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

    Opening this week are THE MINIONS and THE GALLOWS.  Smaller films opening include the excellent documentary AMY and TANGERINE.

     

    FILM REVIEWS: 

    AMY (UK 2015) ***1/2

    Directed by Asif Kapadia

    Beginning in 2003 and ending in her death at the early age of 27 in July 2011, the film AMY traces the troubled life of singer/songwriter Amy Winehouse, who made world headlines with both her tragic living and her talent.

    Directed by BAFTA award-winning director Asif Kapadia (SENNA), this is ‘everything you wanted to know about Amy Winehouse’, a comprehensive primer on her.  It features extensive unseen archive footage and previously unheard tracks, bringing the audience into the world of the rich, famous and unfortunate.  

    Considering the fact that Winehouse has since passed away for 2 years, this documentary/biography looks fresh as if she was still around, through the amount of footage time when she is heard and seen on the screen.  Director Kapadia has done an amazing job in assembling all the footage together to create her biography seen largely in chronological order.

    Director Kapadia spends a more than a fair amount of screen time on Winehouse drug and alcohol problems.  Yet she does not judge her character but the unforgiving people that causes her grief.  “I just do not know what to do if I am famous.”  Those are the sad words uttered by Winehouse before her fame.  The paparazzi are shown for all their disgust that they represent.  Idiots like Jay Reno can also be seen on his talk show benefiting on her demise by cracking senseless hurtful jokes like: “I hear Amy is now writing books on cooking…  cooking crystal mesh.”  Shame on you, Jay Leno!

    The best part of the film are the Winehouse’s performances whether singing on stage on during rehearsals.  The segment with Tony Bennett would mean a lot to her fans, as he praises her for being one of the best jazz singers of all time.  The highlight of her life and also a high point in the film - her acceptance of one of the Grammy Awards on stage.

    But the downside of her life is also on display, bringing the film to a sensitive balance. Winehouse’s inability to perform at a concert in Serbia is shown (archival footage) in all its sadness.  Winehouse dies a few days later from alcohol in her Camden home in London.  But the public should be sympathetic to her as her best friends in the film Lauren Gilbert and Juliette Ashby were.  They were always there for her too.

    The film show arrival footage and interviews from Any’s family that includes her father (who capitalized on her fame) and mother, ex-managers and ex-husband Blake who was sent to prison for drugs.

    But AMY the film does justice to singer/songwriter, Amy Winehouse.  It captures the heart of her music and shows her as both an amazing person and music genius despite her substance abuse.  As an additional bonus, there are unrecorded tracks of her songs featured in the film done by her before her death.

    Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=A97-pQJD6Hw

    BIG GAME (Finland/Germany/UK 2014) ***
    Directed by Jalmari Helander

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    There is much to enjoy in this G-rated crowd pleaser which adds the element of coming-of-age into the adventure formula.   The Finnish,German and Brit coproduction  is given a welcome boost by the presence of Samuel L. Jackson who always brings over-the-top energy to his roles.  I have not recalled a film in which he has not uttered his favourite term ‘mother f***er.  Here, he plays the President of the United on the survival skills of a 13-year-old woodsman.  But he still manages to utter those two words, though the last syllable clouded by the sound of a gun going off.  And because the two words were technically unheard on screen, the film could escape with the G rating.

    The film begins with two totally different worlds on display.  The first is 13-year Oskari (Onni Tommila) on his hunting manhood-rite.  He is very determined (as evident from his facial expressions) to succeed though his father has less confidence in his son.  Oskari enters the woods alone. The other world has President ‘Bill’ (Jackson), trapped in the wilderness after Air Force One is forced down by a terrorist attack.

    Director Jalmari Helander of the hit RARE EXPORTS: A CHRISTMAS TALE proves his mettle with another story with a kid as the protagonist.  In RARE EXPORTS, it is a boy with his father finding an evil Santa and uncovering the secret of slaughtered reindeer and disappearing children.  Here, the boy  Oskari becomes the unlikely hero and helps the President survive thus finally making the father proud.  It is a predictable script but it is a totally entertaining film and gladly, there is no need for a plot twist, a gimmick already too often used.

    Helander brilliantly executes the balancing act between action suspense and humour.  The villains, 4 in total are sinister enough, but of the James Bond villain variety.  Oscar Winner Jim Broadbent plays the most successful one, with all the evil relish he can muster, including a murder in the toilet.  The action scenes that include a freezer box containing the President and Oskari racing down the rapids and fights holding on to a helicopter are impressive enough.

    A lot of the film’s success rests on the chemistry between Jackson and the young actor Omni Tommila.  The young actor is a rare find, delivering not only a winning performance but also creating the good chemistry required.

    An additional bonus to the film is its Finnish touch.  Helander takes the Finnish rites-of-passage with full seriousness.  Helander also devotes quite a bit of screen time with the camera spanning the stunning Finnish landscape of the north.  In contrast, he pokes fun at the U.S.  One reason for kidnaping the President is illustrated by villain Morris (Ray Stevenson) expression of his disgust that the President has not only failed in his duty but cannot do a single push-up.  He is to be stuffed by a taxidermist as punishment.  “Instead of looking tough, you have to be tough,” is the advice given by the 13-year old to the President.

    BIG GAME though the premise might hanse sounded lame turns out to be more entertaining than expected.

    Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lHdFE10n9bc

     

     
     

    SELF/LESS (USA 2015) **

    Directed by Tarsem Singh

    selflessba

    SELF/LESS a sci-fi action thriller begins with super millionaire, Damian (Ben Kingsley) having two major problems - his  poor health and his needed reconciliation with his estranged daughter.  He succumbs to the temptation of living forever.  His mind is alert and he will have his body transported into an empty vessel by Dr. Albright (Matthew Goode) through an underground process called shedding.  But the promise of immortality turns into a nightmare when he experiences flashbacks which begin to reveal the disturbing origins of the body he now inhabits.  The main story is his search for the family of the man’s body and eventually do some good in his life.

    The problem with the film is that the story allows for lot of plot loopholes.  And the script by Alex and David pastor attempts to answer every question.  The result if a story with too much information and plot twists so that the suspense thriller is compromised, never mind silly neglected points like the car Damian (Ryan Reynolds playing the new Damian), Madeline  (Natalie martinez) and Claire (Michelle Dockery) conveniently parked away from their house where they were attacked.  Characters like Anton (Derek Luke) who befriends the new Damian early on in the story can also be eliminated without much effect.

    The overall effect of the film is a confused and over plotted action film.  The action sequences are nothing much to write home about, through there are quite few hand-to-hand fights.

    Another problem with films of this sort is that when the old Damian inhabits the new body, his character disappears due to the fact that the audience only sees the new body.  So how the millionaire feels and acts look foreign.

    There has been quite a lot of sci-fi films this year but the best is still EX-MACHINA.  Director Tarsem Singh has created the similar effect in SELF/LESSas his last film - the fairy tale MIRROR MIRROR, which is a totally forgettable big budget film.

    Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Mc4sz6neHDs

    THE MINIONS (USA 2015) **

    Directed by Pierre Coffin, Kyle Balda

    Written by Brian Lynch in a script which has minimal dialogue for its minion characters, THE MINIONS follows the history of the yellow gibberish creatures from prehistoric times to the 60’s as they search for purpose in life.  Their purpose takes the form of finding an evil master (why evil is never explained) from T-rexes to Dracula to Napoleon Buonaparte (since the directors and a lot of film crew are French).  The narration by Geoffrey Rush, National Geographic style informs the audience of the  minions’ evolution, which are lame excuses to wring cheap laughs.

    The main plot involves the minions’ three saviours, Kevin, Stuart andBob (voiced by the directors) as they search for an evil master.  They eventually settle on Scarlet Overkill and aid her steal the crown jewels from Queen Elizabeth (neatly voiced by Jennifer Saunders).

    There are inherent problems with the minions movie.  Firstly, it is a spin off of supporting characters.  The minions were servants of Dr. Gru (Steve Carrell) in DESPICABLE ME.  Spin off characters seldom make it as main leads.  Another disadvantage is that the minions speak no English, only gibberish.  The animators get away with sneaking a few words for the minions like ‘gracias’ and ‘kumbaya’, but the vocabulary is too limited and the words repeated once too often.  The cuteness and goofiness factors are pushed to the limit.  No doubt that these are cute characters, made more adorable by donning them with blue overalls and useless goggles and have them come in different shapes, eyes and sizes.  Kevin, the main minion is tall and long, Bob is rotund and Stuart is plan silly looking.

    As the minions are hardly characters, the film relies on Oscar winner Sandra Bullock’s character, the super villainess, Scarlet Overkill.  Though Bullock has proven her comedic skills in films like Paul Feig’s THE HEAT opposite Melissa McCarthy, her character cannot stand alon in this film.  There is only so much she can do with her stereotyped uninventive character.  Carrell did much better as Dr. Gru.

    The beginning skits of the minions looking for different Masters before each are destroyed due to their own doing are mildly funny.  Again these are pushed right to the limit to the end of the movie.

    The ending of THE MINIONS when the creatures find a new master, a young Dr. Gru spices up the rather uninventive story.  This only proves how important the Dr. Gru character was in the DESPICABLE ME movies.

    Cute as they are, the minions are nowhere as funny or goofy as the Loony Tunes characters like Daffy Duck, Bugs Bunny or Elmer Fudd.  And the Loony Tunes characters seldom last more than a 5-minute cartoon.  Absence makes the heart grow fonder or enough is enough should be in the minds of the directors.

    A trailer of the new Universal animated feature THE SECRET LIFE OF PETS works on the same principle of the minions movie - cuteness.  The trailer appeared to garner cheers from the audience.  But the trailer lasted less than 5 minutes.  A 90-minute film, like THE MINIONS will wear cuteness to the stage of ‘enough is enough’.

    Still THE MINIONS have their fans.  And Universal has been been getting hit after hit of movies this year.  This film should be no exception.  

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

    TANGERINE (USA 2015) ***
    Directed by Sean Baker

    The film opens when Sin-Dee Rella (Kiki Kitana Rodriguez), fresh out of her 28-day prison stint, is hunting down her pimp boyfriend, Chester (James Ranson) after hearing rumours that he has been cheating on her with some girl whose name begins with a ‘d’.  Her best friend, Alexandra (Mya Taylor) promises to come along with her on the promise that there will be ‘no drama’.  But it is all the drama that makes this film.

    TANGERINE is no ordinary film.  For one, it is anyone’s guess why the film is so-called.  Perhaps it is tangerine country in L.A. where the film is shot.  The two subjects Sin-Dee and Alexandra are both trans-gender prostitutes, but the film should be enjoyed beyond the LGBT circuit.  The film is also completely shot using Apple iPhone 5s cameras and associate devices that include a steadicam rig to stabilize the images.

    The action takes place at the Highland Avenue, Santa Monica intersections of the L.A. sex-trade neighbourhood, the corner for transgender hookers during a Christmas eve.  The date is a ruining joke throughout the film.  One comical scene occurs when one customer kicks a straight hooker out of his car because she has no dick, she obviously selling her wares on the wrong corner.  Mosts scenes follow the two friends who keep using their own lingo like ‘bitch’, ‘shut the f*** up’ and the like.  But director Baker throws another character into the story - an Armenian cab driver named Razmik (Karren Karagulian) who frequents the transgender prostitutes, unknown to his family till his mother-in-law catches him red handed in the donut shop where Sin-Dee finally finds Chester.  The donut shop forms the venue for the film’s dramatic or comedic climax, depending how one wants to look at it.

    The little film also contains a neat message on the strength of friendships, delivered in the film in the weirdest way.

    The film works because the film’s characters are so irresistibly watchable.  They are extremely catty.  If they are not at each other’s throats, they are off at others.  The script by Chris Bergoch also contains inventive set-ups.  It is always one surprise after another.  The best is Sin-Dee entering a whorehouse, finding who she thinks is the girl who slept with Chester.  She then spends a whole lot of screen time dragging her by the hair half around the city before confronting Chester.

    But the film ends rather abruptly, for want of a proper conclusion.  Still, one wants to see more of the low lives on display.

    TANGERINE is not everyone’s movie, and that is a good thing.  Baker’s film is full of spirit and energy, from start to finish, a feat seldom accomplished in big or small budgeted movies.  Shot on iPhones, the film is surprisingly clear as well as intimate.  One would not like to meet any of the film’s characters on the street, but one cannot keep ones eyes off them.

    Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ALSwWTb88ZU

    THAT SUGAR FILM (Australia 2014) ***
    Directed by Damon Gameau

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    Everybody knows by now that refined sugar is not good for the body.  Yet everyone still drinks pop. “Just Can’t Get Enough”, the Depeche Mode song appropriately opens the film that educates audiences on the danger of consuming sugar.

    In 2004, upcoming filmmaker Morgan Spurlock underwent a self-induced experiment of embarking on a non-stop diet of McDonald menu foods to see what damage could be done to his body.  His film SUPER SIZE ME became an instant sensation.  In THAT SUGAR FILM, Aussie documentarist Damon Gameau attempts a similar feat - this time using sugar.

    In THAT SUGAR FILM, Gameau goes for 60 days on a 40 teaspoon sugar diet.  The man was sugar free before and a relatively fit person.  Keeping the calorie intake identical but only changing the source of the sugars, Gameau gained a 3 inch expansion of his waistline while gaining 15 lbs.  But most important of all, he gained a fatty, unhealthy live and became susceptible to extreme mood swings.  The raison d’être for the experiment is his and his wife’s incoming birth of a new baby daughter.  They want to know what’s best for her.

    The experiment is a controlled one.  Gameau consults the experts of the  medical profession.  He concocts nicknames for them like Professor Blood, the Crusader and the Celtic Food Guru.

    Gameau utilizes a mixture of education, musical numbers and humour to get his point across.  But films using this tactic often has the humour undermine the importance of the subject.  Fortunately the facts are presently so strongly in this case that the humour supplements the effect of the message.  One prime example is the segment on Mountain Dew teeth.  A small town in the States is place where all the kids drink Mountain Dew to alarming results.  A 17-year old is shown with all his bad teeth as a result.  He undergoes a procedure to extract all 26 of his teeth to be replaced by dentures.  And because of his gum infection, the anaesthetic does not work fully.  Another example is actor Stephen Fry doing a stand-up coming routine on the evils of sugar.  But Gameau’s claim of the extreme amount of sugar in a bottle of Mountain Dew is a bit exaggerated, as I did not a check of the sugar contents of a bottle.

    The film also presents straight facts.  The audience is given advice as do not eat refined sugars, cake candy, ice-cream etc.

    But the medical facts make the most sense and serve as the film’s best arguments.  Sugar prevents the body from processing fat so that sugar is in reality worse that fat. The film also dispenses the myth that brown sugar or corn syrup are good substitutes.  Audiences are specifically told of the evils of fructose and sucrose.

    Using entertainment and much humour, THAT SUGAR FILM is an eye-opening film and would definitely make a different to the diet of anyone watching the film.  I, myself have already started a relatively sugar-free diet.

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

    BEST BETS:

     Best Film Opning: AMY

    Best Animation: INSIDE OUT

    Best Documenatry: AMY

    Best Action: MAD MAX FURY ROAD

    Best Foreign: A PIGEON SAT ON A BRANCH REFLECTING ON EXISTENCE

    Best Indie:  DOPE and TANGERINE

    Best Western: SLOW WEST

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

    THIS WEEK'S FILM REVIEWS (JULY 1st 2015)

    Early openings Wednesday becasue of Canada Day and U.S July 4th holidays.

    MAGIC MIKE XXL and TERMINATOR GENISYS open Wednesday and SUITE FRANCAISE open at the Bell Lightbox, Toronto on Thursday July 2nd.

    FILM REVIEWS:

    DEEP WEB (USA 2015) ***

    Directed by Alex Winter

    deepwebba

    Director Alex Winter, best known as Keanu Reeves slacker friend in BILL AND TED’S EXCELLENT ADVENTURE has made another informative documentary, this time about the deep web aka the Silk Road.  Winter has ventured into directing, his last feature being another doc called DOWNLOADED.  DEEP WEB is narrated by Keanu Reeves who has an interest in Bitcoins.

    DEEP WEB covers the events surrounding Silk Road, Bitcoin and politics of the Dark Web.  Covering the trial of Ross Ulbricht, the documentary features interviews with Wired writer Andy Greenberg who puts the whole picture into perspective.

    The film begins with facts, facts and more facts.  Just when the film tethers towards being too technical, it swings to concentrate on its administrator, Ross Ulbricht, aka Dread Pirate Roberts (name from THE PRINCESS BRIDE).  But when using the search engine TOR which totally encrypts the information of users accessing this, Deep Web or Silk Road, users can ‘safely’ buy illicit drugs alike LSD, molly and heroin from the web.  But the feds finally caught on with Ulbricht finally arrested.  How the feds found the information, through some server in Finland is never explained. The film is now able to connect to the audience in more human terms.  So the film switches from the technical information of the wide web to Ulricht’s trial.  But some may complain that the film never gets to the core of the Wide Web.  But the film also goes into some detail, with a segment on British encryptors having a meeting in London.

    Ulbricht is not allowed to be interviewed when he is in prison.  So the film uses old footage, family and news of the man as well as interviews from his family, particularly his mother, who has turned out quite the articulate crusader.

    The film is obviously biased towards the Deep Web and to the case of Ross Albricht.  His mother is the one who condemns the judicial system as unfair.  Evidence that would help her son is deemed inadmissible by the judge who always seem to favour the prosecution.

    Albricht has been accused of being a drug lord as well as a murderer who has hired hit men to kill his witnesses.  How true this is - no one will ever know, and Winter allows the audience to make their own decision, which is a good thing.  But Winter provides testimony on Albricht, how he would never hurt a fly.  And what he is only guilty of - is to be the administrator of the Deep Web.

    The film holds the result of Ulbricht’s trial to the last, forming the film’s climax. If the trial turns out positive with Ulbricht acquitted, that would account for a happy ending.  Those who have followed the news on the Deep Web already know that this is not the case.  Ulbricht has got a life sentence on May the 29th with no parole.  But he is finally allowed to be interviewed.  The questions  posed to him are what he would see himself in 5 yard and further into the future.  His answers form the film’s conclusion.

    Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BRTps__Ym5M

     

    MAGIC MIKE XXL (USA 2015) **

    Directed by Gregory Jacob

     

    The sequel MAGIC MIKE XXL is an improvement to Steven Soderbergh’s terrible original in 2003, but that is not saying much.  Soderbergh served as executive producer for the sequel leaving the directorial reigns to Gregory Jacob who was Soderbergh’s first assistant director all the OCEAN’S ELEVEN sequels and original.

    The film begins three years after Magic Mike (Channing Tatum) bowed out of the stripper life at the top of his game.  Mike and the remaining Kings of Tampa hit the road to Myrtle Beach to put on one last blow-out performance.

    The promo screening was 90% female and it is easy to see why.  The film on male dancers or male entertainers, the industry term, would delight all the women for the great male bodies on display.

    A lot of screen time is devoted to the male dancing.  The film has the feel of “So You Think You Can Dance” with each member of the cast doing their thing that forms the climax of the film.  In fact one of the male dancers is played by Stephen Boss, was one of the winners of the TV series.  The script by Reid Carolyn is smart enough to realize that the audience are paying the bucks to see male flesh and not story or character development.  In fact the film runs into trouble whenever it begins on any story, such as Mike’s meeting with a girl Zoe (Amber Heard) on the beach.  They try to spice up the meeting with her catching him peeing in public, but the ‘souped up’ dialogue is totally silly, ridiculous and contrived.

    For a film about male strippers, there is surprisingly no nudity - front or back.  But lots of teasing and going through the motions.  

    The best part of the film occurs at the beginning when the dancers ham it up doing effeminate moves on a show host by a drag queen.  Nothing else in thefilm can match up to that.

    The dance moves are a riot and almost good enough to save the movie.  But the dances are not nearly as good as “So You Think You Can Dance”.  But Channing Tatum is a hoot as Magic Mike.  Andie MacDowell has her fun as drunk rich socialite, Nancy Davidson, whose mansion is fortunately invaded by Mike and gang.  But Jada Pinkett Smith overstays her welcome as the dancers’ M.C. becoming really tiresome with her silly written introductions to the dancers.

    The film ends as abruptly as an end to a strip dance with the screen going black.  The shortage of material comes across loud and clear.  But the females in the audience do not seem to mind.

    Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RwPR0q5es0A

     

     

    SUITE FRANCAISE (France/Belgium /UK 2014) **

    Directed by Saul Dibb

    suitefrancasieba

    SUITE FRANCAISE stands for two things in the film. One is the French suite that a German Officer, Lt. Bruno stays in, in Central France during the German Occupation and the second the name of musical piece, this composer, Bruno wrote whose melody reminds his French love, Lucille (Michelle Williams) of their affair.

    The film is a World War 2 romantic drama based on Irene Nemirovsky’s 2004 novel of the same name.  It centres on a romance between a French villager and a German soldier during the early years of the German occupation of France.

    The novel was supposed to be in 5 parts, but the author died in a concentration cpm before she finished writing.  The film is based on the fist 2 parts, the Exodus of the French from Paris to the outskirts, which is barely shown in the film.  The second part is where the film dwells.

    But when the filmmakers decide to make the film in English to appeal to a wider audience and using British instead of a French crew, one can smell trouble brewing.  The French speak English with a French accent to the French and to the Germans.  The Germans actors playing the Germans speak in German and English with a German accent when peaking to the French.  Unfortunately, the film occasionally has the feel of the TV series “Allo, Allo” in which British actors play French villages in WWII.

    Due to the source material, the film has a very strong woman’s point of view. In a sense it is a case of love conquers all and that love can overcome the enmity felt among war enemies.  It is a really romantic view of the war that does not really hold true nor work, but to the credit of the script co-written by Dibb and Matt Charman, the story does question Lucille’s loyalties at one point into the film.

    Lucille is staying with her stern mother-in-law Madame Angellier (Kristin Scott Thomas) in Bussy who she does not get along with while her husband, not seen in the film is at war.  When the Germans appear in the village, each home is forced to house a German soldier.  Madame Angellier takes it Lt. Bruno (Matthias Schoenaerts).  Lucille discovers her husband’s unfaithfulness and that he has had a son. Lt. Bruno and Lucille have an affair.  Things get complicated when a villager shoots a German Officer and Lucille gives him a hiding place.

    Though the atmosphere is full of tension, Dibb’s film has a surprising dull middle section.  It is only when Benoit comes into the picture, killing the German officer that the film picks up.  Otherwise, the other elements of the story such as the shootout at the German check point and the doomed love affair of the French and German hidden from the mother-in-law feel contrived.  And executed like a TV movie.

    Of all the performances, Ruth Wilson stands out as the long-suffering wife of Benoit (Sam Riley). 

    Despite the excellent cast including the well known German actor Tom Schilling playing the nasty Kurt Bonnet, Dibb’s film is poorly paced and alternates between scenes of suspense and ones whee nothing much happens.  But the film, shot in France and Belgium gives the film the appropriate period atmosphere.

    The voiceover during the entire film that relates exactly what is going on is annoying.  The worse is the line spoken at the end: “We did our part and in the same way in 4 years, France was free.”  - quite a preposterous statement.  The film has an open ending, likely reflecting the unfinished parts of the author’s 5-part novel.

    The piece SUITE FRANCAISE was composed by Alexandre Desplat who was replaced in the film by Rael Jones.  The film features original music by these two as well as recognizable French tunes by Lucienne Boyer, Josephine Baker and Rosita Serrano.

    Director Gibb chose to put the film into perspective by bookending it with the novel’s discovery by Denise Epstein (Eileen Aitkins), the author’s daughter.

    But the film is a clear disappointment.  One can hope that the novel be given a better treatment with a French director that will do justice to the material.

    Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4cR0L6invGQ

     

     
     
     

     

    TERMINATOR GENISYS (USA 2015) **
    Directed by Alan Taylor

    TERMINATOR GENISYS, the fifth instalment of the TERMINATOR series started by James Cameron is not so much a re-boot than a culmination of all the films, attempting to summarize all of the stories.  The film begins with a 15 minute voiceover amidst starting credits to inform the audience the state of affairs of the dystopian world.  Skynet has destroyed the world and terminators are killing off all the human beings, with the survivors gone into hiding.

    For those who have forgotten, terminators are machines designed to kill human beings.  The boy Kyle Reese is saved from a terminator by John Connor (Australia’s Jason Clarke).  John and Kyle, when grown up (Jai Courtney) destroy the terminators HQ in a feat too easily done.  But nothing is as good as it gets.  The terminators have travelled to the past to kill John’s mother to wipe out that point in history so that the revolution and the event of their defeat is erased from history.  If John’s mum is killed, there is no John and no destruction of the terminators HQ.  Kyle travels back and finds the mother, called Sarah Connor (Emilia Clarke), who somehow knows who Kyle is.  Kyle also meets a good terminator (Arnold Schwarzenegger) who protects Sarah Connor.  Why is Sarah always called by her full name Sarah Connor is funny.  Why there is a good terminator is also unconvincingly explained.  And there is a bad John Connor who suddenly appears to kill Sarah Connor.  And the plot gets more complicated with the story changing as the film progresses.  The story changes so many times that one need not bother about following any longer.  There is some silly theory too about dual timelines and characters seeing themselves.  This is a case in time travel where logic is thrown down the gutter.  Kyle’s new mission is altered now to destroy skynet before it destroys the world.

    The film, thankfully is action non-stop.  The plot holes, at least can be dismissed by the unassuming fan.  But there are segments seen before in other films, like the collapse of the Golden Gate Bridge, done before in the recent SAN ANDREAS.  But without pacing, the action segments tend to get tiresome.

    Even Schwarzenegger’s presence cannot save the movie.  His “I’ll be Back”, an already too-familiar phrase did not register any response from the audience at the promo screening.  His new smile showing his white teeth did garner laughs, but it is quite a creepy smile.  The John Connor character appears in the film at times, with and without his facial scars, which is puzzling.  And Oscar winner J.K. Simmons has a token role as a police officer who wants to help the time travellers.

    TERMINATOR GENISYS proves that social effects, CGI and lots of action cannot make a good movie.  It can fool audience to be glued at the action sequences, but that is about it.  Audiences can now wait for the next action blockbuster reboot.  There will be no shortage of the  BATMAN and SPIDER-MAN reboots, which are already in the process.

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

  • TIFF Cinematheque Presents - Vittorio De Sica

    TIFF CINEMATHEQUE PRESENTS - VITTORIO DE SICA

    The series entitled “More Than Life Itself: Rediscovering the Films of Vittorio De Sica” begins June 26th 2015. 

    This series goes on in conjunction with TIFF Cinematheqiue’s Summer in Italy series.

    Dedicated to the great Italian maestro, De Sica are rare and restored prints of classics including Bicycle Thieves, Marriage Italian Style, Umberto D. and Two Women.

    All the above 4 films and THE CHILDREN ARE WATCHING US are capsule reviewed below.

    CAPSULE REVIEWS:

    THE CHILDREN ARE WATCHING US (IL BAMBINI CI GUARDANO) (Italy 1944) ****

    Directed by Vittorio De Sica

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    It is exactly how the title implies. Prico is the young boy who quietly observes the mother Nina’s infidelity with her lover, Roberto. It all begins when she takes him to a park for her rendezvous. Thing get complicated when she leaves suddenly and then returns home to the family out of guilt for the boy. Films told from a child’s point of view have always that certain innocent charm that wows the audience. This film is no exception. It is one of innocence lost in an adult’s corrupt world. The scene in which the boy lies to the father to protect the mother is one of the film’s most moving segments. It also confirms De Sica’s mettle at working with children in films (BICYCLE THIEVES, SHOWSHINE). It helps that Luciano De Ambrosis playing the boy is absolutely adorable. The film will be screened in a rare imported 35mm print. Th film’s ending is incredibly powerful and unforgettable.

    LADRI DI BICICLETTE (Bicycle Thieves) (Italy 1948) *****

    Directed by Vittorio De Sica

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    One of the most beloved and heartbreaking films of all times, De Sica’s LADRI DI BICICLETTE is the ultimate neorealist film. It tells of a man, Antonio Ricci (Lamberto Maggiorani) who has his bicycle, his only means of making a living stolen. Desperate, he roams the streets on a Sunday with his son (Enzo Staiola) hunting down the thief. The adventures provide more trouble than ever, as the thief is found, but there is nothing that can be done with no evidence or witnesses. De Sica ups the suspense many times during the film, especially in the early scenes when the audience knows that the bicycle is going to be stolen, or when Antonio is deciding whether to steal another bike. The non-professional actors are surprisingly perfect, especially Staiola as the son. The poor working class atmosphere is effectively created as well as the desperation of the Romans unable to get decent work. LADRI DI BICICLETTE is still a pleasure to watch, time and time again!

    MARRIAGE, ITALIAN STYLE (MATRIMONIO ALL’ITALIANA) (Italy/Fr 1964) ***** 

    Directed by Vittorio De Sica

    Simply put, MARRIAGE, ITALIAN STYLE is the best romantic comedy of all time.  Full of heart, Italian charm, romance, emotion, drama and tons of laugh-out loud laughs this is one must-see film that will blow you away.  Based on the play Filumena Martunaro, the film begins with the World War II era story of a cynical, successful businessman named Domenico (Marcello Mastroianni), who, after meeting a naive country girl, Filumena (Sophia Loren), one night in a Neapolitan brothel, keeps frequenting her for years in an on-off relationship (as she continues working as a prostitute).  He fools her to meet his mother only to have her take care of her - an ailing, senile woman, who comically, dies in the film’s next scene.  She fools him to marry her, him believing she is about to die.  She reveals to him to be the mother of 3 sons, one of which is his.  Typically Italian, the film is full of shouting and full of keen observations on Neopolitan life.  Loren, nominated for the Best Actress oscar is simply magnificent and beautiful in every way, especially in the scene where she climbs out of the window of a bus.  The film was also nominated for the Best Foreign Film Oscar.

    TWO WOMEN (LA CIOCIARA) (ITALY/FRANCE 1960) ****
    Directed by Vittorio De Sica

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    The Italian title La Ciociara translates to ‘the woman’. The English title TWO WOMEN refers to Cesira (Sophia Loren), a wealthy shopkeeper in Rome and her 12-year old daughter, Rosetta (Eleanora Brown) who suffers from a weak heart. When allied bombs fall in Rome during the second world war, they travel to the village where Cesira was born.  TWO WOMEN is a road trip, in a way as they do a lot of travelling with major incidents occurring then. The film spends a fair amount of time in the village where Cesira meets a communist intellectual Michele (Jean-Paul Belmondo) who falls in love with her. But the most disturbing segment is when mother and daughter get raped by soldiers hiding in a church. This cruel event is too much for the always powerful fighting Cesira and she suffers from a breakdown.  A drama that has a light touch till the rape scene. De Sica captures both the human condition during the horrors of war. Loren won the Oscar for Best Actress for her role in this film.

    UMBERTO D (Italy 1952) ****

    Directed by Vittorio De Sica

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    Made after LADRI DI BICICLETTE, though not as good but still effective in its storytelling, UMBERT D begins with a march of elderly men for the raising of pensions which is quickly stopped by the police because the men had no permit to march. The crowd files out of the square, still muttering their protests, with the camera eventually focusing in on one of the marchers, Umberto D (non-professional actor Carlo Battisti). The story centres on this old man who needs money to prevent his eviction from his rented room. He is unable to find the money and is depressed to the point of suicide. His old friends are a pregnant maid and Flike, his dog. De Sica’s camera follows UMBERTO D around the town evoking the audience’s emotions as a decent man tries to survive in a hard world without enough money. The simple climax is sufficient to shake the audience out of their seats.

  • This Week's Film Reviews (Jun 26, 2015)

    Two animal movies open this week.  Dog or Teddy bear?  Max is  family movie about a boy and his dog while TED 2 is an R-rated comedy.  Eden and The Overnight also open.

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    Three new series open at TIFF Bell Lightbox.  TIFF Cinematheque presents - Summer in Italy, Dreaming in Technicolour and Vittorio De Sica.

    FILM REVIEWS:

    EDEN (France 2014) ****

    Directed by Mia Hansen-Love

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    Director of GOODBYE, FIRST LOVE and LE PERE DES MES ENFANTS, Hansen-Love tackles a more ambitious project – the rise of electronic dance music from the 80’s to the 00’s as seen through the eye of rising teenage DJ Paul (Felix de Givry). 

    Paul and a friend form a DJ duo called Cheers. Hansen-Love ties in another group of two called Daft Punk, that moves into his circle of friends. Those in the scene know of the success of Daft Punk especially after they created such a hit in 2013 with their song/mix “Get Lucky”. Hansen-Love shoots all the glories and downs of the club scene from the girls, drugs and dance to the club’s high rents, change in music styles and romances. 

    The film is lengthy at 130 minutes, and can be quite the chore to watch if one is not familiar or interested in the subject matter. Though Hansen-Love never goes into depth, just skimming the surface of the club scene, her camerawork does capture the spirit of the moment. It helps that she likely drew insight from her younger brother, DJ Therein who in real life had residency at the well-known Queen Club in Paris. 

    Her traits from her previous films are also evident in EDEN. Romances picked up after a decade follow the one in GOODBYE, FIRST LOVE and the shot of Paul crossing the street is reminiscent of the poster of the actor doing the same in LE PERE DES MES ENFANTS.

    Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2l1T9xs-o0o

    THE LITTLE DEATH (Australia 2014) ***1/2

    Directed by Josh Lawson

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    Australian Josh Lawson’s debut feature uses dictionary definitions as a plot device. It begins with the translation of ‘le petit mort’ or the little death which is explained as a slang term for ‘orgasm’. What then unfolds is a cute, inventive little sex comedy with 4 couples exploring other sexual fetish (largely unfamiliar) definitions such as dacryphilia (sexual arousal through crying).

    THE LITTLE DEATH works in a similar fashion to Woody Allen’s EVERYTHING YOU ALWAYS WANTED TO KNOW ABOUT SEX BUT WERE AFRAID TO ASK, only with more heart. And with that surprise difference, it makes this a better film.

    The first couple, Maeve (Bojana Novakovic) and Paul (Lawson himself) fare pretty well despite the fact that they are not married. But when Maeve confesses to Paul that she has a ‘rape’ fantasy, he tries to surprise her but with disastrous results. The second couple, Evie (Kate Mulvany) and Dane (Damon Herriman) embark on role playing to spice up their sex life. The weirdest couple is long-married Phil (Alan Dukes) and Maureen (Lisa McCune). Maureen nags half the time while Phil has a sexual kick while watching his wife sleeping. This results in him drugging her to sleep every night. The funniest couple gives a whole new definition to the term water sports. Rowena (Kate Box) discovers herself mightily aroused whenever her husband, Richard (Patrick Brammall) sheds a tear (dacryphilia). As a result, she goes all out of the way to keep Richard crying including forcing him to peel onions which is becoming more and more common during meals. All these segments are linked together by the character Steve, newly moved into the neighbourhood, who suddenly appears at the door of each couple offering baked ‘gollywogs’ while informing them that he is required by law to inform them that he is a convicted sex offender.

    The stories are inventive and fresh enough. Though one might not work that well with a film like this one knows that one can expect something better around the corner. And director Lawson springs a major surprise with the wild card of the ending boy and girl (not technically a couple) meeting by chance. Monica (Erin James) works at a video service translating phone calls for the deaf-mute. She winds up on a call with Sam (T.J. Power), only to find that he wants her to mediate his conversation with a phone-sex operator (Genevieve Hegney). What transpires is a perfectly orchestrated verbal and visual set-up guaranteed to have the audience laughing out loud while feeling super good at the same time. If every one of the stories were this well executed, the film would garner 5 stars.

    The stories begin with each couple being set up.  Then the stories of the first 4 couples are intercut among each other.  The only exception is the last story that is allowed to unroll in its entirety forming the film's climax.  This is a good decision on the director's part as the last story packs the biggest punch!

    The film should be seen for the last segment alone. Still, the other stories are not half bad and should provide the laughs, though at times quite uncomfortably. THE LITTLE DEATH is a good little naughty film that should keep audiences titillated. Whatever happened to ordinary run of the mill sex? as one of the characters in the film complains. But there is nothing to complain here.

    Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BnnhesQ8Rxc

    MAX (USA 2015) **

    Directed by Boaz Yakin

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    One would like to give credit to a good old-fashioned family film made in a good old fashioned way, in this case, a good dog trainer doing his stuff and made without special effects and CGI. MAX has a good story and possesses good family values in its message. Unfortunately, good intentions are not enough. The execution of the film leaves lots of plot holes and the film leans toward sentiment, perhaps like the classic dog movie LASSIE, COME HOME.

    A military dog, named Max, from Afghanistan is adopted by his late handler's (Robbie Amell) grieving family in the U.S., where his close bond with the soldier's brother, Justin (Josh Wiggins) leads to a life-altering revelation in this family-friendly adventure. The story is expanded to include some weapons running involving some bad-ass Mexicans, though Justin’s best friend and romantic interest is also Mexican.

    The dog vs. dog fights, racing and dog attack segments are well orchestrated and almost lift the film above its flaws.

    Yakin’s film is considerable racist against the Mexicans. The Mexicans are deemed the bad guys, period. They all speak with the stereotyped accent and treated as second class citizens in the movie.

    As for plot holes, the father’s (Thomas Haden Church) gun holster just happens to be left behind for the dog, Max to pick up the scent Max trails the father through a stream with heavy currents though it is clear that he never went through that path. The father also leaves a message to his family about going to a hunting lodge which triggers suspicion as the family does not own one. Why would the kidnappers allow the father to phone home?

    But audiences might still favour seeing a boy and his dog surmount unbeatable odds. It would be interesting to se how this film (95% on Rotten Tomatoes say they want to see this film) fares at the box-office.

    Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6EPPMCwD5bw

    THE OVERNIGHT (USA 2015) ***
    Directed by Patrick Brice

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    The Duplass Brothers and actor Adam Scott must have been impressed with Patrick Brice to have executively produce his film. Judging from the curriculum vitae of the producers (The Duplass Brothers’ HUMPDAY and Adam Scott’s naughty HOT TUB TIME MACHINE 2), small budget sex comedies seem right up their alley.

    The film begins with the main couple Alex (Adam Scott) and Emily (Taylor Schilling) having sex sans nudity. This follows with Alex taking their son to the playground where he meets another kid. They get invited to the kid’s parents (Jason Schwartzman and Judith Godreche) neighbour welcoming dinner party. The children's playdate becomes a couple's playdate after the children are put to sleep.

    THE OVERNIGHT falls into the category of ‘uncomfortable comedy’ (THE OUT-OF-TOWNERS, THE HANGOVER 2). These are comedies based on mishaps occurring one after another on the unfortunate lead characters. The main trap these comedies fall into are that the mishaps are often unfunny and it is uncomfortable for the audience to find humour in the misfortune of others. In THE OVERNIGHT, as the couples party deeper into the night, Alex and Emily face weirder and weirder situations (Kurt’s a**hole paintings, Charlotte’s bi-sexuality) which are not necessarily funny. The pot smoking and drinking forms the excuse that Alex and Emily do not leave the party.

    Brice’s script stereotypes the French to be sexual liberators. Charlotte is French and Kurt has lived in France. 

    Adam Scott plays Alex, who is the primary victim in the sex ensemble of 4. Scott has proven himself the able victim in HOT TUB TIME MACHINE 2 in the unforgettable scene where he gets it up the a**, and he proves he is again willing to go all the way in terms of a male kiss. Jason Schwartzman comes across as a good creepy too-friendly neighbour with something up his sleeve.

    The film comes across as a male rather than a female comedy. The two wives appear manipulated by their husbands though they have the occasional say. The breast pump and massage segments may offend the female audience that might result in more males liking the film.  The script contains more male humour with items such as penis envy, homophobia, and male dominance in the sense that the husbands have the final say.

    THE OVERNIGHT has the same feel (but not as funny) as the other couples claustrophobic film, CARNAGE, Roman Polanski’s adaptation of a French play “The God of Carnage”. Even the puke scene (Kate Winslet in CARNAGE to Scott’s in OVERNIGHT) seem a used plot device.

    For a film with a naughty premise that stretches the limit throughout its running time, it ends on a fairly safe note with a plot twist. Plot twists are almost a requirement in American scripts these days.

    THE OVERNIGHT arrives at the same time as another little sex comedy THE LITTLE DEATH (slang term for orgasm) from Australia. These two films should keep couples with naughty thoughts in their mind fully occupied. 

    Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=R54tN3njkpE

     

    BEST BETS:

    Drama: Testament of Youth

    Action: Mad Max: Fury Road

    Animation: inside Out

    Foreign Language: A Pigeon Sat on a Branch Reflecting on Existence

    Comedy : Dope

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

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

    JURASSIC WORLD and ME, EARL AND THE DYING GIRL are the big ones opening this week.  But a lot of little gems also make their debut.

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    FILM REVIEWS:

    HUNTING ELEPHANTS (Israel/USA 2013) ***

    Directed by Reshef Levi

    'Hunting Elephants' film - 2013

    HUNTING ELEPHANTS is the characters’ code for robbing a bank in Reshef Levi’s Hebrew hilarious crowed-pleaser.

    The film is a crime caper in which seniors with Alzheimer’s rob a bank under the plan of a bullied kid genius. The boy is 12-year old Yonatahn (Gil Blank), smarter than everyone else in school but a stutterer with no friends. When his father dies of a heart attack in the bank that he works, the mother Dorit (Yael Abecassis) goes with the bank manager, Deddy (Moshe Ivgy) in order to make their months living payments. It is a bit of Hamlet here. The man (indirectly) murders the man and steals the wife. In revenge, Yonathan, who has learnt all about the bank’s security from his father, enlists the help of his grandfather, Eliyahu (Sasson Gabai), his uncle the British Lord Michael Simpson (a very funny Patrick Stewart that audiences have never seen before) and Eliyahu’s best friend, Nick (Moni Moshonov) to rob it.

    The film works on several levels. For one, it is a heartfelt comedy. The scenes in which the father dies and another where the grandfather pines over his comatose wife in hospital will be enough to make ones eyes swell in tears. The acting is top notch. Then comes the out-of-place British Lord, a third-rate actor who wows all the Jewish ladies in the old age home. The script gives the best lines to the Lord character. His dialogue in English, often uttered in proud Shakespearean prose in the midst of Hebrew is priceless. This character is the most fun and director Levi milks it for all its worth. There is also a segment of him playing (imagine Captain Pikard playing Darth Vader) Darth Vader in a London play called “Hamlet: Revenge of the Sith”.

    But the the film about old age seniors falls into some of the identical traps of similar films. The chasing of young skin form cheap laughs that should have been avoided. Lord Simpson is enticed by a busty hospital worker, Sigi (Rotem Zissman-Cohen) to her apartment only to end up teaching English to her kid. The sexist subplot may offend the women in the audience.

    But it is still quite the clever script with interesting characters and countless laugh-out loud moments. The execution of the bank heist is also executed with a little suspense and full credibility. It is also good to see a commercial Jewish film about ordinary people and not abut the Israel/Palestine conflict for a change, though there is mention of Eliyahu being in a Jewish terrorist group.

    Despite its flaws, there is much to enjoy in HUNTING ELEPHANTS. It is a well-made movie, a hit in Israel, where it is apparent from the film that everyone has put their heart and soul into making it. And it definitely shows.

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

     

    JURASSIC WORLD (USA 2015) ***

    Directed by Colin Trevorrow

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    The long awaited follow-up to Steven Spielberg’s JURASSIC WORLD gets a fresh treatment with new writers and a new director. The original JURASSIC PARK, was written by sci-fi writer Michael Crichton who started the trend of amusement park gone wrong with WESTWORLD and FUTUREWORLD back in the 70’s before going big blockbuster with JURASSIC PARK.

    The story begins with two brothers Zach (Nick Robinson) and Gray (Ty Simpkins) sent to spend their vacation at Jurassic World, to be looked after by their Aunt Claire (Ron’s Howard’s daughter Dallas Howard Bryce) who has neglected her nephews in the past. This silly subplot predictably allows her to bond back with them when danger strikes. At the huge amusement park, the nastiest of the dinosaurs escape its compound and creates havoc before it comes face-off with another large creature in a monster fight monster to the death like the original Japanese KING KONG vs. GODZILLA fight. In all this, there is a dinosaur whisperer, Owen Grady (Chris Pratt) who actually whispers into the ears of the creatures their names and sort-of tames them.

    The story by the film’s 4 writers including director Trevorrow is silly enough but they know it. There is a hidden parody of another film in all this, as evident in the actually really funny bits spread out during the film. The first occurs at the start of the film when Zach says goodbye to his girlfriend when he is about to leave for his one-week vacation at the amusement park, as if he was going to war and never coming back. Within the next 15 minutes, he is caught eyeing fresh skin at Jurassic World. Another segment has Aunt Claire on high heels and in a white dress running around trying to escape the monsters and save the children. When ridiculed by Owen, she pulls up her dress sleeves and tosses her jacket, as if ready to ‘go for it’. His response is a comical “What does this mean?” to her face. It is these bits that lighten the otherwise heavy, unimaginative plot.

    But the film still manages to awe audiences. When the children first step into Jurassic World, the look of the place (the rides, the creatures and the vast expanse of space) is spellbinding. This is what the recent flop, TOMORROWLAND lacked - the place’s ability to awe.

    But the film’s climax fails to live up to expectations. Monster fights have been seen already too often and they are an easy solution out of the dilemma. And, the winning dinosaur is left uncaught in the park.

    Chris Pratt and Howard do their normal arguing romantic pair as expected in a blockbuster of this kind. But the supporting cast that includes French actor Omar Sy (largely wasted here as Owen’s assistant left to running and screaming), Vincent D’Onofrio as the token a***hole, Hoskins in the movie (best remembered as the overweight recruit who shot himself fin FULL METAL JACKET) and Irrfhan Khan (STORY OF PI) try their best.

    JURASSIC WORLD ends up giving audiences what is expected from sequels. There is more CGI special effects, more noise, more action and of course, more teeth.

    LIMITED PARTNERSHIP (USA 2014) ***1/2
    Directed by Thomas G. Miller

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    Just as one would think gay films have run out of new themes (coming-out, gay romance, aids, senior gay coming-out, gay rights, gay marriage etc.), comes a documentary that re-visits he theme of gay rights through immigration. The film traces the trials of a couple through the period of the 70’s to the present - a 40-year period that is on film, seems as fresh now as it was then. It is the courageous love story of Filipino-American Richard Adams and his Australian husband, Anthony Sullivan. After meeting in a Los Angeles gay bar in 1971, the men became one of a handful of same-sex couples who were issued a marriage certificate in 1975 by a forward-thinking county clerk in Boulder, Colorado. But they were not allowed to remain in the United States. In an official letter from the Immigration and Naturalization Service, their petition was denied because they “failed to establish that a bona fide marital relationship can exist between two faggots.” The couple then sued to prevent Tony’s deportation – thus filing the first federal lawsuit seeking equal treatment for a same-sex marriage in U.S. history.  This is their tireless struggle that every person should feel for. Miller’s film also pays tribute to the other brave people in the story like the courageous county clerk in Boulder, Colorado who issued the marriage certificate and the immigration attorneys that fought on the couple’s behalf.  A compelling and still relevant documentary that turns into a love story at the end!

    Trailer: https://vimeo.com/95349718

    ME AND EARL AND THE DYING GIRL (USA 2015) **
    Directed by Alfonso Gomez-Rejon

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    Based on the novel and adapted to the screen by Jesse Andrews, ME AND EARL AND THE DYING GIRL is about high school students Greg (Thomas Mann) and Rachel (Olivia Cooke).

    The film has a simple plot. Greg and buddy, Earl (R.J. Cyler) who he calls his co-worker make horrid parodies of classic films. The film offers too many examples, which were funny at the beginning but gets tiresome after a while with too many titles. But they keep making them and director Gomez-Rejon keeps showing us more titles. When classmate Rachel is diagnosed with cancer, Greg is forced by his mother (Connie Britton) to hang out with her for it is the right thing to do. Their awkward friendship ends up with him and Earl making a movie on Rachel’s life.

    A comedy about death is normally off-beat enough with black humour at its central theme. But the comedy from Andrews’ script can hardly be called black. It can be called occasionally slapstick, silly, teen-oriented or self-conscious. But the film tries is too hard to be funny at any possible opportunity even if it does not make sense. Take the segment when Rachel’s mother (Molly Shannon) calls Greg and Earl ‘mousy boys’. “Do you two mice want some cheese?” She then remarks.  The attempt at comedy here is so lame and forced evolving from an instant that is made up (mousy boys). There is also an uncomfortable lengthy hugging scene between her and Greg that is supposedly be funny but ends up looking weird. Director Gomez-Rejon tries too hard to make his film up-beat and it shows.

    Greg and Rachel do not get along for the most part of the film. Their awkward meeting serves to emphasize the point. At one point, Rachel tells him off and at another, Greg freaks out at her. But at the end of the film, Greg receives this ‘grateful’ letter from her thanking him for all the good he had done for her.  Where did all this amicability suddenly come from?

    At one point, the script calls for the narrator to tell a lie. “Rachel does not die at the end of the film”, Greg’s voice narrates. And the title; ‘the part that comes after all the other parts” also illustrate how desperate the film is trying to be off-beat while failing to make sense at the same time. The explanation of the reason Greg calls Earl his co-worker and not his friend also makes little sense.

    Gomex-Rejon also ends up using distorted camera shots to emphasize the weirdness of certain situations.

    When the film finally comes to an end, the film also shifts from comedy to ‘cute’ sentimentality. Still the film is geared to please the greater audience. In that the film succeeds, judging from 94% rating on Rotten Tomatoes (when this review was written) and the fact that it won the 2015 Sundance Grand Jury Prize and Audience Award.

    Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2qfmAllbYC8

    A PIGEON SAT ON A BRANCH REFLECTING ON EXISTENCE

    (Sweden/Norway/France/Germany 2014) ****

    Directed by Roy Andersson

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    The odd title of this art film, informs the audience exactly what is to be expected from the last of Andersson’s Living trilogy on human beings. The pigeon of the said title is seen in the film’s opening scene. It is not a live one, but a stuffed one by a taxidermist perching on a branch in a museum staring down at the odd human beings that have come to visit. The film quickly moves to the next segment which is one of three entitled “Meetings with Death”.

    The first is one of an old man dying of a heart attack opening the cork of a wine bottle while the wife, unknowingly continues to prepare dinner in the adjoining kitchen. The second short vignette has a old woman on her hospital bed, sadly screaming as her sone pull away her purse that she believes she can take to heaven with her valuables. The third has a man dead on a luxury ship after paying for his dinner at the chip’s cafeteria. Those resent question who will want his shrimp sandwich and beer. 

    Andersson’s film is a serious of vignettes all shot in a distance in which the characters move in and out of the frame. Static camera with wide compositions is Andersson’s approach in his stylized reality. It is also appropriate to his theme in which human beings travel in and out of life’s fateful moments. The stories are short but accurately reflect the absurdity of life.

    In an interview as outlined in the press notes, Andersson said that his films are inspired by paintings. In Bruegel’s painting entitled Hunters In The Snow, villagers are skating on a frozen lake in a valley while hunters and a dog return from a hunt as portrayed in the foreground. Above them, perched on the naked branches of a tree are four birds as if speculating what the humans below are doing and why they are so busy. In this film, the four birds are transformed by Andersson to the stuffed pigeon.

    The film is at times, sad, funny, observant, insightful and absurdly relevant. The humour is more dead pan than subtle, often revealing real truths about life. An example is the story of the two travelling salesmen, the two appearing at various points in the film. Their first appearance show them trying to sell 3 gadgets that they believe would add humour and meaning to the buyer. One is a mask of a one toothed man, the other vampire teeth and the third just as ridiculous. There attempt is simultaneously serious, sad and absurd, the sequence ending hilariously when one scares a female while wearing the mask. The film’s most poignant and arguable moment has a wife comfort her husband as they share a cigarette while glaring out the window of the house. This is the film’s prized scene.

    Andersson’s film is a brilliant compilation that entertains while forcing his audience to, like the pigeon reflect on existence. A clever film that would just be as rewarding on repeated viewings. The film deservedly won the Golden Lion at the Venice Film Festival.

    Trailer: https://vimeo.com/104770932

    SLOW WEST (UK/New Zealand 2015) ****

    Directed by John Maclean

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    A hit at Sundance, SLOW DANCE marks another western after THE SALVATION made elsewhere outside the U.S. THE SALVATION was completely Danish while SLOW WEST is a U.K. New Zealand co-production shot in both the U.K. and Australia. The fascination of the old west is apparent in both films, especial in SLOW WEST.

    SLOW WEST is director John MaClean’s debut feature and a very impressive one. He captures the spirit of the old west. And it is not a good one. There is a fantastic shoot-out ending with a plot twist and a message to boot. Part love-story SLOW WEST is more a tale of adventure and coming-of-age.

    The story’s main character is a young lad, Jay (Kodi Smit-McPhee of THE ROAD) who leaves Scotland for the old west in search of his true love Rose (Caren Pistorius). Rose and her father had accidentally killed someone in Scotland (Jay's fault) and had escaped Scotland to the U.S. But naive Jay is no match for the outlaws in the dangerous west. He encounters a drifter Silas (Michael Fassbender who also executive produced the film) who he pays to protect him. Unknown to Jay, Silas has a hidden agenda. He is a bounty hunter and wants to find Rose and her father to claim a reward as they are both wanted by the law. Maclean’s script (he also wrote the film) takes the pair through different adventures, one with a meeting with his former but deadly acquaintance, Payne (Ben Mendelson). Payne is an over-the-top character that goes around wearing a fur coat. There is a climatic showdown that is impressively shot in a field of wheat.

    The two main characters are well written and play well off each other on screen. They are of contrasting personalities needing each other. Jay has to be protected. Silas is an old west-smart gun sharp shooter. On the other hand. Jay know what he wants in life while Silas is the lonely drifter needing to find purpose in life.

    The climatic shoot out in the house by the wheat field could be deemed a classic. Payne’s men hiding in the long wheat are forced out by burning of the fields. The scene is both exciting and stunningly shot.

    As the title might implies, SLOW WEST might move at a slow pace, but director Maclean knows what he wants and tells his tale cinematically. There are bouts of humour that provide keen observations of the time and the land, such as Jay’s idea of drying clothes and his discovery of a bullet hole in a used suit for sale.

    But the film is not without a few flaws. The switch of voiceovers to and fro between Jay and Silas is a bit disorientating. But they do provide alternative points of view. The flashbacks finally tell what happened that led to Jay and Rose leaving Scotland, but Maclean keeps the audience in the dark for a while.

    But for a low budget first film, John Maclean has delivered a handsomely shot and compelling film complete with a good plot and interesting characters with character development. SLOW WEST is also very entertaining and a definite winner!

    Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pFfsTsdJfF8

    THE WOLFPACK (USA 2015) ***

    Directed by Crystal Moselle

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    A documentary is often as interesting as its subject.

    The WOLFPACK that won the Documentary award at Sundance has one of the strangest subject matter captured on film.

    THE WOLFPACK is seven homeschooled children (6 brothers and 1 sister) isolated in an apartment in lower east side Manhattan by their father. They learn about the world from movies which they hold an extensive collection. When one of them escapes, the family unit eventually breaks down. THE WOLFPACK is an extremely disturbing film about good intentions gone desperately wrong.

    Director Crystal Moselle chanced upon them on the street, became friends with them and made this documentary about them.

    One wishes the film would put in more perspective into the story. More homeschooling examples could be given, offering both successes and other failures. Despite following the family around, interviewing the various family members including the father, the film is as secluded as the family itself. The film could have also gone into what initiated the idea for the father to seclude the family and what his background is or where he came from. The only hint the audience has is that the father knows the ancient language of Sanskrit.

    But it is the strangeness and curiosity of anyone on the subject matter that keeps the film going and the film’s faults overlooked. Moselle’s interview of the mother proves the most insightful of the situation. Her interview with the father provides the reason for the mess, though he would consider it a success. But when one of the sons turns on him, and is unable to forgive him, the situation says something about imposing ones rules over ones family. Though f***ed up, the sons all look pretty col walking about in their trend coats and Ray-Ban dark glasses RESERVOIR DOGS style. They especially log this film and imitate a lot of the films they watch. The audience ends up feeling sympathetic for the mother and children but much less for the stern father.

    The films ends with a son making movie about a window that show different temperaments like anger, happiness and sadness passing by. In a way, this is what has happening to THE WOLFPACK. Imprisoned in their apartment, they only see the world go by through the window. The film ends on a bright note, which is good considering al the bad that he situation could have become.

    Trailer: https://www.yahoo.com/movies/wolfpack-trailer-documentary-sundance-2015-imagine-118948276802.html

     

     

    BEST BETS:

    Best Film Opening: A Pigeon Sat on a Branch Reflecting on Existence and Slow West

    Drama: Slow West

    Action: Mad Max: Fury Road

    Animation: When Marnie Was There

    Foreign Language: A Pigeon Sat on a Branch Reflecting on Existence

    Comedy : Spy

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

  • This Week's Film Reviews (June 5, 2015)

    ENTOURAGE, SPY (both early openings on Wednesday) and INSIDIOUS 3 are the big ones opening this week.  Watch out for HUNGRY HEARTS an excellent psychological suspense drama.

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    FILM REVIEWS:

    ALOFT (Canada/France/Spain 2013) **

    Directed by Claudia Llosa

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    ALOFT is Peruvian director Claudia Llosa’s follow up to her Golden Bear winning THE MILK OF SORROW. Llosa is known for her stunningly shot cinematography and lyrical films.

    ALOFT follows the same fashion as her other films. Shot in icy landscapes of an Arctic Circle setting, there are scenes of beauty like the underwater scenes of a frozen sea and thought provoking words like going for darkness instead of the light for safety.

    ALOFT follows a desperate mother, Nana Kunning (Jennifer Connelly) who has two sons, one of whom is dying of cancer. She follows faith healers to save her son though she ends up losing him in an accident. She is also suspected to be a faith healer after she cures a girl’s sight after she touches her eyes. Interwoven into this tale is her other son, Ivan’s (Cillian Murphy) together with another French reporter, Jannia (Melanie Laurent) search for her.

    Llosa’s film is confusing, annoying and a narrative mess. For one, she requires the audience to figure out the plot that moves at a snail’s pace. Llosa does not make it easy either. The audience will be trying to figure out then plot right to the last reel. She tells her story intercutting different times and stories without offering any explanations whatsoever. One could argue that is sometimes worth working for ones pleasure of enjoying a film, but this is pushing the limit. 

    There are also loopholes in the plot. Does Nana rely possess any healing powers? The training of the hawks really has nothing to do with the story but provide metaphors. And when it is revealed that Jannia is also searching for a miracle to be healed, one can only wonder what could get worse for the film.

    Llosa’s film ends up in a climax where Ivan loses it, screaming at the top of his lungs at Nana which could be described as shameless cheap melodrama. One cannot blame the actors like Connelly and Murphy who do their best but are are hampered by the awful script.

    ALOFT ends up as a meaningless artsy exercise, in which it is best to stay all aloof from the movie.

    Trailer: https://vimeo.com/90206863

    BERKSHIRE COUNTY (Canada 2014) ***

    Directed by Audrey Cummings

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    At a Halloween party, Kylie Winters (Alysa King) dresses as Little Red Riding Hood but gets caught on a video giving her boyfriend (Aaron Chartrand) a blow job. Everyone in school knows. She is bullied and beaten up. 

    The premise of the film has her babysit at an isolated country mansion on Halloween night. When a small boy in a pig mask appears at the door trick-or-treating, Kylie's night transforms into a horrifying and violent cat-and-mouse game.  She must go beyond what she ever thought possible if she and the children are to survive the night. This is actually quite a good slasher film. It bears similarities to many classic horror films with a difference. For one, the Kylie character is like CARRIE without the telekinetic powers. In this film, she has to use her human instincts to survive and prove herself. 

    At one point in the film when she she running away from the killers, her blow job boyfriend shows up. She has now to depend on this dick to save her. Hilarious at parts and totally enjoyable.  Also love the part when Kylie’s mother (Amy Winters) tells her daughter off.

    Trailer: https://vimeo.com/110957989

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

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    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

    ENTOURAGE (USA 2015) **1/2

    Directed by Doug Ellin

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    The much anticipated feature film version of the 8 season HBO series is a difficult project. It has to satisfy its fans as well satisfy non-fans as a stand-alone film. It succeeds in a way in both but the film lacks the hilarity that is expected from a Hollywood comedy that pokes fun at the Hollywood film-making machine.

    The film reunites the show's original cast, led by Kevin Connolly, Adrian Grenier, Kevin Dillon, Jerry Ferrara and Jeremy Piven. Movie star Vincent Chase (Grenier), together with his boys, Eric (Connolly), Turtle (Ferrara) and Johnny (Dillon), are back...and back in business with super agent-turned-studio head Ari Gold (Piven).

    The film begins where the last episode in the last HBO season left off. Ari is living in Florence with his wife, both dissatisfied with the new life. Vincent is breaking up with his fiancee. Eric is supportive of his ex who is about to deliver a baby. To those unfamiliar with the series, it really does not matter. The film can begin as it it with all those beginnings. And no one will notice either.

    Of the entire ENTOURAGE cast, the best performances are from Piven, Dillon and Haley Joel Osment (the boy who sees dead people in THE SIXTH SENSE) as Travis, the most obnoxious rich son of a Texas tycoon (Billy Bob Thornton) who one would just want to strangle. But the interaction of the actors work really well, which helps lift the film above its flaws. An added bonus is the list of cameos (Liam Neeson, Gary Busey, Pharrell Williams, Mike Tyson, Bob Saget, David Arquette, Mark Wahlberg et al.) who appear at various points in the film. The funniest performance comes from Korean Rex Lee playing the actor planning his perfect gay wedding.

    The film displays both the absurdity and the glamour of Hollywood. Everyone is drop dead gorgeous with buffed bodies, both male and female. The music during the parties are top notch.

    The chief complaint for this comedy is that it is just not funny enough. Otherwise, the film does pretty well. Ellin does a surprisingly good job at poking fun at Hollywood. 

    It is a pity ENTOURAGE does not reach the full potential that it could. Still, it is entertaining, despite it not being that funny and has enough material to satisfy the HBO ENTOURAGE fans.

    Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Vz2HyCgUWh4

    HUNGRY HEARTS (Italy 2014) ****
    Directed by Saverio Costanzo

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    Though a complete Italian production, HUNGRY HEARTS is set in a New York apartment and shot entirely in English with the lead actor being American. But the lead actress and director are Italian. HUNGRY HEARTS is another assured feature from director Costanzo who have made successful features like IN MEMORY OF ME and THE SOLITUDE OF PRIME NUMBERS.

    The film traces the complete relationship of a young married couple. The first meeting between the gregarious Jude (Adam Driver) and the shy, withdrawn Mina (Alba Rohrwacher) occurs when they are trapped together in a Chinese restaurant washroom. This is a lengthy 15-minute segment that is one of the most hilarious romantic meetings ever captured on film.

    Jude and Mina fall helplessly in love. The wedding dance is shot to the tune of “What a Feeling” from FLASHDANCE which turns out to be a real emotions lifter. What follows after is a downright contrast of unbearable emotional drama.

    The problem arises with the birth of their baby. Mina wants nothing artificial for the baby, not allowing the baby to go out into the sunlight or feeding on meat. The baby’s growth is stagnant. Jude is prevented from bringing the baby to the doctor. So, Jude steals the baby away and feeds him protein secretly. Mina finds out, of course, and Jude eventually kidnaps their son to be looked after by his mother. (Roberta Maxwell)

    HUNGRY HEARTS captures the audience’s attention and never lets go. The result is a compelling and frightening account of the couple’s troubles. Coupled with it is the fate of the baby that could result in stunted growth both physically and mentally.

    Costanzo shoots certain scenes as if the characters are seen from the reflection of ‘distorted’ mirrors. The distorted shapes of Mina heightens the monster that she is. Though Jude slaps her across the face in the film, one would take Jude’s side and not Mina’s for Mina is shown as a total wreck of a mother, insane and unreasonable. Both lead actors are extremely good, both winning top acting prizes at festivals. Rohwacher is so good that the audience is ready at any point of the film to kill her.

    The film occasionally feels like a reversal of ROSEMARY’S BABY for the claustrophobic look of the NYC apartments and for the mother having no one to turn to, even though she is the crazed one here.

    The one complaint is the unevenness of the film’s mood as it shifts from hilarity to romance to horror too quickly But director Costanzo could be going for contrast of mood in the film.

    It is hard to find a happy ending for the couple that appears to have no feasible solution in sight. But the film has a satisfactory ending in a sense as the baby survives. HUNGRY HEARTS is a truly scary suspenseful thriller that could very well come true for any couple. A surprise gem of a horror film!

    Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wc7PexA5P8E

    LIVE FROM NEW YORK! (USA 2015) ***

    Directed by Bao Nguyen

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    LIVE FROM NEW YORK! is an affectionate tribute to Saturday Night Live (SNL) - all forty years from the beginning to the present.

    The film has several aims. One is to recount the history of SNL, another to provide a taste of the best skits and the the next to relate of the importance of the program to America.

    Using archival footage, the first group that includes the likes of the late John Belushi and Gilda Radner with the then young producer, Lorne Michaels is shown in all its glory and action. It is emphasized that the show is live, which it holds, perhaps with maybe a few seconds delay. Whether this is true, it is not revealed. SNL is touted as the best of American television. The best skits are shown, many with the founders like Candice Bergen and Chevy Chase doing a spoof of TV news. Here, is related the reason for SNL’s success. The contents are relevant to current affairs, be it then Watergate, The Vietnam War or politics.

    For those who love SNL and the younger generation new to it, the film paints a rosy picture, that SNL is ‘the’ show of shows. It briefly mentions of the time when the show lost its edge and humour. SNL, current though it was and is, often falls flat and is often unfunny.

    Like SNL itself, the film runs out of steam quite fast despite its short running time of less than 90 minutes. Still picking the best of SNL and watching them is still quite a treat, as many are still fresh in their humour.

    This is a special one-night only Cineplex Entertainment release of LIVE FROM NEW YORK! across Canada on June 10th.

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

    PATCH TOWN (Canada 2014) **
    Directed by Andrew Nackman

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    A few years back, a short film PATCH TOWN debuted at the Toronto International Film Festival. It was a hit that led to a full fledged feature production on its theme of cabbage patch babies. The film is as weird as its premise, but weirdness has to be put into perspective to develop a good movie.

    Little babies are harvested in cabbages and transformed into toy dolls for little girls. When the girls overgrow their dolls and childhood, the dolls are stolen back and the babies ‘re-educated’ so that the past is forgotten. However, some still do remember the past.

    After years in a loving home, Jon (Rob Ramsay), a toy, was forgotten, deserted and ultimately betrayed by his adoptive mother, Bethany (Zoie Palmer). He returns to live a sad life as a worker on the line. With each new birth, Jon laments the days when life was good and he was loved. Jon learns that the evil child catcher, Yuri (Julian Richings), has discovered they stole a new born baby from the factory floor, he moves into action to escape the oppressive city and find a safe home for his wife and child. With each day, Jon and Mary find the safety and sense of home they have always longed for, but it's not enough. Jon is torn between saving the mother he has always dreamed or saving his own family.

    Director Nackman turns the weirdness factor several notches by making his film part musical by adding rock-opera like songs crooned by most of the cast. But the songs are less memorable than anything else and could have been left out without much effect. But the special effects (especially the grey fluid oozing out of the cabbages as the babies are harvested) are good as in the depiction of the factory as well as PATCH TOWN. It is clear that the look of Jean -Pierre Canet’s DELICATESSEN is sought for in the film.

    But despite the inventiveness, the film’s story plods into predictability. Jon eventually discovers that his family is with his present wife, Mary and the baby and not with the one he had lost.

    The cast try their darn best to invoke laughs. Richings too, but with little effect, thanks to the unfunny script. But the best laughs come from actor Suresh John who plays a Pakistani cab driver. John utilizes his stereotyped character to the fullest, complete with accent and behaviour.

    The film contains no real message except maybe the family one, where love is to be found wherever one is. One wishes the film could have been better for all the effort put in.

    Trailer: https://vimeo.com/83271965

    SOME KIND OF LOVE (Canada 2014) ***
    Directed by Thomas Burstyn

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    The title of the documentary SOME KIND OF LOVE refers to to the unlikely love that exists between the two siblings, Yolanda Sonnabend and her brother Joseph. Despite their constant complaining about each other, Joseph says on camera that he cannot leave her as she cannot live on her own. He takes care of her whether he likes it or not. And at the end of the film when Yolanda is in her advanced stage of Alzheimer’s, Joseph is the only face she recognizes.

    Documentaries are often made on famous, talented people. But when SOME KIND OF LOVE opens, it appears weird that the subject is an old lady, the aunt of the filmmaker who lives in an uncared house in a posh neighbourhood in London, England. Soon it is revealed that she is quite a well known painter, Yolanda Sonnbend, whose paintings are featured in the film. The camera then turns to her brother, again later revealed to be a famous doctor. Then like a fictional film, supporting characters appear like the live-in handyman who cares for the two. Finally, the camera turn on the director himself with his acrimony for his absent brother finally resolved. Burstyn shows that intriguing characters make fascinating documentaries just as famous subjects do.

    The film also works on many different levels. Like Yolanda the artist and her brother, Joseph the scientist, the film contrasts art and science. On one hand is the absolute artist, whose art comes first never putting herself or anything else before her paintings, sculpture and whatever else. On the other is the brother who works without monetary compensation as a medical doctor. Having spearheaded the use of condoms in the A.I.D.s era as well as being the first to isolate the virus, he is a famous doctor known also for his humanity. “He is my personal Moses’” says an A.I.D.s patient to the camera. As expected, the two do not get along. “He does not love me,” the sister says.

    Other issues on display are ageing and acrophobia. In one sad scene, Yolanda lies in bed staring at the walls remarking that she has no desire to do anything else any more. This is just 2 years after she had designed the stage production set and costume design of the ballet Swan Lake for the Royal Opera House in Covent Gardens. She also suffers from Alzheimer’s, as admitted by Joseph. Yolanda often stays in the house weeks at a time. There is a filmed sequence when she reluctantly leaves the house.

    The film introduces some tension when Joseph forbids Burstyn to film his sister out of his respect for her. Burstyn argues with him, as revealed on camera in a very moving segment. Joseph finally relents, after Burstyn secretly films her, without his complaining.

    As an additional bonus, director Burstyn also ponders the philosophy of the camera. As illustrated in the subjects of this film, when the audience thinks the camera has captured the essence of its subjects, Burstyn’s camera slips into another shadow, revealing another angle. Much is revealed in this otherwise complex documentary, simple though it might look on the surface.

    There is much to be informed and entertained in SOME KIND OF LOVE.

    Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rZp9lTwfhOU

    SUNSHINE SUPERMAN (USA/Norway 2014) ***
    Directed by Marah Strauch

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    As heart racing as the sport itself, SUNSHINE SUPERMAN is the heart-racing documentary portrait of Carl Boenish, the father of the BASE (Buildings, Antennas, Structures, Earth) jumping movement. A variation of sky diving, Carl engaged in spectacular and dangerous feats of foot-launched human flights from cliffs and high buildings.

    Carl claims to be foremost a filmmaker/photographer and second a skydiver. It aids in the making of the doc as he likely had lots of footage already available for the film. The first third of the film sees gorgeous aerial photography, like the scene with his team mid-air wearing bright colours holding hands in aerial formation.

    The film then takes an odd turn. What might seem irrelevant at first, on the meeting of Carl and Jean, his wife turns the film into a beautiful love story. Jean, starts the sport herself and the two make an awesome team. Director Marsh Strauch, being a female brings a tender touch to a doc set in a male oriented world.

    The film also delves briefly into Carl’s principles, on how he is only controlled by nature’s and not man’s rules. He is deemed paranoid and radical but Carl does not mind that if it is truth that he stands for. Strauch brings out comfortably both the exterior and inside of the man. The film also devotes a fair amount of time to his wife, Jean who takes over during the last part of the film.

    The highlights in Carl’s wife are highlighted in the film - his marriage to Jean and the legalization agreement for BASE jumping by the rangers in Yosemite National Park. The soundtrack includes a few uplifting sons to go with the flow.

    SUNSHINE SUPERMAN is a U.S. Norwegian co-production as one of the key jumps occur in Norway. Carl has scouted a peak that would register as the largest jump from top to the base. The jump is shot in all its glory forming what is close to the climax of the film.

    The film takes a dramatic turn towards the last 20 minutes. What this turn is will not be revealed as it would be a spoiler. But despite the turn, the film drags towards the end. Still SUNSHINE SUPERMAN celebrates man as a free individual that should be free to enjoy life for what it is. Who would imagine that a boy who had suffered from polio would come his far?

    Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3CsJW3_NqJ4

     

    BEST BETS:

    Best Film Opening: Hungry Hearts

    Drama: Hungry Hearts

    Action: Mad Max: Fury Road

    Animation: When Marnie Was There

    Foreign Language: Saint Laurent

    Comedy : Spy

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

     

  • This Week's Film Reviews (May 29, 2015)

    SAN ANDREAS opens!  Also opening are ALOHA, WHEN MARNIE WAS THERE, I'LL SEE YOU IN MY DREAMS and SURVIVOR.  

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    TIFF Cinematheque continues its series on Georgian Cinema.

    Inside Out LGBT Film Festival ending in Toronto

    FILM REVIEWS:

    ALOHA (USA 2015) ***
    Directed by Cameron Crowe

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    Cameron Crowe’s ALOHA pays tribute to the natives of Hawaii just as the George Clooney vehicle did in THE DESCENDANTS.  in ALOHA, the Americans need the sacred burial lands of the natives in order to build a space facility.

    So into the picture comes Brian Gilcrest (Bradley Cooper) working for shady, playboy billionaire Carson Welch (Bill Murray). Brian is a defines contractor assigned to oversee the launch of a weapons satellite from Hawaii, thus contributing to the militarization of space.  His guide is Captain Allison Ng (Emma Stone), who Brian eventually falls in love with. But Brian has been in Hawaii before. His ex-girlfriend Tracy (Rachel McAdams) who is married to Woody (John Krasinski) forms a solid side plot to the story.

    But ALOHA is a Hollywood romantic comedy in the worse sense, despite Crowe’s occasional amusing touch. The romance begins with the couple, Brian and Allison meeting on ill terms. The usual man’s best friend role is replaced by he ex-girlfriend Tracy. The obstacle to the romance - Harlequin style, is the issue of the militarization of space. Allison believes strongly that the sky should always be free whereas Brian has to undo his contribution to the militarization to prove his love. It is all predictable fare and of course, the happy ending is there when the couple finally make up and all’s well that ends well.

    Despite the film’s shortcomings, there are some prize comedic set-ups. The best of these is the silent confrontation scene between Woody and Brian, done with subtitles. The second is the dance segment in the club with Emma Stone and Bill Murray showing the moves.

    Performance-wise, Emma Stone steals the show. The inside joke where her character is called at one point Allison A reminds one of her breakout role in EASY A. It is also odd to watch Bill Murray in the rare role of the villain. Alec Baldwin is hilarious as the very angry General Dixon as is clean-shaven Danny McBride as "Fingers".

    Despite being formulaic, ALOHA is an entertaining romantic comedy for the not too demanding audience.

    Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=O3mf_ewjc7s

    I’LL SEE YOU IN MY DREAMS (USA 2015) ***

    Directed by Brett Haley

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    The title derives from the song a character, the pool cleaner, Lloyd (Martin Starr) has written and sings for Carol a 70-something widow (Blythe Danner from MEET THE PARENTS, FUTUREWORLD) at the end of the film. It is unclear, though quite likely if Lloyd wrote the song for her, but the uncertainty here and in many parts of the film is what gives Brett Haley’s film its charm.

    The story follows the life of Carol a retired schoolteacher, former singer and a longtime 20 year widow in her 70s. She enjoys a tranquil routine playing cards with close friends, keeping up her garden, and relaxing with a glass of wine. When her beloved dog, Hazel dies, there's a mournful vacuum that draws new experiences and attachments into her world. She forges a friendship with her pool guy, Lloyd and allows a pal to drag her to a speed dating shindig. And then there's the gravelly-voiced, exuberant gentleman, Bill (Sam Elliot also to be seen in the upcoming GRANDMA), who comes out of nowhere. They begin dating. Bill shows his ‘joie de vivre’ insisting not to live his life like the majority. He buys a boat and takes carol boating and fishing.

    What works here is the ease at which the incidents flow. Though occasionally slow moving, the antics of the weed-smoking and card playing group of old folks are amusing enough. The love-making scene between Bill and Carol is also done with good taste and amusement.

    Danner is winning in her role and she is the main reason the film works well. Her rendition of “Cry Me a River” at a Karaoke session marks both her character’s sadness in life and her spirit to try new ventures. But the best song is the title song which is sung imperfectly with a few flat notes but yet very earnestly with appropriate lyrics. Listening to that song alone (performed by the songwriter and dubbed into Starr’s voice) is worth the price of the film ticket. Danner is supported by an able cast including Judy Squibb (Oscar nominee in NEBRASKA), Mary Kay Place and Rhea Perlman playing her cronies.

    Nothing is expected, anything can happen. Carol’s dog dies, she gets another one. She finds another friend while one dies. And so life goes on. That perhaps is the message of the movie. Life goes on. Also opening soon is the Swedish art film A PIGEON SAT ON A BRANCH REFLECTING ON EXISTENCE. I’LL SEE YOU IN MY DREAMS is perhaps the Hollywood version of a human reflecting existence.

    There are a few films made for the over-50’s. I’LL SEE YOU IN MY DREAMS is one of the better ones.

    Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=F1VbBOTXzfI

    RESULTS (USA 2015) ***

    Directed by Andrew Bujalski

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    COMPUTER CHESS director Andrew Bujalski attempts a more commercial storyline in his latest love story triangle comedy/drama RESULTS while still maintaining all his quirkiness. The film deals with a story concerning real issues sprinkled with lots of keen observations and sarcasm. Occasionally witty and hilarious, RESULTS is a fine little movie that also occasionally shines.

    The setting is Tennessee with the main character, Trevor (Guy Pearce) running around like a chicken with its head chopped off and speaking with an Australian accent. Like many budding entrepreneurs, his hardly successful business is his life dream and goal, though his management of the company, a fitness facility called Power 4 Life is another matter. He forgets to deposit checks, has his employees do forms but never follows up and lets his fitness employees get the better of him. Worst of all, he has an affair and falls in love with employee Kat (Cobie Smulders) but lets her go in lieu of his business expansion plans. The script, written by Bujalski has lots of juicy potential for comedy and drama, which he blends together comfortably. He adds a third person into the picture - an unfit super-wealthy client, Danny (Kevin Corrigan) who does not know what to do with his recently inherited money. Don’t we all wish we were in his shoes? Danny also falls in love with Kat. His spur of the moment rendering of his love is both the saddest and funniest part of the film.

    Bujalski also captures the inane behaviour of many business owners. Trevor also meets a half crazy kettle drum guru Grigory (played with a German accent by Anthony Michael Hall) who is also a rival gym owner. 

    Bujalski also creates a lot of inventive comedic set-ups including a weed-smoking sequence, the many confrontational segments - Danny and ex-wife; Kat and Danny and Kat and Trevor and fitness sessions

    RESULTS is like a simpler Woody Allen film in which the characters are all real and not living in posh Manhattan apartments and cracking jokes on art, music or literature. In RESULTS, the characters live in the suburbs, argue more than joke, get angry a lot and cannot articulate their emotions half the time. Bujalski’s characters are also real life characters that fumble more than succeed, mostly due to their desperation and inadequacies. They are not perfect Hollywood characters that live in a fantasy world. It is good that the audience will be able to laugh at themselves watching similar people or acquaintances on display. 

    The result is RESULTS being a more relevant film. But unfortunately it ends like a predictable romantic comedy complete with Hollywood ending of boy getting the girl.

    Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XoM_dM7tQvI

    SAN ANDREAS (USA 2015) **

    Directed by Brad Peyton

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    SAN ANDREAS opens this week with all the hype of a great disaster movie. The last film made solely on an earthquake was way back when in the now obsolete Sensurround System in the film called EARTHQUAKE starring Charlton Heston. 

    SAN ANDREAS directed by JOURNEY 2: MYSTERIOUS ISLAND’s Brad Peyton which also starred Dwayne (The Rock) Johnson is an earthquake disaster movie. Like Tom Cruise’s WAR OF THE WOLRDS, it is a father looking after his child but this case a teen daughter, Blake (Alexandra Daddario) in the midst of the chaos. Daddario screams most of the time, looking like the typical scantily clad female stalked in a slasher killer film. A subplot involving the hero, Chief Ray Gaines (Johnson) trying to patch up his marriage to wife Emma (Carla Gugino) is silly enough to have the whole film geared to it. Unsurprisingly, she is currently seeing a man, who is an asshole. What else can ever be new in a cliched plot with well used incidents in a terrible script by Chad Hayes, Carey Hayes, Allan Loeb and Carlton Case. Never mind the line “We Will get through this”, the perhaps most used line in cinema script history proudly displayed in a poster at the end of the film. Also, lines such as “We will find her, I promise”, or “We’ll get out, I promise” abound. 

    The special effects and the CGI (though I always despise CGI) look particularly real. But how many times does one want to see the Golden Gate Bridge destroyed with all the vehicles on it swept into the water? The best scene is a helicopter rescue of a girl stuck on a ledge in a San Fernando Valley fault at the start of the film. Nothing else in the film can match this start. The film also teases the audience with her talking to the cell and digging into her handbag while never getting into an accident until landslide pushes her car into the fault. The film goes downhill right from there, pretty fast.

    The cast of relative unknowns fare better. Now action star Dwayne Johnson has proven himself as capable an actor as a worker on his biceps. He does his best with the sorry script which is so lazy, it also discards any opportunity for humour.

    It is one disaster set-up after another that turn so ridiculously unbelievable (driving a boat into a skyscraper) that it turns boring quite soon.

    As this is a family film, no blood, broken body parts or graphic violence is shown on screen adding to the film’s boredom. The intercut story of Professor Lawrence (Paul Giamatti) and his crew of students predicting earthquakes is also highly unimaginative.

    SAN ANDREAS turns out to be quite a disaster instead of quite the disaster film.

    Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Bz9e0PGSDeU

    SURVIVOR (USA 2015) **

    Directed by Lewis McTeigue

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    Milla Jovovich plays SURVIVOR, Kate. Kate, a Foreign Service Officer newly posted to the US Embassy in London (working on Visas), United Kingdom is on the run after she is framed for crimes she did not commit. She is is chased by not only the police but by yes, what the script calls the most wanted assassin in the world named The Watchmaker (Pierce Brosnan) who attempted to eliminate her during one of his bombings. 

    It is a catch and mouse chase from London to New York City.

    But what transpires is a Milla Jovovich vehicle similar to her RESIDENT EVIL films. So,leave credibility to the wind.

    Australian director McTeigue’s film shoots an impressive opening with chopper crash amidst a takedown somewhere in Afghanistan that serves as an introduction to the story. 

    It turns out that one of the American men in the chopper is the son of Kate’s colleague, the chief of the Visa applications (Robert Forster) in the Embassy. He gets blackmailed to approve visas for terrorists applying to the U.S.

    But the film goes downhill from here. In fact the more the film progresses, the more outrageous it gets, often with large loopholes in the plot, that the script by Philip Shelby assumes the audience will fill in. One big loophole is what the Taliban has to do with the central plot of exploding a bomb that will kills hundred of Americans on New Year’s Eve in NYC. The only other time the Taliban is involved is at the beginning of the film in Afghanistan. All the other villains are east European.

    The one most ridiculous segment has Kate’s boss (James d’Arcy) left for dead after a shoot out in the middle of the film, only to have him standing up as if nothing has happened giving Kate a congratulations telephone call at the end of the film. The other is the rip-off Hitchcock NORTH BY NORTHWEST like airport scene in which Kate is caught on camera holding a fired pistol after the victim collapses.

    Kate plays a super efficient agent, yet her character does not have the idea of using make-up to cover up the scratches she obtained in an explosion when she is hunted down by the police. 

    The one good thing of the film is the lack of romance. There is a hint of homosexual tension whenever Kate meets her best friend working at the art gallery - a slant likely ripped off from Hitchcock’s REBECCA. The musical score is annoying in the way it always starts playing when the mood of the film changes, to ensure the audience feels the right way.

    The film has a modern look - especially of London. Sights of flashy cars, fancy restaurants serving fancy good (the Gaston), the Overground and the London Eye bring the film to the new century. The impressive cast that includes Emma Thompson, Angela Bassett and Dylan McDermott unfortunately cannot lift the film above its failures. Pierce Brosnan's role as the watchmaker is his worst since his singing debut in MAMMA MIA!

    But one thing going for it are the unintentional laughs and a few intentional ones. Sometimes it is hard to tell which are intentional. “The Longer she lives, the more men die” uttered by the U.S. ambassador (Angela Bassett) is one of them. The film, though ridiculous in storyline, is still a bit entertaining to watch just for the sake of laughs. 

    Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GtQR5KGJiQk

    WHEN MARNIE WAS THERE (Japan 2014) ****

    Directed by Hiromasa Yonebayashi

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    WHEN MARNIE WAS THERE is the latest and perhaps the last animated film to come out of Japan’s financially struck Studio Ghibli, following the retirement of Hayao Miyazaki, the man responsible for the studio’s successes like SPIRITED AWAY, PONYO and HOWL’S MOVING TO CASTLE, to name my 3 favourites. Director Yonebayashi has worked as a key animator in quite a few Ghibli films and the spirit of the films is clearly felt in MARNIE. The story is a fantasy involving a mansion, ghosts, illness and romance - elements often found in Miyazaki’s films.

    Based on the British novel of the same name by Joan G. Robinson, WHEN MARNIE WAS THERE, follows 12-year old Anna spending a summer with relatives in a seaside town to recover from her asthma problems.  Anna discovers an abandoned mansion, dilapidated and overgrown, across a seaside marsh and wades across the marsh to investigate it. She dreams of the mansion well lit and sees a blond girl, Marnie. Marnie tells Anna she is not dreaming. They form a close bond - two lonely girls, as Marnie is often left on her own by her parents in the large mansion only to be bullied by the servants. But reality is not all it seems and there is more behind the story of Marnie. The film is strong on story, which results in a animated family film , good for children too, but short on action and comedy.  This is perhaps a good recommendation as a family film as what goes for the film is a good solid story.

    Compared to the other Ghibli films, MARNIE is exceptionally animated. Every scene is like a Japanese painting. The scenes with water, like the rain and streams are exceptional.

    Anna is animated with a girl with very short hair, so thats she looks like a boy in the film. The reason likely for Anna to keep her hair short is for ease in her convalescence. 

    The story contains magical moments like a hidden diary with missing pages that reveal a secret. But the story is a very sad yet beautiful one, with a wonderful twist in the plot. The characters are colourful like the silent fisherman Toichi who finally speaks at the end, the plump aunt who fusses about Anna and of course the leads Anna and Marnie.

    I saw the original Japanese version with subtitles. The dubbed version has the voices of Hailee Steinfeld as Anna, Kieran Shipka as Marnie, with stars like Vanessa L.Williams, Catherine O’Hara, Geena Davis, John C. Reilly, Kathy Bates and Ellem Burstyn also lending their talents. The film’s Japanese title translates directly into “Memories of Marnie”.

    WHEN MARNIE WAS THERE ranks as one of the best of the Studio Ghibli films. One cannot ask for a better animated feature this year.

    Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UCAjMGl1mJg

    BEST BETS:

    Best Film Opening: When Marnie Was There

    Drama: '71

    Action: Mad Max: Fury Road

    Animation: When Marnie Was There

    Foreign Language: Saint Laurent

    Comedy : What We Do in the Shadows

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

  • Inside Out LGBT Film Festival 2015

    INSIDE OUT LGBT Film Festival 2015

    The 25th year of INSIDE OUT runs from Thursday May 21 for 10 days till May 31. Tickets are already on sale. 

    The festival opens with Lily Tomlin in GRANDMA and closes with the Canadian entry, PORTRAIT OF A SERIAL MONOGAMIST by award-winning co-writers/directors John Mitchell and Christina Zeidler.  Francis Ozon’s THE NEW GIRLFRIEND will be a treat, showcasing again the French director's taler for drama and comedy.

    New this year the Festival presents Spotlight on Canada, a program that highlights the latest narrative and documentary features from Canqueer talent. Highlights includes Sophie Deraspe’s THE AMINA PROFILE, a suspenseful documentary on a Montreal woman’s plight to save her kidnapped girlfriend in Syria; Erica Tremblay’s IN THE TURN, a documentary about a mother’s fierce love for her transgendered daughter and their mutual love of roller derby; the North American Premiere of Alon Kol’s TRANSFIXED, a compelling film documenting the struggle a transgendered woman faces when trying to have gender reassignment surgery; and Maureen Bradley’s TWO 4 ONE, a romantic comedy about unconventional pregnancy.

    The International Showcase, a showcase of favourites from the international festival circuit will entertain, educate, and inspire audiences. Highlights include Mark Christopher’s 54: THE DIRECTOR’S CUT, a reconstruction of the original 1998 film that includes 45 minutes of footage that was removed from the original theatrical version; the latest film from Marco Kreuzpaintner, director of festival favourite SUMMER STORM, returns with his new heartfelt comedy COMING IN; the North American Premiere of Roberto Cuzzillo’s DON’T ACCEPT DREAMS FROM STRANGERS which tells the timely story of blossoming love between an Italian competitive swimmer and his translator in Putin’s Russia; and the latest from award-winning queer-filmmaker and curator Jenni Olson, THE ROYAL ROAD.

    For the complete schedule of films check the festival’s website at:

    www.insideout.ca.

    Capsule Reviews of Selected Films:

    EISENSTEIN IN GUANAJUATA (Netherlands/Mexico/Belgium/Finland 2015) ***
    Directed by Peter Greenaway

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    Combined with stunning sets, art direction, costumes and period atmosphere are shit, vomit and explicit sex. This is Peter Greenaway (THE COOK, THE THIEF, HIS WIFE AND HER LOVER, DROWNING BY NUMBERS). His latest target is the great Russian director Sergei Eisenstein who fresh off his success of Battleship Potemkin, travelled to Guanajuato to direct his film Que viva México in 1931. While encountering a new culture, Eisenstein (Elmer Back)is assigned a handsome tour guide Palomino (Luis Alberti), a married man who has no qualms introducing Eisenstein to the pleasures of the siesta hour and anal sex. And when Greenaway does gay sex, it is a no holds barred affair. The film is a free-flowing interpretation of Eisenstein’s stay in Mexico till the day is forced to leave and forced off the picture. Not for everyone’s taste, his film is still a feast for the eyes.

    EVERLASTING LOVE (AMOR ETERNAL)(Spain 2014) *
    Directed by Marcal Fores

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    Marcal Fores’ (ANIMALS) EVERLASTING LIVE begins with a group of youths discussing about love - eternal love being one aspect of it. The film looks like a documentary on love before the film shifts, after the opening credits to a fictional tale about a teacher banging his student in his chinese class. The setting is Barcelona. The teacher is middle-aged Carlos and the student is Toni. After cruising in a nearby park, Carlos’ favourite haunt, Carlos gives Toni a ride home. Torrid sex starts. Despite a murder in the park, the two continue their relationship. Do not expect a film of the sophistication of STRANGER BY THE LAKE (L’INCONNU DU LAC), a French film also about murder that takes place in a cruising park. This one is a shallow film that thrives on dirty sex that really makes no sense at all, especially the last reel.

    FOURTH MAN OUT (USA 2015) **1/2

    Directed by Andrew Nackman

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    The coming-out theme in a gay movie is a well trodden path. In FOURTH MAN OUT, the premise of a car mechanic in a small, working class town coming out of the closet to his three unsuspecting, blue-collar best friends (played by Jon Garrus, Chord Overstreet and Parker Young) is a slight variation of the coming-out theme. The film focuses on the three friends and not on the gay character, Adam (Evan Todd). But this novelty is insufficient to lift the film above predictability, stereotyping and lame drama. The four unknowns try their best though there is nothing really demanding in their roles. The film is mildly funny and a good time waster for those unfussy about their moves.

    GRANDMA (USA 2015) ***1/2

    Directed by Paul Weitz

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    After grandmother Elle (Tomlin) has broken up with her younger girlfriend, Olivia (Judy Greer), her granddaughter, Sage (Julia Garner) appears at her doorstep asking for money for an abortion. Elle has none. They both ride together making many visits in order to come up with the money before the evening abortion appointment. The wise-cracking Tomlin delivers an honest, hilarious and dramatic performance without resorting to cheap theatrics. The film is divided into 6 sections each headlined under titles from ‘endings’ to ‘apes’ to dragonflies’. Weitz covers a dozen or so different issues that include family relationships, abortion, gay relationships, responsibility, loyalties and romance. GRANDMA is a little gem, unpretentious, well-intentioned and a feel good movie. The film also contains several excellent comedic set-ups the best one being the confrontation with Cam, the unlikely, unresponsive father who finally ends up getting beaten up by grandma.

    Clip: http://deadline.com/2015/01/grandma-lily-tomlin-movie-paul-weitz-video-sundance-1201355250/

    LIMITED PARTNERSHIP (USA 2014) ***1/2
    Directed by Thomas G. Miller

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    Just as one would think gay films have run out of new themes (coming-out, gay romance, aids, senior gay coming-out, gay rights, gay marriage etc.), comes a documentary that re-visits he theme of gay rights through immigration. The film traces the trials of a couple through the period of the 70’s to the present - a 40-year period that is on film, seems as fresh now as it was then. It is the courageous love story of Filipino-American Richard Adams and his Australian husband, Anthony Sullivan. After meeting in a Los Angeles gay bar in 1971, the men became one of a handful of same-sex couples who were issued a marriage certificate in 1975 by a forward-thinking county clerk in Boulder, Colorado. But they were not allowed to remain in the United States. In an official letter from the Immigration and Naturalization Service, their petition was denied because they “failed to establish that a bona fide marital relationship can exist between two faggots.” The couple then sued to prevent Tony’s deportation – thus filing the first federal lawsuit seeking equal treatment for a same-sex marriage in U.S. history.  This is their tireless struggle that every person should feel for. Miller’s film also pays tribute to the other brave people in the story like the courageous county clerk in Boulder, Colorado who issued the marriage certificate and the immigration attorneys that fought on the couple’s behalf.  A compelling and still relevant documentary that turns into a love story at the end!

    Trailer: https://vimeo.com/95349718

    UNE NOUVELLE AMIE (A NEW GIRLFRIEND) (France 2014) ****

    Directed by François Ozon

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

    A SINNER IN MECCA (USA/Saudi Arabia/India 2015) **

    Directed by Parvez Sharma

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    Director Parvez Sharma the director of the controversial A IHAD FOR LOVE attempt to answer the question of whether it is possible for a gay man to be a good Muslim in his new documentary A SINNER IN MECCA.  Sharma turns the camera on himself, documenting his journey on the Hajj pilgrimage to Mecca, which all Muslims are required to fulfill at least once in their lifetime. Sharma's journey is fraught with danger.  Homosexuality in Saudi Arabia is punishable by death, and filming at the holy sites is forbidden.  It is a very personal film, with him talking to the camera most of the time. But it is quite the chore to have to listen to him complain about everything all the time. He fusses about Islam not accepting gays but he himself has not respect for any rules. He films in religious places where it is forbidden, accepts no rules and puts down everything. There is a very disturbing scene of a live goat sacrifice that need not be seen. The film provides a cry biased negative look of Islam, eye-opening in certain areas but one cannot understand why this Sharma has continued to brace something that does not accept him.

    TAB HUNTER CONFIDENTIAL (USA 2015) ***1/2
    Directed by Jeffrey Schwarz

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    The title comes from the tabloid magazine Confidential - a journal much feared in Hollywood as it exposed the subject so much so that his or her career could be ruined in the process. Hunter’s arrest at a gay party was one such article in the paper. TAB HUNTER CONFIDENTIAL is the story of the actor/singer told by the star himself talking to the audience throughout the film. The film details his entire life from a boy brought up by a single mother, how he got into show business, achieved fame, lost it and came out. His romance with a star skater is also a revealed. The era of the 50’s when homosexuality was outlawed is effectively evoked as well as the nostalgia of the past and glamour of the movies. For those that were born around the time of the baby boomers, this film all bring back sweet memories of an era begone, good and bad. he segment on the death of Hunter’s old fling, Anthony Perkins is indeed sad and moving. Hunter’s take on Perkins’ marriage is both admiral and insightful. The documentary is a well-told biography, revealing, insightful and entirely entertaining.

    THOSE PEOPLE (USA 2015) **

    Directed by Joey Kuhn

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    THOSE MEN is a un-inspirational story set in Manhattan, that has been seen in movies, straight or gay before. A character falls in love while his true love is actually his best friend who happens to have the same feelings. This comedy drama includes a wealthy best friend whose father is jailed for embezzling his clients funds while he, Sebastian has a few mental issues. Charlie who has just moved in with Sebastian to offer support but falls in love with a foreign pianist,Tim. When Tim gets a job in San Francisco and Charlie plans to move away, all hell breaks lose. The main fault of the film is the main actor playing Charlie who is annoying while smiling and trying to look cool all the time, and basically a terrible actor. The supporting actor playing Sebastian, however, is awesome, resulting in the supporting character taking all the limelight from the main one. But the film is neither dramatic or funny enough.

     

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

    Tomorrowland opens!

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    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

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    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

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    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

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    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

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    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

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    TIFF Cinematheque continues its series on Georgian Cinema

    FILM REVIEWS:

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

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    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

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    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

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    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

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    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

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    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

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    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

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    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

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    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

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    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

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    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

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    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.

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    TIFF Cinematheque begins a series on Georgian Cinema

    FILM REVIEWS:

    88 (Canada 2014) **

    Directed by April Mullen

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    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

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    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

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    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

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    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

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    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

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    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

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    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.

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    Toronto BIG Hot Docs Film Festival continues this week

    FILM REVIEWS:

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

    Directed by Joss Whedon

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    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

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    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

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    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

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    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.

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    Toronto BIG Hot Docs Film Festival begins this week.

    FILM REVIEWS:

    THE AGE OF ADALINE (USA 2015) **

    Directed by Lee Toland Krieger

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    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

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    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

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    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

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    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

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    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

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    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

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    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

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    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

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    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

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    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.

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    Cinefranco the French film festival in Toronto continues.

    FILM REVIEWS:

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

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    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

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    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

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    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

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    (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

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    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.

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    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

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    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

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    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.

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    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

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    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

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    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

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    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.

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    FILM REVIEWS:

    CAST NO SHADOW (Canada 2014) **

    Directed by Christian Sparks

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    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

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    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

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    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

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    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

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    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

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    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

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    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

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    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

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    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

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    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

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    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

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    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

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    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

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    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

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    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

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    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

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    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

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    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

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    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

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    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

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