• This Week's Film Reviews (May 22, 2015)

    Tomorrowland opens!

    tomorrowlandposterbasaintlaurentposterbafaceofangelposterba

    TIFF Cinematheque continues its series on Georgian Cinema.

    Inside Out LGBT Film Festival begins in Toronto.

    FILM REVIEWS:

    BANKSY DOES NEW YORK (USA 2014) ***
    Directed by Chris Moukarbel

    banksydoesnyba

    In October 2013, British graffiti artist Banksy announced his New York residency by producing a new piece of work each day every day for 31 days in the various 5 boroughs. Like a scavenger hunt, the art works had to be hunted down and often removed a few hours after being discovered. Clues were given on the internet.

    Director Moukarbel’s documentary traces all 31 days showing all his artwork. That is quite a chore and credit should be given to Moukarbel for both his dedication and hard work. His documentary celebrates art that is public and not confined to the galleries of the rich and fortunate. This is art that the street person can enjoy and relate to. Often, the works refer to current events such as terrorism.

    No one knows who Banksy is or what he looks like. It would be enlightening if Banksy could be interviewed for the film for him to give more perspective on his work or motive. But no such luck! The mystery behind the man is just as fascinating as his work.

    One fascinating segment has Banksy hire a man to sell his original works fro $60 each on the street. The first sale was made at 3 pm at a discounted price. This was captured on film. One wonders if the filmmaker was given prior information of the event or the segment was a re-enactment.

    A good perspective is given from both Banksy hunters and a capitalist art gallery owner who appropriates Banksi’s work for personal profit. But Banksy does a good deed when the proceeds from one of his works at a thrift store are donated to a housing project for people with HIV.

    BANSKY DOES NEW YORK works like a tutorial on the artist. Everything one should know about Banksy is revealed. The film plays safe and is both informative and entertaining.

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

    THE FACE OF AN ANGEL (UK 2014) **

    Directed by Michael Winterbottom

    faceofanangelba

    THE FACE OF AN ANGEL is Michael Winterbottom’s (THE TRIP, THE TRIP TO ITALY, 24 HOURS PARTY PEOPLE) ambitious new film based on the real-life story of Amanda Knox who was accused of the murder of Meredith Kercher in 2007. The names of the accused and murdered have been changed with the lead character being a London film director (alter-ego of Winterbottom himself?) sent to Sienna to make make a movie of the case. It is also a case of life imitating art imitating life, a premise visited already once too often by other directors, notably Woody Allen, and done much better. 

    The director is Thomas (German actor from Ron Howard’s racing film RUSH, Daniel Bruhl). He meets up with reporter Simone (Kate Beckinsale) who he has an affair with. The fact that he is married, on coke and constantly Skypes his daughter complicates matters as well as Winterbottom’s film. The hallucinations Thomas have cause more confusion as to often what is real or imagined.

    The one thing similar about the film and Thomas’ character is that both the film and Thomas are a complete mess. Winterbottom, in the script claims that the audience of the to-be-made film will be more anxious on whether the accused is guilty. It would be be the same case for Winterbottom’s film as well. Winterbottom then goes on the ‘high and mighty’ route of how the truth can be falsified and interpreted and that the director’s duty is not to do that. In the film, Thomas is reading Dante’s Inferno and he wants to incorporate that into his film. So, both Thomas’ and Winterbottom’s films get sidetracked in the same way. It is interesting to a point, but Thomas’ character does not invoke any sympathy at all. In fact, he is shown as a pompous, cheating and drug addicted character who finally gets his due when his financial backers remove the movie from him.

    Winterbottom has another twist in the plot that turns out rather predictable. But worse is that no one really cares about the Thomas character any longer.

    Winterbottom devotes too much screen time to Jessica, the accused (Genevieve Gaunt) and flashbacks of the murdered Elizabeth (Sai Bennett) for a film with the main plot revolving around Thomas.
    But Daniel Bruhl isn’t half bad in the role of Thomas. The film also celebrates the beauty of Italy (the university town of Sienna, that is) as in Winterbottom’s last film, THE TRIP TO ITALY. Model newcomer Cara Delevingne makes her debut as the sexy Melanie who Thomas hires as a guide (with benefits) to show him around the town.

    If Winterbottom’s film fails to solve the mystery of the murder, it also fails to make the point on media exploitation clearly. But a half intelligent audience can guess the purpose of Winterbottom’s film pretty early on, but his film still turns out to be a messy one.

    Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=W7PkNP4vCxY

    SAINT LAURENT (France 2014) ****
    Directed by Bertrand Bonello

    saintlaurentba

    Two films on the French designer Yves Saint Laurent in the space of a year apart can be a little confusing. This later one SAINT LAURENT (the first was entitled YVES SAINT LAURENT), is the longer and better one, also chosen as France’s entry for the Best Foreign Film Oscar, though it did not get a nomination.

    Bertrand Bonello’s film centres on Saint Laurent’s life from 1967 to 1976 when he was at the peak of his career. His past years in the army are mentioned, and with him aging is also displayed at the end of the film, intercut with one of his showings. The story is not told in chronological order, beginning in the 70’s going back to 1968 and then back to 1974.

    The film spends quite the bit of running time celebrating life in the 70’s and late 60’s. A fair amount of time is also devoted to YSL at work with his staff, polishing the touches of his design just before a show. YSL at work and his partner Berge making business deals are the best parts of the movie. A dialogue taking place between one of his managers and himself showing not only how tight his schedule is but who he designs for (Catherine Deneuve for the Truffaut films) is particularly intriguing and insightful. Watching YSL designing, prancing around in the clubs, making love and living the decadent flamboyant lifestyle makes the film shine. It surely shows the fashion industry as a demanding one. Truly, he has fought the fight for elegance, as voiced by YSL himself.

    Bonello also proves how compelling fashions is. Using split screen to tell twin events - the left of current events such as the riots in Paris and the right screen of the models and clothes on display, the audience would find the right screen more intriguing. Bonello’s film is as stylish as the subject he presents.

    Bonello’s film concentrates more on the drugs and sex than the other film, in which drugs are just briefly mentioned. YSL’s hallucinations (the snakes) are vivid and there is a disturbing scene of his pet overdosing on pills left on the floor. There is full male frontal nudity displaying actor Gaspard Ulliel’s big package as well as Jeremie Renier’s. That might be worth the price of the film itself.

    Ulliel who won the Cesar for Best Actor for this role is excellent and totally credible as YSL. Jeremie Renier plays his manager and lover Pierre Berge while Louis Garrel (Bertolucci’s THE DREAMERS) plays the ‘mistress’ Jacques de Bascher.

    Cineastes in the know will recognize Bonello’s inside joke. There is a scene where an old YSL played by Helmut Berger watches an TV screening of the old Luchino Visconti film THE DAMNED in which Berger himself starred when young in the 70’s. YSL’s mother was just briefly mentioned and the scene in THE DAMNED depicts the Helmut Berger character about to rape his mother played by Ingrid Thulin.

    But Bonella’s film runs too long as it is at 150 minutes. It could easily be cut down to 90 minutes, but it would have lost the extravagance that is typical of the subject YSL himself. SAINT LAURENT is not a masterpiece, but it attempts to be on and one cannot fault Bonello for trying so hard.

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

    TOMORROWLAND (USA 2015) **

    Directed by Brad Bird

    tmorrowlandba

    TOMORROWLAND, first known as one of the attractions at Disneyland is now a full length feature movie. The film celebrates the future. TOMORROWLAND, as it appears in the film, looks like an amusement park complete with futuristic gadgets, sky trains and modern clothing (ridiculous as they may look - especially the cloak on Governor Nix (Hugh Laurie).

    TOMORROWLAND is the land or earth in the future. Only the future is not what it seems and the gates at the entrance are now shut. The place is guarded by killer robots led by Dave Clark (a wonderful performance for a robot by Canadian Matthew MacCaull). The reason takes most of the film to explain and the last third is a fight to ‘save the world’ action. But the film is a complete mess. 

    The film begins with two interviewees, Frank Walker (George Clooney) and Casey Newton (Britt Robertson) talking out to the screen about TOMORROWLAND. The two disagree on what to say, whether to praise or condemn the place. The film then flashes back into two stories, one involving young Frank (Thomas Robertson) and the other Casey eliciting the aid of the older Frank to enter TOMORROWLAND. There are 3 stories here, the third one involving saving the world.

    Brad Bird (THE INCREDIBLES and UP) directs as if he is directing a cartoon. The manic pace is not only hard to follow but makes little sense. Before telling the third story, the audience is totally in the dark as to what is happening. This could be the purpose of the script, but keeping the main plot of the film from the audience and confusing the audience are two definitely separate things. Finally when the audience understands the plot, the film culminates in action-hero type fight sequences that make no sense and contains no continuity. The last fight sequence has the audience forced to concentrate on 3 fights at the same time, taking place in two places simultaneously (a beach and Tomorrowland) with gigantic robots appearing out of nowhere. Worse still, Bird’s film then takes off on a tangent becoming too preachy on spreading some message on good will - so ridiculous that it has to span different continents and races with all the chosen suddenly appearing just as confused as the audience in the fields outside TOMORROWLAND.

    The one plus factor about the film is the art and set decoration, wardrobe excluded. TOMORROWLAND does look like the perceived future. The sets including the Eiffle Tower and the scene of the pod shooting out of the tower form mesmerizing sights. But there is more to a movie than special effects. Product placements like Coca-Cola are also present, but at least these are integrated into the story.

    Performance-wise, Clooney does Clooney. Clooney takes his role very seriously as can be seen with his character freaking out then lecturing the younger ones. But the prize performance comes from Raffey Cassidy, who plays robot Athena that not only Frank but the audience will fall in love with. She is a child with a grown up face, and actors with this feature appears to have a gift for acting. She creates in her character wonderful multiple personalities like charm, unpredictability, innocence and maturity.

    At the film’s start, Frank’s flying invention is rejected by Nix because it serves no purpose but to create joy for the contraption. The same might almost be said for Bird’s movie. It serves no purpose but unfortunately, it is hardly that entertaining either. But for TOMORROWLAND, the best thing that will be remembered will be its best robot performances by both Raffey Cassidy and Matt MacCaull.

    Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1k59gXTWf-A

     

    BEST BETS:

    Best Film Opening: Saint Laurent

    Drama: '71

    Action: Mad Max: Fury Road

    Foreign Language: Saint Laurent

    Comedy : What We Do in the Shadows

    Best documentary: Going Clear: Scientology and the Prison of Belief

     

  • This Week's Film Reviews (May 15, 2015)

    MAD MAX: FURY ROAD opens this week together with smaller films like DARK STAR: H.R. GIGER'S WORLD, DANCING ARABS and WET BUM

    madmaxposterbadarkstarposterbadancingarabsposterba

    TIFF Cinematheque continues its series on Georgian Cinema

    FILM REVIEWS:

    DANCING ARABS (Israel/Germany/France 2014) ***
    Directed by Eran Riklis

    dancingarabsba

    One wonders the choice of the title DANCING ARABS for this autobiographical tale by Sayed Kashuawho wrote the novel and adapted it into the script for the film directed by Riklis (THE SYRIAN BRIDE, LEMON TREE). The only one scene of dancing Arabs occur on a rooftop when they celebrate Suddam Hussein’s bombing to free Iraq, a support for Muslim solidarity.

    The well-intentioned film, a sort of coming-of-age story tries its best to show the possibility of peaceful residing of both Jews and Arabs or Israelis and Palestinians. The story’s setting is the Arab village of Tira, the protagonist Eyad’s hometown. Eyad is shown both as a boy (Razi Gabareen) and a teen (Tawfeek Barbom) as he grows up to begin studies in the most prestigious Jewish school in Jerusalem. Riklis doe not offer a smooth transition between the two actors, a common problem involving films with characters ageing. The audience is suddenly taken aback with the elder actor replaces the boy actor in the title role. A single Arab in a full Jewish community is made worse when he falls in love with a Jewish classmate, Naomi (Danielle Kitzis). The romance poses problems, mainly for the nonacceptance by the older folk, like Noami’s mother. The younger ones, like the classmates are more tolerant. The romance sees Eyad quitting and returning back home to the consternation of his father.

    Riklis’ film contains thought provoking scenes like the one in which the father (veteran actor Ali Suliman) admonishes his son for giving up his studies. The father had before being evoked from the University in Jerusalem for political reasons and now working hard as a fruit picker to provide for his son’s education. The audience sees the father’s point of view while putting the boy’s romance and individuality cast aside.

    The Arab intolerance is shown in the graffiti around the town and in incidents involving soldiers when Eyad is questioned by Israeli soldiers or when instructed on the usage of gas masks by Palestinian soldiers. But the scene in the club where the racist song is sung to illustrate the oddity of the romance between Jew and Arab is too obvious and overdone. The story also includes a subplot of Eyad looking after a Jewish peer suffering from muscular dystrophy, Yonathan (Michael Moshonv) who provides some insight to the proceedings.

    The film contains many other interesting characters, like the mothers of Yonathan, Eyad and Naomi whose characters could be more developed. More screen time could be devoted too, to Eyad’s father who is given only confrontation segments with his son.

    What other more important issues that are more important or interesting are eventually put aside for Eyad’s trivial romance. But the story takes a welcome twist at the end with the subplot of Yonathan taking centre stage.

    But this is still one of Rikils’ better films, him having created a credible atmosphere of desperate times in a politically volatile place.

    Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TW0Jjf3RrME

    DARK STAR: H.R. GIGER’S WORLD (Switzerland 2014) ***
    Directed by Belinda Sallin

     darkstarba

    The dark documentary on H.R. Giger is a free flowing one, illustrating the work and life of the artist that garnered world acclaim after winning the Oscar for his work on ALIEN.

    If the film moves slowly and does not reveal much on the man, part of the reason is the man himself. Giger was in flailing health when the doc was made, evident by his slow movements whenever he has to move or speak. Thus, the interviews with him present are short so that most of the information is derived from his entourage, who are also interviewed.

    But it is not the man alone that is fascinating. It is his work and influenced factors. Director Sallin spends a fair amount of screen time showing his work, including his masks, sculptors at home and also on the set of ALIEN. What is shown on screen is pretty dark and scary just as the unknown is. Giger attributes his dreams and LSD usage to have influenced his work.

    If at the end of the documentary, nothing much has been determined about Giger’s family or youth, one can complain that Sallin’s film has missed all these out. But the film is uncompromising in the fact that it does not want to prejudice people’s view of the man. Shot in German and in English.

    Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=U1MXYaQA04U

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

    goodkillba

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

    MAD MAX: FURY ROAD (USA/Australia 2015) ****
    Directed by George Miller

    madmaxba

    Aussie director George Miller, now in his 70s reboots his MAD MAX movies after decades with MAD MAX: FURY ROAD, a film that spurned two sequels and defined the anti-hero (Mel Gibson becoming famous in the process as a bad ass actor and human being).

    The reboot is again set in a post apocalyptic future of a desert wasteland where petroleum is the needed commodity in which all tribes fight and kill for it. And water. The bad guy is Joe (Hugh Keays-Byrne) ruling his distraught tribe controlling their access to water. Imperator Furiousa (Charlize Theron) steals his brides escaping in a war rig. She meets Max (Tom Hardy) in a vicious fight but they become allies right to the end of the last reel.

    What is marvellous about the film is that the story still manages to emerge despite the scant dialogue. There is no silly message but the characters do strive for hope and redemption. This is almost pure cinema where the audience gets everything, in true cinematic form.

    The scenes of the various bikes, souped up vehicles and trucks chasing the war rig with warriors dangling on the poles trying to hop on to the rig are nothing short of spectacular. Inventive, scary, exciting and totally awesome! The stunts are for done with real vehicles and men without any silly CGI, according to the reports on the production sets.

    This reboot is an American-Australian co-production unlike the original which is totally Aussie. But this film keeps the actors Australian with most speaking with an Aussie accent.

    The word ‘mad’ never comes into the dialogue but the meaning is evident throughout the film, embedded in Max’s character. He looks completely mad (angry) throughout the first third of the film, forced to wear a mask that makes him look like a madman.

    Miller’s film is complete action and chase from start to finish - a full 2 hours non-stop. The film’s camera work, atmosphere and look are excellent.

    Miller’s name is synonymous with mayhem. His BABE IN THE CITY was so black darkly funny, it angered the financial backers and lost money despite being the most chaotic entertaining family film not for children. His first MAD MAX had the villain saw off his limb in order to survive and his American debut THE WITCHES OF EASTWICK was Jack Nicholson’s wildest. Miller has lived to his reputation with this reboot, though a reboot is hardly the correct term for this film. Though set in similar territory, the story, if it has one is radically different. And there is his expected mayhem all the way from start to finish. A cinematic treat of violence, blood and gore and of course, mayhem.

    Compared to the original, FURY ROAD has achieved director Miller’s vision of heightened mayhem of his dystopian future. It is not a future one wishes for, but it makes great entertainment and a visual classic. Clearly, the best serious action film of 2015!

    Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hEJnMQG9ev8

    WET BUM (Canada 2014) ***

    Directed by Lindsay MacKay

    wetbumba

    WET BUM is a rare piece of work that deals on a pre-teen’s (she is 14) relationship with two aged seniors. Writer/director Lindsay MacKay has developed a thoughtful, slow moving but compelling piece that is full of heart and emotional drama. 

    Sam (2014 TIFF Rising Star Julia Sarah Stone) has two things on her plate. She is working for her mother (Leah Pinsent) while taking swimming classes to improve herself. At work, she develops a relationship with two residents, the silent Judith (Diana Leblanc) and the boisterous Ed (Kenneth Welsh). Ed rants non-stop. Meanwhile, her swimming instructor is hitting on her, good for her as her classmates are bullying her. The atmosphere of an Ontario small town is well captured in both the story and looks. Once Sam is in a car and drives off, she is out of the town in the country. 

    Though MacKay’s film moves slowly, she tells a clear story with a clear goal in mind. The result is a film with a strong narrative with no loose ends.

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

    BEST BETS:

    Best Film Opening: Mad Max: Fury Road

    Drama: '71

    Action: Mad Max: Fury Road

    Foreign Language: Phoenix

    Animation: Paddington

    Comedy : What We Do in the Shadows

    Best documentary: Going Clear: Scientology and the Prison of Belief

    Horror: It Follows

  • TIFF Cinematheque Presents - Georgian Cinema

    TIFF Cinematheque Presents - Discovering Georgian Cinema

    Have you seen any films from Georgia? If you are one of those who cannot even name a film or a filmmaker from Georgia, his is a chance to discover Georgian Cinema. The series runs May 8 -19.

    Featuring rare 35mm prints from film archives around the globe, this travelling retrospective offers North American audiences a chance to explore the rich cinematic heritage of a region that has produced such internationally acclaimed filmmakers as Otar Iosseliani and Sergei Parajanov.

    For the complete program, film listings, venue and ticket pricing, please check the TIFF

    Cinematheque website at:

    http://tiff.net/spring2015-cinematheque/discovering-georgian-cinema

    Capsule Reviews of Selected Films:-

    FALLING LEAVES (Georgia 1967) ***1/2

    Directed by Otar Iosseliani

    fallingleavesba

    This is the first full-length feature by the director Otar Iosseliani famous for his popular film FAVOURITES OF THE MOON years later. FALLING LEAVES, a subtle satire about a teenage boy who discovers the gap between idealistic theory and corrupt everyday reality when he takes his first job at a wine-making collective shows Iosseliani’s talent. The film is tight in structure though loose in narrative with keen observations made on bureaucracy. The key characters are the boy and his elder who both get their first job in the collective. The elder is eager to please and climb up the corporate ladder while the teen holds on to his principles while finding romance and a lesson on the way life goes in a corporate world though in a collective. This simple but winning satire is hilarious, smart and totally entertaining. The film won the FIPRESCI prize at the cannes Critics Week 1967.

    THE MACHINE WHICH MAKES EVERYTHING DISAPPEAR (Georgia 2012) **

    Directed by Tinatin Gurchiani

    machinewhichmakesba

    Despite the nifty title, this cinema-vérité documentary is quite a plain one with a novel idea that unfortunately goes nowhere. The machine in question is nothing much more than a movie camera. Why the machine is called that is anyone’s guess. The director puts in an ad to interview actors from ages 15-23 for a movie. A series of subjects turn up, many of them outside the age range. They are all interviewed and their stories are carried on by the director for a short while before dwelling on the next person. Those interviewed include a slacker who wishes to be in the military but can’t because of a previous conviction, a girl who meets her birth mother for the first time, an elder photographer among others. The metaphor of the director bring like a God directing the lives of others is too obvious. Apart from different slices of Georgian life on display, the film is plain and as boring as the typical Georgian life seen on screen. But Gurchiani

    did win the 2013 Directing Award in World Cinema at Sundance.

    MOLBA (Georgia 1967) ***

    Directed by Tengiz Abuladze

    molbaba

    Suppressed by Soviet authorities for nearly a decade, this historical epic by director Tengiz Abuladze (director also of THE WISHING and REPENTANCE shown in this series), which is also acclaimed to be one of the greatest of all Georgian films is a black-and-white stunningly photographed essay. It is poetic down to a fault. It is best that one reads the subtitles silently in ones head in order to follow the film’s narrative. The story, if one wants to flow it, follows a man’s quest of love, hatred and revenge as well as freeing himself from pursuit. Warning that this is not everyone's cup of tea, but the film is not without its pleasures.

    MY GRANDMOTHER (Georgia 1929) ****
    Directed by Kote Mikaberidze

    mygrandmotherba

    This silent restored gem with titles in Georgian and narration in English is a black, scathingly brilliant anti-bureaucratic satire that is amusing from start to finish - a kind of mixed Chaplin and Gogol. The title MY GRANDMOTHER derives from the first requirement of being successful in a bureaucratic office - which is to get or find a grandmother. (The second is to be a complete pest.) Never mind if this fails to make any sense - as the film is pure fun as it is. The most hilarious section of the film has an ambitious geek pester his administrator to write him a letter of recommendation that he delivers confidently (not knowing what exactly it says) to the superior of the company. What occurs is hilarious beyond belief. There is so much to enjoy in MY GRANDMOTHER that includes wicked satire, slapstick, drama, inventiveness, animation, puppets and silent comedy. The film’s German expressionist look and camera angles are an added bonus.

    REPENTANCE (Georgia 1984) ****
    Directed by Tengiz Abuladze

    repentanceba

    Released in 1987 after being banned in the Soviet Union for 3 years, this FIPRESCI Prize winner of the Grand Prize of the Jury, and the Prize of the Ecumenical Jury at Cannes is a semi-allegorical critique of Stalinism.  Set in a small Georgian town, it follows a woman, Ketevan Barateli (Zeinab Botsvadze) who keeps digging up the corpse of the town's dead mayor, Varlam Aravidze (Avtandil Makharadze). She claims he does not deserve to be buried for his past terroristic regime. Varlam’s rule is revealed in flashbacks. More incidents occur, many of them involving the major’s son, Abel (Avtandil Makharadze), who denies any wrongdoings of his father, and the family. The result is tragedy.  REPENTANCE runs at 150 minutes or so and is occasionally brilliant as it is bitingly funny as only the best satires can be. Makharadze with his ridiculous looking Hitler-like moustache (see image above) delivers a tour-de-force performance in what is the best Georgian film in this program.

    THE WISHING TREE (THE TREE OF DESIRE) (Georgia 1976) ***

    Directed by Tengiz Abuladze

    wishingtreeba

    This simple entertaining piece of Georgian cinema celebrates what it is to be Georgia as one character in the film praises - there is only ONE Georgia. The setting is a Georgian village where many stories unfold. Though they are serious in tone, director Abuladze gives them a light touch - a new addition to the village, a beautiful nubile girl brings about jealousies resulting in the death of her true love; the mother of a backward teen runs around the village paying nobility to slap her son which she believes will cure him (according to the fortune teller); an ageing queen laments the loss of her true love 40 years ago. These tales reveal village life in rural Georgia as the characters dramatic souls turn out to be motley fools.

  • This Week's Film Reviews (May, 8, 2015)

    HOT PURSUIT opens this week, together with documentaries LAMBERT AND STAMP and GOING CLEAR.  88 and MAGGIE also open.

    hotpursuitposterbagoingclearposterba88posterbamaggieposterba

    TIFF Cinematheque begins a series on Georgian Cinema

    FILM REVIEWS:

    88 (Canada 2014) **

    Directed by April Mullen

    88ba

    Why would a film be called 88? The writer Tim Doiron and director April Mullen ensure that there are plenty of reasons that include the important room number of the hotel being 88, the highway number as well as the length of the movie.

    But this is not the only gimmick in the movie. The other is a mental state called the fugue state, which according to the opening credits occurs in one in every 2000 human beings. It is similar to the state of amnesia when one forgets for varying periods of time.

    The protagonist of the film, Gwen (Katherine Isabelle) suffers from this state. She wakes up in a diner and discovers a gun in her purse and accidentally shoots the waitress leading her to be on a wanted list. To find out what is really happening Gwen must piece together her memories which occur in a jumbled state of images like this badly edited film. The film could also be told in a straight forward fashion without Gwen ever entering this state.

    So, when Gwen runs around, the film switches back and forth from the past to the present. It is really confusing to the viewer trying to piece together what is happening. It is more irritating that the edits occur too often and the segments are too short. Director Mullen helps the situation a little by having Gwen wear a red dress in the flashbacks and black in the present, but at some point, one is never clear, and some scenes seem to be in the present when she is wearing red.

    A twist in the plot occurs, which is expected, since her memory is fuzzy and anything can happen. But by the time this occurs, no one really bothers where the story is heading.

    Though the film is Canadian, the action is supposed to take place in Tennessee. 

    It does not help that the heroine is a really annoying individual who has not got her s*** together. Most of the other characters are not that likeable either, so no one cares if anyone dies in the course of things.

    88 might have looked promising on paper, but turns out a badly executed crime flick.  Best forget this film and leave it in the gimmickry fugue state.

    Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FCSjyz3c5as

    BEING CANADIAN (Canada 2015) **
    Directed by Robert Cohen

    beingcanadianba

    BEING CANADIAN is a very likeable documentary, which will be more appreciated if one is Canadian, though the film is quite thin in plot and narrative.

    Director Robert Cohen is a Canadian born in Calgary, Alberta now living in Los Angeles. He is a bit perturbed about the large number of people (not only Americans but others from India and England) who knows little about Canada. So, Cohen assigns himself the task of touring the country from coast to coast answering his own made up questions with the hope of providing the answer of what it is to be Canadian. The trip begins in Nova Scotia and ends in British Columbia ending on July the 1st, which is Canada Day.

    Questions Cohen poses include: “Why are Canadian so polite?”, “Why are Canadians so funny?” Most of the questions do not really reveal what it really is to be Canadian, just superficially in terms of traits. The questions are not really answered either, just example given. For example the reason Canadians are polite is attributed to their English background, with comical examples given such as Canadians bumping into a couch and automatically telling the couch, “Sorry”, as voiced by Catherine O’Hara, one of the members of the popular Canadian comedy troupe SCTV which is an example of funny Canadians.

    Cohen knows a lot of Canadians in show business. Whenever he introduces a new guest, a title indicates the number of years they have known each other. The impressive list of interviewees includes comedians O’Hara, Dan Akroyd, Eugene Levy, Martin Short, Mike Myers, actors Michael J. Fox and William Shatner and bands such as Rush. They don’t really have that much important to say, except to add in their two cents worth.

    The idea of telling anecdotes to tell the story of what it is to be Canadian wears out its novelty quite fast. Jokes are plentiful but mostly mildly funny. The film tends to drag towards the middle.

    It is hard for a Canadian critic, less a polite one to trash a well-intentioned Canadian film on what it is to be Canadian. At the start of the film the titles on the screen say: “Sadly, all this is true” seems to ring false as the film ends on a bright note with the British Columbian Canada Day parade where everyone is happy, showing their pride at being Canadian. BEING CANADIAN celebrates what it is to be Canadian and does nothing much else.

    (No trailer available)

    GOING CLEAR: SCIENTOLOGY AND THE PRISON OF BELIEF (USA 2015) ****

    Directed by Alex Gibney

    goingclearba

    From his Oscar winning TAXI TO THE DARK SIDE and his Oscar nominated ENRON: THE SMARTEST GUYS IN THE ROOM, documentarist Alex Gibney has proven that he can both capture the attention of his audience as well as get them intensely riled up on the subject at hand.

    In his latest film GOING CLEAR: SCIENTOLOGY AND THE PRISON OF BELIEF, Scientology is the target. It is an easier target than his other films, so Gibney spends the initial part of the film illustrating what fascinates people about Scientology. After that, he reveals the faults of the organization followed by their underhanded tactics. By the end of the doc, he has the audience so upset with Scientology that anyone would be willing to do anything to stop them from expanding or even existing.

    Though Gibney has less to research than his other films since his film is based on the book by Lawrence Wright, he still assembles a impressive cast to tell the story. Among them are several former Scientology members, like film director Paul Haggis (CRASH) and actor Jason Beghe, and former big time Scientology members such as Mark Rathbun, who was second in command to church board Chairman David Miscavige, and Mike Rinder, former chief spokesman for the church. But the best is the assembled footage of Tom Cruise, so well manipulated by them to advance their course before he left them. Expectedly, Cruise refused (as well as John Travolta and Miscavige) to be interviewed, probably for reason of embarrassment. Gibney’ voiceover over the Cruise footage makes Cruise looks like a full ninny while forwarding his course of how Scientology manipulates their members.

    A fair portion of Gibney’s film is devoted to the founder of Scientology, L. Ron Hubbard. Hubbard is comically shown as a writer of pulp science-fiction stories, who exaggerated his war credentials (he claimed to have sunk enemy submarines while in reality he had bombed an island by mistake) and lived in mortal fear of the Internal Revenue Service. He is best shown as a psycho and jealous lover, ready to murder his wife if he found her unfaithful. 

    Through running over 2 hours, Gibney’s film fascinates and is a compelling watch from start to end. He is fortunate to be able to get ex-member Paul Haggis to testify against Scientology. But the best testimony is delivered from Rathburn who tells of members put in an un-livable hole when they cross Scientology. Hilarious too, are how certain members can be termed S.P. (subversive person) and members urged not to communicate in any way with them So the question ultimately arises whether Scientology is a religion (tax-free as the claim they deserve) or a cult? Whatever the answer, they are shown to be a danger to mankind.

    As formulaic as the film might be, Gibney has fashioned an informative, disturbingly scary and even hilarious documentary on an organization that is so efficient that it has fooled the world for such a long time. Finally they are in trouble when this doc comes out, as this expose is as convincing as Scientology was efficient.

    Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5-wa7dcMMlw

    HOT PURSUIT (USA 2015) **

    Directed by Anne Fletcher

    hotpursuitba

    HOT PURSUIT is a no-brainer lazily written comedy that relies on the chemistry of Oscar Winner Reese Witherspoon and Sofia Vergara to provide the laughs.

    The silly plot involves a by-the-book disgraced officer, Cooper (Witherspoon) who has a chance to get back into the field to deliver a reluctant witness, Mrs. Riva (Vergara). The drug kingpin, Cortez (Joaquin Cosio) has his henchmen after them as well as crooked cops. The plot twist is nothing special with the film meandering towards its predictable finish, complete with an unbelievable romance. In the journey, the audience is expected to believe that Cooper learns the reality of life while Mrs. Riva to put her vengeance aside and rely on the law to do its course.

    The majority of the film relies on the laughs provided by the unconventional relationship between the pair of misfits. The scene of Officer Cooper forcing Mrs. Riva in her tight Anita Ekberg-like body hugging dress dragging her suitcase is actually quite funny. The loose storyline does provide the film its quota of laughs but that is about it for the film. But equally unfunny are segments like the one when the two pretend to be lesbians to distract a redneck (Jim Gaffigan). The bus chase segment also demonstrates how difficult it is to stage good comedy.

    In the end credits, the funnest moment is when Witherspoon remarks that this is her most demanding role. The film should make enough at the box-office but hopefully not enough to generate a sequel.

    Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fUeOBdxSjc8

    MAGGIE (USA 2015) **

    Directed by Henry Hobson

    maggieba

    MAGGIE, an independent horror film that got sold to Lionsgate is an oddity. It is more a drama than a horror film on zombies. It stars all action hero star Arnold Schwarzenegger in a non-action hero role. He plays the father, Wade who stays by the side of his teenage daughter, Maggie (Abigail Breslin) when she has been infected by zombies. She has to weeks before she ‘turns’. 3 options, she can be put into quarantine, administered a lethal dose or shot dead with no suffering.

    The main issue at hand is the loving relationship between father and daughter. Everything else is secondary. Director Hobson gets the audience quickly to the current state of affairs within 5 minutes of the film’s opening using radio news as a voiceover relating what has happened. How Maggie got infected is just brushed though in the script as well as the relationship between Wade and her mother, Caroline (British actress Joely Richardson).

    Whatever is lacking in action is more than made up in gross-out scenes. These include Maggie chopping off her infected finger and Maggie’s bloodied mouth after killing a fox.

    There is no real surprise in the plot. John Scott’s script leads the film to its logical end without much incident considering what had happened before. One wonders the purpose of this film being made. It is more a family drama. Schwarzenegger delivers a restrained (no one-liners at all) and dramatic performance. His and Breslin’s performances are the highlights of the film.

    But the zombie angle of the film could be totally left out. Maggie could be suffering from a terminal disease that has no cure and nothing much from the film would have changed. But this is a very depressing horrific film. There is one scene in which Maggie’s friend is about to be turned into a zombie and the cops arrive to take him to quarantine. This reminded me of my ill mother who refused to be taken by the medics in an ambulance to the hospital. And Maggie waiting to die? It reminded me of how I could not tell my mother in the hospice that she is put there as they are waiting of her to die. There is no reason for this horrific story to be put on film as the little message of hope (the bed of daisies on the grave at the end of the film) does little to lift the film from depression. The film enforces the horror of death.

    There is nothing really wrong in the film’s execution. But why would anyone wish to pay good money to watch a depressing and horrific film like this one?

    Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EWU0D9K1g5E

    PHOENIX (Germany 2014) ***

    Directed by Christian Petzold

    phoenixba

    PHOENIX is the club where Nelly Lenz (Nina Hoss) sees Johnny (Ronald Zehrfeld) for the first time again after World War II. It is an important time for her and hence derives the film title.

    The setting is post World War II Berlin. The best thing gong for the film is the creation of a destroyed city complete with tons of rubble around it. The film has the look of Carol Reed’s THE THIRD MAN and Lars Von Trier’s EUROPA. The wardrobe, the score, Cabaret songs and sets help create the gorgeous but bleak atmosphere of the film.

    The story is equally bleak. It is a story of true love lost. Nelly Lenz undergoes significant reconstructive surgery to repair a facial injury caused by a bullet wound. Presumed dead by her friends and relatives, fixated on the memories of her former life and unable to accept the shattered reality before her, Nelly returns to Berlin to fulfill the dream that sustained her throughout her imprisonment: reuniting with her husband, Johnny. But she is haunted by terrible, whispered rumours that it was Johnny himself who betrayed her to the Nazis. Director Petzold, who has worked with Hoss before in BARBARA creates a suspenseful romance that locks the viewer’s attention to the very end, when the truth finally arrives of whether true love will prevail.

    The story of a Jewish prisoner surviving the war and concentration camp, emerging with a disfigured face, unrecognizable by her husband is not new territory. The same premise was used in J.Lee Thompson’s 1965 British drama RETURN FROM THE ASHES. Ingrid Thulin had to undergo plastic surgery, but still unrecognizable by her husband played by Maximilian Schell. Both films involved a scheme of the husband not knowing the wife and inviting her to pretend to be her in order to get an inheritance from the authorities. But the similarities end here. RETURN FROM THE ASHES concentrated more on the story whereas PHOENIX more of the setting and the mood.

    PHOENIX moves occasionally at too slow a pace. The film never dwelt on the inheritance and the fate of Nelly’s friend comes as too much of a surprise to push the story along.

    Still Petzold’s film is a handsome production, well acted by both Hoss and Zehrfled and aptly directed by Petzold.

    Trailer: https://vimeo.com/104179101

     

    WE WERE WOLVES (Canada 2014) **

    Directed by Jordan Canning

    wewerewolvesba

    WE WERE WOLVES is director Jordan Canning’s first full-length feature after several short films one of which, OLIVER BUMP’S BIRTHDAY went on to win the Best Short in Berlin. WE WERE WOLVES is a simple two-handler, two estranged brothers meet after a decade of absence to settle past grievances and hopefully bond again. It is good to observe a film about males directed by a female. Steve Cochrane who plays one of the brothers produced and wrote the film with Canning.

    But there is one thing woman directors cannot resist doing (which I totally detest as a feminist thing) is to have their male characters cry on screen. Never mind she also has two scenes of males cooking. Canning falls into the temptation with a brother, Danny crying his eyes out after sex for no real reason. 

    But the setting of Kawartha Lake and its surroundings make good scenic photography. The brothers take to the water in a few key scenes scene. The lake is also used as the sight of the cottage where they hang out.

    The title WE WERE WOLVES is emphasized in the one scene where the brothers tussle with each other like animals one night after dark.

    But who really wants to watch two strangers, brothers or not, settle their differences and make their peace? There is no audience anticipation at all. One scene occurs after another and no one really cares what happens next. The brothers do argue, settle their differences and the film comes to a rather boring end after boring incidents that takes place in the duration of three days amidst drinks, pot, bad food and yes, bad company. The introduction of the annoying female (Kathleen Boyd), who is too eager to please both brothers, into the picture to arouse more differences does not help either. And it is aways the same old drama for films of this nature. One family member refuses to grow up, another is resentful for having to care for an ill parent, past skeletons come out of the closet and the inheritance poses more conflict.

    The drama contains a few touches of welcome humour lifting the drabness of the situation. Danny (Steve Cochrane), the elder brother often calls the other Nick (Peter Rooney) Snickers, as Nick was fat at one stage in his life - the running joke in the film.

    WE WERE WOLVES would make a hard sell at the movie theatres. The film had a presentation during the Toronto International Film Festival last September and goes straight to Video On Demand (VOD) May 12th.

    Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jhW3HRRPzM4

    BEST BETS:

    Best Film Opening: Going Clear: Scientology and the Prison of Belief

    Drama: '71

    Action: Kingsman: The Secret Service

    Foreign Language: Phoenix

    Animation: Paddington

    Comedy : What We Do in the Shadows

    Best documentary: Going Clear: Scientology and the Prison of Belief

    Horror: It Follows

  • This Week's Film Reviews (May 1, 2015)

    The biggest film so far this year opens. THE AVENGERS: AGE OF ULTRON has already grossed $200 million worldwide before opening in North America.  So all other films will pale in comparison.

    avengersposterbafarfromposterba

    Toronto BIG Hot Docs Film Festival continues this week

    FILM REVIEWS:

    THE AVENGERS: AGE OF ULTRON (USA 2015) **

    Directed by Joss Whedon

    avengersba

    Director Joss Whedon of the first AVENGERS film reunites the Marvel superheroes in the second blockbuster special effects actioner that lasts 2 and a half hours too long.

    Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.), Captain America (Chris Evans), Thor (Chris Hemsworth), the Incredible Hulk (Mark Ruffalo), Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner) and the Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) among others attempt to put their egos aside (without much luck) to battle the evil Ultron (voiced by James Spader) in order to save the earth.

    The plot, if one can decipher it concerns Tony Start (Ironman) putting together a peacekeeping program. The film begins with a raid on a hydra outpost in which it is hard to distinguish the good from the bad guys. The prize catch happens to be a sceptre that holds a gem containing artificial intelligence of some kind. The story gets more confusing. If one tries to make head or tail of it, it will soon be realized that it is of no consequence and it is best to just sit back and filter through the rubbish. Even the dialogue is senseless. Take for example Fury’s (Samuel L. Jackson) words: “No matter who wins or loses, trouble always comes.” The peacekeeping attempts go awry but eventually get sorted out. Unlike the film. For one, the film is all over the place. Literally! It begins in the Eastern European country of Sokovia moving to a desolate farm which is Barton’s safe house to Seoul, South Korea to New York. 

    The film contains $280 million worth of special effects (best to see the film in 3D or IMAX of course) and actor egos. Lots of explosions, destruction of buildings, mechanical robots (Transformers style) and flying action are present, enough to saturate the demands of action fans and to give others a sizeable headache.  But the fights are less than thrilling but just short spurts of special effects.  There is little continuity in the fighting sequences.

    Ultimately, the film comes to an end with a few casualties and the audience realizes that what has transpired is a noisy incoherent mess of the worst that Hollywood has to offer. Obviously this film will make lots of money, having already grossed more than $200 million overseas before opening domestically. Cinema fans will flock to see this for the prime reason that it is the big film to see, with all the Marvel heroes coming together again. There are two sequels already planned on the way.

    Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MZoO8QVMxkk

    CAN’T STAND LOSING YOU: SURVIVING THE POLICE (USA 2012) ***

    Directed by Andy Grieve

    cantstandlosingyouba

    It took 2 years for this Police documentary, already released in the U.S. to reach Canadian screens, but Sting and Police fans should be more than pleased. Andy Grieve’s documentary offers an uncompromising look at the band’s history to the present largely using archive footage of performances and interviews. The band members look so amazingly young and gorgeous.

    The film is wholly narrated by one of the three band members Andy Summers, the other two being Sting and Stewart Copeland. This is more appropriate as the film is based on the acclaimed memoir One Train Later by rock guitarist Andy Summers. 

    The film follows Summers' journey from his early days in the psychedelic '60s music scene, when he played with The Animals, to chance encounters with drummer Stewart Copeland and bassist Sting, which led to the formation of a punk trio, The Police. During the band's phenomenal rise and its dissolution at the height of their popularity in the mid-80s, Summers captured history with his candid photographs. Utilizing rare archival footage and insights from the guitarist's side of the stage, the film brings together past and present as the band members reunite, more than two decades later, for a global reunion tour in 2007, which is where the film begins before flashing back to the past.

    The film’s best moment has a participant at a karaoke bar singing “Every Breath You take”, before noticing Andy Summers besides him singing along. The film has many similar bright moments that will amuse Police fans. The highlights, obviously are the Police performing their hits like Roxanne.

    Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QAtOXEGJZm0

    FAR FROM THE MADDING CROWD (UK 2015) ****
    Directed by Thomas Vineterberg

    farfromba

    FAR FROM THE MADDING CROWD, Danish Thomas Vinterberg’s (CELEBRATION) 2015 adaptation of the famed Thomas Hardy classic novel will inevitably be compared to the 1968 John Schlesinger film with Julie Christie as the heroine courted by Terence Stamp (the soldier), Peter Finch (the landowner) and Alan Bates (the farmer).

    Having just re-seen the Schlesinger film on my hard drive, it is a hard toss to decide the better film. Both have its plusses and minuses. It is probably best to note the differences and also best to watch both films back to back. But needless to say, Brit Schlesinger’s film is more English to look at than Vinterberg’s.

    The story is kept faithful to the book. Bathsheba Everdene (Carey Mulligan) is a handsome woman in her prime owning good farmland in Dorset, England. Vinterberg’s Bathsheba is wealthy (whereas Schlesinger’s is barely making it) and the pastures of farmland and countryside are all green compared to the tough barren brownness of Nicholas Roeg’s cinematography. She is courted by no less than 3 suitors all worthy gentlemen. Gabriel Oak (Matthias Schoenaerts) is the first to make his intentions known. A sheep farmer who recently lost all his sheep to mad dog (it is not that funny but quite sad), he is a decent chap who is truly faithful. From the first scene, the audience is able to guess that he is the one she will finally settle down with. The rich one is William Boldwood (Michael Sheen), no lesser a gentleman but the third is a scrounging soldier, Sgt. Frank Troy (Tom Sturridge), the suave kind of male who will sweep any female off her feet. He gets her for the first hand of marriage.

    No need to spoil enjoyment revealing the rest of the story, as it is good not to know what happens. Vinterberg’s film and camera loves the English countryside from the green meadows, to the cliffs to the breaking waves on the rocks. It is a romanticized period piece. 

    Mulligan makes a good headstrong woman. But she looks too good with her perfectly curled groomed hair under the headdress compared to Julie Christie’s free flowing long hair. The three males are just as efficient in their portrayals but the real star of the piece is the background of the Thomas Hardy tale. The traits and mores of the times, the wheeling and dealing of wealth and the hardship of the times are what gives the film its distinctness. Vinterberg has kept his film handsome looking, sometimes a little too much. Schlesinger’s film is more dirty, down-to-earth right down to the dialogue. In Schlesinger’s film, Bathsheba turns Gabriel’s proposal of marriage down by saying it right out front that she does not love him. Vinterberg’s heroine tells him she wishes not to be anyone’s property and admits that she rather does ‘like’ him.

    But it is the romance that finally brings the film to its conclusion. Though what occurs might be expected, the journey there is still a very worthwhile story to tell. 

    FAR FROM TH MADDING CROWD beats most Hollywood romances hands down. It is a beautiful film to look at and and a beautiful film overall. Forget THE LONGEST RIDE and THE AGE OF ADALINE.

    Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WCm1XNVD_0c

    PREGGOLAND (Canada 2014) ***
    Directed by Jacob Tierney

    preggolandba

    PREGGOLAND acted and written by Sonja Bennett has a simple premise. An ostracized female Ruth (Bennett) is again accepted by her high school clique after she feigns pregnancy. She realizes that a pregnant woman is treated like a goddess and she takes the pretence to the limit. Similarly, the script takes the premise to the limit, and with desirable results.

    The film touches many other key important issues. It covers the suburban woman stuck in a rut, infertility, the hypocrisy of birth classes, growing up as well as including an unexpected romance, father/daughter relationship and corporate biased company mentality.

    When Bennett makes a fool of herself while creating trouble at a baby shower, her three friends tell her that she is no longer welcome in the group until she lies that she is pregnant. Her new boss at the grocery store she works gives her her job back and promotes her to assistant manager. Her father (James Caan) who suffers a heart attack, is delighted at her pregnancy, suddenly favouring her over the other sister. Meanwhile, the store’s janitor (Danny Trejo) aids her in the masquerade.

    The film is not that funny at the start but the film slowly picks up and grows on the audience. By the middle of the film, director Tierney has generated sufficient laugh-out loud moments to make the film a winner. There are choice key moments too that comes from keen observations and some  clever writing.

    Bennett is winning as the main character. But Caan as the father and Trejo provide prize supporting roles. Though it can be criticized that Trejo’s Mexican character is stereotyped, he does provide a good portion of the laughs. And according to interviews, he provided those “si, senior” lines on his own.

    Despite the heavy female theme, PREGGOLAND should entertain both sexes as an overall comical entertainment.

    Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zgDec0lak90

    BEST BETS:

    Best Film Opening: Far From the Madding Crowd

    Drama: '71

    Action: Kingsman: The Secret Service

    Foreign Language: Wild Tales (Spain/Argentina)

    Animation: Paddington

    Comedy : What We Do in the Shadows

    Best documentary: The Salt of the Earth

    Horror: It Follows

     

  • This Week's Film Reviews (Apr 24, 2015)

    Films opening include THE AGE of ADALINE, LOST RIVER, THE WATER DIVINER and THE SALVATION.

    ageofadalineosterbalostriverposterbawaterdivinerposterbasalvationposterba

    Toronto BIG Hot Docs Film Festival begins this week.

    FILM REVIEWS:

    THE AGE OF ADALINE (USA 2015) **

    Directed by Lee Toland Krieger

    ageofadalineba

    Directed by Lee Toland Krieger (THE VICIOUS KIND) and written by no less than 4 writers, the romantic drama THE AGE OF ADALINE is less a romance fantasy than a tragedy for the reason of Adaline’s indecisive character.

    What happens in the early 20th Century is that Adaline (Blake Lively from THE TOWN) undergoes a freak accident involving snow, a car crash and lightning causing her to remain 29 years old for almost 8 decades. Because the authorities like the FBI will not leave her alone, Adaline Bowman has lives a solitary existence, never allowing herself to get close to anyone who might reveal her secret no friends, no lovers, no life. But a chance encounter with charismatic philanthropist Ellis Jones (Michiel Huisman of GAMES OF THRONES) reignites her passion for life and romance. Their meeting is right out of a typical Hollywood romantic comedy. When a weekend with his parents (one of whom is played by Harrison Ford) threatens to uncover the truth, Adaline makes a decision that will change her life forever. But one would have expected her not to change her mind after 80 years.

    One would also have expected that a person who discovers the fountain of youth be a happy person. Instead Adaline has decided to make her own life as miserable as ever. She spawns love, lives ins exclusion and allows herself the least of life’s pleasures. The writers and director Kreiger do not help her character or their film either. The film is entrapped by the silly premise, made only sillier for the fact that they take the fantasy too seriously. It does not take a genius to guess that Adaline will eventually fall in love and that she will somehow gain the process of growing old as a normal human being. But by that time, the audience would have been bored to tears. Kriegr has not forgotten to add in some unwanted sentiment either. Most romances would have an obstacle placed in the pursuit of true happiness, but this reason of agelessness takes the cake.

    It does not help that there is absolutely no chemistry between the two leads Lively and Huisman. The film is more believable when they are arguing. The only actress that gives some class to the enterprise is Ellen Burstyn who plays the Adaline’s grandmother.

    The voiceover that explains what happens to Adaline only serves the fact that the filmmakers have to resort to this tactic to make the story more believable. And unfortunately, the voiceover has to be used twice, at each of Adaline’s accidents.

    The Thomas Hardy period romance FAR FROM THE MADDING CROWD opens in a few weeks. In the mean time, there is still the love story of THE LONGEST RIDE. Give THE AGE OF ADALINE a miss.

    Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7UzSekc0LoQ

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

    forgerba

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

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

    LOST RIVER (USA 2015) **

    Directed by Ryan Gosling

    lostriverba

    LOST RIVER centres on Billy (Chrisina Hendricks) a pretty but out of luck mother of two boys about to lose the house as she is unable to make the owed 3 months rent. Her bank manager, Dave (Rob Zabrecky) offers her alternative employment as a performer in an illegal S&M club/brothel. Meanwhile, her son Bones (Iain De Caestaeker) is on the run from a local thug (Matt Smith). 

    That is much as the story goes and nothing much develops from here. Director Gosling, in his directorial debut plays around with all the departments of filmmaking to create a distinctive different film. But the film is so derived that one wonders what his real style is.

    LOST RIVER is an shameless rip-off of David Lynch’s MULHOLLAND DRIVE and Danish director Nicolas Winding Refn’s style. Gosling has worked twice with Refn in DRIVE and ONLY GOD FORGIVES. LOST RIVER and MULHOLLAND takes place in a dreamlike city with a female protagonist in distress. But the style does not work for the LOST RIVER script. For one, the taut tension and violence is Refn’s films is wasted in LOST RIVER as there is no real action or climatic violence required in the story. So, the tension is just built up and left to burn off as does the brothel in the last scenes. As for Lynch, though his film is open ended with no logic defined, his narrative for the first 3/4 of his MULHOLLAND DRIVE is strong and makes perfect logical sense. LOST RIVER on the other hand, is an incoherent mess, with flashbacks, intercutting, sound and lighting all used to full effect, often simultaneously with no direction.

    Gosling does inject a few scenes of genuine suspense and oddness. The grocery store scene is perhaps the film’s highlight. The S&M segments are quite sick to look at but Gosling has got his point across of getting the audience disgusted.

    Iain De Caestaeker plays young Bones, a Ryan Gosling look alike 10 years younger, if Gosling would have cast himself in that role. Christina Hendricks as the mother looks totally bewildered throughout the movie, which fortunately is the way her character is supposed to be. The weird villain bank manager Dave played by Rob Zabrecky is a cross of the weird Dennis Hopper and suave Dean Stockwell character in MULHOLLAND DRIVE. The only problem is that the character of Dave is not suave or weird enough. If Gosling is ripping off Lynch so much, he might as well have the Dave character inhale ether. Eva Mendes (Gosling’s partner) has a supporting role as Billy’s mentor in the S&M brothel. It is clear that she is having the most fun in the film. Her priceless line in the film: “You made me chip my tooth.” Saoirse Ronan, sadly missing from the screen for a while has a welcome role as Rat, Bones’ girlfriend.

    LOST RIVER will be seen for the reason of being actor Ryan Gosling’s directorial debut. The film is not dull though it moves at a snail’s pace. The film is poetic, eccentric in lighting and sound, but unfortunately incoherent to a fault.

    Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=H8ngDiG9V8w

    THE SALVATION (Denmark/Sweden/South Africa/UK 2014) ****
    Directed by Kristian Levring

    salvationba

    This Danish western is an immensely satisfying film despite the familiar plot of revenge. The lead character is Jon (a brooding Mads Mikkelsen) living out in the American west in the 1870s. Jon and his brother Peter (Mikael Persbrandt) are veterans of Denmark’s army who both moved to the U.S. seven years before. Jon has saved enough money and the film opens with him meeting his wife and son whom he has brought over. But tragedy falls on the family. On the stage coach ride back, Jon is thrown out while the two drunks inside kill his son and rape his wife. Jon kills them both but the brother of one of them, Delarue (Jeffrey Dean Morgan) who terrorizes the local town wants Jon’s head.

    It does not help that the townsfolk headed by the mayor (Jonathan Pryce) are cowards that turn him in. But he is aided by a youth whose grandparents were killed by Delarue and a mute woman, Madelaine (Eva Green). Indians had cut out her tongue.

    Despite the familiar revenge story in a film with no plot twists, there are differences between this Danish piece and Hollywood films. Hollywood films such as the TAKEN has the hero (Liam Neeson) go all out to protect his family. In the Spaghetti westerns and Japanese samurai films, the hero single handedly takes on a whole bunch of villains, often being brutalized before doing so. And in this story, Jon’s family are killed within the first 15 minutes of film. It is no protecting of family but plain revenge - which the audience feels. But director Levring soon has his audience rooting for him, familiar though the plot may be.

    Mikkelson is the perfect anti-hero, growling and never smiling. Eva Green also captures her scenes though not uttering a single word of dialogue. Both of them had been together before in the Bond film CASIN ROYALE.

    The film has the feel of the classic HIGH NOON western for two reasons. The town gives up on the hero and a woman ends up standing by his side. But there is much more to enjoy in Levring’s film. His wide camera shots and camera placement makes this a sprawling, stunning western to look at. When the youth clambers on the roof of a building shooting at the baddies, the camera sweeps to show the sky and the mountains. The end of the movie when the camera slowly pulls back to show dozens of wooden oil derricks also has a weird message that Levring is putting across.

    The showdown action segment is top notch in terms of suspense and violence (knife poking an eye). Levring captures the cruelty of the old west and what it takes to survive. THE SALAVATION is still a curious piece made by the Danes and with a fair portion of the film shot in Danish. But Levring’s western is a good one as he understands the genre and delvers the goods. It has been a while since there has been a good western.

    Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bfoSCdnwOB8

    THE WATER DIVINER (Australia/Turkey/USA 2014) ***
    Directed by Russell Crowe

    waterdivinerba

    THE WATER DIVINER begins with the title inspired by true events’. Whenever the words ‘inspired’ and ‘events’ appear instead of the phrase ‘based on a true story’, one can anticipate that certain liberties will be taken with the story.

    Russell Crowe’s directorial effort traces one farmer’s (called Connor played by Crowe) desperate and almost hopeless search for his 3 sons who fought the Gallipoli War in Turkey in 1915. It is a story of the triumph of the human will against unbeatable odds. Connor leaves his farm after wife’s suicide to land in Turkey to look for his sons amidst thousands of graves. It is a handsome production from the beautiful Turkish calligraphed starting titles to the segments of the action sequences on the train to the hand-to-hand combat fights in the dark trenches. But Crowe has also fashioned a sentimental melodrama, well-intentioned as he may be. He brings the cross cultures of two former enemies the Australians and Turks to solve the mystery of Connor searching for his sons for it is the right thing to do. Turkey is also shown for its splendid landscape and exotic buildings and culture.

    Crowe’s film is poetic in a way. The suicide of his wife is revealed ambiguously as she is found drowned one night. Crowe wisely stays away from any romance Connor might embark, which would distract the main issue at hand. Connor does meet a beautiful but feisty Turkish woman Ayshe (Olga Kurylenko) who has lost her husband in the same war. They find a common bond though starting off at loggerheads.

    Crowe’s film is a worthy directorial effort of a mix of probable romance and the futility of war.  Crowe puts care, dedication and thought in his film and it shows. THE WATER DIVINER shows Crowe, despite him being reportedly hot tempered and troublemaking bad news like fellow Aussie, Mel Gibson having a good heart.

    Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8CkLC4Zr2Mw

     

    BEST BETS:

    Best Film Opening: The Salvation

    Drama: '71

    Action: Kingsman: The Secret Service

    Foreign Language: Wild Tales (Spain/Argentina)

    Animation: Paddington

    Comedy : What We Do in the Shadows

    Best documentary: The Salt of the Earth

    Horror: It Follows

  • Hot Dos 2015

    HOT DOCS 2015

    The Canadian International Documentary Festival aka Hot Docs runs from Apr 23 to May the 3rd. It boats as many films as TIFF from all over the world.

    For the screening schedule, best to cheek out the hot docs site itself at:

    www.hotdocs.ca

    The festival has several options for tickets. Cheapest if one buys the all festival pass called the premium pass at $339. Otherwise, singles are $17. There are free daytime screenings for seniors (60+) and students for films before 5 pm.

    The films are divided into the main categories of:

    special events

    special presentations

    Canadian spectrum

    International spectrum

    world showcase with subsection Made in India

    screen on screen

    next

    show me the funny

    nightvisions

    Capsule Reviews of Selected Films:

    BEING CANADIAN (Canada 2015) **
    Directed by Robert Cohen

    beingcanadianba

    Director Robert Cohen is a Canadian born in Calgary, Alberta now living in Los Angeles. He is a bit perturbed about the large number of people (not only Americans but others from India and England) who knows little about Canada. So, Cohen assigns himself the task of touring the country from coast to coast answering his own made up questions with the hope of providing the answer of what it is to be Canadian. The trip begins in Nova Scotia and ends in British Columbia ending on July the 1st, which is Canada Day. Questions Cohen poses include: “Why are Canadian so polite?”, “Why are Canadians so funny?” Most of the questions do not really reveal what it really is to be Canadian, just superficially in terms of traits. The questions are not really answered either, just examples given. The idea of telling anecdotes to tell the story of what it is to be Canadian wears out its novelty quite fast. Jokes are plentiful but mostly mildly funny. The film tends to drag towards the middle. BEING CANADIAN celebrates what it is to be Canadian and does nothing much else.

    (Special Presentation)

    Screenings: Sat Apr 25, Sun Apr 26

    CHAMELEON (Canada 2014) **

    Directed by Ryan Mullins

    chameleonba

    CHAMELEON is the Ghanaian investigative journalist who follows cops and exposes the crooks for what they are. The man never shows his face in public, likely for fear of retaliation. Mullins follows several takedowns including an illegal abortion doctor who has sex with his patients prior to the act and a pastor pedophile who rapes children. A lot of the documentary is sensationalism with a large portion of the tim devoted to him speaking to a school of students. There is nothing really new to be learnt here, nor any message to be delivered. All the audience sees is the James Bond like journalist in action. Shor largely in Ghana.

    (Canadian Spectrum)

    Screenings: Sat Apr 25, Sun Apr 26

    A DIFFERENT DRUMMER: CELEBRATING ECCENTRICS (Canada 2014) ****

    Directed by John Zaritsky

    different drummerba

    This immensely enjoyable documentary by Oscar winning director Zaritsky takes the audience from Vancouver to Utah to Britain to celebrate an assortment of eccentrics. In Utah is a cave dweller who has not used money in 14 years. He eats roots around the canyon and food he finds in dumpsters, claiming that he has seldom gotten ill. The other most interesting eccentric is the British inventor who has invented everything from a fire engine three wheeler to a bra warmer to a tunnel with a light at the end of it Then there is the duck lady and the Brit that runs for major for the most ridiculous of reasons. If one eccentric is not that interesting, the audience knows that there will be a more interesting one around the corner. Zaritsky brings his film to an end with all the eccentrics brought together. A simply made documentary that is immensely entertaining.

    (Special Presentations)

    Screenings: Sun Apr 26, Tue Apr 28

    MILK (Canada 2015) ***

    Directed by Noemi Weis

    milkba

    MILK celebrates the miracle of breast feeding milk. Weis’ documentary that takes audiences all over the globe into all 5 continents appears aimless at the start but begins to make sense from the mid section onwards. Weis brings in as many topics as she can regarding breast milk from midwifery to the abuse by conglomerates selling infant formula (brought under control finally by governments after massive infant mortality rates in Africa, India and Pakistan) to the human milk banks in Brazil. Certain facts are disturbing such as the ignorant Filipino mothers who substitute coffee whitener for milk. But most of what Weis puts on screen is already known one way or other )the topic of abuse of infant selling companies was covered extensively in a previous doc) except for a few facts here and there. Still, it is beneficial that a filmmaker so dedicated to the health of babies and hence human beings makes a film that brings everything regarding the topic of mother’s milk together.

    (World Showcase)

    Screenings: Mon Apr 27, Wed Apr 29

    WARRIORS OF THE NORTH (Denmark 2015) ****

    Directed by Soren Steen Jespersen and Nasib Farah

    warriorsofthenorthba

    WARRIORS OF THE NORTH is a documentary on terrorists. It boasts an exclusive interview with a real-life Al-Shabab terrorist, recruited in Denmark where he lived and now in Somalia trained as a suicide bomber. He hates the West. The film starts with his friend, Abdi who blew himself up as well as others at a graduation ceremony for graduating doctors in Somalia. Whether the scene is actual or re-enacted, it is still an extremely disturbing one. The documentary follows Mohammed Abukar with his father, a devout Muslim who wants his son to return home to Denmark to be safe, serve time for what he has done rather than live in danger for the rest of his life with Al-Shabab.  The reasons for him joining the terrorist cell? Among them (as voiced by Mohammed himself): the need of young men for action; the need to believe in a higher cause such as freeing the Muslim Somalians from the invading Christian Ethiopians; to retaliate from the Americans oppressing the Muslims among others. Documentarians should be credited for the amount of diligent research gone through in the making of the doc. This doc has this, and the additional bonus of the extreme risk and danger of what would happen to the filmmakers if the terrorists take it out on them. WARRIORS OF THE NORTH is an important film that demands to be seen. It does not forgive the terrorist acts but allows the audience to look at the terrorist with a more sympathetic but still stern view.

    (World Showcase)

    Screenings: Fri Apr24, Sun Apr 26, Fri May 1

  • This Week's Film Reviews (Apr 17, 2015)

    Lots of mediocre films (UNFRIENDED, PAUL BLART, MALL COP II) opening this week.  But the most interesting of the lot is TRUE STORY with Jonah Hill and James Franco, based on a true story as the title implies.

    monkeykingdomposterbaunfriendedposterbapaulblartposterbatruestoryposterbadesertdancerposterba

    Cinefranco the French film festival in Toronto continues.

    FILM REVIEWS:

    BEYOND THE REACH (USA 2014) *
    Directed by Jean-Baptiste Léonetti

    beyondthereachba

    BEYOND THE REACH is a cat-and-mouse thriller involving an unscrupulous corporate shark, Madec (Michael Douglas) after a tracker, Ben (Jeremy Irvine from WAR HORSE) he hires for the purpose of hunting bighorn sheep (which the audience never sees). When Madec accidental kills of an old prospector, he wants to do away with the only witness, Ben. Madec makes him strip and wander in the hot sun, which is supposed to burn one dry (temperatures reach above 130 degrees) within an hour - although the boy seems to be able to run around more than 3 times that amount of time.

    For a cat-and-mouse thriller, Leonetti’s film’s pace is surprisingly slow. It shows that one can only do so much with the script when the mouse is trying to hide in a desert. There is not much opportunity to hide or to play with the script. And Stephen Susco who wrote the script is clearly out of ideas. It does not help that the chemistry between the two is not tapped to the fullest, especially when 80% of the film’s running time involves only these two characters. The film includes a segment in which Madec throws sticks of dynamite one and a time at Ben who is running about much like the Wile E. Coyote/Road Runner cartoon. It only reminds one of how cartoonish the entire enterprise is.

    One wonders what attracted Michael Douglas who co-produced the film to this venture. He does not know what to do with his corporate shark character. At one pint, he is joking with Ben and another he is freaking out at the boy. Jeremy Irvine looks good shirtless, with a fantastic tan running around in his boxers in the desert. That might be the only thing attractive about the movie.

    The few nice bits involve Madec laying back on a deck chair sipping his martini while Ben is scrambling for water. Another involves a swinging female dummy in white dress in the old prospector’s lair. But these off-beat scenes are too few and far-between.

    The desert scenery at least is quite stunning. The film is shot in New Mexico desert.

    The ending climax of the film demands mention. The ending will not be revealed as it would be a spoiler, but it must take credit as the most ridiculous and unbelievable one on screen for a long time. It must have seemed ok when filming it, but, it makes completely no sense.

    The result is a rather silly low budget B movie that wastes its two stars, Douglas and Susco.

    Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5qlFGI5n_C8

    THE DEAD LANDS (New Zealand/UK 2014) ***
    Directed by Toa Fraser

    deadlandsba

    Nominated for an Oscar or Best Foreign Picture, the Maori action drama has much to do with originality. It is one of the few films set in pre-colonial New Zealand, features dialogue totally in Maori and features an unseen before ancient Maori martial-arts called Mau rakau. Brit director To a Fraser ensures that there is no city in sight, only warrior lands with seas, cliffs, river and country. New Zealand is as beautiful looking here as it obviously is in reality though the film’s theme is violent and bloody.

    THE DEAD LANDS refer to an area of land reputed to be ruled by the dead. No one dares trespass or incur the wrath of the spirit of the guardians. A monster rules the Dead Lands, but it is revealed that he is in a actuality a man, and one quite skilled in Mau rakau.

    The film is centred on young Hongi (James Rolleston). After his tribe is slaughtered through an act of treachery, Hongi sets out to avenge his father so that he may bring peace to the souls of his lost loved ones. Vastly outnumbered by the band of murderous marauders who are still on the prowl, Hongi has only one hope: he must enter the forbidden Dead Lands and seek assistance from the mysterious monster (Lawrence Makoare), a legendary fighter who is rumoured to reside there. With his people's killers still on his trail, it's life or death for Hongi as he navigates the nuanced connections between violence, revenge, leadership, and societal esteem. 

    Director Toa Fraser who made a totally different film last year, the dance film GISELLE, handles the action and drama well. Wish the same could be said for the actors, who appear to think that screaming at the top of their voices and sticking their tongues in and out as fast is as possible constitute a good performance.

    THE DEAD LANDS is a typical actioner complete with an epic climatic fight to the death. But apart from the original points before mentioned, all that transpires is still predictable stuff.

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

    DESERT DANCER (UK 2014) **

    Directed by Richard Raymond

    desertdancerba

    Based on a true story with titles like Iran being the land of poetry and one of the first to observe human rights despite its bad rap these days, director Richard Raymond’s directorial debut appears to take on some mighty issues including the main one which is to tell the true events of the defection of an Iranian dance prodigy to Paris.

    DESERT DANCER is the story of Ahshin Ghaffasrian (Reece Ritchie). The film begins with him as a boy getting in trouble for dancing in school. Dancing is forbidden in Iran. One can go to prison for dancing, despite videos like Dirty dancing being readily available in Iran. At the University of Tehran, Ahshin risks all to start a dance company. He falls in love with a talented dancer in a romance that totally distracts from the main story. The film title is derived from the climatic dance performance that takes place in the desert, away from authorities.

    The film is set during the volatile climate of the 2009 presidential election, where many cultural freedoms were threatened. Raymond creates an authentic feel for the desperate times The riot segment is well shot. Afshin and friends risk their lives and form an underground dance company. Through banned online videos, they learn dance moves. Though of a different calibre, Ahshin is compared to Russian ballet defector Rudolf Nureyev.

    DESERT DANCER is so commercialized that it violates its authenticity. Afshin’s chance meeting with his old Iranian teacher in Paris during the one day of the performance of The Tempest is likely made up. There are other problems with the script as well. This is odd as it is co-written by Jon Croker and the real dancer, Afshin Ghaffarian himself. The audience is supposed to believe the life lessons are taught by a heroin addict to Ahsgin. When she utters words like “You have to find your secret language before you find your technique”, it is difficult to take the advice to heart. The climatic dance performance in which the dance police are on the way just as the performance begins is cliched Hollywood territory.

    The first shot of Paris when Afshin arrives there with the rooftops (sur les toits de Paris) is also such a cliched look.

    So, for a film that deals with dance being forbidden in Iran and the fight for the right to dance and for freedom, Raymond’s film is an inspired mess of good intentions. Perhaps a documentary on the life and works of Ghaffarian would have been more effective. DESERT DANCER is neither entertaining nor is it effective in getting the message of freedom across. The part on stage where Afshin looses it and begins a spill about freedom to the audience’s applause and standing ovation is the last straw.

    Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HYCIXaP6pKQ

    DESERT DANCER (UK 2014) **

    Directed by Richard Raymond

    desertdancerba

    Based on a true story with titles like Iran being the land of poetry and one of the first to observe human rights despite its bad rap these days, director Richard Raymond’s directorial debut appears to take on some mighty issues including the main one which is to tell the true events of the defection of an Iranian dance prodigy to Paris.

    DESERT DANCER is the story of Ahshin Ghaffasrian (Reece Ritchie). The film begins with him as a boy getting in trouble for dancing in school. Dancing is forbidden in Iran. One can go to prison for dancing, despite videos like Dirty dancing being readily available in Iran. At the University of Tehran, Ahshin risks all to start a dance company. He falls in love with a talented dancer in a romance that totally distracts from the main story. The film title is derived from the climatic dance performance that takes place in the desert, away from authorities.

    The film is set during the volatile climate of the 2009 presidential election, where many cultural freedoms were threatened. Raymond creates an authentic feel for the desperate times The riot segment is well shot. Afshin and friends risk their lives and form an underground dance company. Through banned online videos, they learn dance moves. Though of a different calibre, Ahshin is compared to Russian ballet defector Rudolf Nureyev.

    DESERT DANCER is so commercialized that it violates its authenticity. Afshin’s chance meeting with his old Iranian teacher in Paris during the one day of the performance of The Tempest is likely made up. There are other problems with the script as well. This is odd as it is co-written by Jon Croker and the real dancer, Afshin Ghaffarian himself. The audience is supposed to believe the life lessons are taught by a heroin addict to Ahsgin. When she utters words like “You have to find your secret language before you find your technique”, it is difficult to take the advice to heart. The climatic dance performance in which the dance police are on the way just as the performance begins is cliched Hollywood territory.

    The first shot of Paris when Afshin arrives there with the rooftops (sur les toits de Paris) is also such a cliched look.

    So, for a film that deals with dance being forbidden in Iran and the fight for the right to dance and for freedom, Raymond’s film is an inspired mess of good intentions. Perhaps a documentary on the life and works of Ghaffarian would have been more effective. DESERT DANCER is neither entertaining nor is it effective in getting the message of freedom across. The part on stage where Afshin looses it and begins a spill about freedom to the audience’s applause and standing ovation is the last straw.

    Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HYCIXaP6pKQ

    MONKEY KINGDOM (USA 2015) ***

    Directed by Mark Linfield

    monkeykingdomba

    (Pic of Maya, Kumar and baby Kip)

    Finally, a Disney documentary on our relatives - MONKEY KINGDOM.

    The 8th in the Disneynature series films after AFRICAN CATS, BEARS, CHIMPANZEE, EARTH and OCEANS, MONKEY KINGDOM is pretty much the same type of documentary that can be expected from the series. A story is concocted about monkeys, with a family again in focus, with some eminent danger to provide suspense for the viewers followed by a happy ending.

    It is interesting to note how stories can be made-up from filming wild life. For example, if a monkey is seen eating right after running, a story could say that the monkey works out before having a good breakfast. Credit should be given to the writer/director Mark Linfield as MONKEY KINGDOM has more story than any of the other Disneynature films. 

    Again it is a story of family. The film is fully narrated by Tina Fey, so the narrative is a strong one from start to finish. It is a female protagonist this time, a monkey of low social status by the name of Maya. It is the story of her looking after her son, Kip. But the two have to eat off the ground as she is not born of the upper class like the alpha male Raja or his three queens, that the film fondly refers to as the Sisterhood. They keep Maya in her lowly place. Maya could leave the society but the society keeps her safe from predators. They reside at Castle Rock which provides shelter, view and close proximity to food. The film shows the society surviving eating different forms of food that includes figs, flying terminates (their annual feast that lasts only a day) and water lily pods, among other intriguing food sources. The threat to the Kingdom finally arrives with the appearance of a rival money group and they are ostracized after a vicious battle. But they regain Castle Rock at the end.

    MONKEY KINGDOM has more story that is a minus point for younger audiences who might not understand what is happening. There are less stunning sights to behold compared to OCENAS or EARTH. But director Linfield has included other animals in the picture such as timbre bears, a 7-foot monitor lizard and yes, nasty human beings.

    MONKEY KINGDOM is typical Disney. The violence is kept to a minimum, such as the scene in which the monitor lizard takes one infant monkey as prey or how sex is omitted as to how Maya suddenly has baby Kip with Kumar her suitor.

    The best bits of the films are the informative bits that most audiences are unfamiliar with. These include the monkeys swimming underwater looking for food in a murky pond or feeding on a flying termite frenzy. The film is shot in beautiful Sri Lanka in the lush rain forests.

    If interested in watching this film, it is best to see it during he opening week as Disneynature will make a donation from a portion of your ticket price to Conservational International as they did in their other films.

    Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xasvQYdvSD0

    TRUE STORY (USA 2015) ***

    Directed by Rupert Goold

    truestoryba

    Who would expect that the latest film from stoner comedians Jonah Hill (21 JUMP STREET, 22 JUMP STREET) and James Franco (PINEAPPLE EXPRESS, THE INTERVIEW)

    be such a serious film that there is not even one hint of humour? 

    Their latest film demonstrates that truth is stranger than fiction.

    Based on the book by Michael Finkel, the plot follows ex-NewYork Times reporter Finkel (Hill) just after being fired from his job for fabricating a cover story. Finkel attempts to redeem himself when he learns that convicted child killer Christian Longo (Franco) has impersonated him, using his name in the past. Finkel visits Longo in prison befriending him, hoping, as he puts it, “Maybe you could tell me what it is like to be me.” Finkel believes Longo to be innocent but is Longo just lying all the time and using Finkel? The answer, though rather obvious, is kept from the audience in the manipulative but well-written script by Goold and David Kaiganich, revealing the answer only at the very end. So, TRUE STORY plays as a whodunit.

    The script contains neat bits that build up on the characters and film’s plot. The poker game going on in Finkel’s NY Times office emphasizes the risks he takes in life - both in the fabrication of the African story and in the taking up of Longo’s cause. Longo’s phone call to Jill highlights Longo’s manipulative behaviour.

    Director Goold’s debut feature is an impressive one. Having a background in Shakespeare and London Theatre, it is not surprising that his film turns out dead serious. Despite the story being a two-handler, Goold brings his film out into the open as much as possible, showing Finkel’s girl Jill’s (Felicity Jones) Montana cottage, Mexico and into the court and visiting prison cell. He is fond of using closeups to emphasize the temperamental state of his characters, closeups obviously not possible in a theatre stage production.

    TRUE STORY could have been made into a straight documentary or a film with its story told straight. Goold’s film emphasizes, like the story how easy it to fabricate lies to cover the truth and how fine the line is between perceived right and wrong. TRUE STORY plays the same way with the audience with the result of an impressive though over serious film.

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

     

    BEST BETS:

    Best Film Opening: True Story

    Drama: '71

    Action: Kingsman: The Secret Service

    Foreign Language: Wild Tales (Spain/Argentina); The Resurrection of a Bastard (Netherlands); White God (Hungary)

    Animation: Paddington

    Comedy : What We Do in the Shadows

    Best documentary: The Salt of the Earth

    Horror: It Follows

  • This Week's Film Reviews (Apr 10, 2015)

    THE LONGEST RIDE is the big romance film opening this week.

    For those not into this sort of thing, there are plenty else to choose from.  Some good films opening that include THE YOUNG AND PRODIGIOUS T.S. SPIVETCUT BANK and the doc THE SALT OF THE EARTH.

    longestrideposterbatsspivetposterbacutbankposterbadannycollinsposterba

    Cinefranco the French film festival in Toronto also opens in its 18th year.

    FILM REVIEWS:

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

    cloudsba

    A smart script written about women on the dual theme of aging vs. youth and life imitating art written by director Olivier Assayas deserves better but unfortunately fails to attain the height it seeks to achieve.  Part of this is due to the complexity of the plot but also due to main lead actress Juliette Binoche’s annoying character.

    The centre of the story is Maria Enders (Juliette Binoche), asked to perform in a revival of the lesbian play that made her famous twenty years ago.  But back then she played the role of Sigrid, an alluring young girl who disarms and eventually drives her boss Helena to suicide. Now she is being asked to step into role of the older Helena.  She departs with her assistant (TWILIGHT’s Kristen Stewart) to rehearse in Sils Maria; a remote region of the Alps.  A young Hollywood starlet with a penchant for scandal is to take on the role of Sigrid.  Maria finds herself at loggerheads with her (Chloe Grace Moretz).

    Though I admire Bincoche in many other other films, her portrayal as ageing stage star leaves much to be desired.  For one, for a character that sophisticated and learned in life’s lessons, she comes across as crass (laughing too loudly and expressing outwardly too many times her emotions) and common.   The audience is supposed to side and feel sympathetic for this character, but Binoche’s performance does not allow it.  Kristen Stewart steals the show as her super-efficient and patient personal assistant.

    There is a lot of class and high society living displayed in the film.  The frequency use of classical scores and the stunning cinematography gives the film a classy atmosphere.

    Though the play Maria is playing in is a lesbian one in which  she plays a lesbian character, her Maria character and other characters are all straight.  The lesbian undertones are still present lying just beneath the surface of the proceedings in terms on envy, playing, jealousy and other human elements.

    There are parts of the script that are just plain brilliant.  The sudden disappearance of the personal assistant in the mountains with no explanation given, obviously a reflection of life imitating art as the actress’s young lover in the play had the same fate occur.  The spilling of the cloud of Sils Maria into the valley signalling a final escape is not only gorgeously shot bit instrumental in Assayas’ metaphor on his characters.

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

    CUT BANK (USA 2014) ****
    Directed by Matt Shakman

    cutbankba

    The best film I saw last year is the very lengthy unreleased 200-minute French film LI’L QUINQUIN by Bruno Dumont. That film and CUT BANK share certain similarities. Both films are set in a rural small town (CUT BANK is a small town in Montana, USA) which are suddenly burdened by a series of murders. Both films have a not too bright sheriff assigned to solve the murders. Whereas, the former film is classic Dumont, which means that it is mostly accessible to critics, CUT BANK is not much an art film. As a critic, I loved the black humour, the unexpected twists, great acting of CUT BANK but cannot understand why the general public (considering the current low rating on rotten tomatoes) do not like it.

    CUT BANK is reputed to be the coldest spot in the nation. Ironically, the film does not feature a single scene of snow. And though the film is entirely set in the U.S., the film is shot entirely in Edmonton and Innisfree in Alberta, Canada.

    CUT BANK bears a similar theme to the excellent forgotten Robert Mandel 1983 film INDEPENDENCE DAY (not the sci-fi disaster Emmerich film of the same name.) Both films deal with the theme of escaping a small town to make a better life in the big city. In CUT BANK, A small-town Montana mechanic, Dwayne McLaren (Liam Hemsworth) yearns to move to the big city regardless of whatever means possible.  Dwayne works as a mechanic for his girlfriend's father (Billy Bob Thornton) but it seems he'll never save enough cash to fulfill his dream and migrate to a warmer climate. Everything changes when Dwayne accidentally videotapes what appears to be the murder of elderly postal worker Georgie Wits (Bruce Dern) while shooting a DIY tourism advert.  Anyone who provides evidence of the killing of a US postal employee will receive a $100,000 reward, which means that this tragedy could spell financial triumph for Dwayne.  All he needs to do is to show postal inspector Joe Barrett (Oliver Platt) the body — a task that proves more difficult than anticipated. Especially when a twist n the plot reveals that he staged the fake murder in the first place and that Wits is really alive. Enter a real weirdo, Derby Milton (Michael Stuhlbarg from the Coen’s Brothers’ A SERIOUS MAN) who begins killing one human after another in search of his parcel that has gone missing for reason of the incident. Turns out this weirdo is incredibly intelligent and efficient as a killing machine. The smallest town has the biggest secrets!

    The film’s plot twists right and left and a surprise is always around the corner. The editing is impressive (intercutting of a killer banging a shut door to a beauty pageant contestant twirling around), often heightening the oddness of the events.

    The atmosphere of small town America is effectively captured from the small town friendliness to the quirky characters that abound. The dialogue helps. The visiting postal inspector (Oliver Platt) claims the best steak can always be found in one of these small town restaurants and claims the best peach cobbler is served right here in the hospital food court.

    Performances are priceless. John Malkovich plays the inept sheriff ( brilliantly written character by scriptwriter Roberto Patino) who knows he is not too bright. He make it up by working hard to the book and being efficient, at least at following the rules and handling a weapon. The result is a not so bright and very efficient sheriff, something we do not see often in a film. Bruce Dern is also excellent as the rather nasty postal worker that everyone else in town thinks is sweet. But the best prize performance comes from Michael Stuhlbarg, who mumbles all his lines to great relish as the mentally challenged genius killer who somehow figures everything out, another complex character.

    CUT BANK is deliciously evil, funny and totally off-beat as a murder mystery set in a small town filled with the most bizarre characters. This is a real gem of a movie and a major surprise in entertainment.

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

    DANNY COLLINS (USA 2014) **

    Directed by Dan Fogelman

    Imagined

    Inspired by the true story of folk singer Steve Tilston, the film DANNY COLLINS is about an aging 1970s rock singer by the name of Danny Collins (Al Pacino). What is supposed to get the story moving is the discovery of a letter written to him by John Lennon unveiled by Collins’ manager Frank Grubman (Oscar Winner Christopher Plummer).

    The film begins with Danny Collins performing his hit song ‘Hey Baby Doll’ in front of an enthusiastic audience. Danny wants to clean up his act, putting away his coke and striving to write more serious songs. He wishes a reconciliation with his daughter Samantha (Jennifer Garner) who is currently married to a distraught Tom (Bobby Cannavale) who hates Danny’s guts. 

    Fogelman’s directorial debut is a lacklustre one that just tells the film’s story in a straight forward fashion. Pacino does a good turn in the rendering of the song ‘Hey Baby Doll’, but apart from lots of brooding, there is nothing really special in this Pacino act.

    Danny’s heartfelt journey to rediscover his family and find love with Mary (Annette Bening), a manager at the Hilton where he stays forms the plot of the film. But one can hardly sympathize with a character who is so fickle that he would give away his expensive Mercedes to the parking valet at the Hilton. His sudden drive for redemption after receiving Lennon’s letter is a hardly credible excuse.

    The film is obviously littered with Lennon songs including his most famous ‘Imagine’. ‘Hey Baby Doll’ is an original song written for the film and performed by Pacino himself.

    DANNY COLLINS is a barely watchable film, strictly for Pacino fans.  

    DANNY COLLINS is also the first feature of new upcoming distributor Bleecker Street.

    Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AndERTFMYd4

    THE LONGEST RIDE (USA 2015) ***
    Directed by George Tillman Jr.

    longestrideba

    Based on the novel of the same name by Nicholas Sparks and arguably one of the best of his works, THE LONGEST RIDE tells the story of the star-crossed love affair between two very different characters. One is Luke (Clint Eastwood’s son, Scott) and the other Sophia (Britt Robertson) a swotter who spends her time putting her art career first. They have a chance meeting at a rodeo. It is interesting to note how movie love affairs always begin with a low probability chance encounter. Sophia is from immigrant parents whereas Luke is pure American cowboy. Like his late father, Luke is a rodeo bull rider who wants to be the top 25 best in America. His mother (Lolita Davidovich) wants him to give it up owing to a past head injury.

    Luke and Sophia begin a torrid (is there any other kind?) love affair. They (again, by chance) rescue an old man, Ira (Alan Alda) from a near fatal car accident. Sophia and Ira begin a rare friendship in which she reads him his old love letters (his poor eyesight conveniently prevents him from reading his own letters). The film flashes back to tell the intertwining romance between the young Ira (Jack Huston) and Ruth (Oona Chaplin). Ira and Ruth’s love story inspires the young couple’s.

    So, the ambitious films span generations of two intertwining love stories. It explores the challenges and infinite rewards of enduring love. For those who would give the romantic drama genre a big shrug, stay away from this film with these two love stories moving at a slow pace.

    But on the plus side, the stories are quite interesting. Ira and Ruth’s story allows the film to become a part period piece, with its soft lighting creating a very romantic mood. The childless couple aids a young boy which strains their relationship but love prevails. The rodeo scenes are well edited offering the film a few moments of genuine excitement. The huge differences between art and brawn makes an effective obstacle that Luke and Sophia eventually overcome. Needless to say, THE LONGEST RIDE is a tear jerker weepie, so bring along the Kleenex.

    Acting wise, hunky Eastwood would make his father proud. Robertson does a good job as the heroine in a role that commands respect from a male audience, a rarity in films these days. But the prized performances come from Davidovich who has not been seen for a while as well as Alan Alda who delivers a very respectable one.

    THE LONGEST RIDE makes good marketing and financial sense. It is based on a very well-known author’s novel that should have a wide fan base. The film is moderately budgeted at $30 million with a good cast that costs a moderate salary. The film is released in a period in which there is little competition from other romantic films. The publicity involving cutie pie hunk Scott Eastwood is already getting all the girls swooning. THE LONGEST RIDE should be a good money making hit for 20th Century Fox which had a recent bad spate of films (PENGUINS OF MADAGASCAR, the last NIGHT AT THE MUSEUM film and the Moses disaster, EXODUS: GODS AND KINGS).

    Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FUS_Q7FsfqU

    ROAD HARD (USA 2014) **

    Directed by Adam Carolla and Kevin Hench

    roadhardba

    ROAD HARD is a semi-autobiographical comedy made by Adam Carolla about something he is familiar with - the hard life of a stand up comedian. He plays Bruce Madsen, a comic who once had a hit television show but is now reduced to doing stand-up in small clubs and on the road. He is extremely jealous of his old pal, Jack Taylor (Jay Mohr) who has made it big with his own late night host show on television. In real life, this is where Carolla, himself a stand-up comic actually stands.

    ROAD HARD traces Madsen’s journey trying to get off the road - hard. He has a vile agent (Larry Miller) but his own worst enemy is probably himself. It also does not help that he is reaching 50.

    ROAD HARD is funny with many laugh-out loud moments especially during his stand-up routines in the film. But his film appears weak in narrative and meanders around without focus. It does not help that the film is predictable with his character obviously getting the girl (Dianne Farr) at the end. The bit about him having to decide between girl and career is also predictable though Carolla does attempt to put in a surprise with the host of the hit game show turning out to be someone else. The film has the feeling of hastily being put together, reflecting the way Madsen never prepares his material in the story.

    Carolla shows how difficult show business is. The constant touring, the stay in cheap hotels and the obnoxious fans do not help. Bruce Madsen never properly prepares his material and improvises too often. But Carolla’s worst mistake is trying to make a happy feeling film based on a really self-centred, often obnoxious comedian in a business he apparently despises.

    Carolla also puts Madsen in comedic set-ups that shows his characters’ worst. Madsen insults the poor hotel desk clerk for doing her duty when she finds that he has been smoking in the smoke-free establishment and shows himself as an animal-hater on the plane (see image above). It is also difficult to like or have respect for someone who lives in a garage who constantly sneaks int his ex-wife’s home, even though that sounds like a comical situation.

    Carolla must have got a lots of help from his multitude of fans and friends. I have never seen such a long list of people thanked before in a film, looking at the closing credits. That perhaps is the biggest surprise of Carolla’s film.

    The film contains a nice cameo from Howie Mandel. Those who are familiar with stand-up comedy will get the inside joke when Mandel refuses to shake Madsen’s hand in the film.

    ROAD HARD turns out a sour and occasionally boring comedy about a character no one really cares about. Everyone also knows how difficult show business is and the film only sets out to prove what everyone already knows. The film has a bit of romance, comedy and drama that totals nothing substantial.

    Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=M---zvyUaK4

    THE SALT OF THE EARTH (Brazil/France 2013) ****
    Directed by Wim Wenders and Juliano Rebeiro Salgado

    saltoftheearthba

    Wim Wenders is the acclaimed German director who recently delved into the documentary genre with successful films as BUENA VISTA SOCIAL CLUB and PINA. Photographer Sebastião Salgado is an equally well-known photographer in his arts circle with exhibitions curated around the world. THE SALT OF THE EARTH sees both artists together, forging both an educational and stunning portrait of mankind and the planet. The theme of the film changes from hopeless to hope so that it ends on a happy note - a Hollywood style ending. The film is directed by both Wenders and Salgado’s son Juliano Robeiro.

    For the last 40 years, Sebastião Salgado has been travelling through the continents, in the footsteps of an ever-changing humanity. He has witnessed some of the major events of our recent history; international conflicts, starvation and exodus, which is dealt with in Wenders’ first half or so of the film. Then as Sebastião Salgado embarks on the discovery of pristine territories, of wild fauna and flora and of grandiose landscapes as part of a huge photographic project, which is a tribute to the planet's beauty, the film takes on a different perspective. This is how the film goes.

    There are two contrasting aspects to the film. One is the educational and informative that gives the audience a chance to learn and see things seldom known to the majority of the world. For example, the film begins in a part of the world called Serra Pelada, where workers in the 1980’s climb up and down treacherous terrain for the purpose of mining gold. The other aspect is the suffering of man that is difficult to take, as horror is never a sight to behold. The men in the mines work themselves to death in extreme conditions, often never earning a cent, depending on how luck befalls them.

    Wenders alternates between black and white and colour as well as moving to still images. The results are stupendous.

    Intermingled with images, is the story of the Salgado, which is equally interesting. Salgado was educated as an economist, but photography took over. His wife Leila, sold everything and together, they curated their work and eventually gained fame and success. It is inspiring to see both succeed in their field of dreams. With early shots of the couple in their youth to the current, where both are now old, it is a lifelong work.

    The film’s most disturbing bits are the famine and genocide photographs. Africa is Salgado’s favourite continent but it is also the most savage. The sight of the starved, murdered and dead bodies are not for the faint hearted. At one point, Salgado terms the human race as the worst and most disgusting of the species. But the film turns inspirational when Salgado returns to his family farm in Brazil, then a wasteland. When he transplants the tree seedlings and brings back the green paradise, he shows the hope in the planet as well as in man.

    THE SALT OF THE EARTH is a fascinating experience and an unforgettable documentary. It is not an easy film to take but it is an essential journey.

    Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jMb7eWaBVvQ

    THE YOUNG AND PRODIGIOUS T.S. SPIVET (France/Canada 2013) ****

    Directed by Jean-Pierre Canet

    tsspivetba

    The young adventure film based on the book The Selected Works of T.S. Spivet, written by Reif Larsen is the perfect vehicle for French director Jean-Pierre Canet. The lead character is a 10-year-old prodigy with a passion for cartography and scientific inventions.  As apparent in Canet’s first debut hit DELICATESSEN, it is the numerous gadgets that make both films shine. His new film provides lots of opportunities to showcase innovative props, the best being the star invention - the perpetual motion machine that wins the boy fame. T.S. Spivet is invited to a reception in his honour at the Smithsonian Museum where he is expected to give a speech. So, he runs away from his home in small town Montana, hitching a ride on a train to Washington, D.C.

    The story is very simple comprising of T.S.’s journey from the plains of Montana to Chicago. But there is much to read in between the lines of the story. No one in the family pays any attention to the boy because of the accident. The boy channels the neglect into developing his inventive skills, which is comically put down in school. There is a hilarious scene in which he puts down his teacher. He figures to run away from home as no one would miss him, and creates a family (like the hobo) on the way. This is a nice blend of sad and happy in the story.

    The journey provides good comedic set-ups and suspense moments (the kid running away from cops) that more than makes up from the film’s loose narrative.

    There are lots in the film to intrigue audiences. For one, it is a film on dreams and a coming-of-age story. T.S. is achieving his dream of fame and fortune. His sister, Gracie (Niamh Wilson) also dreams of becoming Miss America. The black humour, characteristic in many Canet’s films is all present. T.S. has been involved in the ‘accidental’ death of his twin brother in a gunshot gone off in a barn. T.S.’s mother (Helena Bonham Carter) collects insects while the father (Callum Keith Rennie) is complete opposite in character, being a real cowboy.

    For Canet fans, the odd characters, the mechanical gadgets, dark humour found in his most famous films like DELICATESSEN, LA CITE DES ENFANTS PERDUS and ALIEN: RESURRECTION are present. His regular actor Dominic Pinon has a cameo role here as the train hobo, Two Clouds who tells stories to young Spivet.

    Kyle Catlett is simply adorable as the misunderstood genius. Helena Bonham Carter is excellent as his weird mother, Dr. Clair unable to show the love he deserves while the seldom seen Judy Davis is in top form as the manipulative Jibsen.

    Appropriately shot in 3D, Canet’s film utilizes every opportunity to celebrate the feature. This is one of the most stunning 3D film made in a long time. From the mechanical movements of the machines, to the pollen of the flowers in the fields of county America to practically everything, the 3D is used to full effect.

    Canet’s latest film of a young boy’s journey into discovery and dreams come true turns out to be as charming as his AMELIE with the added bonus of quirkiness,. Simply wonderful is the best way to describe the film.

    Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wjOYX_a8GXw

     

    BEST BETS:

    Best Film Opening: Cut Bank

    Drama: '71

    Action: Kingsman: The Secret Service

    Foreign Language: Wild Tales (Spain/Argentina); The Resurrection of a Bastard (Netherlands); White God (Hungary)

    Animation: Paddington

    Comedy : What We Do in the Shadows

    Best documentary: The Salt of the Earth

    Horror: It Follows

  • This Week's Film Reviews (Apr 3, 2015)

    FURIOUS 7 roars into theatres this Easter weekend  Watch for Cinefranco - French films in Toronto that begin Apr 10th.

    WOMAN IN GOLD, LAST KNIGHTS and the GLEN CAMPBELL: I'LL BE ME doc also debut.

    furious7posterbawomaningoldposterbalastknightsposterbaglencampellba

     

    FILM REVIEWS:

    CAST NO SHADOW (Canada 2014) **

    Directed by Christian Sparks

    castnoshadowba

    Directed by Newfoundlander Christian Sparks and written by Joel Thomas Hynes who has a starring role in the film as the boy’s father, CAST NO SHADOW is a low budget Canadian feature that has a few bright moments.

    It is a coming-of-age story of Jude Traynor (Percy Hynes White), a 13-year-old boy trying to navigate life in an unnamed rugged seaside town. When Jude’s abusive father, Angus (Hynes) is sent to prison, Jude takes refuge with a local recluse named Alfreda (Mary-Colin Chisholm) who nurtures his active imagination, but warns against using it as a means of escape. When Jude’s father is released, he turns Jude against Alfreda with rumours of her involvement in Jude's mother’s mysterious death. Alfreda reveals what happens, but the film remains vague whether this is the real truth. Haunted by this truth, Jude lashes out at the few people he loves in a misguided effort to protect himself and prove his worth. But he finds himself trapped between the pressures of his criminal father, his dark imaginings, and the one friendship he has with Alfreda.

    The film benefits from the magnificent landscape of Labrador and Newfoundland where the film was shot. The sea, cliffs and craggy caves all add to the mystery and adventure of the story. Jude believes in trolls and that one is living in the cave at the bottom of the nearby cliff.

    Sparks’ film contains too many false alarms. At more than one instance does Jude awake from a terror that is exposed as a dream. The witch that Alfreda is reputed to be turns out false, with her in reality being a kindly old lonely woman. 

    A lot of the film’s weight lies in the performance of the boy, newcomer Percy Hynes White as troubled Jude. White is not a handsome kid, but one whose face depicts a troubled life. White delivers a worthy performance in the film.

    For a film shot in Newfoundland and Labrador and with a director from St. John’s it is weird that the town the characters are from is unnamed. It is assumed that it is an American town and not a Canadian one - a sorry state as Sparks’ film was championed by Canada’s own Micro-Budget Production program. This is evident in the one scene where Jude’s friend counts the money he obtained from selling eggs. The money he ruffles through are American, not Canadian notes.

    Sparks’ film suffers from the lack of a satisfactory and solid ending. After putting his audience thorough all of Jude’s troubles, one would expect some satisfactory closure. The script also contains a few loose ends, such as the reason Angus is so aggressive to his son, Jude. The violence that occurs in a key segment is also surprising and one wonders if the killing is necessary.

    CAST NO SHADOW is well shot and well acted but not well put together in terms of story. Perhaps Sparks’ second feature will prove himself a talent to watch.

    Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TTM647yOpOc&feature=youtu.be

    FURIOUS 7 (USA 2015) ***
    Directed by James Wan

    furious7ba

    At the start of FURIOUS 7, a furious Decard Shaw (Jason Statham) leaves an exploding London hospital vowing vengeance on all those good guys that have done harm to his little brother in the past furious films. Why the hospital is burning or exploding is never explained nor the reason of the brother’s death. It would be reasonable that some explanation be given or that the audience be reminded of what happened in the other six FAST AND FURIOUS movies. But director James Wan (who also did the SAW films) know that this is unnecessary. Besides, he has thrown all logic to the wind. Neither do the laws of Physics apply in his movie. Cars fly, drivers drive their cars off cliffs in the jungle and survive. The weirdest logic of it all is that Wan proves he can master an entertaining film despite a totally incoherent plot. Just bring on the fast cars, sexy women and non-stop action.

    The story involves Decard Shaw out to kill the FAST AND FURIOUS gang. To stop him, the leader Dominic (Diesel) has to help Frank Petty (Kurt Russell) steal back the biggest surveillance gadget from terrorist Jakande (Djimon Hounsou). In return, Petty will lend Dominic the gadget so he can track and kill Shaw before he kills the entire gang.

    The film contains the largest assortment of muscled actors - Johnson the largest, Statham, Diesel, Walker, Gibson, Bridges and lots of gorgeous female flesh like Rodriguez and Emmanuel. Both sexes should be satisfied. The film contains no shortage of awesome, unforgettable scenes. These include cars parachuting from a plane to the winding mountainous roads and driven off (have to be seen to be believed), a sexy girl fight between Michelle Rodrigues (GIRLFIGHT) and Ronda Rusey (MMA star) (proving that you don’t always need scratching or hair-pulling), a stunning sports car flying between top storeys of three high rise penthouses (again, have to be seen to be believed), one-on-one street-styled fights (Statham vs. Johnson and Statham vs. Diesel). The only thing missing, which audience will likely not even notice for reason of the film’s fast pace is a sex scene.

    There are no drag racing or any other type of car race featured, unlike in the other films. But cars are used here on any excuse. If there is a computer gadget, it has to be hidden in a car. No matter where a car is, even in a penthouse, it has to be driven.

    Wan has never made the Saudis look sexier - both the males and females. Shooting in Abu Dhabi showcases an exotic and different world - full of shameless luxuries seldom on display.

    This is the first film with Brit Jason Statham playing the bad buy. It looks weird on film when Statham is fighting, say Dwayne Johnson or Vin Diesel. One wants him to win half the time.

    The film is dedicated to the late Paul Walker, star of all the past FAST AND FURIOUS films, who died in November 2013 from a car accident. FURIOUS 7, the best of the lot makes a worthy tribute to the handsome actor. FURIOUS 7 is supposed to be he last of the series. A fantastic ride, no doubt but will this be the last or will there be a reboot?

    Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Skpu5HaVkOc

    GLEN CAMPBELL: I’LL BE ME (USA 2014) ***
    Directed by James Keach

    glencampellba

    This Glen Campbell documentary follows one of America’s greatest country and western singers on his farewell tour.  Campbell's struggles with Alzheimer's disease.

    I”LL BE ME is a film of two parts. One is comprised of the farewell tour concerts in which the audience is given the spectacle of the man at his best. When songs like Rhinestone Cowboy and Wichita Lineman are performed by Campbell, the film soars. The other part is the artist coping with Alzheimer’s disease. As he loses his memory, it becomes tougher to focus less perform. Keach’s film shows the love of his family, particularly his wife as well as his fans offering full support. Keach is keen to show too the artist’s sense of humour as well as personal problems such as forgetting where exactly the loo is.

    There have been many films made about Alzheimer’s like Sarah Polley’s AWAY FROM HER and the recent released STILL ALCE with Julianne Moore. But there is nothing more moving than the real thing - as it is does not rely on theatrics, fictional dialogue and imagines circumstances. Campbell’s medical condition is the heart felt!

    During the filming, Campbell was sued by a Los Angeles production company which claimed that he had broken an agreement to film a documentary with them. Doubt that their film would do better. So far, Rotten Tomatoes reports that the film has received a 100% "Fresh" rating, with 17 positive reviews and no negative ones.

    Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LAtgraWN5-I

    LAST KNIGHTS (USA 2014) **

    Directed by Kazuaki Kiriya

    lastknightsba

    It looks like the Koreans and Czechs have taken over King Arthur and the knights of the round table. So, despite the dead seriousness of the enterprise of honour, glory, loyalty and all that, the film is a mess in terms of plotting, characterization, atmosphere and logic.

    Raiden (Clive Owen) leads a band of loyal knights serving under their Master, Bartok (Morgan Freeman). Unfortunately they are ruled by a corrupt Emperor (Peyman Moaadi), not a King, who has given almost full authority to an even more corrupt and evil First Minister called Gezza Mothh (Aksel Hennie). After Master Bartok is beheaded for some silly reasoning called ‘ego’, the knights go into hiding while Gezza is under watchful eye for any uprising. The uprising finally takes place. Using false documents - yes this sounds really silly - the knights get into the castle grounds to set up their weaponry when they finally attack at night. Of course, no surprise here, Gezza is defeated, but not without many casualties.

    For an action film, there is more drama than fights. The only action sequences take place towards the end of the film when the knights storm the castle. Japanese director Kiriya keeps the tension taut during the drama as in the Master’s speech during his execution. The film is mostly devoid of humour. The little bits of humour are found in the sexual innuendo dialogue between Raiden and his wife and in another scene in a drinking establishment.

    Story-wise the script contains lots of loopholes. For one, if the knights could have equally attacked during the day with less casualties. The scene in which the knights are handed out fake document is laughable. The Emperor is noticeably missing during the attack on the castle. This man also seems like a slimy character with no backbone and one wonders how he got the job and respect as Emperor. As this appears to be a Korean financed film, a lot of Koreans appear in the film, making a film about knights look strange. It would be no surprise if pork bone soup was served during one of the banquets. The architecture depicted in the segments are also too new and modern for a film set in medieval times. The place and time setting of the film are conveniently left out.

    The result is an unconvincing tale of knights fighting for their Master. The film is weird enough that it is not boring, but that is not saying much for the film.

    Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=e44QilQbvB0

    WOMAN IN GOLD (USA/UK 2015) ***

    Directed by Simon Curtis

    WOMAN IN GOLD

    WOMAN IN GOLD is based on the true story of the late Maria Altmann - she died in 2011 - (played by Oscar winner Helen Mirren) an elderly Holocaust survivor living in Los Angeles who, together with her young lawyer, E. Randol Schoenberg (Ryan Reynolds), fought the government of Austria for almost a decade to reclaim Gustav Klimt's iconic painting of her aunt, Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer I. The painting, the WOMAN IN GOLD of the film title was confiscated from her relatives by the Nazis in Vienna just prior to World War II.  The film traces Altmann’s legal battle all the way to the Supreme Court of the United States, which ruled in her favour in Republic of Austria v. Altmann (2004).

    WOMAN IN GOLD plays out very alike last year’s PHILOMENA. In the latter, Judi Dench plays an Irish woman, complete with Irish accent in a desperate search for her missing daughter with the help of a reporter played by Steve Coogan. This time, it is Helen Mirren on the desperate quest, playing an Austrian Jew with German accent, looking to retrieve her stolen painting, with the help of her lawyer. What is missing in WOMAN IN GOLD is clear when one recalls the previous film. In WOMAN IN GOLD, the two lead characters are perfect. Lawyer Randol is of faultless character, giving up his meaningless job to pursue what is right, supported completely by his wife and one can do no wrong. PHILOMENA’s reporter however, is an egoistic nuisance half the time, and often admonished by Dench for his lack of character. The moral question of abortion and abuse is examined in the former film while all the morality is force fed to the audience in the second film.

    It is no doubt that Curtis hits (rather than presses) all the right buttons. But too many and too often, leaving nothing for the audience to think about. The music and segments force the audience to feel a certain away and the funny punch lines also tell the audience when to laugh and when to feel good. It does not help that the story is predictable. One knows that Maria Altmann will eventually win her case despite all the obstacles the script has laid out before her and her lawyer. The Austrians are entirely depicted as the bad guys, except for one (Daniel Bruhl) who helps them, Nazi-lovers who will not admit to defeat or telling the truth. The script also allows them to be the recipients of all the film’s insults which of course, are funny to lighten the film’s mood.

    The script is written by openly gay-Brit Alexi Kaye Campbell best known as the promising author of the play PRIDE. The dialogue is often too play perfect for it to feel authentic. Example is when Randol’s law firm senior tells him after Randol tells him that he has a feeling about the at restitution case: “Since when do we pay you to have feelings.”  The perfect speeches do to help either. The reason for Maria’s quest is in her words: “Because of the young.. they need to believe.”

    Production design wise, the film does looks stunning, especially the Nazi parade when the film flashes back to the war days. WOMAN IN GOLD shows Mirren again in an impeccable performance, rising again above her material.

    Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=geJeX6iIlO0

     

     

     

     

     

    BEST BETS:

    Drama: '71

    Action: Kingsman: The Secret Service

    Foreign Language: Wild Tales (Spain/Argentina); The Resurrection of a Bastard (Netherlands); White God (Hungary)

    Animation: Paddington

    Comedy : What We Do in the Shadows

    Best documentary: Merchants of Doubt

    Horror: It Follows

  • Cinefranco 2015

    CINEFRANCO 2015 (10th -19th April)

    Now in its 18th year, Cinefranco is one of the longest running film festivals in Toronto. One must give praise and credit to the ever cheerful and tireless directrice of the festival, Marcelle Lean who is always present to say ‘bonjour’ to Cinefranco fans. It is hard to survive in this festival eats festival world, but Cinefranco has got a loyal base of sponsors that come back year after year not to mention a good selection of films from France, Quebec, Belgium and Africa.

    With 22 feature films and 7 shorts, including many award-winning and highly acclaimed films from festivals around the world, there is much to enjoy for French filmgoers, from comedy fans to thriller aficionados.  Films from Belgium, Canada, France, Tunisia, The United Arab Emirates and Morocco will grace the big screen, including 7 North American Premieres, 9 English Canadian Premieres, 1 Canadian Premiere and 1 Ontario Premiere. 

    Last Year’s Cinefranco was in my opinion one of the best due to the high quality of commercial films screened. You win some, you lost some. One cannot expect best films every year, but last year had the best comedy I and seen in the year 9 MOIS FERME, Marcel Pagnol’s FANNY and MARUIS and great period action dramas like ANGELIQUE. There are excellent films this year, not to worry. This site hopes to aid you in selecting the good ones, unless you are a true Cinefranco fan with the festival pass.

    One big bonus this year is the drop in ticket prices. The best deal is the festival pass. The films are screened at the Bloor Hot Docs Cinema, so there are lots of seats and little chance of a sell out.

    For complete program information, ticket pricing and bookings, please check the Cinefranco website at:

    http://2015.cinefranco.com/en/

    This site is grateful to Cinefranco and Virginia Kelly Publicity for providing screeners for the capsule reviews below:-

    And don’t forget to say ‘Bonjour’ to Marcelle.

    Bon Cinema!

    CAPSULE REVIEWS:

    Please note:  Capsule reviews will be aded daily.  Check the stite for updates!!

    (Trailer links provided at the end of each review)

    ALMOST FRIENDS (ON A FAILLI ETRE AMIES) (France 2014) ****
    Directed by Anne Le Ny

    amosrfriendsba

    Every year at Cinefranco comes a major surprise. ALMOST FRIENDS is it - and my fav pic of the festival. Two French divas (Karin Viard and Emmanuelle Devos) play two middle-aged French women who prey on each other for a much needed change in they lives. Carole (Devos) is unhappily married and owns a Michelin star restaurant with her alpha male husband while Marithe (Viard) is her career alternative trainer who wants him. Marithe arranges for Carole to be with her lover while she attempts to steal her husband away from her. What makes the film work is obviously the chemistry between the two fabulous actresses - which is nothing short of amazing. They are funny to the T and evokes laugh-out loud belly laughs. The best thing about Le Ny’s film (she also gave herself a supporting role in the film) is the fact that this is a feminist film celebrating women at their best in their careers and independence without being preachy or annoying. The male characters are also well written and not mere pawns or idiots, getting what they want in the end, as well as the women. A brilliant film (though looking so simple) in many ways and thoroughly hilarious and entertaining.

    Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Fi83lojVWEs

    GERONIMO (France 2014) ***

    Directed by Tony Gatlif

    geronimoba

    Director Tony Gatlif’s l(LATCHO DROM, MONDO, SWING) latest film is a Romeo and Juliet tragedy (Turks vs. Gypsies) in which everyone loses because of family honour and nonacceptance. The film begins innocently with two passionate lovers Nil and Lucky (who is not lucky in the remotest sense) escaping on a motorcycle. They come from warring families. Nil’s brother wants to kill her and Lucky to keep the family honour. In the midst of all the turmoil comes Geronimo, who tries her uttermost best to bring peace to the families. But tragedy occurs when she hides the lovers away at a hideout, aided by hre Spanish friend (Sergi Lopez). Gatlif incorporates lots of dances and music, a lot of them gyspy-style. His film occasionally feels like a more violent version of WEST SIDE STORY only with less dancing.

    Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2gEqcf7PcNI

    THE EASY WAY OUT (L’ART DE LA FUGUE) (France 2014) ***

    Directed by Brice Cauvin

     easywayoutba

    This French comedy on a dysfunctional family concerns three brothers - all drama queens, one of which is gay. They face the music of their own drama, worsened by meddling parents. The gay one, Antoine (which the film concentrates primarily on) is cheating on his partner while accepting his lover’s proposal to buy a house and settle. Meanwhile, Gérard who works with his mother cannot stop loving his ex-wife and will not date anyone new.  Louis is engaged to marry Julie but is having an affair with another. It is good to see Guy Marchand who has not been seen a long time as the patriarch of the family. Based on Stephen MCauley’s novel, director Cauvin (who will be present to introduce his film) keeps the film fresh throughout by moving all the action fast and characters interesting. This is Cinefranco’s closing night film.

    Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5dYVgaj8U6c

    GERONIMO (Franc

    JACQUES A VU (Belgium 2014) **

    Directed by Xavier Diskneuve

    jacquesavuba

    Couple Brice and Lara move to Chapon-Laroche, a rural village far from the city bustle. They put all their money in an overpriced house that, they just learned, will sit near a Dutch theme park. Now they can say good-bye to living in peace!... Enters Brice’s cryptic cousin, Jacques, who, in a state of grace, kneels to look up to a divine vision.  Brice uses his cousin’s vision splendour to prevent the Dutch invasion by going all out to proved the authenticity which includes going to the Vatican.  Can a miracle save Chapon-Laroche?  But tourists eventually descend in droves to Chapon-Larohe after the vatican verifies the apparition as real.  Obviously, director Diskneuve attacks religion, commerce and several other targets.  But the film is filled with too many gags that are just plain stupid, unfunny or make no sense.  Whether the apparition is real or not does not matter to the story.  Eventually nothing else in the story makes any sense in this film.

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

     

    MAINTENANT OU JAMAIS (NOW OR NEVER) (France/Belgium 2014) **

    Directed by Serge Frydman

    noworneverba

    A simple film based on a simple premise that director Frydman believes too heavily in. A couple, Juliette (Leila Bekhi) and Charles Lesage (Arthur Dupont) live the golden life with their 2 children: he is a financier and she a piano teacher. They are soon to move away from noisy Paris into a big house. All of a sudden, everything comes crashing down: Charles is fired; the bank threatens to repossess the house; Juliette is mugged by Manu (Nicolas Duvauchelle), a street thug. Juliette is so obsessed with losing the new house that she convinces Manu to help her rob the ATMs where her husband used to work. The film is slow but Frydman holds the tension up to a point. But he opts for drama rather than suspense. But his film does not cut it for drama. The impetus for her robbing a bank, knowing nothing about crime for the sake of a house out in the country is just not credible enough. The actual heist is too simplified though something does go wrong. The loose end with Manu left hanging does not leave for a satisfactory ending, which is much needed in this film.

    Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=f7q74q76HBE

    NEXT TIME I’LL AIM FOR THE HEART (LA PROCHAINE FOIS JE VISERAI LA COEUR) (France 2014) ****
    Directed by Cédric Anger

    nexttimeba

    Adapted from the novel Un assassin au-dessus de tout soupçon by Yvan Stefanovitch and set in 1970s Oise, France, the film tells the true story of Alain Lamare, a police officer who was later revealed to be a horrific serial killer. The name of the gendarme has been changed to Franck, but the story is still as disturbing. The film begins with the killer running down a cyclist and then shooting and killing various hitchhikers. The gendarme investigating the serial killing happens to be the culprit revealed 30 minutes into the film. The film turns more macabre as the audience sees the warped mind of a crazed criminal at work. In real life, Alain Lamare has been put in a mental institution since his arrest. More disturbing is the fact that he woos an innocent Sophie (Ana Giradot) who wants to marry him. Guillaume Canet (Cesar winning director of the 2006 thriller TELL NO ONE) delivers an eerie unforgettable performance as the police efficient madman. Director Anger shoots his film in darker shades with the majority of scenes taking place after dusk in the countryside and in the dimly lit apartments or police stations, thus sustaining the dark mood of the story. An efficient taut thriller that unfortunately tells a true story.

    Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4YZPBO3jyNc

    LES NUITS L’ETE (SUMMER NIGHTS) (France 2014) ***1/2

    Directed by Mario Fanfani

    summernightsba

    Winner of the Queer Lion Award at the 2014 Venice Film Festival, LES NUITS D’ETE (SUMMER NIGHTS) is a very serious film about drag queens. Director Fanfani resists all the cheap, easy laughs that go with cross dressing to conjure up a very original period piece set in Metz of 1959 where a group of men come together at a secluded private villa they name Villa Mimi to form a small community. The articles they have to obey in order to ‘play’ as women are meaningful and includes a key one that says: “We are not born women but become women”. The key character is Michel Aubbertin (Guillaume De Tonquédec), a notary who gives up everything to realize his desire or urge or pleasure, however one wants to describe it. He lives with Helen (Jeanne Balibar) but escapes with another cross dresser and friend Jean Marie aka Flavia (Nicolas Bouchard).  A subplot involves a AWOLed soldier (Matthieu Spinosi) keeps interest maintained. Fanfani balances the drama and humour while keeping the audience entertained. Excellent period atmosphere with lots of cabaret musical numbers to keep the action up!

    Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4D_iYia6q3g

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

    Directed by Lucas Belvaux

    notmytypeba

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

    Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0rKI5AhdtBY

    TOKYO FIANCEE (Belgium/Canada/France 2014) ***
    Directed by Stefan Liberski

    tokyofianceeba

    A Belge, French an Canadian co-production, Liberski’s (BUNKER PARADISE) light romanic comedy would appear the perfect choice to open Cinefranco. A cross-cultural story involving Japanese who want to be French and voce versa. The story follows our 20-year old heroine, Amelie (Pauline Etienne) as she returns to Japan her birthplace. She earns a living initially by giving French lessons though her only pupil is Rimri (Taichi Inoue). They fall in love, get engaged while assimilating their cultures. The boy’s parents have mixed feelings on the marriage which is disrupted (every romance has obstacles) by a huge earthquake which forces Amelie to leave Japan and return to Europe. Etienne is perfect as the unlikely heroine who must face fate at the very end. Nice Cinefranco fluff, acceptable as that is all it is.

    Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fBcY9H8C9Zw

  • This Week's Film Reviews (Mar 27, 2015)

     

     

    Family or crass humour?  Dreamwork's HOME opens as well as the comedy GET HARD.  Two excellent foreign films WHITE GOD (Hungary) and THE RESURRECTION OF A BASTARD  (Netherlands) are definitely worth a look.

    homeposterbagethardposterbaqueenandcountryposterbathatguyposterbadannycollinsposterba

    FILM REVIEWS:

    BOYCHOIR (USA 2014) ****

    Directed by Francois Girard

    boychoirba

    There is much to enjoy and appreciate in the well-made BOYCHOIR, a drama that centres on 11-year old Stet (Garrett Wareing). It is a coming-of-age film, a story of redemption of his father (Josh Lucas), a musical film centred on choir singing (very rare these days) and an overall feel good movie. 

    Stet is an angry 11-year old who can sing like an angel. Left an orphan after his mother is killed in a car accident, Stet is set up by his wealthy father who had abandoned them both, in an East Coast musical boarding school. The father has a family with a wife and two daughters and does not want his illicit affair to come to light. Stet is upset with life but is smart to realize that the school and his gift of singing is his only way out. But Stet finds himself at odds with Choirmaster Carvelle (Dustin Hoffman), a disciplinarian of the old school. But Carvelle recognizes something in Stet's voice, and pushes the boy. It is perfect drama when two hard headed characters come into confrontation. Carvelle tells Stet off that he has squandered his talent while Stet calls Carvell an old man whose clock is ticking.

    The cast is nothing short of perfect. Hoffman is still likeable while being as stern as stern can be. Kathy Bates steals avery scene she is in, as the head of the school while Eddie Lizzard is a disgruntled egoistic fellow choir director. Newcomer Wareing is a complete angel in his role that wins the audience’s sympathy and love.

    The only complaint is that the story is a little similar to the old 1962 Disney film ALMOST ANGELS (alternatively titled BORN TO SING in the U.K. and Singapore where I had seen the film). That film centred on the Vienna Boys Choir and also had a subplot involving the enmity between the two best young choirboys. The story also involved problems with the boys changing of their voices at the age of 12 when they can no longer sing in their falsetto voices. This problem is overlooked in BOYCHOIR except for one or two brief segments when Stet is told off and the other when he wonders why the rigorous training when all that has been learnt will be rendered useless once his voice changes.

    The film builds up to a good climax with Stet singing the solo part in Handel’s Messiah, a piece that everyone loves to hear, time and again.

    This is Canadian director François Girard (THIRTY TWO SHORT FILMS ABOUT GLENN GOULD, SILK, THE RED VIOLIN) best film. Don’t let the film’s family label discourage you from viewing this film. BOYCHOIR is an assured piece of filmmaking in all departments, and pardon the pun, hits all the right notes.

    Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6dX47YOLyRs

    HOME (USA 2015) **1/2

    Directed by Tim Johnson

    homeba

    The image of the furry fat cat (called Pig in the film) resting on the head of pudgy alien Oh (voiced by TV’s THE BIG BANG THEORY Jim Parsons) says it all. The filmmakers are aiming at cuteness which is so apparent from start to end that it encompasses everything to the point of too much.

    The film deals with an alien race called Boovs who are always on the run to take over other planets in their escape from the Gorg, who for some reason (revealed only at the film’s end) are always after them. The Boovs take over Earth. When Oh, (Parsons) a Boov, lands on Earth and finds himself on the run from his own people, he forms an unlikely friendship with an adventurous girl named Tip (Rihanna) who is on a quest of her own to find her mother (Jennifer Lopez). Through a series of comic adventures with Tip, Oh comes to understand that being different and making mistakes is all part of being human. And while he changes her planet and she changes his world, they discover the true meaning of the word HOME.

    Tip and Oh begin their relationship with mutual disgust. But since they are not of the same species, the audience is at least spared from a silly romance. The one of friendship that ensues is at least tolerable.

    The voice characterizations by Steve Martin as Captain Smek and Jennifer Lopez as Tip’s mother are barely recognizable. Parson’s is instantly recognizable from his squeaky voice and smug remarks from The Big Bang Theory. But these are no match to the comedic genius of Mike Myers, Eddie Murphy and Antonio Banderas in the SHREK films.

    For a 3D film, with a theme of aliens taking over the Earth with a mother ship, there is plenty of opportunity of explosions and debris to be splattered out of the screen. The film is quite manic in noise and images which might not be the best film to to go to on an early morning. The kids during the promo screening appear pleased, judging from the way they added to the film’s soundtrack.

    The target audience for the film are younger children as the cuteness and colourful images should entertain with a story easier to comprehend. The message is also cute and applicable to the younger impressionable years. Adults have to contend with the goofiness for their humour and entertainment.

    Director Tim Johnson is well known as the director of ANTZ and OVER THE HEDGE, ok animated features but nothing too special like the THE LEGO MOVIE, SHREK or the recent PADDINGTON. Dreamwork’s last disappointment THE PENGUINS OF MADAGASCAR seems set for Dreamworks to play safe and rehash the formulaic safety in HOME. Cuteness, lots of mindless special effects, a plot involving saving the world, message on meaning of true friendship and ok songs, a few of which were already used hits. The beginning of HOME when Oh remarks “Today is the Best Day Ever”, together with accompanied song is a complete rip-off of the success of the formula of the song “Everything is Awesome” in THE LEGO MOVIE.

    Like Oh says many timesharing in the film in broken English “We are safety!” But Dreamworks may still have a hit by these standards.

    Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MyqZf8LiWvM

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

    itfollowsba

    David Robert Mitchell's (THE MYTH OF THE AMERICAN SLEEPOVER) second feature has a simple premise. A person is stalked by another for the purpose of murder. No one can see the stalker except the stalked unless this curse is passed on to someone else through sexual intercourse. The plot sounds nothing short of absurd, but Mitchell makes it all believable by creating a real scary atmosphere complete with sounds and a haunting repetitive 5/4 time signature soundtrack score.

    The latest victim is nineteen-year-old Jay (Maika Monroe) stuck with the sexually transmitted serial haunting. In the light of day, she is stalked, followed, and attacked by terrifying, half-naked figures that none of her friends can see. Jay eventually passes it to someone else who is willing to take the risk for her (or rather have sex with her for the price of death).  Monroe is quite drop dead gorgeous.

    IT FOLLOWS is basically a cheap rip-off of the zombie movie. It is cheaper in IT FOLLOWS as there in only one zombie needed and with minimal make-up. And the person playing it changes, so that if there is a sequel, another low paid newcomer can be hired.

    Though a bit slow paced for a horror film, director Mitchell keeps the scares coming steadily.  Horror fans will be pleased.

    Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QX38jXwnRAM

    QUEEN & COUNTRY (Ireland/France/Romania 2014) ***

    Directed by John Boorman

    queenandcountryba

    John Boorman’s (DELIVERANCE, THE GENERAL, ZARDOZ) long awaited sequel to his 1987 award winning critically acclaimed autobiographical HOPE AND GLORY took more time to hit the big screens than the boy character, Bill got to grow up.

    Bill Rohan (Callum Turner) is now 18 and at the start of the film, called in for 2 years of National Service. He befriends Percy (Caleb Landry Jones) on the first day of their conscription in what Bill (who loves the cinema) describes in Humphrey Bogart terms as: ‘the beginning of a beautiful friendship’. Though Percy ends up as quite the troublemaker, they stay true to their friendship, which is a high point in the film.

    Just as the two who are in commando basic training never get to be shipped overseas to fight (they are posted as typing instructors for military clerks), the film never sees any battles on the war front. As such, QUEEN & COUNTRY turns out to be a post war film with the only war going on being the Korean war in the background. The main battle they fight is the one against their superiors, notably a by-the-book regimental sergeant major, Bradley (David Thewlis of NAKED and HAPPY POTTER) and Major Cross (Richard E. Grant). Major Cross is always cross and his name hints at the humour derived from the character of Major Major Major Major in Joseph Heller’s satirical war novel CATCH-22 made into the Mike Nichol’s film.

    The film is beautifully shot bringing to life the period setting of post-war Britain of 1952. Boorman’s film is entirely watchable and easy to follow. But the trouble is that the film appears to lead nowhere. But it may be argued that this is an autobiographical story about Bill growing up, finding romance in the oddest of circumstances and him finding life’s bearings. But the film would benefit from a stronger narrative. Humour is provided primarily by Pat Shortt as the skiver Redmond.

    The big plus of the film is the depiction of post war trauma in a post war film that contains no battle scenes. The victim in this case is RSM Bradley who has covered up his post world war II stress by following very military order by the last letter till he is uncovered by the said two heroes. The one scene in which Bill visits the RSM in the military hospital is a very sad and real tragedy of post war trauma.

    The young actors Turner and Jones make up a believable troublemaking duo. While HOPE AND GLORY has Sarah Miles and John Hayman, Thewlis and Grant here steal the show. Sinead Cusack takes over the Sarah Miles role as mum while Hayman reprises the role of the father. Discerning cineastes will also be excited when they notice the framed family photo of the original cast from the opening credits of Hope and Glory in the background of scenes in the living room of the Rohan home.

    Boorman who eventually grew up to become the great film director that he is today is shown as Bill toying around with a camera at various points in the film. It is a fine nostalgic look at how he blossomed into the director of film classics like DELIVERANCE and HOPE AND GLORY. QUEEN & COUNTRY is a worthy tribute of a filmmaker on himself without too much ego thrown into the process.

    Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=y5oVLWqRSUU

    THE RESURRECTION OF A BASTARD (De Wederopstanding van een Klootzak)

    (Netherlands 2013) ****

    Directed by Guido van Drie

    resurrectionofabastardba

    Opening the 2013 Rotterdam Film Festival and wowing cinema art-house audiences since then, the oddly titled THE RESURRECTION OF A BASTARD is based on director Guido van Driel’s 2004 graphic novel Om mekaar in Dokkum. The film feels like a Tarantino film in sedate mode and this is a good thing. The bastard of the film title is shot and left for dead but is given a second chance (his resurrection).

    The first 20 minutes of film show the bastard Ronnie (a larger than life performance by Yorick van Wageningen) as the nicest guy imaginable. He is intolerant of the racial slurs made by his driver, Janus (Juda Goslinger), extremely polite even when served a grotesque looking dish of trout and pomegranates while always quiet and pensive. Janus remarks: “This is not the old Ronnie! He has totally changed”. The film flashback to what happened before with the title “The Old Ronnie” appearing on screen. 

    For what is expected to be a violent film, the graphic violence is minimal. Except for a few scenes of blood (Ronnie lying on toilet floor in a pool of blood), most of the violence is implied but not shown. There are no close-ups of the child slapping, woman hitting or the vacuum sucking out of an eye. But the thoughts are just as disturbing.

    The film tells multiple stories. Besides the story of gangster Ronnie working for the really bad man who goes by the name of James Joyce (the late Jeroen Willems,who the film is lovingly dedicated to), there is the one of of Eduardo (Goua Robert Grovogui ), a young asylum seeker from Angola who lives at the refugee centre in Dokkum and who works at a local farm. He is unable to talk about his experiences, but forms a gentle friendship with the farmer’s grandson, Manick. Another is an elderly couple who has a vendetta to complete.

    Director Van Driel introduces these these characters at random without notice. But before one can complain about the abrupt breaks in the story, it is also good to see how he interweaves all these bits together as the film finally comes together at the end. Small details (like a screwdriver hidden in the drop ceiling or a drawing of a hand and mouth, the coat-of-arms tattoo on a wrist) which appear inconsequential at several points in the film make their re-appearances later on.

    The film contains lots of Dutch references that North American audiences are not familiar with. One is the town of Dokkum in the province of Friesland. The history of refugees and the killing of a missionary (Saint Boniface at Frisia which is now part of the Netherlands) are referenced and make important points in the story. Though most of these are explained, one can imagine quite a few jokes that would be lost on non-Dutch audiences.

    From the insides of a posh club celebrating an all white dressed party to the evening silhouette of Ronnie riding his bicycle on top of a dam, the film is stunningly shot.

    Guido van Drie has crafted a different film - a beautifully shot, well-acted slow paced violent film with a message on redemption told with lots of black humour. And a different film is always welcome.

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

    THAT GUY DICK MILLER (USA 2014) **1/2

    Directed by Elijah Drenner

    thatguyba

    Documentary subjects usually take the form of the brilliant (Stephen Hawking in A BRIEF HISTORY OF TIME and the 2013 doc HAWKING), the genius (Alfred Hitchcock), the flamboyant (Gore Vidal in GORE VIDAL: THE UNITED STATES OF AMNESIA) or the notorious (Lance Armstrong in THE ARMSTRONG LIE). This is one of the few documentaries that has been made on a person because he has been so overlooked in life. Dick Miller has been in films too many to count (200 films; 6 decades) and according to director Drenner an actor to be reckoned with. As the documentary reveals, Miller is an actor who is not only talented but one that puts his imprint on the film and makes a valid mark.

    Film fans get rare glimpses into Dick's family life, his early days in New York, the move to L.A., his struggles, his process and his artwork.  Augmented by animation, illustration, and hundreds of clips, personal home movies, and 47 interviews we can see why "that guy's in everything!"

    Miller has worked with important directors like Mike Nichols, Joe Dante, Roger Corman and Steven Spielberg. And he has appeared and shared the screen with Robert De Niro, Jack Nicholson, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Boris Karloff, Ray Milland, Jada Pinkett Smith, Julianna Margulies, Kim Novak, and David Carradine. The doc includes clips from famous films like THE GRADUATE, GREMLINS, EXPLORERS and others that will make one wonder how Miller got so popular.

    Miller is now an old man who lives with his wife and an obedient dog. He is still as talkative as ever and the clips from his old films show him performing from a young man to the present.

    THAT GUY DICK MILLER is an ok film about an ok actor living an ok life. There is nothing special about this doc but nothing badly wrong about it either. But the novelty of a secondary actor not becoming famous wears thin pretty fast. There is also another story on director Joe Dante that wants to burst out into another movie, as director Drenner emphasizes a lot on what Dante’s films represent. If one has time to spend 90 minutes of ones time watching a film about somebody relatively unimportant, then this film might be satisfactory. I think a lot more people would be more deserving of a 90 minute documentary, myself included, than THAT GUY DICK MILLER.

    Dick Miller will be in attendance for select opening weekend screenings of the documentary, with special added screenings of classics LITTLE SHOP OF HORRORS and A BUCKET OF BLOOD. That should be a hoot!

    Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hSKTIe-HRG8

    WHITE GOD (Hungary/Germany/Sweden 2014) ****
    Directed by Kornél Mundruczó

    whitegodba

    Though it’s a dog’s life, every dog will have its day!

    The film begins with a girl on her bike being chased through apparently deserted streets of a city by a pack of dogs. They gain lead on her. The film flashes back to the incidents leading to this state. But the audience is already amazed by the impressive filming. And the animal filming gets even better.

    WHITE GOD is a Hungarian film about a girl and her dog. They are separated and the two undergo an exhaustive search for each other. But this is no Disney or Lassie movie. Director Kornél Mundruczó’s fable on racism is violent, disturbing and a compelling watch, hidden by a seeming innocent face of the girl and her dog.

    Man is shown in all his cruelty. The film has an abattoir segment at the start in which a cow is gutted with its innards flowing out. An inspector’s stamp of approval for consumption is matter-of-factly stamped out on the meat. But what follows is even worse than the killing. The abuse of the canines, in the animal shelters in over crowded conditions is nothing compared to the brutal dogfight scene which is almost unwatchable for its sheer cruelty. How the trainers get these scenes shot is beyond belief.

    This is the story of both Hagen, the four-legged best friend and 13-year-old Lili (Zsófia Psotta), who is forced to spend the summer with her father in Budapest.  The dog is a mutt, not a thoroughbred, which seems to annoy everyone from the dad to his neighbours who call the authorities. It is not clearly explained the reason mutts are hated this much, except for some tax or other that is mentioned in brief. But this serves as a clear metaphor of unaccepted racism.

    The father dumps Hagen on the road. Lili then runs away from the apartment to search for her lost dog, that meanwhile gets into quite the bit of trouble. Hagen leads the escape of all the dogs at a shelter, killing several human beings in the process. Hagen is obviously no Lassie.

    Hagen is portrayed by twin dogs in the film. If there is an animal Oscar, these two dogs would win it, paws down.  Great work too on how the trainers manage to get impressive performances from the dogs, like the vicious dogfight. Hagen is also shown at one moment teeth grinding in anger and next with a licking friendly tongue out.

    WHITE GOD won the Un Certain Regard film prize at Cannes last year. It is a remarkable film, remarkably shot. But animal lovers beware, as there are many unbearable scenes. For information sake, there is another canine feature called WHITE DOG (title not to be confused) directed by Samuel Fuller about a racist dog trained to kill black folk.

    Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kIGz2kyo26U

     

     

     

    BEST BETS:

    Drama: '71

    Action: Kingsman: The Secret Service

    Foreign Language: Wild Tales (Spain/Argentina); The Resurrection of a Bastard (Netherlands); White God (Hungary)

    Animation: Paddington

    Comedy : What We Do in the Shadows

    Best documentary: Merchants of Doubt

    Horror: It Follows

  • TIFF Presents - Human Rights Watch

    TIFF Presents - Human Rights Watch

    The Annual Human Rights Watch Film Festival opens this week at the Bell Lightbox. The festival highlights films that deal with the subject of human rights around the world, current and past. A total of 8 films are to be screened, all of them riveting documentaries on struggle, survival and hope.

    For more information on the festival, ticket pricing, venue and complete program, check theTIFF website at:

    http://tiff.net/festivals/human-rights-watch-2015

    4 of the films are capsuled review below:

    CAPSULE REVIEWS:

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

    Directed by Joshua Oppenheimer

    lookofsilenceba

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

    THE SALT OF THE EARTH (Brazil/France 2013) ****

    Directed by Wim Wenders and Juliano Rebeiro Salgado

    saltoftheearthba

    Wim Wenders is the acclaimed German director who recently delved into the documentary genre with successful films as BUENA VISTA SOCIAL CLUB and PINA. Photographer Sebastião Salgado is an equally well-known photographer in his arts circle with exhibitions curated around the world. THE SALT OF THE EARTH sees both artists together, forging both an educational and stunning portrait of mankind and the planet. The theme of the film changes from hopeless to hope so that it ends on a happy note - a Hollywood style ending. The film is directed by both Wenders and Salgado’s son Juliano Robeiro. Intermingled with images, is the story of the Salgado, which is equally interesting. Salgado was educated as an economist, but photography took over. His wife Leila, sold everything and together, they curated their work and eventually gained fame and success. It is inspiring to see both succeed in their field of dreams. With early shots of the couple in their youth to the current, where both are now old, it is a lifelong work. The film’s most disturbing bits are the famine and genocide photographs. Africa is Salgado’s favourite continent but it is also the most savage. The sight of the starved, murdered and dead bodies are not for the faint hearted. At one point, Salgado terms the human race as the worst and most disgusting of the species. THE SALT OF THE EARTH is a fascinating experience and an unforgettable documentary. It is not an easy film to take but it is an essential journey.

    Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jMb7eWaBVvQ

    UYGHURS: PRISONERS OF THE ABSURD (Canada 2014) ***

    Directed by Patricio Henriquez

    prisonersoftheabsurdba

    The name Guantanamo Bay strikes a nasty chord. The prison is well renowned for the torture of inmates - guilty or innocent. In Patricio Henrique’s disturbing documentary on human rights, the victims are innocent victims caught at the wrong pace at the wrong time. The subject are the Uyghur People. They are Turkic-speaking Muslims who have become a persecuted minority since the area was incorporated into the People’s Republic of China, a country already notorious for abusing human rights. The film chronicles the incredible odyssey of three refugees from China's persecuted Turkic-speaking Muslim minority, who fled to Afghanistan to seek sanctuary and found themselves rounded up and shipped to Guantanamo Bay as part of the US' indiscriminate "War on Terror.” The film is made more authentic by the interviewing of these refugees who are now finally free. But it is a long desperate journey no one wants to take.

    This moving documentary is not light entertainment but demands to be seen for the truth to be told. The evil and cowardice of man are again exposed, but fortunately there are a few heroes in the world that work tirelessly for the Human Rights of the world!

    Trailer: https://www.nfb.ca/film/uyghurs_prisoners_of_the_absurd

    THE WANTED 18 (Canada/Palestine/France 2014) ***

    Directed by Amer Shomali and Paul Cowan

    wanted18ba

    This is the film Israel would not want to make. THE WANTED 18 makes the Israel military look simply cartoonish like the animated cows in this documentary and deservedly so - for trying their best for no reason at all, to restrict the freedom of a Palestinian kibbutz. THE WANTED 18 in question is 18 cows. It all begins with the agricultural committee suggesting that the city stops buying milk from Israel and start producing their own. Cows are purchased and Israel gets upset with the military threatening to take the cows as the independent milk production was declared "a threat to the national security of the state of Israel." Things get sillier when the cows are taken from the farm and hidden. Posters of the cows are circulated. The population of the actual city is on display in the film, which creates a spirit seldom seen in documentaries. They demonstrate how resilient they are in the face of forced curfews and unlawful taxing. The directors show in THE WANTED 18 that it is possible to entertain and educate at the same time, using animation or whatever tools necessary, without distracting the main issue at hand.

    Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pnIpxHsqB2o

  • This Week's Film Reviews (Mar 20, 2015)

    Lots of action happening this week - action films that is.  THE GUNMAN, TRACERS and the much anticipated INSURGENT should keep action films happy.  Ethan Hawke's doc SEYMOUR: AN INTRODUCTION also opens.

    insurgentposterbagunmanposterbatracersposterbaseymourposterba

    FILM REVIEWS:

    THE GUNMAN (UK/Spain 2015) **

    Directed by Pierre Morel

    gunmanba

    THE GUNMAN looks impressive on paper, which is the reason the filmmakers got financing at last year’s Cannes.

    The film is a Sean Penn project with him starring and sharing writing credit. Penn has put a lot into the role as evident in his new bulked up body that can be seen many times on screen. The film is directed by action director Pierre Morel who has several successful films (TAKEN and BANLIEU B13) under his belt. The film is based on the late crime novelist Jean-Patrick Manchette book called ‘The Prone Gunman’ that was the film’s original title. The story deals with real events and has a humanitarian story close to world headlines. Before long, stars like Idris Elba, Javier Barden and Ray Winstone joined the cast.

    The film begins in 2006 when special forces and military contractor Jim Terrier (Sean Penn) assassinates Congo’s Ministry of Mining. Jim goes into hiding, leaving his girlfriend Annie (Jasmine Trinca) behind with friend Felix (Bardem) who ends up marrying her. 10 years later, after an attempt is made on his life, Jim, now suffering from PTSD seeks out Felix and his girl to find that those in charge of hiring him in the past have decided to clean house. Jim goes on the run from London to Barcelona with the film’s climax taking place at a Barcelona bullfight arena.

    But what transpires on film is far from perfect. For one, the narrative is a mess. The audience is at a loss as to what is going on during the first half of the film, as the script only reveals the details of the plot in the middle of the film. For an action film to expected from director Morel, there is less action here compared to his previous films. There is too much information about the Congo, the troubles faced by the locals and the inner goings of the organization that Jim has worked for. But when the action sequences arrive, they are top notch, but a few are over the top. The climatic segment where one of the villains (Mark Rylance) is gored to death by a bull at the bullfight is over the top, garnishing unintentional laughs by the other critics at the press screening.

    It does not help that the supporting cast do not have that big a role to play in the film. Bardem as the key villain is done away early in the film. Idris Elba who plays Dupont, an Interpol operative has maybe three scenes at most while Ray Winstone, as Jim’s mentor, Stan also disappears early in the movie.

    The humourless GUNMAN is at times too serious about the plot, which it ignores in the first half of the film. Jim is as puzzled as the audience is, most of the duration of the film. The plot also contains serious flaws. Jim is unable to catch a lighter thrown by Stan to light a cigarette and is often subject to dizzy spells. Yet, he can dispatch with the villains with shooting accuracy and sneaks upon them without any problems.  Too bad as THE GUNMAN could have turned out to be a top-both action thriller.

    Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ug9xufczPVE

    INSURGENT (USA 2015) ***
    Directed by Robert Schwentke

    insurgentba

    The second film of the Divergent series films and books by Veronica Roth, INSURGENT opens with the two youthful heroes Tris (Shailene Woodley) and Four (Theo James) on the run.

    They are being hunted by Jeanine Matthews (Kate Winslet), the leader of the Erudite faction, Tris and Four race against time as they try to figure out what Abnegation sacrificed their lives to protect, and why the Erudite leaders will do anything to stop them.

    But the film quickly brings the audience (new and familiar) up to speed with what has happened to the Planet Earth, now supposed to be a peaceful place with the population divided into factions living behind walls surrounding them.

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

    In the first film, DIVERGENT, Tris is tested DIVERGENT at 16, which means she belongs to more than one faction. Divergents are deemed threats to peace as they do not fit into any faction, and are hunted and eliminated by Dauntless. 

    In INSURGENT, Tris and Four must prevent Jeanine from ruling all the factions. Jeanine finds a sort of Pandora’s Box which contains a secret she believes may control who rules the planet. But only a true Divergent can open the box. (One must not question the logic of the plot.)  Jeanine hunts down Tris who can open the box. In the film’s climax, the box is opened with a clever message and the film continues a bit after that.

    The second film has more action than the first film as that had to go through all the logistics of the story as well as Tris’ training under the Dauntless faction. Story-wise, the film relies on the secret of the box. But the special effects (best to see the film in 3D IMAX) are the best that action blockbusters have to offer. There are lots of scenes with debris flying out of the screen, courtesy of crumbling structures and characters leaping and flying in the air.

    One has to bear in mind that the film is targeted at a teen audience. So, don’t expect adult entertainment with moving drama. What we have instead is classic teen schlock, complete with the best looking young actors, silly romance, incredible fight scenes and futuristic sets and props. INSURGENT is no HUNGER GAMES or TWILIGHT, but the plot follows similar lines. There is a heroine, trying to adapt to a group, a hot romance and mindless but not too violent action.

    Veteran actors Winslet, Naomi Watts, Ashley Judd and Octavia Spencer are particularly good while Miles Teller (WHIPLASH) steals the show from the younger players.

    Don’t go into the film expecting much and there should be no disappointment. There will be two more films in the series based on Veronica Roth’s final book.

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

    SEYMOUR: AN INTRODUCTION (USA 2014) ***
    Directed by Ethan Hawke

    seymourba

    Ethan Hawke’s hand at documentary on now 87-year old pianist Seymour Bernstein is an honest portrayal of a likeable, humble maestro who infuses life’s lessons to his talent in piano playing. Hawke (BOYHOOD, the BEYOND SUNSET series, HAMLET) has proven himself versatile and mobile in different fields.  Though relatively talky in person, he shows humility as does his character Seymour by appearing in only two small segments in his film. Other than that, its is Seymour’s movie. Hawke’s presence is hardly noticed.

    Hawke’s documentary is thorough and covers all the issues that I can think of. He first answers the question on the documentary: “What is it about this man that interests Hawke so?” He claims he met the man at a dinner party and Seymour has answered the all important question relating to the meaning of life: “Why is it I do what I do?”

    Seymour has a highly lauded career as a pianist, evoking headlines like the New York Times “Seymour Bernstein Triumphs at the Piano.” But at age 50, he gave up performing to devote himself to helping others develop their own gifts. Seymour is first seen in the film giving piano lessons to a group of diverse students including a white male, a Japanese woman and an Asian male. The audience sees the man’s talent through his persistence in details. He insists on the lightness of the staccato notes, the flow of the energy from the hands and crescendo of a piece. He is shown to be patient never getting angry. Seymour is not an easy man to dislike. He hates performing for three reasons - the commercial aspect, the nerves and the non creativity. He also dislikes people that show off like Glenn Gould. (Hawke includes a segment of Gould in recital to comedic effect.)

    One need not know much about music or piano playing to enjoy this documentary, though knowledge of it would enhance the entertainment.

    The best segments include Seymour selecting a Steinway piano and performing his pieces. But the best praises come from Seymour’s pupils who lay them nonstop. These are followed by the appropriate climax of the film that ends with the maestro saying: “My hands have reached the sky,” after his first public performance in 37 years for Hawke’s theatre group.

    Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oCOM3wMqoHg

    TRACERS (USA 2014) **

    Directed by Daniel Benmayor

    Film Set - 'Tracers'

    TRACERS is an action romance film containing several good ideas that unfortunately falls part due to a flawed script (though credited with 5 writers) and loose direction.

    TRACERS appears to have the key components for a movie that would attract the identical target teen audience as the TWILIGHT series. That might be the main reason the Twilight star Taylor Lautner was picked to star in the title role for TRACERS. But Lautner is no Robert Pattinson, though that is not saying much. He has the good looks and body but not that good a brooder or actor. The film’s key setting has the lead character, a bike courier, Cam (Lautner) enter into the new world of Parkour, after a girl Nikki (Marie Avgeropoulos) gets his bike totalled after an accident involving her jumping around cars. It is similar to a stranger taken into a rival vampire community.

    There are similar plot lines with the Twilight films and TRACERS. The girl is torn between two loves, there is a fight between the two leaders and of course, the romance that is as key to the story as the action. TRACERS is more fortunate to be set in the real world of NYC, but there are too many subplots, one involving every turn that Cam makes. Despite the attractiveness of the two leads, the romance ends up pretty boring.

    Parkour is quite entertaining to watch. There is something intriguing in watching human beings scale walls and jump off high structures. The continuity is better here than in most action blockbusters. The expert editing which makes parkour look real is more fun to watch compared to CGI effects that come across as mostly ridiculous.

    The story is simple enough. Courier Cam owes money to the Chinese mafia for borrowing to pay the mortgage of the house of his late mother that they lost anyway. He cannot make payments or the rent. He is taken in by Miller (Adam Rayner) who is actually Nickki’s boyfriend. Miller plans heists for the gang allowing Cam to slowly pay off his debt. But the romantic rivalry ends up in Miller double-crossing Cam in a climatic sequence that ends up quite well executed, compete with a car chase and shoot-out.

    TRACERS is strictly teen fantasy. Nice bods fill the screen. No one can do no real harm. The smooth Parkour looks as real as any fantasy and the teens appear to be able to get whatever they want, regardless. Adults may get bored stiff.

    For whatever TRACERS aims to be, director Benmayor barely achieves it. There are too many little side plots (Cam’s landlady and son, Nikki’s brother and her past, her love affair with Miller, Cam’s past with his mother, Cam’s past with the mafia, Miller’s dealings etc.) that could have been left out or expanded for more dramatic effect. Still, to the undiscerning teen audience, TRACERS might be the ideal escapade.

    Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nSfZahdXxU4

    UYGHURS: PRISONERS OF THE ABSURD (Canada 2014) ***
    Directed by Patricio Henriquez

    prisonersoftheabsurdba

    This is a serious film review on a serious film based on a serious subject.

    The name Guantanamo Bay strikes a nasty chord. The prison is well renowned for the torture of inmates - guilty or innocent. In Patricio Henrique’s disturbing documentary on human rights, the victims are innocent victims caught at the wrong pace at the wrong time.

    The subject are the Uyghur People. They are Turkic-speaking Muslims who have become a persecuted minority since the area was incorporated into the People’s Republic of China, a country already notorious for abusing human rights. The film chronicles the incredible odyssey of three refugees from China's persecuted Turkic-speaking Muslim minority, who fled to Afghanistan to seek sanctuary and found themselves rounded up and shipped to Guantanamo Bay as part of the US' indiscriminate "War on Terror.” It all started when the U.S. advertised monetary rewards for turning in terrorists creating a boom market for local informers who were not overly discriminate about whom they identified as such. More than twenty Uyghur refugees were turned over to the Americans in these round-ups and shipped to Guantanamo Bay, where they were imprisoned without trial for several years before ultimately being proven innocent.

    The film is made more authentic by the interviewing of these refugees who are now finally free. But it is a long desperate journey no one wants to take. Unlike other documentaries on Guantanamo Bay, no physical tortures are on screen. But the mental torture is much worse. Not knowing what is going to happen, the removal of freedom and the fear at the mercy of the unknown captors are much worse.

    The heroes of the story are, besides director Henrique who has gone all out to show the world what is happening, are the tireless lawyers who work pro bono to free the Uyghurs, because it is the right thing to do. Again, this is a painful and long process. President Obama promised to close Quantanamo Prison within a year but backed down on his promise. Henrique exposes the problem. These refugees are stateless. And no country wants to take them when they are freed. So, they are kept in prison though no charges have been proven. Hence the title of the film, Prisoners of the Absurd.

    Henrique’s well-made documentary traces in time linearity, the Urghurs as they escape their villages for a better life. They journey hard in the heat and desert only to be fooled and imprisoned for no reason. They eventually are freed and get to tell their story.

    This moving documentary is not light entertainment but demands to be seen for the truth to be told. The evil and cowardice of man are again exposed, but fortunately there are a few heroes in the world that work tirelessly for the Human Rights of the world!

    Trailer: https://www.nfb.ca/film/uyghurs_prisoners_of_the_absurd

     

    BEST BETS:

    Drama: '71

    Action: Kingsman: The Secret Service

    Foreign Language: Wild Tales (Spain/Argentina)

    Animation: Paddington

    Comedy : What We Do in the Shadows

    Best documentary: Merchants of Doubt

  • This Week's Film Reviews (Mar 13, 2015)

    Big films opening include CINDERELLA and RUN ALL NIGHT.   There are also a few excellent smaller films opening such as '71 and THE HUNTING GROUND.

    cinderellaposterba71posterbarunallnightposterbahuntinggroundposterba

     

    FILM REVIEWS:

    ’71 (UK 2014) ****
    Directed by Yann Demange

    71ba

    ’71, first screened at last year’s Toronto International Film Festival to rave reviews, is a war drama set in the Protestant/Catholic conflict of Belfast. The story concerns a young somewhat naive British soldier by the name of Gary Hook (Jack O’Connell) who is accidentally abandoned in Belfast. Gary is forced to survive in a land where it is almost impossible to distinguish between friend or foe. The dangers of Belfast is first introduced to the audience in a briefing by Gary’s Commander, Lt. Armitage (Sam Reid), himself a novice plunged into the unwanted war.

    As the war in Belfast is not that well known or covered in North America, the detail that unfolds on screen is not only fascinating but educational. Normal family lives are turned into hell, friends and family are mistrusted, and houses are not homes but refuges that often store weapons and ammunition. Young boys grow up too quickly, forced to take sides with dire consequences. At times, director Demange turns his film into a sci-fi dystopian apocalypse.  The chases on screen are as thrilling as any futuristic thriller like BLADE RUNNER. But one cannot forget that the setting is the reality of Belfast, and this is what makes this film unforgettable.

    The is a film impressively made by newcomers all round. This is scriptwriter Gregory Burkes’s and Demange ’s first feature, following some TV work for both. Actor Jack O’Connell has already made a name or himself with the also excellent STARRED UP and Angelina Joli’s UNBROKEN. Of the supporting cast, two of the youngest stand out with admirably authentic performances - Corey McKinley and Barry Keoghan. McKinley plays the boy who first appears to Gary as his salvation. Even as a boy, McKinley demands respect from his elders. Keoghan, on the other hand, is on the side of the enemy, but he is too young and forced to shoot Gary in one extended suspenseful segment. Spoiler alert:- One would wish to be able to see more of the two characters, but their actions bring their lives to an abrupt end.

    The simple story involves the abandoned soldier, Gary Hook in Belfast after he chases a boy who has picked up a weapon and runs off with it. Beaten up, Gary is almost left for dead. But he escapes and hides in an outdoor latrine. The rest of the film is a cat-and-mouse chase of survival, with his regiment desperate trying to rescue him.

    The story includes a bit about Gary caring for his brother in a foster home who he visits occasionally and another bit on his military training. Though the bits could be left out of the story, one assumes they be included to bring in some background and humanity to the Gary Hook character.

    Despite the simple story, the film is tremendously effective aided by apt direction and writing, stunning authentic looking cinematography of battle-torn Belfast by Tat Radcliffe as well as nail-biting well edited chase scenes by Chris Wyatt. 

    But apart from all this, it all boils down to the survival of an innocent individual. One feels for the life of the protagonist. ’71 is an impressive debut and a small likely unnoticeable film that should be seen.

    Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kIYDNyEkJP4

    CINDERELLA (UK/USA 2015) ***

    Directed by Kenneth Branagh

    cinderellaba

    After lots of Shakespeare, director Kenneth Branagh now tackles the immortal fairy tale adaptation of Charles Perrault’s CINDERELLA. It is a well-known fairly tale made even more popular by the 1950 animated Disney musical of the same name It would do best not to tamper with a classic story, though the writers of the new film, Aline Brosh McKenna and Chris Weitz have taken a few liberties with harmless updates.

    The basic story is the same. Cinderella (a very pretty and fresh Lily James) is left orphaned and taken under the ‘care’ of her wicked stepmother, Lady Tremaine (Cate Blanchett getting star billing) and her ugly stepsisters, Drizilla (Sophie McShera) and Anastasa (Holliday Grainger). Cinderella’s mother and father are passed on after ‘unnamed illnesses’. Her fairy Godmother (Helena Bonham Carter) grants her coach, gown and glass slippers for the ball. She meets Prince Charming (Richard Madden) and the rest of the story is known to everyone. But the story is given a bit of a different prospective as the voiceover changes from Cinderella’s to her Godmother’s.

    The story is expanded to include quite a bit about Cinderella growing up with mother (Hayley Atwell) and father (Ben Chaplin). The tale also includes a new chance meeting between Cinderella and the Prince while he is hunting in the woods. She imparts some wisdom to him, which he uses to better his character. Cinderella does not sing with the birds - that is Sleeping Beauty, but she does play with the mice in the house.

    The musical numbers are limited to the grand ball and the end credits. Cinderella and Prince Charming’s first dance is as mesmerizing as the wonder of first love. The special effects are nothing short of spectacular, though this is a not a 3-D (there is a fairy Godmother for movie audiences somewhere) feature. The transformations of mice to white horses, lizards to footmen and goose to coach driver are the best that CGI can offer, and even more when the the transformations are reversed. The colour and magic of the costumes, gowns and pretty countryside all work to create the effects of a fairy tale.

    The humour is slight, as evident in the painting segment of Prince Charming. The temptation for Monty Python-ish type humour (as can be found in the Cinderella section of INTO THE WOODS - amputated toe of stepsister to fit the glass slipper) is avoided.

    Branagh and the scriptwriters generally play it safe. Blanchett does not have to resolve to crass overacting as her counterpart villainesses did in MIRROR, MIRROR, MALEFICENT and SNOW WHITE AND THE HUNTSMAN.  The result is a rather conventional adaptation of Cinderella that no one should complain about. At the same time, there is not that much to get excited about either.

    The film is catered more to the family audience with a few messages (“Have courage and be kind”) put in for good measure. The film should be good for adults and children alike.

    Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LfR8Su4ulX0

    THE COBBLER (USA 2014) ***

    Directed by Thomas McCarthy

    cobblerba

    Writer/director Thomas McCarthy is a filmmaker fond of dark comedies. THE STATION AGENT, THE VISITOR and his most recent WIN WIN proves his mettle. His latest project, co-written with Paul Sado is his oddest piece, his only film made with a comedian, who happens to be the incomparable Adam Sandler. In his interviews, McCarthy claims that the fascination of a shoemaker fantasy is what prompted him to make this film. 

    The story centres on a lonely and lovelorn Jewish shoe repairman, Max Simcin who owns a little shop in NYC that has been past down generations. The only two people in his life appears to be his ailing mother and a friend, the barber (Steve Buscemi) from the shop next door. When Max discovers a magic heirloom in the basement, he finds that he can transform into the different owners stepping into the shoes he has stitched with the machine. Max then decides to become different people to change his mundane life. However, knowing writer/director McCarthy, he lets a dark side creep into the story while keeping the fantasy going. Max ends up doing good, while coming up against a bad lady land developer (Ellen Barkin).

    The atmosphere of the little shoe shop in NYC’s Lower East Side with all the musty surroundings is effectively captured on screen. Good props are on display here, especially the stitching machine heirloom at work, which is the key magical apparatus in the story. The sad and dark look matches Max’s character completely.

    Though Sandler is mostly dead serious in most of the film’s segments, McCarthy keeps the tone of the film light. The comedy is not provided from Max Simcin’s character but from all the characters he becomes when he steps into the different shoes. So, all the supporting characters have to do the comedy that Sandler would have done looking like them. It is an offbeat scenario, but McCarthy makes it work and keeps the laughs strong, for example in the funniest segment when Sandler suddenly turns into an ugly old man in the car he is being kidnapped in.

    For Sandler fans, THE COBBLER is very unlike Sandler’s juvenile comedies like THE WEDDING SINGER and the GROWN UP films. One must hand it to him for trying different things such as his only serious venture, PUNCH-DRUNK LOVE. Despite the low ratings THE COBBLER has garnished, I found THE COBBLER much, much better than I expected. I had several laugh-out laughs and was totally immersed in this whimsical adult well-intentioned fantasy.

    Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kMVGScC0vDA

    THE HUNTING GROUND (USA 2015) ***

    Directed by Kirby Dick

    huntinggroundba

    The film begins (quite unlike a documentary) with the reactions of successful college applicants when they receive the news that they have been accepted to their dream campuses. They are elated with joy. The camera records at least half a dozen of these bouts of joy before revealing that something more sinister is afoot. These campuses also serve as the hunting grounds for sex predators.

    After the sexual assaults which more than often result in rape, most of these go unreported. Those that do have their victims being blamed by the campus administrators who wish to have the crime unreported.

    THE HUNTING GROUND is a stirring documentary about sexual assaults on college campuses in the United States directed by Kirby Dick and produced by Amy Ziering. Their first documentary THE INVISIBLE WAR which dealt with similar issues - sexual assault in the U.S. military inspired them to make this new film. While statistics of women in colleges (20% assaulted as compared to 50% in the military), the issue is still disturbing. There is more material to play with here, and director Dick uses it to his advantage, though it is for a good cause.

    One cannot help but feel sorry for the victims but director Dick does more. He makes the audience mad. By having the interviewed victims cry on camera followed by the news of the suicide of one victim, this is manipulative documentary making at its best (or worse), be it for a good cause.

    One particular predator, Florida State University quarterback Jameis Winston, a twice accused rapist getting off with nothing more than a slap in the wrist, gets an entire section in the film. Kirby puts his punitive powers into good use here. Winton might have got away in the past but not in Kirby’s film. He is totally put to shame. And the angered audience should be pleased. All the information is derived from Erica Kinsman who publicly speaks about the incident at length for the first time.

    The reasons behind the campuses remaining hush on the sexual crimes are examined. The film also follows the victims that turn into activists. The film riles up the anger’s audience with loads of statistics of how many predators that got away with mere expulsion from the colleges and climaxes with statistics on how the activism has resulted in named colleges punished by the government for not taking appropriate action. A kind of Hollywood happy ending!

    Lady Gaga lends a hand with her song “Till It Happens to You”.

    The documentary is also formulaic in the way it creates anger in the audience at injustice being done to the victims, and as expected there is a number to call or website to be accessed if one wants to do something solid. 

    Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GBNHGi36nlM

    LOITERING WITH INTENT (USA 2014) **
    Directed by Adam Rapp

    loiteringba

    Producers and writers Michael Godere and Ivan Martin star in their debut feature LOITERING WITH INTENT. It is an earnest low budget effort about two struggling artists in New York who are distracted by an assortment of odd friends and family. Every character has a problem of some sort, but the problem is that these are clearly written into the script, not really realistic problems and not ones that audiences will care for anyway.

    Actor buddies Raphael (Martin) and Dominic (Godere) go on a retreat in the country to write a script that obviously includes characters they can play. The cabin in the country is owned by Dominic’s sister, Gigi (Marisa Tomei). But Gigi is kind of neurotic, falling for the advances of Raphael, while still having feelings for her ex. Her friend Ava (Isabelle McNally) comes into the picture as does her ex, an even weirder ex-military, Wayne (Sam Rockwell) and his surfer brother, Devon (Brian Geragty).

    On paper, the film appears that it has plenty to go on. But flaws overcome Godere and Martin’s intentions of an impressive debut. For one, their characters are annoying slackers. It is totally predictable that the script that they write reflect their real lives. It has all been done before, art imitating life (many Woody Allen films). The film just rambles along with pseudo dramatic set-ups punctuated with cheap jokes and occasionally happy moments.

    Martin and Godere can barely carry the movie on their shoulders. The only two well known names in the cast, Tomei and Rockwell (who also co-produced the film) fare better, creating contrasting and more compelling scenes whenever they appear. The film’s best segment is the one with both of them in confrontation. Newcomer Geraty is surprisingly good as the clueless surfer who somehow has all the luck in the world on his side. This is the freshest character in the script.

    Though there is nothing really wrong with the film, there is nothing much to get excited about either. No one really cares about any of the characters and the script does not try too much to make one feel sympathetic either. The result is a so-so film that goes nowhere and nowhere slowly, unintentionally reflecting the careers of Raphael and Dominic.

    Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tQiDpAspH6Y

    MERCHANTS OF DOUBT (USA 2014) ***
    Directed by Robert Kenner

    merchantsofdoubtba

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

    Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=j8ii9zGFDtc

    RUN ALL NIGHT (USA 2015) ****

    Directed by Jaume Collet-Serra

    runallnightba

    Liam Neeson has had a good run of actions film as of late despite his age. Neeson is non-stoppable. Is there any logic in the filmmaking world?  Within a month of release of the successful TAKEN 3, a similar actioner surfaces in which a man has to protect his family from mobsters. 

    But Spanish director Jaune Collet-Serra (UNKNOWN, NON-STOP, ORPHAN) who also co-produced the movie, is one step up from Neeson other action blockbusters. In fact RUN ALL NIGHT is one of Neeson’s best.

    One of the reasons is the impressive cast that includes Joel Kinnaman (a rising Swede star in American films), Ed Harris (his nastiest since A HISTORY OF VIOLENCE) and Vincent D’Onofrio (most memorable as the recruit who shot himself in FULL METAL JACKET). The other is the continuity of the action scenes, a rarity in films these days with quick edits and chops with many bad chases shot where the audience has no idea where everything is. In RUN ALL NIGHT one chase takes place with predator and prey hopping over fences in the backyards of houses. The camera is quick to show the start end and middle of the case. The car pursuit of Jimmy’s car with the police cruiser is also expertly shot. The action sequences are lengthier than in the average action film. Collet-Serra never seems to keep his defences down.  It is of the one action sequence after the other. The fight scenes are also above average. Collet-Serra demonstrates how difficult it is to kill another human being, as in the subway toilet segment when Jimmy takes ages before strangling Frank to death. This is intercut with Jimmy’s son, Michael dodging way his pursuers. It is not since Don Siegel (DIRTY HARRY, CHARLIE VARRICK) that I can remember for such totally absorbing action scenes.

    Collet-Serra is fond of aerial zoom shots as he takes action from one part of NYC to another. He is don of sleazy establishments like the bar that Jimmy drinks at or the boxing gem tat his son Michael trains at. The film’s score is layered. The action segments contain lyrics to a song, often satirical to what is occurring coupled with pounding beats and layered with noise in the background.

    The story is relatively simple, but added with subplots to enhance credibility, to invoke emotion and highlight drama. It is also a tale of loyalties and redemption. Jimmy Conlon (Neeson) has done many bad things in the past with crony Sean (Harris). In an accident, Jimmy shoots Danny who is about to shoot his own estranged son, Michael (Kinnaman).  Sean goes after Michael for revenge, with all he has got. Jimmy also goes all out, to get Sean in order to protect his son. All the action takes place within the time span of 16 hours, just before night fall and running into the early hours of the morning forming the film’s climax.

    The script imposes taut segments with confrontations involving quotable dialogue. “Wherever we are going, when we cross that line, we are going together, me and you,” says Sean to Jimmy in an early friendly conversation only to be repeated after when things fall apart. The film also captures the emotion at hand. Sean effectively describes his wishes of seeing Jimmy’s empty eyes after knowing his son is dead before shooting Jimmy. The climax of the film involving Jimmy’s confrontation with an almost unkillable professional assassin (Common) is nothing short of edge-of-the-seat suspense.

    The suspense segment in which Michael’s brother-in-law is hiding the crayons from 2 killers who have invaded his home to kill Michael’s family would make Hitchcock proud.

    RUN ALL NIGHT is an excellent taut thriller. Despite a few minor flaws (exaggeration of certain events), Collet-Serra has proven himself a master of the action thriller as well as the horror genre.

    Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7uDuFh-nC-c

    THE PRICE WE PAY (Canada 2014) ***

    Directed by Harold Crooks

    pricewepayba

    The subject on display here is tax evasion. Director Harold Crooks (SURVIVING PROGRESS, THE CORPORATION) tackles the dirty world of corporate malfeasance with this incendiary documentary about the dark history and dire present-day reality of big-business tax avoidance, which has seen multinationals depriving governments of trillions of dollars in tax revenues by harbouring profits in offshore havens. 

    Very well organized with a slew of informed international experts Crooks takes his audience on an informative journey as he analyzes the origins, damaging repercussions, and complex moral issues arising from corporate tax dodging. Tracing the increase in off-shoring of corporate assets to the City of London in the sixties, and charting its dramatic rise in the eighties during the Thatcher and Reagan administrations, Crooks follows the thread through to the present day, where tax avoidance has directly contributed to the dominance of the “one percent” and further deepened income disparity and wealth inequality.   

    If the purpose of Crooks is to rile up the audience to action, he succeeds. The protestors on screen serve to promote his message.

    Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=k3bvuKuiaiI

    THE SEARCH (France/Georgia 2014) ****
    Directed by Michel Hazanavicius

    searchba

    THE SEARCH, first screened at Cannes is supposed to be a remake of the Fred Zinnemann 1948 film about WWII concentration displaced children but the setting is completely different. It is set during the Chechnya War in 1999 when Putin was (and still is) the President of Russia. 

    THE SEARCH begins with a totally black screen when a soldier first finds a video camera and attempts to get it to work. He films a horrific incident of the mother and father of a family being slaughtered by Russian soldiers for entertainment. The 9-year old son escapes with his baby brother while his sister searches for him. This is THE SEARCH of the film’s title. Many, including myself are unaware of this war and its effects. 

    The film contains twin stories that are intercut though their time lines are different and revealed at the film’s end as sort of a clever plot twist. 

    One story sees a young Russian teen, Kolia, recruited for military duty. Kolia’s morals are compromised by the facets of war as he transforms from a normal teenage boy into a ruthless killing machine that embodies no hope of redemption. He learns to kill innocence and leave what's left of his childhood behind. This serves to explain the horrors that have resulted in the Chechnya War.

    The other story follows orphan Hadji, a young lad who witnesses his family's murder by the soldiers at the beginning of the film. Hadji flees his home in search of someplace safer and is reluctant to be picked up by refugees and taken to an orphanage. He does not know however that his teenage sister, Raissa, managed to survive. She begins to search for Hadji, whom she believes is still alive. Hadji is aided by human rights worker, Carole played by the director’s wife Berenice Bejo.

    Both stories are equally important and pressing as well as equally compelling.

    The theme of Europeans ignoring the humanity problems in Russian states is not a popular one, which might account for the reason for the film’s lack of success. (But film was selected for TIFF.) This theme of non-involvement is emphasized in the meticulously shot film’s best segment. Carole delivers her well prepared speech to the U.N. where a number of members show disinterest. One strolls in late into the room and exchanges greetings during her speech while another appears texting and yet another dozing off with his eyes open. It is a powerful scene which emphasizes how much needs to be done to influence a select few.

    Hazanavicius’ film shows moments of great sensitivity in simple scenes like Hadji’s first hugging Carole or his first scream of joy when he meets his sister. Hazanavicius could have gone for the tears but holds sentiment back. The result is a clear message delivered in a very tasteful and carefully thought of film.

    It is difficult to fathom that it is the same director Michel Hazanavicius who made the light and entertaining Oscar Winner THE ARTIST and the spy spoof OSS 117 comedies. THE SEARCH is deadly serious, makes its point and hits the audience hard in the message across. 

    Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GcimmToPFR0

    BEST BETS:

    Drama: '71

    Action: Kingsman: The Secret Service

    Foreign Language: Wild Tales (Spain/Argentina)

    Animation: Paddington

    Comedy : What We Do in the Shadows

    Best documentary: The Hunting Ground

  • This Week's Film Reviews (Mar 6, 2015)

     

    Big films opening include CHAPPIE, UNFINISHED BUSINESS and THE SECOND BEST EXOTIC MARIGOLD HOTEL.   There are also a few excellent smaller films opening such as '71 and WILD TALES.

    unfinishedbusinessposterbasecondbestposterbawildtalesposterba

    Alex de la Iglesia, Hou Hsia-hsien, Michael Mann and Barbara Stanwyck retrospectives continue at TIFF Cinematheque.

    FILM REVIEWS:

    CHAPPIE (Mexico/USA 2015) **
    Directed by Neill Blomkamp

    chappieba

    CHAPPIE is yet another film about robots, a favourite subject of recent films like I, ROBOT, BIG HERO 6 and WALL-E. But CHAPPIE is the brain child of writer/director South African Neill Blomkamp who shot to fame with the success of DISTRICT 9. It is not surprising then that he has shot CHAPPIE in his hometown of Johannesburg but surprising that the film is extremely violent in nature, quite unlike the aforementioned robot movies.

    The film’s basic premise is the flow of artificial intelligence to human intelligence. The story centres on A.I. designer/engineer Deon (Dev Patel from the EXOTIC MARIGOLD HOTEL films) and his protege design called Chappie (DISTRICT 9’s Charlto Copley doing motion capture). The police have commissioned an elite team of robots – called 'Scouts' – from a the firm, Tetravaal to restore law and city and reduce the body count for the force as well. The 'Scouts' are the brainchild of Deon (Dev Patel). Deon has masterminded the human robot called Chappie which runs into trouble with the public after being seen on the news as a participant in a heist.

    But the story gets more convoluted with Chappie running into bad company. Two low-life gangsters who cannot pay a huge loan decide to kidnap Chappie for the heist. This part of the story goes over-the-top, typical of and expected from Blomkamp. The female member becomes Chappie’s mummy, reading him bedtime stories and hugging him, while the male is a nasty daddy teaching Chappie to steal cars and kill people.

    Hugh Jackman and Sigourney Weaver are both largely wasted in terribly written roles. Jackman, quite unrecognizable with facial hair, plays a weak villain whose only incentive for evil is jealousy over his colleague’s success. Weaver plays the company CEO who cannot make up her mind on supporting or axing Deon. The supporting roles of the not-so-bad villains are played with sufficient gusto by Ninja and Yo-Landi Visser who play characters called Ninja and Yo-Landi. Apparently the two actors are members of a rap group Die Antwood which director Blomkamp is in love with, though it has been reported that he and Ninja ended up with problems on the set.

    Blomkamp is more content with all his actors in hyper-tension mode, screaming and running all over the place from lead actor Patel to all his supporting cast.

    The uncomfortable mix of goodness (robot becoming human with feelings and emotions) and the film’s inherent violence does not help the film either. As in DISTRICT 9, Blomkamp’s film is incredibly intense, a trait that can now be expected from this seasoned director. But the action sequences, mayhem and violence are impressively executed, no complaint here.

    The chaotic mess of modern Johannesburg is matched only by the Blomkamp’s direction.

    Despite the impressive special effects of the dystopian society and super impressive robotic mechanics, the fact that CHAPPIE is quite the chaotic mess is still quite evident.

    Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=l6bmTNadhJE

    KIDNAPPING MR. HEINEKEN (Netherlands/UK/Belgium 2014) ***
    Directed by Daniel Alfredson

    kidnappingmrba

    Committing the crime is the easy part. Getting away with it is the hellish almost impossible part. As is the classic films THE KILLING by Stanley Kubrick and LA CITTA SI DIFENDE by Pietro Germi, the robbery is executed without much difficulty. But in both films, the crooks are eventually caught in the gruelling aftermath. They are always being tailed by the police and public and much worse, the adage of no honour among thieves also comes into play. And so, the same occurs with the identical true story of the kidnapping of beer magnate Alfred (Freddy) Heineken in 1983. Though the largest ransom (3 million Guilders) ever for a kidnapping was paid, all the kidnappers were eventually caught and served jail sentences.

    The film is written by William Brookfield and Peter R. de Vries, based on the 1987 book by Peter R. de Vries. Shot in Amsterdam, the film is cast primarily with a British cast all sporting British accents. The sights of the canals in the Dutch capital and the sight of the Dutch treat of ‘ollebollen' on a plate at a house on New Year’s Eve serve to remind the audience that this is a Dutch story.

    The film, as well as the book is told from the point of view of one of the more mentally stable kidnappers, Cor van Hout (Jim Sturgess). He and his pals are fed up with banks and living poor, so he devices a kidnapping plan with the help of his brother-in-law, Willem (Sam Worthington) and a few others.

    The execution of the actual kidnapping occurs efficiently without much incident. Director Alfredson (THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO films) has to resort to what happens after to keep the film interesting. Unfortunately, he is not that proficient, primarily for the reason that it is the psychological play between captor and kidnapped that should play out. Oscar Winner Anthony Hopkins does his best in a particularly underwritten supporting role. He taunts his captors but the script seems more intent to concentrate on the lives of the kidnappers instead. A fair amount of time is devoted to Cor’s family and the relationship with his wife, Sonja (Jemima West).

    Most of the reasons behind the police discovering the whereabouts of the kidnappers are never clear but just hinted at. Did the kidnappers blunder or did the watching public inform? The real nasty suspenseful moments are the ones in which the captors decide to leave Mr. Heineken and his driver in the hidden shed in the countryside after they discover they are in trouble. Being left abandoned without food or water and without the knowledge of being found is a real scary scenario.

    Performances are fair at best with Sir Hopkins faring the best in his limited role.

    In the end, it turns out more interesting when the end credits roll informing what happened in real life to each of the story’s characters. KIDNAPPING MR. HEINEKEN is not a bad film, but it is not as compelling as THE KILLING or LA CITTA SI DIFENDE, for the one reason there can be more to be made up in a story of fiction than in a true story like this one.

    Opening at TIFF Bell Lightbox and available on VOD March 6th.

    Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=He-z_L1rGEA

    QU’EST-CE QU’ON A FAIT AU BON DIEU? (SERIAL BAD WEDDINGS) (France 2014) ***

    Directed by Philippe de Chauveron

    serialbadba

    This is the new film that is a big hit in France and still running in Quebec after 26 weeks. The question is whether this racial comedy will do well in English-speaking Canada. As the film contains lots of jokes that are very French considering their history, a lot of humour might be overlooked. France loves to poke fun at prejudice, one of their last biggest hits being BIENVENUE CHEZ LES CH’TIS (WELCOME TO THE STICKS) that just did so-so here.

    This film sees a catholic French couple, Claude (Christian Clavier from LES VISITEURS) and Marie (Chantal Lauby) have their life turn upside down when their three daughters get married to men of different religion and origins - Jewish, Arab and Chinese. They are delighted though to hear their fourth daughter, Laure, announce her intention to marry Charles, a Catholic. But Charles is black from Africa. Marie plunges into meltdown depression while Claude plots to sabotage the wedding, with Andre, the groom’s father.

    Unfortunately, the film is not that funny. It is standard French comedy fare, successful likely because it attempts to be different and racy. But director Chauvron moves his film very fast, so one hardly notices that there are not that many laughs in the script, which he co-wrote with Guy Laurent. But the three husbands, the Jew, Chinese and Arab try their hardest and are at least, very amusing.

    The film contains lots of stereotypes with jokes created on them. If this is your kind of thing, SERIAL BAD WEDDINGS will be for you. 

    Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IbyLWzBLLf8

    THE SECOND BEST EXOTIC MARIGOLD HOTEL (UK 2015) ***

    Directed by John Madden

    secondbestba

    The first film, THE BEST EXOTIC MARIGOLD HOTEL was formulaic, eager to please and felt like the typical British comedy export. So, expect more of the same with the sequel. With the likes of a fabulous cast like Maggie Smith, Judi Dench, Bill Nighy and apt direction by John Madden (SHAKESPEARE IN LOVE, MRS. BROWN), nothing should go wrong. As a bonus, there is an excellent dance sequence at the end, Bollywood-style that has the entire cast set in musical motion.

    Running at a lengthy 2 hours and 2 minutes (overlong for a comedy), the time moves fast. There are many stories to tell in the film which is divided into 3 sections, ‘the engagement party’, ‘the wedding party’ and ‘the wedding’. One Marigold Hotel is not enough for Sonny Kapoor (Dev Patel). He plans to open a second one and his ambition gets between the romance between Sonny and his bride, which is the main plot of the film. The other stories involve various romances of the other elder guests like Douglas (Bill Nighy) and Evelyn (Judi Dench) and Norman (Ronald Pickup) and his neglected wife. Subplots are aplenty involving forgettable Douglas serving as the hotel’s tour guide and Evelyn starting her own business. And Muriel (Maggie Smith) trudges along the hotel grounds offering her cynical remarks. There are lots of activities to keep the audience occupied. Richard Gere joins the cast as a mysterious guest.

    The Marigold Hotel is fully booked, according to he script. But the audience never see the hotel bustling with other customers except for the main cast.

    Madden’s film aims to please. He plays it safe with the story and cast. It is a feel good movie where romance is in the air with just a hint of naughtiness. There are no villains and even the menacing wife is left with the audience’s sympathy at the end. Undiscerning audiences should be pleased.

    Trailer: http://trailers.apple.com/trailers/fox_searchlight/thesecondbestexoticmarigoldhotel/

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

    wildtalesba

    The film’s title tells it as it is.  This is a film consisting of 6 WILD TALES.  The common theme is revenge.  They are inherently wild and the humour can get really dark.

    The first few tales are more fun with a less serious tone, but every tale is fresh as fresh can be.

    The first story is “Pasternak” which completes just before the opening credits roll.  This tale is arguably the funniest, shortest and the freshest.  It deals with an airplane full of passengers who have done wrong to a certain Gabriel Pasternak.  This short just gets the entire audience cheering through its cheeky energy, preparing the stage for what is to come.

    The second is my favourite entitled “The Rats”.  A waitress (Julieta Zylberberg) in a diner discovers her only and extremely rude customer (Cesar Bordon) is the loan shark who drove her father to kill himself.  This is what she always dreamed of - of meeting the guy responsible for her family’s tragedy.  But she does not know what to do.  When she has not the courage to invoke revenge, the old cook (Rita Cortese) entices her to put rat poison in his eggs and chips.  This one has you, the audience spurring the waitress to kill the bastard.  Funniest thing too, is that the poison has past the expiry date.   Does that make the poison less or more potent?  The sardonic question goes….

    The third “Road to Hell,” has Diego (Leonardo Sbaraglia), a hotshot businessman in an Audi, insult a redneck Peugeot driver (Walter Donado).  The result is a coyote vs roadrunner cartoonish fight which is also edge of the seat exciting.

    The fourth is “Bombita”.  Simon (Ricardo Darin), a demolition engineer  has his car impounded and goes through “I’m as mad as hell” routine.  This one is funny but one does not connect all the way with Simon, as he appears like the annoying guy in the queue in front of you who wants his way, holding up the line, regardless.

    The most serious “The Bill” is also the most unexpected and I cannot complain about this one.  Mauricio (Oscar Martinez) is a wealthy man which his lawyer (Osmar Nunez) milks to get his son, Santiago off a hit and run accident.

    The last and my least favourite “Till Death Do Us Part,” set at a Jewish wedding reception sees bride Romina (Erica Rivas) discovering her groom Ariel (Diego Gentile) sleeping around with a guest.  She takes matters (i.e. revenge) into her own hands resulting in outrageous situations but with a predictable outcome.

    This is a rare case of watching a film that you want never to end, though WILD TALES runs more than 2 hours. And that is the best compliment one can give to a movie.  Besides saying this is the most fun I have had in a movie!

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

     

    BEST BETS:

    Drama: '71 (opens next week)

    Action: Kingsman: The Secret Service

    Foreign Language: Wild Tales (Spain/Argentina)

    Animation: Paddington

    Comedy : What We Do in the Shadows

    Best documentary: Red Army

  • TIFF Cinematheque Presents - I for Iran

    TIFF CINEMATHEQUE PRESENTS - I FOR IRAN

    For the first time, TIFF Cinematheque presents a retrospective of seldom seen classic Iranian films. In the program entitled I for Iran: A History of Iranian Cinema, 14 top Iranian filmmakers select essential films that comprise the country’s capsule history of its distinguished national cinema. 

    Many of the films might not be well known to North Americans but the Iranian cineastes that I have met are familiar with these national classics.

    Iranian cinema started attracting world attention from the 70’s as filmmakers Abbas Kiarostami, Mohsen Makhmalbaf, and Jafar Panahi gained international attention. A few years back, for the first time, an Iranian film took the Best Foreign Language Film Oscar. Asghar Farhadi’s esteemed A SEPARATION will be screened in the series.

    For the complete program and description of films, please check the TIFF website at:

    http://www.tiff.net/winter2015-cinematheque/i-for-iran-a-history-of-iranian-cinema-by-its-creators

    by clicking on the above link.

    Below are capsule reviews of selected films, screeners kindly provided by TIFF Cinematheque.

    CAPSULE REVIEWS:

    THE COW (Iran 1969) ****

    Directed by Dariush Mehrjui

    cowba

    THE COW is a critically acclaimed film with the simple story of an old villager, Hassan deeply in love with his pregnant cow. While he is away in the capital, the cow dies. The villagers are afraid of his possible reaction and keep the news from him when he returns. But Mehrjui’s film is more profound than it appears. It covers mental illness and how the simple villagers deal with it. When the film begins, the village madman is tied up and ridiculed by the children until the elders put a stop to the abuse. When Hassan realizes that his cow is gone, he himself descends into madness, believing that he has become the cow, eating hay and sleeping in the cowshed. The villagers are more sympathetic to his madness, trying to console him and taking him to hospital. But their patience is tested and one starts flogging him as if he was a cow. The lives of the simple village folk, their chores, fears and behaviour are also on display in the film. It is a world seldom seen but nevertheless quite fascinating. Mehrjui’s film is a brilliantly told simple tale easy to watch and totally enthralling. The film won Best Feature in 1971 at both the Berlin and Chicago Film Festivals.

    DOWNPOUR (Iran 1972) ****

    Directed by Bahram Beyzaie

    downpourba

    Considered one of the best Iranian films ever made, this seemingly simple feature is a romantic comedy that reflects Iranian mores in Iranian slum between a teacher and his first love.

    A well educated and humble teacher arrives in a new city and at a new job in the pre-revolutionary Iran. He falls in love with a hardworking underprivileged young woman that nurses her very old mother and raises her young brother.  The obstacles? She is promised to a thug, she is his first love, the whole city knows about the two and teases them incessantly and both he and she are too shy to reveal they feelings. first time director Beyzaie lays on display

    in environment where commitments and social problems often stand in the way between people and their dreams. The teacher is bit of a goof, looking too quite a bit like Woody Allen with his glasses. The girl, on the other hand, is torn between duty and romance. The children are nothing short of adorable as is this delightful film.

    THE NIGHT OF THE HUNCHBACK (Iran 1956) ***

    Directed by Farrokh Ghaffari

    nightofthehunchbackba

    This comedy of errors, based loosely on a modern day adaptation of 10001 Nights, follows the happenings around the death of a hunchbacked theatre actor after he suddenly dies from a heart attack. His theatre troupe dumps his body after failing to properly dispose it, resulting in comedic setups, some of which are quite slapstick. The funniest bit invokes thugs chasing after vital information scrubbed on a piece of paper that the hunchback has kept in his belt. The film also reflects differences between the poor and rich in society, traditional and modern conventions but mostly hinting that there is an affinity for humans to do bad no matter where they come from. An easy piece of entertainment, that is undemanding and quite enjoyable.

    P LIKE PELICAN (Iran 1972) ***

    Directed by Parviz Kimiavi

    pforpelikanba

    This 25 minute film is part of the program called ‘The Image Remains’, consisting of Iranian Short Films introduced by Roya Akbari. The film begins similar to THE COW in which the young kids of a village are taunting an old man, that he is crazy. But he is not, he angrily cries out. He later gains their trust and teaches them the alphabet, hence the film’s title. When he comes to the letter ‘p’, a boy tells him of a pelican which he has never seen The rest of the film has him travel to a nearby park in search of this mysterious creature. An ok short, that depicts the states of loneliness and wonder.

    A SEPARATION (Iran 2011) ****

    Directed by Asgha Farad

    separationba

    A SEPARATION is a drama about a husband and wife separation but it plays more like a thriller whodunit. The film begins with a close up of a couple arguing their case for divorce in front of a tired judge who has more urgent matters on his mind. Simin (Lelila Hatami, looking so much like Ingrid Bergman) wants to emigrate but husband Nader (Peyman Moaadi) refuses as he has his filial duty to care for his father suffering from Alzheimer’s. They separate and Nader hires a maid (Sareh Bayat), recommended by Simin to look after his father. Their daughter in the meantime does everything to try to bring her parents together. The story contains many layers which captures the interest of the audience. And there is a more! The maid ties up the father to run an errand. Nader returns to find the father has fallen, and when the maid returns he fires her and pushes her out of the house. Nader gets served with the crime of pushing her down the stairs causing a miscarriage. The maid’s crazy husband demands revenge and compensation. A SEPARATION is not a film about bad people but about unfortunate circumstances that occur in real life. The father’s Alzheimer’s, the miscarriage, a couple’s quarrel, loss of a job are uncontrollable incidents. The characters cope with these events the best they can, and sometimes they get out of control. But director Farad also infuses the good in his characters. Though Nader is in disagreement with his wife and angry at the maid, there is controlled anger. He does not beat up either woman. He also pleads with the judge not to arrest the maid’s husband out of his good heart despite the harm he could do to his family. The film also brilliantly ties in Iranian culture, religion and social mores into the story. The film succeeds in looking at different points of view like Nader’s, the maid’s Simon’s the daughter’s without losing the strong narrative. The result is an extremely compelling and satisfying and moving film that won the Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film.

    STILL LIFE (Iran 1974) ****
    Directed by Sohrad Shahid Saless

    stillilifeba

    As the title implies, STILL LIFE is a slow film. The first part of the film illustrates an elderly railroad crossing worker and his family. His work consists of bringing down the barrier when a train comes by, while selling rugs weaved manually by his equally elderly wife. They live in a a one room small building, which is assumed to be provided by the railroad company. The film shows them eating, communicating, sleeping and doing their daily routines.  As the film reaches its middle section, they are visited by their son, in the military, who arrive for a short while, tired. The family interaction reveals much of the Iranian culture and mores. It is towards the last of the movie that director Saless turns the film into a little suspense drama. The worker is served a notice of retirement. While he and his wife try to ignore it, they have do do something when the replacement worker arrives at the building. STILL LIFE is marvellous piece of filmmaking. The audience learns and grows to love this foreign family, and likely be seating at he edge of the seats by the end of the film wondering what would append to the railroad worker and his wife.

    WATER, WIND, DUST (Iran 1971) ***
    Directed by Amir Naderi

    waterwinddustba

    Director Amir Naderi’s minimalist tale of the survival of a boy in search of his family is just as the film’s title implies. It is all about water, wind and dust. Sent to work in another town to provide money for the family, the boy returns home after the local lake has dried up only to find the place deserted and his family gone. He leaves the baby goat he brought back with a stranger while he makes a desperate search for his family. Water is of the essence. He witnesses dead animals (director Naderi provides lots in the landscape) while he helps those he encounters in dire need, including a crying child. Most of the scenes involve blowing dust with a few disturbing ones on survival - the worst one being wild dogs ripping off meat from a cattle carcass. This is not a fairy tale with a happy ending but one of drastic survival. Well-shot, but be prepared to be shocked!

  • This Week's Film Reviews (Feb 27, 2015)

    Big films opening include FOCUS and THE LAZARUS EFFCT while smaller movies opening are '71 and ELEPHANT SONG.

     focusposterbalazarusposterba71posterbadukeofposterba

    Alex de la Iglesia, Hou Hsia-hsien, Michael Mann and Barbara Stanwyck retrospectives continue at TIFF Cinematheque.

    FILM REVIEWS:

    ’71 (UK 2014) ****
    Directed by Yann Demange

    71ba

    ’71, first screened at last year’s Toronto International Film Festival to rave reviews, is a war drama set in the Protestant/Catholic conflict of Belfast. The story concerns a young somewhat naive British soldier by the name of Gary Hook (Jack O’Connell) who is accidentally abandoned in Belfast. Gary is forced to survive in a land where it is almost impossible to distinguish between friend or foe. The dangers of Belfast is first introduced to the audience in a briefing by Gary’s Commander, Lt. Armitage (Sam Reid), himself a novice plunged into the unwanted war.

    As the war in Belfast is not that well known or covered in North America, the detail that unfolds on screen is not only fascinating but educational. Normal family lives are turned into hell, friends and family are mistrusted, and houses are not homes but refuges that often store weapons and ammunition. Young boys grow up too quickly, forced to take sides with dire consequences. At times, director Demange turns his film into a sci-fi dystopian apocalypse.  The chases on screen are as thrilling as any futuristic thriller like BLADE RUNNER. But one cannot forget that the setting is the reality of Belfast, and this is what makes this film unforgettable.

    The is a film impressively made by newcomers all round. This is scriptwriter Gregory Burkes’s and Demange ’s first feature, following some TV work for both. Actor Jack O’Connell has already made a name or himself with the also excellent STARRED UP and Angelina Joli’s UNBROKEN. Of the supporting cast, two of the youngest stand out with admirably authentic performances - Corey McKinley and Barry Keoghan. McKinley plays the boy who first appears to Gary as his salvation. Even as a boy, McKinley demands respect from his elders. Keoghan, on the other hand, is on the side of the enemy, but he is too young and forced to shoot Gary in one extended suspenseful segment. Spoiler alert:- One would wish to be able to see more of the two characters, but their actions bring their lives to an abrupt end.

    The simple story involves the abandoned soldier, Gary Hook in Belfast after he chases a boy who has picked up a weapon and runs off with it. Beaten up, Gary is almost left for dead. But he escapes and hides in an outdoor latrine. The rest of the film is a cat-and-mouse chase of survival, with his regiment desperate trying to rescue him.

    The story includes a bit about Gary caring for his brother in a foster home who he visits occasionally and another bit on his military training. Though the bits could be left out of the story, one assumes they be included to bring in some background and humanity to the Gary Hook character.

    Despite the simple story, the film is tremendously effective aided by apt direction and writing, stunning authentic looking cinematography of battle-torn Belfast by Tat Radcliffe as well as nail-biting well edited chase scenes by Chris Wyatt. 

    But apart from all this, it all boils down to the survival of an innocent individual. One feels for the life of the protagonist. ’71 is an impressive debut and a small likely unnoticeable film that should be seen.

    Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kIYDNyEkJP4

    BANDE DE FILLES (GIRLHOOD) (France 2104) ***

    Directed by Céline Sciamma

    girlhoodba

    The English title GIRLHOOD is a softened alternative to the direct translation of the French title BANDE DE FILLES which means Girl Gang. GIRLHOOD is an extremely tough no-nonsense tale centering on 14-year old Marieme (Karidja Toure) as she comes of age while joining a group of free-spirited black teen girls led by Lady (Assa Sylla) in the Paris projects.

    How tough is the film? There are two cat violent fights with one involving Marieme, drug trafficking, swearing, bullying and robbing. All these are displayed in a realistic setting, no holds barred, making director Sciamma’s (TOMBOY) film hard to watch.

    Her uncompromising film forces the audience to see two different sides of the coin, thus allowing them to take their own view of Marieme - whether to pity her or dislike her. She is shown lying to mother, quitting school and abused by her violent older brother.  But she is protective of her younger sister, falls into her first romance and gains her independence for the first time.

    Sciamma shows the dead ends faced by Marieme - a demanding family, dodgy neighbourhood, questionable friends and poverty. Marieme thus finds herself before long in dangerous waters, while she finds a way to assert a new-found empowerment, though not always in a good way.

    The film’s cinematography stands out, as does the film’s hip-hop soundtrack. The film also has an occasional playful tone, especially in the scene when the girl gang uses their spoils of a robbery to rent a hotel room - partying and dancing to Rihanna’s “Diamonds in the Sky’.

    GIRLHOOD is not an easy story to tell, nor is it an entertaining film in the normal sense. But it is one forgettable film with the universal theme about one unforgettable character trying like all human beings, to lead a better life for oneself.

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

    THE DUKE OF BURGUNDY (UK 2014) ***
    Directed by Peter Strickland

    dukeofba

    The duke in this case is a butterfly species which is featured prominently in the movie, as one of the characters is an amateur lepidopterist, Evelyn (Chiara D’Anna) a studier of moths and butterflies.

    The other main character is Cynthia (Sidse Babett Knudsen) an orthopterist, studier of grasshoppers and crickets. But entomology is not the only common interest of the two. They are sordid lesbians who favour role play to the extreme. When the film begins, Evelyn cycles over to Cynthia’s mansion, where she does the household chores, only to have Cynthia dole out punishment when the job isn’t done properly. She overlooks the washing of one panties. At the end of the day, Evelyn’s punishment becomes sexual and the audience realizes that all this is a deadly serious sexual role play.

    Lesbian films are often set in isolated places like the remote farm in D.H. Lawrence’s THE FOX or the small unnoticeable basement sitting room in THE KILLING OF SISTER GEORGE Here, it is a deserted mansion.

    Amidst these acts, director Strickland fascinates the audience with stunning shots of beauty from the countryside to butterflies to insects to costumes and props and sets. There are lots to observe and admire in this relatively slow film. One even wonders by the opening credits ‘Perfume By” since audiences cannot smell from the screen.

    There is only one blurry nudity scene and the actresses playing the lovers are not erotically hot either. In one scene, Cynthia wear baggy pyjamas that Evelyn dislikes, claiming that she cannot be aroused by such outfits. 

    But once the novelty of the role playing wears off, so does the scenes of the forest, insects and sets.

    The time and place of the story is ambiguous. One can likely assume Britain since the Duke of Burgundy butterfly is found there, but the species are also found in middle Europe.

    Strickland who directed the equally strange and disturbing KATALIN VARGA and BERBERIAN SOUND STUDIO has continued to fascinate audiences with THE DUKE OF BURGUNDY. Though it currently holds a 100% approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes, it is not everyone’s cup of tea.

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

    ELEPHANT SONG (Canada 2014) ****
    Directed by Charles Binamé

    elephantsongba

    ELEPHANT SONG is adapted from the play by Nicolas Billon who also wrote the script for the film. The staginess of the play is still much evident in this rather well adapted film, though director Binamé (ELDORADO, LE COEUR DU POING) tries his best to bring the film into the open (the bench scene in the park at the film’s end, scenes of the hospital outdoor car park). The elephant song is a song that features prominently in the plot though it is something that English audiences will not get. The song is a French song with the French word of trunk (in the song) also having a second meaning of deception. Deception is key in the mind game that is played by the two characters from beginning to the end of the film.

    The film’s two main characters are troubled psychiatric patient Michael (Xavier Dolan), and the unprepared doctor, Dr. Toby Green (Bruce Greenwood) who attempts to untangle his web of lies. It all begins when psychiatrist Dr. Lawrence (Colm Feore) goes mysteriously missing from a hospital that has recently been plagued by scandal. Dr. Toby Green investigates. Convinced that Michael is hiding knowledge about his colleague — and in no rush to go home to his complicated personal life — Green is determined to control both the situation and the patient, adamantly ignoring the advice from the person who knows Michael best, Nurse Susan Peterson (Catherine Keener).  As the film unfolds it becomes apparent that Michael is manipulating Dr. Green, as he reveals truths and lies about what happened between him and the missing Dr. Lawrence, among other things.

    Dolan, the wonderboy director of Quebec hits like “J’AI TUE MA MERE, MOMMY and LAWRENCE ANYWAYS) proves that he is as excellent an actor as a director. He completely steals every scene he appears together with Greenwood, who himself is a proficient actor. His facial expressions, nuances, and reactions all add to the acting on display. It is not surprising why Dolan was attracted to this role. It is one that deals with a mother/son relationship and also one that deals with mental illness, both recurring themes in his directed movies.

    The film has many intercut scenes. Two interviews and the meeting between doctor and patient are intercut, meticulously with the correct time frame in mind. All this serves to prove how well Billon’s play is written and put together by director Binamé.

    The period film is also meticulous in its details. The vintage cars on display, the wardrobe and frequent cigarette smoking in scenes all serve to remind the audience that the year is 1966. But one glaring detail is Xavier Dolan’s colour tinted hair. How did he manage this feat in a mental institution?

    Minor flaws aside, this suspense drama reminds one of past whodunit success films like SLEUTH and DEATHTRAP.  All three films share the common trait of being excellent 'talky'  compelling films that concentrate on just two characters playing mind games.

    Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Efi5pj73nUc

    FOCUS (USA 2015) ***
    Directed by Glenn Ficarra and John Requa

    focusba

    Nicky Spurgeon (Will Smith) is a super accomplished con man who takes an amateur con woman, Jess (Margot Robbie from THE WOLF OF WALL STREET) under his wing. Nicky and Jess become romantically involved.  But after a big con which marks the completion of her con artist course, they split. But they come across each other three years later. And things get messy.

    FOCUS alternates between being a love story and a classy con-artist suspense film. The film flows comfortably between the two genres, each complementing each other so that interest seldom wanes. The obstacle of the romance in this case is the nagging mistrust that exists between the lovers. The chemistry between Smith and Robbie is excellent aided by the two points. The two are extremely good-looking actors and the sex scenes sizzle.

    The film can also be split into two parts - the part before things get messy in New Orleans and after in Argentina. Both are interesting but the latter satisfies with a fast climax.

    The chief flaw of the plot is the outrageousness of the scams. These are as believable as the car chases or action sequences in a big Hollywood blockbuster. So, the directors assume that audiences will forgive the plot implausibilities. Liyuan's (BD WONG) con with the number 55 is ridiculously outrageous as well as the climatic one involving Nicky being shot at an exact position between two ribs. I suppose directors Ficarra and Requa expect to be perfect con artists themselves.

    Despite the plot, directors Ficarra and Requa keep the suspense and interest maintained. It helps that the film demonstrates their confidence in their material regardless.

    The cast perform well. Hopefully, the film will put Smith back in high salary demand after his recent box-office misses. The supporting cast are just as good, particularly Rodrigo Santoro as crooked car racer Garriga who cannot look more suave in his role.

    The production with settings in NYC, New Orleans and Buenos Aires looks extremely slick. The $100 million production budget explains why. But the soundtrack, sound and editing are also of top-notch quality.

    Directors of Ficarra and Requa are the writing/directing duo behind I LOVE YOU, PHILLIP MORRIS and BAD SANTA two underrated films. The more highly visible FOCUS should bring the duo more into the limelight.

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

    THE LAZARUS EFFECT (USA 2015) **

    Directed by David Kelp

    lazarusba

    The dead, the afterlife and resurrection are all topics that both send a chill down ones spine and boggles the imagination. The latest horror flick from THE PURGE, INSIDIOUS and SINISTER franchises follows a group of researchers who succeed in bringing dead animals back to life. But when they intend to bring a human back to life, things get tricky.

    Frank (Mark Duplass) and his fiancée Zoe (Olivia Wilde) are university researchers who with the help of Niko (Donald Glover) and two others (Evan Peters and Sarah Bolger) bring a dead dog back to life. A subplot involves the dean shutting down the experiments and the materials confiscated. So, they break into the university laboratory at night to carry out the experiment resulting in an accident in which Zoe is executed. When Frank brings her back to life, she is not the same Zoe.

    The story is interesting enough but whatever fascination with the topic is quickly dispersed after Zoe is brought back to life. The film holds the most interest when the audience is left guessing at the answers. Is the dog going to be violent and kill and is Zoe going to go through the same effects? The one arresting image of the dog standing on all fours on Zoe’s bed while she is sleeping is the most frightening. But once all the explanations are given, and given too early, the film falls apart. The silly twist ending is also laughable.

    The film is also often all over the place. The found footage/recording of events at the beginning of the film is slowly forgotten by the end of the film. The subplot of the corporation perhaps shutting the project down to make a monopolistic profit on the Lazarus serum is left hanging.

    The unintentional humour of the movie is chiefly derived from the pseudo scientific explanations given of how the experiment works. Otherwise, any opportunity for comedy is missed, replaced by cheap scare tricks like Niko surprising Zoe by wearing a hockey mask.

    Audiences that loved FLATLINERS would likely flock to this film. But these are totally different films. FLATLINERS involve curious suspects venturing into the afterlife while THE LAZARUS EFFECT involves returning from the dead and unknowingly bringing back some demons. Whatever initial interest in the plot is eventually diffused into a low budget horror flick with all the predictable trimmings.

    Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WGfOyzyK2cQ

    PLAYING IT COOL (USA 2014) **

    Directed by Justin Reardon

    playingitcoolba

    PLAYING IT COOL has a writer (Chris Evans from CAPTAIN AMERICA) hired to write a romantic comedy script for his agent, Bryan (Anthony Mackie). Trouble is, according to the film’s voiceover which is the character’s voice himself, is that he has never fallen in love before. He uses his friends’ experiences and pretends to be them thus imagining and writing what occurs, the next best thing to the real thing, according to him.

    So PLAYING IT COOL is a romantic comedy about a romantic comedy writer. This is indeed very dangerous territory. For critics, whatever the main character says better be applied to the film and work 100%. If he says for example that most romantic comedies are clichéd with a gay best friend character or an airport scene, then there had better not be one in this film. Unfortunately the script by Chris Shafer and Paul Vicknair breaks the rules. For example, there is a gay bests friend character by the name of Scott (Topher Grace) in the film.

    The story is simple enough. Struggling writer (they are always struggling in films and plays) meets girl (Michelle Monaghan) at a charity event. He pretends to be a rich philanthropist. She is engaged. They begin a platonic relationship. Anyone who has been to a romantic comedy knows that this cannot work and that the two will fall in love. Sure enough. Platonic relationship evolves into true love. And the promise not to have sex is also broken in a totally unsexy and unbelievable sex scene.  The rest is cliched predictability.

    The climax has the hero running round the city trying to find the location of the wedding in order to stop it. Kind of copied from THE GRADUATE. The film only emphasizes how good a film THE GRADUATE is and how pathetic this one is.

    Director Reardon (this is his debut feature) has a nice bit of changing scenes when his character walks through a door at the right of the screen. Which he does many times.

    PLAYING IT COOL asks the basic question how difficult it is to write a good romantic comedy. The film’s voiceover provides a lot of solutions of what should be done. But the answer to the question, as evident at the end of the film is - very difficult. The filmmakers have failed miserably. As a romantic comedy, PLAYING IT COOL is not only pretentious, cliched, unbelievable and crass, but terribly boring!  There is some truth to the comment made in the film on a script that will show love how it really is: “Sounds like a downer!”

    Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JlvyE_Rhzy8

    THE SEARCH (France/Georgia 2014) ****
    Directed by Michel Hazanavicius

    searchba

    THE SEARCH, first screened at Cannes is supposed to be a remake of the Fred Zinnemann 1948 film about WWII concentration displaced children but the setting is completely different. It is set during the Chechnya War in 1999 when Putin was (and still is) the President of Russia. 

    THE SEARCH begins with a totally black screen when a soldier first finds a video camera and attempts to get it to work. He films a horrific incident of the mother and father of a family being slaughtered by Russian soldiers for entertainment. The 9-year old son escapes with his baby brother while his sister searches for him. This is THE SEARCH of the film’s title. Many, including myself are unaware of this war and its effects. 

    The film contains twin stories that are intercut though their time lines are different and revealed at the film’s end as sort of a clever plot twist. 

    One story sees a young Russian teen, Kolia, recruited for military duty. Kolia’s morals are compromised by the facets of war as he transforms from a normal teenage boy into a ruthless killing machine that embodies no hope of redemption. He learns to kill innocence and leave what's left of his childhood behind. This serves to explain the horrors that have resulted in the Chechnya War.

    The other story follows orphan Hadji, a young lad who witnesses his family's murder by the soldiers at the beginning of the film. Hadji flees his home in search of someplace safer and is reluctant to be picked up by refugees and taken to an orphanage. He does not know however that his teenage sister, Raissa, managed to survive. She begins to search for Hadji, whom she believes is still alive. Hadji is aided by human rights worker, Carole played by the director’s wife Berenice Bejo.

    Both stories are equally important and pressing as well as equally compelling.

    The theme of Europeans ignoring the humanity problems in Russian states is not a popular one, which might account for the reason for the film’s lack of success. (But film was selected for TIFF.) This theme of non-involvement is emphasized in the meticulously shot film’s best segment. Carole delivers her well prepared speech to the U.N. where a number of members show disinterest. One strolls in late into the room and exchanges greetings during her speech while another appears texting and yet another dozing off with his eyes open. It is a powerful scene which emphasizes how much needs to be done to influence a select few.

    Hazanavicius’ film shows moments of great sensitivity in simple scenes like Hadji’s first hugging Carole or his first scream of joy when he meets his sister. Hazanavicius could have gone for the tears but holds sentiment back. The result is a clear message delivered in a very tasteful and carefully thought of film.

    It is difficult to fathom that it is the same director Michel Hazanavicius who made the light and entertaining Oscar Winner THE ARTIST and the spy spoof OSS 117 comedies. THE SEARCH is deadly serious, makes its point and hits the audience hard in the message across. 

    Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GcimmToPFR0

     

    BEST BETS:

    Drama: Mr. Turner

    Action: Kingsman: The Secret Service

    Foreign Language: Leviathan (Russia)

    Animation: Paddington

    Comedy : What We Do in the Shadows

    Best documentary: Red Army

  • This Week's Film Reviews (Feb 20, 2015)

    New films opening include McFARLAND, HOT TUB TIME MACHINE 2 and teen movie THE DUFF.

    mcfarlandposterbahttmposterba

    Alex de la Iglesia, Hou Hsia-hsien, Michael Mann and Barbara Stanwyck retrospectives continue at TIFF Cinematheque.

    FILM REVIEWS:

    HOT TUB TIME MACHINE 2 (USA 2015) **
    Directed by Steve Pink

    httmba

    Watching the closing credits for the sequel to the 2010 film HOT TUB TIME MACHINE, the French phrase ‘Un film de Steve Pink’ suddenly appears as if to put in some ‘class’ to this otherwise silly film. It does not make much sense, but neither does the film about a group of friends that travel through time using a hot tub to change present events.

    The original film (also directed by Steve Pink) was a hit, very stupid yet very funny. It had the privilege of John Cusack on the lead cast which the sequel does not have. Most of the other cast including Chevy Chase are present in #2 but the inclusion of Adam Scott as Adam Yates Jr.as a new character is the best thing about the film. Adam Scott is terribly funny, especially playing a naive bridegroom, only showing his true colours after having a ladybug narcotic stuck on the side of his neck for 24 hours. He goes crazy, punching strangers, kissing voluptuous girls and having man sex on national TV.

    After the events of the first film, it is revealed that Nick (Craig Robinson) and Lou Dorchen (Rob Corddry) used their knowledge of the future to enrich themselves - Nick by ripping off songs (with funny segments included) from artists before they were originally released, and Lou by capitalizing on advance knowledge of technical advances to appear as a tech guru. During a party in Lou's honour, he is shot in his dick (one cannot expect anything less from this movie) by an unknown assassin. Who this assassin is, no one is sure. Nick and Jacob with Lou use the time travelling hot tub to try to get back to the past to learn who shot him and undo the damage. But they inadvertently end up ten years in the future. Jacob reasons that the assassin must have from the future, the events which they must alter if they want to save their present-day environment.

    Unlike other time travel films like the recent PROJECT ALMANAC, this film contains absolutely no logic. The characters spew their theories of what happened in the future that could affect the present and vice versa. Nothing makes sense so, do not try to follow any reasoning. The ending of the film gets more ridiculous culminating with totally ridiculous ending credits.

    There will be many in the audience who will dismiss the film as a waste of time. But it would be ones own fault for gong to a film like HOT TUB TIME MACHNE 2 expecting more. But if the film was laugh-out loud hilarious, all would be forgiven. Unfortunately, there are not that many of these moments. Adam Scott is a welcome addition to the film, but that is about it for this sequel.

    Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nWa4INxk4y4

    MATT SHEPARD IS FRIEND OF MINE (USA 2013) ***1/2

    Directed by Michele Josure

    mattba

    Wyoming is known for Laramie, the setting for the TV show Bonanza or the fictional city of Wolf City as the ballad of CAT BALLOU goes. But it is now also well known unfortunately as the place where in October 1998, the vicious murder of 21 year old gay university student Matthew Shepard took place at the hands of 2 homophobic peers. The film begins with then President Bill Clinton condemning the crime, one that shocked the world and became a rallying cry against homophobic violence and anti gay persecution.

    The film is a very personally told tale. It is was directed by Shepard's childhood friend, Michele Josue, and brings to light striking new details about Shepard's life and death, while featuring never before seen pictures and footage of this iconic figure. Josure’s film documents Matt’s life for the first 40 minutes.  Depicted and allowed to have their say about Matt are friends of Matt and others that have known him including his councillor, teacher, pastor and parents.

    The crime occurs 40 minutes in the film’s running time, with the film transforming into a dead sombre atmosphere. The killing is described in graphic detail followed with shots of the battered Matt in a coma in hospital as well as the perpetuators in prison.

    But what is most moving is the brave decision of Matt’s parents, Judy and Dennis to forgive.  The eulogy delivered by Dennis is expectedly tear-jerking. But this decision that they decide to do after is even more moving. On the other side, anti-gay protestors carrying hate signs such as “matt should burn in hell” or “Gay is ass- f***ing” are equally disturbing. As Matt’s mother says on camera “How can there be should much hatred for someone who is so kind that they do not even know.” This is the necessary other side of the coin that the film addresses as well that is better not seen.

    At present, the Matt Shepard Foundation exists which Matt’s brother Logan currently works at. President Obama also has a scene in which a new law involving hate crime is passed, with him stressing tolerance for people who are different. Clinton saying too that intolerance such as this are not an acceptable American values. Hopefully, Shepard’s martyrdom will make a difference.

    The story of hate eventually turns out to be a story of compassion. This is not a story that is easily told nor a film that is easily watchable. But it is one that demands to be seen.

    The Toronto theatrical release will begin February 20th 2015 coinciding with the 25th anniversary of the U.S. Senate passing of the Hate Crimes statistic act (http://www.hrc.org/resources/entry/hate-crimes-timeline). Future plans include opening weekend Q and A's with film subjects Judy & Dennis Shepard and director Michele Josue alongside community supported screenings in conjunction with numerous equality rights and LGBT groups on local, national and international levels.

    Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aVe1mP0qugk

    McFARLAND (USA 2015) ***
    Directed by Niki Caro

    mcfarlandba

    The words blatantly appear on the screen “Based on a true story” as the film begins. One gets the first impression director Caro means business.

    The original title McFARLAND, USA is the title retained in the U.S. but the U.S.A has been dropped from the title in Canada.  The film depicts the rise to fame of the town that reared new marathon runners winning many state marathons under the guidance of coach, Jim White (Kevin Costner).

    McFARLAND is a Disney production. Disney is only too well known for its formulaic films. Of course, not too discerning viewers will not complain, but this unoriginal, sentimentalized drama could have been better. For one, the poster depicting the Mexican runners on the beach reminds one instantly of the British runners in CHARIOTS OF FIRE though in the film, the Mexican runners are headed towards the ocean as they have never been to the sea. One would have expected more from New Zealand director Niki Caro who ‘wowed’ critics and audiences alike in the Maori drama WHALE RIDER. That is likely reason Hollywood picked her to make a film about Mexicans beating incredible odds.

    One has to cringe at segments such as shots of the team when the American anthem is sung when director Caro goes straight for cheap sentiment. She is also unashamed at product placement (example Adidas) appearing too often in the film.

    But the script contains a few loopholes such as the reason behind the attack on the family bringing for a ride. She emerges dishevelled from the incident with bruises but the film conveniently avoids details of what occurred. 

    One would have wished McFARLAND turn up a better film owing the its good intentions. But the actors sure give it a hard try, as evident in many scenes especially the climatic marathon race. But it all comes across as too condescending. 

    Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=74eJaVQFybI

    THE WRECKING CREW (USA 2014) ***
    Directed by Denny Tedesco

    wreckingcrewba

    The director of this new eye-opening and insightful new documentary, THE WRECKING CREW Denny Tedesco is the son of Wrecking Crew lead guitarist Tommy Tedesco who eventually succumbed to cancer. This film is a worthy tribute to the Wrecking Crew as well as Tommy Tedesco. Denny made the film with the support of his family to tell his dad’s story. 

    The Wrecking Crew refers to the group of studio musicians who are so talented that they can pick up any song be it jazz, rock and roll, blues or whatever type and play so skillfully that they can be recorded on tracks in a record music studio. They would churn out hits and new songs like 4 new ones very 3 hours. Often they would play and record for famous bands that sometimes would not be even record on their own albums. This was the era beginning the early 60’s.

    Director Tedesco is smart enough to know the power of music. He fills the film with a rich soundtrack of The Wrecking Crew’s hits, that are too many to mention. He intersperses the doc with interviews from celebrities that include Cher, Glen Campbell, Dick Cavett including their songs the Crew recorded. The Crew recorded songs from the Beach Boys, Frank Sinatra, Nancy Sinatra, Sonny and Cher, Jan & Dean, The Monkees, Gary Lewis and the Playboys, Mamas and Papas, Tijuana Brass, Ricky Nelson and Johnny Rivers.

    But the film concentrates on the different members of the Crew, dealing with them one at a time. Each is given time to have his or her say. Yes, there is one female member in the group - Carol Kaye. The bands the Crew represent also have their say and most of them admire the Crew and are, surprisingly, not against them. The film accounts this to most bands just wanting to get their cut of the money and to do lesser work. 

    But Tedesco only presents the positive side of the Crew. The film is obviously biased and understandably so. But the absence of negativity is a glaring one and one wishes the film would have addressed these to offer some balance to the film.

    Tedesco is quick to point out that the era of the Wrecking Crew has faded. Especially with the arrival of the singer/songwriter. But the Wrecking Crew has had its day though it took quite a while to tell their story. The film is similar in a way to last year’s Oscar winning documentary 20 FEET FROM STARDOM about backup singers. Though smaller in budget that 20 FEET, THE WRECKING CREW is a more intimate, personal and enlightening film. Even if the material runs over ones head, the familiar tunes from the 60’s to the 80’s (including TV series soundtracks like Bonanza, Green Acres and Hawaii-Five-0) is sufficient to get one whistling in the aisles.

    Though his film has rough edges with Denny Tedesco first time directing, this is a film that should be seen by the music industry as well as by all those who love music, at least to give credit to these musicians for their work. The Wrecking Crew is also the subject of the book by Ken Hartman that came out this year.

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

     

    BEST BETS:

    Drama: Mr. Turner

    Action: Kingsman: The Secret Service

    Foreign Language: Leviathan (Russia)

    Animation: Paddington

    Comedy : What We Do in the Shadows

    Best documentary: The Wrecking Crew and Matt Shepard

  • Telling black stories on stage

    “I want to see our lives and our stories put out there,” said Toronto-based actor and playwright Joseph Jomo Pierre. The work of this self-proclaimed “Child of Hip Hop,” who was born in Trinidad and Tobago and raised in Scarborough, can currently be seen at Factory Theatre with Twisted(co-written with Charlotte Corbeil-Coleman -- running until Feb. 22) as well as through the Piece of Mine Fest’s Black Men in Theatreshowcase (Feb. 19-20).

    As Toronto celebrates African Heritage Month, Joseph Jomo Pierre’s belief in the importance of telling black stories on main stages resonates well; especially for up and coming artists. “The fulfilling part for me, and part of the reason why I started writing, was because I wanted the young black kids coming out of high school to have this body of work on main stages as an inspiration for when they’re auditioning for university and have to refer to a major play. I want them to have access to material that represents us. It’s important for black kids coming up to be able to express themselves in a more honest way which is true to their experience” he said.

    One of these young black talents he’s been working with on his current play Twisted, a contemporary spoken word and prose take on the Dickens classic, Oliver Twist, is Ryerson University theatre student Ngabo Nabea. Twisted is Ngabo’s first professional performance in Canada. After spending his childhood in Africa and Europe, he returned to his birth city of Toronto to finish his studies.

    Twisted is also a first for theatre veteran Joseph Jomo Pierre because the play marks the first time he’s ever co-written a piece. It’s also a departure because he usually acts in his plays. But this time he’s giving the actor’s driving seat to Ngabo. “Ngabo has an opportunity to be the lead in a play – at that a black male play. So it’s easy for me to let go of it knowing that it’s achieved part of the goal in me creating the work in the first place,” as Joseph explained.

    On the Process of Remounting a Classic Piece

    When AfroToronto.com asked Joseph Jomo Pierre what the thought process was like approaching a classic Dickens piece to create a contemporary version, he said: “I never really get hung up with where the idea starts from. It’s just the jumping off point for me. I’m not going to get hung up with trying to write Dickens or write stuff for people who love Dickens.”

    His angle actually is to focus on working with people he wants to work with and then figuring out how to make the story interesting. Moreover, he wants to take the time to understand what it is that he’s writing, what he wants to say, and why it’s pertinent. “What’s the theme that, no matter what goes on, I’m going to fight to keep this play going?”

    In the case of Twisted, playwrights Charlotte Corbeil-Coleman and Joseph Jomo Pierre wanted to focus on the youth and their struggles. Joseph also made the narrative personal and relevant by making Oliver a mixed child and defining his struggle through the lens of the fact that he’s got an absentee mother.

    “I had a friend who was adopting right around this time. He was adopting a child and he explained to me how there’s a lot of black kids in the system. But there aren’t that many black families that are adopting children. So right there I was like, okay, that’s something that I can touch on. It was also a message that I can put out there for the black community — on a subject which we may not be engaged with, and start a conversation,” as Joseph explained.

    Building a Theatre Legacy in the Community

    In response to our question about the relationship between Toronto’s black community and the city’s theater scene, Joseph said that “it’s an interesting battle.” He feels that the community’s relationship with the arts happens on two levels. On the one hand, there’s a strong independent scene background and history, expressed in high school, local and church plays that go up for two days for instance, in the West Indian and African communities.

    “That becomes what we relate to as our expression. And because there’s this disconnect with what’s happening outside of that – like what’s happening in mainstream – for me it’s been a battle,” said Joseph.

    The struggle comes in the form of his efforts to break down some of those barriers so that our work isdone downtown and on main stages. The other objective is to ensure that our work is seen as a representation of Canadian expression.

    “So I think the battle is trying to get that message to the community that it doesn’t have to be something that’s small and independent to be something that we can rally around. And say yes, I want to see more of this. Yes, I want to see our lives and our stories put out there,” said Joseph.

    In an effort to build that legacy, the Piece of Mine Festival will be featuring the work of seven black contemporary playwrights at a special tribute, Black Men in Theater, taking place this Thursday and Friday (Feb. 19-20) at 918 Bathurst. The playwrights, including Joseph Jomo Pierre, will be showcasing new works-in-development.


     

    INFO ON BOTH SHOWS:

    TWISTED

    Written by Charlotte Corbeil-Coleman and Joseph Jomo Pierre

    Directed by Nigel Shawn Williams

    Starring Susanna Fournier and Ngabo Nabea

    Set Designer: Denyse Karn • Composer: Hagler

    Lighting Designer: Simon Rossiter • Projections/Video Designer: Simeon Taole

    Sound Designer: Richard Lee • Costume Designer: Michelle Bailey

    Factory, 125 Bathurst Street (at Adelaide)

    Run Dates: January 31 to February 22, 2015

    Opening Night: Thursday, February 5, 2015 @ 8pm

    Media Night: February 6, 2015

    Tuesday - Saturday @ 8pm • Sundays @ 2pm

    Ticket prices range from $23-$45 (plus applicable service charges) and can be purchased online at www.factorytheatre.ca or by calling 416.504.9971

    Student/Senior/Arts Worker discounts and Pay-What-You-Can Sunday Matinee tickets available

    BLACK MEN IN THEATRE

    In celebration of Black Legacy Month, 918 Bathurst presents the PIECE of MINE Festival for a special tribute to Black Men in Theatre. We are excited to feature 7 contemporary playwrights showcasing new works-in-development. Audiences can expect a range of content, from paternal relationships to historical revolution to self-discovery. Join us on Thursday, February 19 or Friday, February 20 for a solid line-up of home-grown talent!

    918 Bathurst , 918 Bathurst Street, Toronto, ON M5R 3G5

    http://pieceofminefest.com/

    Featured Playwrights

    Araya Mengesha - Incognito

    Chevy 'X' - Ayiti

    Jordan Laffrenier - Arbor

    Joseph 'Jomo' Pierre - Broke Boys & NewArtful

    Leighton Alexander Williams - The Shipment

    Luke Reece - Point Five

    Troy Crossfield - Something to Offer

    *The presentation is the same both nights

    Doors open at 7:00pm | Show time 7:30 - 10:00pm

    Tickets are $10 in advance and $15 at the door, purchase early to save!

    The PIECE of MINE Festival (POMF) platforms work-in-development from emerging to established career level black artists. The festival is about validating and celebrating the black experience. We present plays that are electric, poetic, personal and political in front of a connected audience.

    For more information please email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

     

Search Site

Latest on Instagram

Find a Job

Join Our Mailing List

Copyright © 2005 - 2017 Culture Shox Media Inc. All rights reserved unless otherwise stated.

Privacy Policy

Our website is protected by DMC Firewall!