is more family drama.  Eastwood and Adams make a good matching pair arguing to drive of past demons.

    The film finally succeeds for the fine performances and the moving family drama despite the slight predictability.  Director Lorenz decision to play safe without a curve ball pays off in the end.  But the trouble with a non curve ball is a film that falls from being excellent instead of good.

     

    BEST BETS OF THE WEEK:

    Best Film Opening: LAURENCE ANYWAYS

     

     

    Best Film Playing: EASY MONEY

    Best Family: BRAVE

    Best Comedy: PARANORMAN

    Best Foreign: EASY MONEY

  • This Week's Film Reviews (Sep 14, 2012)

    Only big film opening is RESIDENT EVIL: RETRIBUTION as TIFF continues in Toronto.

    RESIDENT EVIL: RETRIBUTION (USA 2012) **1/2

    Directed by Paul W.S. Andersen


    The 5th installment of the RESIDENT EVIL series (based on the videogame) has the Umbrella Corporation's deadly T-virus ravaging the Earth, transforming the global population into legions of the flesh eating Undead.

    The human race''s last and only hope, Alice (Milla Jovovich), awakens in the heart of Umbrella's most clandestine operations facility and unveils more of her mysterious past as she delves further into the complex.

    The film takes the first 10 minutes or so explaining the current situation of the Earth with respect to Umbrella Corporation.  Those unfamiliar to the RESIDENT EVIL series or have short memories need not be distressed as all will be put up to date with proceedings.  Strangely enough, it is never explained how Alice now lives with a family in a nice suburban home.  This is where the action starts, when she prepares her daughter for school.  The undead attack and running out of the house, it is found that the undead are everywhere.  As Alice protects her loved one, there is some suspense as she escapes one close call after another.

    But as the film progresses and she turns back into a fighting machine, battling her ex-boss Jill (Sienna Guillory) and Rain (Michelle Rodriguez), suspense gives way to plain choreographed action, video games style.  Good if this is your kind of thing, but give me suspense and a good story any time.

    Die hard RESIDENT EVIL fans should not be too disappointed as the film looks very good, especially in the art design of the rooms in the Umbrella Corporation.  These look like the 70’s futuristic films such as Joseph Losey’s MODESTY BLAISE.  Apart from that, the film eventually boils down to the same old sordid affair or tedious mess depending how wants to look at it.

    BEST BETS OF THE WEEK:

    Best Film Playing: EASY MONEY

    Best Family: BRAVE

    Best Comedy: PARANORMAN

    Best Foreign: EASY MONEY

  • This Week's Film Reviews (Sep 7, 2012)

    Not many new films opening these few weeks due to the Toronto International Film Festival being in full swing.  Opening are THE WORDS (review to be posted, problem due to PC breakdown) and COLD LIGHT OF DAY.

    THE COLD LIGHT OF DAY (USA 2012) ***

    Directed by Mabrouk El Mechri


    THE COLD LIGHT OF DAY is an action thriller that opens this week without any press screenings.  Usually this means awful movie, but in reality this film is quite good.

    The main lead and director are unknown newbies.  The plot is hardly novel, a man, will Shaw (SUPERMAN’s Henry Cavil) trying to save his family from thugs without knowing what is going on, except that his dad, Martin (Bruce Willis) is CIA. The thriller is along the lines of the Hitchcockian classic NORTH BY NORTHWEST in which the innocent Richard Thornhill is escaping both thugs and the police while finding romance at the same time.  Here, the hero finds a cute female Spanish lady but the brilliant trick here is that she is his half sibling, so no distracting romance here.  The film has a foreign setting (Spain) as a bonus with the hero unable to understand the language half the time.

    Also a part chase movie, the chases include one by horseback in the park and a really exciting one on the rooftops of Madrid.  The director knows too how to play with audience anticipation.  “There is no way down, ” the girl cries.  The camera shifts to the satellite wires on the roof and the two are next sung down from the roof tops.

    The two top names Bruce Willis and Sigourney Weaver should draw more audiences to view this film.  But THE COLD LIGHT OF DAYS succeeds like a no name product.   It has everything a Hollywood Action blockbuster has, except lead stars, but it more that satisfies for all the money’ worth!

     

    Best Bets:


    Best Film Opening: COLD LIGHT OF DAY

    Best Film Playing: EASY MONEY

    Best Family: BRAVE

    Best Comedy: PARANORMAN

    Best Foreign Film: EASY MONEY 

  • Toronto International Film Festival 2012 - Capsule Reviews

    The Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) runs its course again in 2012 bringing in a slew of stars and excellent films from around the world.  The Asian Film Summit hosted by Jackie Chan is a higlight as is the city of Mumbai in the festival''s program.

    An audience friendly festival, the public can get a chance to watch the films at Cannes that would otherewise never be offered to the public.

    For complete information for TIFF, it is best to go to TIFF''s actual website at tiff.net

    The films appear largely better than the previous years judging from the numbe of 3-star ratings and above.

    Below are capsule reviews fo films that will be screened during the festival.· Bon Cinema! The reviews i.e. this article is updated daily during TIFF.

    CAPUSLE REVIEWS:-

    AMOUR (France/Austria/Germany 2012) ****  

     Directed by Michael Hanake


    The Palme d’Or Winner at this year’s Cannes AMOUR is no doubt riveting as are most of the Michael Haneke films (WHITE RIBBON, THE PIANIST, FUNNY GAMES).  This drama about love deals with an elderly couple Georges (Jean-Louis Trintignant) and Anne (Emmanuelle Riva) in their eighties. They are cultivated, retired music teachers.  Their daughter, Eva (Isabelle Huppert) who is also a musician, lives abroad with her family. One day, Anne has an attack. The couple''s bond of love is severely tested.  But the husband’s love persists and he honours her desire not to be put in a home.  But her health deteriorates badly so much so that she has to be fed and mutters most of the time from dementia.  Eva is upset by her mother’s health but does nothing.  Georges’ patience is severely test.  Haneke covers all the areas of the subject here to his credit – Anne’s dementia, her bowel movements, her wish to die, her dependence on her husband, her required feeding, I fact everything.  The result is a rather brutal time watching what the family goes through.  But that is what life is about, and old age and failing health is something everyone has to go through, from Hanake’s eyes.

    BURN IT UP DJASSA (Ivory Coast/France 2012) ***
    Directed by Lonesome Solo


    Obscure film from Obscure country, the Ivory Coast.  This is the kind of small film in the Discovery series that will never otherwise get to be seen.  On the other hand, the film is so small that missing it is no great deal either.  BURN IT UP is set in the busy streets of Abidjan (Abdoul Karim Konaté),, Tony (but giving another name in the film), an out-of-school youth, scrapes together a living by hawking cigarettes but he soon turns to violence.  Shot in 11 days in Abidjan, the film breathes new life into Ivory Coast film. The film begins with a spill on how difficult it is to survive and how important it is to become a warrior!  For a film on violence, the film is not that graphic but the message still comes through.  The low budget film contains lots of sprite dialogue, dance and colour and isn’t half bad. 

    THE CENTRAL PARK FIVE (USA 2012) ***
    Directed by Ken Burns, Sarah Burns and David McMahon

    The other documentary after WEST OF MEMPHIS (Here, the West Memphis 3 are three teenagers supposedly wrongly accused of killing three young boys) based on the infamous "Central Park Jogger" case detailing how a rush to judgment by police, media and an outraged public led to five black and Latino teenagers being convicted for a heinous crime that they did not commit.  Unlike WEST OF MEMPHIS, the audience knows for sure that the 5 are innocent.  In fact the directors incorporate the voice of the guilty man who had confessed to the crime way early at the beginning of the movie, how he had dragged her into the bush.  The film is based on the book by Sarah Burns and brought to the screen by her, her husband and father.  The film is well documented though depressing account of a city gone totally out of control.  The city was at that the time with bogged down by peak crime and muggings.  The rape of the jogger was the ultimate test of the city.  Crime rate somehow fell but the scapegoats were the five wrongfully convicted men - Antron McCray, Kevin Richardson, Raymond Santana, Korey Wise and Yusef Salaam.  They each get to finally tell of their experiences as the miscarriage of justice takes place.  THE CENTRAL PARK FIVE is not an easy film to watch and the whole issue of the city’s compensation to the 5 men has yet to be settled.

    THE END OF TIME (Canada 2012) **

      Directed by Peter Mettler

    Canadian cinematographer Peter Mettler’s first feature-length documentary since the Genie-winningGAMBLING GODSand LSD,THE END OF TIME is a visually stunning documentary, as one might expect from Mettler.   But he is no physicist or expert on the subject of Time which the film is supposed to inform the audience about.  Among other issues, the film argues that time itself is, in part, a notion we impose on ourselves — and that there may be other ways to view, measure and experience time than the Western artifices of the clock and the stock market bell.  Travelling the globe, Mettler explores a dizzying range of perspectives on time: from scientists working with a particle accelerator, who try to examine time by smashing protons together in an immense, twenty-seven-kilometre long concrete structure miles beneath the surface; from Buddhists visiting the tree where Buddha was enlightened; from DJ and electronic musician Richie Hawtin, who locates a new frontier in his work with machines; from squatters in an abandoned area of Detroit near where Henry Ford built his first factory, now a derelict behemoth that evokes the broken statue of Shelley’s "Ozymandias"; from the lone remaining resident in an area being consumed by lava pouring forth from an active volcano. En route, Mettler draws eerie connections between the most disparate places and events (the patterns on the ceiling of a Buddhist temple echo the multi-coloured circles in the tunnels of the particle accelerator) and locates parables of renewal and destruction in an astonishing sequence where a grasshopper is transported by an army of ants.  But one wishes Mettler would apply more Physics to the concept of time.  Be prepared to come out of the film with no new knowledge of the subject except for a few of Metter’s observations.

    END OF WATCH (USA 2011) ***

    Directed by David Ayer

    Review Embargoed till Sep 8th

    FAR OUT ISN’T FAR ENOUGH: THE STORY OF TOMI UNGERER

    (USA 2012) ****

    Directed by Brad Bernstein


    Near perfect documentary in all departments that tells the inspirational yet controversial story of the life and career of artist and children’s book (Crictor, Emile, and The Three Robbers) illustrator Tomi Ungerer.  Also an illustrator of 1960s protest posters, and a creator of explicit erotica, he found himself shunned from the American publishing industry until recently when he was awarded the equivalent of the Pulitzer Prize for his work.  Director Bernstein’s exhaustive and comprehensive doc traces Ungerer’s childhood background to Alsace, his place of birth to his schooldays.  His both German and French heritage got him in trouble with both the Nazi Occupation and the French Government after.  He relocated to New York City, Nova Scotia (this part omitted in the film) and Cork, Ireland where he happily settled for some time and now lives today.  Bernstein explains the demons though Ungerer’s interviews on screen.  It helps that Ungerer is totally charismatic on screen and an intriguing person at the same time.  The film soars ever so often when Ungerer becomes inspirational especially when he recounts his difficult life, such as entering the U.S. with $60 in his pocket or when he discusses his philosophy on life.  There is much to learn in this entertaining film about a humble, insightful and brilliant man.

     

    HERE COMES THE DEVIL (USA 2012) ***

    Directed by Adrian Garcia Bogliano

    HERE COMES THE DEVIL begins with a super hot lesbian love making scene before total violence occurs.  It turns out that one of the participants is a loving mother and wife whose son and daughter go missing while playing on the hills.  When the kids are returned by the local police, she finds that something is amiss as the children start acting strange.  Director Garcia inserts lots of false clues (possible incest between the children, a likely pedophile pervert) before the truth rears its ugly head.  Garcia is an expert at creating dramatic tension, as obvious in ne sexy husband and wife love-making scene.  Though the film contains nothing really novel in its premise, Garcia keeps the audience at the edge of their seats from start to end.  Be prepared for some really irritating soundtrack during the movie

     

    A HIJACKING (Norway 2012) ***1/2

    Directed by Tobias Lindholm

     

    A hijack drama Norwegian style, which means a freighter ransomed by Somali pirates and not an aircraft by terrorists.  Not many films have been made on this particular subject, so it is a welcome change of drama, suspense, information and education.  The film starts with the life of the ship’s cook, so that the audience can identify and be sympathetic to the kidnapped.  His employer, Peter who works in a no-nonsense corporate environment is a very cold, efficient bargainer, especially when coming down to business acquisitions as demonstrated by a Japanese takeover.  But negotiations are different with the pirates as lives are as stake.  The director Lindholm moves his film at a tight and suspenseful pace which keeps the audience riveted and curious of the outcome throughout the film.  A HIJACKING is a film as efficiently executed as the hijacking negotiation process.

     

    HOTEL TRANSYLVANIA (USA 2012) ***

    Directed by Genndy Tartakovsky

    Sony Animation’s HOTEL TRANYLVANIA is a marvelously looking 3D animated comedy that centres on Count Dracula (Adam Sandler) letting his little 118 year-old (the film’s running joke) daughter, Mavis (Selena Gomez) of his strings to find her romance and own life.  She has been kept away from the human world in the hotel the father had created to let monsters vacation away from humans. Mavis finds love in human form (Andy Samberg).  There is nothing really bad about this animated feature.  It hits all the right notes – superlative animation, a good enough storyline, family message and entertainment and so on.  But the trouble is that the film is not inventive, funny or goofy enough.  Dracula is not typically a character that has traits to be made fun of, and this is obvious when Dracula claims that he does not go: “Blah, blah, blah,” as people think.  Other monster animations like SHREK is way funnier, with even more going on in the background than in the foreground.  No such luck here.  HOTEL TRANSYLVANIA often has Sandler trying his desperate best to be funnier than the material he has to work with.

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

    Directed by Matthew Cooke


    Writer/director Matthew Cooke’s (TEENAGE PAPARAZZO, DELIVER US FROM EVIL) is a satirical how-to lesson on the said subject that actually makes quite a lot of sense and turns out to be a better film than expected.  The chapters begin with the corner street dealer, climbing up the drug selling ladder to kingpin and finally drug lord.  The doc encompasses interviews of a wide range of subjects from ex-drug dealers, drug enforcement cops to movie stars like Susan Sarandon who make valid points in their arguments.  For a controversial topic such as selling drugs, the film actually is truth, so it might be best to keep the film from the viewing of kids.  One segment explains how to make it big selling drugs in the local school.  The film ends with Cooke offering his spill on how to end the war on drugs.  It might sound all too simplified, but under careful consideration, there is a lot of logic in his solution.

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

    Directed by Thomas Vinterberg

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

     IN THE NAME OF LOVE (Vietnam 2012) ***

    Directed by Luu Huynh


    IN THE NAME OF LOVE begins with a naked woman wearing the sign ‘husband stealer’ as humiliation in the village.  She is crying depicting perhaps that falling in love should not be a sought of thing.  The story is a dark love triangle that grips with a steadily mounting sense of dread.  Set in a small village, the focuses on Khanh (Huy Khanh) and Nhung (Dinh Y Nhung), a married couple whose poverty does not interfere with their happiness.  A fisherman, Khan cannot provide wealth or comfort for his wife, a weaver of traditional straw hats; but their life, while modest, is honest and dignified.  This way of life is the most interesting thing in the film as Huynh captures the moving houses on the river as the villagers’ daily routines.  The only cloud looming over them is the fact that they have not been able to conceive a child.  Nhung secretly approaches Linh (Thai Hoa), a former friend of Khanh, who has always been attracted to her and who stopped spending time with the couple after they got married, to serve as her child’s surrogate father. An alcoholic who is perpetually between jobs, Linh barely stays afloat by selling lottery tickets in the streets while costumed as the Vietnamese god of wealth, a deity that grants prosperity and good luck. This is when the trouble starts and the tragedy unfolds.  The drama is heightened by the facts that Linh is a bit of a psycho and that Nhung feels guilty as hell.  But Huynh is also sympathetic to Linh’s point of view.  (He cannot find love and has a need to see his son.)

     

    LIVERPOOL (Canada 2012) ****

    Directed by Manon Briand


    The action begins at a Montreal dance club called LIVERPOOL and hence the film’s title.  The film doubles as a romance and suspense thriller with the action and surprises never stop coming.  The story concerns a coat check girl doubling as a girl hired to pose as a long lost daughter so that the half brother can claim inherit the dying father’s money.  At the same time, director Marion lives strong director’s personal imprint as in the scene where the protagonist aids an elderly patient on IV in a hospital ward by opening the door for her.  The film is also very current in the use of technology.  The sleuthing techniques include pasting a cell on the car as the G.P.S.S. can trace where it is going or doing searches on the internet.  The dance club scenes involving drugging by GHB is also very current and a problem in the Montreal club scene.

     

    NO (USA/Chile 2011) ****
    Directed by Pablo Larrain

    The star of this film is Gael Garcia Bernal who plays a savvy young ad exec, who makes use of their designated fifteen minutes per day of airtime to craft the political opposition''s publicity campaign when the rule of dictator Augusto Pinochet is put to a national plebiscite.  The history goes on like this: In 1988, succumbing to international pressure, General Augusto Pinochet''s regime in Chile called for a national referendum on the proposal to extend the dictator''s presidency a further eight years. The ballot presented two choices: Yes (extend Pinochet''s rule) or No (no more Pinochet).   Much of the population believed that the referendum would be rigged, and was merely a front to placate the international community.  There was also the problem for many that participating in the referendum would legitimize it. But many in the opposition did not want to pass up this opportunity to peacefully overthrow Pinochet''s near two-decade reign.  This is director Larrian’s (TONY MANERO, POST MORTEM) account, though biased against Pinochet of how René’s NO campaign eventually won.  For s historical political drama, NO is pretty hilarious and the lightest of Larrain’s three films, while still hitting the mark in riling the audience up against Pinochet.  NO also is believable in that it still maintains René’s stand for staying commercial during all the execution.

     PENANCE (Japan 2012) *****

    Directed by Kiyushi Kurosawa


    AUTUMN SONATA’s Kurosawa 4 and a half hour film (originally intended as a 6 part serial for TV) is an excellent study of guilt combined with the element of a mystery whodunit.  A schoolgirl is sexually violated and murdered.  The 4 witnesses tell the police they remember nothing of the killer’s face leading the victim’s mother to impose a penance to be paid on each of the girls.  The 4 grow up and suffer tragic consequences as the penance.  But the mother is no innocent victim either and is finally forced to pay penance herself.  Excellent performances from all 5 actresses playing the grownup girls and the mother coupled with solid storytelling makes this film the best of TIFF.  The film could be considered 5 separate stories linked by the theme of the murder.  PENANCE shows Kurosawa in top form in a film that is a compelling watch from start to finish, never mind the long running time.

     

     REVOLUTION (Canada 2012) ***

    Directed by Rob Stewart


    The maker of SHARKWATER that dealt with the banning of sharkfins, Rob Stewart takes on coral reefs.  Coral reefs are dying from the acidification of the oceans hat would eventually lead to fish dying and eventually the human race.  Stewart’s film begins where SHARKWATER left off, in fact this film boasts the success of that film in terms of achievement.  Eighty percent of life on earth lives under the sea, a quarter of which lives in or around coral reefs, vital habitats which are themselves beginning to disappear. Travelling the globe to chronicle the efforts being taken — and not taken — to stem the tide of destruction, and plunging into the ocean depths to observe their wonders first-hand, Stewart examines our destruction of Canada’s own invaluable natural heritage (the oil sands project).  Stewart''s boundless compassion and tireless advocacy are evident throughout the film.  His technique for convincing the audience on his curse is similar to SHARKWATER – shows the evidence; show past and present and outlines what can be done (in the last 10 minutes of the film).  The film also shows some stunning cinematography in the process, some of which are quite scary, especially the dying coral reefs.

     

    A ROYAL AFFAIR (Denmark/Germ/Czech/Sweden 2012) ****
    Directed by Nikolaj Arcel

    A ROYAL AFFAIR is a sumptuous historical drama from writer-director Nikolaj Arcel (screenwriter of the original version of THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATOO) chronicles the scandalous love triangle between a queen (Alicia Vikander), her German doctor (Mads Mikkelsen), and the mad King of Denmark (Mikkel Følsgaard).  The similarities in the script involve a few scenes of torture (the doctor getting beaten up in prison; a peasant tied to a wooden horse) and erotic sex scenes.  It all starts when the court hires Dr. Struensee to overlook spoiled and mad King Christian VII.  As it turns out the good doctor is also a radical who wants to transform the government to provide more care and aid for the masses, such as mandatory inoculation of the population for the protection of the occurring smallpox epidemic.  But lust gets the better of the doctor and the court schemes to rid of him for unhinging the status quo.  Besides being a film about the royal; affair and the politics of power, Arcel’s film eventually turns out to be a chronicle of how the Danish gave power back to the people and how slavery was abolished.  Running at over 2 hours, A ROYAL AFFAIR covers worthy material.

    QUELQUES HEURES DE PRINTEMPS (France 2012) ***

    Directed by Stephane Brize

     

    The French family drama QUELQUES HEURES DE PRINTEMPS (A FEW HOURS OF SRPING) is two separate stories brought together by the forced relationship of its two characters.  One is Alain (Vincent Lindon) a trucker who is released from prison after 18 months for smuggling weed.  He finds it impossible to land another trucking job and almost finds love again with the Emmanuelle Seigner’s character.  The other is his mother (Helen Vincent) dying from cancer who decides to go about what is termed assisted suicide.  Alain is forced to stay with mother and at 48 their forced cohabitation brings back all the violence of their past relationship.  When he discovers that her mother is condemned by the disease, the two stories blend together.  Brize’s film is brimming with emotions, especially the end obviously, but she stays away from sentimentality and judgement of her flawed two characters.  At one point in the film mother says of her cake to her long term neighbour: It is overdone but it still tastes good.  QUELQUES HEURES DE PRINTEMPS is done just right and tastes really good.

    REALITY (Italy/France 2012) ****
    Directed by Matteo Garrone


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

     ROAD NORTH (Finland 2012) ***

    Directed Maki Kaurismaki


    Kaurismaki (THREE WISE MEN, BROTHERS) tackles father/son relationship in this drama comedy about a father (Vesa-Matti Loiri) who left his family to head east to become an archer.  When he returns 35 years later at his son, Timo’s (now a concert pianist) door, Timo (Samuli Edelmann) figures that there must be a reason.  Dad takes son and both appear also at daughter’s doorstep and so begin a series of adventures.  Quietly revealing, though the premise is not entirely novel, this sad and funny Finnish road trip film with lots of Finnish folk songs turns out to be a father and son conquering the world movie.

     

     

    SHIP OF THESEUS (India 2012) **** 

       Directed by Anand Ghandi

    Acclaimed Indian playwright Anand Gandhi’s first feature film tells the stories of three desperate people, all set in Mumbai which are tied by the paradox of the SHIP OF THESEUS. ·The ancient philosophical paradox of the Ship of Theseus — which asks, if every single piece of a ship was replaced, would it still be the same ship? ·Aida El-Kashef, a filmmaker and daughter of the late Egyptian director Radwan El-Kashef is a graceful, headstrong Egyptian woman who lost her sight at a young age and has just recently regained it. Having formed her own personal inner vision of the city where she has lived all her life, she struggles to reconcile it with the kaleidoscopic world that now confronts her. ·Maitreya (Neeraj Kabi) is a devout monk, an aesthete who spends his days debating ideas and crusading for animal rights; but when illness forces him to choose between his ideals and his health, Maitreya retreats from the world. The third protagonist, Naveen (Sohum Shah, fresh from his breakout performance in the gangster movie Baabarr), is a stockbroker confined to hospital after receiving a kidney transplant. When he learns that his new kidney may have been stolen from a poor man, Naveen begins travelling across continents to combat the international illegal organ trade.· Ghandhi tells his story without glorification of any of his characters. ·He in fact, shows the fallacies of their (especially the first two). ·The stories are as interesting as his film.· The third one works the best (the best is kept to last) as it shows the marvels of the architectural slums of Mumbai as well as the paradoxes of human nature.

    THERMAE ROMANAE (Japan 2012) *

    Directed by H. Takeuchi


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

     

    TOUT CE QUE TU POSSEDES (Canada 2012)·***

    Directed by Bernard Emond


    (Review embargoed till Sept 8)

    WEST OF MEMPHIS (USA 2012) ***

    Directed by Amy Berg


    WEST OF MEMPHIS is not the first film made about the catastrophic failure of a judicial system.  While last year’s TIFF entry GUILTY (PRESUME COUPABLE) accounts for an innocent man wrongly accused of being a pedophile, this one is a doc examining three teenagers (the West Memphis Three) imprisoned for the heinous crime of sexually assaulting and killing three young boys.  As a doc, the film fails to establish whether the three are really guilty since the film provides both sides of view (Prosecutor and Defence) thus reducing the impact of the film.  But the film also displays more objectivity, to Berg’s credit in the process.  Running over a 2-hour length, WEST OF MEMPHIS is unusually long for a documentary, party because the film covers many peripheral issues at the same time, such as one of the convicted, Echols’ marriage to Lorri while in imprisonment as well as a possible other person who might be the real killer.  Though the film applies the logic of a witch hunt to the conviction of the three teenagers as wrong, the film also applies the same principles in the cornering one of the boy’s stepfather as the possible guilty party.   But Berg’s film also covers the life, living conditions and atmosphere of the Memphis people and one can relate to the incidents that occur in the film.

    WHAT RICHARD DID (Ireland 2012) ***

    Directed by Lenny Abrahamson


    Lenny Abrahamson’s WHAT RICHARD DID is a low budget earnest film portrait of the fall of a Dublin golden-boy and high school rugby star whose world unravels one summer night.  In the last summer before buckling down for college in the fall, eighteen-year-old Richard Karlsen’s (Jack Reynor) days of carefree leisure and drunken carousing are about to come to an abrupt end.   Richard falls for local Lara (Róisín Murphy).  Jealously soon rears its ugly head, as Lara’s burgeoning friendship with his moody teammate Conor (Sam Keeley) rouses his suspicions. When a dust-up at an overcrowded house party leads to an act of mindless violence, Richard is plunged into a downward spiral of shame and crippling guilt.  Conor is killed when Richard kicks him in the head and Conor stumbles to a speeding car.  Abrahamson’s film shows both sides of the boy, his guilt and the unfortunate accident.  The relationship with his father (Lars Mikkelsen) is also brought into the picture as the drama thickens.  WHAT RICHARD DID is family drama which also includes a good anticipation of how the film will end.

    WRITERS (USA 2012) ***
    Directed by Josh Boone

     

    Review embargoed till Sep 9, 8pm

  • This Week's Film Reviews (Aug 31, 2012)

    IN MY MOTHER’S ARMS, LAWLESS and THE POSSESSION are films opening this week.

    The Summer in France series at the TIFF Bell Lightbox continues for those close to Toronto.

     IN MY MOTHER’S ARMS (UK/Iraq/Netherlands 2011) **

    Directed by Atea Al Daradji and Mohamed Al Daradji

    IN MY MOTHER’S ARMS is a well intentioned documentary that begs for alms to aid the orphans, mostly as a result of war.  But well-intentioned docs do not necessarily translate to good films.

    In My Mother''s Arms follows several children who live and study in the same room of a small rented house.  These are orphans whose parents have been killed or kidnapped.  They have no one to support them but Husham, a student who works tirelessly to protect them from the dangers of the streets of Baghdad.  As the film progresses, the landlord demands they vacate his house and now the only sanctuary these children have ever known is about to be lost.

    This documentary follows two and a half years in the life of the orphanage.  Husham is devoting his life to protecting children from the dangers of the streets.  While not supported by the government, he struggles to keep the orphanage running and is determined to try his best in providing a decent life and education for the children.

    The film hinges on the future of the orphans whether they will be eventually given a home or temporary place of residence.  Though the review will not reveal the outcome, the ending is far from satisfactory.  I am sure the outcome is known at the present time but in order to sap the audience for more funds, the film ends with the note of the huge number of orphans still existing and what the audience can do to help.  This is rather prejudiced filmmaking.  Husham is unwilling to discuss other possibilities with the government.  It appears that he only wants the funds to be used in only the way he proposes.

    In the film he deems that the children are obtaining the best care under his supervision. Whether this is true is questionable.  The theatrical performances he boasts the children are training at are quite pathetic.

    It is also odd the directors’ choice of the boy, Saif the directors chose as their main subject.  He looks spoilt and unable to follow reason or instruction.  He is fighting all the time and his performance in the play is short of laughable.  “I am too young to endure all this,” is his crying during the play.

    The film takes 90 minutes to drum over and again the same message of the orphan’s plight.  Though a worthy cause, the film is still a bit too much.

    LAWLESS (USA 2012) **1/2

    Directed by John Hillcoat

    Australian director John Hillcoat’s latest film is another violent outing based on the novel The Wettest County in the World set in Franklin County, Virginia during the Prohibition era.  As the law wants a cut on the moonshine profits, the title LAWLESS is a good description of the situation.

    The film centres on three brothers who are in moonshine business.  Forrest Bondurant (Tom Hardy) is the leader while youngest Jack (Shia Labeouf) learns the ropes and takes over the business.  But the authorities want a cut of the money.   Forrest refuses and violence ensues.

    Music and the script are by Australian rock band leader Nick Cave (Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds).  One can understand his involvement in the movie as director Hillcoat used to direct music videos, one of which was about Nick Cane and the Bad Seeds.  The script is nothing too spectacular and the film moves towards the expected climax which is a shootout at the end, in which no one really wins.  The film has the feel of the gangster classic BONNIE AND CLYDE though its effectiveness lies far from that film.

    Hillcoat directed the excellent Australian western THE PROPOSITION in 2005 and the not so impressive THE ROAD in 2009 though he won awards for both.

    The soundtrack is noticeably different and contains a performance by the Cornshuckers String Band that Bertha Minnix (Mia Wasikowska), Jack’s love interest performs in.

    The film is aided by Tom Hardy (THE BLACK KNIGHT RISES’s villain) performance.  He grunts out a lot of his lines including the key one that violence is where one takes it to another level.  It is good to see Hrady on the ‘good’ side in the film.  Unfortunately pretty boy LaBeouf is miscast as young Jack coming of age as the film progresses.  The two love interests played by Mia Wasikowska and Jessica Chastain can only do so much in their female underwritten roles, typical in films of this genre.  But it is Guy Pearce who steals the show as the ultra violent Special Agent Charlie Rake.

    LAWLESS was also nominated for the Cannes Pale d’Or this year but lost to AMOUR.  THE PROPOSITION displayed flair, unpredictability and a wonderful weird but violent sense of humour.  LAWLESS though entirely watchable lacks the punch of his earlier films.  But at least the woods and mountains of Franklin County are stunningly captured on camera by cinematographer Benoit Delhomme who also shot THE PROPOSITION.

    THE POSSESSION (USA 2012) *

    Directed by Ole Bornedal

    The horror flick THE POSSESSION begins with the words “Based on a true story” splashed on the screen.  What follows is a segment in which an elderly white-haired woman approaches a box only to be overcome by convulsions before collapsing on the floor while her son waits helplessly by the front door.  It is a highly made-up, overacted incredibly unbelievable scene, an incident that would unlikely happen the way portrayed on screen.

    The film then spends more than 15 minutes on the situation of the Brenick family.  Father, Clyde (Jeffrey Dean Morgan) is divorcing Stephanie (Kyra Sedgwick).  It is his turn to take the children for the weekend.  He drives the two daughters, the younger Em (Natasha Callis) and Hannah (Madison Davernport) to the new house he had just bought.  All this is tedious stuff made even worse as a time waster in a horror film.  On their way home, Em eyes an antique wooden box at a yard sale that father buys for her.  It turns out that the box contains a demon that possesses her.  An exorcist is called, a ridiculously-looking Jesuit look-alike and after much head turning and convulsions, the demon crawls back to the box.  If the review has spoilt the ending, thank your lucky stars as you can leave the cinema before the film finishes.

    There are one or two scary set-ups but by the time the film comes to those parts, they don’t work as the build up is already silly and implausible.

    The only time the film shows promise is the breakfast scene where Em just starts acting weird.  But any opportunity for suspense is eventually lost by cheap theatrics.

    The reason given to the origin of the mysterious box or why the demon is trapped in it.  is just somethinhgf that happnened in the past.  Nothing makes much sense, not that anyone really cares.

    THE POSSESSION turns out to be a poor man’s EXORCIST and a very, very poor man’s one at that.  It is difficult to determine if THE POSSESSION is sillier or just plain boring but the film alternates between the two states.

    BEST BETS OF THE WEEK:

    Best Film Opening: nil

    Best Film Playing: Easy Money
    Best Action: Premium Rush
    Best Drama: Savages
    Best Foreign: Easy Money (Sweden)Best Comedy: Paranorman
    Best Family: Brave
    Best Documentary: First Position

  • This Week's Film Reviews (Aug 24, 2012)

    PREMUIM RUSH, HIT AND RUN and ROBOT & FRANK are 3 big films opening this week.  But foreign flicks EASY MONEY are also worth a look!

    The Summer in France series at the TIFF Bell Lightbox continues for those close to Toronto.

    The Swedes already has an EASY MONEY sequel in the making while Hollywood has also started on an American version of EASY MONEY.  EASY MONEY is clearly a top 10 film of 2012 both commercial and critical-wise.  A must-see! 

    THE APPARITION (USA 2012) **

    Directed by Todd Lincoln


    The movie’s caption “Believe and you Die” sounds like something right out of a Japanese horror flick.  But first time debuting director Todd Lincoln has his own rules though the film is shot with jerky hand held camera and grainy print.

    Director Lincoln own rule is that he follows no rules of horror films.  There is no strong narrative, hardly a story, no climax, no happy ending.  To his credit, one does not know where his film is leading to, but to his discredit, the film has no satisfactory ending, as witnessed by the hissing at the film’s promotional screening.

    When frightening events start to occur in their home, young couple Kelly (Ashley Greene) and Ben (Sebastian Stan) discover they are being haunted by a presence that was accidentally conjured during a university parapsychology experiment called the Chris Experiment.  The horrifying apparition feeds on their fear and torments them no matter where they try to run. Their last hope is an expert in the supernatural, Patrick (Tom Felton), but even with his help they may already be too late to save themselves from this terrifying force.

    Tom Felton (Draco from the HARRY POTTER films) steals the show as the odd ball paranormal expert wannabe while Ashley Green and Sebastian Stan were just probably hired for their good looks.

    Nothing is ever explained in the film either, as to the origin of the ghost and the purpose of wanting to come into the human’s world does not quite gel either.  One thing that lifts this film out of the ordinary horror film is the bounty of good horror scenes.  These include a hand covering a character’s mouth from behind, the bed sheet covering and suffocating a sleeping and unsuspecting Kelly and Ben affixed to the ceiling, among others.  Lincoln does not appear to care about anything else but shooting of these scary segments, which to his credit are pretty intense.

    Giving Lincoln his right for his originality and refusal to follow the rules, THE APPARITION might still be worth a visit.  At least this film is better than THE POSSESSION which is really the bottom of the pits of a horror film, which opens next week,

    DARWIN (USA 2011) ***

    Directed by Nick Brandestini

     

    As the saying goes: “It can only happen in America.”  The documentary DARWIN is about an isolated community at the end of a worn road in Death Valley, California.

    Directed by Swiss born Nick Brandestini who claims that he was always fascinated by the American way if life, he came across the subject accidentally while on a drive trough the Mojave Desert.  Drawn to the ghost towns of the area, he became curious about the inhabitants, past and present.  DARWIN tells of the people who live in such a seemingly inhospitable place.

    DARWIN is about Darwin, California, where commerce and government have virtually evaporated and where 35 people call it home.

    Director Brandestini interviews the inhabitants of Darwin.  These include a salty old miner and his firecracker wife; the hippie postmaster; the transgendering 20-something and his partner.  These have moved to Darwin to escape society.

    Brandestini then documents the survival of the tow.  Propelled from society by tragic turns, the people of Darwin find ways to coexist in a place without a government, a church, jobs or children.  The near-ghost town’s survival depends on a fragile, gravity-fed waterline that descends from the mountains where top secret weapons are being tested.  One “accidental” drop of a bomb, they half-joke, could wipe out their entire town.

    That is all of what DARWIN is about.  No messages here – just information about different people in an intriguing situation.  The doc is thus as interesting as the people of Darwin, which might be boring to some audiences while fascinating to others.

    EASY MONEY (Sweden 2012) ***** Top 10

    Directed by Daniel Espinosa

    The film begins with a prison breakout by low life Jorge (Matias Varela).  But the film is not about him as the film’s intricate plot later involves unpredictable double cross after double cross.  Just as the film, a crime drama turns out to be much more – a look of Swedish class in an otherwise classless society as well as an expertly told tale of romance, suspense and action.

    In EASY MONEY, character JW Joel Kinnaman) is studying economics at university while driving a cab. One night at a party, he takes a liking to socialite Sophie (Lisa Henni) who is very much out of his league.   Sophie loves him unconditionally but he keeps his dealings from her.  JW is doing his writing term papers for his fellow students, along with working for Abdulkarim (Mahmut Suvakci), a local crime boss. One such job for him involves tailing Jorge (Matias Varela) who recently escaped from jail, which brings him to the attention of Radovan (Dejan Cukic), Abdulkarim''s rival.  JW even goes above the call of duty, by rescuing Jorge from a savage beating from Mrado (Dragomir Mrsic).

    Despite being a crime film, the film’s characterizations are strong.  The audience is sympathetic to JW from his saving of Jorge and his romance with Sophie.  The class system is examined as JW struggles to impress Sophie’s parents during a dinner meeting.  It is just hilarious when JW says he sails only to have Sophie’s father remark that he can then look after her in the yacht as she does not know anything.  The complex Swedish society is also revealed through the existence of Spanish, Serbian and Arab characters in the story.  Being from a small northern Swedish town, JW is as much out of place as the immigrants.

    The violence in the film is not harmless superficial violence as those found in horror films like SAW.  Here, the violence hits close to home.  A huge weapon is taken out in the full view of Mrado’s very young daughter.  When the violence affects family and the character’s loved ones, the danger becomes scary and real.

    As the film progresses towards its climax, the story takes an excellent twist in a big double cross.  Though basically a suspenser, the end action scenes are also handled with great flair.

    Main actor Joel Kinnaman is in my opinion the sexiest male actor in today’s cinema.  He has also been seen in THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATOO and the recent LOLA VERUS as well as to be seen in the upcoming ROBOCOP.  He speaks fluent Swedish.  Nothing is known so far about Kinnaman whether he is Swede or American but one thing can be for sure.  He will be the hottest star in movies in a year ore two.

    The Swedes already has an EASY MONEY sequel in the making while Hollywood has also started on an American version of EASY MONEY.  EASY MONEY is clearly a top 10 film of 2012 both commercial and critical-wise.  A must-see!

    PREMIUM RUSH  (USA 2012) ****

    Directed by David Koepp


    Who would want to see a bike version of FAST AND FURIOUS?  If the main story of a messenger chased around the whole movie by a crooked cop sounds silly, maybe it is, but the scriptwriters Koepp himself and John Kamps know their stuff.

    The script has all the elements that make a good movie – in fact a good suspense movie that would even make the Master of Suspense Hitchcock proud.  There is the romance element, very exciting chases around the very busy Manhattan streets, and lots of suspense and audience anticipation.  It takes half the film before it is revealed what the bike messenger is actually carrying.  Like in Hitchcock’s NORTH BY NORTHWEST, the real reason for the story is unimportant – what is more important is what happens to the lead characters and how the good guys overcome the bad ones.                                                  Wilee (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) is the best bicycle messenger in the city of Manhattan.  He works for Security Couriers with his girl, Vanessa (Dania Ramirez).  When Vanessa’s roommate Nima (Jamie Chung) runs into trouble that requires a receipt to be delivered on time, Wilee and Vanessa help out.  But hot on their heels is a crooked sadistic NYPD cop, Bobby Monday (Michael Shannon) who would stop at nothing (including murder) to steal the receipt.

    PREMIUM RUSH is a chase film from start to end, pretty much like NORTH BY NORTHWEST.  The only difference here is that the whole story is set in Manhattan.  The climatic scene takes place in a police towing lot but most of the other chases occur in the streets.  There are enough distractions to keep the audience from being bored.  Other chases take place in the park.  One is Wilee’s ability to work out in his mind possible route alternatives that might run dangerous or safe.  These are shown full with the possible accidents.

    Michael Shannon makes a good sinister villain - the type that that would take a cigarette to a kid’s balloon (Hitchcock’s STRANGERS ON A TRAIN).  The torture sequence in the ambulance is nerve wrecking.  At one point in the film, his character confesses that he is mentally unstable.

    One noticeable fact about the film is the film’s total disregard for the law.  Besides the LAPD cops being the bad guys, Monday and the Bike Cop (Christopher Place), riding the bike all over the city on the sidewalks, pedestrian paths on the wrong way on One-Way streets are considered cool.  The illegal transportation of immigrants by payment (the purpose of the messenger’s receipt) is also not looked down upon.  The gambling in Chinatown is taken as a given acceptable fact.  The narrative also says that doing a bike courier’s job is preferable to an educated lawyer’s job in the office.

    Koepp moves his movie at break neck speed giving the audience the premium rush of the film’s title.  For all that it is worth, PREMIUM RUSH has all the elements of good filmmaking and it delivers entertainment at high speed, the type favoured by today’s audiences.

    HIT AND RUN (USA 2012) ***1/2

    Directed by David Palmer and Dax Shepard

    The comedy HIT AND RUN is not about a hit and run accident.  Nor is it a chase comedy.  In reality, it is a romantic comedy about a couple getting it all together.

    HIT AND RUN is a comedy about a young couple, Annie and Charlie Bronson (real life couple Kristen Bell and Dax Shepard) that risks it all when they leave their small town life and embark on a road trip that may lead them towards the opportunity of a lifetime.  Their fast-paced road trip grows awkwardly complicated and hilarious when they are chased by a friend from the past (Bradley Cooper), a federal marshal, Randy (Tom Arnold) and a band of misfits.  The whole cast of characters consists of misfits in one form or other, including Annie who cannot decide on who is her true love.

    The film begins with an extended romantic session between the two leads.  It is clear then that it is the love story that propels the plot.  There is nothing wrong with this as this tactic worked very well with THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN in which the romance between Spidey and his girl made the whole story work.  What HIT AND RUN misses in terms of laughs, it more than makes up in terms of the romantic slant.

    The script contains good dialogue, especially during the confrontation scenes between Annie and Charlie.  Both points of view are valid and make sense.  The reactions of Charlie to Annie’s move are also spot on – the type one would expect in such an argument.

    HIT AND RUN contains a few laugh-out loud segments though these are few and far between.  The car chases are adequate and nothing out of the ordinary.  It is easy to shoot a chase in the country where there is less traffic than in the city.  The chemistry of the two leads is strong, expected since the two are a real life couple.

    But HIT AND RUN has lots of spirit and the film shows.  It also makes one of the better American romantic comedies churned out this year.

    ROBOT & FRANK (USA 2012) ***1/2

    Directed by Rob Schreier

    Set in the near future, an ex-jewel thief, Frank (Frank Langella) receives a gift from his son (John Marsden): a robot butler (voiced by Peter Sarsgaard) programmed to look after him.   But soon the two companions try their luck as a heist team.

    To solve the problem of credibility, the title ‘set in the near future’ cleverly appears on the screen.  Whatever advances in robot technology is thus accepted by the audience.  The robot is able to cook, garden, aid the planning of a heist but more importantly become a true friend and companion to the aging, senile and irritable Frank.  When the robot tells Frank to erase all his memory so that the police cannot trace any evidence of their heist, it seems that the robot has made the ultimate sacrifice by giving up its life to Frank.

    Though the film at first appearance looks sentimental mish-mush, it is in reality an entertaining comedy caper.  Once the robot appears at Frank’ doorstep, the laughs start and the humour never relents.

    Frank Langella delivers an effortless performance as the ageing Frank – definitely Oscar winning material.  Langella inhabits his role so comfortably that one would not know that he is acting.  The script need not contain dramatic confrontation scenes to prove his acting worth.

    At the end of the film, the audience can only wish they had a robot like Frank had – the perfect selfless companion.  The film runs only 90 minutes and could have covered more substance but still the film comes off short and sweet.

    BEST BETS OF THE WEEK:

    Best Film Opening: Easy Money

    Best Film Playing: Easy Money
    Best Action: Premium Rush
    Best Drama: Savages
    Best Foreign: Easy Money (Sweden)Best Comedy: Paranorman
    Best Family: Brave
    Best Documentary: First Position

  • TIFF BELL Lightbox - The Films of Mia Hansen-Løve

    TIFF Bell Lightbox presents:

    The Films of Mia Hansen-Love

    At only 31 years of age French director and scriptwriter Mia Hansen-Love is one of the most exciting young talents in today’s cinema.  With already 5 films (including one short) to her credit, she has made her name known in the film world.

    Hansen-Love gained recognition for her 2007 film TOUT EST PARDONNE which was nominated for a Best First Film Cesar award by the French Film Academy.  She followed the success with LE PERE DE MES ENFANTS which went on to win the prestigious Special Jury Prize in the Un Certain Regard at Cannes in 2009.  British Sight and Sound did a big spread on her and the film, promoting her popularity.  Her latest film in 2010 UN AMOUR DE JEUNESSE was screened at last year’s TIFF demonstrating even more promise and maturity in her work.  Cinematheque members get a chance to watch her latest 3 films this August.  Hansen-Love herself will be present at all the screenings.

    Described as a feminist director for many reasons (her main protagonist is female; her films have strong female characters and a female point of view), She demonstrates strong emotions in her films.  Her films share the common characteristic of a major change in the film’s main character midway during the film.  In LE PERE, the father commits suicide halfway during the film.  In JEUNESSE, the girl’s lover leaves her completely for South America throwing her life into total disarray.  Hansen-Love is also fond of repeatedly using a popular tune in her films, which amusingly includes Doris Day’s Que Sera Sera at the end of LE PERE.

    For more information of show times, venue and ticket pricing, check the Cinematheque website at:

    http://tiff.net/filmsandschedules/tiffbelllightbox/2012/2440000994

    Reviews of her latest 3 films follow below:-

    UN AMOUR DE JEUNEUSSE (France/Germany 2010) ***** Top 10
    Directed by Mia Hansen-Løve

     

    Mia Hansen-Løve proves herself a filmmaker to be reckoned with.  Her immensely satisfying emotional LE PERE DES MES ENFANTS (last year) is followed by an equally heart wrenching film about the aftermath of first love.  The English title is GOODBYE FIRST LOVE.  Camille (Lola Creton) is totally in love with Sullivan (Sebastian Urzendowsky), both in their teens.  Sullivan surprises his parents that he is quitting school and travelling with two friends to South America in search of Utopia.  When asked if the girlfriend is coming along, his answer is no.  The long distance break up turns out to be too much for either of them.  Camille traces his every move and treasures his letters but Sullivan eventually stops communication with the logic that this way would be better as it involves less heart break.  Camille barely copes till she meets another man.  She falls in love with the older man and him with her, while advancing her career as an architect t the same time.  They get engaged.  As in stories of this nature, Sullivan returns and Camille cannot help herself but make love with him again.  Mia Hansen-Løve’s film is not about who stays with whom or who gets rejected but about emotions, feelings, maturity and growing up.  The result is an extremely moving film in which the audience is entrusted with the emotions of the lead characters.  The beauty of the film’s settings as in the Loire Valley also enhances the film’s beauty.

    (Screening: Aug 25th Sat 5pm)

    LE PERE DE MES ENFANTS (THE FATHER OF MY CHILDREN)

    (France/Germany 2009) ****

    Directed by Mia Hansen-Løve

    If art imitates life, director Mia Hansen-Løve’s mentor also a filmmaker Humbert Balsan committed suicide just as her lead character Gregoire (Louis-Do le Lencquesaing) did in her film.

    LE PERE DE MES ENFANTS (THE FATHR OF MY CHILDREN) tells the story of Grėgoire (Louis-Do de Lencquesaing), a charismatic man who has it all – a
    loving wife, three delightful children and a stimulating job.  His vocation as a
    film producer fulfills him.  In fact, Grégoire devotes most of his time and energy
    to his work, never stopping, except for weekends spent in the country with his
    family.  But now, with too many risks and too much debt, his prestigious
    production company is about to fail.  He contemplates suicide and finally shoots himself in the middle of the street.

    With the lead character done away in the middle of the film, just as Hitchcock did away with Janet Leigh in the shower scene in PSYCHO, Hansen-Løve’s focus shifts focus on to one of Gregoire’s daughters though the subject is still the filmmaker.  As the family ponders won what to do with the company and their lives (whether to stay in Paris or move to Itlay), Gregoire is still an imminent presence.

    Hansen-Løve’s film is one of the most moving and charming films this year, her film pretty much reflecting the character of Gregoire.  A lot of time and pauses in the film are present for the audience to contemplate Gregoire’s deed and to consider the raison d’etre of his doing so.  The scenes with his happy family in the country are contrasted with his busy film schedule ladled with insurmountable debts.

    Hansen-Løve’s film is never rushed.  If there is any message in the film, it may be more than what appears at the ending with the rendering of the old favorite tune “Que Sera Sear “ (Whatever will be, will be…).  If there is one film that evokes emotions with such understatement about life, love, family and work, LE PERE DE MES ENFANTS is the one film that should be seen!

    (Screening: Aug 24, Fri 615 pm)

    TOUT EST PARDONNE (France/Denmark 2007) ***

    Directed by Mia Hansen-Løve

    Mia Hansen-Løve’s first film is her roughest work but it shows the promise that manifested her talent in her two later works LE PERE DES MES ENFANTS and L’AMOUR DES JEUNEUSSE.  The themes are similar.  All hr films deal with lost love that appears after a period of absence, in this case after 11 years.

    Pamela (Victoire Rousseau) and her mere, Annette (Marie-Christine Friedrich) leave her father owing to a fall out of love.  Mother and daughter now live comfortably, stable with another family.  Suddenly Victor, the father (Paul Blain) requests a meeting with his daughter.  Pamela relents, much to the chagrin of her mother.  What transpires then is a moving account of great emotional upheaval, but one that is necessary for both Pamela and Victor.  Director Hansen-Løve captures the human emotions realistically, capturing both the joy and sorrow of family.  The film is also about human weaknesses and how one copes the best they can given human failings.  The only complaint is her overuse of a Gallic song in her soundtrack that gets a bit annoying after too many repetitions.

    (Screening Aug 23 Thursday at 630 pm)

  • This Week's Film Reviews (Aug 17, 2012)

    THE EXPENDABLES 2 and SPARKLE are two big films opening this week.  But foreign flicks   like PAINTED SKIN are also worth a look!

    The Summer in France series at the TIFF Bell Lightbox continues for those close to Toronto.

    THE AWAKENING (UK 2011) ***
    Directed by Nick Murphy

    THE AWAKENING is a ghost story in the vein of “I see dead people”.  But enough said or the ending will be no surprise.

    The film starts James Bond style with the arrogant but highly effective Florence Cathcart (Rebecca Hall) famous for exposing hoaxes and helping the police to arrest con artists at work.  It is period 1921 London.  The stranger Robert Mallory (Dominic West) tells her that the headmaster of a boarding school in Rookford had invited her to travel to Cumbria to investigate a ghost that is frightening the pupils to death.  He also tells that many years ago there was a murder in the estate and recently pupil Walter Portman had died.  The reluctant too busy Florence finally accepts to go to Cumbria.  On arrival, she is welcomed by governess Maud (the always excellent Imelda Staunton) and the boy Thomas Hill (Isaac Hempstead Wright).  Soon Florence discovers what had happened to Walter and then the students, teachers and staff are released on vacation, and Florence remains alone with Robert, Maud and Tom in the school. Florence is ready to leave the boarding school when strange things happen.  Nothing is what it seems.  Florence is somehow connected to the events of the school.

    Despite the fast beginning, the film then moves on to a slower pace that is typical of a ghost story.  Victorian London and the period atmosphere is more than impressively created on film.  The suspense mount and as the film progresses, the audience would be pleased at quite the few plot turns.

    The main trouble of the film is the too many coincidences – the main one being Florence’s close connection to the school.  But still ghost stories require that audiences suspend belief and director Murphy succeeds in making a rather incredible plot plausible.            Hall is perfect as the victim and aggressor and the film has a bang on ending.

     

    THE EXPENDABLES 2 (USA 2012) ***

    Directed by Simon West

    The second outing of THE EXPENDABLES sees once again Beefcake actors led by Sylvester Stallone (playing again Barney Ross) doing their thing, blowing things up before they get too old to do anything else.

    After taking a seemingly simple job for Mr. Church (Bruce Willis), the Expendables find their plans going awry when one of their own is brutally murdered by rival mercenary Jean Vilain (a really youth-looking Jean-Claude Van Damme).  The Expendables set out into hostile territory – with their new members Bill the Kid (Liam Hemsworth) and Ross’ new romance Maggie (Yu Nan) – to put a stop to a deadly weapon and gain their revenge against the people who killed their brother-in-arms.  The plot has something to do with Jean stealing nuclear material from a mine using the local villagers as worse than slave labour.  So, after many killings and explosions, the expendables win their way.

    Simon West (CON WEST) takes over the Sylvester Stallone in the director’s role.  THE EXPENDABLES 2 is quite similar to number one with a lot of the original cameos Arnold Schwarzenegger and Bruce Willis expanded to full roles. Other action stars in the film include Jet Li, Dolph Lundgren, Terry Crews, Randy Couture and an especially amusing Chuck Norris making fun of an old Lone Wolf McQuade character.

    For a $100 million budget film, THE EXPENDABLES looks very good and much more expensive.  Besides the exotic locations of Nepal, inland China, Bulgaria and the all action-star cast, the very impressive first segment itself contains a chase involving everglade-type boats, helicopters, tanks, seadoos, with lots of pyrotechnics.  No room in this film for sissy computer generated graphics!

    As for the dialogue, there is plenty of small talk and inside jokes that should satisfy actions fans.  Many of the dialogue lines play on the cast’s past roles such as Schwarzenegger’s TERMINATOR and Willis’ DIE HARD films.

    THE EXPENDABLES is reasonably violent but not as violent as the original.  But the audience knows it is all harmless violence that does not strike psychologically as in say the upcoming Swedish actioner, EASY MONEY.

    THE EXPENDABLES I and 2 prove that the 80’s Beefcake stars still have what it takes.  And they sure make sure the audience does not forget it.

    THE ODD LIFE OF TIMOTHY GREEN (USA 2012) **

    Directed by Peter Hedges

    Everyone likes a good story.  That is likely what the filmmakers are banking on with their new fantasy drama THE ODD LIFE OF TIMOTHY GREEN about a happily married couple yearning for a child of their own.

    The film begins at the adoption agency where Cindy (Jennifer garner) and Jim Green (Aussie Joel Edgerton from ANIMAL KINGDOM) tells their story of Timothy Green in order to adopt a child.  The sentimental tone of the film is set here as the couple relates the story.  For those who have seen the trailer, the story is already well known and predictable.  The Greens place a wooden wish box in the garden.  After a storm, a boy appears and calls them mother and father.  Timothy (CJ Adams) has leaves on his legs.  The new family adapt well together keeping their secret of how Timothy appears from everyone else.

    But the leaves slowly drop off and when the last one falls, Timothy will be gone.  Nothing can be done.  This is the Green’s story to the agency review board (a man and a woman) and this review will not reveal more of the tale, not that it does not take a genius to figure how everything ends.

    The film is divided into 4 parts.  First is the discovery of the boy followed by the lessons of how to cope.  Then comes the adjusting to the new life and finally the last segment of the boy’s departure.  Director Hedges lets his story flow chronologically, at times pretty slowly, but with a few surprises such as the soccer game.

    Everyone loves a good story but not necessarily a good yarn.  For one this tale is too syrupy sweet and mushy.  It would be advisable to bring at least one box of Kleenex even though you might not be taken captive with the yarn.  Lots of stereotyping and overused situations (bad boss; factory closing in small town; townsfolk meeting to save factory) exits in the story.  But the main flaw with this film is that director Hedges assumes the audience will go with the flow despite the fact that the story and premise is totally unbelievable.  An unbelievable story will never work no matter how much audiences are led to believe that they have to let their imagination run wild during a movie.  A similar predicament fell on Billy Bob Thornton’s ridiculous THE FARMER ASTRONAUT in which the audience had to believe a man could build a spaceship on his own in his backyard.

    But the supporting cast of Robert Morse as grandfather Big Jim, M. Emett Walsh as Uncle Bubbles and Dianne Wiest as the hairy-chinned woman spice up the film a little.

    THE ODD LIFE OF TIMOTHY GREEN ends predictably.  But at least the adopted child showing up is not a replica of Timothy Green.  The filmmakers have at least spared us that.  At a modest budget of $40 million, this Disney entry should reap big bucks for the Disney Studios based on the premise that everyone does like to have a good cry now and then.  If not this will be an EARTH NEEDS KIDS bomb!

     

    PAINTED SKIN: THE RESURRECTION (China 2012) ***

    Directed by Wuershen

     

     

    PAINTED SKIN: THE REURRECTION is the sequel to the highly successful 2008 PAINTED SKIN fantasy action flick.  The reason for this release in North America is likely that THE RESURECTION became the highest grossing domestic film in China.

    The film is typically the type of film churned out in the hundreds, one weekly by the former Shaw Organisation in the 60’s and 70’s that drew families to the cinemas every weekend. For myself, this was a tradition as well.  The film has lots of swordfighting action, magic, demons and spirits, romance and a period setting.  Often the story is inconsequential to the success to the film’s box-office.  Any so-so story would suffice, as long as it gave an excuse for lots of fighting.  PAINTED  SKIN: THE REURRECTION is directed by Wuershen in the same mould.  The narrative is weak, but at least the film makes sense.

    The film follows the ancient lore.  If a human freely offers their heart to a demon, that monster can become mortal, experiencing the true pains and passions of existence. This is the ultimate triumph of the underworld.

    Xiaowei (Xun Zhou, THE GREAT MAGICIAN, FLYING SWORDS OF DRAGON GATE), a millennia-old fox spirit, is freed from her frozen prison and transforms into a dangerous seductress, consuming living hearts to keep her beautiful as she searches for her chance to become human.  Meanwhile, Princess Jing (Wei Zhao RED CLIFF, SHAOLIN SOCCER), hiding her marred beauty behind a golden mask, flees an unknown threat to her kingdom by pursuing the only man she ever loved: the guard who was unable to protect her, so many years ago.  A twist of fate brings Princess Jing and Xiaowei together, and a slow game of wits, deceit, and seduction begins for the princess’ very own heart.

    The film benefits from strong female roles.  That would draw in female audiences as well as males to the action film.  The film contains above average special effects with old fashioned spectacle not generated by computers.  Though a little overlong at 2 hours, the film flies fast.

    Most of the actors in the original reprise their roles in this film.  No knowledge of the original is required in the enjoyment of THE RESURRECTION.

    Besides the film’s main flaw of the weak narrative (no one really bothers), PAINTED KSIN: THE REURRECTION still delivers the goods, as is evident already in its success in China.  At a mere $20 million cost in US dollars, it has already grossed $120 million.

    PARANORMAN (USA 2012) ****
    Directed by Chris Butler and Sam Fell


    From the company that brought CAROLINE comes the 3D stop motion full length animated feature PARANORMAN.  The stop motion technique though painfully time consuming pays off in this impressively looking animation.

    The film follows the vein of “I see dead people” movies.  In PARANOMAN, Norman (Kodu Smit-McPhee) sees dead people and animals.  They (the people) communicate with him.  Deemed a freak at school, his parents (Jeff Carlin and Leslie Mann) do not like his ‘gift’ either.  Nobody believes him.

    The plot involves Norman forced to save his town of Blythe Hollow from total destruction from an old witch’s curse.  (He is informed of this through a dead bum.)  So, Norman recruits his friends and his reluctant sister and the adventure begins.

    The film contains scary images that might be too intense for littler children.  But the film caters to both adults and kids.  But most kids, used to all the violence and frightening images of video games should be thrilled with an animated horror film with real witches typical in a horror movie.  But the blood and gore is replaces largely by humour brilliantly blended in.

    The script contains a few neat touches.  One is Norman’s teaming up with his bully to save the town.  The other is his gay brother Mitch (Casey Affleck), a super good-looking dude who totally ignores girls, the reason of his sexuality revealed only at the end.  The town folk instead of being terrified, have a wild fine time hunting down the zombies.  But mostly, PARANORMAN is extremely funny.  The jokes come fast and furious and though some are unrelated to the plot, they are welcome in a film that might have turned out too scary.  The film also contains the message of prejudice as the town is paying for what sins their ancestors committed.

    Entertaining all the way with full use of 3D effects, PARANORMAN is actually likely the funniest film playing at the theatres.

     

     

    SPARKLE (USA 2012) *** 

    Directed by Salim Akil

    SPARKLE is the rough story of the Supremes and works like overdone melodrama with Motown songs and period atmosphere sort of forced into your face.  Surprisingly, the film is still entirely watchable and actually entertaining. 

    SPARKLE is the story of three sisters growing up under the strict supervision of mother, Emma (the late Whitney Houston).  The story is told from the point of view of the songwriter sister, Sparkle (Jordon Sparks) of the title who forms the group called Sister and the Sisters led by Sister (Carmen Ejogo) with her and Dolores(Tika Sumpter).  Dolores.  In the process, she falls in love with Stixx, (Derek Luke) who manages the group.  But trouble arrives in two forms.  Mother disapproves.  Sister gets married into bad company in the form of coke snorting Satin (Mike Epps) who occasionally bets up Sister. 

    It is the trouble that generates interest in the film.  Otherwise, it is just one sogn after another and the silly Sparkle/Stixx romance which one has seen before in countless films.       

    As this is Whitney Houston’s lat film, that would be the very reason to see SPARKLE.  Houston is given a solo song in the film.  Though it is a Gospel song delivered in church, the number is still a showstopper.  Her confrontational scenes with the daughter Sister and Sparkle are the best segments in the film. 

    The Motown and period atmosphere are so well created that one cannot forget that this is a movie of the70’s.  The songs, musical score, wardrobe (including Sister and the Sister’s outlandish costumes), dialogue and sets all work too well.  The rise to fame to reality of the plot, though used countless times in films in this genre still packs a little punch.  Everyone loves a little drama in their films.  

    The best line in the film comes from Emma: Keep dancing like that you will bring home some kid you can''t feed.  Director Akil keeps this spirit alive during most of the film with segments like the Gospel singing session in church, the opening song number in the smoke filled cheesy nightclub and the domestic violence scenes.                                   

    Yes, SPARKLE sparkles and often enough!

    BEST BETS OF THE WEEK:

    Best Film Opening: Paranorman

    Best Film Playing: The Amazing Spider-Man

     

    Best Action: The Amazing Spider-Man
    Best Drama: Savages
    Best Foreign: Easy Money (Sweden)Best Comedy: Paranorman
    Best Family: Brave
    Best Documentary: First Position

  • This Week's Film Reviews (Aug 10, 2012)

    More than 8 films open this week including THE BOURNE LEGACY and HOPE SPRINGS.

    The Summer in France series at the TIFF Bell Lightbox continues for those close to Toronto.

     

    2 DAYS IN NEW YOUR (France 2012) ***
    Direcetd by Julie Delpy

    2 DAYS IN NEW YORK is the second similar film by French actress Julie Delpy after 2 DAYS IN PARIS.  Her films could fall into similar territory as the Richard Linklater films BEFORE SUNRISE and BEFORE SUNSET and the Woody Allen set in New York nuanced romantic comedies.

    But her new film contains some bizarre and new material to her credit.  The situations occurring in the 2-day adventure include Marion (played by Delpy) selling her soul, grabbing the groin of actor Vincent Gallo and falling from a tower in Central Park.  Though one wonders of the purpose of her movie, one cannot deny her talent at coming off with unconventional situations

    Marion and Mingus (Chris Rock) live cozily - perhaps too cozily-with their cat and two young children from previous relationships. However, when Marion''s jolly father (played by director Delpy''s real-life dad, Albert Delpy), her oversexed sister, Rose (Alexia Landeau), and her sister''s outrageous boyfriend, Manu (Alexandre Nahon) unceremoniously descend upon them for a visit, it initiates two unforgettable days that will test Marion and Mingus''s relationship. With their unwitting racism and sexual frankness, the French triumvirate hilariously has no boundaries or filters...and no person is left unscathed in its wake.

    Chris Rock plays a straight role as Marion’s long suffering husband.  The inter-racial relationship is a given which is a plus on Delpy’s direction.  Though the film moves along slowly for the first half, the comedic situations pick up fast and furious during the second half.  The French are played down in terms of their promiscuity, food and behaviour.  Rose trots around nude and has no qualms seducing Mingus.  Marion returns one morning with a whole bunch of croissants to the delight of her French visitors and the visitors’ behaviour are more rude than polite.  Rose and Manus’ lighting up of a spliff in an elevator then speaking rudely in French while her (French fluent) neighbour is listening on is hilarious.

    But for all the troubles between Mingus and Marion and between Marion and her odd French family, the message that family means everything still comes through loud and clear.  2 DAYS IN NEW YORK comes off better than expected, thanks to Delpy’s risk taking paying off

    THE BOURNE LEGACY (USA 2012) *** 

    Directed by Tony Gilroy

    Co-written and first time directed by Tony Gilroy who has worked on the other Bourne films, the 4th instalment of the series, THE BOURNE LEGACY has a few major differences while certain similarities remain. 

    The feel of a BOURNE was established when Irish director Paul Greengrass came aboard during the second BOURNE SUPREMACY and created the multiple cut edits during the action sequences giving them the choppy yet intense feel of intensified agitation.  Gilroy keeps this tactic as is evident especially during the motorbike chase segment around the busy streets in Manila, Philippines

    Based on the Jason Bourne character in the late Robert Ludlum novels, this script relies on the basic premise of a protagonist about to be eliminated by his superiors.  The new hero here, Aaron Cross (Jeremy Renner) though not suffering from amnesia still undergoes the same problems as Jason Bourne (Matt Damon) given a cameo in this film, courtesy of a framed photograph.  Cross is kept in the dark as to what is happening.  The story concerns his training that involves the taking of blue and green pills to survive.  When the agency decides that the entire project Cross is involved in is to be terminated, his pills stop arriving.  As Cross’s contemporaries die one by one, he figured his only way to survive is to infiltrate the agency and this he does by kidnapping Dr. Marat Shearing (Rachel Weisz) so that she can get him his pills.  As it turns out, she also knows nothing about the project and a cat and mouse game ensues between the two and the agency led by clean up expert, Eric Byer (Edward Norton). 

    One major difference between LEGACY and the other 3 Bourne films is that this one plays more as a thriller than an action film.  Quite a bit has to do with the main plot unfolding only a bit at a time.  The audience is kept in the dark from what is going on at the start.  When the story is eventually revealed, the film becomes more of a chase film that an action film, though enough action set-ups still exits to satisfy the action fans.  Quite a few of the old Bourne characters played by the likes of Joan Allen, David Strathairn, Albert Finney, Scott Glenn and Matt Damon (if one wants to count his framed picture) also appear in this film, which would satisfy true Bourne fans. 

    Renner (THE HURT LOCKER) satisfies the action hero role that Damon established.  As the film takes place in the same time fame as the other Bourne films, one would not have been surprised if Damon actually appeared in a personal cameo.  Or better still, if both of them would star in the next Bourne entry, Universal Pictures might make enough money to compete with MARVEL’S AVENGERS.

    HOPE SPRINGS (USA 2012) ***1/2 

    Directed by David Frankel

    Meryl Streep’s first romantic comedy since her embarrassing MAMMA MIA! Is a lot more drama but she herself is a good enough reason to watch this movie.  As usual, she delivers an amazing performance of a desperate housewife going all out to save her 31-year old marriage. 

    The script by Vanessa Taylor has a simple plot which allows the acting talents of both the leads Streep and Tommy Lee Jones to shine.  The couple now live alone after their adult children have led separate lives.  The routine of breakfast, work and sleep in separate rooms has affected Kay to the point that she cannot take it anymore.  She psychologically forces her husband Arnold (Jones) to fly together to Maine to attend an intensive one-week course on marriage counselling conducted by Dr. Feld (Steve Carell). 

    HOPE SPRINGS is a modest production set in Maine with no special effects, elaborate production sets or expensive costumes.  The surroundings are down to earth and dramatic set ups believable.  The normally uncomfortable sex scenes among older stars are plausible and made effective by both Jones and Streep.  Jones plays the over serious love insensitive role he played so well in the recent MEN IN BLACK III.  Carell also does well in a very restrained role as the patient and helpful marriage guide.  Would Streep earn another Oscar nomination for this performance?  She clearly deserves one for this remarkable performance. 

    The obstacles faced by the couple like sexual attraction after 30 years, over familiarity and unsurfaced conflicts are real life problems facing real people married for many years.  The script contains many moments of both emotional sensitivity and humour.  I helps too that the Arnold character is complex and willing to do his share at reviving the love in the marriage. 

    There is a segment in which Kay and Arnold view a French comedy.  The choice of the French film is interesting as it is LE DINER DE CONS which was remade into DINNER FOR SCHMUCKS starring Steve Carell.  It is as if Carell is still helping the couple. 

    HOPE SPRINGS is the name of the town in Maine hat the couple go to.  The title could also stand for the hope that springs back to the marriage.  There are not that many romantic films that deal with elderly couples.  But HOPE SPRINGS works better than the recent commercial THE BEST MARIGOLD HOTEL that deals with too many implausible romances.  Even young couple have a thing or two to learn from this film.

    IRON SKY (Finland/Germany/Australia 2012) **

    Directed by Timo Vuorsola

    As outrageous plots go, IRON SKY beats the lot.  But now would have hoped that the film would have turned out more entertaining than just inventive.

    For a low budget ($35 million Euro), the special effects are impressive.  The film has to look modern for a World War II era setting with all the mechanics as well as post modern when the Nazis invade the earth in 2018.  Samuli Torssonen, responsible for the computer generated effects does a fine job.

    Finnish comedies reaching North America have been known to be downright dead pan like the Aki Kaurismaki comedies like LENNINGRAD COWBOYS GO AMERICA or last year’s LE HAVRE.  This one is less dead-pan and more Mel Brooks slapstick like, but still most of the laughs fall flat.  It appears that the filmmakers have taken too much on their plate.  They concentrate on technology leaving out the pure fun from genuine comedy.  The satire on U.S. politics do not work that well either.  As for political correctness, anti-semitism is safely clearly left out, but replaced by a lame black astronaut, James Washington (Christopher Kirby) being cleansed by transformation to a white Aryan.

    The film opens with an American manned landing mission returning, in 2018, to the Moon. The spacecraft carries two astronauts; one of them a black male model, James Washington, specifically chosen to aid the current (Sarah Palin-like) President of the United States (Stephanie Paul) in her re-election. It turns out that Nazis have been occupying the dark side of the moon since 1945, planning an invasion to conquer the earth when the time is right.  And this is the time.

    The plot gets too complicated for its own good, with the President using the Nazis for her re-election campaign while the United Nations realize the Nazi threat.  A space battle STAR WARS style ensues.  While all this occurs, a romance buds between Washington and an innocent Nazi recruit, Renate (Julie Dietz).

    IRON SKY is still entertaining for its sheer outrageousness in story.  The filmmakers have already announced two sequels.  But still, one would have wished that IRON SKY have turned out funnier.  As such, most of the comedic potential is left untapped.  The funniest scene, however is the North Koreans at the United nations summit claiming responsibility to the attack on earth.  If only, there were more segments like these.  Filmed appropriately in German and English and partly in black and white.

    KILLER JOE (USA 2011) ***1/2

    Directed by William Friedkin

    William Friedkin’s (THE EXORCIST, THE FRENCH CONNECTION) KILLER JOE is a totally demented hit-man drama has all the sex, mayhem, violence and outrageousness that makes it such a guilty joy to watch.

    22-year old Chris (Emile Hirsch) broke, desperate and not very bright barges into his equally dumb father’s (Thomas Haden Church) trailer with the only plan he can think of: murder.  If they kill his mother, they can collect enough insurance money ($50,000) to settle his drug-dealing debts and escape their squalid little life.  But he hires KILLER JOE (Matthew McConaughey), a demented Dallas cop with no money to pay till they collect the insurance money.

    Joe takes Chris’ younger sister, Dottie as a retainer.  Things of this nature never turn out as planned.  The two develop a bond.  After the murder is committed, a double cross is revealed with things getting bloodier and bloodier.  Every actor is exceptionally good in this movie with Gina Gershon stealing the show as Chris’ stepmother.

    The only flaw is the over eventful climax, the sort that is normally seen in a play about murder, which comes as no surprise as this film was based on the play by Pulitzer Prize and Tony Award winner Tracy Letts.  William Friedkin is in top form!

    SEARCHING FOR SUGAR MAN (Sweden/UK 2011) ***

    Directed by Malik Bendjelloul

    As the title indicates SEARCHING FOR SUGAR MAN is a documentary about the search of a musician nicknamed Sugar Man, a Mexican-American rocker who fell off the music map in ’70s America but, unbeknownst to the singer, became a phenomenon in Apartheid South Africa.

    The film is not based only on the search for the musician.  The film covers many other grounds.  For one, it is a film that examines the effect of fame and perhaps fortune on an unexpected person who has known poverty all his life.  The other is a celebration of Rodriguez’s music and thirdly, the doc also unfolds like a detective mystery that unravels as the film progresses.  Director Bendijelloul’s film works on all the accounts enabling the audience to be entertained on different levels.

    Rodriguez’s music is catchy and amazing.  One can clearly understand the reason behind his popularity in South Africa.  The other reason, of course, being the songs’ lyrics that stand for freedom.  It is also intriguing to observe Rodriguez’s reaction to his sudden fame.  There is no misuse of finances nor is there any ego that goes to his head.  His humility remains.  One wonders whether this would be the case in the event the same happens to another  poor person.

    A bootleg recording found its way to South Africa at a time when the country was becoming increasingly isolated as the Apartheid regime tightened its grip.  With local pressings made, the album became an anthem of the resistance among white liberal youth.  The government’s banning of the record and rumours of Rodriguez’s death only helped secure his cult status. Over the next two decades, Rodriguez became a household name there. The album called COLD FACT went platinum, outselling artists like the Rolling Stones.

    Director Bendjelloul has also documented quite the comprehensive study on Rodriguez.  Though part of his troy, such as his discovery in the smoked filled bar is an enactment, the care and research put into the film is impressive.

    The film won two awards (Special Jury Prize and Audience Award) in the World Cinema program at the 2012 Sundance Film Festival.  To those who view the film and end up mesmerized by Sugar man’s music, the soundtrack is available on Sony Records.  No need to travel to South Africa to buy the album.

    BEST BETS OF THE WEEK:

    Best Film Opening: 

    Best Film Playing: The Amazing Spider-Man
    Best Action: The Amazing Spider-Man
    Best Drama: Savages
    Best Foreign: The Intouchables (France)
    Best Comedy: The Dictator
    Best Family: Brave
    Best Documentary: First Position

  • This Week's Film Reviews (Aug 3, 2012)

    More than 8 films open this week including TOTAL RECALL the remake.

    The Summer in France series at the TIFF Bell Lightbox continues for those close to Toronto.

    2 DAYS IN NEW YORK  (France 2012) ***

    Directed by Julie Delpy

    2 DAYS IN NEW YORK is the second similar film by French actress Julie Delpy after 2 DAYS IN PARIS.  Her films could fall into similar territory as the Richard Linklater films BEFORE SUNRISE and BEFORE SUNSET and the Woody Allen set in New York nuanced romantic comedies.

    But her new film contains some bizarre and new material to her credit.  The situations occurring in the 2-day adventure include Marion (played by Delpy) selling her soul, grabbing the groin of actor Vincent Gallo and falling from a tower in Central Park.  Though one wonders of the purpose of her movie, one cannot deny her talent at coming off with unconventional situations

    Marion and Mingus (Chris Rock) live cozily - perhaps too cozily-with their cat and two young children from previous relationships. However, when Marion''s jolly father (played by director Delpy''s real-life dad, Albert Delpy), her oversexed sister, Rose (Alexia Landeau), and her sister''s outrageous boyfriend, Manu (Alexandre Nahon) unceremoniously descend upon them for a visit, it initiates two unforgettable days that will test Marion and Mingus''s relationship. With their unwitting racism and sexual frankness, the French triumvirate hilariously has no boundaries or filters...and no person is left unscathed in its wake.

    Chris Rock plays a straight role as Marion’s long suffering husband.  The inter-racial relationship is a given which is a plus on Delpy’s direction.  Though the film moves along slowly for the first half, the comedic situations pick up fast and furious during the second half.  The French are played down in terms of their promiscuity, food and behaviour.  Rose trots around nude and has no qualms seducing Mingus.  Marion returns one morning with a whole bunch of croissants to the delight of her French visitors and the visitors’ behaviour are more rude than polite.  Rose and Manus’ lighting up of a spliff in an elevator then speaking rudely in French while her (French fluent) neighbour is listening on is hilarious.

    But for all the troubles between Mingus and Marion and between Marion and her odd French family, the message that family means everything still comes through loud and clear.  2 DAYS IN NEW YORK comes off better than expected, thanks to Delpy’s risk taking paying off

    360 (UK/France/Brazil/Austria 2011) ***

    Directed by Fernando Meirelles

    As the title 360 implies, this is a film about the lives of several characters that come full circle.  Directed by Brazilian Fernando Meirelles who astounded audiences with CITY OF GOD, 360 is a film many have been anticipating.

    Inspired by Arthur Schnitzler''s classic La Ronde, screenwriter Peter Morgan and director Fernando Meirelles'' 360 combines a modern and dynamic roundelay of stories into one, linking characters from different cities and countries in a vivid, suspenseful and deeply moving tale of love in the 21st century. Starting in Vienna, the film beautifully weaves through Paris, London, Bratislava, Rio, Denver and Phoenix into a single, mesmerizing narrative.

    The film begins with a story set in Vienna about a newly employed call girl whose sister goes missing as a result.  She is set up to meet a new client, Michael Daley played by Judd Law and his story is slowly linked to others, and hers again is.  The multiple story film format is nothing new, but 360 is still interesting as these stories are all vividly different.  The stories, for once do not follow the predictable route.  Some bad guys and really bad but some having some saving grace, as in the case of a convicted sex offender, played by Ben Foster.

    The film is slow at the start, a necessity in order to get the audience familiar with each character.  To the scriptwriter Peter Morgan’s credit, his stories are more intriguing than those found in the average film, so the film comes off more interesting as such.

    360 does not contain the wild camera movements found in director Meirelles’ CITY OF GOD, but 360 still contains some impressive camera work, like the shot where the camera pulls back from the pimps’ vehicle to the bus transporting the call girl and her sister. 360 does not contain the wild camera movements found in director Meirelles’ CITY OF GOD, but 360 still contains some impressive camera work, like the shot where the camera pulls back from the pimps’ vehicle to the bus transporting the call girl and her sister.

    The film would work better if the stories shared a common theme or perhaps contained a subtle message.  But as they say, everyone loves a good story and several good stories work better than just one.

    CELESTE AND JESSE FOREVER (USA 2012) *

    Directed by Lee Toland Kreiger

    As far as the well trodden romantic comedy genre goes CELESTE AND JESSE FOREVER is the most boring, God-awful film that has appeared on screen this year.

    Though not a huge fan of romantic comedies, a few such as the original Elaine May’s BLUME IN LOVE has always been one of my favourite films of all time.  The reason that film has been brought up is that CELESTE AND JESSE  FOREVER also deals with the theme of the romance while in separation.  In BLUME IN LOVE, the George Segal character sets up to woo his ex-wife.  In CELESTE AND JESSE FOREVER, a divorcing couple who is still very much in love with each other, Celeste (Rashida Jones who also wrote this piece) and Jesse (Andy Samberg) tries to maintain their friendship while they both pursue other people.  Of course, they love each other to the very end of the movie divorce or no divorce, but not after they have put not only their friends but the audience through a most boring and waste of time.

    The film contains infantile unfunny humour that only this couple finds amusing like speaking in accents, copying each other or fondling penis look-alike (pencils) objects.  When not doing this, they go on ridiculous dates in which each meet up with obvious losers so that they show up as romantic winners.  But they actually turn out as self righteous hypocrites.  Celeste has a job as a trend forecaster.  How much more pretentious a job could one even imagine of?

    There is absolutely no chemistry between the two leads.  Samberg is also not as funny as he thinks he is and the script is lost in Kreiger’s unimaginative direction.  Worst of all, the characters are not in the least likeable.  They would even come across as ill mannered, rude and loud if one meets them at a bar.  There are too many examples in the film to even lay out here.

    Watching CELESTE AND JESSE  FOREVER is like going out with a couple who throughout the entire evening is doing lubbydubby things with each other totally ignoring you, as if the whole world revolves around them and that what they are doing is entirely cute.  The evening is not only a total bore but a total annoyance.

    But Jesse and Celeste should go back together forever.  These two deserve each other.  No one else can put up with either.

    THE INVISIBLE WAR (USA 2011) ***

    Directed by Kirby Dick

    Kirby Dirk’s documentary about military sexual abuse begins light-heartedly with nostalgic images of women in the army, navy and air force accompanied to old tunes.

    Everything appears idyllic.  Females join to serve their country and fulfill their dreams of ambition.  As the film progresses, Dick tears away the layers of hidden sweetness.  The women start confessing to being sexually abused and raped.  Then the military judicial system is criticized and finally the shocking truth comes clear that the horrors continue to this very day.  THE INVISIBLE WAR is an angry documentary.  It needs to be so.  And the film cries out to everyone to do something about it.  Dick clearly wants his film to make more of a difference and hopefully it will as it has already done a part.

    THE INVISIBLE WAR is a groundbreaking investigation into the cover-up of rape in the U.S. military, Air Force, Navy and Coast Guard.  Profoundly moving, the film follows the stories of several idealistic young servicewomen who were raped and then betrayed by their own officers when they courageously came forward to report. 
    The camera spends ample amount of time on each of the young servicewomen.  Each has her story, with one tale just as harrowing as the next.  Included too, is a serviceman’s testimony of being raped by two men while on training, whose identities are still unknown up to this day.  When the film ends, it is revealed that all these rapists are still free, many promoted and all living as if their crimes were trophies to be cherished.

    THE INVISIBLE WAR is not an easy documentary to watch.  Though sexual abuse and rape in the service of the country are already common knowledge, seeing first hand on film still upsets a great deal.

    . RUBY SPARKS (USA 2012) ***
    Directed by Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris

    As the old adage goes, be careful of what you wish for.  Two films RUBY SPARKS and the upcoming THE ODD LIFE OF TIMOTHY GREEN concern fantasized human beings.

    Where in TIMOTHY GREEN, a childless couple wishes for the perfect son, in RUBY SPARKS, a writer with writer’s block, Calvin (Paul Dano) yearns for the perfect lover.  Calvin has no luck so far.  He does not even get laid in his dreams.  So when he creates a female character he thinks will love him, and when she appears, Calvin is in bliss.

    RUBY SPARKS plays like a fantasy romantic comedy.  The couple, Calvin and RUBY SPARKS (Zoe Kazan who also penned the script) undergo the same trails and tribulations that most couples in Hollywood romantic comedies go through.  They argue, fight, and do things that irritate each other but nothing large enough to break their relationship.  But there is one difference.  By writing lines like “Ruby was miserable without Calvin or Ruby was effervescent, Calvin can modify Ruby’s behaviour to be what he likes in a partner.  Finally he discovers that Ruby should not be controlled but left to be the way she would be.

    Dano and Kazan spark good chemistry on screen which is not surprising as they are a real life couple.  It is good to see Annette Bening in a non-bitchy role, as Calvin’s mother and a barely unrecognisable Antonio Banderas as her new age lover.

    The film also sneaks in the obvious message that one should let his or her partner develop in their own way without being a control freak.

    The script takes the concept all the way through the very end, also encompassing a segment in which Calvin reveals to the astonished Ruby that he can control her by writing her into his manuscript.  The film occasionally gets too dark and weird, but directors Dayton and Faris keep the darkness of the plot under check.  Fortunately too, the film avoids getting sentimental unlike THE ODD LIFE OF TIMOTHY GREEN.

    The film is sort of disappointing with its capped on happy ending.  Still, RUBY SPARKS despite its flaw is a likeable romantic comedy with a nice little niche in its premise.

    THE QUEEN OF VERSAILLES (USA 2012) **

    Directed by Lauren Greenfield

    When director Lauren Greenfield asked billionaire David Siegel the reason behind building a patterned after Versailles in France and the Paris Hotel in Las Vegas mansion in the U.S. with 30 bathrooms, 10 kitchens and a 90,000 footage, his answer was: “Because I can!”

    One wonders about the reason d’etre behind the making of this documentary.  When director Greenfield started, Siegel at age 74, was doing very well financially with his time sharing Westlake properties.  By the end of the doc, he is flat broke with threatening foreclosures on his multiple properties.  The purpose of the doc is therefore not on the downward spiral of this financier.  Is his wife, the title of the film THE QUEEN OF VERSAILLES the subject?  Quite a lot of the film’s footage is on her.  Or is it the mansion itself?  No one can be really sure as the film meanders meaninglessly from subject to subject.

    Greenfield appears to have obtained carte blanche from the Siegel family regarding filming their lives.  The camera weaves in and out of the rooms as well as captures intimate moment of the lives of David and the Queen.  The trouble is that despite the demise of the family, one can hardly sympathize with the rich and famous when they lose their fortunes.  When shopping compulsive wife Jackie still fills her shopping cart with new bicycles and useless clothes and shoes and complains about scaling down to a $350,000 house, one can only shake ones head in disbelief.

    Nothing is really revealed at the end either – not that the audience cares – about the final state of the Siegel family.  It appears that Siegel has borrowed another million to keep things going.  So the QUEEN OF VERSAILLES can keep on shopping, leaving all the electricity on and have her dozen dogs (not to mention her reptiles) poo all over the house.

    TOTAL RECALL (USA 2012) ***

    Directed by Len Wiseman

    Odd that the company making TOTAL REACLL is called Original Film as this is the too soon remake of the Arnold Schwarzenegger 1990 futuristic auctioneer of the same title.  A few alterations to the plot do not really qualify for the 2012 film to be termed ‘original’.

    There are a few reasons to see TOTAL RECALL.  For one, the filmmakers have strived to make this one more down-to-earth, resetting the action from Mars to local planet earth.  Earth is now separated into two areas, The Colony and The United Federation of Britain separated by chemical wasteland.  The time is still 20184 and the protagonist is still Master-Spy Douglas Quaid (Colin Farrell), whose memory has been wiped out but bits start to re-surface after Quaid attempts at a memory induced vacation.

    This is when his world with his wife (Kate Beckinsale) falls apart.  His world is entirely made up and he finds back his mission of saving the earth from the evil Cohaagen (Bryan Cranston (ARGO, ROCK OF AGES) with the help of girlfriend, Melina (Jessica Biel).

    The script by Kurt Wimmer and Mark Bomback is relatively easy to follow and the story unfolds in chronological order.  The important points in the story, like the words: “I promise I will find you!” from Quaid to Melina strangely stay in the minds of the audience as do certain other key parts, like the bullet shot through the hands and the start dream sequence.

    Director Wiseman does not rush the story part of the film, which does result in a few lags in the action sequences.  Shot in large part but hardly recognizable in downtown Toronto, Wiseman edits scenes with computer graphics so that it is hard to tell what is a real location and what is not.  All the sets looks stunningly futuristic as well as maintaining an earthy authenticity to them.  The two areas look like an east vs. a west kind of civilization.  But this version lacks the violence and spark (Schwarzenegger tearing out his face) of the original.

    This version is not as violent as the 1990 version that I recall unless my memory has been erased with time.  For a futuristic blockbuster, TOTAL RECALL still delivers!

    BEST BETS OF THE WEEK:

    Best Film Opening: 360

     

    Best Film Playing: The Amazing Spider-Man
    Best Action: The Amazing Spider-Man
    Best Drama: Savages
    Best Foreign: The Intouchables (France)
    Best Comedy: The Dictator
    Best Family: Brave
    Best Documentary: First Position

  • This Week's Film Reviews (Jul 27, 2012)

    Opening this week are THE WATCH and STEP UP REVOLUTION.  2 documentaries both worth watching AI WEIWEI: NEVER SORRY and JOFFREY: MAVERICKS OF AMERICAN DANCE also open.

    The Summer in France series at the TIFF Bell Lightbox continues for those close to Toronto.

    AI WEIWEI: NEVER SORRY (China /USA 2012) ****
    Directed by Alison Clayman

    This was the opening film for HOT DOCS 2012 which tells the story of China’s most famous and controversial artist Ai WeiWei.  Alison Clayman has the best credentials for the making of this doc as she worked as a freelance journalist (NPR, PBS Frontline) in China from 2006 to 2010. 

    If you have never heard of Ai WeiWei, this is the film to learn about him.  Ai was the artistic consultant for the Beijing National Stadium for the 2008 Olympics.  But he is also a fighter for freedom, anti-censorship and human rights.  So, it is of no surprise that he speaks right out against the Chinese Government re: many of their policies that he disagrees with; hidden information following a massive earthquake.  Clayman’s doc is exactly what a doc should be and perhaps the best pick as the opening film for Hot Docs. 

    The film is educational, informative, riveting and ultimately uplifting.  The film introduces Ai, informs the audience of his works, his influence on society and vice versa and also concludes with his present status after 81 days imprisonment, which shows a more quite restrained humbled artist.  An important lesson Ai likely learned is not to bite the hand that feeds you – especially if that hand happens to be the Chinese government.  This is a vast contrast to a man who would wear a banner ‘Mother f**er’ on his head opposing the government. 

    But Clayman’s film gives the audience the artist’s highest respect, especially after the government has bulldozed his studio and imprisoned him for 2 months.  The film contains intervierws with Ai, his brother, his wife and the woman who fathered a child with him.  Various of his works (like the sunflower seen exhibit) are also on display in the film.                                                                                                                                 There is also a neat segment showing how one of his many cats actually opens a door in WeiWei’s house.

    JOFFREY: MAVRICKS OF AMERICAN DANCE (USA 2012) ***1/2

    Directed by Bob Hercules

    Director Bob Hercules’ documentary jumps into American dance right from the very start as if there is no time to lose.  This captures the urgency and spirit of the founders and dancers of the JOFFREY Dance Company, the subject of this comprehensive doc on American dance.

    Whether a dance fan or not, this film will definitely convince you to part with your hard earned money for a chance to watch the dancers in performance.

    If not a definitive history on the JOFFREY dance company, the doc also serves as an exhaustive examination of American Dance history.  The film is spirited, informative, exciting and dramatic.  Director Hercules also captures a part of the love story that exists between the company’s co-founders.

    The film occasionally soars to emotional heights.  Hercules’ narration includes the fact that Arpino and Joffrey were initially lovers, but the art of dance in their relationship allowed their partnership to go way past the years when the sex was over.  The segment where one of the dancers discovers her picture on the cover of Time Magazine after waking up one morning is priceless.

    The film also documents the hardships involving any arts company – like funding, touring and competition.  One also learns and respects Joffrey for the visionary and maverick that he is – besides being a hardworking genius.

    KILLER JOE (USA 2011) ****

    Directed by William Friedkin

    William Friedkin’s (THE EXORCIST, THE FRENCH CONNECTION) KILLER JOE is a totally demented hit-man drama has all the sex, mayhem, violence and outrageousness that makes it such a guilty joy to watch.

    22-year old Chris (Emile Hirsch) broke, desperate and not very bright barges into his equally dumb father’s (Thomas Haden Church) trailer with the only plan he can think of: murder.  If they kill his mother, they can collect enough insurance money ($50,000) to settle his drug-dealing debts and escape their squalid little life.  But he hires KILLER JOE (Matthew McConaughey), a demented Dallas cop with no money to pay till they collect the insurance money.

    Joe takes Chris’ younger sister, Dottie as a retainer.  Things of this nature never turn out as planned.  The two develop a bond.  After the murder is committed, a double cross is revealed with things getting bloodier and bloodier.  Every actor is exceptionally good in this movie with Gina Gershon stealing the show as Chris’ stepmother.

    The only flaw is the over eventful climax, the sort that is normally seen in a play about murder, which comes as no surprise as this film was based on the play by Pulitzer Prize and Tony Award winner Tracy Letts.  William Friedkin is in top form!

    STEP UP REVOLUTION (USA 2012) *

    Directed by Scott Speer

    The dance hip-hop, rap competition has been more than a well worn film genre in recent years.  STEP UP REVOLUTION is also not the first of its kind in 3D, as there was a STEP UP 3D.

    Though much have been attempted by scriptwriter Jenny Mayer to alter the format of the exercise, the film still remains a complete bore except for the dance sequences when the film springs to life.  An extended dance sequence at the film’s start by the ‘mob’ amidst bouncing vehicles could not be topped elsewhere during the film.

    There is no contest between any dance groups in this film.  Nor are there any exotic locations in which the contest is to be held.  The filmmakers opt for its own U.S. roots picking the scenic Miami as its location.  The romance is always and again here between the lead dancers Emily (Kathryn McCormick) and Sean (Ryan Guzman) with the normal obstacle in the midst of the movie but with the couple (boringly) getting together again.

    The filmmakers are fortunate to obtain the services of Peter Gallagher, the only known name actor in the cast.  Gallagher plays Mr. Anderson,  Emily’s father, a developer whose pursuits would undermine the neighbourhood roots of the community.  His performance though not his greatest still manages to upstage those of the unknown young cast.  One would assume that the main leads were hired based on their dancing skills or looks or both.

    The story involves a Miami dance group who call themselves the mob.  The leader, Sean wants the group to win sufficient hits on YouTube so that they can win money as well as exposure.  So, the problem of the audience forced to watch too many dance groups compete is thankfully done away with.  The result though is that the choreography is below par the other STEP UP films, though the props and fixtures are impressive.

    A subplot involving the girl’s wealthy father’s business plans to develop the mob’s historic neighbourhood supposedly displacing thousands of people seems superfluous as well as the tacked on happy ending in which Mr. Anderson has a change of heart.

    Despite all efforts made to differentiate STEP UP REVOLTION from being another STEP UP genre movie, the film still remains bogged down by the clichéd romance and silly plot devices.

    THE WATCH (USA 2012) *

    Directed by Akiva Schaffer

    Last year, a low budget British movie ATTACK THE BLOCK about hoodies saving their South London project from aliens astounded critics and audiences alike.  In this similar themed Hollywood copy of a neighbourhood watch protecting their wealthy suburban estate, the film falls horribly flat.

    It all starts when the security guy at the local Costco gets zapped by an alien.  The Costco manager, Evan (Ben Stiller) organizes a neighbourhood watch though only a few volunteers (Jonah Hill, Vince Vaughn and Richard Ayoade) show up and for different reasons.

    They eventually stumble across the alien’s nest and are aided by one of their kind.  The hundreds of aliens are destroyed in the end.  How?  By an alien weapon the watch happened to have stumbled across in the woods.  And why would one of their kind help mankind?  Exactly!  The story makes no sense and bits are just added to the script to move the story along.  It is pathetic the way the script is made up with the audience led to believe any silly thing.  A subplot involved Evan’s infertility has no place in a story about aliens.

    One can tell that the film is running into trouble when the actors get over the material – not that this material is not difficult to get over.  There is too much ensemble acting, and this is allowed to go for far too long.  The prime example is Jonah Hill’s tormenting of a teen at the police station the watch happens to catch. “Listen to me and look at him.  No, listen to him and look at me.”  And it goes on and on as if the lines are the most hilarious ever.

    The least the filmmakers could do was to copy ATTACK THE BLOCK, the little seen British gem.  It is a complete shame that the film with a script with credits by Seth Rogen and with a talented cast that includes the likes of Jonah Hill and Ben Stiller could emerge as such a sorry excuse of a comedy.  THE WATCH is unfunny with an implausible plot and poorly paced with unrealistic situations and silly characters.  The film is all over the place.  It is best to rent ATTACK THE BLOCK again to see what went right in that movie and what has gone wrong in THE WATCH.  To make things worse, the title of the movie was originally changed from THE NEIGHBOURHOOD WATCH to just THE WATCH due to a recent incident involving the death of a neighbourhood watch member in the States.  In the movie, the group is always referred to as the Neighbourhood Watch with their uniforms also containing the three words.  It is obvious the title of the film has been changed and it could not be worse timing.

    .

    BEST BETS OF THE WEEK:

    Best Film Opening: Killer Joe

     

    Best Film Playing: The Amazing Spider-Man
    Best Action: The Amazing Spider-Man
    Best Drama: Savages
    Best Foreign: The Intouchables (France)
    Best Comedy: The Dictator
    Best Family: Brave
    Best Documentary: First Position

  • This Week's Film Reviews (Jul 20, 2012)

    The biggest film of the year THE DARK KNIGHT RISES opens this week everywhere.  Smaller films opening are TRISHNA, MOVING DAY and FIRST POSITION.

    The Summer in France series at the TIFF Bell Lightbox continues for those close to Toronto.

    THE DARK KNIGHT RISES (USA 2012) ***

    Directed by Christopher Nolan

     

    THE DARK KNIGHT RISES, this year’s most anticipated film is no doubt spectacular but whether it satisfies, is largely personal.

    THE DARK KNIGHT is no more BATMAN or the Caped Crusader but now transformed into the darkest of heroes, and appropriately named the Dark Knight.  (It seems Daniel Craig’s James Bond is also headed into too dead serious territory.)  What has happened to the fun of the BATMAN and James Bond action flicks?  Don’t expect to hear the most common line in the D.C. comic: “Holy Cow, Batman!”

    The target market has also changed to the more serious adult.  THE DARK KNIGHT RISES takes off eight years after Batman (Christian Bale) vanished into the night, turning, in that instant, from hero to fugitive.  Assuming the blame for the death of D.A. Harvey Dent, the Dark Knight sacrificed everything for what he and Commissioner Gordon (Gary Oldman) both hoped was the greater good.   For a time the lie worked, as criminal activity in Gotham City was crushed under the weight of the anti-crime Dent Act.  There are lots and lots of brooding here.  Bale appears as billionaire Bruce Wayne unshaven and walking with a limp.  But everything changes with the arrival of a cunning cat burglar (Anne Hathaway) with a mysterious agenda.  The burglar is CATWOMAN though that name is oddly never used.  Far more dangerous, however, is the emergence of Bane (Tom Hardy), a masked terrorist whose ruthless plans for Gotham drive Bruce out of his self-imposed exile.  So it becomes Batman vs. Bane to save Gotham City.

    Nolan can take his hero to extremes.  In BATMAN RISES, the audience witnesses the most ridiculous with Batman training with the Tibetan monks while in exile.  In this film, he is left for dead in a prison cell but climbs up to the top and wreck revenge though he suffers a broken protruding back bone.  Can the human body be this resilient?

    The scriptwriters take too many liberties with the Batman legend - the loyal butler, Alfred (Michael Caine) resigns; too many people including the villain know of Batman’s true identity and the film ends the full Batman story so that a reboot is needed.  Too many new characters are added to the story such as Officer Blake (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) and Fox (Morgan Freeman).  At 2 hours and 40 minutes, the film takes too long to establish a strong footing.  The plot is also more confusing than usual.  It can a bit much for the audience to comprehend fully of what is happening in very scene.  Examples include the reason for Band attacking the stock exchange; the reason for Bane’s wearing of the mask and his breathing difficulty; how the stolen fingerprints brings down the Wayne fortune; how the bomb can be detonated in several ways and so on.

    The special effects and props like the Bat-tumbler and the Bat-pod are more than impressive.  But just as troubling are the oddities in the plot.  Who has ever heard of an atom bomb with a 6-miles destructive radius?  The too many tacked on twists to the story (such as the real villain) at the end of the film are also hardly convincing.

    THE DARK KNIGHT RISES though ambitious and pensive, is now a comic book drama with action rather than comic book action with drama.  If one can stomach the changes mentioned, Christopher Nolan’s DARK KNIGHT might turn out to be the most exciting film of the year.  For others, it could just Nolan’s concocted complicated rubbish that should stay in the recesses of his mind!

    FIRST POSITION (USA 2011) ***** Top 10

    Directed by Bess Kargman

    The award winning FIRST POSITION is a riveting documentary about children ballet.  Every year, thousands of aspiring dancers enter one of the world''s most prestigious ballet competitions, the Youth America Grand Prix in the U.S, where lifelong dreams are at stake.

    In the final round, with hundreds competing for only a handful of elite scholarships and contracts, practice and discipline are paramount, and nothing short of perfection is expected.  First Position follows six young dancers as they prepare for a chance to enter the world of professional ballet.  The film documents everything these dancers go through from their high aspirations to their struggling through bloodied feet, near exhaustion and debilitating injuries, all while navigating the drama of adolescence.

    Director Kargman has chosen quite the eclectic assortment of dancers.  One is Aran, a gifted young boy whose whole world is ballet.  When asked about it, he responds that he just loves it and that his whole life is it though unable to articulate the reason why.  The others include Michaela, adopted almost dying from Africa by white parents but with a pigment defect; a brother and sister team (Miko and Jules) of American Chinese decent; a Colombian Joan Sebastian with a poverty stricken family back home and typical American Rebecca.  So no matter what background the audience might be, it is most likely the audience would be connected to one of these population groups.  A documentary is also often as interesting as its subject and though the subject of striving for a better future is a good enough reason for a documentary, connectivity with the audience is just as important.  An example is the recent doc THE REDEMPTION OF GENERAL BUTT NAKED.   The subject of a mass assassin turned preacher is more than an interesting subject but the fact that the audience cannot really related or connect to this African general (unless perhaps one is a born again Christian), all that transpires on screen is superfluous.

    It also helps that the film has a happy ending.  The 6 succeed with jobs and scholarships.  Aran wins the FIRST POSITION.  This again is in contrast to docs like GIRL MODEL and TOWN OF RUNNERS in which the subjects train unsuccessfully for running or modelling but with failure at the end.

    Kargman interviews the dancers, the family, the trainers and includes segments involving lots of wonderful dancing during their training and actual performances.

    The film also provides a lot of information that is assumed in the ballet world.  A costume could cost as much as $2500, the cost of a wedding dress and the dancers would continue dancing through an injury.  The sight of blistered feet with open bruises is eye-opening reality.

    But when the dancers finally strut their stuff at the end of the film with them winning in the finals, the film soars to emotional heights.  And with the audience connected to the subjects and the topic, FIRST POSITION turns out to be one of the most enjoyable, informative and emotional documentaries of the year!

    MOVING DAY (USA/Canada 2012) ***1/2

    Directed by Mike Clattenburg


    Mike Clattenburg is the director of the Canadian famous TRAILER PARK BOYS a trashy film about white trailer trash.  MOVING DAY originally titled THE GUYS WHO MOVE FURNITURE sounds a similar sort of film, but fortunately it rises above the occasion.

    MOVING DAY is about that certain day that four misfits who working as movers for a furniture store under the unscrupulous Wilf (Victor Garber) decide that is moving day.  Not the moving day that denotes the day of moving stuff but the day in the lives of two of them to make a move in their lives to leave the company and better themselves.

    But the four movers are not the three stooges.  The four, led by van manager A.J. (Gabriel Hogan) goof around but director Clattenburg and the occasionally bright script by Clattenburg and Mike O’Neill give them lots of genuine sympathy.  The fat one Clyde (Will Sasso) is always abused by a 4th mover, a member of his own rock group called Son of Rock (Gerry Dee) but has a good friendship with the black member (Charles Murphy) who shares a similar smiling expression with Eddie Murphy.

    Though A.J. drinks on the job, the Son of Rock is a real annoyance and Clyde is an embarrassment, one must hand it to the script that it still makes all of them winning characters – no easy fit.  Sasso is one of the few fat comedians (unlike Jack Black and Zach Galifianakis are just two examples) who does not come across the screen as annoying.

    The film is funnier at the start and gets progressively serious.  Most importantly, the characters grow on the audience.  What MOVING DAY is, is a sad comedy which is real live drama about real people stuck in the rut of life but managers to come out if not on top, but better than before.  Though not over inspiring, MOVING DAY is one of the few surprising more entertaining films of the year,

    THE REDEMPTION OF GENERAL BUTT NAKED (USA 2012) ***

    Directed by Daniele Anastasion and Eric Strauss

    They say that a documentary is as interesting as its subject.  One probably would not find a more interesting subject than General Butt Naked, so called because he takes off his clothes while fighting and killing his enemies believing that bullets and explosives will not harm him.

    The doc tells the story of Joshua Milton Blahyi (from his point of view) - aka General Butt Naked aforementioned - a brutal warlord who murdered thousands during Liberia''s horrific 14-year civil war.  Today, the General has renounced his violent past and reinvented himself as a married Evangelist Joshua Milton Blahyi. This portrait takes viewers on Joshua''s crusade to redeem his past, as he confronts his victims and attempts to rehabilitate the former child soldiers who once fought for him. Whatever you make of him -- liar or madman, charlatan or genuine repentant -- the film challenges viewers to ask important questions about both the power and the limits of forgiveness, amid a nation''s search for healing and justice.

    The film contains a massive amount of Joshua’s chantings – some from the pulpit, some from just sheer exhibitionalism.  It also contains quite a number of scenes in which Joshua goes to his previously tormented to beg for forgiveness.  One is his ex-bodyguard, who has lost his legs from amputation as a direct result of the General firing shots at his legs while being in a rage.  Another is a teen to ask forgivenenss of blinding her in one eye.  Though these scenes contain lots of tears (forgiveness or happiness), the scenes are less than affective, as it all seems so surreal.

    Apart from the showmanship of Pastor Joshua, the film does not reveal anything else much.  The directors could have provided similar conversions or interviews with those of Christian Authority or more with those who know the ex-General well.  His wife is not given enough to say.

    No doubt General Butt Naked’s antics grow a bit stale after much repetition.  So does Daniele Anastasion and Eric Strauss’ film as it runs out of steam.

    TRISHNA (UK 2011) **

    Directed by Michael Winterbottom

    Director Michael Winterbottom already filmed one Thomas Hardy novel JUDE and his second TESS OF THE D’UBERVILLES is adapted and set in India.

    Winterbottom transforms Tess to TRISHNA (Freida Pinto), a poor lass living with her family in a small village in Rajasthan, India’s largest state.  She meets a rich tourist Jay (Riz Ahmed), the wealthy son of a property developer. When he takes up managing a resort at his father’s request, he meets Trishna at a dance and their fates cross. Jay finds every opportunity to win Trishna’s affection and hires her at the hotel and very soon a steamy sex affair ensues.  The two make good chemistry together and their sexual attraction is believable.

    But most of the drama of the class differences and family issues is lacking compared to reading the novel or to Roman Polanski’s unforgettable version TESS with Natassia Kinski.  In the novel Tess takes an instant dislike to the new suitor, but there is no such thing here.  Trishna finds Jay a good catch from the very start.

    Shot in Jaipur and Mumbai, the film looks great and the new setting makes a difference to a familiar story.  But the ending killing and suicide does not come across too convincing.  One wonders also Winterbottom’s reasoning for the adaptation to India.

    .

    BEST BETS OF THE WEEK:

    Best Film Opening: First Position

     

    Best Film Playing: The Amazing Spider-Man
    Best Action: The Amazing Spider-Man
    Best Drama: Savages
    Best Foreign: The Intouchables (France)
    Best Comedy: The Dictator
    Best Family: Brave
    Best Documentary: First Position

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