• This Week's Film Reviews (July 18, 2014)

    The Disney animated PLANES: FIRE AND RESCUE opens with SEX TAPE, a naughty romantic comedy.  Other openings include Canada's CINEMANOVELS, SNOWPIERCER, BOYHOOD and WISH I WAS HERE.

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    FILM REVIEWS:

     

    BOYHOOD (USA 2014) ***

    Directed by Richard Linklater

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    BOYHOOD is the intriguing notion of a movie 12 years in the making.  A short film is shot every year for 12 years so that the primary character, a boy is seen actually growing and maturing from boyhood to the time he goes to college.

    The film’s most absorbing segment involves the one with the boy’s step father, a college professor who marries the mother, only to turn out to be an abusive alcoholic.  The film bares a tense similarity to Ingmar Bergman’s FANNY AND ALEXANDER regarding child abuse.  And the film is extremely tense and frightening, something rare in a Linklater movie.  Unfortunately, the film never reaches this height again.

    BOYHOOD suffers from the same flaws as Linklater’s BEFORE SUNRISE and BEFORE MIDNIGHT improvisation drama films.  Some parts are manipulative and the same feel occurs in BOYHOOD.  The segment in which Ethan Hawke teaches his daughter and son about safe sex comes off as too smug.  The film takes off though when the country style music sets in.  This is when the film glides on naturally and has an easy flow.

    Patricia Arquette delivers an Oscar winning performance as the single mother of two kids that goes through more marriages in order to stabilize her family life.  Arquette shows both vulnerability and strength, sexiness as well as a fading beauty that has now become a mother.  Hawke, the perpetual smooth talker talks himself out of most of his difficulties in the film.  But the two kid actors are superb.  One wonders the reason Linklater picked the boy instead of the girl (his real daughter) as the protagonist in the film.  He could go either way.

    BOYHOOD is more interesting as a project than what has turned out.  Unfortunately, in the 12 years, something got lost in the way.  Linklater’s film runs way too long at 160 minutes with a cop-out ending.  But the most important question is whether anyone cares for the kid?  The audience did at the start but the filming got lost in the way with the character developing into a slacker from a victim.

    Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ys-mbHXyWX4&feature=kp

    CINEMANOVELS (Canada 2013) **

    Directed by Terry Miles

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    The Canadian film CINEMAVOVELS, shot in Vancouver tells the story of a young woman, Grace (Lauren Lee Smith) prepares a memorial film retrospective for her late estranged father, his work begins to influence her life in strange and significant ways.

    Miles has worked before with bother Jennifer Beals and Smith.  Their last film A NIGHT FOR FLYING TIGERS also observed destructive relationships.

    Director Miles does not create a very likeable heroine.  It is often that a viewer connects with the lead and liking the film often follows liking the lead.  Grace here, cheats on her husband, rampages into her father’s mistress’ house, makes no effort to plan the retrospective for her father and tells off her confidante (Jennifer Beals).

    There is a scene in which Grace appears upset with Ben for falling asleep when they both watch one of her father’s past films.  This is counteract to her ignoring all other father’s films before his death, so who is she to suddenly judge?

    Ben Cotton is the ideal actor to portray Ben, the sleazy, weirdly off husband, Ben  He comes right across from the start as a bit of a weirdo, which director Miles uses t maximum effect especially in the sex scene,

    The idea of showing clips of the father’s successful art films imply that director Miles is capable for doing the same.  But what appears on screen is far from similar.  Making up unconnected segments with artsy looks and odds dialogue like: “Don’t wear underwear,” comes across as unintentionally funny.  Miles’ intentionally funny parts, however, like the sexual innuendo segment are nut funny at all.  The central ideal of the film of art imitating life an vice versa is also a well worn up hem especially in the Woody Allen films.

    Though there is nothing major wrong with CINEMANOVELS, the film just plods along.  One wishes for something more drastic or exciting to happen in Mile’s effort.  The film feels like  Woody Allen film with much less humour and fewer characters.

    Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Yal5FzNXe4k

     

    PLANES: FIRE & RESCUE (USA 2014) **

    Directed by Roberts Gannaway

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    PLANES: RESCUE & FIRE or simply PLANES 2 is the third of the Disney toy vehicle animated features after CARS and PLANES.  PLANES was original made intended straight for video, so like that one, not that much money had been invested into production of this latest feature.  It shows though the film will undoubtedly be a big money maker (with the toys tie-in) for Disney Studios.

    PLANES: FIRE & RESCUE inherits all the same problems with the initial two of the series.  It is difficult to identify vehicles to human beings.  The vehicles have no arms or legs, just painted eyes and a smiling mouth.  It is also difficult to identify one vehicle from the other, though director Gannaway (director of other Disney videos - this is his first feature) has gone through great lengths to make them distinguishable from one another, such as voice, size and colour of the planes.

    The central character is once again Dusty (Voiced by Dane Cook) who now is unable to race due to faulty engine parts which cannot be replaced due to absolution of Dusty’s damaged parts.  Dusty opts to join the firefighters under Blade Ranger (Ed Harris) and applies to get certification.  In the process, he proves his bravery and of course, saves the day with the possibility of another film in the making.

    One must admire the filmmakers for trying very hard to humanize the story and to provide a fresh look to the story-line.  But it is still a monumental task and the film fails to engage from start to finish.  The film plays it safe and formulaic, a fixed trait in Disney films that have proven time and again to bring in money for their films.  But critically-wise, there is little that have not been seen here before.

    It does not help that the film lacks a true evil villain.  The park superintendent with his eye for money appears to be the best the story can come up with.  But the fire fighting scenes (the film is shot for 3-D and real 3-D and all that) are stunning to look at and aids distracting of the film’s lack of a strong narrative.

    The jokes are plentiful but not that funny.  Rudy Rotter is a character and the big party is held at the ‘fusilage’.  The music is mostly country western to tie in with audiences that favour working with vehicles in their spare time.

    The film contains a few eye-opening information bits like the red spray used by the fire fighting planes to control the forest fires.  The film is dedicated (as indicated in the opening credits) to firefighters who have risk their lives to saver others.  That is as inspirational as the film gets.!

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

     

    SEX TAPE (USA 2014) *

    Directed by Jake Kasdan

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    A simple bawdy premise of a married couple, Annie (Cameron Diaz) and Jay (Jason Segel) filming their own sex tape that is accidentally uploaded on the internet turns out to be a tired one-joke unfunny comedy.

    Besides the main plot, the subplots involve the couple trying to steal an iPad from her new prospective boss, Hank (Rob Lowe) with their friends, Robby (Rob Corddry) and Tess (Ellie Kemper); then breaking into a YouPorn facility to retrieve their tape and a few other unfunny unimaginative ones.  The result is a total bore lasting a full 90 minutes.

    Segel has lost a whole lot of weight since his FORGETTING SARAH MARSHALL and actually looks slim and sexy enough for this sex video comedy that has to include ‘mild’ sex scenes.  He and Diaz both bare skin.  But like their marriage that has lost the spark, Diaz and Segel lack the chemistry that makes a good romantic screen couple.  Their kissing less sex scenes make the audience feel terribly uncomfortable.

    Kasdan’s film has no flow or pacing and the script primarily written by Kate Angelo is short on laughs and uninspired comedic set-ups.  A typical unfunny segment involves 5 minutes of Jay getting off Annie's roller blades before having sex.

    The only pleasant surprise is a cameo appearance by Jack Black as the head of a YouPorn facility turning in the most non-irritating performance of his career.

    There is nothing much else to say about this bad film except for the fact that I laughed only once.  This has to do with the repeated joke of eccentric Hank hanging portraits of his face in weird film scenes around his mansion.

    Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UONPSa1VgWw

     

    SNOWPIERCER (USA/South Korea 2013) ****

    Directed by Bong Joon-Ho

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    SNOWPIERCER is nasty piece of work.  The film is disturbing in the sense that it highlights the evil in man from start to finish and seen in both the hero and various villains.  At one point, the film got so intense I was almost unable to bear watching what is occurring on screen.  But don’t get me wrong.  Bong’s (MOTHER, THE HOST, MEMORIES OF MURDER - all excellent films) is literally a hell of a ride from start to finish filled sight spectacular special effects with hardly a dull moment.

    SNOWPIERCER is based on the French graphic novel Le Transperceniege by Jacques Lob.  It was reported that Bong was so enthralled by the novel that he read it from start to end at the book shelf.  A labour of love, the film cost $40 million to make and has already grossed double that in South Korea.  Surprising that The Weisntein Company is playing down this rather awesome film.

    In 2014, an experiment to counteract global warming causes an ice age that kills nearly all life on Earth.  The only survivors are the inhabitants of SNOWPIERCER, a massive train, powered by a perpetual-motion engine, that travels on a globe-spanning track.  A class system is installed, with the elites inhabiting the front of the train and poor inhabiting the tail.  The train circles the earth once every year.

    The film takes place in 2031.  There is a slight flaw here in that the Jamie Bell character, Edgar was a baby when the train began and 2031 makes him the age of a mere 17.  Bell looks young but 17 is pushing it.  The hero of the piece is Curtis (Chris Evans) leading the tail inhabitants in revolt, forcing their way through several train cars to the prison section. There,  they release prisoner Namgoong Minsu (Song Kang-ho), the man who built the doors dividing each car, and his daughter Yona (Go Ah-sung). They offer him Kronol, an addictive drug, as payment for unlocking the remaining doors.   The film is highlighted by several villains, the best of which is Mason (Tilda Swinton), ready to betray anyone for her own purpose.

    The film is shot in various languages, English, Korean and a little French included and includes an international cast.  But the logistics of the train is what steals the show.  The train’s interior is frighteningly claustrophobic while the exterior is a frozen ice age.  The battle scenes are inventive (in the dark when the train enters a tunnel) and a kaleidoscope of colours and riches as Curtis and his men advance towards the front of the train.  The climax includes a good plot twist, indicating that story is of prime importance in any film including an action blockbuster.

    But the film is not without humour.  The kids classroom segment in which the children are brainwashed by ‘teacher’ (Alison Pill) is both laugh-out loud hilarious and satirical.

    SNOWPIERCER will inevitably be compared to the Hollywood blockbuster TRANSFORMERS: AGE OF EXTINCTION due to the proximity of their releases.  It is wishful thinking that SNOWPIERCER will get the credit it deserves, if not make a portion of the money it deserves at the box-office.

    Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=r6UmqNuMdY4&feature=kp

    WISH I WAS HERE (USA 2014) ***
    Directed by Zac Braff

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    From the writer/actor/director of the cult Sundance hit GARDEN STATE, WISH I WERE  HERE again playing an actor dealing with his father Saul’s (Mandy Patinkin) upcoming death due to cancer.  In GARDEN STATE, it was the mother’s death.

    As Braff is Jewish, his film is naturally Jewish as well.  Aidan Bloom (Braff) sends his children to a private Jewish school.  The script contains lots of Hebrew words and the film is filled with Jewish jokes, which are actually quite funny.

    WISH I WAS HERE is a comedy drama dealing with death and relationships.  The family is stressed as the number one importance.  (“If you don’t believe in God, believe in family!” - is a line in the movie.  Aidan is always keeping the kids and his wife (Kate Hudson).    As the ‘death’ topic is rather heavy, Braff fills his film with lots of jokes.  “What are you growing?”  Saul asks at one point, “Typhoid of Hepatitis B?” referring to his son’s empty pool.  The jokes elevate the movie over dreariness for sure.

    Braff, quite a good-looker judging from all the magazine shoots he has been in, mopes around the film, unshaven and with hair dishevelled most of the time.  Braff is generous to give his co-star Kate Hudson the best looks as well as the script’s best lines, as in the daughter-in-law/father death bed scene.

    WISH I WERE HERE is as good as GARDEN STATE though less inventive, and is the typical indie film that emerges from Sundance.

    Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aCponfeWNOI&feature=kp

    YOU ARE NOT I (USA 1981) ***

    Directed by Sara Driver

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    TIFF Cinematheque presents indie filmmaker Sara Driver.  She will introduce her 58-minute feature, a low budget but mesmerizing work elegantly shot by Jim Jarmusch.

    Directed by Driver and written by Jarmusch, YOU ARE NOT I follows a woman that walks as if unseen and not much unlike the undead.  The narrative voice over informs the audience on what is going on, so that the audience is not in the dark like the protagonist.  Slow moving but never dull, the film has been appropriately described as a dreamlike psychodrama reminiscent of David Lynch’s ERASERHEAD.

    YOU ARE NOT I will be preceded by the 10-minute short entitled THE BOWERY - SPRING 1994, a deftly edited but exhaustive portrait of the infamous Lower East Side neighbourhood, tracing its history from one-time prominence to the prototypical Skid Row.

    Trailer: http://www.dailymotion.com/video/xlc0ld_you-are-not-i-trailer_shortfilms

    (Special Screening is on July 24th at 630pm at Bell Lightbox)

    Best Pics of the Week:

    Comedy: 22 Jump Street

    Action: Transformers: Age of Extinction

    Foreign: Snowpiercer (South Korea)

    Horror: Under the Skin

    Doc: Whitey: United States V. James J. Bulger

    Romance: They Came Together

  • This Week's Film Reviews (July 11, 2014)

    The Ape movie DAWN OF THE PLANET OF THE APES breaks into theatres this weekend.  Other openings include the documentaries LIFE AGAIN and DOC OF THE DEAD.

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    FILM REVIEWS:

    BEGIN AGAIN (USA 2014) **
    Directed by John Carney

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    Writer/director John Carney is the wonder behind the small budget hit Irish movie ONCE that went on to win the Oscar for Best Original Song “Falling Slowly” that also spawned a Tony Award wining musical and a documentary  about the film.  ONCE celebrated the romance between two musicians united by their love of music.  the actors were new, they wrote the hit song and their performances demonstrated sincerity and honesty.

    BEGIN AGAIN follows in the footsteps of ONCE and might be appropriately be entitled TWICE.  Again, the two leads are musicians both caught this time with bad relationships.  They find each other with romance slowly blooming, and again the relationship united by the love of music.  But this time, the story is set in NYC instead of Dublin and the film features big names stars Kiera Knightley and Mark Ruffalo in the leading roles instead of unknown songwriters.  They do a good job though they lack the sincerity of the unknowns in ONCE.

    BEGIN AGAIN, as the title implies tells of the story of starting over again.  The film devotes equal time to the two leads Gretta (Knightley) ,a Brit songwriter/singer in NYC after a breakup with Dave (Adam Levine).  While performing a song at a pub, she meets Dan (Ruffalo), an out of luck music label executive separated from his wife (Catherine Keener).  It does not help yo include an estranged relationship between Dan and his daughter (Hailee Steinfeld) into the already cliched plot.

    Besides telling an already familiar tale, BEGIN AGAIN offers none of the freshness of ONCE.  The songs Knightley croons are also nothing memorable or catchy.  The result is a a boring romantic drama about a couple no one really cares about.

    Trailer:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uTRCxOE7Xzc

    DAWN OF THE PLANET OF THE APES (USA 2014) **
    Directed by Matt Reeves

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    The third in the reboot of the PLANET OF THE APES films, DAWN OF THE PLANET OF THE APES exist in the series quite different from the original series.  (The third one was ESCAPE FROM THE PLANET OF THE APES).   DAWN takes place 10 years after the last RISE OF THE PLANET OF THE APES, where the human race was threatened at the end of the film by a deadly virus while the apes escaped to the Muir Woods in northern San Francisco.

    Everything in the RISE movie is gone in DAWN, except for a found video of the human character (that does not look like James Franco) nursing a baby Caesar.  DAWN begins with a rather clumsy assembled footage explaining the current apocalyptic state of the human race. The human race disappears like the lights of a training aid going out.  The footage is mixed fake and genuine CNN News type that even includes a speech by President Obama.   Then the silliness continues with the ape colony and a hunting sequence in which the son of Caesar is taught n important lesson, almost being killed by a bear.  “Think Before You Act!”

    The next 15 minutes have the apes communicate in a mixed grunt sign language with the apes slowly graduating into the English language, with no real reason given.  The human race is supposedly extinct until humans suddenly appear who suddenly need power within the next 2 weeks to survive.

    As if the plot does not get sillier but the human are able to re-generate power from the  dam, never mind the fact that relays are broken down and wires worn out.

    The film takes a whole two thirds of its running time before any action starts.  Director Reeves takes his movie too seriously.  The film take turns with ape vs.ape, human vs. human and ape vs. human in repeated boring sequences before one can say enough is enough.

    Actor Andy Serkis has been praised for his great acting in motion capture, but it this really acting or ape imitation?  Jason Clarke and Keri Russell deliver unmemorable lead performances.  The usually good Gary Oldman cannot do much with his cliched role as Dreyfus, a human leader.

    The sight of apes swinging in the Muir Woods hanging from branches in 3D is impressive enough to draw audiences to pay money to watch this film.  The special effects and spectacle are the film’s the saving points.

    The scariest thing about DAWN OF THE PLANET OF THE APES is that the sequel is already in the making with the same director Reeves at the helm.  The storyline has run out, DAWN had ended just the same way it began with the humans and apes at a stand-off.  This film might be proof that human beings are not the smartest race.

    Trailer:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3sHMCRaS3ao&feature=kp 

    DOC OF THE DEAD (USA 2013) ***

    Directed by Alexandre Philippe

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    Everything you always wanted to know about zombies but never knew what to ask!  DOC OF THE DEAD is the definitive documentary about zombies from its origin (the first movie was WHITE ZOMBIE) to its roots in black slavery to its re-invention through George A. Romero’s DAWN OF THE DEAD and NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD movies.

    There are lots of interviews taken from venues from Comicon and zombie conventions that include zombie celebrities like Romero himself, Sid Haig, director Alex Cox, Simon Clegg (director of  SHAUN OF THE DEAD) and other notables.  The film also records various zombie walks around the world and talks to organization selling zombie survival kits.  This is not that far-fetched an idea after diseases like mad-cow and mad-human disease have become widespread.  Philippe’s film is quite exhaustive in dealing with its topic.  One cannot complain.  But the film is truly dedicated to zombie fans all round the world.  If you are not one of them, you would find the entire exercise very strange though still fascinating.  I could do with a lot more footage of zombie films though.

    Trailer:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gZHLS2PwMKs

    LIFE ITSELF (USA 2014) ***

    Directed by Steve James

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    Steve James (HOOP DREAMS, STEVIE) directs the documentary of America’s most definitive main stream film critic Roger Ebert that recounts the inspiring and entertaining life of world-renowned film critic and social commentator.

    The film begins with Ebert’s rise to fame, his winning of the Pulitzer Prize, then settling a great deal of its middle section to the relationship with Gene Siskel with their hit show Siskel and Ebert at the Movies. The film ends on a more sombre note with his fight with cancer.  Running close to 2 hours, director James has lots to reveal about the man.  But the problem is that as an interviewee says on the film, Ebert is a nice man but not that nice.  So, to be an entertaining doc, James also shows the proud, egoistical and stubborn side of the man.  But eventually, Ebert is humbled by his cancer (though I do not wish this on anybody), forced only to be jovial at a very unpleasant situation.

    Also deserving mention is the much unknown family life of Ebert.  He married a black woman, Chaz and had children.  They were a loving couple.  Chaz remained true to Ebert right to the very end - something that is beautiful in real life and also beautiful to be seen on screen.

    As Ebert put it very well at the film’s start, what his life and indeed everyone else’s is too.  A big movie in which we are the film’s players.  Steve James has made an exhaustive documentary of Roger Ebert.

    Trailer:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=z4SgwBRq-fU

     

    Best Pics of the Week:

    Comedy: 22 Jump Street

    Action: Transformers: Age of Extinction

    Foreign: Like Father Like Son

    Horror: Under the Skin

    Doc: Whitey: United States V. James J. Bulger

    Romance: They Came Together

  • TIFF Cinematheque Presents - Oshii

    In Conversation With... Mamoru Oshii

    The visionary director of the fantastically influential anime hit Ghost in the Shell joins TIFF Cinemtheque for this rare onstage interview to discuss his long and multifaceted career in animation, live action, television, film, radio and manga.

    Date: Saturday July 12, 2014 (at 18h30)

    A series of films by Oshii is also programmed.  Capsule reviews for 2 of the films follow the article below.

    Director Oshii will also be present to introduce the screenings of GHOST IN THE SHELL on July 12 and THE SKY CRAWLERS on July 13.

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

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    CAPSULE REVIEWS:

    GHOST IN THE SHELL 2: INNOCENCE (Japa 2014) **

    Directed by Mamoru Oshii

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    GHOST IN THE SHELL 2: INNOCENCE is the sequel and very elaborate and ambitious sequel to Number 1 and the first manga film screened at Cannes.  Set in 2032 in Public Security Section 9, whatever that means, the story follows operative cyborg Batou teamed with the more human Togusa investigating a series of deaths reaped to gynoids, doll-like sex robots.  The gynoid company Locus Solus turns out to be tied to the Yakuza and the plot thickens and confuses.  Into all this, director Oshii infuses his philosophy an thoughts with references to fantasy, Zen, philosophy and sci-fi.  The references are too many to list and the quotations too abstract at times to make any sense.  Despite the attention to detail of the anime and the great deal of work involved, GHOST IN THE SHELL 2 remains too confusing to follow and impossible to comprehend.

    THE SKY CRAWLERS (Japan 2008) ***
    Directed by Mamoru Oshii

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    Feeling like last year’s Hayao Miyazaki’s THE WIND RISES, Oshii’s film is similar to WWII fighter pilots stuck in the task of battle in the skies.  This manga anime difference is that the pilots are half humans, Kildren that do not grow old, created for the sole purpose of fighting companies so that the world can live in peace.  Human nature still craves the clash of battle, however, so private companies now stage "war as entertainment," creating fictional wars for ordinary people to read about in the paper. The film centres on a young man named Yuichi - has been newly assigned to a base in the fictional war, but with no memory of his past and a mysterious woman named Suito watching his every move.  Yuichi is about to find that this made-up war isn't as harmless as it seems.  Oshii’s animation is a marvel with many animated segments looking like the real thing.  His story is less confusing than GHOST IN THE SHELL 2 and this film is more watchable and entertaining.

     

  • This Week's Film Reviews (July 4, 2014)

     

    Early Wednesday openings for DELIVER US FROM EVIL and TAMMY.  Other openings include the documentary WHITEY UNITED STATES V. JAMES J. BULGER  and the romance BEGIN AGAIN.

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    DELIVER US FROM EVIL (USA 2014) **

    Directed By Scott Derrickson

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    From the hands of producer Jerry Bruckheimer, one can expect DELIVER IS FROM EVIL to get over-the-top in its execution and this it does in a formulaic way, again not uncommon in a Bruckheimer film.  The film stresses from start to end that the story is based on actual accounts of a NYPD sergeant, and in the end credits actually gives credit to this sergeant’s book “Beware the Night’.  But judging from the film that includes an extended exorcism sequence, the writers, including Derrickson (as co-writer) have taken quite the few liberties.

    DELIVER US FOM EVIL tells the story of Ralph Sarchie (Eric Bana), a New York cop who meets a Castilian/Hungarian renegade priest, Mendoza (Edgar Ramirez), when he is pulled into a case -- a case which the priest convinces him, against the officer's religious beliefs, is demonically related.  Together, they work to solve the case and combat the paranormal forces working against them.

    The buddy cop movie begins with Ralph and his partner, Butler (Joel McHale) entering the cop cruiser.  There is silence before they immediately start on a rant on the Red Sox, tossing insults and smart remarks, so much that it is obviously fixed to settle the two as good buddies who have worked with each other a long time.  Director Derrickson (THE EXORCISM OF EMILY ROSE, SINISTER) gets the audience into the horrors pretty quickly with a beaten wife, a mother throwing her baby into a ditch and corpse eroding with flies emerging from the rot.

    Everything that is predictable in a cop or horror movie is here.  Ralph does not spend enough time with his wife and daughter.  He spends too much time devoted to police work.  He has to come to terms with his own sins before dealing with the demon.  The Exorcist falls once again into the trap of the demon, distracted by his past deeds as in THE EXORCIST.

    Derrickson is good with his scary parts and suspense (the lion and corpse segments deserve mention), but they do not all work.  He seems at times, too serious with his material that they turn up funny - unless intentional, which seems unlikely.)

    The film is a bit on the violent side and the story includes a bashing to the death of a child molester/killer.  So, one might want to leave the kids at home for this film.

    The scary scenes include a laughable one in which Ralph’s daughter winds up her Jack-in-the-Box before going to sleep.  The eerie nursery rhyme heard as the key unwinds together with the sound of her rolling stuff owl’s head going ‘Ha-ha-Hoo!  Ha-ha-Hoo!” is a bit much!  This shows to show that there is such a fine line between scary and downright silly.

    DELIVER US FROM EVIL delivers an action horror flick that is occasionally a riot.  Ha-Ha-Hoo!  Ha-Ha-Hoo! as the owl rolls.

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

     

    WHITEY: UNITED STATES V. JAMES J. BULGER (USA 2014) ***
    Directed by Joe Berlinger

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    James J. Bulger is U.S. most notorious Public Enemy righter after Bin Ladin.  He terrorized Boston as a Mafia boss and has murdered close to a dozen victims including his girlfriend.

    Documentarist Joe Berlinger is no stranger to court films.  His LOST PARADISE of the West Memphis 3 convictions depicted the weaknesses of the U.S. judicial system and his latest doc about the persecution of notorious Mafia gangster James Bulger treads similar territory.  The only difference is that Mr. Bulger is guilty as depicted from the film’s first reel.  Berlinger makes no excuse to like the guy and Bulger is shown as public enemy number one, a bully, a gangster, a liar and total no-gooder from the start to finish reel.

    Berlinger’s film often gets lost in the court’s technical details.  The case contains so many corrupt individuals from the gang to the FBI that it is difficult to keep track of who did what and who shot whom.  The film gets more personal and more audience friendly when innocent victims are involved.  One is the casual driver of a shooting victim who happened to be at the wrong place and the wrong time.  His son and wife are still grieving and give their effective say on how disappointed their are with the government.

    Occasionally insightful and revealing (the forging of the informant files; Bulger’s personal code of ethics) but also sprawling all over the place (the number of involved associates) at more than 2 hours, Berlinger’s film is a mixed bag of tricks.

    The final sentence of Bulger life sentences and 5 years for a man who has terrorizes and affected hundreds in his crime life style.  It is a pity this unrepentant man will be long dead (but not forgotten) before his life sentence is up.

    Trailer:  http://vimeo.com/87605552

    Best Pics of the Week:

    Comedy: 22 Jump Street

    Action: Transformers: Age of Extinction

    Foreign: Like Father Like Son

    Horror: Under the Skin

    Doc: Whitey: United States V. James J. Bulger

    Romance: They Came Together

  • TIFF Cinematheque Presents - Satyajit Ray

    TIFF Cinematheque presents - Satyajit Ray

    TIFF Cinematheque presents a landmark retrospective entitled The Sun and The Moon: The Films of Satyajit Ray, presenting one of the most important and influential bodies of work in international cinema with over 30 rare and restored features and shorts.

    Running from July 3 to August 17, and curated by James Quandt, this major TIFF Cinematheque retrospective includes three of Ray’s monumental trilogies: The Apu Trilogy, which established the lyrical visual and narrative style with which Ray became identified; the Calcutta Trilogy, comprised of three of Ray’s skeptical, satirical, and politically engaged films; and The Final Trilogy, Ray’s final three films.

    Also included are the superb chamber drama Days and Nights in the Forest (1969); Devi (1960), an intoxicating story about the conflict of old and new India as it is waged over the body and soul of a shy young bride; Charulata (1964), a moving examination of women's status in the colonial world of Victorian-era Bengal; and The Music Room (1958), one of Ray's most magnificently visual films.

    Accompanying the Ray retrospective is Passages to India: India Seen by Outsiders, running from July 5 to 27, a provocative sidebar surveying the work of eight European and American filmmakers whose outsiders’ visions of India range from meditative documentary to delirious Orientalist artifice.

    Full programme details at

     http://tiff.net/cinematheque/the-sun-and-the-moon-the-films-of-satyajit-ray

    Clip:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zkHR8rOg18Y

    Capsule Review of selected films including the Apu Trilogy follows:

    APARAJITO (India 1956) ****

    Directed by Satyajit Ray

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    The opening credits state 1920 Benares.  This is the second of Ray’s Apu trilogy and sees the boy in the coming-of-age.  Apu must choose between his love for studies and his filial duty towards his ill mother.  Everyone in Ray’s films are always ill, and this looks the case from the poverty and hygiene depicted in the eye-opening scenes.  After living awhile in Benares, 10 year old Apu and his mother move in with her uncle in a small Bengali village. Apu enters a local school, where he does well.  By the time he graduates, he has a scholarship to study at a college in Calcutta.  So off he goes.  Set in the 60’s, it is a bit dated though interesting to note that new technology is depicted by the burst of a flame in oxygen, an oscilloscope and other elemental scientific facts now taken for granted.  Apu’s mother is torn by his leaving, and by his growing independence.   This is a very powerful story of a hard life, how to cope the best one can and the tragedies that befall the poor.

    CHARULATA (India 1965) ***

    Directed by Satyajit Ray

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    Satyajit Ray’s most melodramatic movie about an unhappy wife of a successful publisher who falls in love with his brother, an academic devil-may-care lout who eventually leaves her for lack of commitment.  All the usual details and Indian culture is present, as in Ray’s other movies.  But the incident on hand is the love drama between the two lovers, which are distracted by several other subplots, like the re-education of the literary side of the wife. the political climate then (though this actually takes off the monotony of the noncommittal relationship) and the card-playing and the Indian parties.  The tile that appears at the screen at the end of the film “The Broken Nest” seems like a cop-out ending.  As much as I admire Ray’s films CHARULATA just does not do it for me, though it is beautifully shot.

    DEVI (India 1960) ***
    Directed by Satyajit Ray

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    Ray’s DEVI plays like a Shakespearean tragedy. It is 19th century rural Bengal, and Dayamoyee (Sharmila Tagore) and her husband Umaprasad (Soumitra Chatterjee) live with Umaprasad's family.  The father, Kalikinkar Choudhuri, is a devoted follower of the goddess Kali.  As Umaprasad is abroad at school, hell breaks loose when Dayamoyee takes care of her father-in-law.  He believes her to be DEVI, an incarnation of the goddess.  Ray’s film is rich in stunning cinematography of the countryside while providing a real scary look on religion.  The images of the goddesses’ three eyes are the opening films’ credits are indeed scary.  This is  slow moving film that eats one emotions.  DEVI is not an easy film to watch but it is nonetheless quite beguiling.

    THE MUSIC ROOM (India 1958) ****

    Directed by Satyajit Ray

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    The fiLm questions art above life.  Is one is down on the last penny or gold coin in this instant, is it still worth to give a final concert in THE MUSIC ROOM?  Ex-landowner Huzur Biswambhar Roy lives in a crumbling palace on the banks of a wide river, in the midst of an empty plain.  His money is running out.   For years he has had little to do, and only one passion, listening to concerts in his music room.  His closest neighbour is despised moneylender Mahim Ganguly, a low-caste and vulgar, but hardworking and ambitious.  Ray’s film tells of the rift between the two as highlighted in the climax of he third of the music performances in the music room.  The film moves at a leisurely pace, as in all of ray’s films, and there is much to be observed in every detailed scene.  The second music performance is hilariously funny while the third is mesmerizing.  Ray also displays an Indian culture seldom seen on we tern screens.  THE MUSIC ROOM is pure delight!

    PATHER PANCHALI (India 1954) ***** Top 10

    Directed by Satyajit Ray

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    Ray’s first film and my personal best of Ray’s Apu Trilogy.  PATHER sees Apu as he is born and raised as a kid while his older sister steals guavas from the neighbourhood orchard much to the chagrin of their mother who is unable to control her.  Their father is away on business trying to send home money to clear debts and repair their old house.  Again, Ray’s film is a tragedy much inspiring in the way he evokes the human condition.  He shows the good and bad of each of his characters, especially the mother.  One scene has her beating up her daughter before throwing her out of the house and another at the end of the film hugging her crying when ill.  But this is the first story of the hard life of Apu, how early childhood affects his adulthood in the later two films.  Stunningly shot in black and white, PATHER is clearly one of the most moving and unforgettable films of all time.

    THE WORLD OF APU (India 1959) ****

    Directed by Satyajit Ray

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    The third  and final of the Apu Trilogy is the most gut wrenching and emotional.  Ray provides unforgettable scene such as the son throwing a stone at his father, Apu’s beautiful bride descending the stairs and Apu stretching out in the monsoon rains.  Apu is grown up, and get hitched into a marriage that eventually works out for him.  Apu and his bride develop the love of their lives.  But as in Ray’s films, tragedy strikes.  She dies giving birth to their son.  Apu blames his son for her death and the rest of the film is his coming to term with the truth.  Ray’s film is not easy to watch, like his others and this one even more so.  But Ray offers his audience a slice of life rarely seen - in busy Calcutta and rural India.  THE WORLD OF APU is a beautiful and stunning movie, no doubt and puts Ray up there as one of the greatest directors ever lived.

     

  • This Week's Film Reviews (June 27, 2014)

    TRANSFORMERS: AGE OF EXTINCTION is the big Michael Bay blockbuster that should wipe out all other competitors at the box-office.

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    FILM REVIEWS:

    THE PIN (Canada 2012) **1/2

    Directed by Naomi Jaye

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    THE PIN is a minimalist romance set during World War II.  As much of the action (or non-action) takes place between a young Jewish girl (Milda Gecaite) and a boy (Grisha Pasternak) in a barn for the entire film’s running time,  production costs are low.  This might be the first film set in WWWII about the Nazis with no Nazis on screen.

    The girl is in hiding in the barn, her only memories being of her family taken away.  The boy, has escaped, after being buried alive in a shallow grave full of corpses. and also at the barn. The two have sex, artistically done by Jaye using lots of silouhettes.

    The pin of the title refers to the prop the girl wants to be pricked so that she knows she is not dead.  She has nightmares of not being able to move, being buried alive.  THE PIN is a haunting tale, moving precariously slow, though nothing much is happening.  There is a segment in which the boy tells the girl a fairy tale followed by her retelling of the tale.  Segment lasts a full 5 minutes.  THE PIN is a story of redemption as well, as realized by the end of the film.

    The film is shot, literally dark, so dark that many images cannot be deciphered, as this reviewer had to watch an online screener on the computer.  The first 3 minutes appear totally black.  Hopefully, this problem does not arise on the big screen.

    The only break comes in the form of an intruder, a boy near the end of the film.  What happens at least lifts the film from snooze mode.  But the emotions or events that occur after goes against the flow of the film.

    On the plus side, the film has been getting generally positive reviews.  It is easy not to find anything wrong with a minimalist film with little happening on screen at any one time.

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

    THEY CAME TOGETHER (USA 2014) ***

    Directed by Michael Wain

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    THEY CAME TOGETHER begins with two couples at dinner with the main one, Molly (Amy Poehler from SNL) and Joel (Paul Rudd) telling their love story to the other (Bill Hader and Ellie Kemper).  It is the typical love story, they relate with NYC as the third character, much to the befuddled not-too-bright yet amusing other couple.

    The camera then swoons to an overhead shot of NYC, as expected, when the opening credits roll.  Writer/director Michael Wain (TV’s Children’s Hospital) goes for the cuteness factor from the very first start.  Molly is klutzy and Joel ‘slightly’ Jewish without being too threatening, in the script’s own words.  Molly and Joel meet and it is hate at first sight.  They go to a halloween costume party both dressed as Benjamin Franklin but have a bad run in on the street before the party.  And so the story goes, one step at a time, complete with shit jokes (Joel’s boss having to do it badly while in his action hero one piece costume) and cuteness all the way till they woo and live happily ever after.

    One can hardly go wrong with cute but cute for an entire movie can be a bit much even for a mere 83 minutes.  The audience is not spared from lip-synch songs performed by the two leads either.  Wain offers a breather with a few uncomfortable weird bits such as the meeting of Molly’s white supremacy parents.  The cute bits extend even to the end when Molly and Joel’s reunion is broken up by several characters including his ex-con husband (a neat cameo by Michael Shannon).

    The other weird bit is the of the film when it is revealed that Molly and Joel are currently divorced.  This means that they will give the relationship another shot which means a film sequel if THEY CAME TOGETHER does well at the box-office.  How cute can you get?

    Trailer:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TPzHRXUcUWU&feature=kp

    TRANSFORMERS: AGE OF EXTINCTION (USA 2014) ****

    Directed by Michael Bay

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    Nobody does cheesy commercial flicks better than Michael Bay.  And nobody could even be remotely considered even able to direct a Transformer movie but Michael Bay.  Bay outdoes himself in an acton packed summer spectacular extravaganza that should not disappoint his fans.  Enough superlatives already - his film delivers.

    The 4th of the Transformer series, reading the synopsis on Wikipedia might prove confusing.  But Bay is all a good story teller and one able to manipulate audiences, so that his film turns out easy to follow, entertaining though manipulative and a helluva fun of a time.

    AGE OF EXTINCTION, which could refer to the extinction of the dinosaurs, autobot transformers or the human race is the sequel to Transformers: Dark of the Moon, the film taking place four years after the invasion of Chicago.  Like its predecessors, the film is directed by Michael Bay and written by Ehren Kruger, who served as screenwriter since Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen.

    Four years have passed since the final battle between the Autobots and the Decepticons left Chicago in ruins and claimed the lives of over a thousand civilians.  The U.S. government has severed its ties with the Autobots and branded them as fugitives. An elite CIA division called "Cemetery Wind" is formed by Harold Attinger (Kelsey Grammer) with the intent of hunting down and exterminating the surviving Autobots.   Meanwhile, using data obtained from destroyed Transformers, business tycoon Joshua Joyce (Stanley Tucci) and his technology firm Kinetic Sciences Institute (KSI) have discovered "Transformium", the molecularly unstable metal that is the lifeblood of Transformers. Joshua's prized creation is Galvatron, a Transformer created from the data inside Megatron's severed head.

    And where are the Michael Bay heroes at this time?  Having family fights - the Bay way as in the Transformers 1 and 3 films.  Father Cade Yeager (Mark Wahlberg), an inventor is having issues with his daughter, Tessa (Nicola Peltz) growing up - never mind the sexy way she dresses or hiding her new boyfriend, Shane (Jack Reynor) from him.  It is the typical action packed film family, in which the father finally approves the boyfriend and the girl in the film saves the day unlike old heroines of past films who do nothing but scream and get killed or rescued.  While the family squabbles are going on, Bay weaves in the story of the underdog inventor aiding the damaged Optimus Prime (Peter Cullen’s voice), the leader of the Autobots.  The Autobots fought against the aliens but are now being replaced by new Transformer manufactured by KSI.  The story gets a bit more involved but not confusing and there is a big climatic slowdown that includes a giant magnet dropping people and trains from the sky, a magnificent car chase and a drop from the roof of a very high-rise building (I actually ducked from the 3D effect in this segment, which I have never done before) that includes a shoot-out.  This does not even mention the transforming from robot to car to dragon special effects.

    For Transformer fans, the regular Autobots are present from Bumblebee, Hound, Drift and Crosshairs .  The entire new cast sans Shia Labeouf is good especially Stanley Tucci s a love-lorn over confident inventor who finally realizes the error of his ways.

    One can always complain about product placement in a movie.  There are quite the few in this film, but at least Bay infuses humour (Victoria Secret and Bud Light) into the segments.

    It is a smart move to have a good chunk of the film shot in China.  China has the largest population in the world and the tactic guarantees a large box-office share from the Chinese market.  The film ends with a promise of another sequel.  I have no complaints for another one, except that Michael Bay be at the helm directing it.

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

     

    Best Pics of the Week:

    Comedy: 22 Jump Street

    Action: Transformers: Age of Extinction

    Foreign: Like Father Like Son

    Horror: Under the Skin

    Romance: They Came Together

  • This Week's Film Reviews (June 20, 2014)

     

    JERSEY BOYS and THINK LIKE A MAN 2 are the big ones opening this week.

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    The Canadian Inuit film UVANGA also makes its debut.

    FILM REVIEWS:

    JERSEY BOYS (USA 2014) ***
    Directed by Clint Eastwood

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    Written by Marshall Brickman and Rick Elice and directed by 84-year old Clint Eastwood, JERSEY BOYS the film, based on the 2005 Tony Award Winning musical is pretty much an Eastwood film. It runs just over 2 hours, the running time of the typical Eastwood film is high on human drama never mind it being musical based. Those who have seen the musical may be disappointed but his film, to Eastwood’s credit strives to tell the real drama behind Frankie Valli (John Lloyd Young reprising his stage role) and The Four Seasons story.
    The film begins in 1951 with pals Tommy De Vito (Vincent Piazza) and Frankie robbing local stores in the night to grab some cash for their own use. Because Tommy is street-smart and looks after Frankie, the two form an inseparable bond which director Eastwood reminds his audience throughout his film that this is the Jersey mentality. They form the Four Seasons and hit it big performance and record-wise till fame gets the better of each member. Frankie gets married with kids but disaster strikes with his daughter, Francine committing suicide, for the reason that her father was never around the family.
    There is too much material to be covered and the script tries to include as much as possible instead of concentrating on fewer issues. The film also takes a while to get on its feet. Ironically, this musical drama first starts flying during the performance of their first song “Big Girls Don’t Cry”, which thankfully, Eastwood allows the full performance on stage. Their second song: Walk Like a Man is done amidst intercutting of the group’s parties and Frankie’s family gathering during Christmas.
    Those expecting a full scale musical will be disappointed. The film is interspersed with songs and ends with their biggest hit “Can’t Take My Eyes Off You.” But to Eastwood’s credit, the best segment is the dramatic showdown, especially the part when fellow member Nick (Michael Nomenda) tells Tommy off, the first time in 10 years.

    But Eastwood has clumsy bits of the group members talking to the audience and an odd flashback of two years occurring mid-film when the group runs into financial difficulties.
    The one scene where Frankie advises Francine on her singing can be imagined as one Eastwood might heave and advising his own son Kyle regarding the music business. (Eastwood has directed HONKYTONK MAN starring him and his son, Kyle and also the music biopic BIRD). There is also a scene from the TV with a 30 year-old Eastwood from Rawhide.
    A lot of effort is put into the creation of the 50’s especially in the scenes in which vintage cars fill the road from the huge American clunkers to the old Volkswagon vans.
    But the results should have matched the efforts put in. JERSEY BOYS contains enough songs to convert anyone to be a Four Season fan but it will not satisfy the true JERSEY BOYS die-hards. There is enough drama in the film but too much story tackled that clearly shows that there is much more left out.
    Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TEGPOa9gAzw

    THE LIFE AND CRIMES OF DORIS PAYNE (USA 2014) ***

    Directed by Mathew Wilson Pond and Kirk Marcolina

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    Doris Payne is arguably the most famous diamond thief of all time.

    THE LIFE AND CRIMES OF DORIS PAYNE documents how a poor, single, African-American mother from segregated 1930s America winds up as one of the world's most notorious and successful jewel thieves.  A glamorous 83-year-old, Doris Payne is as unapologetic today about the $2 million in jewels she's stolen over a 60-year career as she was the day she stole her first carat.  The film centres of Doris’  trial for the theft of a department store diamond ring.  At the same time, the film probes beneath her consummate smile to uncover the secrets of her trade and what drove her to a life of crime.  Stylized recreations, an extensive archive and candid interviews reveal how Payne managed to jet-set her way into any Cartier or Tiffany's from Monte Carlo to Japan and walk out with small fortunes. This sensational portrait exposes a rebel who defies society's prejudices and pinches her own version of the American Dream while she steals your heart.  The reference to Hitchcock’s TO CATCH A THIEF set in Monte Carlo with Cary Grant as a suave suspected jewellery thief is a winning touch.

    It is not surprising that the audience would take the side of Payne.  The same charms that fooled the jewellery store salespeople are enough to win most audiences to her side.  When the verdict is about to be announced at the end of the film, it is not surprising that most would hope she gets off without going to prison.  The fact that this incorrigible their would commit the same theft again, as shown at the end of the film just serves to indicate how foolish and sympathetic us human beings are.  This is the film’s best point.

    The problem with this documentary is that there is insufficient material for a 74-minute film.  But that does not mean that the film is a below average one.  Given the story limitations, directors Pond and Marcolina has still created a comprehensive enough portrait of THE LIFE AND CRIMES OF DORIS PAYNE.

    Trailer:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WQ5Cwax-aik&feature=kp 

    OBVIOUS CHILD (USA 2014) **

    Directed by Gillian Robespierre

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    It is a bad habit of poor English when the word ‘like’ is used in a conversation.  Example: Like I am writing this film review, like of a movie of a comedienne, which should like, be really cool.  In the film’s opening 5 minutes, the protagonist, a stand-up comic, Donna Stern (Jenny Slate) does just that with the word ‘like’, in her stand-up performance just before going on to a more structured dialogue.  The audience then knows exactly when she is winging a dialogue or doing writer/director’s Robespierre’s script.  This happens again in the middle of the film.

    OBVIOUS CHILD tells the story of Donna Stern, who gets dumped by her boyfriend, evicted from her apartment, then gets pregnant followed by an abortion on Valentine's Day shortly after.  The audience is supposed to root for this character.  Whether this happens, of course, depends on how Robespierre treats his heroine.  Unfortunately, she gives Donna a bad start.  In her beginning comedy routine, she talks about being f***ed up the ass, and then talks about letting go gas walking up the stairs, something not very becoming of someone an audience is to have respect for.

    For a film that is supposed to be raunchy, one would expect some nudity in the sex scenes.  It feels awkward that Stern makes love with her bra on and her boyfriend with his short pants on.

    The film also has a cop-out ending in which Donna’s tale receives a happy ending.  (No spoiler here on what exactly happens.)

    But actress Jenny Slate does a good job as Stern nevertheless.  To Robespierre’s credit, she achieves a few nice touches involving winning cameos.  Richard Kind and Polly Draper are marvellous as Donna’s parents as is David Cross (recognizable as the villain Ian in the CHIPMUNK films) as a livable asshole.

    The segment in which Stern performs a totally unfunny routine about her failures is painful to watch but it is an honest moment of truth.  And a part of the movie that is essential.

    The film will appeal to the female target audience whois always happy to see a downed female protagonist get on her feet.  The film is not as funny as I expected it to me.  I found the standup routines humorous but not laugh-out loud funny.

    Trailer:  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=r2GN3wdfqbA&feature=kp

    UVANGA (Canada 2012) ***

    Directed by Marie-Helene Couineau and Madeline Piujuq Ivalu

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    There have not been many films set in the Arctic North, so any film set there makes a welcome change.  UVANGA is a fiction film about a Montreal teacher Anna (Marrianne Farley) and her teen son, Tomas (Lukasi Forrest).  She brings Tomas to Igloolik, Nunavit to learn of his aboriginal heritage as his father is Inuit who has just passed away.  Tomas meets his half brother Travis (Travis Kunnuk). The two form a brotherly bond.

    The audience learns about the Inuit community - hunting of seals; fishing etc. through the eyes of Tomas.  The cinematography is beautiful but simple, as the bare landscape of the North is nothing short of stunning.  There a few things about audiences have never seen before such as green quicksand or eating blubber.

    The film has a story of family conflict.  Anna has to come to terms with her son whether he likes it here or not and also with Travis’ mother Sheba (Carol Kunnuk) who was spurned by her husband with Anna’s affair.  Anna claims she never knew Tomas’ dad was married to Sheba.  The story is ok and a bit contrived and it gets in the way of the the beauty of the Arctic community.

    At its worst, the dialogue goes as Anna says to Tomas: “You and I have both have a lesson to be learnt from this!”, as if the audience needs to be refreshed on where the film is leading. A twist revelation at the end of the real reason Anna wanted both their visit here is also unnecessary.

    UVANGA can nowhere be compared to Zacharias Kunuk’s also gorgeous 2001 Inuit film, ATARNAJUAT: THE FAST RUNNER voted one of the top 10 Canadian films of all time.  Still films like UVANGA are a rare gem.

    Trailer:  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mqy-GbXDd5Y&feature=kp

    Best Pics of the Week:

    Comedy: 22 Jump Street

    Action: Edge of Tomorrow

    Foreign: Like Father Like Son

    Horror: Under the Skin

    Animation: The Lego Movie

  • The Italian Contemporary Film Festival

    THE ITALIAN CONTEMPORARY FILM FESTIVAL (TORONTO)

    The 3rd ICFF (Italian Contemporary Film Festival) runs from June 12th to the 20th of June with films screened at the luxurious TIFF Bell Lightbox.  The timing coincides with the Italian Heritage Week.

    Torontonians and visitors get a chance to experience the best of Italian cinema with films mostly in Italian and with English subtitles.

    For the complete schedule of films and description, please check the ICFF website at:

    www.icff.ca

    Capsule reviews are provided for the majority of films below:

    THE BEST OFFER (LA MIGIORE OFFERTA)(ITALY 2013) ***
    Directed by Guiseppe Tornatore

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    Master director Giuseppe Tornatore (EVERYBODY’S FINE, CINEMA PARADISO) tackles art, romance and theft in this artsy film with mixed results.  The story centres on Virgil Oldman (Geoffrey Rush) a solitary, cultured man whose reluctance to engage with others, especially women, is matched only by the dogged obsessiveness with which he practices his profession of antiques dealer.   He meets his match and falls in love with a recluse (Sylvia Hoeks).  His young friend Robert (Jim Sturgess) teaches him to win her heart but there is more to the story.  He finds himself losing everything in the mystery tale.  The musical score by Ennio Moricone is superb matched by both excellent art direction and the artwork on display.  But the main flaw of the film is its plausibility.  There are too many twists, turns and coincidences with the story.   But if one would ignore that, Tornatore’s film is quite the feast for the eyes.

    THE FIRST SNOWFALL (LA PRIME NEGE) (Italy 2011) ***
    Directed by Andrea Segre

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    THE FIRST SNOWFALL is a ponderous yet pensive drama with 2 protagonists worlds apart.  One is a young 10-year old boy, Michele who longs for his dead father.  He is looked after by his mother and grandfather who works the hives for honey.  One of his workers is Dani, a refugee from Libya who befriends the boy.  Both are angry souls.  Dani has a baby daughter but the mother died giving birth.  Dani is not a good father but learns to become one through the angry boy.  Dani has never seen snow and hence the title of the film THE FIRST SNOWFALL, the time when, metaphorically, the white will wipe away the troubles.  Dani must decide whether to stay in the Godforsaken little Italian mountain village or move out without his baby daughter, Fatou.   When the film starts, the titles indicate the number of refugees in Italy and how they are often (like Dani) relocated to very remote villages like this one.  The film’s main pluses are the stunning cinematography of the remote Italian woods and mountains in the Tretino region, where logging serves also as a source of income.  The segment of the felling of a gigantic tree is awesome!

    LIKE THE WIND (COMME IL VENT ) (Italy/France 2013) **
    Directed by Marco Simon Puccioni

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    The film begins with a car shooting of a man who turns out to be the lover of Armida Miserer (Valeria Golino).  The film goes on with the relationship (a miscarriage, the living-together, their work in corrections) before director Puccioni’s returns to the same scene.  It turns out that three years have passed, and the film carries on from there where Armida, as the head prison warden is sent to various other postings before giving up totally, even though she somehow (not very convincingly told in the film) managed to confront the killers.  Puccioni’s film plods on very slowly with Armida mopping around most of the time, chain-smoking and having the odd affair.  The film is shot is dull colours similar to the colour of the steel bars in a prison.  It is a long, sordid affair in which the ending is even more depressing.   The non chronological sequencing is even more confusing, but there are also a lot of subplots that lead nowhere.  One moment Armida is fighting for better conditions of the prisoners (and staff) and the next she is giving them a hard time.

    THE MAFIA ONLY KILLS IN THE SUMMER (Italy 2013) ****

    Directed by Pierfrancesco Dilberto

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    Someone is killing all the government officials and rival mobsters in Palermo.  The citizens claim that the killings are related to women.  They do not believe that it is the local Mafia responsible.  Seen from the eyes of a young schoolboy, Arturo (Alex Bisconti and portrayed later as an adult by the director) who is totally in love with his classmate, Flora (Cristiana Capotondi) and also totally fascinated by the premier, Guilio Andreotti, the film is thus able to get away with a romanticized look at the Mafia.  There is no blood or violence on screen and though the film can hardly be labelled as laugh-out hilarious, the film is entertaining enough.  Most of the killings are shown in the aftermath, such as the debris after a bomb and explosions.  Director occasionally seems to eager to please, as in the opening scenes in which he describes how the boy is conceived by the lone sperm (using a combination of live action and animation) amidst a Mafia hit.  The film ties in with troubled events of true Mafia assassinations of Boris Giuliano and Gen. Dalla Chiesa and others.  Dilberyo has accomplished an admiral effort with this tale of the Mafia’s domination in Sicily.

    MONA LISA IS MISSING (USA 2013) ****
    Directed by Joe Medeiros

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    The documentary tracing the truth about the theft of the famous Leonardo Da Binci painting the Mona Lisa  is a labour of love for director Joe Medeiros.  Medeiros was always obsessed with the theft and even wrote a book about it with the inanition of getting rich.  Not really rich, but enough to pay for his house and have a little money travelling.  As such the goal of the director and the their a simple minded Vincenzo Peruggia are similar, there is a bond between the two men and a respect that the director would otherwise not have for a common thief.  Mederiros’ documentary is exhaustive as he interviews Peruggia’s late daughter (which the film is dedicated to), promising her to find out the truth, good or bad.  Medeiros goes through archives of newspaper articles, letters and recounts the footsteps and places that Pwruggia took during the theft and return of the Mona Lisa.  The result is a very clear and comprehensive documentary that illustrates the emotions and minds of human beings while also revealing the truth of the theft and return of the Mona Lisa.

    IL MONDO DI MAD (MAD: THE WORLD OF FASHION) (Italy 2013) ***
    Directed by Anna Di Francesca

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    This is a documentary on MAD short for Maddalena Sisto of the fashion world.  MAD’s sketches for Armani, Fiorucci and :Ferré recount 30 years of Italian fashion. Her drawings reflect the influence that fashion had on women and how it was then reinterpreted.  Using MAD’s work as a visual reference, the famous fashion designers in Milano are interviewed to tell the story of Italian fashion in the golden years of the 70’s, 80’s and 90’s. MAD left 12000 drawings which are animated specifically for the film!  Francesca’s doc is less a film about the woman but about fashion with the drawings placed intermittently on the screen sidebar often during the clothes on display by the models.  Nothing too much to be learnt about the fashion industry here, but a light overlook.  If the film is entertaining enough, who is to complain?

    UNDER A LUCKY STAR (SOTTO UNA BUONA STELLA) (Italy 2014) ****
    Directed by Carlo Verdone

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    Carlo Verdone, receiving the Lifetime Achievement Award from the ICFF this year, is directing and starring in a romantic comedy called UNDER A LUCKY STAR.  Verdone is in his fifties and an unlikely candidate for the male romantic lead, but what he lacks in male hunkiness, he more than makes it up with his Italian charm.  At the film’s start, his character Federico Picchioni loses his high end job in a scandal involving his chief.  As a result his son and daughter and her daughter move in with him and his bitchy new wife as he is unable to afford the rent of their apartments.  But his new neighbour (Paolo Cortellesi) gradually warms up to Federico’s charms.  Verdone’s film is funny and full of heart, charm and family values.  Also the fact, that it is a romantic comedy about an over aged man coming-to-terms with life and learning about his children in the process makes it such a winning film.

  • This Week's Film Reviews (June 13, 2014)

    22 JUMP STREET and HOW TO TRAIN YOUR DRAGON 2 are the big ones opening this week.  

    The Italian Contemporary Film Festival (ICFF) opens 12th of June.  See separate posted article for capsule reviews and more information on the festival.

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    FILM REVIEWS:

    THE DOUBLE (UK 2013) ****

    Directed by Richard Ayoade

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    The second and much anticipated film from the director Richard Ayoade who made the excellent SUBMARINE sees the director in a total different mode.  Ayoade co-wrote and adapted the famous Dostoevsky novella THE DOUBLE with Jesse Eisenberg in the title role of Simon who meets his doppelganger David.  Simon gets to work he finds that this double has usurped his tenuous position in the company. Routinely humiliated by his boss (Wallace Shawn), the neurotic Simon now has to deal with a doppelgänger that is everything he isn’t: confident, charming, successful, superficial.  Ayoade directs with absolute confidence using a techno metallic soundtrack to heighten the tension of various segments.  He also creates an East European atmosphere Kafka-ish feel with huge mechanical computers accomplishing little tasks.  One wonders however, why he spoils it with the use of many Japanese songs on the soundtrack.  But he has undoubtedly created a tense and occasionally sly and funny film with a razzled protagonist from start to finish.

    22 JUMP STREET (USA 2014) ***1/2

    Directed by Phil Lord and Christopher Miller

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    Directors Phil Lord and Christopher Miller have hit it big in Hollywood with box-office successes that are loved by audiences and critics alike.  Their best film was THE LEGO MOVIE early this year that was preceded by CLOUDY WITH A CHANCE OF MEATBALLS and the first 21 JUMP STREET.  22 JUMP STREET follows the hectic pace of their former films with lots of comedy, action and high jinx.

    Once again, Schmidt (twice Oscar nominee Jonah Hill) and Jenko (hunk Channing Tatum) are back on the streets chasing narcotics.   In the opening scene, they fail in a hilarious over-the-top pursuit of a group of drug dealers led by Ghost (Peter Stormare).  They are again put to work undercover under Captain Dickson (Ice Cube again in top comedic form) - now located across the street at 22 Jump Street. Their assignment is to go undercover as college students and locate the supplier of a new drug known as "WHYPHY" (WiFi) that killed a student photographed buying it on campus.

    The loosely plotted script allows the duo to provide laughs.  Hill and Tatum are good on screen playing against each others’ weaknesses.  They also play against type (narcotics officers) and also with gay relationships.  They gay jokes are funny enough without being offensive, especially the segment in which Dave Franco plays Mr. Walters’(Rob Riggle) bitch in jail.

    The $70 million dollar spent in production is not put to waste.  The chase scenes that include a helicopter explosion and a beach full of circuit partiers dancing to the vibes of a DJ in Puerto Rico are nothing short of spectacular.

    The subplots work, like the one for the search of the dealer with the ‘boom’ tattoo.  Hill’s comedic stand-up poetry is quite funny.  The script is also clever enough to let Hill get the girl instead of the hunk Tatum.  The other really hilarious bits involve Hill having a fist fight with his girlfriend Maya’s (Amber Stevens) roommate Mercedes (Jillian Bell).

    The film ends with the duo in mock sequels and vignettes of 23 JUMP STREET up to the thirties JUMP STREET with them in other schools like culinary, scuba, dance, animation.  Seth Rogen has a cameo here taking Hill’s place in a  few of these sequels.

    22 JUMP STREET takes a while to gets on its feet, but once the laughs start coming, they never stop.

    Trailer:  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TbN--8ja1L4&feature=kp

     

    Best Pics of the Week:

    Comedy: 22 Jump Street

    Action: Edge of Tomorrow

    Foreign: Like Father Like Son

    Horror: Under the Skin

    Animation: The Lego Movie

  • This Week's Film Reviews (June 6, 2014)

    EDGE OF TOMORROW is the big one opening this weekend.  Other small movies opening include THE ANIMAL PROJECT, BURT'S BUZZ and others.

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    REVIEWS:

    THE ANIMAL PROJECT (Canada 2013) **

    Directed by Ingrid Veninger

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    In Jane Campion’s HOLY SMOKE, there is a scene with Harvey Keitel wearing a bright red dress wandering aimlessly in an Australian desert.  Campion’s intriguing film tells of how this cult deprogrammer got to this awkward state of affairs.

    One wonders if this serves as the inspiration for Indie Queen Ingrid Verninger’s latest project.  There is an end segment in which her characters are dressed in costumed animal suits and running around in the snow.  Unfortunately, the incidents leading to this state are not that intriguing.

    A father (Aaron Poole) and teacher of an acting class devices what he deems THE ANIMAL PROJECT.  While working on it, the students adopt several characters and learn more of themselves and the rest of the team. If all this sounds interesting, it is not and the idea is marred by some very annoying characters, the most annoying of which is the main lead in the film.  If the viewer cannot stand his presence whenever he appears on screen (neither can his screen son, by the way), director Verninger should have noticed this and done something.

    THE ANIMAL PROJECT eventually moves towards the final climax of the actors all dressed in animal suits running amok in the snow?  Indie film or not, the entire venture is a waste of time on characters Verninger does not bother for the audience to care about.  Her other films I AM NOT A BAD PERSON/I AM A BAD PERSON..., ONLY are much better.  And the audience cared for the characters in those films.
    Trailer:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=i421IV8JkGU&noredirect=1

    CHEF (USA 2013) ***

    Directed by Jon Favreau

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    CHEF is a delightful family comedy about a good hearted chef by the name of Carl Casper (Jon Favreau).  This is the story of how he comes to terms with his talent for cooking and his young son, who he has ignored for the longest of times.

    Casper just lost his job from a restauranteur (Dustin Hoffman) at a posh L.A. restaurant.  Withe the help of his good buddy (John Leguizamo) he buys a food truck and takes to the road, gathering quite the following with his gourmet on wheels.

    Being a respective actor and director (MADE, IRON MAN) for some time now, Favreau obviously had no problems assembling a good cast of cameos that include Robert Downey Jr., Scarlett Johansson and Oliver Platt who plays the food critic that got him fired and the set up again.

    CHEF is a good-hearted movie, so good-hearted that even Casper’s ex-wife (Sofie Vergara) gives in to him.  The food on display looks devilishly delicious, the jokes are hilarious and the emotion evoked throughout the film heart-warming.

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

     

    EDGE OF TOMORROW(USA/Australia 2014) ****

    Directed by Doug Liman

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    Based on a story  from the graphic comic by Hiroshi Sakurayaka, EDGE OF TOMORROW has an excellent premise for a summer blockbuster movie.  Aliens are fighting humans for control of Earth.  The Mimics are able to travel back throughout time to refight and thus not make the same mistakes.  Officer Cage (Tom Cruise) kills one mimic (an alpha) and has blood splattered all over him and inherits that ability.  Every time he dies, he wakes up at the same point in time and relives life from there till he dies again.  Thus he is able to possibly win the crucial fight against the Mimics.

    The film is a mix between GROUNDHOG DAY and any alien film.  Cage can die as many times as possible and indeed he does to his utter irritation.  No one believes him till he encounter Rita (Emily Blunt) who apparently possessed the same power of reliving till she lost that power.  Together, they join forces to win the battle, with a love interest thrown in.

    Christopher McQuarrie’s (THE USUAL SUSPECTS, JACK REACHER) script is clever enough and Doug Liman’s (MR.AND MRS. SMITH, THE BOURNE IDENTITY) direction is nothing short of brilliant.  The film moves really fast and the action scenes are spectacular (best to see the film in IMAX 3D).  The script necessarily contains too many coincidences.  Of the millions of humans living on the planet, Cage has to meet Rita who tells him what to do.  But these coincidences and other flaws are likely overlooked by viewers owing to the fast action packed scenes.

    Cruise is Cruise and does what is expected for an action star.  Cruise is also especially hilarious in the film’s initial scenes when he cowardly attempts to wriggle out of combat from General Brigham (Brendan Gleeson).  Blunt is also good as a tough yet vulnerable heroine who eventually succumbs to Cage’s charms.  The film is an Australian co-production, perhaps only noticeable from Australian actor Noah Taylor portrayal as Dr. Carter, the scientist that invents the ultimate weapon to combat the Mimics.

    Warning: this film contains frightening scenes that will be too intense for younger audiences.  The fact that one has to be killed and the prospect of reliving ones life are disturbing ideas for the young mind.  It is a scary Twilight Zone concept even for myself.

    Running at 113 minutes, the film more than satisfies the summer moviegoers and critics alike.  There is hardly one dull moment in the film.  Action combined with lots of suspense and a totally credible romance and human characters make for the best action flick on screen at present.

    Trailer:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vw61gCe2oqI&feature=kp

     

    THE SACRAMENT (USA 2013) ***

    Directed by Ti West

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    The scariest horror films are those that based on incidents close to real events.  THE SACRAMENT from Ti West, no stranger to horror flicks such as THE INNKEEPERS and THE HOUSE AND THE DEVIL uses the 1978 mass cult suicide news of the Jonestown Massacre as his ‘inspiration’.

    The film begins touting a magazine called Vice which supposedly reports news of events not usually covered by commercial media.  The audience is put right away in the seat of the found footage, documentary film.  But still, it does not take a genius to know instantly that everything is an enactment.  But to West’s credit, the method works really well.  The film establishes Sam (AJ Bowen) as the lead character.

    Patrick (Kentucker Audley) is a fashion photographer traveling to meet his sister Caroline (Amy Seimetz) at Eden Parish, the commune she's been living at since she left her drug rehabilitation program.  Despite some misgivings over his sister's vagueness over the commune's location, Patrick travels to the commune with his friends and co-workers Sam and Jake (Joe Swanberg), who suspect that they might get a story out of the travels.  Once there, Patrick is met by his sister, who is happier and healthier than she has been in a while. His friends begin to film interviews with Eden Parish's inhabitants, all of which speak of the commune in glowing terms. However they soon discover that there is a sinister edge to the commune that belies the seemingly peaceful setting.

    West knows how to build up the suspense, which reaches its peak with the appearance of Eden Parish’s leader known to the commune as ‘father’ (Gene Jones).  The best scene has a mute little girl hand Sam a written note saying: “Please Help Us.”  Jones looks his role, but one wishes he would ham it up a bit more and chew his lines with more relish.

    One complaint is the film’s  slow pace for what normally is unheard of in a horror film, especially one presented by Eli Roth of the HOSTEL films.  But this allows credibility of the story.  When finally Father induces the entire commune to drink the death portion, one can believe the events that could lead up to this catastrophe.

    THE SACRAMENT is a low budget effective little feature supposedly set in Africa.  Of course, any government park could pass off for a place in Africa.  The no-name cast also keeps costs low but they do perform convincingly enough.

    THE SACRAMENT has got mostly positive reviews from other critics, me included and is a recommended evening out if one wants a few scares.  Best not to see tho in the early day!

    Trailer:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iP2rtrudKro&feature=kp

     

    Best Pics of the Week:

    Comedy: The Grand Budapest Hotel

    Action: Edge of Tomorrow

    Foreign: Like Father Like Son

    Horror: Under the Skin

    Animation: The Lego Movie

  • This Week's Film Reviews (May 30, 2014)

    MALEFICENT and A MILLION WAYS TO DIE IN THE WEST are the big ones opening this week.

     

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    FILM REVIEWS:

    FILTH (UK 2013) **

    Directed by Jon S. Baird

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    Based on the book of the same title by Irvine, FILTH  is the story of the fall and final redemption of Edinburgh detective Bruce Robertson (James McAvoy).  He is assigned the case of the murder of a Japanese student.  He hopes to get the promotion of Detective Inspector and goes all out of the way to make sure his colleagues are fouled up.

    James McAvoy is hardly recognizable with his facial hair as Bruce Robertson.  Is this a great performance?  One can hardly tell as McAvoy is loud and screaming half the time.  The whole film is generally loud.  When a character turns into a monster head, the volume of the soundtrack is turned up several notches, as if the audience did not already get the point.

    The film boasts an impressive cast that includes Jamie Bell and Eddie Marsan (HAPPY-GO-LUCKY) as Bruce’s unfortunate colleagues and Oscar Winner Jim Broadbent as the weird psychiatrist.

    FILTH is generally a very nasty film about nattiness.  The main character is nasty (framing his colleagues, bullying, beating women etc.), and indulges in nasty acts in a nasty job in which he craves a promotion.  It is difficult to feel sympathetic towards such a character who is also a druggie and alcoholic, and it is a mistake that director Baird thinks the audience would root for him.

    A big problem with the script is Bruce’s cop-out redemption.  Bruce turns from filth over a new leaf and there is no real reason shown in the film for him to do so.  The ‘hanging’ ending may appear to some as a smart move, but again does nothing to improve the story’s credibility.

    Don’t get me wrong but this reviewer loves a bit of filth in his films.  But unfortunately, this film does not do it.

    Trailer:  http://www.dailymotion.com/video/x129kju_filth-trailer-3_shortfilms 

    MALEFICENT (USA 2014) **

    Directed by Robert Stromberg

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    Enough of stars like Julia Roberts, Charlize Theron and now Angelina  Jolie playing wicked witches.  The novelty has already worn off in a tired genre of altered fairy tales.

    This time around, it is the untold story of Disney's most iconic villain from the classic "Sleeping Beauty" and the elements of her betrayal that ultimately turn her pure heart to stone.  Driven by revenge and a fierce desire to protect the moors over which she presides, Maleficent (Joli) places an irrevocable curse upon the human king's newborn infant Aurora (Elle Fanning).  As the child grows, Aurora is caught in the middle of the seething conflict between the forest kingdom she has grown to love and the human kingdom that holds her legacy.  Maleficent realizes that Aurora may hold the key to peace in the land and is forced to take drastic actions that will change both worlds forever.

    Jolie is good as the wicked witch but overshadowed by British Imelda Staunton as fairy Knotgrass.  But there is no variation in Jolie’s performance.  At least Theron overdoes her role in SNOW WHITE AND THE HUNTSMAN.

    Special effects are what make films like this fly.  No complaint here about these.  The sets, art direction and costumes are the best things about the film.  But Stromberg’s direction is lazy and the film drags quite a bit, livened up by only a few occasions.  The three fairies who look after young Aurora as funny but there is no variation in the humour.

    MALEFICENT would likely do better with the original SLEEPING BEAUTY story.  This tall tale with its ‘twist’ ending is a predictable letdown and the fact that this evil witch turned good is hardly believable.

    Is this an adult or children’s film?  Jolie’s MALEFICENT is more a fashion statement to both adults and children alike.  But the film will do well at the box-office with a female protagonist attracting females (and Jolie attracting the males) with the large family target market.

    Trailer:  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=w-XO4XiRop0&feature=kp

     

    Best Pics of the Week:

    Comedy: The Grand Budapest Hotel

    Action: X-Men: Days of Future Past

    Foreign: Like Father Like Son

    Horror: Under the Skin

    Animation: The Lego Movie

  • This Week's Film Reviews (May 23, 2014)

    Biggest film opening is X-MEN: DAYS OF FUTURE PAST which should GODZILLA and SPIDEY 2 down the box-office ladder.  See review posted.  The Inside Out LGBT film festival opens.  Watch for EASTERN BOYS in the festival.

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    FIM REVIEWS:

    FADING GIGOLO (USA 2013) **

    Directed by John Turturro

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    Set in Brooklyn, FADING GIGOLO is the writing/directorial debut of actor John Turturro.  A sweet little film about loneliness, the two central characters are older than middle-aged men, a welcome change that we do not see often in films these days.

    Times are hard. With his bookshop closing, cash strapped Murray (Woody Allen) convinces his employee, Fioravante (John Turturro) to become a gigolo with them splitting the profits.  The venture turns out better than they expected but there are  also unexpected results, good and bad.  This is a sweet story , funny and sad  and occasionally moving.

    As Woody Allen has a major role, one expects the typical humor expected from the comedian filmmaker genius.  Turturro is generous enough to grant his co-star the limelight, himself taking the role of a shyer character.  A gigolo with a difference (not a pretty boy but down-to-earth dirty but in a nice way as the film puts it), Tuturro is credible as a rather sexy whore.  Sexy and deadly Sharon Stone as Murray’s doctor is their first customer.

    Turturro’s film celebrates Jewish culture, a rare and welcome change.  The lest Jewish character is Turturro’s who replies that he is not sure he is Jewish at one point.

    But the film’s premise runs out of steam quickly.  When it gets trapped into predictability mode, the film gets boring with nothing but mild jokes and contrived sex scenes going for it.

    One can see Turturro’s influences.  Turturro draws his inspiration from Woody Allen’s films like PLAY IT AGAIN, SAM with a jazzy score and sets like Murray’s apartment that looks like something out of any Allen film.  Turturro is also fond of playing with odd camera angles (overhead shots; distorted shot), that reminds one of the films of the Coen Brothers.  The overall result is a far from perfect film that that tries very hard.

    Trailer:  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=t2epX4tXfic 

    112 WEDDINGS (USA 2014) **
    Directed by Doug Block

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                Director Doug Block shoots wedding videos.  He has accumulated a total of 112 of couples that he has shot before deciding to make a film about what has happened to the couples over the years.

                Not an original premise as Michael Apted has treaded familiar territory with individuals in 7 Up, 14 Up and 28 UP.  In 112 WEDDINGS, the results are less interesting.  For one, the film contains no surprises.  As expected, couples could stay happily married, solving problems as they come on the way, get separated or continue their struggle.  Children come into the picture as do mental problems and infidelity.  And there are only a handful  (thank God not all 112 wedding couples) that are on display here.

                The documentary is a slice of real life, but real life can be pretty boring, especially when one has to sit down and listen or watch some others’ go on and on about their live stories. The same can be said for this documentary.  There are no surprises, nothing new to be learnt, no profound messages, just a  dull documentary that is not helped by the director’s own uninspired narration.  More interesting tales can be heard from the inebriated at the local pub.

    Trailer:  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=s4A07vLA-dI

    X-MEN: DAYS OF FUTURE PAST (USA 2014) ****

    Directed by Bryan Singer

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                Sequel to X: MEN:THE LAST STAND (2006) and X-MEN: FIRST CLASS and the third X-MEN film directed by Bryan Singer, this action packed film has lots of plot, action and suspense with a solid story involving time travel.

    When the film opens in the year 2023, Logan (Hugh Jackman) is to be transported to the past (hence the film’s title) to save the world.  It is always the world at stake in action hero films.  It is a complicated scenario involving sentinel robots that are designed to wipe out the mutants.  But the premise is for the mutant and human to live in harmony.  But a few mutants  do not agree such as Magneto (Michael Fsssbender) and Mystique (Jennifer Lawrence in HUNGER GAMES mode) and they opt to assassinate Trask (Peter Dinklage) the scientist behind the design of the Sentinels.  Logan/Wolverine and the younger Professor X (James McAvoy) (the older played by Patrick Stewart) join forces to stop them and save the world, thus changing history by altering the events in time.

    It is a clever script by Simon Kinberg that piques interest in time travel and Quantum Physics.  Changing the world is likened to a stone thrown in a river which can only make a ripple.  But the X-Men aims to change a difference, with the element of hope, which is a hidden message in this action film.

    The film is filled with many more mutants with super powers such as Storm (Halle Berry), Shadowcat (Ellen Page), Rogue (Anna Paquin), Beast (Nicholas Roult) and especially Quicksilver (Evan Peters) who steals the show.

    The 3-D effects are effectively utilized with the X-Men leaping out at the out at the audience or explosions spewing objects out of the screen.  The 70’s period atmosphere are nostalgically created with songs like the Oscar winning “The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face” from PLAY MISTY FOR ME and the dozen of Citroen cars in the Paris segment.

    X-MEN: DAYS OF FUTURE past is the best action flick so far – forget the ridiculous GODZILLA and the over flight AMAZING SPIER-MAN 2.  Good story, great action and compelling suspense!  What more can one ask in a summer action movie?

    Trailer:  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6acRHWnfZAE

     

    Best Bets of the Week:

     

    Best film opening: X-Men: Days of Future Past

    1. Under the Skin
    2. The Grand Budapest Hotel
    3. Like Father, Like Son
    4. X-Men: Days of Future Past
    5. Neighbors

    Best Action: X-Men: Days of Future Past

    Best Doc: Teenage

    Best Foreign: Like Father, Like Son

    Best Animation: The Lego Movie

    Best Comedy: Neighbors

  • Inside Out LGBT Film Festival 2014

     

    INSIDE OUT LGBT FILM FESTIVAL 2014

    The festival of video and film begins May 22nd just after the May 24 long weekend and has a bay of films to enthral all.  Below are capsule reviews of selected films.

    For complete film programming, check the Inside Out website at:

    www.insideout.ca

    Capsule reviews will be added daily as this reviewer sees more films.

    REVIEWS:

    THE CIRCLE (DER KREIS) (Switzerland 2014) ****

    Directed by Stefa Haupt

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    THE CIRCLE is a social network that revolved around a gay publication of the same name in the 40’s and 50’s just after the Hitler years.  Though homosexuality was not banned in Switzerland, it was in Germany with the result that many flocked to the Swiss haven for rent boys and other naughty things.  Prejudice was the order of the day and many did not come out and still led closeted family lives.  Those were the bad old days but those days still ring in a lot of nostalgia.  The film interviews Ernst Ostertag and Robi Rapp, a teacher and drag queen who were largely involved in the group.  The couple is portrayed by actors Mathias Hungerbuler and Sven Schelker who act out the scripted depiction of the story.  Haupt’s film is rich in period atmosphere and the film paints a vivid and unforgettable picture of love in forbidden times.  The film just won the Teddy Award for Best documentary at the Berlin Film Festival , though it may be argued if the film is really a documentary except for the interviews.

    CUPCAKES (Israel 2013) **

    Directed by Eytan Fox

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    Gay Israeli director Eyta Fox in light mood here in a film about a song contest called Unisong in which a group of 6 have to overcome personal difficulties to enter.  The lead is the much older Anat whose marriage is n the rocks.  The others are females with one flaming male.  This is kitch at its height and straight audiences might not be ble to tolerate it.  The film attempts to celebrate joy and life but it comes off too flighty and slight.  The songs on display are also too familiar played out ones that one has heard already too often.

    Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-Ta4KhyMwmE

    EASTERN BOYS (France 2012) ***** Top 10

    Directed by Robin Campillo

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    A totally fresh thriller that transcends several genres while breaking several filmmaking rules in the process, EASTERN BOYS is an astonishing debut from Robin Capillo about a group of illegal boys from Eastern Europe who live in a one-room hotel in the suburbs of Paris.  In the film , they prey on timid businessman Daniel (Olivier Ravourdin) who falls in love with one of them, Marek (Kirill Emelyanov) and eventually helps him escape from the psychotic boss of the gang (Daniil Vorobyev).  The film starts cinema verite (camera following the boys speaking their own language with no subtitles), then home invasion, then love story and finally escape thriller, Hitchcock style.  Midway through the film, the camera follows a black lady for no apparent reason.  It turns out that she is the security of the hotel the boys are at, and she plays a big part in the plot.  I love it too the way the film avoids a direct confrontation between the hero (Daniel) and the villain (the boss of the gang) that is expected in every Hollywood action film.  This is an exceptionally compelling and fresh film from start to finish and demands to be seen to be believed!  Excellent performances, too, all around especially from Vorobyev as boss.

    Trailer:  http://www.allocine.fr/video/player_gen_cmedia=19543219&cfilm=213991.html

    MY STRAIGHT SON (GAY AND NOT SO PINK) (AZUL NO TAN ROSA)

    (Venezuela 2012) ***

    Directed by Miguel Ferrari

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    MY STRAIGHT SON, as the title implies is about a gay father’s gay son.  The son is forced to live with his birth father who has not seen him as the mother is off for studies in London.  While trying to win over the son’s love, Diego (Guillermo Garcia) is faced with a bigger challenge.  His lover and partner, Fabrizio (Socrates Serrano) is gay bashed and in serious condition in hospital.  Gay films that initially had tons of new ideas to address like coming out; cruising; A.I.D.s; relationship appear now to be short of fresh mat4rial.  MY STRAIGHT SON covers the issue of coming out, but with the twos of a father coming out to his son.  Both male partners suffer prejudice from their families and the issue of gay marriage is central the film’s theme.  Initially very funny, the film gets very weepy towards the middle and then quite serious towards the end.  Apart from the over preachy ending, MY STRAIGHT SON is still entertaining fare dealing with key issues but over-brimming with good intentions.

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

    EL TERCERO ((THE THIRD ONE) (Argentina 2012) ***
    Directed by Rodrigo Guerrero

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    A low budget art porn film of shorts done in real time.  Two gay guys chat on line with a  webcam.  They tease each other.  After 10 minutes of real time, they shut off the chat, and the film takes the audience to a dinner the two and the partner of one who has cooked the meal.  Thought the chat during the meal is kind of boring and inconsequential, the anticipation is high for what is to follow.  The three engage in a hot threesome sex session with lots of kissing and f***ing.  The moaning and grunting adds to the eroticism.  If what described sounds like your cup of tea, you would not be disappointed.  Or perhaps one can the same turn on renting a video from you favourite porn store.  THE HRD ONE refers to the kid that enters the relationship of the couple for threesome sex.

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

  • This Week's Film Reviews (May 16, 2014)

    Biggest film opening has GODZILLA saving the world instead of terrorizing it.  See review posted.  Lots of other films like MILLION DOLLAR ARM, JEUNE & JOLIE and SHEKINAH make their debut.

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     FILM REVIEWS:

     

    AI WEIWEI: THE FAKE CASE (Denmark 2013) **

     

    Directed by Andreas Johnsen

     

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    This is the sequel to the documentary AI WEIWEI that opened the HOT DOCs festival a few years back.  It begins where the last one ends when the Chinese artist is kidnapped by the Government and released after 81 days for the made-up accusation of tax evasion.

     

    Johnsen’s tracks Weiwei’s life that follows his release that includes his art and his followers that support him all the way. The government monitors his every move and confiscates his passport but he refuses to be intimidated or portrayed in any way except by his own hand and voice. He firmly believes that “to show you’re alive, you have to speak out” and slowly regains his confidence by finding novel ways to irritate the authorities despite the restrictions of his parole. He assembles a sculpture based on his imprisonment and smuggles it out of the country.

     

    There is nothing depicted in this film the world does not really know of the Chinese government.  The film runs out of material very fast.  Though the audience will clearly sympathize with Weise’s plight, all can be said in about 30 minutes of film.

     

    Trailer:  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=w0sSwTw2-bs

     

     

     

    FOR NO GOOD REASON (USA 2013) ***

    Directed by Charlie Paul

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                FOR NO GOOD REASON is a documentary about British cartoonist/artist Ralph Steadman and his work in the U.S. featuring him at work and in interviews as well as featuring Johnny Depp who puts in his two cents worth for credibility.  At the end of the film Depp remarks to the camera that Steadman has inspired him FOR NO GOOD REASON.  But director Paul’s film proves otherwise.

    Steadman’s opening statement says that if he could learn to paint, he would change the world.  In the middle of the film, he also states that America nurtures everything that as gone badly in the world.  He has particular disdain for ex-President Richard Nixon.  One of his works has Kissinger as the head of a spider spinning a web.  Whether Steadman achieves his purpose in life is up to the audience to determine.  But director Paul is smart to include the artist at work – which is nothing short of amazing.

    The film’s best scene shows how a splash of paint evolves into the creation of ‘an unwanted pet’.  Of course, the film also contains lots of complaints on the world by Steadman.

    Trailer:  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UjgFgD0Q3hQ

    FOXFIRE: CONFESSIONS OF A GIRL GANG (France/Canada 2012) ****

    Directed by Laurent Cantet

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    Laurent Cantet’s features TIME OUT and the Cannes winner ENTRE LES MURS (THE CLASS) are top notch films that examine human emotions of a group be it a family faced with the breadwinners hidden loss of a job or a class of pre-teens.  Similar territory is treaded here.  This group in concern, is a girl gang, one initially out to take revenge only those who wronged them before things go out of control in the form of a botched hostage taking.

    Cantet’s film is smart enough to win the audience on to the side of the girls.  Their initial preys are the worst scum of human life – child molesters (Maddy’s uncle) and boy rapists.  Noted too, is how innocent they can them - both initially agreeing to help Maddy - before showing off their true colours.

    Set in 1950’s America, it is odd that the production is Canada/France.  The props (vintage cars, dresses) and especially the music (a mix of rock and roll, jazz and nostalgia) aid create both the mood and atmosphere.  It is clear that the events that occur in the film cannot happen at present as we do not see girls renting their own place or buying  a car in the way they do in the film.

    Running art over 2 hours, the pacing is excellent running from humorous and fun to serious. The characters also grow in maturity from innocence to reality.

    The story is told from the point of view of Maddy (Rita O’Hagan), who writes her book from what she can remember.  In an interview with director Cantet, he tells of removing the vagueness of the book in the book, which makes complete sense as it would only serve to blur the authenticity of the events and characters.

    The performances from the cast of nonprofessional actors are impressive particular as the gang leader Legs (Raven Adamson).

    Note that there is another version of the film just called FOXFIRE based on the Joyce Carol Oates directed by Annette Haywood-Carter.

    Cantet once again proves his mettle as a director of high human drama.

    Audiences might want to check out his other two films (HEADING SOUTH and HUMAN RESOURCES) that did not get commercial distribution in North America.

    Trailer:  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Rad6l9iyMRc 

    GODZILLA (USA 2014) *

    Directed by Gareth Edwards

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    Most action movies like the James Bond flicks begin with a full action sequence before the starting credits roll.  GODZILLA begins with an anticipatory segment in which the action will take place 15 years later.  In it, a wife (Juliette Binoche) dies, while the husband (Bryan Cranston) and boy survives only to see the monster scare the world.

    The premise given is the seismic tremors that are not natural but come from some other source, implying the monsters.  As the plot develops, there are two spawning monsters (looking very mechanical – transformer-like) that eventually have to fight with Godzilla.  If Godzilla wins, Japan and the world will be saved.

    There are too many loose ends in this film which leads to gigantic Godzilla stupidity.  For one, the tremors leading to the spawning monsters make no sense at all.  And where did these monsters originate in the first place or come to rest on our planet?  Our hero, Ford Brody (Aaron Johnson-Taylor) and his father (Cranston) appears to know everything and what is going on and what will happen next.  There is also an old Japanese scientist (Ken Watanabe) and his assistant (what is British actress Sally Hawkins doing here?) that could disappear from the story with no consequence.  In the climatic fight, Godzilla suddenly out of nowhere begins breathing out fire.  Where did all this come from?  Had  Godzilla been eating monster chilies?

    The special effects are all right and it is all fine to watch Godzilla in IMAX.  But there is hardly any suspense generated.  All the anticipation created all leads to naught.  The audience have enough repeated scenes of actors looking in aghast at the huge monsters.

    The best Godzilla film I have seen is the Japanese 1962 one entitled KING KONG VS. GODZILLA in which the climax had King Kong kill Godzilla.  That film had genuine scary scenes like a train travelling at night through the mountains while electricity goes out and darkness engulfs the train.  King Kong appears as can be seen through the control room.  There is also a train segment in GODZILLA which is probably the film’s most chilling scene.

    The result is a terribly silly and boring film that is 2 hours too long.  At the film’s end, the people applaud Godzilla that had apparently saved them while the monster moves out to disappear in the sea.  Never mind the fact that it has likely trampled lots of vehicles on the way and killed at least a dozen more people.

    Trailer:  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QjKO10hKtYw

    JEUNE & JOLIE (YOUNG AND BEAUTIFUL) (France 2013) ***

    Directed by Francois Ozon

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                It would appear that Francois Ozon, the director of original naughty comedies like SITCOM, LES AMANTS CRIMINELS is treading used waters with his tale of a young story of a prostitute by night, student otherwise after films like BELLE DU JOUR and LOVELACE.

    But Ozon takes his film further with the story set in a strong familial setting (many of Ozon’s films derive their strength from this familiar setting) with more subplots than can be expected.   The film starts with the young and beautiful Isabelle (Marine Vecht) lying topless on a towel by the beach.  She is observed by binoculars (as if the audience were voyeurs themselves) by who turns out to her brother.  Her antics take to have a sexual encounter with a young German, Felix (Lucas Prisor) and later selling services to older clients.  When one dies of a heart attack when she rides him, her secret is blown.  Mother (Geraldine Pailhas) finds out and Isabelle has to accept the consequences including meeting the dead’s client’s wife (Ozon’s regular Charlotte Rampling).

    Ozon’s tale of desire is interesting from start to finish with a few subplots left hanging, for example if Isabelle’s little brother is gay.

    Trailer: Trailer:  http://www.dailymotion.com/video/x16hzcm_young-and-beautiful-movie-uk-trailer-2013_shortfilms

    MILLION DOLLAR ARM (USA 2014) ***

    Directed by Craig Gillespie

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    MILLION DOLLAR RM is a biographical sports drama that the filmmakers re proud to tout as a true story as it us one in which dreams come true – Disney Fantasyland style.  So, Disney Studios notable for making formulaic films have come up with perhaps the most formulaic film of the year.  But this is not a bad thing as the film gets all the points done right, except there is nothing left that is surprising in the film.

    The film tells the story of sport agent J.B. Bernstein (Jon Hamm) who travels to India to discover new talent in the form of baseball pitchers.  It is a case of JERRY MAGUIRE meets SLUMDOG MILLIONAIRE in which a large part of the film is shot in Mumbai where Indian boys Rinku Singh (Suraj Sharma) and Dinesh Patel (Madhur Mittal) are discovered and brought to L.A.

    The film works best when set in Mumbai as the audience at least get to view things foreign to North America and the west.  He music by A. R. Rahman, a blend of rap and Bollywood helps create the mood.

    A little romance in the form of lodger, Brenda (Lake Bell) is added in with the expected eccentric talent scout (Alan Arkin) and skeptical coach (Bill Paxton) in the story.  The usual culture jokes abound with the Indian kids seeing the excesses of Americans (elevators, big house, huge television, media) for the first time.  One wishes the script might include some sarcasm of the American way of life but the script appears to eager to please.

    The result is satisfactory family entertainment for the not too discernable viewer.  And this is not a bad thing considering how easy it is for movies even following a formula to go wrong.

    Trailer:  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nl4QeQzIkOM

    SHEKINAH: THE INTIMATE LIFE OF HASIDIC WOMEN (Canada 2013) ***

    Directed by Abbey Jack Neidik

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    SHEKINAH which is the English translation of the word God with a feminine connotation is documentary that takes the audience into the world of Chabad Lubavitch, a sect of orthodox Hasidim, one of the more conservative Judaism branches existing today.  The setting is the Quebec town of Sainte-Agathe-des-Monts where the school exists to teach Hasidic girls the ways of their religion and living.

    This is a world that most North Americans or the world are unfamiliar with.  It is a educational experience and one worth diving into, so that one can respect other human beings for what they believe and so that the world can live in harmony without prejudice.  This appears to be the aim of director Neidik, who in the voiceover claims to be a non-practicing Jew.

    The first part of the film introduces the audience to the young women in the school, with interviews of both the teachers, students (the one from England being most prominent) and outsiders.  The perspectives of these young women are studied from school age through courtship and marriage. Their views on courtship and their relationships with men are based on the Kabbalah, the mystical aspect of Judaism.  They see God as both masculine and feminine, and marriage as pre-ordained in heaven.

    The second part aims to convert the audience to appreciate these women and their beliefs.  Nedidik does a good tactic by highlighting an incident of a swastika painted on the window of the school one night.  This intolerance definitely angers anyone decent and puts the audience on the side of the Hasidic women.

    The third deals with the girls in the world itself, their sexuality and interaction for example with girls in another school.  One disturbing matter that is brought up is their non-acceptance of homosexuality.  But too bad, this important subject is just brushed away.

    SHEKINAH, shot in Hebrew, French and English is both educational and eye opening, and entertaining in a way of how these women’s lives are dramatic, romantic, musical and relevant at times.

    Trailer:  http://vimeo.com/65188601

    Best Bets of the Week:

    1. Under the Skin
    2. The Grand Budapest Hotel
    3. Like Father, Like Son
    4. Foxfire: Confessions of a Girl Gang
    5. Neighbors

    Best Family: Bears

    Best Doc: Teenage

    Best Foreign: Like Father, Like Son

    Best Animation: The Lego Movie

    Best Comedy: Neighbors

  • Tiff Cinematheque presents - Je T'aime Je T'aime

     

    JE T’AIME, JE T’AIME (France 1968) ****
    Directed by Alain Resnais

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                JE T’AIME, JE T’AIME is the first French film this reviewer had seen way back while in Singapore and brings back fond memories.  Singapore is not known to be the place to watch noncommercial films; so needless to say, Resnais’ film on time travel with no commercial narrative blew me away.

                After released from hospital on a suicide attempt, Claude Ridder (Claude Rich) is chosen as the perfect specimen for time travel.  But one minute into the past is only permitted due to equipment restrictions.  Still things go wrong and Claude is stuck in events in the past that are out of chronological sequence.  He also meets Catrine (Olga Georges-Picot).

                The plot gives Resnais, known for his mesmerizing, dreamlike and surrealistic films like LAST NIGHT AT MARIENBAD, SMOKING/NO SMOKING familiar material to play with.  And this he does to great effect. Resnais treats his film with a start and finish, setting the stage up for the experiment, and the experiment itself before fate intervenes.  Resnais plays with futuristic sets, repeated sequences and dreamlike surroundings.

                At third viewing, Resnais’ JE T’AIME, JE T’AIME remains one of my favourite films of all time.

                Note that the film is a brand new 35mm print.  Director Resnais passed away March 2nd at the age of 91.

    Original French Trailer:  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HElwY3rt8t0

    Screening at Bell Lightbox 18h30 Thursday 15th.

     

    PLEASE NOTE:

    The Je T'aime Je Y'aime screening is part of TIFF Cinematheque Special Screenings (April 8-May 20), a selection of 16 cinema classics featuring many recent restorations and newly struck prints.   Below is the list of the screenings remaining in the series.

    NEW 35mm PRINT!

    Je t'aime, je t'aime

    dir. Alain Resnais | France | 1968 | 91min. | PG

    Thursday, May 15, 6:30pm

    NEW 35mm PRINT!

    L'Avventura

    dir. Michelangelo Antonioni | Italy | 1960 | 143 min. | 14A

    Thursday, May 15, 8:45pm

    Tuesday, May, 20, 6:30pm

    NEW DIGITAL RESTORATION!

    Voyage in Italy

    dir. Roberto Rossellini | Italy | 1953 | 85 min. | 14A

    Saturday, May 17, 4:30pm

    NEW 35mm PRINT!

    Boy

    dir. Nagisa Oshima | Japan | 1969 | 97 min. | 14A

    Sunday, May 18, 4:00 pm

     

     

  • This Week's Film Reviews (May 9, 2014)

     

    Close to 10 new films (NEIGHBORS, BELLE, UNDER THE SKIN, FED UP, TEENAGE) opening this week including a retrospective on Orson Welles and a screening of lost and found silent film TOO MUCH JOHNSON.

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    Best Bets of the Week:

    1. Under the Skin
    2. The Grand Budapest Hotel
    3. Like Father, Like Son
    4. Belle
    5. Neighbors

    Best Family: Bears

    Best Doc: Teenage

    Best Foreign: Like Father, Like Son

    Best Animation: The Lego Movie

    Best Comedy: Neighbors

     

    REVIEWS:

    BELLE (UK 2013) ***

    Directed by Amma Asante

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    Based on a true story BELLE tells of Dido Belle (Gugu Mbatha-Raw), the illegitimate mixed-race daughter of a Royal Navy officer (Matthew Goode), brought to England by her father and left in the care of his uncle, Lord Mansfield (Tom Wilkinson), the Lord Chief Justice, at his estate of Kenwood House. Though the social mores of the time make her an outsider, Dido is raised by Mansfield as an aristocrat alongside her cousin Elizabeth (Sarah Gadon).  Dido's burgeoning relationship with a young lawyer, John Davinier (Sam Reid), meets with the disapproval of Mansfield who considers the match beneath her.  At the same time Mansfield is deliberating a slavery case that might turn the turns of the history of slavery in the British colonies.

    Misan Sagay’s script tells Dido’s story in chronological order without the subtlety that is normally expected from films in this period genre.  Nothing needs to be deduced by the viewer and everything is spelt out in dialogue, often to full confrontational effect.

    But it is a good story, nevertheless with a credible romance, key issues on hand and principles on trial.  One cannot go wrong with a film in which right prevails, though nothing else is left for the audience to be surprised.

    BELLE benefits from an apt cast that puts all the relish into their roles from Miranda Richardson as the racist Lady Ashford to the over-loving father Captain Sir John Lindsay.  The characters spew out Jane Austin like dialogue such as “I have been promised the company of my aunt,” instead of simply saying “I cannot stay for dinner.”      While enjoyable to a fault, BELLE is no Merchant Ivory classic and can nowhere be compared to films like ROOM WITH A VIEW and HOWARD’S END.  Still, this is English Masterpiece theatre and there are not enough films like BELLE to go around.

    An ambitious film with key issues such as racial prejudice and the abolition of slavery, BELLE has much more to offer than recent films such as THE HELP and 12 YEARS A SLAVE.  But the fact that BELLE is British and a period piece not dealing with current issues, one can only hope that Asante’s film can only do so well.

    FED UP (USA 2014) ***

    Directed by Stephanie Soechtig

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                FED UP is a documentary that aims at angering audiences to the point to take up the fight against companies responsible for American obesity.  The film trailer says vehemently: The film the food industry does not want you to see!

    Director Soechtig’s ambitious film has quite a lot to say, so that if  it does not appear preachy at times, it seems to be drumming some point into our heads.  In general, the film follows a few obese children through a couple of years as they fight to lose weight.  One undergoes risky surgery, one swims and exercises to no avail and yet another tries to go on a processed less food diet.

    But the message here is that it is not the children’s fault (the eat less, exercise more maxim does not work) but that of companies that overuse sugar in its products – like pop companies, pizza companies and other processed food industries.  Sugar causes as much damage as fat in foods especially in soda drinks.  The film explains that one calorie in pop is different from one calorie in fruit which has fibre to break it down instead of it being converted into fat.

    The film contains interviews by celebrities like ex-President Bill Clinton and ex-FDA Communications Chairman.  The First Lady, Michelle Obama is also featured in her program on “Move IT”, but she has refused to be interviewed.

    The one good point director Soechtig emphasizes is the similarity between pop and tobacco companies in their poisons – one being tobacco causing cancer and the other sugar causing death through obesity.  The examples that could be implemented include labels on all sugar-based products, including the percentage daily requirement consumed as well a ban on children targeted advertising.  Here, it seems that the filmmakers good intentions are not that faraway, if everyone in the audience does his or her duty.

    Trailer:  http://www.traileraddict.com/fed-up/trailer:

     

    THE GERMAN DOCTOR (WAKOLDA) (Argentina/Fr/Sp/Nor 2013) **

    Directed by Lucia Puenzo

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                WALKOLDA is Argentina’s entry for the Best Foreign Film Oscar last year though it did not make it to the nominations But one has to hand it to writer/director Lucia Puenzo for a most intriguing premise for a film. 

    A doctor (Alex Brendemuhl) from Germany arrives in Patagonia, befriending a family that is about to open a family hotel.  He befriends the family, aiding the short daughter grow taller through injections and saving the young born twins.  It turns out that the good doctor is not that good after all, as he is a Nazi criminal who had performed human experiments in the Auschwitz concentration camp.

                The film is based on Puenzo’s novel Wakolda, and the scariest bit is that it is all supposed to be true.  But it is revealed at the end credits that the doctor is none other than the infamous Josef Mengele, but the doctor takes another name of Helmut.

                The film is not really a thriller or horror film.  The director reveals at the start of the film, through the daughter’s diary who the doctor is (a war criminal) but it is clear midway through the film that the doctor ‘s only flaw is his desire to learn more about human medicine.  He means good most times, though his methods are questionable.  So, the audience is bewildered whether to feel sorry or to despise the character.

                The film moves towards its inevitable conclusion where the doctor’s identity is revealed to the family.  Still the family (and the audience as well) is just as confused what to think of him.

                The film ins interesting in the way one cannot figure what kind of film Puenzo wants her film to be, but the film is still far less satisfying than its premise.

    Trailer:  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=csvp5SjTniE

    Trailer:  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PiI8PNdvkhY 

    NEIGHBORS (USA 2014) ***1/2
    Directed by Nicholas Stoller

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    NEIGHBORS (not to be confused or has it anything to do with the 80’s John Landis comedy with John Belushi and Dan Akroyd) has an oversimplified plot.  A newly married couple (Seth Rogen and Roe Byrne) realize that the new neighbors are a university fraternity.  Needless to say, they are a noisy bunch, partying into the early hours of the morning.  The couple go all out to get the frat removed as neighbors using any way thinkable.  The solid unit is the family and the relationship between the two is always of prime importance throughout the film.

    On the other hand, the frat boys and girls are just rubbish and do not stand for much.  Their dean, played with controlled hilarity by the excellent Lisa Kudrow is treated very much the same way.

    The film takes a while to stand on its feet.  But the film settles down just as the fraternity settles down to their partying.

    Though Seth Rogen is the main lead and most often than not have first crack at the film’s best lines, Zac Efron surprisingly steals the show from under his nose.  One of the film’s most effective moments involve him suddenly realizing the truth about himself.  He realizes he is not as smart as his best friend Pete (Dave Franco) and that he will succeed in the real world.  The script offers him a way out in the end with night courses.  It is an awkward moment of truth and Efron carries it well in his expression.  When the two (him and Rogen) are together in one scene, as in the dance-off segment, the result is magic.  The baby used in the film is also he cutest little toddler seen in films in a long while.  Rose Byrne can only do so much playing second fiddle to Rogen.

    As in all Rogen’s films, there are unforgettable gross segments.  In THIS IS THE END , it is the masturbation argument on the toilet magazines.  In NEIGHBORS, the script has a quite hilarious milking the wife segment.  But the most comically inspired segment has Dave Franco and Zac Efron doing De Niro from TAXI DRIVER outside Rogen’s window (See Image).

    Produced by Evan Goldberg and Seth Rogen who both directed last year’s THIS IS THE END, NEIGHBORS tries very hard at beating that movie.  Though unsuccessful, NEIGHBORS is still very funny as guarantees a laugh-out loud good time.

    Trailer:  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BGin3oLH5vo&feature=youtu.be

    STAGE FRIGHT (USA 2014) **

    Directed by Jerome Sable

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    STAGE FRIGHT has been described as an original musical horror film.  But it is only the songs that are original (music and lyrics here by director Sable and Eli Batalion) but not the concept of a musical horror that many critics are raving about.  THE PHANTOM OF THE PARADISE written by Paul Williams was the true original that popped up even before Andrew Lloyd Webber’s West End musical.  That film was hilarious, scary with show stopping numbers and nowhere can it be compared to the trashy STAGE FRIGHT.

    When STAGE FRIGHT opens, the audience gets their first loud laugh with the words “Based on True Events” flashed on the screen.  What follows is a totally overdone killing scene, which if based on true events, is highly questionable.  A Broadway diva (nice cameo from Minnie Driver) is slaughtered by a phantom and the film goes into the present with her daughter, now grown up, wishing to follow in her mother’s footsteps.  “Life is a song to sing, so sing with all your heart”, are the words passed down from mother to daughter.

    As expected, the phantom shows up again.

    Camilla Swanson (Allie MacDonald) wants to also become a Broadway diva, but she's stuck working in the kitchen of a snobby performing arts camp.  The best part of the film lies in the initial 30 minutes before it falls into the typical horror slashed movie mode.  The best parts include a campy (pardon the pun) song and dance number “I am gay” as the performance arts camp is introduced to the audience.

    But after that Camilla falls into the typical romance of a boy who truly loves her, but she spurns, sort of, for her fame, till she realizes her mistake.  Meanwhile, the phantom begins his killing spree, Friday the 13th style.  There are a few funny lines in the film as someone screams out: “How can you continue in the play if someone just got killed!”  But these are, unfortunately few and far between,

    There are not that many PHANTOM OF THE PARADISES, so this film STAGE FRIGHT makes a welcome entrance.  Too bad, it did not turn out to be as inventive and original as it leads audiences to believe.

    Trailer:  http://www.dailymotion.com/video/x1est13_stage-fright-hd-trailer-2014-official-all-videos-trailer_shortfilms

     

    TEENAGE (USA 2013) ****

    Directed by Matt Wolf

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    TEENAGE is a fascinating and most entertaining entry on teenagers based on the book “Teenage: The Creation of Youth Culture 1875-1945” written by Jon Savage who also wrote the script for the film.  Wolf’s (I REMEMBER and WILD COMBINATION) film is made up of a collage of archive footage, newsreel, old diaries, vintage TV shows and a few period enactments enhanced by an original musical score by Bradford Cox.  In black and white, TEENAGE appeals to all as everyone (except kids) has gone through the teen days a teen right now.

    The filmmakers aim more at the rebellious, be them the German youth that defied Hitler or Brenda who succumbed to drugs in the U.S.  Of course, they make more interesting material.  The screen time is divided quite equally towards male and female.  As usual, the older adults are to bale for forcing child labour, the youth to fight in their wars and by plainly not giving them a chance.  TEENAGE celebrate teenage youth and does it very well.

    The film has no main plot but moves freely across time with youth at its centre.  From the Nazi Youth to the Nazi rebels, from the hooligans to the Scouts and from girls to boys to women to men, TEENAGE is pure bliss to watch and never dull.  It is nostalgia (and film editing) at its very best and has to be seen to be believed.  “Woe to those that oppress the young and the young at heart!” appears to be the message Wolf and Savage want to get across and this they too exceptionally well.

    Trailer:  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=n8bNqD9YhkM

    UNDER THE SKIN (UK/USA 2013) ****
    Directed by Jonathan Glazer

    Scarlett Johansson in a still from Jonathan Glazer's Under the Skin

    The opening sequence which shows the creation of a synthetic eye with a soundtrack voiceover of a voice pronouncing phonetics in order to master the human language is both creepily disturbing and visually arresting.  At the same time, the audience is challenged to decipher the images to form the narrative of a film that moves as slow as it is hard to put together.  The music and sounds by Mica Levi enhances the mysteriousness.

    The plot based on the novel by Michel Faber, Dutch born, Australian raised and immigrated to Scotland, tells of an alien, given no name, (Scarlett Johansson) travelling in a van in Scotland, picking up various men on the pretext of sex and devouring them.  Hot on her heels is another alien in the form of a male motorcyclist.  In the process of meeting different men, she beings to sympathize with her victims, eventually letting one or two of them escape.  She tries, at one point to try human food (a cake) as a substitute only to get sick in the process.

    Director Jonathan Glazer (BIRTH) apparently shot a portion of his film with hidden cameras (like in a mall) and using non-actors that the alien picked up.  Johansson is hardly recognizable in her black wig, which likely fooled  the non-actors.

    Glazer is a scary, creepy and intense film.  The creepiest involves the alien picking up a 26-year old with a disfigured face.  She knows that he is different and asks more general questions such as whether he has had a girlfriend, commenting then that he has nice hands.  The actor who plays this man is Adam Pearson who suffers from the condition called neurofibromatosis.  The entire segment is uncomfortable not only for the alien and the man but for the audience as well.  She eventually lets him go, only to have him killed by the motorcyclist alien.

    This is the turning point of the film when the alien begins sympathizing with her human prey.  Which eventually turns to her downfall.  One might reflect the novel’s author’s sympathy for Iraq and Afghanistan as he turned down British citizenship as a protest of the U.K. joining forces with the U.S. in the war against the two said countries.

    Aliens have been depicted in different forms by different directors from the commercial E.T. by Steven Spielberg to the faceless THE MAN WHO FELL TO EARTH by Nicholas Roeg.  But this one will be remembered for its dare to be different and effecting a most intriguing film as a result.

    Trailer:  http://www.contactmusic.com/video/under-the-skin-teaser-trailer

  • TIFF Cinematheque presents - Orson Welles

    Orson Welles: Lost & Found – This weekend only!

    Eastman House restores lost Welles film
     
     
     
     
    Eastman House discuses the recovery of Mercury Theatre's long-lost Too Much Johnson, directed by Orson Welles in 1938. The believed to be destroyed silent film was found in a warehouse by the staff…
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    Added on 8/08/13
     

    TIFF Cinematheque is thrilled to present one of the essential cinematic events of the year with the extra-special screening of Orson Welles' recently rediscovered silent film TOO MUCH JOHNSON (with live commentary and musical accompaniment!), headlining a mini-retrospective of Welles classics.

    Details:

    A new 35mm restoration of Too Much Johnson will have its Canadian premiere at TIFF Bell Lightbox on Saturday, May 10 at 4:30 p.m., and will be presented with live piano accompaniment by William O’Meara and live commentary by Caroline Yeager, Assistant Curator at George Eastman House. This essential cinematic event anchors Orson Welles: Lost and Found, a mini-retrospective of Welles’ career as both a director and actor, including Citizen Kane (1941), The Magnificent Ambersons (1942), Othello (1952), and Carol Reed’s The Third Man (1949), to take place from May 9 to May 13.

    Video: Eastman House restores lost Welles film

    See below for complete schedule for TIFF Cinematheque’s retrospective, Orson Welles: Lost and Found.

    ORSON WELLES: LOST AND FOUND

    The Third Man

    dir. Carol Reed | UK | 1949 | 104 min. | PG | 35mm

    Archival Print!

    Orson Welles gives perhaps his best-known screen performance apart from Citizen Kane in Carol Reed's classic thriller, set amongst the Expressionist shadows of a divided postwar Vienna.

    Friday, May 9 at 9:15 p.m.

    Sunday, May 11 at 5:00 p.m.

    Tuesday, May 13 at 9:15 p.m.

    Citizen Kane

    dir. Orson Welles | USA | 1941 | 119 min. | G | 35mm

    The most famous debut in film history and long regarded as the greatest film ever made, Orson Welles' legendary chronicle of the rise and fall of a Hearst-like newspaper magnate retains its power to enthrall, confound and overwhelm.

    Saturday, May 10 at 6:30 p.m.

    Home Movie: Orson Welles Directing Too Much Johnson

    3 min. | G | Digital

    Donated by the family of Myron S. Falk, one of the early investors in the Mercury Theatre, this behind-the-scenes document filmed during the making of Too Much Johnson offers a glimpse of a playful Welles on the film's fake Cuban location with actors Joseph Cotten and Ruth Ford.

    Courtesy of the University of California, Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive.

    Preceded by

    Too Much Johnson

    dir. Orson Welles | USA | 1938 | 66 min. | USA | G | 35mm

    Canadian Premiere! New 35mm Restoration!

    Long thought lost in a house fire, Orson Welles' ultra-rare, pre-Kane silent comedy makes its Canadian premiere in this essential TIFF Cinematheque special presentation. The screening will have a live commentary by Caroline Yeager, Assistant Curator for Administration and Special Projects at George Eastman House, and piano accompaniment by William O'Meara.

    Restored by the George Eastman House at the Cinema Arts, Inc. laboratories (Pennsylvania, US), through a grant from the National Film Preservation Foundation. Additional preservation from Haghefilm Digitaal, Amsterdam, The Netherlands, with funding provided by La Cineteca del Friuli.

    Saturday, May 10 at 4:30 p.m.

    The Magnificent Ambersons

    dir. Orson Welles | USA | 1942 | 88 min. | USA | G | 35mm

    Welles' follow-up to Citizen Kane — an elegiac, sometimes emotionally harrowing adaptation of Booth Tarkington's novel about the downfall of an aristocratic Midwestern American family — is regarded by many as the pinnacle of Welles' cinematic oeuvre.

    Sunday, May 11, 2:45 p.m.

    Othello

    dir. Orson Welles | USA | 1952 | 90 min. | USA | PG | Digital

    New Digital Restoration!

    Welles himself plays the Moor of Venice in his visually opulent rendering of Shakespeare's tragedy, returning in a new digital restoration.

    Sunday, May 11 at 12:30 p.m.

    Capsule Reviews:

     CITIZEN KANE (USA 1941) ***** Top 10

    Directed by Orson Welles

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    While THE THIRD MAN (reviewed below) is considered one of the greatest films of all time, CITIZEN KANE is considered by many as THE greatest film of all time.  Co-written, produced, directed and starring Welles in this first feature (nominated for 9 Academy Awards), this is a story of power and the American dream gone sour.  Welles plays Charles Foster Kane an enormously wealthy newspaper publisher.   When the film opens, he has been living alone in Florida on his vast palatial estate, called Xanadu for the last years of his life, with a "no trespassing" sign on the gate.  On his deathbed, he holds a snow globe and utters the single word, "Rosebud", before passing away and letting the globe slip from his hand, smashing on the floor.   As a reporter traces the man’s life and the mystery of rosebud, Kane’s life is revealed through flashbacks from his rise to politics and through two marriages.  The film’s main strength lies in its great script which won the Oscar for best original screenplay and it has all the elements of a good classic – love, ambition, power, loss of innocence and redemption.  A marvelous film, no one can argue about that and a film that demands repeated viewings turning up more pleasures each time.

    THE THIRD MAN (UK 1949) ***** Top 10

    Directed by Carol Reed

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    Carol Reed’s Kafka-ish film shot with tilted camera and distorted images (the unforgettable chase through the steps and alleyways) has been praised by critics worldwide as one of the greatest films of all times and it is easy to see why.  A classic suspense film noir with an ill-fated romance, shot in stunning black and white cinematography by Robert Krasker and perfectly scripted by Graham Greene (who later wrote a novella based on the script) and directed by Reed.  When the film starts, the haunting music by Anton Karas is immediately recognizable as the zither music hit the international charts after the film opened. The story concerns American pulp western writer Holly Martins Joseph Cotten) arriving in Allied-occupied Vienna in seeking his childhood friend, Harry Lime who has offered him a job, to be told that Lime was killed by a car while crossing the street just days before.  He starts his own investigation only to learn that Lime (Orson Welles) is still alive and indulging in nasty activities.  Excellent performances all round only to be topped by Welles as Lime.  The key confrontation scene between Cotton and Welles only serves to prove once again Welles as one of he greatest actors ever lived.  THE THIRD MAN should be seen again and again and on the big screen in all its grandeur.

  • Mies Julie: Class, power and sex in post-Apartheid South Africa

    Harbourfront Centre’s World Stage presents, starting this week, South African-born and Montreal-based playwright Yaël Farber’s adaptation of August Strindberg’s classic play, Mies Julie. Running from May 6-10 at Harbourfront Centre’s Enwave Theatre, Mies Julie is an adaptation of the original play exploring the explosive mixture of class, power, love, lust and sex. Adding the potent elements of race and land rights, Farber transports the scene from Strindberg’s 19th century Sweden to post-Apartheid Karoo in South Africa’s Eastern Cape.

    The story takes place 18 years after the end of Apartheid, on the midsummer’s eve of the election of Nelson Mandela’s National Freedom Day. On the backdrop of a desolated farmstead’s tension-filled kitchen, Julie (played by Hilda Cronje), the daughter of a White Afrikaner landowner, John (played by Bongile Mantsai), the Black Xhosa son of her father’s servant, and Christine, Julie’s former nanny and John’s mother, all interact in thought-provoking ways.

    As World Stage artistic director Tina Rasmussen, who first saw the play at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe in 2012, recently told AfroToronto.com: “When there's a large socio-political shift, such as Perestroika or the like, the rest of the global world sort of moves on; but there remains concrete tensions and hangovers. The affected societies grapple with having to reconcile, in this case with the legacy of Apartheid from within in a post-Apartheid state some 20 years later. There are undoubtedly wounds and scars. How does the society come to terms with that?”

    It is of particular significance that the farm where the action is set is built on an ancient burial ground. As Rasmussen further expounds, “the idea of legacy around ancestral burial rights informs a broader global debate about the rights of first nations people -- be in is South Africa, Australia or Canada.” During the play John and Julie confront each other on that thorny topic. They argue about the land’s proprietorship given the fact that both of their Boer and Xhosa ancestors are buried there.

    In addition, much like the sexual dynamics underlying the class, power, and gender relationships in the original Strindberg version, Yaël Farber’s Mies Julie tackles the interracial underpinnings in Julie and John’s tempestuous relationship. How does John come to terms with confronting the generations of attacks against his blackness and manhood? How does he react to Julie and what she represents? How do they each fit both individually and in relation to each other in a post-Apartheid world?

    In order to further explore those themes, the Harbourfront Center will hold pre and post-show talks featuring the playwright, artists as well as academics from the University of Toronto (Denise Cruz and Alan Ackerman) and York University (Marcia Blumberg). The guests will offer their perspectives on Strindberg’s message, the ideology behind the play, the current relevant context, and examine South African theater in general. The post-performance talkshow will take place on Wednesday, May 7th and the pre-show event is scheduled for Thursday, May 8 (admission is free with the purchase of a ticket to Mies Julie).

    Earning rave reviews, the play has been touring in over 100 venues around the world. As part of the work’s first Canadian representations, it arrives in Toronto following shows in both Vancouver and Montreal.

    Tickets for Mies Julie and other World Stage 2014 productions are available via Harbourfront Centre’s Box Office. Patrons can call 416-973-4000, visit 235 Queens Quay West and/or go online for all ticket inquiries.

  • This Week's Film Reviews (May 2, 2014)

     

    Big film opening Easter is SPIDERMAN 2. 

    Two festivals are also underway in Toronto – The Toronto Jewish Film Festival and Hot Docs.

     

    THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN 2 (USA 2014)**

    Directed by Marc Webb

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    Reboot of SPIDEY number two looks like it needs a reboot.  Not that audiences need another one, but this one is bad and falls into the same trap of action hero films sinking into over seriousness.

    It is odd that SPIDER-MAN 2 is all over the place.  It is directed by the director Marc Webb of THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN and (500) DAYS OF SUMMER, both excellent films and written by the writers Alex Kurtzman and Roberto Orci of the TRANSFORMER films – though they cannot resist putting a stunted transformer villain at the film’s end.

    The film begins with Peter Parker’s father, Richard Parker (Campbell Scott) and mother (Embeth Davidtz) leaving the boy while taking a plane to their new life. This turns out to be an action packed sequence which includes a plane crash in mid-air only to be followed by Spidey (Andrew Garfield) saving a hijacked truck carrying plutonium and catching hundreds of vials before they hit the ground and exploding.  Why plutonium?  It has actually nothing to do with the story and caching the hundreds of vials only makes Spidey look silly and too invulnerable.  Then the film moves into mushy sentimental mode.  Spidey’s girl, Gwen Stacy (Emma Stone) giving a Valedictorian speech (yes, about life and how human beings should be)before he rejects her due to a previous promise he made to her dad.  I cannot break that promise, he tells her.  Yes, he does before the middle of the film.

    British actor Andrew Garfield makes a good younger Spider-Man, likely to attract younger audiences.  Sally Field, as Aunt May looks as if she is begging for another Oscar.  Thee is one scene in the film when the power of the hospital comes back on, when she tells everyone to go back to work (obviously a parody of NORMA RAE where she gives instruction to her factory workers to stop working.)

    This film is allover the place, switches modes and cannot decide to settle on an single one.  There are too many villains, the main ones being Green Goblin (Max DeHaan) and Electro (Jamie Foxx) and at 140 minutes running time, it does not know when to end.  It eventually ends with Spidey’s return thanks to a little boy donning a Spider-man costume (hive me a break!) before the screen goes black, only to indicate that ideas have run out. While the first reboot, THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN can be divided into three parts – Parker getting his spider powers; learning to harness them; falling into romance and getting the villain, this sequel cannot be categorized into any definable parts.  Part of the story form the first film (loss of the father and uncle) even spills into this film.

    As far as special effects go, Spidey flies around too much and appears more super than Superman.  The most exciting special effects sequence comes at the film’s start and the film never tops that.  Director Webb also seems to be contently reminding the audience that the film is in 3D as objects are continually flung out of the screen from start to finish.

    THE AMAZNG SPIDER-MAN 3 is already into production  and one knows that at least hat cannot be as disappointing as this one.

    Trailer:  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nbp3Ra3Yp74

    CINCO DE MAYO: THE BATTLE (Mexico 2013) **

    Directed by Rafa Lara

     cincoba

                Cinco de Mayo of the film title means the 5th of May, the fateful date of

    Mexico's Battle of Puebla, the most important battle in Mexico's history.  When the French army invades Mexico to set up a monarchy, General Ignacio Zaragoza played by Kuno Becker (Goal!, From Prada to Nada), must defend the city of Puebla, commanding a poorly armed and outnumbered troop of men.  Meanwhile, two young Mexican lovers manage to find love amidst the chaos of war.

                As the film is a Mexican production of a historical battle Mexico is proud of, director Rafa Lara goes all overboard with praising the Mexicans in their fighting efforts.  General Ignacio is depicted as a selfless hero who goes immediately into battle despite his wife’s recent death of pneumonia. Every person from army officer to doctor to peasant goes their all out for their country.  The French invaders are meanwhile shown as ruthless dogs.

                The film has been touted as Mexico’s largest production.  From the logistics  - battles, uniforms, props etc. – it is obviously so, but the battle scenes are all over the place.  It is difficult to see which side is winning (except by looking at the uniforms) and whatever strategy each side takes is lost in screen translation.  What finally emerges on screen, is noise, noise and more noise.

                To make matters worse, the film narrows down on the romance of an army deserter (who finally comes to his senses) and a village girl.  This subplot looks totally silly and out of context in the wide scheme of this war film. 

                Running at 2 hours, CINCO DE MAYO is a pitiful waste of good money.  Loyal Mexicans might enjoy it for all that it’s worth.

    Trailer:  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MI5H6oNDG8Q

     

    Best Bets of the Week:

             American Hustle              

         The Grand Budapest Hotel

               Like Father, Like Son

    Best Family: Bears

    Best Doc: The Galapagos Affair: Satan Came to Eden

    Best Foreign: Like Father, Like Son

    Best Animation: The Lego Movie

  • This Week's Film Reviews (Apr 25, 2014)

    Openings include THE QUIET ONES, THE OTHER WOMAN and BRICK MANSIONS, a horror, actioner and comedy for all tastes.

    otherwomanposterba brickmansionsposterba

     REVIEWS:

    BLUE RUIN (USA 2013) ***

    Directed by Jeremy Saulnier

    blueruinba

    Director Saulnier returns to the director’s chair after the unheard of horror comedy MURDER PARTY with an impressive grisly violent survival slasher BLUE RUIN, the title derived from the rusty old blue car the protagonist, a vagrant lives in at the start of the film.

    Dwight (Macon Blair) is forced to protect himself and his sister after a double murderer involved with killing his parents is released from prison.  He cleans up his act as well as his physical appearance and the killings begin.

    What distinguishes BLUE RUIN from the run of the mill slasher film is director Saulnier’s use of a strong narrative to drive his film.  Saulnier reveals only enough of the plot to keep the audience in the know, while always piquing the audience’s interest.  This is aided by a nuanced performance by Blair who develops a strong characterization for Dwight.  Suspense and drama are well blended in this otherwise satisfying horror thriller (the audience feels for the poor protagonist) that should keep fans at the end of their seats.

    Trailer:  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=W8MHgTAJQCI 

    BRICK MANSIONS (France/Canada 2014) ***

    Directed by Camille Delaware

    brickmansionsba

    A remake of the French film DISTRICT 13, Luc Bison’s print is all over this actioner that he also co-wrote.  Stylized action set in a futuristic (in this case dystopian) environment; BRICK MANSIONS is fights from start to finish.

    The film is reset in Detroit, where abandoned brick mansions left from better times now house only the most dangerous criminals. Unable to control the crime, the police have now constructed a colossal containment wall around this area to protect the rest of the city (the BANLIEU 13 in the original film.) For undercover cop Damien Collier (the late Paul Walker) every day is a battle against corruption. For Lino (David Belle), every day is a fight to live an honest life.  Their paths cross for the first time when drug kingpin, Tremaine (RZA) kidnaps Lino’s girlfriend, Damien reluctantly accepts the help of the fearless ex-convict, and together they must stop a sinister plot to devastate the entire city.

    The film features the physical training discipline called Parkour of which actor David Belle is a co-founder.  As expected, the action segments are crisp and excitingly shot.

    It helps too that there is no black and white in the bad and good guys, except perhaps for the major of Detroit.  Tremaine and Lino have a good side while the stubborn side of Damien is also illustrated at the end of the film.

    Except for the ridiculous looking rocket, the look and atmosphere of the dystopian future appear realistic enough.

    This guilty entertainment piece serves as a good enough tribute for the late Paul Walker (THE FAST AND FURIOUS movies) who died last November in a car crash.

    Trailer:  http://radioalice.cbslocal.com/2014/04/24/watch-the-trailer-for-brick-mansions/ 

    A FIGHTING MAN (Canada 2013) **
    Directed by Damian Lee

     afightingmanba

                This apparent fight pic begins with an initial round of a match in which the two fighters have already beaten each other to a bloody pulp.  Writer/director Damian Lee then takes his audience into a full ten rounds intercutting with flashbacks telling the story behind the two fighters.

                The older fighter is Sailor (Dominic Purcell) fighting for his demons that include his mother (Sheila McCarthy) dying of cancer and a family tragedy involving his wife (Famke Janssen).  The younger, King Solomon (Izaac Smith) needs the winning cash for his upcoming baby with his girl (Jenessa Grant).  So, it is redemption vs. hope in the bout.  Who will win?  The answer is given away early in the film when the money Sailor is offered for losing is sufficient to take his dying mother to Ireland for the last time.

                So, the result of fight match, though executed with all its bloodiness turns out not to be that important.  Lee emphasizes all the drama of the two stories to great unbelievability.  As if the odds against Sailor are not enough, the script puts in a nasty promoter (Adam Beach) and a priest (Kim Coates) as well.  And King has a crack head mother and a past that made him give up fighting before (not given much more detail in the film.)

                A FIGHTING MAN is more a drama than a boxing film, so action fans beware.  But the drama is too far-fetched and clichéd for any effect.  But one has to hand it for the actors that try very hard to overcome the shortcomings of the script.

    Trailer:  http://themoviebox.net/4613

     

    ONLY LOVERS LEFT ALIVE (USA/UK 2013) ***
    Directed by Jim Jarmusch

    "only lovers left alive"

    In Jarmusch’s vampire saga, the audience s led to believe that blood comes from supplies that can be bought.  So, there is no need for the vampire lovers, Adam and Eve (Tilda Swinton and Tom Hiddleston) to go hunting down victims to suck blood of.  Or so, the audience is led to believe.

    There is not much story in Jarmusch’s film.  When the film opens Eve is in Tangiers and Adam is in Detroit. Each doing their own thing.  Adam is a reclusive and disrunted musician of some fame who has taken a human, Ian (Anton Yelchin) under his wing.  Eve’s younger sister, Ava (Mia Wasikowska), arrives from L.A. and shatters the couple's idyllic seclusion. After a night out at a local club, Ava kills Ian, draining him of blood.

    The script offers no explanation of how these vampires come about or how he two lovers have survived the present time.  Jarmusch’s film also moves at a snail’s pace, until her cousin appears when things begin to pick up.

    Jarmusch’s film is very visual (as stated by Swinton in one  comical segment) and that is the one saving grace of the film.  Tangiers never looked so stunning at night.  Otherwise, the audience is groping in the dark as much as the vampires are looking for the good stuff to drink of.

    Trailer:  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7jNkNOlHiCE

    THE OTHER WOMAN (USA 2014) **

    Directed by Nick Cassevetes

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    THE OTHER WOMAN plays like the typical chick flick movie in which females get heir own back on the evil male that has wronged them. The film bears a lot of resemblance to NONE TO FIVE where Jane Fonda, Dolly Parton and Lily Tomlin tie up and beat up their boss Dabney Coleman.

    The three actresses on display here are Cameron Diaz, model Kate Upton and Leslie Mann, the first two playing the latter husband’s mistresses,  Carly and Amber respectively.  Each of the three could be termed THE OTHER WOMAN while the cheating husband, mark King (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, Danish hunk from OBLIVION) gets what he deserves.  The trouble is that actor Nicolaj is so good-looking and charming, he also casts a spell on the female audience, which makes it quite hard to take seeing him punished.

    The film could be roughly be divided into three parts.  The first and most effectively funny involves the bonding of Mann, the wife, Kate and Diaz, the first mistress.  It takes quite a bit of work to have the audience believe that two women vying for the same man would bond and work together.   The third comes in smoothly enough in a beach scene which is the film’s funniest moment.

    The soundtrack is made up of top 40 tunes also include Lalo Schifrin’s MISSION IMPOSSIBLE theme, which unfortunately highlights the difficulty of making a good original comedy o a well worn theme.

    The wide screen works well at times, as in the beach segment where the two meet their new other woman.  But in the confrontation scene in which the husband enters the boardroom to find himself face to face with his three women, the scene would be better done in a more claustrophobic tone.

    The script’s (by Melissa Stack) revenge plot is not convincing.  The way the three women steal all the money leaving him penniless is quite implausible.  That could be the reason that it opted for a tasteless ‘poop in the pants’ revenge plot earlier on in the film.

    As can be expected in all chick flicks, the males all exist as chauvinist, brainless or mere sex objects.  Mark’s character is a womanizing user with no redeeming qualities except for his sexual prowess.  The role of Kate’s brother Phil (Taylor Kinney) is n better written.  He is another sex object that exist only to provide certain pleasures for the ladies such as designing the perfect beach room for Carly.

    As far as acting goes, Leslie Mann steals every scene from Diaz who manages to stand on her own feet only during the second half of the film.  Upton only needs to look great and the script, at least that plays that best to her advantage.

    For a comedy, THE OTHER WOMAN contains enough laugh-out loud moments but there are still too many scenes dragged out.

    Trailer:  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9hUCj9ULig0

    THE RAILWAY MAN (UK/Austraila 2013) ****
    Directed by Jonathan Tepitsky

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                Love and redemption and the Bridge on The River Kwai!  Not the David lean epic but no less quite the dramatic piece in comparison.

    THE RAILWAY MAN is Eric Lomax (Colin Firth), an engineer captured during WWII Surrender of Singapore to the Japanese.  Eric and other English prisoners-of-war s were forced labour in the construction of the railway.  When Lomax was discovered by the Japs making a radio, he was tortured almost to the point of death.  While recovering and living in England, he is forced to face the demons and hunt down the war criminal that brought him harm.

    THE RAILWAY MAN is a beautifully constructed both narrative wise and in camerawork.   Though obviously not shot in Singapore, the detail in the colour and outline of the terrain looks as if shot there.  The torture contraptions constructed in the film look just alike the ones seen in books on the Japanese Occupation in Singapore during WWII.  Firth is again as marvelous as the troubled soldier and lover.  A film that delves into the aftermath of war effectively!

    Trailer:  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bbS_dYEwf2M

     

    Best Bets of the Week:

    1. American Hustle
    2. The Grand Budapest Hotel
    3. Like Father, Like Son

    Best Family: Bears

    Best Doc: The Galapagos Affair: Satan Came to Eden

    Best Foreign: Like Father, Like Son

    Best Animation: The Lego Movie

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