• TIFF Cinematheque Presents - Deepa Metha

    TIFF Cinamatheque presents - Deepa Metha

    Quote:

    “I am not a politician, I am a filmmaker, and although you should be able to distance yourself from your own work and be objective about it, there is so much of your own personal emotions and involvement put into a film.”

    —Deepa Mehta

    Indian born director Deepa Metha, now residing in Toronto has progressed to a repeated and world renowned filmmaker since her first film SAM & ME in 1991.  Her latest film BEEBA BOYS debuted at TIFF and opens widely in October.

    For the first time, TIFF Cinematheque presents a deserved retrospective of her films from her first film SAM & ME and includes her trilogy FIRE, EARTH and WATER.  The series runs from October 8th - 15th.

    No matter which film Metha directs or no matter what theme - tragedy or comedy, one can definitely notice that each film is made up of set pieces and that each set piece is meticulously orchestrated and usually full of energy.  One can watch any of these vignettes on their own as a sort of film study.  Metha is fond of using music and dance in her films.  She has also dealt with a whole variety of genres from comedy to musicals to tragedy.  If her films spark controversy, she will not give up or shy away.  An example is the trouble she had to go through to make WATER and MIDNIGHT’S CHILDREN, based on the oval by Solomon Rushdie.

    My favourite top 3 films of hers are:

    1.HEAVEN ON EARTH

    2.MIDNIGHT’S CHILDREN

    3.FIRE

    It is therefore of no surprise that she is the film darling of Canada, with each of new films normally premiering at the Toronto International Film Festival, including her latex one BEEBA BOYS, which is arguably her most stylish.

    For more information on the program, venue, ticket pricing and showtimes, please check the TIFF website at 

    tiff.net

    Capsule Reviews of selected Films:

    EARTH (Canada/India 1998) ***

    Directed by Deepa Metha

    The second of her trilogy ‘element’ films, EARTH, released as 1947: EARTH in India, is a political film with a family setting.  The year is 1947, Lahore the time of British independence from India.  The Muslims, Hindus and Sikhs are fighting for territory.  The story is told from the point of view of a young girl with polio, Lenny (Maia Sethna), narrated through the voice of her adult self (Shabana Azmi).  She is from a wealthy Parsi family who hopes to remain neutral to the rising tensions between Hindus, Sikhs, and Muslims in the area.  She is adored and protected by her parents, Bunty (Kitu Gidwani) and Rustom (Arif Zakaria) and is cared for by her Ayah, a beautiful Hindu woman, Shanta (Nandita Das).  Both Dil Navaz, the Ice-Candy Man (Aamir Khan) and Hassan, the Masseur (Rahul Khanna) are Muslim and in love with Shanta.   The family setting is a spark for diasater, whhc arrives pretty quickly.  Metha captures the mood and desperation of the times, while injecting her poetry as well.  But like her other films, SAM & ME and FIRE for example, the film suffers from a tragic ending.  The film was India’s entry for the Best Foreign Language Film Oscar.

    Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=W9FRLexZYQM

    FIRE (India/Canada 1996) ****
    Directed by Deepa Metha

    The first of Metha’s trilogy of elements films (followed by EARTH and WATER), FIRE was greeted with riots and disgust in India for the film’s depiction of lesbianism, a subject still taboo in India.  After many fights and protests, the film was finally distributed without incident after quite the few years.  Accolades are due for Metha for standing up for freedom of speech for filmmakers.  This film is also one of her best.  The romantic gay love story involves two sisters-in-law unhappily married to a Indian family.  Sita is a newly arranged-married young woman, trying to perceive some emotion from her husband Jatin.  Jatin lives with his older brother Ashok, his sister-in-law Radha, his invalid mother (Biji) and the family servant Mundu.  Their apartment is on the second floor of a two story dwelling in a crowded marketplace in New Delhi. Ashok and Jatin run a small store (on the first floor) that sells food (for takeout) and rents videos.  As both Sita and Radha get frustrated with their lives, their begin a love relationship that the family finally discovers.  The lesbian story in a different setting works well and enlightens the danger.  A daring film by Metha, effectively executed in all departments.

    Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sv3jSar70E4

    MIDNIGHT’S CHILDREN (Canada/USA 2012) ***1/2

    Directed by Deepa Metha

     MIDNIGHT’S CHILDREN is Deepa Metha’s ambitious film adaptation of Salman Rushdie’s Booker of Booker’s Prize Winner of the same name.  Because of the book’s content and the author’s reputation (that includes an open death reward for his death by Iran''s Khomeini), filming was done is secret.  The film had principal photography shot in Colombo, Sri Lanka.  Needless to say, Mehta’s period piece looks stunning from the slums to the wet fields where buffalos graze for food.  The theme is India''s transition from British colonialism to independence and to the partition of India as well as Pakistan.  The story is cleverly told by its chief protagonist, Saleem Sinai (Satya Bhabha).  Saleem is born at the stroke of midnight of India’s independence.  But he is swapped as a baby at birth.  He is supposed to be of poor parents but instead lives of wealthy parents until a freak accident reveals him not to be from his father who exiles him to live with his relatives.  Here, his adventure begins which coincides with the politics of war.  This is an epic of a film lasting close to two and a half hours.  But the film is mixed, at times vast in scope but yet at times plodding along the way.  But the film covers conflicting issues such as heroism and cowardice; wealth and poverty; lost and found; and magic and reality.  Mehta’s ambitious film covers some of these issues effectively while others like the magical portion not so well.  The MIDNIGHT’S CHILDREN of the film title refer to all the children born at that same time as Saleem.  Saleem assembles the children together, who are all supposed to possess magical powers.  Saleem falls in love with one of them who is able to magically make people disappear and thus smuggle back to his birth.  This is where Metha’s film is flawed but where the book excels.  The magical portion appears frivolous and unbelievable and never really blends into the story.  But one has to give credit to Mehta for her daring film, shot at risk to herself and her crew. 

    Trailer:https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IXgx6C8PHd4

    SAM & ME (Canada 1991) ***
    Directed by Deepa Metha

    Deepa Metha’s first and very assured film shows her as a talented filmmaker true to her Indian Canadian roots and one who shoots with attention to detail.  SAM & ME is the story of the unlikely friendship and bond between two very different people, culturally and in age difference.  One is a young recent immigrant to Toronto from India, 20-something Nikhil (Ranjit Chowdhry) and the other a senior old Jewish man, Sam (Peter Boretski) who wants to leave and die back in Israel.  Nikhil has a job looking after Sam.  Metha’s film is fun to watch.  She captures the little details from each culture - India, from the cricket matches in the backyard and the Bollywood drag queen dance to the Jewish song and dances performed by Peter naked on the front lawn.  But what is lacking from the film is a stronger storyline, like a good conclusion, even a Hollywood style ending.

    WATER (Canada/India 2005) ***

    Directed by Deepa Metha

    The final of her ‘elements’ trilogy proves the most problematic for Metha with Hindus shutting down her production in India and her starting to resume filming a year later in Sri Lanka.  Set in 1938 in the twilight of colonial India where Gandhi was immensely popular with his peace blessings, the film focuses on widows condemned by Hindu law to spend the rest of their lives in an institution, or ashram, on the banks of the Ganges.  The story is told from the point of view a mischievous 8-year old Chuyia (Sarala) recently widowed.  She does not even remember being married by her parents.  It is a film on the triumph of the human spirit over oppression.  It is am ambitious film that is hampered by a ponderous romance between Kalyani (Lisa Ray), a widow and Narayan (John Abraham), a law student.  The film works when we learn about the oppression from Chuyia, but when the story leaves the widows’ quarters, it aspires higher but never establishes a sound footing.  Stunning cinematography with the beautiful Ganges (or is it a substitute river in Sri Lanka?) always in the background.

    Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2R0pRl18js8

  • “Motown The Musical” in Toronto

    Singer/actress Allison Semmes brings “pure essence” of Diana Ross

    For more than 50 years, Diana Ross, the iconic singer/recording artist/actress has electrified national and international fans and audiences with her legendary sweet and angelic vocals. For the last 17 months – and counting - singer/actress Allison Semmes has captured the “pure essence” of Ross in the national, now international touring stage production, “Motown The Musical.” Simply, put…city after city, theater after theater, night after night, show after show, Semmes sings, talks, and with astounding believability, is Diana Ross…“The Boss,” much to the delight of audiences of all ages.

    “Motown The Musical,” starring Semmes, is currently playing at the Princess of Wales Theatre in Toronto, now until Sunday, Nov. 1. The stage production musically and artistically chronicles the epic rise of Motown Records from its humble 1959 beginnings in Detroit, to how it became the world’s most storied record label.

    The musical comes to life with captivating portrayals of the label’s legendary singers and musicians that helped put Motown on the map, all told through the vision of the master architect, Berry Gordy, Jr. Semmes’ performance renders an incredible look at Ross and “The Supremes,” her contributions to the elevation of Motown Records, and the professional and personal relationships that she had with Gordy.

    Interesting, Semmes wasn’t even close to being born when Ross began her climb to the stars with “The Supremes.” Yet, Semmes has made a quantum leap back through time to become Diana Ross on stage. “I did a lot of research when I was preparing for the role, and even now, I will go back and listen to her songs or flip through her autobiography or study her on YouTube,” said Semmes. “I just want to keep remembering who she was, and still is, as an artist and as a person. I don’t want to necessarily imitate her, but I want to capture the essence of her unique style and sweet and distinct voice.”

    Reflecting on the entire cast. “We are like family,” said Semmes, with a tone of pride. “I love working with so many extremely talented actresses, actors, and singers. It’s definitely not just a one of two person show; it’s an ensemble that brilliantly portrays the many stories and artists that made Motown what it is. We are all loving that audiences are loving ‘Motown The Musical.’ ”

    Prior to joining “Motown the Musical, Semmes enjoyed success in regional theater productions in the United States, inclusive of “Bubbling Brown Sugar,” “Dreamgirls,” and “The Wiz.” Her first tour was “The Color Purple.” Her first show on Broadway was “The Book of Mormon.”

    Vocally and musically speaking, Semmes stands on a strong foundation. As a youth growing up in Chicago, she began cultivating her vocal chops while singing in her church’s choir and other community and city-wide musical ensembles. Her parents exposed her to a steady diet of R&B, blues, jazz, and Motown music from their special collection of albums.

    After high school, Semmes earned a bachelor’s degree in music/classical voice from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign’s Opera Program, and subsequently received a master’s in music and musical theatre from New York University- Steinhardt.

    “I wanted to be an opera singer. I wanted to be the next Kathleen Battle,” Semmes said with a laugh. “The color to her voice is so expressive and so graceful.”

    These days, Semmes is coloring the voice and style of Diana Ross. She and the entire touring cast have received rave reviews over the last 17 months for their singing and dancing and telling the Motown story at every performance. Yet, Semmes believes that…“the show is much bigger than just the singing and dancing that everybody loves; it’s a celebration that transformed America,” said Semmes.

    “I really love the Motown story, and I really love the opportunity that I’ve been given by Mr. Berry Gordy to travel the country, and now come to Toronto, to help tell this very important story,” she said. “When we perform each night, we are culturally adding global consciousness to the audience. We are reaching people of all ages, and I believe that we, through ‘Motown The Musical’ are changing lives.”

    Motown The Musical is showing at Princess of Wales Theatre (300 King Street West) until November 1, 2015. For more information, visit www.ticketking.com or phone 416.872.1212.

     

  • This Week's Film Reviews (Oct 2, 2015)

    Films opening include THE WALK, THE MARTIAN and a few smaller gems.  This is the time of year where last year's 2014 TIFF films are dumped to the theatres.  Some of these are quite good films like GOODNIGHT MOMMY, now playing.  THE WALK has an early opening Wednesday.

    FILM REVIEWS: (More Reviews posted on Friday - Opening days of Other films)

    COMING HOME (China 2014) ****

    Directed by Zhang Yimou

    COMING HOME is a welcome return for director Zhang and his actress Gong Li who have not made a movie this good since RAISE THE RED LANTERN and THE ROAD HOME.   The film begins with the setting of the cultural revolution when imprisoned Lu (Chen Daoming) escapes to see his wife Feng (Gong Li).  Their teenage daughter Dandan (Zhan Huiwen) reports him and during his recapture at the station, Feng suffers a head jury causing her amnesia.  

    The larger part of the film now takes place 3 years later when the revolution is over.  Lu is released to go home to his wife.  Feng does not remember him at all.  The film goes into full melodrama mode with Lu trying to cure his wife so that she can recognize him again.  This is all heart breaking stuff made more desperate with issues like politics, family values, redemption and love at play.  

    Director Zhang’s backdrop is the poor housing area where the family dwells.  The piano music by Lang Lang aids the atmosphere of desperation and hope.  And as in the best of Zhang’s films, Gong Li shines once again - the Chinese beauty ageing to an old age in the film while never losing her love for her husband.

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

    DRUNK STONED BRILLIANT DEAD: THE STORY OF THE NATIONAL LAMPOON (USA 2015) ***

    Directed by Douglas Tirola

    This documentary illustrates how times have really changed.  National Lampoon is now known by most people as comedy films, the last one VACATION, being so lame that the word National Lampoon were taken away from the title.  But in the 70’s when political incorrectness, racism, lewd vulgarity and animal rights were in their infancy, National Lampoon the magazine prospered.

    Drunk Stoned Brilliant Dead: The Story of The National Lampoon (the tile appropriate as the words described many of the staff) looks longingly back at the 1970s when a smart, tasteless joke could make one laugh out loud without worrying about hurting someone’s feelings or being attacked on social media.  The film traces the magazine’s roots from its start as the Harvard Lampoon found by three Harvard graduates — Doug Kenney, Henry Beard and Robert Hoffman  

    After getting funds, The National Lampoon was founded in 1969 and first published in 1970.

    The film looks unorganized in its first half.  Director Tirola is all over the place looking at the different founders, undecided which one is the most influential and to centre on.  The film also shows too many of its magazine issues, without a clear goal to achieve. But it brings out lots of nostalgia in the classic covers like the one in which a gun is pointed at a dog with the caption “If you don’t buy this magazine, we’ll kill this dog.”

    But the footing gets sounder in the second half once the audience becomes familiar with the magazine's staff.  The film also delves into the magazine’s offshoots like the radio show and the movies.  The most successful movie of all is of course NATIONAL LAMPOON’S ANIMAL HOUSE and it would have been good to have seen again a few clips from this hilarious film.

    Tirola also goes into the decline of the magazine including how many talents were stolen by Saturday Night Live.  The drug addiction and death of the genius comedian founder Doug Kenny is fondly recalled.

    The talking heads are influential and knowledgeable enough.  The two most prominent and influential ones are director John Landis (ANIMAL HOUSE) and Chevy Chase (The VACATION films and THE KENTUCKY FRIED MOVIE).  They also talk about Doug’s death.

    Tirola’s documentary still contains enough magazine’s laughs and film’s jokes as well as antics from the likes of John Belushi and Gilda Ratner.  And if one has grown up after the 70’s the film is still a fond, nostalgic look at the times gone by when the world was not so uptight.

    Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6EXQgTDZs60

    JAFAR PANAHI’S TAXI (Iran 2014) ***
    Directed by Jafar Panahi

    Iranian filmmaker Jafar Panahi made the international film scene with his simple THE WHITE BALLOON and more recently with the smuggled out THIS IS NOT A FILM, made while in prison for crimes against the Islamic state.  Panahi’s film begins with a shot which the audience can se as the part front of a dashboard and a windscreen.  Panahi shoots this film almost entirely from a taxi cab, circling the streets of Tehran.  he picks up passengers who argue, confess their doings and express their thoughts about their lives and routines.  The big question is to whether the film is staged or a realistic documentary?  The answer is delivered early in the film when a passenger tells Panahi, who is driving the can that it is obvious he has hired actors as the last line his last passenger made was taken from his film CRIMSON GOLD.  The fact that Panahi next takes a passenger who has just suffered a bike accident with his wife attests that the film is staged.  The film is also better than it sounds, as the slice of Iranian life on display is a pleasure to watch.  Plus Panahi gets his two cents in by having his passengers articulate his feelings and thoughts, even of the government.

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

    THE MARTIAN (USA 2015) ****

    Directed by Ridley Scott

    One of the year’s most anticipated films finally arrives after receiving rave reviews at the Toronto International Film Festival.  And true to word, Ridley Scott the director of BLADE RUNNER and ALIEN delivers an intense and exciting space adventure close in look to Stanley Kubrick’s classic 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY.

    NASA botanist Mark Watney (Matt Damon) is abandoned and left for dead on the Red Planet after a storm.  When he survives, a team of scientists, astronauts and administrators brings him home.  It is a very simple story in which the entire audience knows the outcome.  But it is not the story but how the story is told.  

    Between the time Mark is stranded and rescued, the script by Drew Goddard (CABIN IN THE WOODS) from Andy Weir’s novel contains a series of set pieces leading to the climax.  Mark cultivates food (potatoes); Mark burns hydrogen to obtain water for his crops (unknown to Mark, water has only a week back been discovered beneath the surface of Mars);  Mark travels the red planet to uncover equipment from a previous Mars landing.  Meanwhile back on Earth, Nasa deals with the public outcry to bring Mark back; there is the designing and testing of the equipment to bring Mark back with subplots involving a genius mathematician as well as the Chinese with their secret space program.  Fortunately, all those are interesting enough to keep the audience attentive even though they might not understand exactly what is going on.  An example is the hexadecimal coding.  The need to decode information in ASCII because of the limitation of the rotation of the camera makes little sense, but it all sounds so cool and logical.

    A few glaring things are overlooked in the film.  As Mark counts the days, the days are numbered sol 1, sol 300 and so on.  But nothing is mentioned how long a day on Mars is compared to a day on Earth.

    Mark Damon is marvellous as the stranded astronaut showcasing a wide range of emotions from anger to exhilaration, from sadness to joy.  Damon shows his prowess a comedy as well.

    The soundtrack containing mainly 80’s music might not be to everyone’s taste.  The reason given is that Mark is left with all of his captain’s (Jessica Chastain) CDs.  She only listens to disco.

    Directed by Ridley Scott (ALIEN, BLADE RUNNER) and shot with special effects 3D, THE MARTIAN is a marvel in intense excitement, especially the film’s last 15 minutes that is masterly executed to great detail.  

    The set and art direction is as good if not better than in Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY, released at that time in Super-Cinerama.  The interior of the space craft is designed for zero gravity where entrances could be on top or side of the walls, with the astronauts swimming in mid-air while transversing the spacecraft.  

    Mark’s character is a lean one, with no family baggage unlike Sandra Bullock’s in GRAVITY allowing the film to dispense with melodramatic nonsense.  He has no wife, children or girlfriend.  His parents are mentioned but never shown on screen.

    THE MARTIAN better than GRAVITY, should be a big Oscar contender and box-office success.

    Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ue4PCI0NamI

    THE WALK (USA 2015) ****
    Directed by Robert Zemeckis

    One cannot review THE WALK without bringing it into perspective with the Academy Award Winning 2009 documentary MAN ON WIRE by John Marsh.  Both films deal with Philippe Petit’s world famous illegal wire walk across the twin towers in NYC, yet both are completely different films.  MAN ON WIRE was an exceptional account of fact while THE WALK is a fairy tale treatment.  Philippe Petit (Joseph Gordon -Levitt), a Parisienne juggler sees a picture of the twin towers in a magazine in the dentist’s office and realizes his dream of walking the wire between them.  He narrates his story from the top of the Statue of Liberty.  This totally looks like fairy tale fluff.  But that does not mean Robert Zemeckis' film is bad.

    Zemeckis is a Master of directing entertaining commercial fare and he has proven his mettle with hits like BACK TO THE FUTURE, CAST AWAY and FOREST GUMP.  In THE WALK, based on Petit’s book, To Reach the Clouds’, the title of which demands the story to be treated as a fairy tale, the film tells of Petit’s dream come true as narrated by Petit, played by Joseph Gordon-Levitt sporting a convincing French accent.  There is also the almost perfect romantic encounter in which love conquers all.  Annie (Charlotte Le Bon) gives up her all, leaving Paris with Petit to help him and his crew achieve his dream.

    There is one segment when Philippe Petit and his crew wait in the loading docks for the elevator to take their equipment up to the top of the twin towers.  The workers are shot in slow motion while Philippe’s watch is shown in fast motion emphasizing how slow time appears to pass for Philippe.  It is a great device which also rings the opposite for the audience watching Zemeckis' film.  His story unfolds really fast with the audience practically seeing all the events happening in fast motion within the two hour running time.  Zemeckis’ film also contains other prized moments like the appearing of the wire across the buildings with the best occurring when Philippe pays his respects to the twin towers in YC by taking a bow in the middle of his walk.  There is much to enjoy and admire in the film, besides it being a visual pleasure.

    But the film is not without suspense.  Besides the climatic walk on the wire, the hide-and-seek between the crew while setting up the rigs and security provide taut moments.  Zemeckis also delivers inventive false alarms, like the clever Walkie Talkie segment.

    There are parts of the story that pushes credibility limits. The role of Ben Kingsley as Papa Rudy, Philippe’s trainer is something right out of Rocky - with a proud trainer that knows all, taming a wild foal.  But still, Kingsley who has played parts like Gandhi steals the show.  “You cannot lie on stage”, is one big advice given by him, as if Zemeckis is telling his audience the same truth.  The supporting cast that form the assortment of Philippe’s crew are also entirely watchable and entertaining.

    There will surely be critics and others who will hate the fairy tale treatment (the sheer audacity of converting fact into a fairy tale) of the Petit story.  To each his or her own.  But one cannot deny Zemeckis credit for his superlative visuals and innovative flare.  THE WALK, should be seen in IMAX 3-D.  It has great 3D effects, and though I am not one who favours 3D, I ducked when the balancing pole fell downwards from one of Petit’s walks, something that 

    I have never done before in a 3D film.  THE WALK has an early opening Wednesday Sep 30th and opens in IMAX theatres.

    Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GR1EmTKAWIw

     

     

     

    BEST BETS:

    Best Film Opening: THE WALK

    Best Animation: INSIDE OUT

    Best Documentary: THE CREEPING GARDEN

    Best Action comedy: AMERICAN ULTRA

    Best Foreign: GOODNIGHT MOMMY

  • This Week's Film Reviews (Sep 25, 2015)

    Films opening include HOTEL TRANSYLVANIA 2, THE INTERN and a few smaller gems.  This is the time of year where last year's 2014 TIFF films are dumped to the theatres.  Some of these are quite good films like GOODNIGHT MOMMY.

    FILM REVIEWS:

    A BRILLIANT YOUNG MIND (old title: X + Y) (UK 2014) ***

    Directed by Morgan Matthews

    A socially awkward teenage math prodigy, Nathan (Asa Butterfield from HUGO), lands a spot on the British squad at the International Mathematics Olympiad.  

    The film is divided into three parts, besides having lots of mathematic riddles for those interested in the subject.  The first deals with the boy’s background (father’s death; behaviour in school) before going to Taiwan for selection into the squad, the second part.  The final is the Olympiad in Cambridge where he learns a more important lesson in mathematics.  The film is a feel good weepie and director Matthews does well in the film’s buildup considering that there is no climax of a final contest in which the audience is cheering the contestants winning.  

    The film benefits greatly from two of the best actors in Britain, united together again since Mike Leigh’s HAPPY-GO-LUCKY.  Sallly Hawkins plays the boy’s thankless mother and Eddie Marson the mathematics squad leader.  The film celebrates differences in people.

    Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tWAS-q2PpnA

    GOODNIGHT MOMMY (ICH SEH ICH SEH) (Austria 2014) ****
    Directed by Severin Fiala and Veronika Franz

    This is a film about 9-year old children that is not for children.  The suspense thriller is a solid one that will match other classics in the genre like SISTERS, THE OTHER and DEAD RINGERS.  The film has sufficient blood and gore, frightening scenes and nudity.

    ICH SEH ICH SEH means I spy with my eye in German, a smarter title for a horror movie than GOODNIGHT MOMMY.

    The film begins with an image of an Austian mother and family with the sone “Lullaby and Goodnight’ sung in the background before shifting to the countryside and a corn field where twins are playing.  In an isolated house in the countryside, nine-year-old twins Lukas and Elias (Lukas and Elias Schwarz) live with their mother (Susanne Wuest), who is recovering from recent cosmetic surgery.  With her face puffy and grotesque under a swath of bandages, the mother requires absolute peace and quiet in order to recuperate, and this quickly begins to grate on the two restless boys.  As she becomes more and more strict, the brothers retreat ever-further into their own private, aggressively anti-social world, their anger and suspicion mounting and their imaginations running wild — even to the extent of doubting that the person beneath the bandages is actually their mother at all.

    The film gets the audience on the side of the twins as segments concentrate on the mental cruelty and restrictions imposed by the mother.  The twins are to keep quiet, not allowed pets and Elias forced not to listen to his twin Lukas.  The twins eventually get the better of the situation and tie their ‘mother’ up.  At this point in the film, the audience is till on the side of the twins, hoping the mother never escapes.

    It is the tension of the film that makes the film tick.

    The script contains a few clues to the solution of the mystery - i.e. whether the woman is the twins’ real mother.  But unless one is actively figuring out the plot, the ending will be a surprise.  Otherwise, it does not take a genius to figure everything out, but chances of doing so would still be less than 25%.

    For a horror film, the film, thankfully does not rely on cheap tricks like false alarms of things going bump in the night to the sound turned up several botches.  But there are a few nightmare scenes.  Special effects are kept to a minimum, but these are effective like roaches crawling out of the mother’s cut stomach.

    The cinematography especially the night scenes with the glowing specks is stunning and creates a good atmospheric chiller.  There are serial scenes created for maximum scary effect - like the one in which the twins play a game with the mother with bald dolls in the background.

    There are also a few carefully created suspense moments worthy of Hitchcock.  One is the tied up and gagged mother trying to signal to the Red ross workers downstairs visiting to get a donation.  And one more when the workers turn back to the house only to wave to the twins instead of noticing the mother.

    This is the first fiction feature from the writing-directing team, and a new filmmaking force to be reckoned with.

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

    HOTEL TRANSYLVANIA 2 (USA 2015) **
    Directed by Genndy Tartakovsky

    The second of the HOTEL TRANSYLVANIA films is blander than the original, both of which are directed by Genndy Tartakovsky.  It is more of the same with a slight change in plot which is something too similar to MONSTERS INC in which the monsters have to learn how to be scary.

    In HT2, it is Drac’s grandson who is not scary enough, since he has half human half  monster.  So, grandad Dracula (Adam Sandler) tries his best to get his monster pals to teach the kid how to be scary.  These take the form of a series of quite unfunny skits, with the kid and the audience none too wiser.

    The film is a sequel so it carries on the tradition of Hotel Transylvania, a hotel for monsters only to rest - no humans.  But the change in policy to allow humans does not sit too well with the old school monsters.  The hotel and Drac’s grandson’s education form the gist of the film.  This plus the lack of a true villain undercuts any potential of excitement in the cartoon.   Most animated features (examples: MINIONS; THE LEGO MOVIE) have a villain aiming at ruling the world or the universe. The different monsters like Frankenstein, the blob and others should provide ample opportunity for comedy but the uninventive script co-written by Sandler and others fails miserably.  If only the monsters were used to their full potential like the fairy tale characters in the other Sony Pictures’ SHREK films that were such a pleasure to watch.  SCTV’s Count Floyd is much funnier than Sandler’s Count Dracula.

    It may be argued that the humour and scares are toned down for the kids.  That may be so, but adults will surely be bored.  Even Mel Brooks as Vlad cannot save the day.  Brooks has had also his bad spell in unfunny comedies, and this will add to his list.

    Still Sony Animation’s HOTEL TRANYLVANIA is a marvelously looking 3D animated comedy.  It hits a few right notes – superlative animation, a good so-so storyline with a few rude jokes, family message and entertainment and so on.  But the trouble is that the film is not inventive, funny or goofy enough.  But Sandler fans and the notion of animated monsters in a 3D feature should still make it big at the box-office.

    Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=T3nqmGgnJe8

    THE INTERN (USA 2015) ***
    Directed by Nancy Meyers

    Writer/director Nancy Myers has not been known for outstanding films.  But the director’s 7th directorial feature stands as one of her better ones.  Like IT’S COMPLICATED SOMETHING’S GOTTA GIVE and THE HOLIDAY, THE INTERN is a comedy with a strong female presence, which is not really a bad thing these days.  Old romantic comedies (though THE INTERN is not one - but has a little romance) always had male/female tension.

    THE INTERN first of all is a feel-good comedy about the old and the new.  Two generations with differences that the script shows are not that different and can work together in harmony.  Meyers script is surprisingly full of quite funny lines.  She should be remembered as an Oscar nominee for her script in Spielberg’s SAVING PRIVATE RYAN.  Some of the script’s set-ups are inventive. 

    The film is set in a high fashion clothing website store founded by Jules Ostin (Anne Hathaway), a woman as difficult to work with as the Meryl Steep character in THE DEVIL WEARS PRADA.  She is forced to take under a wing a senior intern, Ben Whittaker (Robert De Niro) for reasons sketchily explained and not too convincingly at that.  Jules is overworked.  So Ben, who ends up her driver, turns out to be the best thing for her.  Observant and helpful, he wins her and all the other employees over.  If only there was a character like him that exists in every company.

    The film has many different set-ups which are linked by the main theme of internship.  One involving a computer heist at Jule’s  mother’s (Mary Kay Place) house is the funniest and for the only time showcases the comedic talent of the actors playing the other interns.  This breaking and enter scene has little to do with the main story.  But when Meyers breaks out of the movie’s mould, and let her characters run lose, the film works better  Just like the ending where Jules find Ben in the park taking a day off.  But when she goes for the film’s standard set-ups like romance - Ben and Fiona (Rene Russo); Jule’s marriage problems and Jule’s cute kid shenanigans, the film gets boring and clichéd.

    One could complain at the Whittaker character being too perfect.  On the other hand the script could have swung the other way, where the intern learns a thing or two about life in the modern fast lane.  That might be the premise of another film.

    Robert De Niro proves once again his affinity for comedy as in his previous films like MEET THE PARENTS and THE FAMILY.  Hathaway shows she is able to cry on cue.  The two make good chemistry - laugh and cry.

    The film starts to wane she it gets into serious mode.  The slow marriage break up with Jule’s husband beginning an affair and their final patch up destroys the light, comedic mood of the movie that Meyers so carefully created.  But on the plus side, it helps build a stronger narrative to the story.

    THE INTERN has enough charm comedy and drama to earn the light applause it got at the end of the promo screening.

    Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZU3Xban0Y6A

    PAWN SACRIFICE (USA 2013)***
    Directed by Edward Zwick

    Anyone who lived and remembered the current affairs of 1972 would have ben fascinated by the world championship match “the match of the century” between Russian Boris Spassky and American Bobby Fischer.  They made headlines in the news and the covers of all news magazines including Time.  The stories of the individuals as there were very, very eccentric ones superseded the match.  It took more than 3 decades for Hollywood to bring their story to the screen, but it is worth the wait.  What transpires on screen fully captures the angst anticipation of the times.  Another documentary  Liz Garbus’ 2011 BOBBY FISCHER AGAINST THE WORLD also told the story in a non-fiction format.

    PAWN SACRIFICE is centred on American chess phenomenon Bobby Fischer (Tobey Maguire) squaring off against his Russian rival Boris Spassky (Liev Schreiber) in the 1972 "Match of the Century" in Reykjavik, Iceland.  It is the 6th decisive match which would determine the champion of the world in this gripping docudrama from director Edward Zwick (GLORY, his most famous film) and screenwriter Steven Knight (who wrote David Cronenberg’s EATSRN PROMISES).

    Though Spassky was just as weird as Fischer, the film shows only one incident (the film’s most amusing segment) of the case.  Spassky believes his chair was emitting frequencies which affected his game and had it X-rayed.  They did find something in it.  Humorously it was two dead flies.

    Zwick’s film takes no sides.  But it does humanize Fischer’s behaviour by dishing a reason for every odd activity.  Fisher’s absence from the second match which he forfeited was attributed to the government not granting his wishes to ‘no press’.  His insistence of no cameras and no close proximity of an audience were attributed to the distractions they made, as emphasized by the increased volume they made in the soundtrack of the film.  Zwick treats the chess genius as another human being with faults, the main ones being pride and eccentricity.

    One need not know the game to appreciate the film, for it is not the game or winning the game that matters in the film.  It is the two characters on display.  The 6th crucial match forms the film’s climax.  Quite a lot happened to Fisher after the game in the last few minutes of the film (no spoiler here as most would have already known whatever happened to the Master including his death), and the events are related to the audience to make this docudrama complete.  The audience is constantly reminded of the era from shots of Watergate and the Vietnam War interspersed during the film.

    Performances are apt all round especially the supporting ones from Peter Sarsgaard and Michael Stuhlbarg (A SERIOUS MAN).

    The one point of the film being a docudrama is the fact that he film appears aimless, as the film does not have any message to convey.  But this can hardly be considered a flaw or complaint.  That aside, Zwick’s PAWN SACRIFICE is a compelling film about compulsive people about a world match that not everyone was that interested in till thee two came along.  What’s next could be a film about tennis and John McEnroe.

    Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xFHvH9FtACg

    SICARIO (USA 2015) ***1/2

    Directed by Denis Villeneuve

    The word SICARIO means hit man in Mexican or also to mean the ‘zealots of Jerusalem’.  In Villenueve’s (PRISONER) new film, the term is referenced to officers involved in taking down the Mexican drug cartel for various reasons.  The story is centred on FBI agent Emily Blunt, who together with questionable government operatives Josh Brolin and Benicio Del Toro take part in a high risk takedown against a top Mexican cartel boss.  With dire consequences.  Despite the familiar story which is full of cliches, the dramatic setups (the bar pickup; execution at a family meal; the football games) make the film well worth it.  Blunt is good but it is Oscar Winner Del Toro who steals the show.  

    Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sR0SDT2GeFg

    UNBRANDED (USA 2015) ***

    Directed by Phillip Baribeau

    There is much to enjoy in this relatively non demanding and educational documentary on wild horses appropriately entitled UNBRANDED.  It is easy to see the reason the film won the Audience Award at Toronto’s Hot Docs Film Festival this year.

    The film is an adventure following four friends Ben Masters, Ben Thamer, Jonny Fitzsimons, and Thomas Glover as travel 3,000 miles from Mexico to Canada through the deepest backcountry in the American West on wild mustangs.  Why do they embark on the dangerous journey?  Because they are crazy - as they admit themselves.

    Besides the entertainment value, the film offers a lot in terms of educate and beauty.  For one, not many people know that the mustang is not a breed of horses.  It just means wild horse.  The number of wild horses roaming free in the American wild is significant and kept to a minimum or they will fight and cannibalize each other, as experts claim on camera, despite activists fighting to prevent containment of the mustangs.  These clips are interspersed with the journey of the four friends.

    The friends are also shown at their testiest when problems arise - such as bad weather or terrain and when the horses escape.  Some comic relief is provided by a donkey that accompanies them on part of the trail.

    The reasons for the journey are quickly mentioned and not too convincing, including what they are going to achieve.  But that is beside the point.  People do weird things for different reasons and this journey of horses is one of them

    UNBRANDED is stunningly shot and showcases the beautiful landscape of western country as seen in the States of Nevada, Utah, Montana and Arizona, seldom seen in fiction films

    UNBRANDED should be seen by anyone who owns a horse or maybe who has ridden one.  For others, the film is still entertaining and educational enough for the price of a ticket.

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

     

    BEST BETS:

    Best Film Opening: GOODBYE MOMMY

    Best Animation: INSIDE OUT

    Best Documentary: MERU

    Best Action comedy: AMERICAN ULTRA

    Best Foreign: GOODNIGHT MOMMY

    Best Indie:  DOPE and TANGERINE

  • The Best Films at TIFF 2015

    THE BEST FILMS AT TIFF 2015

    Here are the best films of the 40th Anniversary edition of the Toronto International Film Festival from the different perspectives of the audience, the critics and of course myself.

    On the whole, this has been the average year, with excellent films and some bad ones, with no  clear masterpieces or classics.  It was quite disappointing at first as I trudged along the viewing of my first 50 films before the surprises started to pop up.  Of the grand total of 72 films seen by me in its entirety this year, here are the 10 best,with the capsule reviews of the top three.

    BEST 10 Films (in order):

    1.LAND OF MINE (Denmark/Germany 2015) ***** Top 10

    Directed by Martin Zandvliet

    A war movie where there is not one battle scene, and yet, one of the best war films, and one of the best films at TIFF I have seen so far.  Set after the 5-year German Occupation in Denmark in 1945, 14 German POWs, mostly young boys are sent to diffuse 4500 German land mines on the west coast of Denmark.  This means 6 mines diffused per hour and the boys might get to go home in 3 months, if they are not blown up.  The film is based on true events.  The Danish Captain tells them that they have to do their job and they will not be welcomed by the Danes.  The sergeant in charge of the boys hates them and treats them like dirt, but eventually lets his compassion rule.   Of the 14, only 4 end up surviving.  The film is as tense as the classic film about explosives, Georges-Henri Clouzot’s THE WAGES OF FEAR (LE SALAIRE DE LA PEUR).  When the boys diffuse the mines, director Zandvlite makes full use of sound, editing and camera to elicit edge of the seat suspense.  The film is guaranteed to make the audience jump out of their seats - and more than once.  LAND OF MINE is a riveting and unforgettable anti-war film mainly because Zandvliet questions the hardness of heart of human beings.  A must-see!  But warning - too intense for the faint hearted.

    Trailer: (unavailable)

    2.KEEPER (Belg/Fr/Sw 2015) ***** Top 10
    Directed by Guillaume Senez

    KEEPER is a coming-of-age story of a teen Maxime (Kacey Mottet Klein) maturing from his girlfriend, Mélanie (Galatea Bellugi)’s pregnancy.   Maxime, a budding football star, is torn between his dream of playing professionally and his unexpected desire to be a father.  Mélanie is the daughter of a single woman.  They want to keep the baby but are pulled in different directions by their parents, their own ambitions and their desire to be normal teenagers.  Senez’s film works because he is able to express visually the points-of-view of his characters with great clarity.  Take the films two best scenes.  In the ultrasound segment when the teens are shown the baby in the womb by the technician moving the probe on Mel’s swelled belly, the camera never once shows the image of the baby.  The expressions of both teens as well as the spectacled technical are more important and the film gets maximum effect from the scene without the image of the baby.  The other is the confrontation segment with the teens and parents of both, all arguing on what to do with the pregnancy.  The audience is shown all points-of-view while still focusing on the boy as the main character.  There are much, much more to be ecstatic for in watching this new director at work.  Senez’s direction, the sensitive yet powerful script by Senez and David Lambert coupled with the riveting performances of the two teens all make KEEPER an unforgettable piece and one of the two best films I have seen at TIFF.  Senez is a power director to be reckoned with and I will look forward to his next work.

    Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?t=10&v=7T8_XhwpD7E

    3.MEN & CHICKEN (Denmark 2015) ****

    Directed by Anders Thomas Jensen

    This one gets the first prize for being the weirdest, most absurd, eccentric and funny movie of the festival.  When two brothers Gabriel (David Dencik) and Elias (Mads Mikkelsen) reunite to lay their father to rest, they're confronted with an unsettling bit of news: that they were actually sired by someone they've never met.   They travel to the island of Ork to meet their real father where they discover other siblings.  One can tell as they all sport a hairlip.  The siblings, fight, share bedtime stories, try to get girls and do weirder and weirder stuff that includes bestiality and other nastiness.   Turns out too that their real father has been dead in his room for months and has been conducting experiments mating men with chickens (hence the film title) and other assorted farm animals.  Total sanity but not for the weak-hearted!

    Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XYVlN5hTP0M

    4.Un Francais

    5.Bleak Street

    6.Sunset Song

    7.The Forbidden Room

    8.Every Thing Will Be Fine

    9.The Witch

    10.My Big Night (Mi Gran Noche)

    The Toronto International Film Festival® today announced award winners from the 40th Festival;

    The short film awards below were selected by a jury comprised of the head of the shorts program and creations unit at Canal+ France, Pascale Faure, film writer John Anderson (The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times), and actor Rizwan Manji (Outsourced, The

    Wolf of Wall Street).

    SHORTS CUTS AWARD FOR BEST CANADIAN SHORT FILM

    The Shorts Cuts Award for Best Canadian Short Film goes to Patrice Laliberté for Overpass. The jury remarked, “For its seductive, elliptical and graceful manner of exploring the nature of grief and the unconventional ways that families react to loss, all of which was elevated by the performance of Téo Vachon Sincennes.” The award offers a $10,000 cash prize.

    The jury gave an honourable mention to Sol Friedman’s Bacon & God’s Wrath, “For its whimsical and wry examination of religious conviction and intellectual conversion, and the acknowledgment that courage and transformation can be achieved at any age and involve any manner of pork by-product.”

    SHORT CUTS AWARD FOR BEST SHORT FILM

    The Short Cuts Award for Best Short Film goes to Maïmouna Doucouré’s Maman(s). The jury remarked, “For its daring and revelatory exploration of a family's dysfunction and upheaval through the eyes of a child and its refusal to cast characters as villains but rather as complex, and highly conflicted, human beings the jury selects Maman(s). The jury also wanted to acknowledge the vulnerable, defiant performance of the gifted Sokhna Diallo.” The award offers a $10,000 cash prize.

    The jury gave an honourable mention to Fyzal Boulifa’s Rate Me, “For its blithely unconventional approach to new media and new mores, and a sense of humour as wry as it was rude.”

    The Canadian awards below were selected by a jury comprised of filmmaker Don McKellar (The Grand Seduction), Jacqueline Lyanga (Director of AFI Fest), and Ilda Santiago (Programming and Executive Director of Rio de Janeiro International Film Festival).

    CITY OF TORONTO AWARD FOR BEST CANADIAN FIRST FEATURE FILM

    The City of Toronto Award for Best Canadian First Feature Film goes to for Andrew Cividino’s Sleeping Giant. The jury remarked, “For its sophisticated plotting, indelible characters and insightful critique of masculinity through a fateful rite of passage on the north shore of Lake Superior, the jury selects Sleeping Giant.” This award carries a cash prize of $15,000, made possible by the City ofToronto.

    CANADA GOOSE AWARD FOR BEST CANADIAN FEATURE FILM

    The Canada Goose Award for Best Canadian Feature Film goes to Stephen Dunn’s Closet Monster. The jury remarked, “For its confidence and invention in tackling the pain and yearning of the first love and coming of age of a young gay man in Newfoundland, the jury recognizes the remarkable artistry and vision of first-time feature director Stephen Dunn for Closet Monster.” This award carries a cash prize of $30,000 and a custom award, sponsored by Canada Goose.

    The jury gave an honourable mention to Philippe Falardeau’s My Internship in Canada, “For its dexterous intelligence and cinematic wit.”

    THE PRIZES OF THE INTERNATIONAL FEDERATION OF FILM CRITICS (FIPRESCI PRIZES)

    The Festival welcomed an international FIPRESCI jury for the 24th year. The jury members composed of jury president Engin Ertan (Turkey), Chris Alexander (Canada), Francisco Ferreira (Portugal), Kerstin Gezelius (Sweden), Pierre Pageau (Canada), and Alissa Simon (USA).

    Prize of the International Federation of Film Critics (FIPRESCI) for the Discovery programme is awarded to Marko Škop for Eva Nová. The jury remarked, “For exploring themes of humanity, dignity, addiction and redemption in a naturalistic, deceptively simple and non-exploitative manner, FIPRESCI is pleased to present the prize in the Discovery programme to Marko Škop's haunting debut feature Eva Nová.” 

    Prize of the International Federation of Film Critics (FIPRESCI) for Special Presentations is awarded to Jonás Cuarón’s Desierto. The jury remarked, "For using pure cinema to create a strong physical sensation of being trapped in a vast space and hunted down by hatred in its most primal form, FIPRESCI presents the prize in the Special Presentations programme to Desierto by

    Jonás Cuarón.”

    NETPAC AWARD

    As selected by a jury from the Network for the Promotion of Asian Cinema for the 4th consecutive year, the NETPAC Award for World or International Asian Film Premiere goes to Sion Sono for The Whispering Star. Jury members include jury chairperson Anne Misawa (USA), Heather Keung (Canada), and Nashen Moodley (Australia). The jury remarked, “For its poetic, moving and brave attempt to express a grief that's inexpressible, combining all too real elements with lo-fi sci-fi, the NETPAC jury awards the prize to The Whispering Star.”

    TORONTO PLATFORM PRIZE

    This is the inaugural year for Platform, the Festival’s new juried programme that champions director’s cinema from around the world.

    The Festival welcomed an international jury composed of acclaimed filmmakers Jia Zhang-ke, Claire Denis and Agnieszka Holland, who awarded the first ever Toronto Platform Prize to Alan Zweig for HURT. The jury remarked, "Following a long discussion, the jury has chosen unanimously to give the Platform prize to HURT. It is a film that explores the complexity and fragility of human destiny in a country that much of the world sees as a paradise." The award offers a $25,000 cash prize and a custom award.

    The jury gave honourable mentions to Gabriel Mascaro’s Neon Bull, He Ping’s The Promised Land, and Pablo Trapero’s The Clan.

    GROLSCH PEOPLE’S CHOICE AWARDS

    This year marked the 38th year that Toronto audiences were able to cast a ballot for their favourite Festival film for the Grolsch

    People’s Choice Award. This year’s award goes to Lenny Abrahamson for Room. Told through the eyes of five-year-old-Jack, Room is a thrilling and emotional tale that celebrates the resilience and power of the human spirit. To Jack, the Room is the world… it's where he was born, where he and his Ma eat and sleep and play and learn. But while it's home to Jack, to Ma it's a prison.  Through her fierce love for her son, Ma has managed to create a childhood for him in their 10-by-10-foot space. But as Jack's curiosity is building alongside Ma's own desperation — she knows that Room cannot contain either indefinitely. The award offers a $15,000

    cash prize and custom award, sponsored by Grolsch. The second runner up is Tom McCarthy’s Spotlight. The first runner up is Pan Nalin’s Angry Indian Goddesses.

    The Grolsch People’s Choice Midnight Madness Award goes to Ilya Naishuller for Hardcore. Resurrected with no recollection of his past, a cyborg named Henry and his ally Jimmy must fight through the streets of Moscow in pursuit of Henry’s kidnapped wife, in the world’s first action-adventure film to be entirely shot from the first person perspective. The second runner up is Jeremy Saulnier for Green Room. The first runner up is Todd Strauss-Schulson for The Final Girls.

    The Grolsch People’s Choice Documentary Award goes to Evgeny Afineevsky for Winter on Fire: Ukraine's Fight For Freedom. Chronicling events that unfolded over 93 days in 2013 and 2014, the film witnesses the formation of a new civil rights movement in Ukraine. What started as peaceful student demonstrations supporting European integration morphed into a full-fledged

    violent revolution calling for the resignation of the nation’s president. The second runner up is Brian D. Johnson’s Al Purdy Was Here. The first runner up is Avi Lewis’s This Changes Everything.

    DROPBOX DISCOVERY PROGRAMME FILMMAKERS AWARD

    Earlier in the Festival, the winner of the Dropbox Discovery Programme Filmmakers Award was announced. The award went to Adil El Arbi and Bilall Fallah whose film, Black, was presented as part of the Discovery programme. The award carries a $5,000 cash prize along with free Dropbox for Business accounts.

    The TIFF Awards section was reproduced from one of TIFF Annoucements for Press. 

    Other section written by Gilbert Seah

  • This Week's Film Reviews (Sep 18, 2015)

    Films opening include EVEREST, CAPTIVE and MAZE RUNNER 2: THE SCORCH TRIALS.

    The Toronto International Film Festival begins.  Lots and lots of new films here.

    FILM REVIEWS:

    EVEREST (USA 2015) ***
    Directed by Baltasar Kormákur

    The identical question was asked in EVEREST and the recent mountain climbing documentary MERU released a few week back.  ‘Why?’  In EVEREST, multiple answers are given.  “Because I have climbed 6 out of 7 summits.”  ‘Because Everest is there.”  “Because it is so beautiful, it is a crime not to do it.”  The answers provided indicate the main difference between EVEREST and MERU, the latter being the much better picture.  The answers given are not the real reasons, but given because they are supposed to be the ones people expect to hear, the ones to please.  The answer given in MERU is: “Because we (the climbers) are f***ing crazy!”

    So, Baltasar Kormákur’s film takes a full half of the film to get on its feet.  It is the kind of film made for the Hollywood masses where a large portion is devoted to family drama.  Two of the climbers wives (played by Robin Wright and Kiera Knightley) are given more attention than the film should.  And it is pretty boring, re-used drama.  British actress Emily Watson, who plays a sympathetic worker at the camp at First base looks if she can cry any time, on cue.

    But EVEREST is a disaster film.  As such, the avalanche scenes and climbing segment, especially when the climbers reach the summit are nothing short of stunning, and should be best watched in 3D IMAX, which the film will be presented in.

    As in all disaster films, EVEREST has an all star cast with lots of characters.  The true characters are Rob Hall (Jason Clarke), the dedicated and ambitious entrepreneur who turned helping ordinary climbers scale Everest into a cottage industry with his company Adventure Consultants, Scott Fischer (Jake Gyllenhaal), Beck Weathers (Josh Brolin), a Texan and Doug Hansen (John Hawkes), the mild-mannered mailman who's climbing to inspire elementary-school kids back home.  Kormákur’s task is more like a traffic cop directing who is going to come on next.  Most of the actors do what they can, all under heavy facial hair.

    EVEREST succeeds as a Hollywood disaster film, but that is not saying much.

    Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JnaopfyC-Qk

    MAZE RUNNER: THE SCORCH TRIALS (USA 2015) **
    Directed by Wes  Ball

    Written by James Dashner (based on his 2009 novel) and T.S. Nowlin, this is the second chapter of THE MAZE RUNNER trilogy which like other young adult series turned into films TWILIGHT and HUNGER GAMES, will turn in some decent cash for the studios.

    In the original MAZR RUNNER, Thomas (Dylan O’Brien) wakes up in an elevator shaft and meets up with the Gladers. They have to find a way out of where they are, through a mysterious maze, while searching for clues about the mysterious and powerful organization known as WCKD.  That was a novel idea but this second part is clearly short of inventiveness. (If you hated the first and better film, it is best to avoid this one.)

    Their journey takes them to the Scorch, a desolate landscape filled with unimaginable obstacles. Teaming up with resistance fighters led by Rat-Man (Aidan Gillen), the Gladers take on WCKD's vastly superior forces and uncover its shocking plans for them all.  The film runs like many dystopian futuristic dramas.

    What is lacking in novelty is more than made up in terms of action.  THE SCORCH TRAILS contain lots more pyrotechnics and stunts, tough lacking in a strong narrative.  In fact, the film looks like something right out of a MAD MAX film.  Most of the actors in the first appear in the second (Patricia Clarkson) with a new slew of others including Barry Pepper and Giancarlo Esposito.  Dylan O’Brien makes a memorable hero.

    But this turns out to be the typical young adult action pic, with token violence and action with substance abuse and language.  Running at 132 minutes, the film is quite the bore for non young adults.

    Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-44_igsZtgU

    BEST BETS:

    Best Film Opening: THE VISIT

    Best Animation: INSIDE OUT

    Best Documentary: MERU

    Best Action comedy: AMERICAN ULTRA

    Best Foreign: SECOND MOTHER

    Best Indie:  DOPE and TANGERINE

  • TIFF 2015 (40th Anniversary) Capsule Reviews

    TIFF 2015 (CAPSULE REVIEWS)

    That time of the year again, where Toronto goes to the movies, sleep less and get star glazed.  From the 10th to 20th of September inclusive, TIFF the 40th anniversary makes it debut.

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

    TIFF.net

    Book tickets now before the best deals sell-out.

    Keep checking this site for capsule reviews of films.  This site will be updated daily with new film reviews.  Trailers of each film are also provided, subject to availability.

    Happy picture-going!

    CAPSULE REVIEWS:- 

    45 YEARS (UK 2014) ***

    Directed by Andrew Haigh

    Like his previous film WEEKEND (about a gay couple’s relationship), 45 YEARS tests the relationship of Kate (Charlotte Rampling) and Geoff (Tom Courtrnay) after a marriage of 45 years.  They have in plan, their 45th anniversary party.  But trouble brews in paradise.  A letter arrives at the couple’s rural home with news that the body of Geoff’s first girlfriend, Katya, has been found, encased in ice.  Questions and suspicions arise.  Is Geoff still in love with Katya?  Are there any other secrets?  Why is Geoff unable to ‘perform' after the news?  The film ends beautifully with Geoff’s speech at the Anniversary party.  Haigh’s film is full of sensitivity and quiet power.  It moves at a slow pace with the audience having to read between the incidents and performances of the actors.  A different look at very long term relationships, a sort of British variation of Michael Haneke’s AMORE.

    ABOUT RAY (USA 2015) ***
    Directed by Gaby Dellal

    Ramona (female name) is about to become Ray (male name) (Elle Fanning) undergoing a sex change.  But the obstacle is that she is under age and needs both her parent’s consent which is the difficult part.  Father has left years ago and mother, Maggie (Naomi Watts) is just not sure about all this.  They live together with Ray’s gay granny (Susan Sarandon) and her partner Dodo.  So ABOUT RAY is a topical film about a dysfunctional family with a good reason to be so.  As the narrative says at the film’s start, this is not a film about Ray, but about us - i.e. Ray’s family.   The transgender topic is given some insight by a look from different points of view - the parent, the grandparents, the friends and the person involved her or himself.  Great performances all round with some really moving dramatic confrontations.  A film with a touchy subject that will likely not cater to a large target audience, but this film should be given a fair chance.

    Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4SkwJk9KB2c

    ARABIAN NIGHTS 1: THE RESTLESS ONE (Portugal/France/Germany/Switz 2015) **

    Directed by Miguel Gomes

    Shown at Cannes in the Directors Fortnight Section, THE RESTLESS ONE is one of three parts, each of which is 2 hours long.  The reason of the films re titled Arabian Nights is the similar structure the stories follow.  The first part of this film intercuts two stories - one of firemen dismantling wasps nests and the other of ship workers losing their jobs.  As the narrator says, there is nothing in common with the two stories except that they are set in the same place.  Gomes links other stories too with Portugal’s posterity.  The country is in a bad state financially (though not as bd as Greece) and it is clear Gomes blames the government.  The film is at times lyrical, funny and absurd but the stories do not really gel, nor are they particularly realistic.  See THE RESTLESS ONE first and the other two only if you really like the first one.  Gomes also gives himself the role of a cowardly filmmaker in the film.

    Trailer: http://www.flicks.co.nz/trailer/arabian-nights-volume-1-the-restless-one/12163/

    AL PURDY WAS HERE. (Canada 2015) ***1/2

    Directed by Brian D. Johnson

    The first feature by the President of the Toronto Film Critics Association whose film experience was previously limited to making film montages for the association Gala Dinner proves to be an accomplished piece.  Who is Al Purdy?  The well researched documentary asks several passers-by who have no idea who this Canadian poet (arguably the best Canadian poet) is.  This is despite the fact that they have just walked past his statue in Queen’s Park.  The film also looks at the A Frame, which is a retreat for other Canadian artists out in the Ontario country.  Johnson’s film follows Purdy’s rise to fame, his personal life including his secret second marriage an other son, Brian Purdy.  Purdy is given character and proper recognition in this worthy tribute to a man who ironically flunked out school after Grade 10 and hilariously called Margaret Atwood a academic, a big insult to a poet.  The film also contains a good mix of Canadian artists performing including Bruce Cockburn with original music by Casey Johnson.

    Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7S7hLk1EQbE

    THE ARDENNES (ARDENNEN) (Belgium 2015) ***

    Directed by Robin Pront

    Brother Kenny (Kevin Janssens) is fresh out of jail while Dave is trying to go straight.  This story is not new to cinema but still interesting enough in Pront’s THE ARDENNES, which can also be considered an update of the Bible’s Cain and Abel story.  THE ARDENNES is the woods where the brothers used to play and also where the climax of the film ends.  For a film festival with a majority of art films, THE ARDENNES is a very welcome action drama with hardly a dull moment.  Dave (Jeroen Perceval) has also moved in with Kenny’s girlfriend, Sylvie (Veerle Baetens) without telling the very jealous Kenny.  Kenny ends up murdering Sylvie’s boss out of jealousy and forces Dave to help him dispose of the body.  But nothing is as it seems with Kenny.  Pront keeps the suspense sustained right towards the last reel delivering an unsuspecting powerful punch for an ending.  Not a bad film if one can dismiss a few nasty gay jokes.  But the drag queen in the film scan sure deliver a fierce punch.

    Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?t=12&v=0c3-6qMpTho

    BEEBA BOYS (Canada 2015) ***
    Directed by Deepa Mehta

    BEEBA BOYS or good boys, translated, tells the story of a brutal and violent boy gang that terrorized Vancouver with a trail of drugs and blood.  Despite the entertaining look of the film, the story is based on true events.  Jeet (Randeep Hooda) lives with his family that includes his very young son, Peter who idolizes his father.  Jeet also lives with his parents too, who he devotedly calls mummyji (Balinder Johal) and papaji (Kulbhushan Kharbanda) in a huge house in a posh neighbourhood.  But Jeet loves his family and especially his Russian girlfriend, Katya (Sarah Allen) who loves him equally as much.  There is a bit of Romeo and Juliet type romance immersed in the gunplay.  The loose story-line of the film allows Metha to use style to mould her film.  Using colour, wardrobe, camera angles and well executed action scenes, she keeps her film in full throttle high style mode.  The club scenes with their dances, a mix of Bollywood and house capture the integration of the Sikh and white western worlds.  Though not her best work, Metha has consistently delivered a diversified portfolio of entertaining work, and BEEBA BOYS is one a film that sits well as another accomplished and very watchable work.

    Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WpNDKj4Cg3w

    SEASON BELLE (SUMMERTIME) (France 2015) ****

    Directed by Catherine Corsina

    A sort of tamer and more structured lesbian love story than BLUE IS THE WARMEST COLOUR, LA BELLE SAISON follows country girl Delphine (Izia Higelin) and Paris city teacher Carole (Cecile de France) as they struggle in the 70’s when gays were not as accepted as the present.  Delphine keeps the secret from her parents.  When father has a stroke, Delphine is forced to choose between the farm and Carole.  The country atmosphere, period setting and excitement of new love all add to the desperation of their love.  The sex scenes are no less steamy.  Corsina achieves the task of making her audience feel for the couple, without taking any sides.  The beautiful French countryside adds to the film’s pleasure.

    Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zWwVAgOr7fs

    BLEAK STREET (Mexico/Spain 2015) ****

    Directed by Arturo Ripstein

    Master Mexican director Arturo Ripsten’s (CRIMSON RED) latest movie is exactly what is expected from him - that is the unexpected!  Strangely, the story is true and based on the 2009 bizarre murders of two midget wrestlers by two senior sex workers.  Shot in back and white, this is likely the most depressing movie at TIFF but also a most compelling and quite a masterful piece of work.  The twin stories of the wrestlers and the sex workers, both of whom live in the Bleak Street of the title finally criss-cross to disastrous results.  Ripsteins’s off beat humour is still present, and there fro a good laugh, especially when the end credits roll.  The film shows that there is no way out for the poor except maybe death.

    Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aeqtG4mwsOg

    BLOOD OF MY BLOOD (SANGUE DEL MIO SANGUE) (It/Fr/Sw 2015) ***
    Directed by Marco Bellocchio

    Italian master Marco Bellocchio (the controversial FISTS UN THE POCKET) returns with this haunting, enigmatic tale that takes the audience from the 17th century to the present day as it traces the dark history of a cursed monastery.  Twin stories told one after another before intercutting them - the apparent unconnected narratives do tie in.  It is a haunting film, visually shot as are all of Bellocchio’s film,s but one that leaves the audience rather distant for the fact that one story is a period piece and the other dealing with characters far different from the norm.  For this reason, the film might end up a bit of a bore but one has to hand it to Bellocchio for still coming up with an uncompromising and occasionally stunning work.

    Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7x05ONFfwnM

    BROOKLYN (Ireland/UK/Canada 2015) ***1/2

    Directed by John Crowley

    The luck of the Irish!  Quiet Eilis (Saoirse Ronan) lands the opportunity to lead a better life as an immigrant in Brooklyn.  At first lonely, she then meets an Italian boy, Tony (Emory Cohen) and marries him quietly before visiting her homeland due to the sudden death of her sister, Rose.  Torn between looking after her mother, a new beau (Domhnall Gleeson) and her marriage to Tony, she must decide whether to stay or return to her husband.  Crowley’s (ABOUT A BOY) film, adapted by Nick Hornby (AN EDUCATION and ABOUT A BOY), based on Colm Tóibín's novel is exquisitely shot and almost perfect in every way, looking something very close to BBC’s Masterpiece Theatre.  Everything from the boarding room dinner meals, to Eilis’ man troubles and solutions are all too well staged.  The film is almost too perfect in its execution - nothing really wrong with that, as the film is entertaining enough, but there is hardly a surprise or shock which sometimes is needed to jolt a audience out of its complacency.

    Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4IM1XhTxPAE

    CEMETERY OF SPLENDOUR (Thailand/UK/France/Germany/Malaysia 2015) ***

    Directed by Apichatpong Weerasethakul 

    Director Apichatpong Weerasethakul known best for his UNCLE BOONMEE WHO CAN RECALL HIS PAST LIVES arrives with his newest art piece.  The film screen is black for a minute or two at the start and his characters often are found sleeping in his film.  So, expect a very slow paced though occasionally beautifully shot film.  His humour includes shooting a girl taking a dump in the woods and a girl licking the gross swollen leg of a friend.  The film follows a young medium and a middle-aged hospital volunteer who meet at a new hospital.  They investigate a case of mass sleeping sickness that may have supernatural roots.  The patients are always sleeping and the medium interprets their dreams.  Apparently, the Americans have tried to get her to join the FBI and tempted her with a new car and house but she prefers to be loyal to her country.  CEMETERY is funny, watchable and typical Apichatpong Weerasethakul.

    Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sEWBNM7mRiY

     

    CLOSET MONSTER (Canada 2015) ***

    Directed by Stephen Dunn

    Newfie movie of an East Coast teenager and aspiring special-effects makeup artist, Oscar (Connor Jessup, BLACKBIRD) struggling with both his sexuality and his fear of his macho asshole father.  Oscar has a girlfriend, Gemma (Sofia Banzhaf) but pines for the new cute boy, Wilder (Aliocha Schneider) at his workplace.  The film teases all the way whether the relationship will happen, but the film takes a few turns.  The film uses the boy’s hamster (with a gender twist on it too) to provide insight to the story.  The hamster is voiced by Isabella Rossellini.  The film is a welcome comedic twist on the coming-of-age genre.  The film is not without flaws but given the fact that this is a first-time feature, CLOSET MONSTER is an assured debut. 

    Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?t=1&v=VSLEI55SS5s

    LES COWBOYS (France/Belgium 2015) ***1/2

    ByThomas directed Bidegain

    An assured piece by French screenwriter Thomas Bidegain, best known for his collaboration with French auteur Jacques Audiard tells of a 16-year odyssey to track down a man’s daughter, who has run away and converted to Islam.  Like in Hitchcock’s PSYCHO, the lead character, the father Alain (François Damiens) is done away with before the first half of the film.   The focus shifts to his son, Kid (Finnegan Oldfield) who now searches for his sister.  It is a gruesome journey in a compelling film that leads to unexpected results.  The film is titled LES COWBOYS because the family are western enthusiasts and Bidegain’s ambitious film is a take on John Ford’s THE SEARCHERS.  Of course, LES COWBOYS never reaches the level of the Ford classic but the film is still well executed and entertaining.

    Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qYxqpt1Gino

    THE DANISH GIRL (UK 2015) ***
    Directed by Tom Hooper

    THE DANISH GIRL is Tom Hooper’s latest drama from the novel by David Ebershoff, this one a period piece, a true story of a transgender operation.  Set in Copenhagen in the 1920s and focuses almost entirely on the free-spirited couple, both of them painters, Einar (Eddie Redmayne), and Gerda (Alicia Vikander).  Gerda struggles to gain attention for her work.  One day, Gerda asks her husband to stand in for a female model so she can complete her latest painting.   This is when the trouble starts.  Einar is overwhelmed by the experience of putting on beautiful, feminine clothes, and soon it turns into a quiet obsession.   Hooper takes his film too seriously resulting in a very slow film with lots of screen time devoted to the reactions of the wife, Gerda to all the cross dressing.  Oscar winner Redmayne delivers another prize winning performance, looking at times much prettier than Vikander.  

    Trailr: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=d88APYIGkjk

    THE DAUGHTER (Australia 2015) ***1/2

    Directed by Simon Stone

    Based on the Henrik Ibsen’s 2-act play ‘The Wild Duck’, THE DAUGHTER is Simon Stone’s gut wrenching drama adapted to a small loving town in Australia.  It stars Oscar winner Geoffrey Rush who plays an evil father with no redeeming qualities.  About to be re-married, his son Christina (Paul Schneider) visits, only to open dark skeletons in the closet.  This leads to things getting from bad to worse leading to a suicide.  The film was shot in New South Wales, in an area of abandoned factories and logging forests in a soft light, lil what would be expected in Denmark.  Written also by Stone, the film is  compelling watch despite its over serious content that mitt turn out to intense for certain audiences.  The play is simpified a bit, with the removal of a few characters but with no reduction in the drama.

    Trailer: (unavailable)

     

    DEGRADE (Palestine/France/Qatar 2015) **
    Directed by Tarzan and and Arab Nasser 

    DEGRADE is a technique of lightening hair, as done in the hair salon, the setting of this comedy/drama.  13 (an unlucky number) disgruntled women preoccupied on themselves are trapped in hair salon in Gaza during a standoff between the police and a gangster in which bullets fly.  You do not want to be caught in the hell of a place at this time.  The women, bicker, argue and fight (there is a hair pulling fight scene) but mostly bitch and complain about the government, life, politics and men in particular.  It is a nasty little male-hating film which ends up as quite the boring feature, judging from the number of men that walked out during the P and I screening.  What is unbelievable is that this film is made by two brothers. 

    Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Mmm9PpU7C-I

     

    DEMOLITION (USA 2015) **

    Directed by Jean-Marc Vallee

    The opening night Gala, Canada’s darling director Jean-Marc Vallee’s (WILD, DALLAS BUYERS CLUB) latest is a quirky drama of loss and coping.  The story follows a grieving Wall Street banker Jake Gyllenhaal who works for his strict father-in-law Chris Cooper.  When the wife is killed in a car accident. he goes bonkers, driving his father-in-law crazy with his antics.  One of these involves demolishing his prized residence, aided by the boy (with seal orientation issues) of Naomi Watts who he meets on the train.  The trouble with this film is that everyone is trying too hard, from Gyllenhaal to Vallee.  Gyellanhaal’s performance is too intense and Vallee tries too hard to be quirky with his material with the result of the film being all over the place.  The best example can be seen in the way Vallee films the accident, the catalyst of the story.

    Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eTJ1qS7KOm4

    DEMON (Polan / Israel 2015) ***
    Directed by Marcin Wrona

    The Cohen Brothers introduced audiences to a ‘dybbuk’ in the opening of A SERIOUS MAN.  The Jewish demon is revisited in a strange horror film, based on a play by Piotr Rowicki, a rare Polish Israeli co-production.  Peter (Israeli actor Itay Tiran) has just arrived from England to marry his beautiful fiancée, Zaneta (Agnieszka Zulewska), at her family's country house in rural Poland. The old homestead is a gift from his future father-in-law, and Peter is excited to renovate it into a home for his new family. While inspecting the grounds on the eve of his nuptials, Peter finds skeletal human remains buried on the property. Haunted by his discovery, Peter slowly starts to unravel while the joyous and drunken traditional Polish wedding goes on around him. DEMON is not the ordinary demon possessed film as it does not concern itself with exorcism, but the effects of the possession.  The possessed in this case is the bridegroom and those affected are his bride the father-in-law and his best friend.  The groom has only known the bride for a short while so the strange behaviour is first attributed to his epilepsy or what they do not know about him.  The film is also fascinating in the display of a Polish wedding and other customs.  Despite a Hollywood happy ending or typical conclusion, the film is a creepy and erie watch as the audience experiences the downward spiral of all at the wedding.

    Trailer: http://tiff.net/festivals/festival15/vanguard/demon

     

    DESDE ALLA (FROM AFAR) (Venezuela/Mexixo 2015) **1/2

    Directed by Lorenzo Vigas

    Vigas first feature explores issues of social stratification through the story of a wealthy man, a denture-maker by profession, Armando (Alfredo Castro) who pays young men to endure a kind of contact-free abuse, only to find unexpected intimacy with one of his companions.  Still it is a sex trade of a different sort and the variation is more frustrating than novel. The film has too little happening, too much brooding and too many unrealistic scenes.  The sex scene between adult and minor is uncomfortable and illegal making the audience unsympathetic towards the sympathetic older man.  The film also looks like Vigas cannot decide what to do with the ending.

    The film is set in Caracas, Venezuela which never looked so bleak.

    Trailer: https://vimeo.com/137114133

    THE DEVIL’S CANDY (USA 2015) ***
    Directed by Sean Byrne

    Typical slasher killer in which the victims are a family - a painter Jesse (Ethan Embry), loving wife, Asri (Shiri Appleby) (no conflicts here) and daughter Zooey (Kiara Glasco).  The Devil’s candy is children which the slasher, a demented crazy believes should be fed to the Devil by no one less than himself.  So he goes about killing children before cutting them up to bits and pieces, with the daughter as the latest candy.  That is as far as the story goes - the story being less important than the setups for scares in a slasher horror flick.  The scares are fine but one can guess since there are only three target victims, all of which are good people, that they are likely to survive.  Aussie director Byrne in his American debut, delivers the appropriate amount of blood, gore and violence in a handsomely mounted production by horror standards.  Horror fans should not complain.

    DHEEPAN (France 2015) ***
    Directed by Jacques Audiard

    Audiard’s (UN PROPHET, RUST AND BONE) latest work, direct from Cannes and a Palme d’Or Winner, is likely the first and only French film shot largely in Tamil.  DHEEPAN is the name of the protagonist, an ex-Tamil Tiger from Sri Lanka who with a woman and child pretend to be a family so that they can immigrate and stay in France where fraternite, legalite and egalite apparently rule.  Obviously this is not the case, and the three find it just as hard to assimilate, less survive in their hew home.  Dheepan works as a caretaker and the woman as a caregiver for an old Frenchman while the girl attends school.  Like Audiard’s best work UN PROPHET, he shows that prison need not occur behind closed walls.  The film’s best segment is the one where the couple have a private talk.  Dheepan confesses that he understands the entire French conversation but finds nothing funny in the joke.  The ‘wife’  tells him it is not the joke but that it is Dheepan who has no sense of humour, even in Tamil.  Unfortunately, these parts are few are far between.  The film opts for a cop-out happy ending after a ridiculous shoot-out in which Dheepan utilizes his ex-Tamil Tigers fighting skills.

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

    EVA DOESN’T SLEEP (France/Argentina/Spain 2015) ***
    Directed by Pablo Aguero

    Slotted in the Wavelength section f the Festival, which means the film has an experimental nature, EVA DOESN’T SLEEP is a visionary piece and quite stunningly shot, though nothing much happens.  The Eva in the title refers to Argentina’s Eva Perron.  Her body is the subject of the film which traces the incredible story of 25 year journey of the First lady’s embalmed corpse in 1952 to 1976 where Colonel Emilio Massera (Gael Garcia Bernal) finally buried her back in Argentina after moving from Italy to Spain.  The film also features Denis Lavant (HOLY MOTORS) in a realistic fight scene with Bernal.

    Trailer: (unavailable)

    EVERYTHING WILL BE FINE (Germany/Canada/Fr/Swe/Nor 2015) ****
    Directed by Wim Wenders

    Wenders has claimed after making his first 3D documentary (PINA) that he would film his fiction film in this medium.   EVERYTHING WILL BE FINE is not the typical action blockbuster with objects thrown out of the screen but rather a slow, pensive film about loss and reflection.  But Wenders proves his words, especially in the last scene, in which 16-year old Christopher rides his bicycle to school in glorious 3D.  The effect is difficult to describe here for it is an experience attained after viewing Wenders film in full.  Thomas (James Franco), a writer, accidentally kills a little boy, Nicholas and spends years getting back to his feet regarding his guilt.  His brother Christopher is still unable to cope with the incident.  The brooding affects almost everyone the two encounter, and counter to the title everything is not fine in the beginning.  It will, eventually, but it takes time, lots of effort and thought.  Wenders has crafted a beautiful film here and one that allows the audience to get into the skin of his characters.  Franco and Charlotte Gainsbourg are superb.   Shot in Quebec.

    Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=r7esbR3IMdY

    THE FAMILY FANG (USA 2015) ***
    Directed by Jason Bateman

    Bateman directs and stars himself in yet another film about a dysfunctional character.  He and sister (Nicole Kidman) are forced as children to perform, for crazed parents led by the father (Christopher Walken), ridiculous stunts father believe as art.  When Bateman has a freak accident, he is forced to spend time again with them, which results not only in old skeletons coming out of the closet but new ones invented as well.  As much s the trickers try to trick the public, Bateman attempts the same with his audience.  This he succeeds in a rather quirky dysfunctional family comedy drama that at times feels uncomfortable.  But the strong narrative helps in the story that propels the film along at a good pace.  Also, good performances al round.

    FIRE SONG (Canada 2015) **

    Directed by Adam Garnet Jones

    Calgary born Cree-Metis filmmaker Adam Garnet Jones’ first full length feature (he has made a few shorts) begins with a teen suicide in a First Nations community.  Her brother, Shane (Andrew Martin), a young Anishinaabe man is at a crossroads at to whether to start school in Toronto or stay after the family comes across some inheritance money.  But the family also needs  the money for the family house which is in shambles, as seen by a pail collecting water from a leaking roof, at different points in the film.  Shane has a girlfriend who wishes to leave with him, but Shane has a gay relationship with David (Harley Legarde-Beacham), the grandson of the community's leader.   Short of cash, Shane tries peddling drugs.  Despite director Jones’ sincerity, the film is crushed under the weight of the manifold issues it tries to address - teen suicide, small town captivity, drug use, teen angst, gay love, son/mother relationship, native tradition, familial duty and perhaps a few more I might have missed.  (They come so fast!)  Performances are fair at best and the gay scene with Shane and David is nothing short of embarrassing.  So, finally mother decides to sell the property for the son to go to school.  She should have done that long ago and saved every one so much trouble!

    Trailer: https://vimeo.com/136113745


    FREEHELD (USA 2015) ***1/2

    Directed by Peter Sollett

    Like his last feature RAISING VICTOR VARGAS, director Peter Sollett knows how to move his audience.  FREEHELD is both a lesbian love story and one involving the fight for equal rights.  But because the lead character, played by Oscar Winner Julianne Moore is also a dying cancer patient, the film will leave you in tears for more than half the running time.  I have not cried so much in a film for such a long time.  Though I am not the one to like sentimental films - they are a hard watch - this one is quite the film.  Based on a true story, the lead is a New Jersey police officer Laurel Hester (Moore), in the closet before she meets Stacie Andree (Ellen Page).  She is diagnosed with cancer and unable to pass her pension benefits to her partner.  She has given her town justice and now justice is taken away from her.  The film has 4 great performances - Page, More and also of Michael Shannon as Laurel’s work partner and of Steve Carrell’s best of his career as a homosexual Jewish activist.  The script’s dialogue is also top notch.

    Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=blk27Jj9UE8

    THE GIRL IN THE PHOTOGRAPHS (USA 2015) **1/2

    Directed by Nick Simon

    The late Wes Craven (NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET) executively produced this Freddy Kruger style slasher horror flick which has its few moments but just falls short of good work.  The simple story involves a small town girl, Colleen (Claudia Lee) wanting to leave to make it big.  Her chance comes when a famous photographer (a nuanced performance by Kal Penn) from L.A. descends on the town (Spearfish or something like that) with his entourage.  Making him a total egoistic asshole is one of the plusses of the film that lifts it over the standard mill horror flick.  But will she be able to move to L.A. before the killer strikes?  The killer or killers have already made their mark, having done away with her best friend, boyfriend and now slowly the entourage.  The gimmick with the camera flashes, though used before in Hitchcock’s REAR WINDOW still makes a welcome trick.  The twist in the plot is who survives in the end.

    GIRLS LOST (POJKARNA) (Sweden/Finland/Norway 2015) **

    Directed by Alexandra-Therese Keining

    Body switching has been a favourite subject for movies like 18 AGAIN and FREAKY FRIDAY.   GIRLS LOST, a tale of sexual confusion and sexual awakening based on a Swedish young adult novel takes the supernatural twist with a serious note.  And it fails.  There is a reason the topic is taken lightly as it is a fantasy story should not be treated as a social commentary or drama..  Keining (HOT DOG, KISS ME) is too serious with her taking the 3 girls Kim, Bella, and Momo or boys for that matter into puberty, drug use, bullying, friendships and drinking.  Too many questions are also left unanswered as to the reason the girls never change back at inappropriate times.   The fact the film is based on a novel could be used as the blame but the film is also uninteresting and offers no insight on the issues brought up.

    Trailer: https://vimeo.com/126355107

    THE HARD STOP (UK 2015) ***
    Directed by George Amponsah

    Hot from today’s headlines, this documentary explores the life and death of Mark Duggan, whose killing at the hands of London's Metropolitan Police sparked the London riots of 2011.  A hard stop is the forcing of car to pull over and stop by cops in the case of dangerous criminals.  London's Metropolitan Police hard stopped Mark Duggan — a young, black, British man — early one morning in 2011.  Minutes later Duggan was dead.  His killing at the hands of the police sparked the Tottenham riots and made headlines around the globe.   But the story is told from the points of view of Marcus and Kurtis, two friends also have trouble with the law.  Amponsah’s film is more hands on, the type of doc that is on the spot rather than one that offers research material or insight.  But one will definitely feel for Duggan, Marcus and Kurtis.

    Trailer: http://features.georgeamponsah.com/video/98941773

    HITCHCOCK/TRUFFAUT (USA/France 2015) ***
    Directed by Kent Jones

    Hitchcock and Truffaut are my two favourite directors of all time.  I learnt French so I could understand the films of Truffaut.  So for me and other cineastes, HITCHCOCK TRUFFAUT, the documentary by Kent Jones on the famous Truffaut’s interview of Hitchcock in 1966 resulting in the must-own book is a must-see.  Filled with famous shots from Hitchcock’s films, the film also interweaves interviews by 10 famous directors, including David Fincher, Peter Bogdanovich, Martin Scorcese et al. all in rather playful mode on the influence of the Master.  But with such high expectations for such a film, there is bound to be disappointment.  For one, most of what transpires on screen has been told many times or already known by cineastes, so that there is hardly new insight on the Master on his films.  Still, it is a wonderful nostalgia, and the film teases on what films could have resulted if the master were still alive and made films with Robert De Niro, Al Pacino or Dustin Hoffman.  This film is still a must-see for all cineastes and is still a worthy tribute to both artists, Truffaut and Hitchcock.

    Trailer: (unavailable)

    HOW HEAVY THIS HAMMER (Canada 2015) ***

    Directed by Kazik Radwanski

    The camera is up close and personal with the film’s main lead, Erwin Van Cotthem.  The camera follows the subject, neck level, like the films by the fame Dardenne Brothers.  In fact the lead character of the Brothers, Olivier Gourmet, looks a bit like Van Cotthem.  Set in Toronto, the lead character is Erwin, a 47-year-old father of two, spends his time idly procrastinating between work and family, and is seemingly more engaged by playing a crude Viking computer game.  His listless energy is contrasted on weekends by throwing himself into 'old boys' rugby matches.   Then he moves out, and rents a place.  Though at many times, we would like the director to pull back his camera, HOW HEAVY THIS WORK is intense also because of the camerawork.  This is not a film suggesting solutions to Erwin’s model-age crisis but an intriguing study on how the problem exists and spirals out of control.  Compelling from start to end.

    Trailer: (unavailable) 

    I AM CHARLIE (HUMOR TO DEATH) (France 2015) ***

    Directed by Daniel Leconte and Emmanuel Leconte

    This is the documentary that attempts to make sense of the meaningless killings in January this year of the 11 journalists and dessinateurs at the French satiric magazine Charlie Hebdo.   The Lecontes try, and at times too hard, creating a film that feels at times confusing and overpowering.  The best segments are the interviews with the survivors, especially Cabu in retrospective and Coco a dessinatrice who by pure chance, happened to leave the room where the massacre occurred a few minutes early.  The audience feels for her as tears roll down her cheek as she speaks to the camera.  It is difficult not to be moved by the thousands of people that showed up in support of free press. The film is one-sided without much input from the Muslims.  But in one rare segment, a Muslim leader tells the masses to differentiate the extremists from the Muslims.  Still, JE SUIS CHARLIE should be seen with credit given to the Lecontes for managing to get important interviews on film.

    Trailer: (unavailable)

    KEEPER (Belg/Fr/Sw 2015) *****
    Directed by Guillaume Senez

    KEEPER is a coming-of-age story of a teen Maxime (Kacey Mottet Klein) maturing from his girlfriend, Mélanie (Galatea Bellugi)’s pregnancy.   Maxime, a budding football star, is torn between his dream of playing professionally and his unexpected desire to be a father.  Mélanie is the daughter of a single woman.  They want to keep the baby but are pulled in different directions by their parents, their own ambitions and their desire to be normal teenagers.  Senez’s film works because he is able to express visually the points-of-view of his characters with great clarity.  Take the films two best scenes.  In the ultrasound segment when the teens are shown the baby in the womb by the technician moving the probe on Mel’s swelled belly, the camera never once shows the image of the baby.  The expressions of both teens as well as the spectacled technical are more important and the film gets maximum effect from the scene without the image of the baby.  The other is the confrontation segment with the teens and parents of both, all arguing on what to do with the pregnancy.  The audience is shown all points-of-view while still focusing on the boy as the main character.  There are much, much more to be ecstatic for in watching this new director at work.  Senez’s direction, the sensitive yet powerful script by Senez and David Lambert coupled with the riveting performances of the two teens all make KEEPER an unforgettable piece and one of the two best films I have seen at TIFF.  Senez is a power director to be reckoned with and I will look forward to his next work.

    Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?t=10&v=7T8_XhwpD7E

    KILL YOUR FRIENDS (UK 2015) ***

    Directed by Owen Harris

    KILL YOUR FRIENDS is, as the title implies, a violent, at times rather nasty look at the rise to fall to rise again of Steven Stelfox (Nicholas Hoult), a young record label A&R rep (Nicholas Hoult) who would do anything including killing his friends in the Britpop-era music industry.  The setting is the 1990’s, but he music on display has nothing of the 90’s beginning of dance/rap but more on the house/garage type of the later 2000’s.  Never mind, but the music soundtrack is great anyway.  The film feels a bit similar to a similar old flick GANGSTER NO. 1, in which it traced the rise to fall to rise again of gangster Paul Bettany.  As such the route the film takes surprises little despite director’s efforts.  Hoult who also executively produced the film has made this quite his baby.

    Trailer: https://www.google.ca/webhp?sourceid=chrome-instant&ion=1&espv=2&ie=UTF-8#q=kill%20your%20friends%20trailer

    KILO TWO BRAVO (UK 2015) ***
    Directed by Paul Katis

    Films about explosives or land mines have always provided edge of the seat suspense, like LE SALAIRE DE LA PEUR.  This is the second film about soldiers and land mines (the other being the Danish THE LAND OF MINE) and is just as exciting.  Both films are based on true stories.  Set in the mountains of Afghanistan in 2006, the story centres on a small group of soldiers positioned on a hilltop outpost in the country's rugged (and beautiful) interior  First time director Katis’ has created a film in which there is much waiting and watching.  The soldiers are basically stuck in a mined region with mines going off one after the other.  The soldiers have their limbs severed as they wait for the medical helicopter while being bandaged and given morphine.  Not an easy watch, but it is all true and shot with many segments in real time.

    Trailer: http://tiff.net/festivals/festival15/citytocitylondon/kilo-two-bravo

    LAND OF MINE (Denmark/Germany 2015) ***** Top 10

    Directed by Martin Zandvliet

    A war movie where there is not one battle scene, and yet, one of the best war films, and one of the best films at TIFF I have seen so far.  Set 5 years after the German Occupation in Denmark in 1945, 14 German POWs, mostly young boys are sent to diffuse 4500 German land mines on the west coast of Denmark.  This means 6 mines diffused per hour and the boys might get to go home in 3 months, if they are not blown up.  The film is based on true events.  The Danish Captain tells them that they have to do their job and they will not be welcomed by the Danes.  The sergeant in charge of the boys hates them and treats them like dirt, but eventually lets his compassion rule.   Of the 14, only 4 end up surviving.  The film is as tense as the classic film about explosives, Georges-Henri Clouzot’s THE WAGES OF FEAR (LE SALAIRE DE LA PEUR).  When the boys diffuse the mines, director Zandvlite makes full use of sound, editing and camera to elicit edge of the seat suspense.  The film is guaranteed to make the audience jump out of their seats - and more than once.  LAND OF MINE is a riveting and unforgettable anti-war film mainly because Zandvliet questions the hardness of heart of human beings.  A must-see!

    Trailer: (unavailable)

    THE LOBSTER (Ireland/UK/France/Netherlands/Greece 2015) ***

    Directed by Yorgos Lanthimos

    Greek director Yorgos Lanthimos’ (ALPS, DOGTOOTH) new film is a love story of David (Colin Farrell) and his new short sighted friend (Rachel Weisz).  But under strange circumstances.  The film begins with a woman shooting a cow in a field with a rifle.  The film title THE LOBSTER then appears on the screen to laughs from the audience.  David’s wife has just left him.  For reasons not explained, David is bound for a hotel in which he will be turned into an animal of his choice (which is a lobster) if he does not find a mate in 45 days.  Lanthimos carries on his film with deadpan seriousness that is a hilarious laugh out loud a minute.  But the film is unable to maintain the inventiveness and slowly slides into monotony as the novelty of the idea dies away into a typical romance story.  Still for what it is worth, the film is terribly entraining in its first half.

    Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WEGOI3L3IYc

    LOLO (France 2015) ***1/2

    Directed by Julie Delpy

    A nod to the 60’s and 70’s romantic comedies complete with colourful titles and music, LOLO’s story is nothing new but still offers audiences fresh entertainment.  Lolo (Vincent Lacoste, last seen in EDEN) is the awkward grownup son who prevents his other mother, Violette (Delpy) from settling down.  The mother has just fallen in love with an IT hick, J.R.(Dany Robin) of sorts, but sonny is all out to stop the romance.  Nothing new, the hick figures it all out at the end, so does the mother.  The question is why she took so long and so many other lovers before she found out.  Delpy plays deliberate into cliched territory including the way the lovers meet with the tuna scene.  The comedic set-ups (the 2 hookers in bed, the itching powder, the virus) are not as funny as the film’s one-liners (the nickname J.R.). If one does not question the intricacies of the plot, Delpy’s comedy (with a lot of inside French jokes) is totally fun and funny, a sort of a much lighter side to the BEFORE SUNSET/SUNRISE movies she made with Richard Linklater and Ethan Hawke.  LOLO is more similar to her other comedy TWO DAYS IN PARIS.

    Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vJuQ1p78FIU

    LONDON ROAD (UK 2015) ***

    Directed by Rufus Norris

    LONDON ROAD opens the City to City (London) series though the film’s story has nothing to do with London except for the name of the road, London Road in Ipswich, Norfolk where the action takes place.  But the film was shot in and around London though.  The film is a film adaptation of the National Theatre's ground-breaking musical by Alecky Blythe and Adam Cork about the “Suffolk Strangler” murders in Ipswich in 2006.  London Road follows the community who found themselves at the epicentre of these tragic events, and uses their own words set to an innovative musical score.  It is not a musical in the normal sense of the word but one in which a score is put into the actual words of the interviewed.  The result is a musical with no catchy tunes, except for the one “It could be him”.  The cast consists primarily of unknowns except for a cameo by Tom Hardy as a cal driver who appears to be an expert on serial killers.  LONDON ROAD is a novelty piece.

    Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VlHlcWuZS-w

    LOUDER THAN BOMBS (Norway/France/Denmark 2015) **

    Directed by Joachim Trier

    A ponderous tale of a dysfunctional family made even more dysfunctional after the death of the mother, Isabelle Reed (Isabelle Huppert) who ironically died from a car crash but survived her dangerous job as a reporter.  Skeletons come out of the closet.  Trier does not concentrate on any one family member but on every one.  He piles the problems on and on without closure to many of them.  Jonah (Jesse Eisenberg), the elder son has just and a baby with his loving wife but cheats on her. The younger, Conrad (Devin Druid) is a brooding mess, saddled with his video games, socially inept and unable to bring himself to communicate with their father (Gabriel Byrne) who needs to reveal a family secret.  To add fuel to the fire, the father has a fling with Conrad’s English teacher leading to dramatic violence.  How will all these end?  Trier’s film is trying enough, well acted but the problem is that it leads nowhere and one wonders the purpose of the exercise.

    Trailer: http://www.firstshowing.net/2015/first-teaser-trailer-for-joachim-triers-new-film-louder-than-bombs/

    MAN DOWN (USA 2015) **
    Directed by Dito Montiel

    MAN DOWN is a total Shia LaBeouf vehicle.  He plays a husband, father and U.S. Marine and overdoes it in each role. The audience sees him crying, screaming, shouting, loving with full beard and then clean shaven.  It all begins with an interview between Gabriel Drummer (LaBeouf ) and military psychologist Captain Peyton (Gary Oldman), back from some Afghanistan mission.   Now Gabriel wanders a post-apocalyptic landscape with his best friend and fellow soldier Devin (Jai Courtney), struggling to survive in the face of constant danger and deprivation.  Director Montiel tells his story in a non-chronological order tying all the ends together at the very end after confusing the hell out of his audience before that.

    THE MARTIAN (USA 2015) ****

    Directed by Ridley Scott

    NASA botanist Mark Watney (Matt Damon) is abandoned and left for dead on the Red Planet.  When he survives, a team of scientists, astronauts and administrators bring him home.  It is a very simple story in which the entire audience knows the outcome.  But it is not the story but how the story is told.  Directed by Ridley Scott (ALIEN, BLADE RUNNER) and scripted by Drew Goddard (CABIN IN THE WOODS) from Andy Weir’s novel and shot with special effects 3D, THE MARTIAN is a marvel in intense excitement, especially the film’s last 15 minutes that is masterly executed to great detail.  The set and art direction is as good if not better than in Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY.  Mark’s character is  a lean one, with no family baggage unlike Sandra Bullock’s in GRAVITY allowing the film to dispense with melodramatic nonsense.

    Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ue4PCI0NamI

    MEN & CHICKEN (Denmark 2015) ****

    Directed by Anders Thomas Jensen

    This one gets the first prize for being the weirdest, most absurd, eccentric and funny movie of the festival.  When two brothers Gabriel (David Dencik) and Elias (Mads Mikkelsen) reunite to lay their father to rest, they're confronted with an unsettling bit of news: that they were actually sired by someone they've never met.   They travel to the island of Ork to meet their real father where they discover other siblings.  One can tell as they all sport a hairlip.  The siblings, fight, share bedtime stories, try to get girls and do weirder and weirder stuff that includes bestiality and other nastiness.   Turns out too that their real father has been dead in his room for months and has been conducting experiments mating men with chickens (hence the film title) and other assorted farm animals.  Total sanity but not for the weak-hearted!

    Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XYVlN5hTP0M

    THE MIND’S EYE (USA 2015) ***
    Directed by Joe Bego

    THE MIND’S EYE a horror film about people with telekinesis takes Bran De Palma’s CARRIE one step further.  One difference though - they have to use their eye and look at the target, (whether animate or not) to movie it.  The film opens with the words: This film should be played loud!” and the filmmakers are not kidding.  The film is gory, violent, graphic and plain loud.  But that is not a bad thing , it is fun loud not annoying loud.  Zack (Graham Skipper), girlfriend Rachel (Lauren Ashley Carter) and others with the power are taken in by a mad scientist Dr. Slovak (John Speredakos) who turns out to be a power freak wanting all the power for himself.  Good concept for a horror gore fest film and one wonders why no one has ever done this yet.  The large cast of unknowns and director Bego do a respectable job, paying homage to 80’s sci-fi films like David Cronenberg’s SCANNERS with the exploding heads.

    MISS YOU ALREADY (UK 2015) ***
    Directed by Catherine Hardwicke

    A tear-jerker female flick is Catherine Hardwicke’s new film starring Toni Collette and Drew Barrymore.  They two childhood friends whose relationship is put to the test when one becomes pregnant (good news) while the other receives some tragic news of cancer.  It is  female buddy story as well as a relationship (two relationships actually) story.  Paddy Considine and Cooper Dominic play the husbands.  The film may be considered melodramatic rubbish but Collette’s performance shines.

    Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=K5LdNvLXddA

    MY BIG NIGHT (MI GRAN NOCHE) (Spain 2015) ****
    Directed by Alex d la Iglesia

    It all is happening during the shoot of a New Year’s Eve spectacular on TV.  The assortment of characters includes an oversexed pop sensation Adán (Mario Casas) just duped by a semen thief, legendary divo Alphonso (real-life singer Raphael) stalked by an armed and unstable would-be songwriter (Jaime Ordóñez) who's disgruntled after years of rejection, a dumpy but endearing José (Pepón Nieto) is really hitting it off with the gorgeous Paloma (Blanca Suárez), with a history of accidentally maiming every man she meets.  And amidst all this is a true love affair budding.  Only Master craftsman Alex de la Iglesia can pull this mayhem off and he does more than well.  This film is funnier than WITCHING AND BITCHING and as crazy as THE LAST CIRCUS.  The musical numbers are an additional bonus.  

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

    MY SKINNY SISTER (Sweden/Germany 2015) ***
    Directed by Sanna Lenken

    This is a weird piece of filmmaking involving an awkward 12-year old girl discovering her older sister, Katya, a figure skater having an eating disorder.  Katya keeps it from her parents and gets sicker and sicker.  The audience feels for the poor parents who not only are at a loss on what to do with the sickness but also how to deal with the difficult daughters.  Stella also has the hots for Katya’s coach which adds to a bit of hilarity.  For a children’s pic, which is less demanding, this film serves its purpose of being a good moral tale of family values.  Of course, all works out at the end.  Rebecka Josephson delivers a winning performance as Stella.

    Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dh0tbzLia_8

    DER NACHTMAHR (Germany 2015) **
    Directed by Akiz

    Super weird film that makes little sense but should be seen for its twisted logic, pulsing soundtrack and creature effects.  The film offers a warning that it contains probing sounds and should be played loud.  The simple premise involves a Berlin party teen, Tina (Carolyn Genzkow) who comes across a strange ET like creature after passing out.  It is a case of only she can see the thing - and when she wants to show it to someone else, like her friends or parents, the creature disappears.  The other odd unexplained fact is that she feels what the creature feels too.   But when others start seeing it, Akiz’s film loses credibility and its mystery.  There is little that makes sense - where does the creature come from; why does she feel what it feels etc., not to mention an ending that leavings everything up in the air.

    Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3qH96voBZSg

    ONE FLOOR BELOW (Un Etaj Mai Jos) (Romania/France/Germany/Sweden 2015) ***1/2

    Directed by Radu Muntean

    Low budget, neo-realistic Romanian films have impressed Cannes and TIFF audiences lately and ONE FLOOR BELOW is no exception.  The story here centres on 50ish Patrascu, living in building when one day he witnesses a domestic quarrel ONE FLOOR BELOW that ends up in murder.  But the film follows the man about his work (he helps people registers cars) and family routine before his dealing with the murder.  Patarscu tells the police nothing.  The murderer pretends to need Patrascu’s services in order to confront him on the reason he has kept quiet regarding the murder.  Expect no closed ending from director Muntean, but he takes his audience on a good ride showing the lives, attitudes and behaviour of Romanians in Bucharest, where the film was shot.

    Trailer: https://vimeo.com/125085803

    OUR LITTLE SISTER (Japan 2015) ***

    Directed by Hirokazu Kore-da

     

    Though not his best, the latest from Kore-da (AFTER LIFE) contains all the charm and some traits from his best films.  In the film, a character remarks that God has not created perfectly and it is up to man to do make the best of it.  Like his masterpiece AFTER LIFE, in which human beings after death have to film their best memories to take to heaven to remember forever, humans make a big difference in the lives of Kore-da’s characters.  Three grown sisters (Haruka Ayase, Masami Nagasawa and Kaho) who live in their late grandmother’s sprawling home in Kamakura, a genteel city south of Tokyo take their teenage half sister, Suzu (Suzu Hirose) to live with them after their father’s death.  The seasons drift by, marked by the arrival of cherry blossoms (beautifuuly shot), the making of plum wine, or a showering of fireworks.  The sister learn to deal with better with their problems.  The neat thing i the film is to observe the behaviour of Japanese sisters.  the film will be a whole lot different if it were set in America with a dysfunctional family of sisters.  The film is based on the graphic novel by Akimi Yoshida.

    THE PARADISE SUITE (Netherlands/Bulgaria/Sweden 2015) ***

    Directed by Joost van Ginkel 

    THE PARADISE SUITE is the special room where a client gets special services from a call girl  This is one of the intersecting stories of six immigrants from very different backgrounds in Amsterdam. The backgrounds include Sweden, Netherlands and Bulgaria as the film is a co-production of 3 countries. Van Ginkel’s film is not bad.  His stories are interesting enough and provide a look at the diversity of Amsterdam though not always in a good light.  The common theme is the paradise each character seeks that takes different forms.  The trouble, however, is that intersecting stories in a film have been done so man times before, as in THE HEREAFTER, 21 GRAMS and CRASH, so that the effect is no longer novel but feels overused.  No point recounting the different stories in this capsule review except to say that they are all equally interesting intersecting, of course at the film’s climax.  This film is the Dutch entry for the Oscar’s Best Foreign Film but the content is too probably too graphic (especially the sex content) for the Academy voters.

    Trailer: http://tiff.net/festivals/festival15/discovery/the-paradise-suite

    PARISIENNE (FEAR OF NOTHING) (PEUR DE RIEN) (France 2015) ***
    Directed by Danielle Arbid

    PEUR DE RIEN is the French title of the new film set in 1993 in both Paris and Beirut which translates to Fear of Nothing, a phrase that can be used to describe the young Lebanese protagonist in director Arbid’s dramatic coming-of-age story.  Newcomer Manal Issa plays Lina forced to study, work and survive in Paris.  She is forced to leave her place of residence due to her uncle’s sexual abuse.  With no residence papers, money of place to live, she does her best to survive.  The film’s climax is the court hearing on her immigration status.  Atbid’s camera is always almost at shoulder level and her characters are often seen in close-up or up from waist level.  This tactic forces the audience to feel that they are watching the events from Lina’s point of view, making all of her experiences the more urgent.  Arbid gets the audience sympathy for Lina - by having her being abused by her uncle and also spurned by two inconsiderate lovers, a rich married man and later a waiter.  But she finally finds a faithful lover in a form of another student the right winged, Rafael (Vincent Lacoste).  Her struggles are put into perspective by the lectures of her literature professor, wonderfully played by Dominie Blanc.  But the film is a tad too long, despite it being well made, running at a minute past two hours and it is a chore watching Lina keep getting into one trouble after another.

    THE PROMISED LAND (China 2015) **

    Directed by He Ping

    THE PROMISED LAND is the much anticipated new film by He Ping and the first of his films (THE SWORDSMAN IN DOUBLE FLAG TOWN, SUN VALLEY) to be set in contemporary times.  A world premiere screened at TIFF’s new Platform series that will award a $25,000 prize for the budding Master directors.  He Ping’ s film is a love story of a young couple who meet in Beijing with the majority of the film set the small town that the girl comes from.  She is also having issues with her father who has remarried woo soon after her mother’s death, and without her permission.  The film feels like a propaganda film in which He Ping brings together the old and new world.  There is a clear segment in which Ling Ai (Wang Jiajia) teaches modern dance to a group of old folk doing exercises in the village square.  The metaphors are too obvious - Ling Ai and the boyfriend, He Jiang (Zhang Yi) talking about going on different paths with the camera immediately moving for an overhead shot of the two on literally different paths on two stairs.  While He Jiang complains about never relying on his father, how then did he get the funds to go to Beijing to coach hockey?  And what is the PROMISED LAND?  Beijng?  There is no Promised Land in the Chinese culture.

    Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Heyy0umDP6A

    REMEMBER (Canada/Germany 2015) ***
    Directed by Atom Egoyan

    Egoyan’s latest films slant towards murder, mystery and suspense.  Poor Egoyan has been having a bad time with poor reviews and booing at Cannes from his last film CAPTIVE which in reality is not all that bad.  In REMEMBER, a taut suspense mystery drama, a retiree from a nursing home (Christopher Plummer), after the death of his wife Ruth, undergoes the task of killing the Nazi who murdered his family.  But Zev has dementia and can hardly travel on his own.  To Egoyan’s credit, the 3 Hitchcock nods work well as well as the twist in the plot.  But the film has one big discontinuity plot hole.  Zev travels to Canada and the other parts of the film following has him back in the U.S.  But still REMEMBER works as a good mystery story, well acted by Oscar winner, Plummer.

    Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?t=10&v=unHJB_yp4ZM

    HITMAN (USA 2015) *** 1/2

    Directed by Denis Villeneuve

    The word SICARIO means hit man in Mexican or also to mean the ‘zealots of Jerusalem’.  In Villenueve’s (PRISONER) new film, the term is referenced to officers involved in taking down the Mexican drug cartel for various reasons.  The story is centred on FBI agent Emily Blunt, who together with questionable government operatives Josh Brolin and Benicio Del Toro take part in a high risk takedown against a top Mexican cartel boss.  With dire consequences.  Despite the familiar story which is full of cliches, the dramatic setups (the bar pickup; execution at a family meal; the football games) make the film well worth it.  Blunt is good but it is Oscar Winner Del Toro who steals the show.  Film opens just just after TIFF, so no need to rush to see it here.

    Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sR0SDT2GeFg

    SKY (France/Germany 2015) ***
    Directed by Fabienne Berthaud

    A runaway movie in which the runaway is a female fed up with her marriage.  Romy (Diane Kruger) and Richard (Gilles Lellouche) are a French couple on vacation in America. They play at being free and wild in the California desert, but can't escape the shadow hanging over their relationship. A drunken night in a bar leads to a violent confrontation. Romy sees a chance to remake her life.  She accidentally bashes Richard’s head with a lamp and flees the scene.  In the process, she undergoes a series of adventures, finding her true love at the same time.  It is a female flick with a lot of segments offering a woman’s point of view.  Just like WILD, the female seems to encounter friendly harmless males.  The film is called SKY because it is always changing.  And so do the events in the story.  They keep changing so that nothing is expected, which could be a good thing and bad as well.  The film is an ok watch but stretches the audience’s credibility.  At least Kruger and Lellouche are totally watchable.

    SON OF SAUL (Hungary 2015) ***

    Directed by Laszlo Nemes

    SON OF SAUL, this year’s Cannes Grand Jury Prize Winner might not be the film for everyone. Lazlo Neme’s film has no narrative, is minimal in structure and is difficult to follow in terms of logic or story.  But still, it is a gruesome watch.  Nemes' film, with cinematographer Matyas Erdely, like the Dardennes Brothers filming with a hand held camera about head level on the side of the protagonist following him using a protagonist’s-eye view makes all the action feel more real.  The protagonist is part of a squad in a Holocaust concentration camp with the duty of herding in the prisoners for gassing and then cleaning up.  As the titles indicate, they too will normally have their turn (being gassed) after a few weeks.  The hero sees a boy that survives the gassing but consequently killed.  He takes it upon himself to find a Rabbi to say the prayers for the boy at all costs.  This is where the film fails in terms of credibility.  He is able to find a Rabbi, not get caught, find all the right connections and keeps the boy’s body - all a bit too much to believe.

    Trailer: https://vimeo.com/133125872

    SPARROWS (Iceland/Demark/Croatia 2015) ***1/2

    Directed by Runar Rúnarsso

    From Icelandic director Rúnar Rúnarsson (VOLCANO), comes a coming-of-age story of a teenage boy Ari (Atli Óskar Fjalarsson) forced to leave his happy life in Reykjavik and move back in with his dissolute father in a sparsely populated rural town — where a shocking event forces him to choose between telling the truth and protecting those he loves.  This is not the typical coming-of age tale.  The story leads to unexpected results and an unpredictable conclusion with a film that is intriguing and highly watchable.  It also shows that people (not only the Icelandics) are not susceptible to change.  The mother leaves the boy because she want to continue her career in Angola with a new husband.  The father, Gunnar (Ingvar E. Sigurdsson) still lives like a teenager, pissing away his weekends with drug-and-booze-fuelled bacchanals.  Ari is unable to adapt to he new rural surroundings and still clings to his first girlfriend Lana (Rakel Björk Björnsdóttir), there.  All these lead to rather disastrous results.  Ari has to choose his life.  And Ari, a beautiful choir singer will have to ditch this gift in the artless rural town.

    Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bvNw3WqecEo

    STARVE YOUR DOG (Morocco 2015) ***1/2

    Directed by Hicham Lasri

    STARVE YOUR DOG has been described as punk cinema and it feels like it and it also contains a quote from Daft Punk.  The film begins with an unforgettable scene of an old woman (see image above) complaining about poverty and how she wishes an earthquake would level everything.  She is shot by director Rita (Latefa Ahrrare).  Rita now promises the interview of a lifetime, of Driss Basri (Jirari Ben Aissa), who was the dreaded Interior Minister during the previous monarch's reign of terror.  Her camera crew, who for one, cannot work together go into a frenzy claiming that their safety has been compromised and that they have not been paid.  There is much to enjoy in this renegade filmmaking.  There is always a shadow of a faded scene in the background of every shot, which is what is in front of the scene projected to the audience.  The humour is dead pan, at times silly but relevant in a way.  Take this instance: “Are you working your biceps or triceps!” asks Khalid, a crew member to another.  “Try shitceps”, comes the answer.  The climax comes with both a showdown and a dramatic confrontation.  Film should be seen at TIFF or it might disappear forever!

    Trailer: https://vimeo.com/135557195

     

    STONEWALL (USA 2015) *

    Directed by Roland Emmerich

    Hollywood director Roland Emmerich of GODZILLA and INDEPENDENCE DAY gets his chance to make a historical film about the gay Stonewall riots and absolutely blows it in one of the worst films seen at TIFF.  Emmerich brings the stereotyping and ignorance back to the first gay films like THE BOYS IN THE BAND and CRUISING, two of the most misunderstood films about gay culture.  Well, the list is now three.  The film depicts the STONEWALL riots when the gays in NYC decide that they had enough and created an immense amount of damage on Christopher Street - but with fictional cardboard, stereotyped characters put it.  Farm boy is thrown out of his house by father and takes for NYC.  He meets up with LGBY street kids who teach him the ropes, or what Emmerch defines as the ropes.  Needless to say, the film shows no progress in films of this subject.  The climax of the film is the riot scene, with chief riot instigator, the farm boy cheering everyone on.  Just plain awful!  In the film, the characters lament that farm boy has no idea who Judy Garland is.  It is apparent the filmmakers are not that knowledgable either.  And in the latest headlines - LGBT activists are boycotting the movie.

    Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LGEJmPwB4yI

    STRANGER (ZHAT) (Kazakhstan 2015) ***

    Directed by Yermek Tursunov

    Tursunov’s latest is a pastoral epic spanning many generations beginning in the 1930’s.  The protagonist is Ilyas, a boy when first introduced on screen learning the pointers of hunting from his father.  But in the dead of night, his father is taken away by authorities for political reasons.  Ilyas escapes to the mountains.  There, he turns his back on progress, taking up with a pack of wolves and choosing to live according to ancestral ways.  Yet he remains watchful of the changes occurring down below.  But Ilyas is oblivious of the current affairs like the World War.  He cannot adapt to the community or his old friends.  Director Tursunov stresses that it is freedom that Ilyas seeks and suffers for.  STRANGER is Kazakhsrtan’s entry for the Best Foreign Film Oscar.  It is not too bad a film, visually stunning at times, but it would be a hard sell for the oscar voters.

    Trailer: http://tiff.net/festivals/festival15/contemporaryworldcinema/stranger-zhut

    SUNSET SON (UK/Luxembourg 2015) ****

    Directed by Terence Davies

    Terence Davis adapts and directs Lewis Grassic Gibbon's classic novel about a farming family struggling to eke out a living in northeast Scotland.  Those familiar with his films (THE LONG DAY CLOSES, DISTANT VOICES, STILL LIVES, THE DEEP BLUE SEA) will find his familiar traits - usage of songs, shots of sunlight through windows, picturesque shots as well as torrid sex scenes.  The protagonist is Chris Guthrie (ex-model Agyness Deyn in a performance controlled by Davies), a young and beautiful lass who is bound by her family especially her abusive over religious father (Peter Mullan) who has no qualms in flogging her brother (Jack Greenless).  It is only after his passing, that she lives a life of her own, but by no means an easy one.  The stunningly shot epic sees the coming of the World War and its influence on Scotland and on Chris.  But the film is as much a film about her as the land.  The land is the main star of the film and Davies shoots every scene as if it be a painting to be behold.  

     

    THRU YOU PRINCESS (Israel 2015) **

    Directed by Ido Haar

    A scratchy skim off the surface documentary that contains as little research as the insight provides audiences regarding the Youtube music phenomenon.   In her late 30s, Samantha (nicknamed Princess Shaw, as she is one) lives in New Orleans and works as a caregiver.  She often uploads her songs and musings online and none of her clips get more than a few dozen hits.  She doesn't imagine that someone, on the other side of the world, is about to expand the number of listeners by millions.  Kutiman, an Israeli musician, discovers Samantha's songs on YouTube and weaves them with audiovisual symphonies composed of musical clips that people posted online.  The climax of the film has Princess Shaw travelled to Tel Aviv to perform with Kutiman.  Lots of praise for the Princess, her songs and her singing, too much for my taste, anyway!

     Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=H_uN5DWrmcU

    ONE PLUS ONE (FRANCE 2015) **

    Directed by Claude Lelouch

    A film anticipated by many due to the fame of veteran director Claude Lelouch who made A MAN AND A WOMAN, LES UNS ET LES AUTRES and LA BONNE ANNEE just to name a few.  In this romantic comedy/drama, music composer Francis Lai is reunited with Lelouch.  The story also concerns a film music composer Antoine (Oscar Winner Jean Dujardin) in India who discovers his headaches could be due to a tumour.  Travelling with the French ambassador’s wife, Anna (Elsa Zylberstein), Antoine hopes to heal his ailment with meeting mystic, Amma, just as she hopes to carry a baby for the first time.  The two have an affair.  Lelouch’s film has a few neat self conscious touches.  Dujardin is funny and given quite the few hilarious comic lines.  But Lelouch’s film is overlong and the long journey to the end, just like Antoine and Anna’s, is quite a bit to bear.

    THE PARADISE SUITE (Netherlands/Bulgaria/Sweden 2015) ***

    Directed by Joost van Ginkel 

    THE PARADISE SUITE is the special room where a client gets special services from a call girl  This is one of the intersecting stories of six immigrants from very different backgrounds in Amsterdam. The backgrounds include Sweden, Netherlands and Bulgaria as the film is a co-production of 3 countries. Van Ginkel’s film is not bad.  His stories are interesting enough and provide a look at the diversity of Amsterdam though not always in a good light.  The common theme is the paradise each character seeks that takes different forms.  The trouble, however, is that intersecting stories in a film have been done so man times before, as in THE HEREAFTER, 21 GRAMS and CRASH, so that the effect is no longer novel but feels overused.  No point recounting the different stories in this capsule review except to say that they are all equally interesting intersecting, of course at the film’s climax.  This film is the Dutch entry for the Oscar’s Best Foreign Film but the content is too probably too graphic (especially the sex content) for the Academy voters.

    Trailer: http://tiff.net/festivals/festival15/discovery/the-paradise-suite

    VICTORIA (Germany 2015) ***
    Directed by Sebastian Schipper

    VICTORIA begins with Victoria, a Spanish girl from Madrid (Laia Costa) dancing to some funky sounds in a Berlin club in a scene all misty white from the club lights and liquid carbon dioxide.  She speaks no German.  Leaving on her bicycle, she meets up with some boys.  With names like Sonne (Frederick Lau), Blinker (Burak Yigit), Boxer (Franz Rogowski) and Fuss (Max Mauff), this could only be a formula for trouble.  And trouble is exactly what happens.  They go on a drunken spree during the first half of the film, which is unbearable to watch.  It feels like being the designated driver for a bunch of drunk and high friends after a club in which everyone is having a smashing time except yourself.  The second half picks up when they are forced into a bank heist complete with escape from the cops in a housing complex with a baby taken as hostage.  But the distinctiveness of the movie is that the entire 2 hours and 15 minutes of film are done with one long shot with no edits.  The question arises whether this is a gimmick movie that would survive on its own.  It likely might do better as the limitations are quite apparent, such as the unseen heist.  But still, this one shot film is a rare achievement (with credit also going to cinematographer Sturla Brandth Grovlen) and the film warrants some merits.  It won the Silver Bear for Outstanding Artistic Contribution at this year's Berlinale.

    Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qlG0nauf8fo

     

    THE WAITING ROOM (Canada 2015) **
    Directed by Igro Drljaca

    THE WAITING ROOM shot in Toronto in English, Bosnian and Croatian has had limited praise in its run in film festivals so far which means one thing - this is the kind of quirky Canadian feature that is not bad but no one wants to see.  The central character is a middle-age struggling actor (Jasmin Geljo) who has immigrated to Toronto from Bosnia.  He lives with his second wife and young son but longs to move back to Bosnia where his father, who he talks to frequently on the computer is.  He has various acting parts, one of which is in drag and another one sitting in a car driving around with the background of Bosnia.  Director Drljaca’s (KRIVINA) over serious film looks sincere but the film’s narrative goes nowhere and the film jumps all over the place.  The only humour, understated obviously, comes right at the end of the film - sensational delight! 

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

    THE WAVE (Bolgen) (Norway 2015) **

    Directed by Roar Uthaug

    Big production (Norwegian standards) of a Hollywood disaster movie sees unlikely hero, a seismic worker and geologist save his family from a tsunami.  You see, he works and sees the disaster coming and despite all his efforts is unable to warn the people concerned in time.  He is with his daughter while the wife and son stuck in a hotel basement when the disaster strikes in Norway’s Geiranger regions, a big tourist attraction..  Yet, he is able to find her and open the steel door despite all odds.  This is Hollywood blockbuster filmmaking at its worst with the expected special effects and confusing instrumentation.   THE WAVE falls into all the similar traps and ends up a goal waste of time, money and effort.  THE WAVE is Norway’s entry for The Best Foreign Film Oscar.  It will be a true disaster if it wins.

    Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AH44U3Tmi1k

     

    WE MONSTERS (WIR MONSTER) (Germany 2014) ***1/2

    Directed by Sebastian Ko

    Reminiscent of taut thrillers like those made by Claude Chabrol (like LE CRI DE L’HIBOU, CRY OF THE OWL in which bodies pop up and disappear from nowhere), Sebastian Ko’s WE MONSTERS asks the question how far parents (in this case separated parents) would go to protect their kid.  14-year old Sarah (Janina Fautz) has just pushed her best friend down a reservoir dam.  Father and mother Paul (Mehdi Nebbou) and Christine (Ulrike C. Tscharre) attempt to cover her deed, but get into deeper trouble.  It is best not to reveal the specifics but the film has quite the few plot twists, in fact a few too many, the last one tethering on the brink of laughter.  Still, Ko’s film has a few winning moments such as a close-up shot of the knife held by the mother and a key saying by the daughter that her mother has once used on her.  But mostly, Ko’s film engages the audience from start to end.

    Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mP_NezDwj70

    THE WHITE KNIGHTS (WHITE KNIGHTS) (France 2015)

    Directed by Joachim Lafosse

    The film begins with a French adoption agency NGO rescuing 300 children from civil war in Chad.  The workers are to select orphans 5 years and under and house and educate them till the age of 18.  The one in charge is Jacques (the always relentless Vincent Lindon).  He hires a local interpreter Bintou (promising newcomer Rougalta Bintou Saleh) who ends up having a bigger role in the story.  But under the cover of night, the French discuss their exit strategy and make calls to French families about the children they'll be bringing home.  Nothing is what it seems in this film that states at the start that it is based loosely on true events.  Lafosse captures the desperation and danger of Chad with some exciting set pieces.  The one with Jacques’ encounter with British troops is very effective.  Lafosse takes the film through its logical (though a bit predictable) conclusion in which the only ones still suffering are the Chad children.

  • This Week's Film Reviews (Sep 11, 2015)

    Films opening include THE VISIT and WOLF TOTEM.

    The Toronto International Film Festival begins.  Lots and lots of new films here.

    FILM REVIEWS:

    THE VISIT (USA 2015) ****
    Directed by M. Night Shyamalan

    The mystery question is whether Shyamalan’s new film THE VISIT is going to be a hit.  The director of THE SIXTH SENSE, UNBREAKABLE and SIGNS sure needs one after the disaster bombs like AFTER EARTH and THE LAST AIRBENDER.

    THE VISIT returns the Indian director to familiar territory with a new angle of new found footage which he has not done before.  It is the horror genre again with a twist ending.  The premise is two children, a girl, Becca (Olivia DeYonge) and her younger rapping brother, Tyler (Ed Oxenbould) visiting their grandparents for the first time at an isolated Pennsylvania farm.  The children are making a documentary video on their mother (Kathryn Hahn from REVOLUTIONARY ROAD).  Their mother has not spoken to her parents since then as they had a falling out due to her eloping with an older man who eventually ditched her.  The grandparents, Nana (Deanna Dunagan) and Pop Pop (Peter McRobbie) turn out to be strange and murderous.  Simple premise , which allows Shyamalan the opportunity to tap his story without much restrictions.

    The twist in the plot is something that is expected from Shyamalyan.  In all his films, the ending is an unexpected surprise.  Sometimes it works, as in UNBREAKABLE and THE SIXTH SENSE and sometimes it doesn’t like THE HAPPENING and THE LADY IN THE WATER.  And there is one in the simple plot of THE VISIT as well.  Despite some clues given in in the script by Shyamalan, my critic colleague and I both could not guess it.  As an added bonus, there is some morality added at the end for good measure.

    The found footage angle is effectively done by Shyamalan.  Unlike many found footage films that cheat with a lot of footage on screen that is not the result of any of the characters doing any filmming, THE VISIT has all the angles covered.  All the scenes shown can be explained as shot by either Becca or Tyler.  This gives Tyler the opportunity to do 3 rap routines.  No doubt they are good, but thankfully the last one is left at the end credits.

    A lot of the film’s funny parts (like Becca asked to go into the oven to clean it) have been shown in the trailer, that Universal has been bombarding a lot on television.  But there are still surprises to come.  THE VISIT is Shyamalan’s funniest film - the humour being quite camp, similar to the kind found in SIGNS.  Recall the scene with the family sitting in front of the TV looking so ridiculous wearing aluminium foil on their heads to prevent radiation?

    The film is also good and lean at under 90 minutes.  There are no loose ends and every detail has a place in the plot.  There are a few ‘loose’ un-explainables in the plot that cannot be revealed in the review for being spoilers, but these are very few and far between.

    THE VISIT is a return of Shyamalan to top form.  Made on a micro budget with no known stars and little special effects, and released in a month with little competition, this is a moneymaking winner.  Very camp, very funny and also very scary at times, the film is yet another hit on Universal’s record success year of films this year.

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

    WOLF TOTEM (China/Canada 2015) ***
    Directed by Jean-Jacques Annaud

    French director Jean-Jacques Annaud would best be remembered for films like SEVEN YEARS IN TIBET, THE NAME OF THE ROSE and QUEST FOR FIRE rather that his animal wilderness film L’OUR (THE BEAR).  But this Master director proves his mettle once again with a stunningly shot animal adventure drama set in Inner Mongolia.  The film has runs in IMAX for audiences to experience the full wilderness effect (and pay more money).

    The ambitious film, a French/Chinese co-production is based on the Chinese novel by Jiang Rong and set during China’s Cultural Revolution.  Two students, Chen Zhen (Feng Shaofeng) and Yang Ke (Shawn Dou) are sent to Inner Mongolia to live for a period of 2 years to learn the lifestyle as well as to teach Mandarin to the Mongolians.  The Mongolians end up speaking quite good Mandarin though how Mandarin is taught is never shown or explained.  

    The footage of the wolves is nothing short of amazing and saves the film from what might be considered a silly story line, despite it being based on a best-selling novel.  It is the typical story of a hardened village chief, but with reason, teaching the newbies of the matter of livelihood in the cold north.  The students learn herding and Chen eventually adopts a wolf cub to disastrous consequences.  The tribe take their skills to be akin to the wolves, and they respect the wolves.  Chen also falls in love with the chief's daughter-in-law Gasma (Ankhnyam Ragchaa) after her husband is killed.  The story omits the other student completely.

    Besides the story’s flaws, the film benefits from the stunning wild action sequences.  There are two of these, both equally impressive.  The first is the attack of the wolves on unsuspecting gazelles.  The closeups of the wolves’ tongues hungrily dripping with saliva differentiates the scene from other nature programs.  The second is the attack of the wolves on the prize horses at night in the midst of a snowstorm.  The two segments are worth of the premium IMAX ticket price.  Another scene that demands mention is the one of the dead horses frozen on the lake.

    One would have expected more cultural conflict between the Mongolians and the  Chinese.  Most of the arguments involve the raising of the wolf cub and nothing else.  The interracial romance is taken as an accepted given.  One expects the politics toned down for the sake of the film catering towards a family audience.  Violence is at a minimum, even in the animal attack segments,

    At a cost of $40 million, the film has only done so-so box-office in China.  Animal films are always a tough sell.  Even the Disney animal world films made little money.  And there are so much more difficult, as evident in this film, to make.

    Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WbhOhVimfRE&feature=iv&src_vid=Li5EP6T--Pg&annotation_id=annotation_1146457585

     

     

    BEST BETS:

    Best Film Opening: THE VISIT

    Best Animation: INSIDE OUT

    Best Documentary: MERU

    Best Action comedy: AMERICAN ULTRA

    Best Foreign: SECOND MOTHER

    Best Indie:  DOPE and TANGERINE

  • This Week's Film Reviews (Sep 4, 2015)

    Films opening include THE TRANSPORTER REFUELD, DRAGON BLADE, THE JOURNEY HOME and the doc MERU.

     

     

    FILM REVIEWS: 

    DRAGON BLADE (China/HK 2015) *

    Directed by Daniel Lee

    DRAGON BLADE, set in Western China in 48 B.C. concerns the protection of the Silk Road trading route by General Huo An (Jackie Chan) and his men - a sort of peace-keeping corps.  At the film’s start, Huo averts a fight between the Indians (recognizable by their turbans) and the Huns both groups who later help him.  The fight between Huo and the girl warrior is so silly, that it sets up the stage for sillier things to come.

    These silly things take the shape of John Cusack, another general, Lucius, a Roman one who also duels with Huo but ends up becoming friends with him.  He has one quote about friendship that is so silly, I am glad that I have forgotten it.  The chief villain of the piece is Lucius’ brother Tiberius, which is also the name of a famous river, (Oscar winner Adrien Brody) donning heavy Roman armour in the worst role of his career.  

    But the climax beats it all, with a hand-to-hand combat fight between Huo and Tiberius in which Huo turns the upper hand on his foe, in a slow motioned sequence that makes no sense whatsoever.

    To director Daniel Lee’s credit, the film looks more expensive than its $65 million dollar budget.  But this is not necessarily a compliment.  The battle scenes are a mix between real stunts and CGI.  The huge numbers (hundreds of thousands) of warriors on horses ready for battle look something right out LORD OF THE RINGS.

    For a historical epic, the film contains a few extremely violent scenes - particularly those dealing in torture.  The one with John Cusack with his eyes all bloodied as if gouged out is unforgettably disturbing.  The film comes with the warning: bloody violence.  But audiences should be warned about other things about the film, if you know what I mean.

    For a film that is touted to be inspired by true events, audiences will find what has transpired on screen very hard to believe. This is the sort of ‘to convert all foes to friends’ historical message that Hong Kong superstar Jackie Chan loves to get himself involved in.  He plays the hero with all the shameless chivalry he can muster, complete with the silliest looking goatee since Samuel L. Jackson’s braided one in PULP FICTION.  Chan looks younger in this film because he is wearing make-up.

    The few pluses of the film involve the construction of a city using tools and construction methods of the day.  The fight scenes involving battle tactics like the Roman shields are interesting.

    One big question too, is why the film is entitled DRAGON BLADE.  There is one scene in which Cusack takes a look at a Chinese sword and that is about it for clues.  The Chinese title translates directly to ‘Celestial General, Heroic Army’.

    Hong Kong epics have never failed to amaze me.  Awful as the film is, the historical action film which cost US$65 million has already at the time of writing already grossed US$120 million in China.

    Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lwMlpp8GIAI

    THE JOURNEY HOME (MIDNIGHT SUN) (Canada/Italy 2015) ***
    Directed by Roger Spottiswoode

    Directed by Canada’s own Roger Spottiswoode (born in Ottawa) and known for kids movies as bad as STOP! OR MY MOM WILL SHOOT and TURNER AND HOOCH but also for one James Bond flick TOMORROW NEVER DIES, THE JOURNEY HOME previously known as MIDNIGHT SUN is a combination of family and an action/adventure though the action is mostly with the weather elements rather than weaponry.  Credit should also be given to Brando Quilici who co-wrote the script and directed the high Arctic scenes.

    As a mother bear and a cub intrude close to the home of Luke (Dakota Goyo), the sheriff and animal wranglers remove the mother unaware of the presence of her cub.  Luke discovers the cub and after a night together, grow attached to it. With his skidoo, Luke takes upon himself the task of reuniting the cub with her mother up north.  A storm brews.  Muktuk (Goran Visnijik), a half Inuit and half Canadian is sent to help the boy.

    The Arctic scenes, set in the ice fields of Northern Canada, are stunningly shot and credit should be given to Quilici.  The winter storm scene is the best and the shot of the skidoo racing across the half frozen (or melting) lake is something that will both excite and scare.

    Dakota Goyo does well in the role of a good young rebel ready to fight for a worthy cause - in this case the survival of the Polar bear cub.  He is ready to cry on cue and show genuine affection for the cub and the opposite for his mother.  Needless to say, Peezu, the Polar bear cub is the most adorable thing one will see in a movie.

    But the problem lies with the cliched script by no less than three writers - Bart Gavigan

    Hugh Hudson and Brando Quilici.  The busy mother (Bridget Moynahan) who has no time for the son, the rebellious son looking for any excuse to prove himself; the truth about how the father died; the heroic Native; the mean and emotionless bear handlers and government are all things expected in a film of this genre and have been seen before.  One would have expected something better from Hugh Hudson who directed the Oscar winner CHARIOTS OF FIRE. 

    It is, however, good to see films like this produced from other companies rather than Disney.  Too many action hero movies, cartoons and video game related films have almost taken over.  One wonders how Italy got roped in to co-produce the film.  Though not the best of family films. THE JOURNEY HOME is still not a bad choice for a family outing at the movies.

    Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jG3c7yNKsKs

    MERU (USA/India 2015) *** 1/2
    Directed by Jimmy Chin, Elizabeth Chai Vasarhelyi

    Winner of the Audience Award for Best Documentary at Sundance, MERU is a crowd pleaser in the sense that it keeps the audience on their toes from start to finish.


    MERU is not the highest summit in the world. That title belongs to Everest. But Meru, in the Himalayas is surely the most dangerous. The film takes three climbers up to the summit, in two parts. The first attempt was nearly successful but failed. The three try again at the last third of the film. Whether the succeed will not be revealed in this review. But the excitement is as intense as in any fictional film.


    The three climbers are Conrad Anker (which the film focuses on), Jimmy Chin (the film’s co-director) and Renan Ozturk. At the start of the film, each of them have their say, with the film delving into each background. Two are married but Ozturk is not, but has a girlfriend. After their first unsuccessful climb, both Chin and Ozturn have accidents. Ozurk skis off a crevice rendering him almost dead. Chin miraculously survives an avalanche. But Conrad has a close friend, fellow climber and mentor, Mugs who does not. It is a deeply personal film with the audience brought close to each of the climbers.


    The film is interspersed with interviews of the climbers and their close friends and family. There are also candid footage of the climbs. The scenery is as treacherous as it is stunning. The film gets the audience up close and personal with a fair portion of the film dealing with the loss of the climbers.


    Why do climbers like these three take such life taking risks at their own expense and their loved ones? The interview with Conrad’s good friend gives the answer. “They are f***ing crazy”.
    One also wonders how the footage on the last climatic climb was obtained. Was a camera crew there at the summit, did Jimmy Chin do the filming there himself or is it a carefully crafted enactment? If there is another documentary on how this documentary was made, I would be the first one to see it.
    Trailer: http://www.outsideonline.com/2001246/meru-official-trailer

    THE TRANSPORTER REFUELED (France/China 2015) ***

    Directed by Camille Delamarre

    Part of a 4 film deal with China in which one film is to be shot there (though not this one), THE TRANSPORTER REFUELED is the fourth instalment of the Luc Besson (who has writing credit) series.

    The story, not that it matters for a film like this, concerns Frank Martin (Ed Skrein), a former special-ops mercenary, now living a less perilous life - or so he thinks - transporting classified packages for questionable people.  When his father (Ray Stevenson) pays him a visit in the south of France, their father-son bonding weekend takes a turn for the worse when Frank is kidnapped by a cunning femme-fatale, Anna (Loan Chabanol), and her three seductive look-alike sidekicks to orchestrate a bank heist.  But there is much more to the bank heist.  The ladies, who worked as call girls for a Russian kingpin are out for revenge, using Frank in the process. 

    The film is set in the French Riviera, (the Cote D’Azur) from Cannes, Monte Carlo to Nice.  The film begins in 1995 and flashes forward 15 years later, which is 2010. (Why not 2015?)

    There is a brief sex scene in which no skin is seen between Frank and Anna.  The teasing is enough.  The film is basically an action film, and it sticks to the rules.

    The action sequences are exciting enough and more than perfectly executed.  The best of these, an edge of the seat suspense moment, is the escape of Frank and Anna from the cargo hold of an airplane through the roof of the limo driven by Frank just under the plane.  The fight segments, however, most in a mix of stylish fast and slow motion, have been seen in other action flicks.  The fights have a slight element of humour, reminiscent of those found in the Jackie Chan movies.  But the climatic fight scene between main hero and villain, old-school style is something that has been omitted in most action films.  This scene takes place in all its scenic beauty amidst high rocks overseeing the ocean.

    British newcomer Ed Skrein takes over the pivotal role of the mercenary driver known as THE TRANSPORTER from Jason Statham.  One gets what one pays for, euro for euro.   Skrein is wooden and unable to deliver the funny one-liners as effectively as Statham, but Skrien has his charm, matched by his almost perfect good looks.  In fact, the film is filled with lots of perfect hard bodies.  The three Russian mafia villains good very well work as top models.  It seems that having a good bod is a pre-requisite for acting in this pic.  Even Ray Stevenson, who plays Frank’s father gets to sleep with two ladies in one scene.  The star is also the Audi S8, product placed so that it cannot be forgotten.

    THE TRANSPORTER REFUELED is good action comic-book fare.  It is an efficient film, cheap by Hollywood standards at a production cost of only 25 to 30 millions euros, without big name stars.  If it follows the same route as his recent LUCY, Besson should be laughing to the bank.

    Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eeoKyTHn5Kg

     

    BEST BETS:

    Best Film Opening: MERU

    Best Animation: INSIDE OUT

    Best Documentary: MERU

    Best Action comedy: AMERICAN ULTRA

    Best Foreign: SECOND MOTHER

    Best Indie:  DOPE and TANGERINE

  • This Week's Film Reviews (Aug 28, 2015)

    Big Films opening this week are WE ARE YOUR FRIENDS and NO ESCAPE.

    TIFF Cinematheque presents a retrospective of Ingrid Bergman films.

    FILM REVIEWS: 

    COURT (India 2014) ***1/2

    Directed by Chaitanya Tamhane

    A sewerage worker's dead body is found inside a manhole in Mumbai.  An ageing folk singer is tried in court on charges of abetment of suicide.  He is accused of performing an inflammatory song which might have incited the worker to commit the act.  As the trial unfolds, the personal lives of the lawyers and the judge involved in the case are observed outside the court.

    Hollywood has fascinated audiences with high profile courtroom dramas like JUDGEMENT AT NUREMBERG and A FEW GOOD MEN, but a different kind of courtroom drama arrives with tons of accolades from Mumbai.  The film depicts the lives of the poor in Mumbai.  The story is as dramatic in the courtroom as out of it as the camera weaves in and out of the Mumbai slums and the stories of the lawyers and judge.

    The film first premiered at the 71st Venice International Film Festival where it won the Best Film in the Horizons category and the Luigi De Laurentiis (Lion Of The Future) award for Tamhane.  The film went on to win 18 other awards at film festivals, including honours at the Mumbai, Vienna, Antalya, and Singapore film festivals.   Though not without flaws, COURT should intrigue both critics and non-critics alike.

    The film follows several Mumbai residents.  The first is the old teacher and aging folk singer performer (Vira Sathidar), aforementioned, who has had trouble with the law in the past.  Then the film follows the lives of they two lawyers and finally the judge.

    The Mumbai judicial system is displayed with all its flaws and problems.  Documents are misplaced, witnesses can be bought and the lawyers like the prosecutor have higher ambitions like being promoted to the position of a judge.  Meanwhile, the accused is in jail, without bail and deteriorating in health in the process.

    The final verdict will not be revealed in the review, but it is safe to say that the drama is sustained from start to finish.  The interweaving of the personal lives of the subjects will in no way affect the result of the case, but it is interesting to see how judges and lawyers behave outside the court.  For example, the judge is shown as an impatient man screaming at kids.

    Tamhane’s Mumbai is on display here.  And it is not a pretty sight.  The slums, dirty streets, overcrowded roads, dust and dirty conditions complement the unhappy characters in the film.  Even the seaside resort looks disgusting.  but is is this Mumbai that gives the film its character and intrigue.  And director Tamhane is unafraid to show it as it is.

    COURT ends up an original work from a first time feature director, and one whose future work should be something to look forward to.

    Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4sc8z7zav9A

    THE END OF THE TOUR (USA 2015) ***

    Directed by James Ponsoldt

     

    Though based on real life events, the words ‘based on a true story’, ‘inspired by true events’ or any such statements are not flashed on the screen.  One would assume that this film’s audience would have knowledge of the literary book world and be aware of the 2008 suicide of well-known author David Foster Wallace (Jason Segel) after his acclaimed work ‘Infinite Jest’.  that novel was cited by Time magazine as one of the best 100 novels of the century.

    The film begins with the news of Wallace’s suicide, as heard by David Lipsky (Jesse Eisenberg).  The film flashes back to Lipsky, a reporter at Rolling Stone and an author himself, reading the novel ‘Infinite Jest’ with his girlfriend and being so impressed, that he convinces his boss at Rolling Stone that he would do a fantastic interview story of Wallace.  At this point in the film, the audience can expect two authors to go loggerheads at each other.  And the script by playwright Donald Margulies takes this route.  The gist of the film which occurs during the last third concentrates on the deteriorating relationship between the two, when among other things, familiarity breeds contempt, besides pride and duelling literary words.

    It is a solid 5-day interview.  Lipsky travels to Wallace’s home and begins an interviewer/interviewee relationship.  Both are at first weary of each other.  It is only when the two begin to get at ease that the trouble starts.  The catalyst of their deteriorating relationship is Wallace’s accusation of Lipsy’s hitting on his girlfriend.  Lipsky also gets under Wallace’s skin by probing into his possible heroin use and past depression.  This is where the film gets quite intense with the two debating furiously and hitting at each other emotionally.  Wallace has made Lispky promise that certain things never be published ruing the interview, and this might be the reason the interview was never published in real life.

    Both Eisenberg and Segel deliver nuanced and credible performances.  Segel, with his stubble and bandana looks just like the real Wallace.  This is a different Segel without the comedy audiences are used to.

    But this is basically a two-handler film about two writers.  The female roles by Meryl stress’s daughter, Mamie Gummer and Joan Cusack have little impact.

    But despite the film’s intensity, one wonders who would really one to watch a film about two men sparring with each other with no winner.  The film has already done disappointing box-office (its per screen average last week was lower than the also disappointing THE MAN FROM U.N.C.L.E.) in its limited release.  But THE END OF THE TOUR is not a bad film, well-written and performed and should be given  chance.

    Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DBk1Mrb4RyM

     

    NO ESCAPE (USA 2015) *

    Directed by John Erick Dowdle

    It was in 2009 that it was reported that Owen Wilson was to start in an action film called THE COUP with the theme similar to TAKEN about a husband saving his family at all costs.

    The setting, however is an unnamed South-East Asian country where true enough, a coup is underway.   Jack Dwyer (Wilson) has been sent with his family to re-locate as he had just landed a job as an engineer dealing with some water company.  The film opens with the family on the plane.  When hell breaks lose in the Asian country, his family is the target as the locals believe the foreigners are out to steal their water.  So amidst bullets and explosions, Dwyer has to take his family to safety.  In the film, this means crossing the border to Vietnam in a boat.

    But the film is so full of flaws and loose ends that all the action set pieces serve no purpose.  But some are, to the director’s credit nail-biting suspenseful, especially the segment in which the family has to jump across from one building to another.  But most of the action sequences involve Asians jumping around during explosions and firing weapons at random.

    It can be ascertained from the end credits that the film is shot in Thailand from all the Thai names that appear.  The reason the film was shot there is the immense talent of the Thai film film crew.  But judging from the end piece where the family crosses to Vietnam by boat, the country can be assumed to be Cambodia.  Though unmentioned, the political turmoil could arise from the Khmer Rouge problems from the past.  The fact that nothing is mentioned of the story’s background, the story loses its credibility.

    An inherent problem of the film is that the hero of the piece is not a trained killer.  Jack Dwyer has never fired a weapon or killed anyone till he is forced to protect his family.  Unlike the Liam Neeson hero in TAKEN where he efficiently does away with the bad guys, all Jack can do is quiver after he kills his first victim.  Having a hysterical wife (Lake Bell) and two young daughters (Sterling Jerins and Claire Geare) and annoying ones at that, does not help this action flick either.

    All the local Asians blame the Americans for all the bad that occur in their country and all of them are disposed during the action scenes in a ridiculous manner.  The Dwyer family is aided in their escape by a stranger, Hammond (Pierce Brosnan) who turns out to be a James Bond like British agent.  The Hammond character is strange, appears out of nowhere at various points in the film and is never fully explained.

    With all the action films released weekly, this silly effort, shot in Thailand with lots of locals and explosions turns out to be a total waste.

    Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DOjj07EuO50

    QUEL HORAS ELA VOLTA? (SECOND MOTHER) (Brazil 2015) ***/12

    Directed by Anna Muylaert

    The SECOND MOTHER of the film title is Val (Regina Casé), the maid of a wealthy Sao Paolo family.  Maids have been interesting subjects of films lately, the most memorable being the recent film called THE MAID, the Oscar nominee for Best Foreign Film from Chile.

    This Brazilian entry that could also be titled THE MAID, tells of maid Val, 13 years working as nanny to Fabinho (Camila Márdila) in Sao Paulo. She is financially stable but has to live with the guilt of having left her daughter Jessica (Karine Teles), in Pernambuco, in the north of Brazil, raised by relatives. As college entrance exams roll around, Jessica wants to come to Sao Paulo to take her college entrance exams too. When Jessica arrives, cohabitation is not easy. Everyone will be affected by the personality and candor of the girl while Val finds herself right in the middle of it.

    The story contrasts three strong females characters.  Each of them are used to their own way of life and stubbornly so.  Val is so comfortable as a second class citizen, she is more concerned about the status quo being disturbed rather than her rights.  Her daughter, on the other hand, is an independent youth unwilling to see herself or her mother disrespected.  The mistress Dona Barbara (Lourenço Mutarelli) is rich and spoiled and used to be getting her own way.  When the three come into conflict, they each, hilariously find their own solution which largely means segregation from the other two.

    Muylaert’s film moves at a snail’s pace but it allows her audience to make keen observations on both her characters and situations.  She never judges her characters but allows the audience to make up their own minds, as to who is correct or wrong.  What is marvellous is that often in an argument on screen, both parties are right.  But the audience is still forced to take a side, depending on ones beliefs and attitudes.  For example when mother and daughter argue about their separation, one could side with the mother for not being able to be with her daughter but also on the daughter’s side for not trying hard enough.

    The film covers important social issues - the main one being the co-habitation of different classes.  Both Val, the maid and her employer, Barbara who she calls Dona Barbara are living in perfect harmony provided their unwritten rules are kept.  Other issues covered are the absent mother and daughter presence during growing up which again are in harmony till the can of worms are opened.  Sexual desires develop between Jessica and both the elderly Dr. Carlos (Luis Miranda) and the mistress’s son.  These form the film’s most uncomfortable segments.  Muylaert’s solution is to have Val leave the residence and the boy sent to Australia.  Another minor but no less interesting issue is the family’s dealing with drug use.

    The film also contains a few great moments of exhilaration.  The one scene in which Val finally gets the guts to enter her mistress’s pool is funny as she wades in the pool that has been drained and only contains a foot deep of water.

    The film moves believably to a stable compromise in which each party is more comfortable than the present.  Each is happier, the film has a happy ending, and the audience is happier, too.

    Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fXEYqXE4_sg

     

    BEST BETS:

    Best Film Opening: SECOND MOTHER

    Best Animation: INSIDE OUT

    Best Documentary: AMY

    Best Action comedy: AMERICAN ULTRA

    Best Foreign: SECOND MOTHER

    Best Indie:  DOPE and TANGERINE

  • This Week's Film Reviews (Aug 21, 2015)

    Big Films opening this week (about about efficient human killing machines) are AMERICAN ULTRA and HITMAN:AGENT 47.  

     

    FILM REVIEWS: 

    AMERICAN ULTRA (USA 2015) ***1/2
    Directed by Nima Nourizadeh

     

    There is one scene in a car where the couple Mike Howell (Jesse Eisenberg) and Phoebe Carson (Kristen Stewart) are arguing in a car.  Mike: “Get out of my car!”  “This is my car!” shouts back Phoebe.  “Then get out of THE car.” comes the reply.  The next instant, a another vehicle bulldozes the car down a bridge.  

    Such manic action is expected from the director Nima Nourizadeh who helmed the even more manic PROJECT X about a house party gone to totally out of control and the more disciplined scriptwriter, Max Landis (John Landis’ son) of the excellent youth acton hero flick CHRONICLE.  And both deliver in the form of silly but manic entertainment but more geared towards a younger audience.

    The premise of the film is simple enough that any stoner can understand while under the influence.  Mike is a pot smoker living his small town life with his perfect girlfriend, Phoebe.  Mike is activated as a highly efficiently trained killer by Victoria Lasseter (Connie Briton) to save him.  Mike is thrust into the middle of a deadly government operation and is forced to summon his inner action-hero in order to survive.  

    Eisenberg and Stewart develop good romantic chemistry on screen.

    The villain of the piece, elegantly played by Topher Grace is a cowardly pencil pusher who hides behind his soldiers when shot at.  He is complemented by another CIA operative played by Connie Briton who goes against him.  In one brilliant scene, both are brought face to face with their boss (Bill Pullman) both quivering for their lives in the woods.  John Leguizamo has a small role as Mike’s drug dealer, reprising a similar role he did in the drug movie SPUN.

    The comedy and action are as fast and furious as in Nourizadeh’s PROJECT X.  Beware of the ultra violence, foul language and drug smoking scenes.  For the not too demanding viewer, AMERICAN ULTRA has plenty to please.

    Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bLGFwkRx2HA

     

    CHARLIE’S COUNTRY (Australia 2013) ***

    Directed by Rolf de Heer

    Though North Americans might avoid this social drama because it is based on a people far away down south - the native Aborigines from down-under, the story could easily apply to the native Indians of North America.  The whites have stolen native land have imposed rules on the natives who have not only lost their land but their rights.  

    Charlie (David Gulpilil from WALKABOUT) is an ageing Aborigine.  He is of poor health but that is the least of his worries.  Charlie lives in in Arnhem Land, paints tree barks and fishes barramundi fish, all the while feeling out of place in an Australia which is no longer his.  After his spear is confiscated by the police who think it is a weapon, he decides to leave his Aboriginal community and go to the bush.  He dreams of being in what he calls his mother’s country.  He enjoys it for a short spell but eventually falls ill and is rushed to the hospital in Darwin.  Shortly after, he befriends a woman who buys alcohol illegally for other Aboriginals, and he gets arrested after smashing the windscreen of a cop car.  As a result, he is sent to prison.  Director de Heer spends quite a bit of screen time showing Charlie in prison.  These segments really work they way into the audience feeling sorry for the man.

    CHARLIE’S COUNTRY is partly written (he co-wrote it with Heer) by actor Gulpilil, who puts his heart and soul into the film.  He won the Best Actor Award at Cannes in the Un Certain Regard section. The film has the added authenticity by being shot in the Aborigine language which resulted in the film also submitted to the Oscars for Best Foreign Language Film.

    The serious film is not without humour.  “White bastard”, Charlie scolds a cop who remarks back: “Black bastard!”  But the important message still come across.

    CHARLIE’S COUNTRY turns out to be an important film about human rights.  The other issues like health and old age also comes into play.  It is a sad film but the truth is not always pleasant.

    Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qpcfNQ6tiiE

    HITMAN: AGENT 47 (USA/Germany 2015) *

    Directed by Aleksander Bach

    From the trailer, 20th Century Fox ’s HITMAN: AGENT 47 looks as stylist and action packed like their recently released and box-office successful KINGSMEN: THE SECRET SERVICE.  ‘Looks’ is as far as it goes.  Unlike KINGSMEN, HITMAN, based on at the video game is a complete bore and inherently put together.  It lacks thrills, a good story and good action set pieces.  The only novelty is that the film was shot in Singapore - very few films are.  Singapore looks more modern than any other metropolitan city, with its sleek skyscrapers and stunning architecture.

    HITMAN: AGENT 47 is remarkably similar to two other films released at this same time.  Human beings engineered to be super-efficient killers in a government secret program that is to be discontinued.  This line can apply to both HITMAN as well as the other film AMERICAN ULTRA which also share the same opening date.  Then next week, another super slick thriller with another efficient smart looking killing machine opens - THE TRANSPORTER REFUELED.  

    So, this film centers on an elite assassin, Agent 47 (Rupert Friend) who was genetically engineered from conception to be the perfect killing machine, and is known only by the last two digits on the barcode tattooed on the back of his neck.  He is the culmination of decades of research - and forty-six earlier Agent clones -- endowing him with unprecedented strength, speed, stamina and intelligence.  His latest target is to stop a mega-corporation led by Le Clerq (Thomas Kretschmann), headquarters in Singapore, that plans to unlock the secret of Agent 47's past to create an army of killers whose powers surpass even his own.  Teaming up with a young woman, Katia (Hannah Ware) who may hold the secret to overcoming their powerful and clandestine enemies, 47 confronts stunning revelations about his own origins and squares off in an epic battle with his deadliest foe, John Smith (Zachary Quinto).

    For such a simple plot, the story is difficult to follow at the start as the plot points are delivered sloppily.  The script, credited with 3 writers contains too much moralizing.  Lines like “I am what I need to be..”, “We become what we are by what we do..” sound like something out of a children’s book.

    The action scenes contain too many cuts, thus lacking continuity  They look stylish but lack any suspense or thrills.  The action sequences are badly staged.  The street scenes in Singapore where the action takes place contains lots of traffic that clearly do not move at all.

    Agent 47 is supposed to be a robot like human being and so does John Smith.  With these two as main characters, the acting look very wooden.  Veteran actor Ciaran Hinds plays Katia’s father, who is supposed to hold the secret Le Clerq is seeking after.  This is Hinds’ worst performance ever - Hinds, literally wheezing all his lines, because he is supposed to be suffering from lung cancer, Stage 3.

    HITMAN: AGENT 47 could not even be enjoyed as mindless action.  It ends up a total bore and waste of time from start to finish.

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

    MISTRESS AMERICA (USA 2015) ***
    Directed by Noah Baumbach

    If you enjoyed FRANCES HA, MISTRESS AMERICA would certainly be your film dream come true.  MISTRESS AMERICA has everything that FRANCES HA has and much more and served in more intensified doses.  It has quirky writing, nuanced characters and odd situations.  The female view is also very strong, surprising as it is co-written and directed by a male., Noah Baunmbach (THE SQUID AND THE WHALE being his best film).  But Greta Gerwig must have been a strong influence.

    But Gerwig plays the secondary character.   The lead is Tracy (Lola Kirke), a lonely college freshman in New York, having neither the exciting university experience nor the glamorous metropolitan lifestyle she envisioned.  But when she is taken in by her soon-to-be stepsister, Brooke (Greta Gerwig) - a resident of Times Square and adventurous girl about town - she is rescued from her disappointment and seduced by Brooke's alluringly mad schemes.  It is like FRANCES HA meeting her match.

    The story’s premise involves Tracy helping Brooke secure money for her payment she is short of in opening a new restaurant.  The journey takes them to visit Brooke’s ex-friend, Mimi Claire (Heather Lind), now married to a millionaire, Dylan (Michael Chernus) she used to date.  The film is given Tracy’s perspective of life, from her voiceover.

    The film plays like a female Woody Allen film without the Jewish slant.  So, if one enjoys a Woody Allen film, there is plenty of similarities in MISTRESS AMERICA.  For one, the setting is New York.  Favourite Allen issues include therapy, adultery and talk about sex.  The characters are occasionally neurotic and paranoid .  They speak intelligently as if they are all writers.  Non-literary characters do not exist in this world.

    The script by Baumbach and Gerwig contains a few neat quotable lines such as “I need someone I can love, not someone I can keep up with”.  The are also bouts of continuous funny dialogue as in the segment in which Dylan is surprised at all then people in his house when he returns home. “Where do these people come from?”, a simple line like this one evokes laugh-out loud laughter from the comedic set-up.  But the occasional brilliance also stands out - the part about Tracy’s mother and Brooke’s father calling off their marriage.  Suddenly the stepsister bond is no more with Tracy and Brooke now with no ties at all.

    But MISTRESS AMERICA tries too hard at times and appears to be all over the place.  An example is a joke on being broke by investing in taxi-periderms.  It is a joke that is funny but would fly over the head of most, but they still kept it in the film.  The film flies off the handle once too often, but once can argue that it is this tactic that gives the film that rare spirit.

    The film would appeal more towards females, especially those who read a lot or write a little.  The MISTRESS AMERICA of the film title is the name of the piece Tracy is writing for the book club.  But the film is still entertaining to all, as it is a hilarious, quirky and inventive piece of moviemaking.

    Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6z8MCW16uZY

     

    STEVE JOBS: THE MAN IN THE MACHINE (USA 2015) ***1/2

    Directed by Alex Gibney

    Four years after the death from pancreatic cancer of Apple co-founder Steve Jobs, documentarist Alex Gibney offers audiences a good look at the man behind the Apple personal computer.  Though not the first film made on Jobs, there was a fictional film on him with Ashton Kutcher in the title role, this one could be considered the exhaustive account of the man.  Gibney’s film reveals both the good and evil of the genius.  Yet another Steve Jobs film is due for release, this one directed by Danny Boyle and starring Michael Fassbender.

    For a film that tells this intimate a story, director Gibney has accomplished quite the feat.  His film has the appearance of being current, as if Jobs was still alive giving interviews and talking about his work.  The archive footage on display here is impressively put together.

    The film begins appropriately with the world  mourning the loss of Steve Jobs, just after his passing four years back.  From Japan, a place Jobs frequently visited to examine his inner being to the U.S., strangers who have used Apple products place wreaths on pictures of the man.  The film then goes on to explain how Jobs got to be this well-known and respected.

    Jobs wanted to change the world at all costs.  This is where Jobs ran into trouble.

    As evident from Gibney’s best documentaries TAXI TO THE DARK SIDE and GOING CLEAR, Gibney’s talent is exposing controversy and riling up his audience’s anger at injustice.  In TAXI, the brutality and torture of suspected terrorists were on display as was Scientology in the latter film.  At the end of each film, Gibney got the audience close to begin ashamed of being an American as well as despising totally the Scientology leaders.  As for Steve Jobs, Jobs was seen as abusing his fellow colleague inventor by stealing all the credit for an invention, not paying deserved alimony for his daughter while being filthy rich an treating family and colleagues in a cruel manner.  But the worse thing Gibney shows about Jobs is his attack on an Asian reporter who picked up Jobs’ new iPhone he left behind at a bar.  Jobs went all out to get his man.   But Gibney does not go that far as to make the audience hate the man.  Instead, Gibney achieves the opposite.  Despite Jobs’ faults, the audience regards the man as one of the most influential and greatest inventors ever lived.  One segment has Jobs’ former employee Bob Belleville, an engineer behind the Mac, blaming Jobs for work demands that caused him to be estranged from his family.  But when he becomes all tears when reading a tribute to Jobs after his death, one sees the power Jobs has on his fellow man.  Also, using Jobs illness, Gibney engages the audience’s sympathy.

    Jobs humanity and his need for fulfillment are given sufficient screen time.  His visits to Japan and his quest for enlightenment are also on display. 

    But for better or for worse, Jobs indirectly put a personal computer in every home.  He made it cool to own an Apple.  He fought against the biggest company in the world - IBM and won.

    In the end, Gibney’s documentary is a worthy tribute to the man in the machine - Steve Jobs, for he has his audience teary eyed, like Bob Belleville who have seen both sides of the man and have realized that the world is a better place with rather than without him.

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

    BEST BETS:

    Best Film Opening: AMERICAN ULTRA

    Best Animation: INSIDE OUT

    Best Documentary: AMY

    Best Action comedy: AMERICAN ULTRA

    Best Foreign: A HARD DAY (South Korea)

    Best Indie:  DOPE and TANGERINE

  • TIFF Cinematheque Presents - Ingrid Bergman

     

    TIFF Cinematheque presents - Ingrid Bergman

    TIFF Cinematheque celebrates Ingrid Bergman’s 100th birthday with a slew of her best films that will be screened at the Bell Lightbox from Aug 22nd to Sept 6th.

    Bergman comes in threes.  Bergman won 3 Oscars in acting for GASLIGHT, ANASTASIA and MURDER ON THE ORIENT EXPRESS.  She also starred in 3 Hitchcock film, all three of which will be screened, NOTORIOUS, SPELLBOUND and UNDER CAPRICORN.  She also made 5 films with Roberto Rossellini,the 3 most famous being STROMBOLI, EUROPA’51 and YOYAGE IN ITALY.

    For the complete program, ticket prices and dates, please check the Cinematheque website at:

    http://tiff.net/summer2015-cinematheque/notorious-celebrating-the-ingrid-bergman-centenary

    Capsule Reviews for most of the films in the program below:-

    ANASTASIA (USA 1956) ****
    Directed by Anatole Litvak

    Ingrid Bergman won an Oscar for her grand performance as the Duchess Anastasia or the impostor of Anastasia.  Bergman does a lot of crying and screaming in this film.  The scheme of General Sergei Pavlovich Bounine (Yul Brynner) is to find the missing heir in order to claim a tidy sum of millions of pounds. But the trouble besides having to teach her manners, her history, her background etc. is that he falls in love with her.  Helen Hayes has the role of the Dowager Empress Maria Feodorovna, the grandmother whose reaction would convince the world whether the lady presented to her is the real Anastasia.  Litvak’s film, beautifully directed, is a grand period piece with rich and funny dialogue to match.  The Dowager has a priceless line - the funniest one I have heard this year in a film, as she tells her lady-in-waiting: “At your age, sex should be nothing more than gender.”

    THE BELLS OF ST. MARY’S (USA 1945) ****
    Directed by Leo McCarey

    Directed by Leo McCarey based on his story, THE BELLS OF ST. MARY’S is an old fashioned feel good movie when good triumphs over all.  The audience is led to believe that a tycoon Horace Bogardus (Henry Travers) would have a change of heart and donate his new building to the praying nuns.  The nuns are led by Sister Benedict (Ingrid Bergman) who comes to a bit of a conflict with the newly arrived Father O’Malley (Bing Crosby).  Both are of so good nature that the fights end up with each one offering to give in.  Crosby croons a few tunes and so does Bergman.  Both are excellent in their roles (both winning Oscar nominations for best performance along with Best Picture and Best Director), with their facial expressions doing a lot of the acting.  A bit over-sentimental but all this should be taken with a good heart.  This is one film that is difficult to dislike.

    CASABLANCA (USA 1942 ) ***** 

    Directed by Michael Curtiz

    CASABLANCA is arguably the best romantic film of all time and with the most quotable lines.  “Here’s looking at you kid!”, “This is the beginning of a very long friendship”, are lines no cineaste can ever forget.  Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid Bergman play war-torn lovers forced to finally make an important decision at the climax.  Set in World War II Casablanca, Bogart plays Rick who owns he bar ‘Cafe Americain’, which everybody goes.  All goes well till Ilsa, Rick’s ex-lover shows up with her Czech husband (Paul Henreid) asking for escape papers.  Beautifully acted, stunningly shot and directed with great period atmosphere aided by songs sung by Sam including the hit “As Time Goes By”, CASABLANCA is a classic to be seen time and again.  Curtiz deservedly won the Oscar for best Director for this film.

    GASLIGHT (USA 1944) ****
    Directed by George Cukor

    Two great performances here.  Ingrid Bergman won her first Oscar as the new wife, Paula whose husband, a mysterious pianist played with evil relish Charles Boyer who intends to drive his wife inane and have her committed.  His aim is to steal the jewels of her aunt, whom h had murdered before.  The little games that he plays pretending that she is forgetful, losing things that he has tucked away and tormenting her are enough to drive anyone insane.  Cukor’s camera captures all of Boyer’s classic gestures of nasty mischief.  The huge mansion in which the couple live in aids in the story’s creepiness as does the London fog that is always outside at the late hours of night.  Good supporting cast too from Joseph Cotten (if one can dismiss his American accent) as a Scotland Yard detective who saves her, Dame Edith Witty as a nosy neighbour and Angela Lansbury as a Cockney maid.

    MURDER ON THE ORIENT EXPRESS (UK 1974) ****
    Directed by Sidney Lumet

    The most lavish and also one of the best of the Agatha Christie adaptations on the big screen sees an all-star cast with the excellent Albert Finney as Hercule Poirot, the famous Belgian detective.  Ingrid Bergman plays a missionary, speaking English with her native Swedish accent, winning her 3rd Oscar for best Supporting Actress.  But Bergman is not the only actress delivering a stellar performance.  Wendy Hiller, Rachel Roberts, Lauren Bacall are just a few that offer the film’s delights.  While abroad the Orient Express, an American tycoon (Richard Widmark) is murdered.  Under the request of the train manager, Bianchi (Martin Balsam), Detective Poirot solves the murder.  Director Lumet keeps the interest sustained with a very slick and polished mystery/thriller that has its humorous elements in the script by Paul Dehn as well.  The revelation of the murderer or murderers takes almost a full half hour to reveal but it is not the murder but the interaction of all the high society characters portrayed by the top-notch actors that give audiences their ultimate pleasure.

    NOTORIOUS (USA 1946) ****

    Directed by Alfred Hitchcock

    One of the most suspenseful of Hitchcock’s spy films (TORN CURTAIN, TOPAZ), Ingrid Bergman plays the romantic lead and also the damsel in distress.  Alicia Huberman, (Bergman) a German expatriate whose father has just been convicted as a German spy is hired by the Americans.  Devlin (Cary Grant) brings Alicia to Brazil in hopes to arrange a meeting with Alex Sebastian (the fantastic Claude Rains); another German spy who just happens to have a history with Alicia insofar that he was in love with her.  The plan is to get them together so that she can spy on Sebastian and his colleagues so that the Americans can get a leg up on their mutual espionage.  Of course, love develops between Devlin and Alicia, which complicates their operation and of course, their lives.  Performances are top notch and special mention should be made of Rains who makes his villain a human one, with a mother obsession.  The key suspense scenes is the climax in which Devlin brings Alicia down the stairs with the villain, Alex accompanying them.  A full 10-minutes of nail-biting tension!  The overhead shot of Bergman collapsing on the living room floor after being poisoned is also classic Hitchcock.

    SPELLBOUND (USA 1945) ****
    Directed by Alfred Hitchcock

    The first of the two Ingrid Bergman films made by Hitchcock, SPELLBOUND in 1945 followed by the equally excellent NOTORIOUS the year after.  Both films show Bergman hopelessly in love with the leading character.  Bergman plays Dr. Constance Petersen.  When the head of the Green Manors mental asylum Dr. Murchison (Leo. G. Carroll) is retiring to be replaced by Dr. Edwardes (Gregory Peck), a famous psychiatrist, it is discovered that Edwardes is an impostor with amnesia.  Constance, who has fallen in love with Edwardes helps him regain his memory.  The explanations of psychoanalysis that appear on the screen are quite dated and humorous and should be ignored.  Hitchcock’s film hooks one from the start right to the end.  The dream sequences designed by Salvador Dali are creepy enough (crooked wheel, blank cards) aided by Miklos Rozsa’s haunting score.  NOTORIOUS is a brilliant suspense thriller and mystery and one of Hitchcock’s finest works with Bergman and Peck making one of the screen’s best looking couples.

  • This Week's Film Reviews (Aug 14, 2015)

     

    Big Films opening this week are THE MAN FROM U.N.C.L.E. and STRAIGHT OUTTA COMPTON.  Female movies opening include DIARY OF A TEENAGE GIRL, THE KINDERGARTEN TEACHER and SHE'S FUNNY THAT WAY.

     

    FILM REVIEWS: 

    AROUND THE WORLD IN 50 CONCERTS (Om de wereld in 50 concerten)

    (Netherlands 2014) ***
    Directed by Heddy Honigmann

    The film begins rather erroneously with a cymbal player in the orchestra talking about his important position.  It goes on for almost 10 minutes before the audience realizes that the film is not about him, but about the orchestra he is in.  And the documentary goes on to follow the orchestra, the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra (RCO) as it tours the world in celebration of its 125th anniversary.  It is 50 concerts, as the title informs spread over 50 countries.  But the film is not that ambitious to show all the countries but a few -  Africa, Argentina and Russia).

    As one can probably guess from the first paragraph description of the film, AROUND THE WORLD IN 50 CONCERTS is all over the place.  It cannot decide on who to interview, on which country to concentrate on on what is most important in the film.  Watching it puts one in quite the disarray.  But the film is not short on surprises.  For one, the music is beautiful.  One cannot complain about listening to a symphony orchestra.  The stories told by the selected orchestra individuals are amazing and enlightening.  

    Director Honigmann lived in Peru and is the daughter of Polish-Jewish Holocaust survivors.  Her film understandably stresses music’s ability to unite classes and races.  One segment has Russian retiree Sergej speak movingly of a life scarred by the oppressions first of Hitler, then of Stalin.  Another has a cab driver in Africa talk about how classics help him get over the vulgarity of the streets.

    So the best thing when watching this film is to sit back and enjoy and not worry about anything else.  Documentary maker Heddy Honigmann lands with the orchestra in Buenos Aires, Soweto and St Petersburg and shows how the ensemble succeeds in gaining the hearts of people with a different cultural background.   It is a remarkable journey to the centre and the power of music which knows how to touch unexpected emotions and which helps to overcome the pain of living.

    Trailer:https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=H2Hs2zksyV0

    DIARY OF A TEENAGE GIRL (UA 2015) ***
    Directed by Marielle Heller

    One can expect writer/director Marielle Heller to know the character of her teenager protagonist quite well.  After all, she had already adapted Phoebe Gloeckner’s graphic comic (first given to her at Christmas by her sister) into a play which she starred in herself.  Minnie Goetze (Bel Powley) is a complex teenager, immature and unsure with what she wants but still intelligent enough to make the right choices in life.  Heller paints a winning portrait of a teenager who comes off better when she first started.

    The premise of the film is a teen daughter who has an affair with her mother’s boyfriend.  She comes to terms with her emotions and grows up in the process - a sort of coming-of-age story.

    Minnie is first seen as an insecure teenager.  She writes her diary which tells her story.  The first encounter with the mother’s boyfriend, Monroe (Alexander Skarsgard) occurs rather matter-of-factly that the audience cannot pin-point exactly who is to blame (both should be) or who started it.  Of course, mother, Charlotte (Kristen Wiig) eventually finds out.  The aim of director Heller is to create Minnie as a typical teenager with normal problems and challengers, showing that the trouble she got into could be one that any other teenager could also get into.

    What is marvellous about the film is its believable portrayal of a teenager.  When Minnie goes head over heels in love with Munroe, it is totally expected.  Where Munroe takes the affair as a meaningless fling, she wants a relationship.  All Munroe worries about is mother finding out.    And finally when Minnie can get him, she thinks twice.  The notion that a person wants what he or she cannot get is so real, and well depicted in the film.

    Bel Powlet is close to perfect as Minnie the teen displaying both the vulnerability, testiness and intelligence of youth.  As for looks, she is pretty enough, but could also be classified as ‘ordinary’ looking.

    Despite the film’s title and the central character, DIARY OF A TEENAGE GIRL is not a film for teenagers, but for grownups who have all gone through the teenage phase in their lives.

    Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=M9LNsSjnqBM

    FINAL GIRL (USA 2013) **

    Directed by Tyler Shields

    The premise is straight forward enough.  A young girl, Veronica (Abigail Breslin) is selected and trained by a strange man William (a buffed up Wes Bentley) for the task of being an assassin.  Her target are for four boys who hunt and kill blondes for sport.

    The film takes the story to its logical end with Veronica accomplishing her mission.

    A narrative mess with quite a few plot holes that the scriptwriter chooses to ignore, FINAL GIRL also is so-so acted, unbelievable and contains the worst action sequences put on film this year or in 2013. 

    The connection between William and the 4 boys is never explained.  Was William hired by the families of the victims?  Or is William a victim out for revenge?  The audience is told that William’s wife and daughter were killed but with no other details given.  The audience is also informed of the death of Veronica’s two parents.  If the four boys have been active murdering girls for such a long time, why is the police not active and why are there no notices on the missing girls?

    Veronica’s training is silly and she does not look tougher or that she has learnt anything.  One scene has her taught the uselessness of a gun because guns run out of bullets.  This logic makes no sense at all.  When the boys are given a hallucinatory drug by Veronica, their confronted fears are too conveniently put together.

    The film picks up a bit once the preliminaries like the plot is done.  This occurs around the film’s 30-minute mark.  Then it is blonde vs. the four boys.  The film becomes a reverse slasher horror pic but without any nudity.

    Acting is tolerable at best.  Breslin is totally unbelievable as the deadly assassin.  She looks too frail to do any fighting, especially against opponents bigger than her.  Her choke holds looks stupid and unbelievable.  

    The film is set in the 50’s.  Why?  It really does not matter when either as most of the scenes are in the woods.  The wardrobe and makeup could be taken from any decade.

    The film also lacks a satisfactory ending -  the one with the pancakes makes no sense.  The girl accomplishes her task, as expected and that is about it.

    The only thing that is a minor lift is the film’s photography.  The shots in the woods look eerie enough and occasionally stunning.  The film is also availbale on vod Aug 14th.

    Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ec1-3Fjxy0c

    GUIDANCE (Canada 2014) ***
    Directed by Pat Mills

    The ad for the comedy GUIDANCE says: “Everyone needs guidance.”  No one needs more guidance than the film’s central character, David Gold (played by actor/writer/director Pat Mills) who has just lost his job, about to lose his apartment for failure to pay the rent and cut off from his sister’s good books.  David needs help.  The irony is that he fabricates credentials to score a last-ditch job as a high school guidance counsellor.  Surprisingly, he succeeds in dealing with the students' problems, getting along with the students and staff until the identity theft is discovered.

    The premise of a screwed up individual making good as a school guidance counsellor is nothing novel.  I have two f**ked up friends who are in this occupation in real life.  (Hopefully for my sake, they are not reading this review.)

    The film plays a bit like the TV series MR. D and the classic back to school comedy STRANGERS WITH CANDY.

    GUIDANCE makes good use of the Toronto landscape.  David is often seen riding his bike along the streetcar tracks (a Toronto familiar site) and walking around the Liberty Village area.

    GUIDANCE is not the perfect movie.  It has both flaws and pluses.  But it also contains a certain winning charm.  And credit should be given to one-man show Pat Mills for an occasionally very funny film.  Though not highly original as mentioned earlier, the ending is off-beat enough not to go for the typical Hollywood happy ending.  For all the effort Pat Mills has put in, his film deserves a look.

    One can only wonder what project Mr. Mills will be concocting up next.

    Trailer: http://searchenginefilms.com/guidance/

    I AM CHRIS FARLEY (USA 2015) ***

    Directed by Brent Hodge and Derik Murray

     

    I AM CHRIS FARLEY celebrates the late comedian’s work, tracing his fame from Second City to Saturday Night Live to films like TOMMY BOY till his death at the early age of 33, in December 1997.  Talking heads are his pals who have worked with him like Adam Sandler, Mike Myers, Tom Arnold, Christina Applegate, David Spade and writer Bob Odenkirk.  The film features quite a few of his successful  sketches including appearances on the late shows.  This is a ‘happy’ film, concentrating on the man’s talents rather than his problems in life.  Interviews include his family members as well as from a brother, Kevin Farley who also does stand-up.

    The film is a worthy tribute that does Chris Farley justice as a comedian.

    This film will be inevitably compared to the recent documentary AMY, about Amy Winehouse, the talented singer who suffered the same tragic fate of drug overdose as Farley.  Unlike AMY which was unafraid to depict her drug abuse (including the scene where she was unable to perform at a concert), director Hodge largely ignores Farley’s drug abuse.  A few segments like the ones with sad Bob Odenkirk and Bob Saget talking about it make the point.

    The most entertaining parts of the doc are the comedy clips.  Farley’s performance as ‘motivational speaker, Matt Fole’ for Second City and then on Saturday Night Live with David Spade and Christina Applegate with the latter giving her point of view is the film’s best.  His appearances on the late shows (David Letterman and Conan O’Brien) are also priceless.

    But the film lacks more insight to the Farley’s demons.  His highs are mentioned but little else is heard of his troubles.  What drove him to drink and drugs?  What kind of drugs was he hooked on?  His social and love life are also ignored.  (Farley went to rehab 17 times and died of an overdose of morphine and cocaine.)

    Why a full documentary on Chris Farley?  Farley though a talented comedian is not a great person that changed the world or made the world a better place to live in.  As for talent, there are other more important influences of the day like the old classic comedians like Sid Caesar, Milton Berle, Jack Benny, Mel Blanc - a list too many to mention.  The doc got made because Farley’s friends wanted a pay tribute to a funny person.  No harm in that!  In the words of Farley himself: “Everyone loves it when Tubby falls down.”   Hopefully this film will be a catalyst for other films about comedians to be made.

    Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=r835keCmzHM

    THE KINDERGARTEN TEACHER (Israel/France 2014) ***
    Directed by Nadav Lapid

    Kindergarten teacher of 15 years, Nira (Sarit Larry) discovers a child prodigy in the form of her 5-year old student Yoav (Avi Shnaidman).  She nurtures his talent of poetry writing.

    But this is not the typical Hollywood story.  One would expect a tear jerker film in which the teacher goes against all odds in championing the boy’s talent.  The story would likely have the boy be a rebellious one, who would have his nature tamed by his talent.  Lapid’s story is completely different.

    Lapid’s film centres on the teacher instead of the boy or the boy’s talent.  Nira shields him and his talent to the state of perverseness.  She believes that the boy should be protected and she protects him at all costs.  She even goes to the extent of kidnapping him at the end of the film.  When she discovers that the boy’s nanny is stealing the poems for her acting auditions, Nira gets the many, Miri (Ester Rada) fired.  But she herself steals the poems for her poetry group, claiming the boy’s poems as her own.  This is a disturbing story of a disturbed person. But on the outward, Nira appears normal with a husband and two children.  Director Lapid pulls a good one on his audience.

    But Lapid’s film also reflects the current Israeli society.  The film clearly imposes Lapid’s beliefs.  At one point in the film, a character compares the decision of joining the army to that made by a moron, which is quite a harsh comparison.  Clearly Lapid’s film favours poetry and art but the film need not condemn others uninterested in the arts.  Apparently, decorator lapis also wrote poems as a child.

    The film also feels perverted in the way the camera also seem to linger on Nira’s breasts or to display the uncomfortable sex scenes.

    The boy Yoav looks too innocent to be able to write the poems recited in the film.  Perhaps this is Lapid’s intention to display the disbelief.  But it goes on a bit far.  The audience is led to believe that a 5-year old child who has barely learnt to speak or write in his mother tongue be able to write poems while just strolling up and down.

    One also wonders at the purpose or message of the film.  No doubt the film decries the decay of art and loss of individuality, but the story is a strange one in relaying the message.

    Lapid’s film is nicely shot in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem adding a bonus to the film’s story.

    The result is a complex film that demands more thought on reflection.  Though not the perfect film, THE KINDERGARTEN TEACHer is a worthy effort and a good thought provoking feature.  The ending (not the be spoiled in this review) is also a strange one.

    Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ewo2SA4qVVg

    THE MAN FROM U.N.C.L.E. (USA 2015) ***

    Directed by Guy Ritchie

    U.N.C.L.E. (which stands for United Network Command for Law and Enforcement, that is only revealed at the end of the film) agents Napoleon Solo (Henry Cavill) and Illya Kuryakin (Armie Hammer) are recruited (blackmailed to work in reality) to save the world. The duo team up on a joint mission to stop a mysterious international criminal organization led by super gorgeous Lady Gaga-like Victoria Vinciguerra (Elizabeth Debicki), which is bent on destabilizing the fragile balance of power through the proliferation of nuclear weapons and technology.   Solo rescues Gaby Teller (Alicia Vikander), the daughter of a vanished German scientist, who is kidnapped to build a nuclear warhead.

    As expected from Guy Ritchie, who penned the script with Lionel Wigram, the director of stylist action comedies like SNATCH and LOCK, STOCK AND TWO SMOKING BARRELS, THE MAN FROM U.N.C.L.E. is more style than substance.  The opening action sequence, especially the car chase (neck-to-neck) is extremely well done, which can hardly be matched by any of the other action sequences in the film.

    The chief complaint of adapting popular TV characters is found in Ritchie’s film.  Ritchie completely butchered Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson in his SHERLOCK HOLMES films turning them from thinking sleuths to action heroes.  Not only is the famous MAN FROM U.N.C.L.E. music theme missing in the film (something that the MISSION IMPOSSIBLE films kept to good advantage) is that the agency of THRUSH is completely omitted.  The soundtrack is filled with spheSolo and Kuryakin’s boss Alexander Waverly is changed from American (played by Leo G. Carroll) to British (Hugh Grant) and the girl from U.N.C.L.E. never appeared till long through the TV series.  In the film, Solo and Kuryakin are constantly fighting as American and Russian.  They never fought in any of the TV series.

    But THE MAN FROM U.N.C.L.E. lies somewhere between spy spoof and action flick.  The problem is that this film and the series in particular are a bit of both.  As for spy spoofs, audiences have seen better in AUSTIN POWERS and in the two French OSS 117 spoofs and as for the other, there are countless action blockbuster flicks released monthly.

    The standouts of the film are its 60’s stylish atmosphere.  The outlandish sets, wardrobe and props as well as the titles and split screen look something right out of the films of the era.  What is short on excitement is substituted for style.

    There were a total of eight MAN FROM U.N.C.L.E. films made based on the series.  They were low budget, camp and more fun.  I have seen all of them from TO TRAP A SPY to HOW TO STEAL THE WORLD and would swap the viewing of any of these to this one.   Still for anyone growing up on TV in the 60’s, like me, this film still offers a good dish of nostalgia even though it just whets the appetite.

    Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4K4Iv_N9Nno

    SHE’S FUNNY THAT WAY (USA 2014) **

    Directed by Peter Bogdanovich

     

     

    SHE’S FUNNY THAT WAYis advertised as a screwball comedy.  But it feels like a bedroom farce.  Hookers hide in bathrooms and appear at restaurants while wives and other lovers storm in and out of bedrooms and restaurants.

    The film features the interconnected personal lives of the cast and crew of a Broadway production with established director Arnold Albertson (Owen Wilson) as the central character providing the link.  The trouble starts when he casts his call girl-turned-actress Isabella "Izzy" Patterson (Imogen Poots) in a new play to star alongside his wife Delta (Kathryn Hahn) and her ex-lover Seth Gilbert (Rhys Ifans).  Why?  The script calls for lots of these unexplainable acts.  So don’t ask!  Into all this comes Izzy's therapist Jane (Jennifer Anniston), who is consumed with her own failing relationship with Arnold's playwright Joshua Fleet (Will Forte), who, to complicate matters also developing a crush on Izzy.

    Bogdanovich fascination with call girls in this film is understandable given his past films like SAINT JACK that got the director banned for life from entreating Singapore.  He made a film about a returning British soldier to Singapore after the war to open a brothel.  Knowing that the government will not approve the film due to con ten , he submitted a fake script entitled JACK OF HEARTS.  Obviously the government found out.  In SHE’S FUNNY THAYT WAY, Izzy’s line of work flows into the film, as does her colleagues and boss, Vicki (Debi Mazar).

    The script is co-written by Bogdnovich and his ex-wife Louise Stratten.  In their real life, Louise’s sister was a porn star that Bogdanovich cast as an actress.  The sister was sadly murdered and stalked by her husband who ended up shooting himself.  So, the part of the director casting a call girl flows into this film.

    The film benefits from the impressive list of stars including cameos from past Bogdanovich films.  Tatum O’ Neal from PAPER MOON appears as a waitress as does Cybill Shepherd from THE LAST PICTURE SHOW and DAISY MILLER.  Joanna Lumley and Quentin Tarantino also make welcome surprises.

    The idea of play within a play and art imitating life and vice versa is played too obviously.  In a lot of dialogue, the audience is to be intentionally vague as to whether the dialogue refers to the real life or acted characters.  But it is the comedic setups that are the  problem.  From the first one, in which Izzy, now a successful star is being interviewed by a reporter (Illeana Douglas) to the hotel room mix-up, they do propel the plot but unfortunately do not generate many laughs.  Most of the characters are also not used to their full comedic potential.  Because the film is quite dialogue intensive, it feels like a Woody Allen romantic comedy, and especially when the Jewish characters like the judge (Austin Pendleton) shows up.

    Its been a while since director Bogdanovich had a hit since THE LAST PICTURE SHOW, WHAT’S UP DOC? and PAPER MOON.  SHE’S FUNNY THAT WAY is not it.  But the screwball comedy haS a few good moments.

    Trailer:https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=h7kLUOjKAqE

     

     

    BEST BETS:

    Best Film Opening: How to Change the World

    Best Animation: INSIDE OUT

    Best Documentary: AMY

    Best Action: ANT-MAN

    Best Foreign: A HARD DAY (South Korea)

    Best Indie:  DOPE and TANGERINE

  • This Week's Film Reviews (Aug 7, 2015)

    Opening this week RICKI AND THE FLASH and FANTASTIC FOUR.  Smaller films include SHAUN THE SHEEP MOVIE, THE GIFT, DIAMOND TONGUES, STEAK (R)EVOLUTION and HOW TO CHANGE THE WORLD.

     

    FILM REVIEWS: 

     

    DIAMOND TONGUES (Canada 2015) **

    Directed by Pavan Moondi and Brian Robertson

    DIAMOND TONGUES (I have no clue why the film is called that) tells the difficult story of an unlikeable female character.  Edith Weland (Leah Goldstein) is a total loser and aspiring actress living in Toronto.  She is also not the nicest or most honest person.

    She lands a small part as ‘annoyed customer’ in a vampire flick “Blood Sausages”.  When she goes for rehearsal, she discovers to her dismay, that her ex-boyfriend, Ben (Adam Gurfinkel) who she had dumped has landed the main lead role.  She cannot handle this and quits.  Meanwhile, her roommate (Leah Wildman) gains a role in a new play.  Her best friend (Nick Flanagan), an equal loser at least has a steady job as a writer but he hates the job.

    The film follows Edith like a dog.  The camera captures her idiosyncrasies and irrational behaviour.  But she lies occasionally.  Despite her behaviour, the audience adapts to her, forgiving her and is somewhat hopeful that she succeeds.  This is partly due to the fact that Edith is portrayed like an authentic human being, and someone that the audience can relate to.  Actress Leah Goldstein is perfect in the role and she delivers a performance to be reckoned with.

    The film is complemented by the music of many indie Toronto musicians.  But it often plays softly in the background so that it can faintly be heard.  

    The tacked on happy ending, especially once Edith comes to self realization of her destructive nature stands out as a cop-out.

    Watching the film gives the feeling of the directors’ predicament.  They, like the lead character Edith, believes that are perfect, and puts everything said to deliver a product they think is great.  DIAMOND TONGUES, about a self-conscious loser who goes around annoying everyone, is watchable and occasionally insightful on the Toronto art scene,but who really wants to pay to watch a film or a character like this one.

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

     

    FANTASTIC FOUR (USA 2015) ***

    Directed by Josh Trank

    A reboot and the third of 20th Century Fox’s FANTASTIC FOUR films, this one is remarkably different from the first two FANTASTIC FOUR films as well as from general Marvel super hero films.  As a result, fans may not be appreciative of the novelty which has resulted in generally poor reviews received on the film so far.  But this reviewer found the film a welcome change.  Be forewarned that this reviewer did not like THE AVENGERS: AGE OF ULTRON or GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY.

    The film begins with a tale of two outcast school kids.  Reed Richards (Miles Teller) and Ben Grimm (Jamie Bell) have worked together on a prototype teleporter since their childhood, eventually attracting the attention of Professor Franklin Storm (Reg E. Cathey), director of the Baxter Foundation, a government-sponsored research institute for young prodigies.  Reed is recruited to join them and aid Storm's children, scientist Sue Storm (Kate Mara) and technician Johnny Storm (Michael B. Jordan), into completing a "Quantum Gate" designed by Storm's wayward protege, Victor Von Doom (Toby Kebbell), who begrudgingly agrees to help due to his unrequited feelings for Sue.

    This story based on a script co-written by Trank takes it to the full limit.  The film concentrates on the four, their friendship and work together with a lot of emphasis put on their work on their teleporter.  This takes the film right to the very end with only 15 minutes or so left for the action sequences, a point that will surely infuriate action fans expecting more fights and special effects.

    The Planet Zero in the film looks like the set of Mars in the GET CARTER film.  But it still a stunning set with the four, still without their super powers exploring the planet’s rugged terrain.

    But once the film gets into the last 15 minutes of action, the film becomes indistinguishable from other action hero pics.  The film has a good and careful build-up, perhaps too good that the climax cannot match what the audience has been primed to expect.

    The last fight sequence seems to appear right out of a martial-arts movie (like DRAGON INN) in which the heroes have to group together to fight a villain that is stronger than each of the individuals.  This film like MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE ROGUE CITY stresses the importance of looking out for one’s mates.

    The script contains a few loopholes.  Where did Doom get his cape or how did he survive alone on the planet.  How the four travel in Sue’s transparent bubble to the other dimension also questions credibility.

    Miles Teller, last seen in WHIPLASH has proven himself an apt actor and carries the film well on his shoulders.  Tim Blake Nelson is good as Dr. Allen an evil government bureaucrat who gets his comeuppance.

    FANTASTIC FOUR feels more like a science fiction mystery movie than a super hero action film.  Hopefully the film will be a hit despite the negative reviews, for it is a good and worthy effort, and this reviewer found the film entertaining enough.

    Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wuV4BCYv-YY

    THE GIFT (USA 2015) ***
    Directed by Joel Edgerton

    Actor Joel Edgerton, best known for his role in STAR WARS Episodes II and III, stars n his own and first directorial feature, a horror suspensor that is as creepy as creepy can be.

    Edgerton gives himself the prime role of the mysterious stranger, Gordo, nicknamed Weirdo.  Gordo meets old schoolmate Simon (Jason Bateman) and his wife, Robyn (Rebecca Hall) as they move to a new town.  Gordo keeps surprising them with gifts till Simon gets uncomfortable.  As the film ads say, the first gift was a message, the second was a warning etc.  Simon tells Gordo to leave them alone.  The dog is kidnapped.  But apparently, Gordo is not the bad guy.  Robyn discovers from Gordo’s past that her husband Simon is not the man she thought him to be.  Who is the real creep then?

    The film plays like a variation of a house invasion horror film.  Gordo shows up uninvited, more than once to turn the couple’s life upside down.

    Edgerton relies on cheap scares, twice during the film.  The first big shock on the audience occurs when the dog suddenly jumps at the glass door at night with the volume on the soundtrack turned 5 notches up.  The other occurs during Robyn’s dream sequence.  Though those are the only two, and guaranteed to make one jump, these tricks are annoying, unnecessary and non-cinematic.

    The script contains a few unexpected surprises.  Robyn has taken pills in the past.  The intruder during a house party turns out to be someone totally unexpected.

    But the film has one last trick at the end that is not that hard to guess.  I guessed it correctly, due to the title of the film.  The film would definitely be more enjoyable if the twist was unexpected.  Despite this flaw, the film contains several other neat turns.

    But Edgerton’s thriller is well paced, keeping key notes of the plot at bay and holding the audience’s interest despite is rather slow pace.  In the end, all the loose ends tie in neatly and whoever has done bad get their comeuppance.  THE GIFT ends up a satisfactory thriller and worthy directorial debut from Edgerton. 

    Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=I3IiZU9JBuE

    HOW TO CHANGE THE WORLD (Canada/UK 2015) ****

    Directed by Jerry Rothwell

    Many would remember Trish Dolman’s  2011 documentary ECO-PIRATE: THE STORY OF PAUL WATSON,the story of radical conservationist Paul Watson during anti-whaling campaigns in the Antarctic in 2009 and 2010, and recounts his history and controversial methods as an activist and media personality.  Watson is a secondary though no less important character in another important documentary on the environment.  HOW TO CHANGE THE WORLD, centres on Greenpeace rather than any single individual.  

    It all started in 1971, when a group of friends sail into a U.S. nuclear test zone, and their protest captured the world's imagination.   The successful protest led to other projects like saving the whales and the seal cubs.  The rare archive brings their extraordinary world to life. This is the  troubled story of the pioneers who founded Greenpeace and defined the modern green movement.

    The film is divided into 5 parts on “how to change the world’.  Start a mind bomb; Put your body where your mouth is; Fear Success; The revolution will not be organized etc. all serve to gear the film into a directed perspective, which ironically was what Greenpeace lacked.  But the titles tend to undermine the seriousness of the topic on how cruel man can be.

    Though the film is a documentary, it follows the formula of a fiction film.  There is the introduction to Greenpeace, the rise to glory followed by the obstacles and the destruction of what the organization had fought and stood for - like a Harlequin romance novel.  Then comes the redemption with all the villains (the eco-Judas Patrick Moore, who earns a living now by talking rubbish about global warming being untrue) expelled, drawing the film to its satisfactory conclusion.

    The anti-hero of the piece is Bob Hunter.  The film is unbiased, showing both his good and bad side.  The latter side is pretty scary, showing Hunter at his worst, being incoherent, indecisive, smoking pot, consuming excessive alcohol and hooked on morphine.  The narration is provided by actor Barry Pepper (chosen most likely for the reason the actor is Vancouver born, like Greenpeace) doing Bob Hunter’s voice, as the film is based on the writings of Hunter.  It is interesting to note that there is no mention of Bob Hunter in the Paul Watson 2011 documentary,

    The film contains impressive research material and is coherently put together.  The film invokes anger, disgust, shock, awe and finally forces the audience to question his/her stand on the subject.  The film’s most effective and disturbing segment is the killing by whale hunters of a baby sperm whale.  The blood that spills into the sea and the factory-like prevision of skinning the whale is almost unwatchable.  This is exactly what a good documentary should do.

    It has been said that a great film is one that would inspire one to change ones life after leaving the theatre.  HOW TO CHANGE THE WORLD comes quite close to doing that.

    Trailer: https://vimeo.com/126619145

    RICKI AND THE FLASH (USA 2015) **

    Directed by Jonathan Demme

    RICKI AND THE FLASH has three big Academy Award names attached to it.  3-time Oscar Winner Meryl Streep stars as Ricki the rock singer in a rock comedy drama directed by Oscar winning Jonathan Demme (SILENCE OF THE LAMBS, PHILADELPHIA, SWIMMING WITH SHARKS) and penned by Oscar screenwriter Diablo Cody.

    The film centres on Linda (Streep) who has renamed herself Ricki.  The story is on her relationships with her rock band called the Flash and her estranged family.

    Demme’s film is easy going on plot but often too easy going.  At one point the main issue at hand appears to be the mother daughter relationship and at another point, the film discards it with the daughter seen sitting alone as if removed from her importance in the story.  The film delves suddenly in the love relationship between Ricki and her guitarist, which appears to be in trouble only to be transformed into perfect love for no reason.

    There are two restaurant scenes that do not make sense.  The first has Ricki and daughter speaking out loud and lewdly embarrassing a father and young boy in their private space in a donut shop.  The purpose of  the scene is questionable as one would think that the script would like to have the audience take the side of the mum and daughter instead of strangers.  The other has the family having a dinner gathering in a  packed restaurant so that they can all overhear the family’s again embarrassing arguments.  If the family knows that there is going to be trouble at the table, why go out, and why go out to such a packed restaurant?

    The film’s ending in which Ricki sings on stage at the wedding to be then cheered along by the entire wedding party and guests is too staged and unbelievable despite the choice of a Bruce Springstein song.  Worst still are the closing credits when the audience are forced to watch he entire cast do their dancing moves.

    Streep looks a bit out of place singing the rock songs even though she did look authentic playing the guitar, which she learnt to play specially for her role.  Question is whether she will earn another Oscar nomination.  Mamie Gummer, Streep’s daughter plays Ricki’s daughter in the film. Gummerhas an unchaining resemblance to her mother and she delivers a performance that seems to be in competition with her mum’s.

    Whether Ricki is a successful rock star is up to the audience to decide.  At the start of the film, Ricki claims at the bar that she sings the popular songs because her audience want it.  Ricki sings a few of her own written songs.  The audience can assume that she is successful in her career in that she has her own songs but not for the fact that she has no money most of the time.

    The house of Pete (Kevin Kline), Ricki’s too tolerant ex-husband for my liking,  is remarkable characterless and bland but perfectly decorated with the lawns and garden perfectly groomed.  The audience is supposed to believe that all his hard work and wealth has gone to waste here compared to Ricki’s rich life without money.

    Despite watchable performances, RICKI AND THE FLASH is a film with a lazy script that ends up like its lead character Ricki, a woman with good ideas but eventually ending up nowhere trying to pick up the broken pieces.

    Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fK1QTSkxlVk

     

    SHAUN THE SHEEP MOVIE (UK/France 2015) ***1/2

    Directed by Mark Burton and Richard Starza

    To those unfamiliar with the Shaun the Sheep animation, it is stop-motion claymation containing no dialogue and very little on screen text from the Aardman Studios.

    SHAUN THE SHEEP THE MOVIE moves the TV series to the big screen.  In the series, Shun is the sheep that does not follow the flock.  He often gets the better of Bitzer, the farmer’s sheepdog and gets into various misadventures at the farm.  It is an gigantic task for the writer/director team Mark Burton and Richard Starza as the entire story has to be told in cinematic terms visually.  The film appears at times like an old silent comedy for obvious reasons, but the directors are very inventive and expressive and the film works very, very well.  An example is the cow jumping over the moon, thigh the moon in this case happens to be in the form of the sign of the local pub called The Moon.)

    The film begins with the daily routine of Shaun, his buddies like the pigs, the sheepdog and the farmer himself) at the farm.  The routines are repeated day after day to the point of boredom, even to the rooster that has to wake up the farm very morning.  Shaun observes an ad on the bus ‘to go for a holiday’.  So, Shaun devices a (very comical) scheme to escape to the big city.

    The film’s funniest segment is the restaurant where the sheep  all dressed up, try to disguise themselves as humans going for an expensive meal.  When the youngest lamb escapes and heads for the dessert tray, things come to a hilarious hilt.  The many other comedic set-ups are just as inventive and funny.

    Shaun the Sheep began as a short TV series before making it to the big screen.  Like many TV series, especially the British ones, the story on the the big screen takes the characters going on holiday to another city.  Kevin and Perry in KEVIN AND PERRY AT LARGE (not released in North America) got into trouble in Ibiza while The Inbetweeners (series not shown in North America) also took to the European city of Crete.  In this film, Shaun and his gang take a holiday from the farm and head to the city and get into their misadventures before they decide that the city is not their thing.  They then try to get back to the farm while dodging the bad guy, which takes the form of an animal containment officer, known as Trumper.

    This reviewer is not a fan of animation where the characters do not speak or utter unintelligible dialogue.  But one cannot go against the grain of the majority.  The film stands at the point of writing with a 100% approval rating.  This film is definitely better than THE MINIONS movie for sure, but I still prefer the Aardman Studio talkies like WALLACE AND GROMIT, ARTHUR CHRISTMAS and CHICKEN RUN.

    Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tQvwiOWpj7o

    STEAK (R)EVOLUTION (France 2014) ***
    Directed by Franck Ribière

    This is the documentary every steak lover has to see.  And the film will not only guarantee to whet ones appetite but to educate on what a good steak is all about.

    Director Franck Ribière travels the world to bring the 10 best steaks in the world.  The journey takes the audience through various destinations including Scotland, France, Corsica, JapanItaly, Brazil and of course, U.S.A and Canada.  It is quite the world road trip with lots to learn from the different cultures.

    One British butcher talks about beef aging - what is known as ‘well-hung beef’.  But he says the circulation of the cold room is a big factor was how the hung meat matures.  The idea is to let the meat break down a little and to get rid of the water.  If there is no air circulation or of the meat is just hung at the butcher’s shop, the meat does not get any better.  Another talks about how he could sell his land in Corsica to own villas but he prefer to keep his cows.  Yet another talks of his ‘Florence’ before killing her and savouring her ground beef and steaks.  The talking heads in the film make more than intriguing folk.  Another is a French breeder, he has an MBA and a degree at the same time, indicating that times have changed.   One butcher says he is now proud of his profession and not ashamed of it as in the past.

    But the bests sights on film are the sizzling steaks.  One restaurant’s secret is to cook the meat twice.  The sight of the sizzling fat and meat are mouth-watering.  And as all the restaurant chefs/breeders/butchers say; the meat has to be fat and the animal fattened slowly.

    The audience is also educated on the various type of cattle, how they are differently fed (grass vs. grain which is the ‘earth’ way) and how the locality affects the meat.  Even how the animal feels just before the slaughter matters. If the animal is tense, the meat will be tough.  Wonder how this is true for other meats like chicken.

    STEAK (R)EVOLUTION come highly recommended as an educational, fun and mouth-watering entertainment.

    Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yXE0EgEV-X8

     

    BEST BETS:

    Best Film Opening: How to Change the World

    Best Animation: INSIDE OUT

    Best Documentary: AMY

    Best Action: ANT-MAN

    Best Foreign: A HARD DAY (South Korea)

    Best Indie:  DOPE and TANGERINE

    Best Western: SLOW WEST

  • Obeah Opera: Reclaiming the sounds from before the Middle Passage

    Growing up in a Haitian family, the memory of a fateful gathering on August 14, 1791 — which would set into motion the creation of the world’s first black republic — has been part and parcel of my native community’s collective consciousness. This defining event was the Bois Caïman ceremony, presided by Jamaican-born Haitian slave leader Dutty Bookman, where a group of enslaved Africans planned an insurrection against French colonial powers of Saint-Domingue, on the island of Hispaniola. The secret ceremony held in a forested area near the city of Le Cap featured a vodou ceremony, launching the rebellion, which would lead to Haiti’s declaration of independence in on January 1, 1804. Never before in history had slaves overthrown their masters.

    But in spite of these over two hundred years of Haitian independence, the real stigma associated with religious practices brought into the Caribbean, and the Americas as a whole, by enslaved Africans across the Middle Passage has largely remained. The diverse incarnations of the Yoruba mythology system of beliefs from West Africa found in vodou (vodun or voodoo), Santerià or Obeah are often characterized as devilish and evil. In order to survive and maintain their cultural roots in the plantations of the Caribbean, Brazil and other places, the displaced African practitioners often had to mask their ancestral beliefs by using the guise of Roman Catholicism.

    “They burned our drums,” said Toronto-based filmmaker, director and playwright Nicole Brooks. I recently spoke to her about her world premierea capella musical odyssey, Obeah Opera — commissioned by Panamania, the 35-day arts and cultural festival. Produced by Culchahworks Arts Collective, in association with Nightwood Theatre and b current, the opera performed by fourteen women will be staged from August 4-8, 2015 at the Young Centre for the Performing Arts in The Distillery District.

    When Brooks staged the original version of Obeah Opera in 2012, she recalls some of the uneasiness in the black community about the play’s title. “We were hearing that people were ripping down the posters because of the name Obeah Opera — saying it was devil ‘tings. Even my mother was like: ‘You obeah woman now?’ We actually had to have a town hall meeting to have people talk about it,” as she recalls.

    Brooks’ idea for Obeah Opera came from her studies of the Salem Witch Trials, which took place in colonial Massachusetts between February 1692 and May 1693. In 1953, Arthur Miller wrote a play called The Crucible, which examined the Salem Witch Trials as a comparative analysis of the anti-communist hysteria surrounding the scourge of McCarthyism. For her part, Nicole Brooks decided to focus on the perspective of Tituba, the Afro-Caribbean woman who was the first to be accused of witchcraft in the town, although she was never put to death.

    Even though Tituba is only briefly mentioned, as Brooks did further research on her, something stood out. “I found some Puritan writings with a reference to ‘Obiah.’ And I thought, that’s not an American term; it’s a Caribbean term. How did they get that? There had to have been an Afro-Caribbean presence in the town,” as she determined. Sure enough, there was. In fact, Tituba itself is a Yoruba word. “So I designed the play to basically put it through the vantage point and focal point of the slave women because they were not mentioned,” said Brooks. “Anytime you look at the Salem Witch Trials, Tituba’s there for two seconds and then it becomes a witch hunt with the white women.”

    Several theories have been advanced to explain the social context and climate that led to the persecution of these suspected witches. One of those theories which seemed particularly salient for Brooks is that, since the people who made up the jury at the time were doctors and lawyers, they were attempting to purge natural healers. “Obeah is a healing art. We understand that our grandmothers would understand the herbs and know what to give when we’re sick and what have you. That’s the Obeah I’m talking about,” as Brooks explained. “When we were brought over as slaves, we were told that anything African was the devil. So any of our spiritual practices, or what have you, if it didn’t coincide with Christianity we would be whipped if we were practicing it.”

    Going back to the roots, Obeah Opera looks at various types of traditional Obeah music as expressed in different regions. She argues that there is an oft-unrecognized link between resistance music and what has grown out of it like reggae music, jazz, blues and gospel.

    Click here for more info about the musical play.

     

  • This Week's Film Reviews (Jul 31, 2015)

    Opening this week is the big Tom Cruise MISSION IMPOSSIBLE: ROGUE NATION movie.  The LEGO BRICKUMENTARY also makes it debut.

    FILM REVIEWS: 

    BEST OF ENEMIES (USA 2015) ***1/2

    Directed by Morgan Neville and Robert Gordon

    Robert Gordon and Morgan Neville’s documentary BEST OF ENEMIES deals with subject matter that would turn away the average non-American viewer.  For one it is set in the 60’s with a political agenda with the Republicans debating the Democrats.  The two debaters are William F Buckley  and Gore Vidal, the former not as well known.  The debates were a brainstorm of  ABC TV, which was number three after CBS and NBC.  For the non-American, who would even care?  Yet, BEST OF ENEMIES tuns out to be a pleasure to watch, compelling, hilarious, smart, insightful and 100% entertaining.  Thanks to the directors for careful setting up of the material and to know what works to entertain an audience.

    The enemies are Gore Vidal and William F Buckley.  Vidal best known as the gay writer of MYRA BRECKINRIDGE the best selling novel that ending up one of the worst films of all time (lots of clips from it with Raquel Welch in it).  Vidal is as controversial a celebrity as they come.  His recent documentary GORE VIDAL UNITED STATES OF AMNESIA also proved intriguing fodder.  Vidal is reputed to be the greatest talker of that time as Buckley the best debater.  The former speaks for the liberal Democrats and the latter conservative Republicans.  They were hired by ABC for 10 debates telecast on National Television.  But they more than often got personal and dirty than speak on the topics they were supposed to.  These two set the stage for TV shouting programs that evolved to popular shows like Jerry Springer.  Their best debate is presented in this film in its best segment with Vidal calling Buckley a crpto-Nazi resulting in Buckley losing it (threatening to punch Vidal in the goddamm face) and regretting it after.

    The documentary is as carefully and smartly staged as any Oscar winning screenplay.  The stage is set at the film start with the raison d’être laid out, as the readings by John Lithgow and Kelsey Grammar inform.  ABC was the last studio in its ratings and used these two to debate and raise the station’s ratings.  If these two could do that, they could surely also do the same for a film like this, regardless of whether the audience is interested or not in America, politics or history.  The film works like spectators in an arena where the gladiators battling verbally instead of using physical weapons.

    The directors also put the debates into context as a period piece in studying America in the 60’s.  There is the post-Kennedy context of the conventions and the rioting and protests that accompanied the Democratic convention.   The ugliness and riots of Chicago are centred with lots of archive footage on display.  But the audience is still reminded that the principal subject of the film is the two best of enemies.

    As the film progresses, one would definitely wonder how the directors would conclude their film.  Buckley passed away and Vidal has the last words.  But the directors end up putting in their say as well.

    Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CzgfQvB2dvA

    BIKES vs CARS (Sweden/Norway 2015) ***
    Directed by Fredrik Gertten

    The documentary BIKES vs CARS, clearly on the side of bikes opens in the two unfriendliest bicycle cities in the world - Sao Paulo and Los Angeles.  The two cities are riddled with traffic jams with cyclists having a hell of a time for the sheer number of cars and bike unfriendly laws.

    Gerrten’s doc has a wide appeal.  Almost everyone drives a car or rides a bike or does both.  And the battle is an ongoing one.  As a driver, everyone including myself at one time or other have been infuriated at cyclists who never obey the traffic rules.  On the other hand, cyclists are at the mercy of the road hog drivers who I have seen make right turns, even when not allowed to make one, endangering the lives of the cyclists, who can do nothing but swear at them.  The film tackles the issue correctly by blaming the traffic laws and the city planners.

    Director Gerrten employs a good filming tactic.  He gets his audience riled up - mainly at the motorists and the government and then in the climax of the film, show how both cities have improved and how the two cyclist activists on display are finally satisfied.

    In the middle of the film, other cities are on display.  Besides shots of traffic-laden cities lie Seoul, Shanghai and Mumbai, the film centres on Toronto and Copenhagen, and with good reason.

    Copenhagen is the number one bike city in the world.  Gertten makes an odd but interesting choice by having a cab driver commentate on the state of cyclists in the Danish capital.  He is infuriated.  Hundreds of cyclists appear at rush hour from every direction.  He has to drive extra carefully not to hit anyone, even though he is in the right of way.  Clearly, the cyclist is King.  The film informs that 3 out of 4 people in Copenhagen own a bike whereas in L.A. 3% of the population ride a bike.

    The film also brings in the subject of population and gridlock, two side plots that do not involve the battle of cars and bikes.  Interesting facts are brought out, such as the pollution level dropping by 50% when the 405 highway in L.A. was closed for a few days for maintenance and everyone left their vehicles at home.

    Then, there is Toronto.  Toronto is relatively bike friendly and lies somewhere between L.A. and Copenhagen.  The number of cyclists in Toronto are increasing and despite the negatively portrayed in the film by the removal of the bike lanes in Toronto, the number of streets with the lanes are in fact increasing with more bicycles on the roads.  The easy target of the then Toronto mayor Rob Ford, the clown again brings the circus to town.  His remarks that he is compassionate at the deaths of cyclists in accidents but that it is at the end of the day, the fault of the cyclists are typical of the words that come from him.

    Gerrten invokes the anger from the audience with the Sao Paulo story of the driver/bike accident in which the cyclist’s arm was torn from his body and left in the car  The driver drove for 5 minutes before dropping his friend off and then dropping off the evidence.

    BIKES vs CARS is an entertaining enough documentary while educating though rather too broadly.  Still it is a good sight to see on film the modern number one bike city of Copenhagen where bikes rule.  Though the war there might still be going on.

    Trailer: https://vimeo.com/72980283

    THE LEGO BRICKUMENTARY (USA/Denmark 2015) ***
    Directed by Daniel Junge, Kief Davidson

    At one point in this documentary, the LEGO character (from the LEGO MOVIE) who narrates the film with the voice of Jason Bateman, cracks a joke and then remarks that it might not be funny because the writers (the two directors and Davis Coombe) are not (funny).  The statement hits the truth on the nail’s head.  But this documentary on the success of the LEGO toy is as assured as the LEGO concept itself, and with that, it succeeds despite being too geared towards the LEGO community.

    Originally called BEYOND THE BRICK, this ‘brickumentary’ celebrates the 1958 Danish company that is the number 2 toy company in the world.  It celebrates the LEGO brand, anything that is brick built, educates on the LEGO community, the LEGO institutions, its projects and includes a few spinoffs.  The film’s climax is the sort of LEGO expo in which fans bring together their prize creations in winning top prizes including the coveted people’s choice award (won by a woman three years in a row).  In short, the film playfully delves into the extraordinary impact of the LEGO brick, its massive global fan base, and the innovative uses for it that has sprung up around the world.

    Since the birth of their trademark toy in 1958, The LEGO Group has produced over 400 billion bricks.  And the film is clear to point out, LEGO bricks are not just for kids, adults take them just as seriously.  Adult Fans of LEGO (acronym AFOL) around the globe are unashamedly declaring their love for the brick, brick artists are creating stunning and surprising creations, and LEGO master builders are building human scale and larger structures.  LEGO bricks are being used educationally, therapeutically and have provided a universal system for human creativity and our innate desire to build.

    THE LEGO MOVIE is inevitably referenced to.  Surprisingly, only one short clip of the film is shown and it is emphasized (unfavourably) that the film was made using computer graphics and not the true Lego brick stop motion, a very tedious and painful process that is utilized in true Lego brick movies.  These true brick movies are developed by a sub group of Lego enthusiasts and their films on display here make the most interesting part of this movie.

    The film omits the business part of Lego.  The part of the company almost failing and coming back to its feet is mentioned only too briefly.  But with the current success of the Lego company, aided with the LEGO MOVIE and an upcoming sequel, the company has great financial promise.  But the film fails to mention that LEGO is a private company and the public has no chance of investing in it.  But the film mentions the business aspect of a weapon Lego spin off, which the company refuses to indulge in, because of its non-weapon policy.

    Cameos in the film are few (directors of THE LEGO MOVIE, Phil Lord and Chris Miller, singer Ed Shereen and Master Builder Lego employee Jamie Berard) and could do with more.  Whenever one appears, the film brightens up.

    THE LEGO BRICKUMENTARY should enlighten non fans and delight fans of Lego.  And the film with a free flowing narrative has the appropriate message: “It is important not to take life too seriously”.

    Trailer:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qGC1ZoZzJ4c

    MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE ROGUE NATION (USA 2015) ***

    Directed by Christopher McQuarrie

    The fifth instalment of the successful TV series MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE delivers very much of the same.  So, fans should not be disappointed.  The only difference in this film is the emphasis on the importance of friends.  Never let friends down, as in evident in the way the characters stick out for each other.

    The film is strictly formulaic beginning with a James Bond style action sequence that has nothing to do with the plot of the rest of the film.  Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise) is hanging on to the door of an airplane that is taking off as in the words of chief of the IMF (Impossible Mission Force) chief, Brandt (Jeremy Renner): “The parcel is on the plane”.  The sequence, no complaint here, is exciting, stylist and fast ending with the parcel successfully taken off the plane, though with Ethan on parachute.

    The premise of the story is the formation of the Syndicate (the bad guys) made up of a multinational group of ex-operatives.  The Syndicate is the opposite of the IMF and Hunt has to destroy it before the British prime Minster (a welcome return of Tom Hollander) is assassinated.  

    At the same time, the IMF is denounced by an incoming CIA chief (Alec Baldwin) who wants to disband the force.  IMF operative Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise) along with Luther Stickell (Ving Rhames), Brandt (Jeremy Renner) and Benji (Simon Pegg) square off against the Syndicate to the very end.  The villain in all this is Solomon Lane (Sean Harris).  Hunt’s female interest takes the form of Ilsa Faust (Rebeca Ferguson) who one is never sure whose side she is on.

    The distinction between the MISSION IMPOSSIBLE films and the other action blockbusters is style.  Tom Cruise has plenty of it and director Christopher McQuarrie (he also made the Cruise action flick JACK REACHER) knows how to dish it out.

    The actors appear to be winging the dialogue in the script.  In one scene, Ilsa tells Hunt: “I give you 3 choices.”  After two are discarded, Hunt says; “I’ll take the 3rd option.”  In English, three choices means choosing three times, not choosing between one of three options.  Tom Cruise answers correctly to choose the third option, not the third choice.

    The film contains two Hitchcock nods, which film buffs would be pleased to note.  One is the famous PSYCHO scene in which a knife rips through a curtain and the other when an assassination takes place during a high point during the orchestra performance (as in THE 39 STEPS).

    The style takes place in the form of Lalo Schrifin’s theme song heard during the action sequences, the slick action fights, the wardrobe (one scene with Faust in gorgeous bright yellow gown with high slit on the side), motorcycle chases, camera shots and quick editing.

    There is hardly any story in the film, or any plot twists.  But M.I. fans are not interested in plot or character development- just fast action, TOP GUN Cruise style.  That this film delivers.

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

    VACATION (USA 2015) **
    Directed by John Francis Daley and Jonathan M. Goldstein

    It has been 1983 since the Griswolds visited Walley World in San Francisco.  Those were Clark and Ellen Griswold played by Chevy Chase and Beverly D’Angelo.  Now, 30 years later, their son, Rusty (Ed Helms) continues the family tradition by repeating the cross-country drive from Chicago to the theme park, hopefully to bring the family closer together.

    This kind of comedy falls into the category of the ‘uncomfortable comedy’ in which the audience is supposed to laugh at the misfortunes of the characters.  Comedies such as  THE OUT-OF-TOWNERS, THE HANGOVER and other VACATION films fall into this category.  The trick is to keep the humour and not let the mishaps occur without any laughs, a fault that THE HANGOVER II fell deeply into.  In that case, mishap after mishap occur and the poor characters go through hell without any laughs generated and the audience feeling uncomfortable.  Fortunately, VACATION keeps the laughs coming, though the hit and miss ratio is quite low, aided by the fact that the characters are all likeable - husband, wife and kids, besides being a family that most of the audience can relate to.

    It is good that the script allows the female to be funny as well and not just there as the  straight act.  Christina Applegate gets to demonstrate her comedic skills as Debbie Do-Anything in a fraternity re-visit when she disastrously attempts to redo her early obstacle drunk course.  To the surprise of her husband and two sons, she pukes and gets knocked all about in one of the film’s funnier scenes.

    The two children James (Skyler Gisondo) and younger Kevin (Steele Stebbins) also have significant parts.  Nice take on the younger one being the bully.

    Though it is good to see Chevy Chase and Beverly D’Angelo reprise their Griswold roles, they do not have much to do but stand around.  Chris Hemsworth is surprisingly hilarious as hunk, Stone Crandall with the very big package that is finally revealed in all its glory during the end credits.  So stay for it!

    Besides the package joke, the film contains a fair number of off-coloured jokes for a family film.  The one about ‘rimming’ should have been discarded as it neither funny nor is it in good taste.

    The script’s concentration on the couple’s sex life and the faithfulness of the husband is a tiresome retread journey down an already too familiar road.  The film also lacks a good surprise ending.  

    But credit should be given to actors Helms and Applegate for trying their hardest in a film with a script that is barely funny.  They do work their best and the material works in their favour.  At times!

    But the two directors and writers, Chevy Chase and Beverly D’Angelo cannot save this VACATION.  At best, the jokes are sporadic.  No wonder National Lampoon took its name off the title.  And most of the jokes were already seen during the various trailers.  VACATION ends up as an unsuccessful attempt at rejuvenating the series of National Lampoon vacation films.

    Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ScMOyURq9os

    BEST BETS:

    Best Film Opening: BEST OF ENEMIES

    Best Animation: INSIDE OUT

    Best Documentary: AMY

    Best Action: ANT-MAN

    Best Foreign: A HARD DAY (South Korea)

    Best Indie:  DOPE and TANGERINE

    Best Western: SLOW WEST

  • TIFF Cinematheque Presents - Technicolour

    TIFF Cinematheque Presents - Dreaming in Technicolour (PART 1)

    Technicolor is a colour motion picture process invented in 1916 and then improved over several decades. It first started with two colour Technicolour followed by 3-strip Technicolour and then a dye transfer process. The latter process was also used to restore films like THE WIZARD OF OZ, APOCALYPSE NOW REDUX and REAR WINDOW, all three of which will be screened in this series.

    Other films that initially utilized the colour process include melodramas like ALL THAT HEAVEN KNOWS and epics like LAWRENCE OF ARABIA. Needless to say, the best way to experience Tehnicolour is to experience it on the big screen.

    For a complete listing of films in this series, for ticket pricing and venue, please check the TIFF website at tiff.net

    TIFF Cinematheque Presents - Dreaming in Technicolour

    ALL THAT HEAVEN ALLOWS (USA 1955) **
    Directed by Douglas Sirk

    allthatheavenba

    Melodramatic Douglas Sirk takes his movie full tilt with the story of widow Cary Scott’s (Jane Wyman) love affair with younger hunk, Ron Kirby (Rock Hudson). They romance is looked down upon by not only her grown-up children but by her social circle.  The film is full of colour (the car, for example that Ron drives is in three colours) which makes it one of the perfect films to showcase the Technicolour process in this film series. The snow that falls in the film is artificial as can be seen flicked away from the clothes long after the characters have been in the room long after. But the script by Peg Senwick leaves much to be desired. It is predictable, ucorny and at times unbelievable over-the-top. The lack of chemistry between Hudson (whom everyone knows is gay now but not then) and Wyman does not help either. Their two characters fall in love after a few meetings and begin awkward kisses. But the worst is the film’s last segment that turns a happy ending to more melodrama.

    (Screening June 30)

    BLACK NARCISSUS (UK 1947) ****

    Directed by Michale Power and Emeric Pressburger

    Based on the novel of the same name, BLACK NARCISSUS refers to the name of the perfume worn by  the young general (Sabu) while attending one of his classes at the convent/school.  The film is a religious drama shot in glorious Technicolour by Jack Cardfiff (as the opening credits proclaim).  True, the film is extremely colourful from the costumes, flowers and scenery despite the fact that the film was shot at Pinewood Studios and not in the Himalayas.  The story involves the nuns led by Sister Clodagh (Deborah Kerr) setting up of a school and hospital up in a remote location in the Himalayas (the Palace of Mopu, near Darjeeling) for the local people, only to find themselves increasingly seduced by the sensuality of their surroundings in a converted seraglio high up in the mountains.   It does not help that the local British agent Mr Dean (David Farrar), always in shorts, arouses the sexuality of both Clodagh and Sister Ruth (Kathleen Byron).  Lots of good British drama and dialogue despite the staged look of the film.

    (Screening July 7)

    BONNIE AND CLYDE (USA 1967) ***** Top 10

    Directed by Arthur Penn

    bonnieandclydeba

    A landmark gangster film in many ways from the violence to its sex and nudity! The film begins with the meeting of Bonne Parker (Faye Dunaway) with bank robber Clyde Barrow (Warren Beatty) as she spots him while naked trying to steal her mother’s car. From then on, it is one hell ride for the audience with director Penn glamorizing the lifestyle of BONNIE AND CLYDE. The film is very stylish and the performances more than excellent, garnishing all four leads Academy Award nominations in the acting categories. Estelle Parsons won the Best Supporting Actress Oscar for her portrayal of the immensely irritating screaming wife and sister-in-law of Clyde Barrow. This highly successfully film made stars of all the leads including Michael J. Pollard as C.W. Moss the not too bright driver who parks the getaway car during one bank robbery. The film also contains a very touching scene between Bonnie’s mother and her. The depression era is stunningly captured on film with Burnett Guffery winning the Oscar for Best Cinematography. BONNIE AND CLYDE is highly enjoyable, perfectly directed and a film to be viewed again and again.

    (Screening June 23)

    THE FOUR FEATHERS (UK 1939) ****

    Directed by Zoltan Korda 

    This 1939 adaptation of the venerable novel by A.E.W. Mason, directed by Zoltan Korda and produced by bother Alexander is considered the best of all The Four Feathers films.  Shot in glorious Technicolour, the film features spectacular battles between the British forces and the natives in Sudan on camels and horses.  The spectacle is matched only by the human drama that makes the film even more interesting.  In the midst of all the troubles, upper-class non-conformist Harry Faversham (John Clements) resigns his commission and is promptly accused of cowardice by his friends and fiancée.  Determined to discover his true cowardice or courage for himself, Faversham travels to North Africa incognito, adopts the disguise of a native slave, and plunges into the centre of battle. Sir Ralph Richardson is memorable as one of Harry’s friends, John who grows blind from sunstroke while on duty and is heroically rescued by Harry.  The dialogue is all so camp despite the serious subject of heroism and cowardice.  

    (Screening Aug 13)

    THE GODFATHER (USA 1970) ***** TOP 10

    Directed by Francis Ford Coppola

    godfatherba

    The original Best Picture Oscar winner that spurned two critically acclaimed and box-office successful sequels Parts I and II still stands at the best of the three. Based on the novel and co-written by Mario Puzo, this is the epic story of the Corleone Mafia clan, its troubles and how it finally manages to stay on top by extremely violent means. The film opens with the wedding of the Godfather’s (Marlon Brando) daughter’s (Talia Shire) wedding. As the Don is being greeted by various ‘guests’ requesting favours (See Image), Coppola’s film cuts to the celebrations in which many things are going on in between the lines or images. The sons are introduced from hot-tempered Sonny (James Caan), adopted Tom Hagan (Robert Duvall) to eldest Alfredo (John Cazale) to the favourite youngest Michael (Al Pacino) who will eventually inherit the position of Godfather. The film is scattered with violent killings from strangulation, knifing, gunning to the beheading of a horse. The ending is a brilliant intercutting of the assassination of the 5 other family heads amidst the christening of Michael’s Christening of his Godson in which he denounces Satan and his deeds. Everything else about the film is near perfect including Nino Rota’s riveting score and Brando’s performance that won him the Oscar for Best Actor.

    (Screening Aug 2)

    GOOD MORNING (Japan 1959) ****

    Directed by Yasujiro Ozu

    GOOD MORNING ends with a very happy good morning where the greeting, uttered several times, affects the characters on the screen.  The setting of this feel-good observational piece, a comedy of manners, takes place in a Tokyo suburb.  The action weaves in and out of the tiny houses in the suburbs as the various characters carry out their daily routines.  Among them is Mrs. Hayashi, the treasurer, has has given the dues to the chairwoman, Mrs Haraguchi (Haruko Sugimura), who denies it.  But the story centres around two boys, attracted to a neighbour's house because they have a television set.  They pressure their mother into buying them a television set, but their mother refuses. Both end up going on a silence strike against all adults.  And their English tutor and aunt appear to be starting a fresh romance.  Ozu is fond of placing his camera still and has his characters move in and out of the frame.  And it has the feel of the audience as voyeurs observing the neighbourhood.

    (Screening: Aug 9)

    LAWRENCE OF ARABIA (UK 1962) Top 10 *****
    Directed by David Lean

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    If the term sprawling epic was conned, it would likely have its source from David Lean’s 7-Oscar winning LAWRENCE OF ARABIA including Best Picture. The film begins with T.E. Lawrence (Peter O’Toole) dead from a motorbike accident and flashes back to the times when he was a British soldier ending up uniting the Arab tribes against the Turks. The image of a dot in the desert sands evolving into a rider on a horse, the sandstorms and stunning desert landscapes won Freddie Young the Oscar fro Best Cinematography. The sound like the echoes bouncing off the desert mountains also won the film an Oscar for Best Sound. The additional bonus is Maurice Jarre’s haunting score. Almost everything is perfect in this film including the Oscar nominated script by Robert Bolt. The running time of 200 plus minutes passes really fast. This is the film that made O’Toole an instant star. An impeccable film from start to finish in glorious Technicolour.

    Trailer: http://www.imdb.com/video/imdb/vi1481310233/

    (Screening Jun 20)

    REAR WINDOW (USA 1954) ***** TOP 10

    Directed by Alfred Hitchcock

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    Based on a short story by Cornell Woolrich (Hitchcock claims that the best movies are based on simple stories), REAR WINDOW has a simple premise. A news photographer, L.B. Jeffries (James Stewart) has broken his leg on a job.  He has another week in his cast and spends his days looking out his apartment’s REAR WINDOW spying at the goings-on of his neighbours. L.B.’s world has been reduced to what he can see through that window.

    L.B. notices various neighbours, Miss Lonelyhearts (Judith Evelyn), looking desperately for a beau, a newly married couple, a songwriter (Ross Bagdasarian) and a salesman, Lars Thorfeld (Raymond Burr) looking after his invalid wife. When the salesman acts suspicious, like taking various suitcases out of the apartment at various times in the morning with the wife not being in view, L.B. suspects murder. He gets his nurse, Stella (Thelma Ritter) and fashion designer girlfriend, Lisa Freemont (Grace Kelly) to become his aids to prove that a murder has taken place.

    Hitchcock’s film works on various levels. There is a romantic comedy in all this. When the two highly different personalities finally have a common goal of solving the murder case, love blooms. There is also a subplot involving two other romances.

    Hitchcock has proven and especially in this film that he is indeed the Master of Suspense. Hitchcock gets the audience right into Stewart’s point of view, looking through his binoculars as Kelly sneaks into the murderer’s apartment just as he is returning to catch her there. His camera shots of the murderer tossing L.B. out of the window as he falls is perfect suspense generation. When Stewart is watching the apartment of the killer, the other subplot of Miss Lonelyhearts about to take sleeping pills keeps the audience anticipation high.

    The film is also full of humour, especially at the film’s start on the subject of spying on the neighbours. The repertoire between Ritter and Stewart is hilarious. The massage she gives him also looks really effective, courtesy of Hitchcock insisting on perfection of his scenes.

    REAR WINDOW can be enjoyed on multiple viewings. This is more that my 5th viewing and there is always more to enjoy that could have been missed.

    Flaws? I wondered initially at the film’s climatic segment when the killer entered L.B.’s apartment with the door unlocked. Why did L.B. leave the door unlocked when he knew the killer was about to come in?. Upon reflection, the answer was rather obvious, as L.B. was in a cast and cannot reach the lock of the front door. Why then did he leave the door unlocked? The reason would be to let both the nurse, Stella and Lisa in without having to make too many temporary spare keys.

    REAR WINDOW also gives a new meaning to the word flash photography. REAR WINDOW though dated (the use of land lines and no cell phones; lcm of air-conditioning) still stands the test of time as one of the best suspense thrillers of all time.

    Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6kCcZCMYw38

    (Screening Jul 25)

    SINGIN’ IN THE RAIN (USA 1952) ****

    Directed by Stanley Donen and Gene Kelly

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    Many has described SINGIN’ IN THE RAIN as the happiest musical of all time. In many ways this is true for the abs colourful musical sequences not to mention the famous dancing in the rain segment performed by Gene Kelly. But his co-star Donald O’Connor upstages him in his solo number “Make ‘Em Laugh” earlier on in the film. The mundane plot deals with the transition of a silent movie studio to sound. Gene Kelly plays movie star Don Lockwood and Debbie Reynolds plays his girlfriend Kathy. She stands in for Don’s talentless costar but famous actress Lina Lamont played by Jean Hagen. Never mind the sillyplot and romance, the musical is what this delightful film is all about. And it lives unto its title as the happiest musical of all time.

    (Screening June 19)

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

    Opening this week are PIXELS and PAPER TOWNS.  Smaller films opening include AMERICAN HEIST and the new Woody Allen comedy drama IRRATIONAL MAN.

    Do not miss the South Korean action comedy A HARD DAY,a surprise gem.

    FILM REVIEWS: 

    AMERICAN HEIST (USA 2014) ***

    Directed by Sarik Andreasyan

     

    Armenian director Sarik Andreasyan known for directing Russian films and for producing the English film THE DOUBLE makes his English language film debut with AMERICAN HEIST, an action thriller drama aided with some quirky performances by Hollywood stars.

    The film begins with James, with some scratches on his face leaving his car and walking in a covered parking garage.  What is happening here?  There are sounds of what might be an explosion.  Director Andreasyan supposed that this would arouse his audience’s curiosity and flashes back to a day earlier as to reveal the events that has led to this scene.  The scene is revisited in 30 minutes, a third into the movie.

    This is Andreasyan’s movie.  From what is seen so far, he does what he wants and what he thinks the audience feels or wants to see.  This might not be the case and what is presented on screen might not be perfect but his view is nevertheless exciting and a compelling watch at times.

    James (Hayden Christensen), a man with nothing to lose, owes his life to his older brother Frankie (Adrien Brody) after taking the rap for a crime they did together.  While Frankie served time, James worked to turn his life around.  He manages to get a job and begins courting with his girlfriend Emily (Jordana Brewster). Now, Frankie is released and back on the streets with no money and no place to go. They end up committing the AMERICAN HEIST of the film’s title.

    There is a confrontational segment between the two brothers that contains laughable dialogue but is executed so well (credit to both the camera work and to actors Brody and Christensen) that it works.

    The script is occasionally hilarious especially with Sugar (Akon), Frankie’s hood buddy revealing his view on the American dream and how he thinks every generation needs a revolution.  I take it Raul Inglis who wrote the script is writing in good fun and not dead serious in his politics.

    The actual heist takes place at the half point mark of the film and drags on for the last half of the movie.  The pacing is odd, with a fair chunk of time devoted to the brothers talking while a shoot-out is going on outside the bank.  The execution of the heist is over-the-top and unrealistic.  This includes a helicopter that is shot down with a portion stuck and dangling from a building.  It is neat-looking but there is no purpose for all this.

    The  sibling drama and the action of the heist do not blend at all.  Christensen is more believable than Brody who resorts to erratic gestures and street talk to inhabit his role.  There is little feeling for the brothers’ dilemma as there is little excitement in the action sequences.

    AMERICAN HEIST turns out to be a moderately $10 million budget Russian American coproducer curiosity piece which was also co-produced by Christensen.

    Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QY_IOn0fsc0

    A HARD DAY (South Korea 2014) ****

    Directed by Kim Seong-hun

    South Korean’s latest addition to its list of excellent film exports arrives as an energetic crime action comedy A HARD DAY.  The film is more action than comedy with the events that transpire being unexpected, crazy and occasionally satirical.  The direct translation of its Korean title is TAKE IT TO THE END, which more accurately describes the intent of the film’s protagonist, homicide detective Ko Gun-su (Lee Sun-kyun).

    Homicide detective Ko Gun-su is as implied by the film’s title, having a hard day. His mother has just died and he and his colleagues are being investigated by the internal affairs over drugs and bribery charges. Then on his way to his mother's funeral, he drives recklessly and commits a fatal hit and run.  He covers up the accident by hiding the corpse in his deceased mother's coffin. But someone has been watching all along, and Gun-su gets a mysterious call from a person claiming that he was the sole witness to the crime, who now begins to blackmail him.

    The above premise is utilized to its full manic potential.  But the film is also full of suspenseful segments, most involving Det. Ko in a precarious situation when he is about to get caught for something or other.  Whatever can go wrong does for poor Det. Ko.  His cell phone is dropped into the coffin after he seals it.  The person blackmailing him turns out to be another Detective, Det. Park (Jo Jin-woong) from Internal Affairs who is more crooked than him.  A segment of their hand-to-hand no holds barred fight in a toilet is something right out of a looney-tunes cartoon - similar to the road rage segment in the recent Argentine/Spanish comedy WILD TALES.   Though Ko is not the perfect human being, corrupt and abusive, one always has sympathy for a fellow human being having a bad day.  The audience can relate.  Actor Lee portrays him as a likeable character which helps the audience to like the film.  

    Besides the flashes of inventiveness of the script, the camera work is impressively stunning and appropriate from its camera angles, continuity of the chases and especially the overhead crane shots that give the film a certain classy look.  The plot contains twists at every corner that keeps the audience executed and at the edge of their seats from start to end.  Credibility might be pushed a bit, but who cares as the film is entertaining enough.

    A HARD DAY is a surprisingly well directed, written, shot and acted action comedy that is the perfect entertainment for anyone, especially one having a hard day.

    A HARD DAY won stellar reviews at Cannes 2014 and went on to win its director many Best Director award including one from the Korean Association of Film Critics.  The film looks to be picked up for a Hollywood remake.

    Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pG8iJa4dYPc

    IRRATIONAL MAN (USA 2015) ***

    Directed by Woody Allen

    After his ‘European tour’, Woody Allen returns to the U.S. with his latest film, on one of his favourite subjects - murder.  Allen has entertained this theme in films like MANHATTAN MURDER MYSTERY and in his hugely successful come-back film MATCH POINT.  IRRATIONAL MAN unites Joaquin Phoenix (last seen brooding in INHERENT VICE) and Allen in a welcome collaboration with Phoenix in yet another brooding anti-hero character.

    At the small-town fictitious college campus of Braylin (film shot at Salve Regina University in newport), philosophy professor Abe Lucas (Joaquin Phoenix) finds himself in an existential crisis, as in many the typical Allen protagonist. He discovers a new purpose in life when he discovers an opportunity to murder an evil judge.  He figures the world will be a better place without the man.  And this purpose rejuvenates his life.  He is able to have sex again, eat better and gains a purpose in life.  He carries out the deed.  At the same time, he enters into a relationship with Jill Pollard (Emma Stone), one of his students.  But Jill, initially impressed by Lucas’ philosophy of life, turns disgusted when she discovers his deed.

    This is Allen’s most controlled film in terms of comedy.  There are funny moments, without doubt, and at times, it seems that a comedy is about to burst out of this mystery drama.   The comedy occurs mostly early in the film and particularly during Abe’s philosophy lectures.  He calls his bullshit philosophy verbal masturbation.  This is typical Allen writing.  The film is a murder, the anatomy of the murder with philosophical musings, Allen style that turns a bit absurd as the only too philosophical professor turns irrational.  The last segment has a serious confrontational scene that would have worked if it did not turn funny.  But funny it turned out, not because the scene was meant to be or is intrinsic funny, but the build up to this point just appeared silly.

    The film contains a very weird horse riding segment.  One can never be sure, but it could be Allen putting that ridiculous bit in for his own pure amusement.

    IRRATIONAL MAN has a smaller stellar cast than most of his other films.  Parker Posey is the only other well known name in it.

    IRRATIONAL MAN begins slowly, keeps the slow pace in the plot building and accelerates towards the themes of murder and desperation.  But the ending is too abrupt for such a careful build up.

    IRRATIONAL MAN has one of the most interesting premises in a while.  A human being who believes in his philosophy, carries it out, only to find that those he cares for do not allow him to live with his beliefs.  He breaks down and destroys everything he believes in, including the ones he loves.  Unfortunately the film turns out just as its premise.  The premise is destroyed in its execution.  Still, a new Woody Allen film is still intriguing, failure or not, and is still a better view than most films playing currently.

    Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hP8mPkyBntw

    PIXELS (USA 2015) ***
    Directed by Chris Columbus

    PIXELS is so stupid, it is funny.  But be forewarned!  The humour is right up the alley of Adam Sandler’s comedies like GROWN UPS and HAPPY GILMORE.  So if infantile humour is not your cup of tea, stay away.  But at least we are spared the toilet humour.  There is surprisingly none here.  Donkey Kong does not take a dump nor does Pac Man throw up.

    The film begins in the 80’s when as kids, Sam Brenner (Adam Sandler), Will Cooper (Kevin James), Ludlow Lamonsoff (Josh Gad), and Eddie "The Fire Blaster" Plant (Peter Dinklage) save the world thousands of times - at a quarter game in the video arcades.   At an arcade super competition, a video feed of arcade games is sent into outer space. 

    The film shifts to the present to the odd place of Yigu in Guam where a U.S. military base is attacked.   What has happened is that the aliens have misinterpreted the video feed as a declaration of war.  They attack the Earth, using the video games as the models for their assaults.  So now the grownup kids must use their video skills to save the world from being destroyed by PAC-MAN, Donkey Kong, Galaga, Centipede, and Space Invaders.

    The film contains surprise cameos by Dan Akroyd, Serena Williams, Martha Stewart and TV spots by Madonna and Ricardo Montalban.  But the film is careless in its accuracy.  How would the aliens know about TV celebrities?  But who really cares as this is, after all a Sandler comedy.

    So silly, that the Centipede is demolishing an apartment while a grandmother is unknowingly doing aerobics in front of a fitness video.  Or when Sam Brenner claims that the M.I.T. he attended is the Mississippi Institute of Technology.

    The first third of the film is simply hilarious.  The script contains neat surprises.  The first is when Sam, with the job of a home theatre installer hits on one of his clients, Violet (Michelle Monahan).  They end up driving off together, insulting each other because she spurns him.  They end up at the Oval Office, because he is called for a visit by his friend Will Cooper who is revealed as the President of the United States.  And Violet turns out to be a Lt. Col in charge of Defence.  The last third is mostly action and special effects with the arcade monsters destroying New York City.

    Sandler surprisingly plays the straight man in the movie.  But this does not stop him from hurling insults at the band of misfits at the conference in the Oval Office (the film’s funniest segment).  The other best segment has Josh Gad as Ludlow hurl abuse at the bulked military FULL METAL JACKET style during a briefing session.  Peter Dinklage is unexpectedly funny, while Kevin James does a good progression from Mall Cop to President of the U.S.  

    I cannot understand why the comedy only garnered a 9% (at the time of writing) on Rotten Tomatoes.  It is hilarious with more than sufficient laugh-out laughs, stunning in terms of its pixels computer animated effects with a decent story line that includes a neatly inserted romance between Sam and Lt. Col Violet Van Patten.  And as already mentioned, it is so stupidly funny.

    Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XAHprLW48no

    UNEXPECTED (USA 2015) **
    Directed by Kris Swanberg

    UNEXPECTED is about unexpected pregnancies - two of them.  The two, a woman Samantha Abbott (Cobie Smulders) teacher and her student, Jasmine (Gail Bean) become friends and deal with the situation.  Director Kris Swanberg is reported to also be pregnant at this time.

    It is difficult not to like a film that have sweet moment such as these: Samantha encourages her Chicago class that every one should strive to go to college; John (Anders Holm) proposes to Samantha after the announcement of the pregnancy with an engagement ring on the pancakes.

    And then there is the sympathy bit: Samantha gets sick in front of her class; Jasmine, the other girl who gets pregnant is black.

    As expected, UNEXPECTED is a woman’s film.   Nothing wrong with that, but it falls into the trap of underwritten male roles.  Jasmine’s boyfriend in her words, gets drunk all the time and needs to grow up.  Samantha, on the other hand, has John totally under her thumb.  Her every wish is his to grant.  He is only too pleased to paint the new baby’s room.  When they have an argument, he hits all the wrong notes.  When the announcements in the school for the college admissions, the girls’ names get announced first.  And no need to guess the gender of Samantha’s baby.

    The father figure in both Sam’s and Jasmine’s families are missing.  Only the mothers are present.  Sam’s mother (Elizabeth McGovern) is portrayed as judgemental and over bearing, but the truth is that her reactions are understandable.

    The problem that Jasmine faces about not getting housing at her prospective college is predictable and more predictable that she blames the caring Sam.  But audiences need not worry, as there is a tacked on happy ending.  The film includes a subplot involving the closing of Samantha’s school.  The students protest.  The school is eventually closed.

    Though UNEXPECTED hits the topic of pregnancy head on with segments like the discovery, the ultra-sound, the worries and of course the birth, which forms the climax, Swanberg’s film is earnest but contains nothing really new or exciting.

    Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zzq7dfZn31k

     

     

    BEST BETS:

    Best Film Opening: A HARD DAY

    Best Animation: INSIDE OUT

    Best Documentary: AMY

    Best Action: ANT-MAN

    Best Foreign: A HARD DAY (South Korea)

    Best Indie:  DOPE and TANGERINE

    Best Western: SLOW WEST

  • TIFF Cinematheque Presents - Summer in Italy

    TIFF Cinematheque Presents - SUMMER IN ITALY

    The Summer in Italy series begins June 27 and goes on to August.  A MUST for all cineastes as the series includes both hidden gems and restored versions of classic Italian films.  This series goes on simultaneously with the Vittorio Se Sica series of films, also featured in an article on this website.

    (The is due to time restrictions of the reviewer in viewing all the films.)

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    The following, James Quandt’s (programmer’s essay) piece (IN ITALICS) is reproduced from tiff.net

    which provides the perfect description of the SUMMER IN ITALY series.

    TIFF Cinematheque marks a quarter-century with a stupendo season of Italian classics, which provides symmetry with the complete Pier Paolo Pasolini retrospective with which the Cinematheque launched in the summer of 1990. Several perennial favourites are included (it seems we can't let a year go by without showing Sandra), but several important films which have never graced our screen(s) also receive Cinematheque premieres — most notably the silent spectacular Cabiria, a font for much cinema that followed. The list of featured directors to whom we have dedicated retrospectives over the years is formidable — Antonioni, Germi, Rosi, Olmi, Visconti, Rossellini, Fellini, Petri, Bertolucci, and (this very season) De Sica — but the series also reminds us of those we have yet to do, particularly the great Alberto Lattuada. (Pasolini has reluctantly been excluded, strictly because we have presented not one but two complete retrospectives of his films in the last five years.)

    Given the immense scope of this season's Italian programming, it's perhaps inevitable that motifs emerge: World War II and its aftermath; the moral turmoil resulting from the postwar economic boom; the traumas of childhood. Sometimes films line up in thematic pairs: compare, for instance, the intertwining of Nazism/Fascism, incest, and suppressed memory in Sandra and The Condemned of Altona; the Biblical compression of time and harsh portraits of Rome in Il Bidone and Bicycle Thieves; the double roles, one comic, one tragic, that Vittorio De Sica plays in Signor Max and General della Rovere; and the mirrored portraits of moral drifters in the Eternal City in La Dolce Vita and The Passionate Thief. The season is also rich with comedies — "white telephone" farces, classics of commedia all'italiana, and caustic satires of a resurgent postwar Italy reeling from the materialistic excesses of le boom — featuring the likes of Sophia Loren, Marcello Mastroianni, Totò, Vittorio Gassman, and Alberto Sordi. (It might be invidious to single out any one of these divine comedies, but miss Il Sorpasso at risk of cinephilic excommunication.)

    Whether hilarity or severity is your pleasure, our summer season offers many sublime viaggi in Italia. Avanti!

    — James Quandt

    For complete film listing, ticket pricing and venue of this series, please check the TIFF website at:

    tiff.net

    SUMMER IN ITALY trailer:

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OB5cCOkfr_s

    CAPSULE REVIEWS FOR SELECTED FILMS:

    AMARCORD (Italy/France 1974) ****

    Directed by Federico Fellini

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    AMARCORD as well as 81/2 establishes the great late Italian director’s love for the seaside. The Oscar winner for Best Foreign Film in 1975, AMARCORD (I REMEMBER), set in the seaside village of Rimini during Mussolini’s reign is loosely based on his own childhood memories. The film follows the travails of the Biondi family, particularly the antics of the young son, Aurelio (Armando Brancia) who often gets into mischief from choking from the sweet seller’s (Maria Antonietta Beluzzi) naked breasts to peeing on a fellow cinema patron’s bowler hat. The film is sweet and funny despite its fart and rude jokes. The cinematography is nothing short of magnificent and the musical score by Nino Rota comprising of old tunes aids the nostalgic mood. A film that can be seen countless times (this is my 5th viewing) without losing it freshness and entertainment.

    (Screening Jun 30)

    IL BIDONE (THE SWINDLER) (Italy/France 1955) ***1/2

    Directed by Federico Fellini

    Early Fellini! If Fellini’s LA DOLCE VITA celebrates life in all its exuberance, his earlier film IL BIDONE is the complete antithesis.  The film follows the exploits of a group of swindlers, focusing on their aging leader Augusto (Broderick Crawford), as they go about their "business," reaping both rewards and consequences.   The film feels like short stories put together as the various scams are largely unconnected.  As soon as soon as Fellini allows he audience some sympathy for Augusto, he pulls the plug by showing the man’s other side - in which he revealed as a true swindler with no morals whosoever.  Fellini’s wife, Giuliette Masina has a supporting role as poor Iris while composer Nino Rota adds to the musical score.  Shown in a restored 35mm print.

    (Screening: Aug 7)

    BIG DEAL ON MADONNA STREET (I Soliti Ignoti) (Italy 1958) ****
    Directed by Mario Monicelli

    Director Mario Monicelli’s very funny crime caper comedy that inspired Woody Allen’s SMALL TIME CROOKS features an all-star cast of at that time relative unknowns that includes Marcello Mastroianni, Claudia Cardinale, Renato Salvatroi, Vittorio Gassman and Toto as the safe expert.  It all begins when a petty car thief, Cosmo is arrested.  His girlfriend and former accomplices look for someone to take the rap.  They all form a gang instead, intent to break into the office of a pawnshop to crack the safe.  The gang of misfits, if not fighting among themselves are getting themselves into other trouble.  It does not help that the robbery info comes from Cosmo in jail, hearing it from a fellow inmate.  The film is very Italian, with the characters, all out of work lower class embracing the poverty, petty thefts and desperation of the times.  The humour is fast, furious and original and there is no shortage of laugh-out loud moments.  The film spawned two sequels and a French remake CRACKERS by Louis Malle.

    (Screening Aug 20)

    FELLINI SATYRICON (Italy 1969) ****

    Directed by Federico Fellini

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    FELLINI SARYRICON, set in 1st Century Rome and based on the written work of Petronius during the reign of Emperor Nero is more Fellini’s imagination than anything else. Fascinated by the gaps in Petronius’ lost work, Fellini conjures up an ancient adult piece that is more shocking than anything else. The film follows the adventures of Encolpio (Martin Potter) hunting and losing and finding the love of his life, a sweet boy who can deliver the sweetest of nights. Encolpio’s best friend Ascilto (Hiram Keller) has stolen Gitone (Max Born) from him. A wrestling match ensues and Encolpio learns that Gitone has been sold to actor Verbacchio (Fanfulla). A series of adventures occur which takes the audience trough the decadence, excesses and ugliness of the times. Though difficult to take in, in parts SATYRICON is nevertheless breathtaking, never boring and a feast (though not always nice) to the eyes. And SATYRICON is most homoerotic film I have ever seen even to this day!

    (Screening Aug 20)

    THE FIANCES (I fidanzati) (Italy 1063) ***
    Directed by Ermanno Olmi

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    Shot in black and white, THE FIANCES is neo-realistic romantic drama of a simple couple aiming for a better life. The trouble is that the idea of a better life is different for the man as it is for the woman. The man, a welder in Milan wants to make more money by taking a temporary job south while his fiance wants to be wed with him staying. He leaves anyway only to find the la dolce vita is not what he expected. Rents are high, there is nothing to do and he misses her. They communicate by writing and the occasional long-distance call. Olmi’s actors are imperfect creatures, not only in looks but in behaviour and aspirations. As such, there is a quality of charm they radiate, which helps the audience connect and feel for them. Olmi’s fondness of using flashbacks can be a bit confusing at times, for example in the case of whether the man has remained faithful to his fiance. Still, this is an impressive work of neo-realistic Italian cinema.

    (Screening Jul 18)

    THE LEOPARD (IL GATTOPARDO) (Italy 1963) ****
    Directed by Luchino Visconti

    Luchino Visconti’s period drama based on the novel Il Gattopardo, is a handsomely mounted piece complete with gorgeous settings and music by Nino Rota.  The grand wedding ball at the end of the film is unforgettable and beautifully shot complete with dance, decor and gowns.  The film is odd with American Burt Lancaster playing the title role of Don Fabrizio, the Prince of Salina (his Italian dialogue dubbed in) and Alain Delon playing his handsome nephew.  Italians in the cast include Claudia Cardinale and Terence Hill.  Lancaster was chosen by the studio to provide star power for the expensive production.  The film was a hit in France, thanks patly to Delon.  The drama sees the change of times as the Lancaster character holds on to his power and wealth while playing politics cautiously.  The wealth of the Prince is on wide and shameless display while the poor suffer.  Visconti’s film is nevr dull and filled with subtle humour.  A great classic!

    (Screening Aug 8)

    MAFIOSO (Italy 1962) ****

    Directed by Alberto Lattuada

    A comedy of social errors, MAFIOSO tells the tale of a super efficient and good natured factory Milan supervisor, Antonio (Alberto Sordi) who takes a long needed vacation with his wife and two daughters back to his native Sicily.  His boss at the factory insists he delivers a gift to Don Vincenzo (Ugo Attanasio), which he does successfully.  But things take a turn when he is obliged to do the Don a very odd favour.  He is put in a crate, flown to New York to assassinate an enemy.  The comedy takes the form of his love for Sicily, his Sicilian family, the land as well as his beautiful city wife who takes a while to finally adapt to the village life.  It is a beautifully top tale full of humour, insight as well as horror.  But thank God, everything turns out well at the end and all have become more experienced as well as the audience.

    (Screening Aug 15)

    THE RED DESERT (IL DESERTO ROSSO) (Italy/France 1964) ***
    Directed by Michelangelo Antonioni

    Antonioni’s very depressing film about a desolate character in a desolated landscape.  Guiliana (Monica Vitti) is the mentally disturbed (after an accident) wife of plant manager, Ugo (Carlo Chionetti), responsible for the pollution of Ravenna with its toxic waste destroying the sea and surroundings.  The place is cold, grey with fog blocking out the sun.  The film has toxic yellow smoke front he factories bellowing into the sky throughout its length.  Guiliana meets an engineer, Zeller (Richard Harris) who makes sexual advances towards her.  All the goings-on are weird especially the one segment involving Guiliana, her husband and friends playing sexual games in an abandoned shack.  Guiliana has a boy, who fakes having polio in another weird sequence.  The film has been praised for the director’s outlook on lifestyle and the environment.  But Carlo Di Palma’s cinematography of toxic waste is definitely stunning on camera.

    (Screening July 25)

    ROME OPEN CITY (Italy 1946) ***** Top 10

    Directed by Roberto Rossellini

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    Rossellini’s ROME - OPEN CITY follows Italian resistance fighters and workers as they struggle through hardship and tyranny to etch out a barely decent daily living with their families while just putting enough food on the table. If not fighting the enemy, the Italians are humorously screaming among themselves. The film centres on expecting Pina (Anna Magnani), a widow with son, Marcello about to be married again. Rossellini captures the essence of war in the details and warmth of the characters. A fly can be seen on the priest’s cloak while dust is plentiful after the bombings. The priest is seen playing football with the school children, then passing messages to the underground and also giving confession to those requiring forgiveness. A very moving film made even more riveting with the famous segment of the pregnant Anna Magnani shot by the Germans as she runs from the three-tonner. This is a must-see, one of the best war films made during war time.

    (Screening Jun 27)

    IL SORPASSO (Italy 1962) ***
    Directed by Dino Risi

    IL SORPASSO (Italy 1962) ***
    Directed by Dino Risi

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    IL SORPASSO (THE EASY LIFE) directed by Dino Risi (VIVA ITALIA!, MARCH ON ROME) and co-written by him, Ettore Scola and Ruggero Maccari is a free flowing Italian road movie. On a summer's day in Rome, Roberto Mariani (Jean-Louis Trintignant), a withdrawn quiet law scholar, encounters Bruno Cortona (Vittorio Gassman), a middle-aged boisterous man driving a stylish convertible sports car. Roberto tags along with Bruno and one thing leads to another with the two ending up spending two full days and nights with each other. Through many comic encounters that include meeting Bruno’s daughter, Lilli (Catherine Spaak) and revisiting Roberto’s old farmhouse, Roberto learns how to enjoy the carefree life for a change. And Bruno finally grows up at the end of the film. Though the Bruno character is really annoying, and a road hog at heart, the film slags whenever Gassman is not on screen.

    (Screening Jul 3)

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

    Opening this week are ANT-MAN and TRAINWRECK.  Smaller films opening include JIMMY’S HALL and a transgender comedy TWO 4 ONE.

    FILM REVIEWS: 

    ANT-MAN (USA 2015) ****
    Directed by Peyton Reed

    In the 12th instalment of the Disney/Marvel collaboration, ANT-MAN is seen on the screen for the first time and a sort of super anti-hero.

    Armed with the astonishing ability to shrink in scale but increase in strength, master thief Scott Lang (Paul Rudd) must embrace his inner-hero and help his mentor, Dr. Hank Pym (Michael Douglas), protect the secret behind his spectacular Ant-Man suit from a new generation of towering threats.  Against seemingly insurmountable obstacles, Pym and Lang must plan and pull off a heist that will save the world. 

    The characters are all developed.  The secret side of the thief Lang reveals a good man (the film’s message is embedded in this character) caught dong wrong.  Michael Douglas’ Dr. Pyn character surprises from the scene when he pulls, literally the first punch.  There is also a little romance between Lang and Dr. Pyn’s daughter, Hope (Evangeline Lilly) that is played mainly for laughs.

    ANT-MAN has 3 major and many minor things going for it.  The first two are the writers.  Edgar Write of SHAUN OF THE DEAD and Joe Cornish from ATTACK THE BLOCK both ensure a script that is hilariously funny, original and explosively exciting.  The film is also co-scripted by Paul Rudd, Stan Lee and Adam McKay.  Even the silly subplots like Lang’s connection to his daughter and problem with his estranged wife (Judy Greer) an new beau (Bobby Carnnavale) work effortlessly to amuse.  The third major factor, Paul Rudd playing ANT-MAN guarantees a different super-hero, one that is reluctant, funny and also sexy.  Rudd has developed quite the 6-pack body since his last movie.  Then there are the minor additions that make the film unforgettable.  This is Michael Douglas’ best (since playing Liberace in BEHIND THE CANDELABRA) and funniest role as Dr. Hank Pym.  It is also Michael Cena’s best role.  Cena has mostly been seen in serious dramas like MILLION DOLLAR BABY, END OF WATCH and GANGSTER SQUAD.  But his supporting role as Lang’s cell mate and member of his heist team generates laugh-out loud laughs in almost very scene he appears, even the one where he falls asleep.

    An additional bonus is the film’s parody other Marvel films.  The film pokes fun at IRONMAN as Ironman also dons a special costume.  There are also cameos from Anthony Mackie as Falcon and an uncredited Chris Evans as Captain America.

    The action scenes that involve lots of CGI as ANT-MAN fights accompanied with hundred of different ant species are spectacular as well as stunning to look at.

    ANT-MAN is terrible smart, too funny and entertaining to the tilt.  I have not heard an audience applaud and cheer that loud this year at a promo-screening.  Highly Recommended!

    ANT-MAN is the funniest Marvel super-hero film made by Marvel/Disney so far.  ANT-MAN is a minor Marvel super-hero, that many (like myself) have not heard of before.  The clip at the end credits prime the audience to loud cheers of an upcoming sequel.  This minor super hero that many have never heard of before is going to become a major Marvel super-hero.

    Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pWdKf3MneyI

    JIMMY’S HALL (Ireland/UK/France 2014) ***1/2

    Directed by Ken Loach

    Known for his social political films (KES being his best film, SWEET SIXTEEN and MY NAME IS JOE, RIFF-RAFF and LADYBIRD, LADYBIRD being my favourites and THE WIND THAT SHAKES THE BARLEY his Cannes Palme d’Or Winner), JIMMY’S HALL is yet another of the veteran director’s offering in the same vein.  It is a period piece set in the 20’s and 30’s when Irishman Jimmy Gralton (Barry Ward) built a dance hall, only to be condemned a communist and traitor and banished to leave his birth country.  The story is loosely based on true events.

    The film begins with a titled commentary informing the audience of the film’s setting and its state of affairs.  The time is the early 30’s and Jimmy Gralton has just returned to his county of Leitrim in Ireland from New York City.  Not much had been said about his past but that he was a bit of a troublemaker.  So, the audience is primed for some troublemaking.  This trouble takes the place in Jimmy’s re-opening of the old Pearse-Connolly Hall, a place where the youth (and older too) could come in to learn, socialize and mainly dance.  Th film contains a few early forms of Riverdancing.

    With 15-minutes of flashback, the history is revealed when the hall was first opened and grew in popularity with its socialist and free-spirited reputation bringing it to the attention of the church and politicians who forced Jimmy to flee and the hall to close.  Now history is about to repeat itself.

    It is a simple story that occurs twice in the film - starting and closing of the hall and extradition of Jimmy Gralton.  But it is not the story but the characters that matter.  Though Jimmy is supposed to be politically communist, his political views are largely lightened in the film.

    The film’s two most interesting characters are Jimmy’s mother (Francis Magee) and Father Sheridan (Jim Norton).  The script allows Jimmy’s mother her say, and she does have her full say in a newspaper article where she voices her thoughts.  One cannot help but root for a mother who loves her son, above everything else.  Father Sheridan, despite being the main instigator against Gralton’s endeavours, is shown with some compassion.  But his conversion from non-compassionate to compassionate by Jimmy’s words in the confession box is hardly convincing.

    JIMMY’S HALL is an affable film but lacks the power of Loach’s more controversial films.  His best film KES, for example really strips down all the social layers to get into the soul of the film’s character.  JIMMY’S HALL attempts to just re-tell of Jimmy’s exploits and that is about all.

    Still the film is a homage to the Irish, their language, dancing, life and country.  The teaching of a gallic song in Jimmy’s Hall is particularly moving.  And it is a well made period piece with a lot of heart.

    Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iUQ9s2ex4HE

    THE TRIBE (Ukraine 2014) ****
    Directed by Myroslav Slaboshpytskiy

    tribeba

    THE TRIBE, which garnered three Critics' Week awards, including the Grand Prix — is an unforgettably original drama set entirely in the world of the deaf mute.  The film begins with the warning that there are no subtitles, translation or voice over.  The result is a film that often is difficult to understand, less put together unless one understands sign language.  

    The protagonist is teenage Sergey (Grigoriy Fesenko), arriving at a boarding school for the deaf and mute, and greeted by more than the usual challenges of integration.  He is put through the requisite initiation rites, he proves himself worthy and is brought under the protective wing of the school's gang leader.   But he falls in love, setting up major problems.  

    That is pretty much the film’s story.  Sergey’s development from novice to patriarch.  It is a disturbing story of youth but one everyone can relate on one level or another.  There is the bully, the bullied, the used, the user, the victim and the innocent.

    Director Slaboshpytskiy shoots his film mainly with long shots, stationary and tracking.  Closeups are not used.  The film contains no music.  The soundtrack, mainly of background noises add to the solitude of the youth.  The film sound eerie without music or human dialogue.

    One can argue that THE TRIBE is a gimmick film.  But it is one that would still work without the gimmick.  The main gist of the story can easily be understood.  Trying to understand exactlywhat is happening, might not really be necessary, (another example being last year’s troubled youth film STARRED UP).  But love, drama and raw emotions need no language to understand - as the film quips.  I have see the film twice, the first time at last year’s Toronto International film Festival.  The first viewing blew me away for its shock value and unexpected storyline.  The surprises are gone on the second viewing but THE TRIBE is still a compelling watch from start to finish.

    Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pXN7hS-Evao

    TWO 4 ONE (Canada 2015) **
    Directed by Maureen Bradley

    First screened in the Canada’s Spotlight section at the Inside Out LGBT Film Festival, TWO 4 ONE is a rare transgender comedy about a transgendered female Melanie to male Adam (Gavin Crawford) who unexpectedly gets pregnant as a man.  Never mind the medical specifics if this is possible, the writer/director assumes the audiences just goes with the flow.

    Adam, a transman agrees to have a one-night stand with his ex-girlfriend Miriam (Naomi Snieckus) during which he will artificially inseminate her with donated sperm.  However, an accident during the encounter leaves Adam, who has not yet completed the surgical phase of his gender transition, pregnant and forced to confront the ways in which the situation confounds his gender identity.

    On Gavin’s twitter site, “I make faces on TV, sometimes I am funny” is twittered.  But there is one tweet that says this: “Please, no more pictures!”  Humour is perhaps only in the eye of the beholder.  Crawford’s characters is assumed to be comical, a bit sad and perhaps sympathetic.  But it comes across as humourless and pitiful rather than sympathetic.  The actor’s performance as a whole picture is the key. But to be fair to the actor -it is also the fault of the script and the director’s timing.

    For a comedy, a lot of the jokes fall flat.  The best example is scene in the cabin scene between Adam and his mother (Gabrielle Rose).  The mother makes crack after crack at his/her comments on becoming pregnant, but the comedic timing is completely off.  In proper hands, that scene might be an unforgettable laugh-out loud moment.

    The film’s best segment is the one in the bar when Adam tells his construction co-workers that he was previously Melanie.  Though their reaction is expected, their positive attitude still makes a winsome moment, much lacking throughout the rest of the film.  The cordial mother/son relationship also helps the film win audiences to the story’s side.

    As for story-wise logic, one wonders for the poor fate of Miriam’s current live-in girlfriend (Andrea Menard) who has to put up with Mariam’s infidelity and dishonesty.  She is still there for Mariam after a catastrophe. No one in their right mind would put up with it.

    At least the film is unafraid of being Canadian.  A lot of small budget films disguise their Canadian roots to cater for a larger American audience.  Crawford has his roots in Toronto theatre.

    But the film won a few awards, for Gavin as Best actor (ACTRA) and Gabrielle Rose for Best Supporting Actress (Leo awards).

    Two 4 One is a small, earnest, well-intentioned film, a gimmick film about a male getting pregnant.  But a film needs for than a gimmick to work.  A similar 1972 film, the little seen Jacques Demy’s THE SLIGHTLY PREGNANT MAN with Marcello Mastroianni, at least showcased the gay director’s modern idealistic future lifestyle in his work.

    Trailer: https://vimeo.com/106037011

    BEST BETS:

     Best Film Opening: ANT-MAN

    Best Animation: INSIDE OUT

    Best Documentary: AMY

    Best Action: ANT-MAN

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

    Best Indie:  DOPE and TANGERINE

    Best Western: SLOW WEST

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