• Toronto International Film Festival 2014 (Film Reviews)

    2014 Toronto International Film Festival Capsule Film Reviews - Gilbert Seah

    (First posted Aug 12, last update 12th Sep)

     

    Updated daily during the festival, so keep logged to this site.

    New to this year is that trailer links will be added (if available) at the end of each capsule review.

    Capsule Reviews:-

    LE BEAU MONDE (HIGH SOCIETY)(France 2014) ****

    Directed by Julie Lopes Curval

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    Director Curval’s very assured piece stars mesmerizing Ana Giradot (daughter of Hippolyte Giradot) as 20-year old Alice who finds a way into a fashion prestigious School in Paris with the help of a rich Parisian lady, Agnes (Aurelia Petit).  Alice leaves current simple boyfriend Kevin (Baptiste Laplain), a car mechanic behind for Agnes’ son Antoine (Bastien Bouillon), attracted obviously for his passion and expression for art.  They fall passionately in love.  He loves her for the bourgeois life she lacks and she for the high society he inherits.   Curvals’ film is fresh on emotions, traditional in ideals, dramatic on life and totally relevant in the feel of today’s youth.  Performances are rich and the film works wonders.  Though the seaside scenes and film’s extended dialogue often reminds one of Eric Rhomer’s films (SUMMER, LE RAYON VERT), this is pretty much a woman’s (particularly Curval’s) film.  The scenery and cinematography are stunning, an additional bonus to the film.

    Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=a4tKdiJwojU

    BIG MUDDY (Canada 2014) **
    Directed by Jefferson Moneo

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    Elmore Leonard goes to Saskatchewan.  Moeno’s missed opportunity results in a mixed bag of tricks in the family tale of Martha Barlow (Nadia Litz), her son and her father.  Martha has a dark bad history in which all the skeletons start coming out of the closet just when she wants to protect her son, Andy (Justin Kelly).  His father has just escaped from prison, her boyfriend (Rossif Sutherland) just got shot and a crazed horse owner and his sidekick are after Martha and Andy now holed out at Martha’s father’s (Stephen McHattie) farm.  It is a question of too much happening at one time and too many killings occurring too soon, so that all the drama turns unintentionally laughable.  In the hands of a more experienced director, this murder ballad could have turned out to be a solid western classic instead of a western classic wannabe.  The whole film falls into the hand of main actress Litz who tries very hard, but is unfortunately no prairie beauty queen.

    BLACK SOULS (ANIME NERE) (Italy 2014) ***

    Directed by Francesco Munzi

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    After Francis Ford Coppola’s GODFATHER films, it is hard to top a Mafia movie about the family business.  So, one must give credit to director Munzi for trying with a smaller budget and more modest story.  Again, it is the familiar theme of getting out of the business but the business never lets that happen.   The setting shifts from Amsterdam to Milan,  a change from Puzo’s NYC.  A former narcotics trafficker now living peaceably, raising goats in the Calabrian hills is drawn back into his family’s drug.   The problem is that Luciano's son, the bored and restless Leo, idolizes his charismatic uncle Luigi, who is still deeply involved in the narcotics trade with his middle brother, the bespectacled mastermind of the family business.  Munzi’s film gets away from the graphic violence and concentrates on the drama without the cheap theatrics.  The result is a focused and quite authentic film aided by the simpler story.

    CART (South Korea 2014) **

    Directed by Boo-Ji-Young

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    In the spirit of NORMA RAE and MADE IN DAGENHAM, CART, set in a discount retail store, CART is a social critique of the injustice done by huge companies on workers without a union.  The film starts off with the striking workers before settling down to concentrate on a few subjects, like a single mother, an an older custodian and another with two young children, one of which is a rebellious son.  All these are well intentioned but do not really work as the film is messy and all over the place.  An ensemble of incidents is the term best used to describe this film, but director Boo should have done more in the editing room to make more head and tail of the film so that it has a strong narrative with a greater effect.  The film just ends at another losing battle with the police in riot gear brutalizing the striking women.  Boo also turns up the melodrama that makes the film seem more hokey.
    Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yu5_u7piDYw

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

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    A smart script written about women on the dual theme of aging vs. youth and life imitating art written by director Olivier Assayas deserves better but unfortunately fails to attain the height it seeks to achieve.  Part of this is due to the complexity of the plot but also due to main lead actress Juliette Binoche’s annoying character.  For a character that sophisticated and learned in life’s lessons, she comes across as crass (laughing too loudly and expressing outwardly too many times her emotions) and common.   The audience is supposed to side and feel sympathetic for this character, but Binoche’s performance does not allow it.  Kristen Stewart steals the show as her super-efficient and patient personal assistant.  There are parts of the script that are just plain brilliant.  The sudden disappearance of the personal assistant in the mountains with no explanation give, obviously a reflection of life imitating art as the actress’s young lover in the play had the same fate occur.  The spilling of the cloud of Sils Maria into the valley signalling a final escape is not only gorgeously shot bit instrumental in Assayas’ metaphor on his characters.

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

    COMING HOME (China 2014) ****
    Directed by Zhang Yimou

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    COMING HOME is a welcome return for director Zhang and his actress Gong Li who have not made a movie this good since RAISE THE RED LANTERN and THE ROAD HOME.   The film begins with the setting of the cultural revolution when imprisoned Lu (Chen Daoming) escapes to see his wife Feng (Gong Li).  Their teenage daughter Dandan (Zhan Huiwen) reports him and during his recapture at the station, Feng suffers a head jury causing her amnesia.  The larger part of the film now takes place 3 years later when the revolution is over.  Lu is released to go home to his wife.  Feng does not remember him at all.  The film goes into full melodrama mode with Lu trying to cure his wife so that she can recognize him again.  This is all heart breaking stuff made more desperate with issues like politics, family values, redemption and love at play.  Director Zhang’s backdrop is the poor housing area where the family dwells.  The piano music by Lang Lang aids the atmosphere of desperation and hope.  And as in the best of Zhang’s films, Gong Li shines once again - the Chinese beauty ageing to an old age in the film while never losing her love for her husband.

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

    CONFESSION (South Korea 2014) ***
    Directed by Lee Do-yun

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    Similar to PARTNERS IN CRIME from Taiwan, CONFESSION deals with the similar theme of school buddies running into trouble.  The film starts by introducing the 3 high school graduating students, Hyun-tae (Ji Sung), In-chul (Ju Ji-hoon) and Min-soo (Lee Kwang-soo) euphoric on the day of their graduation.  But instead of taking part in the ceremony, they sneak off to hike up a local mountain where Min-soo suffers a fall.  Flashforward to the present when the 3 are now grownups but eating into more hot soup.  Hyun-tae's mother approaches the men for help in a clearly shady job, their friendship is tested. She wants him to stage a robbery of her gambling arcade as a way to cash in on an insurance policy.  The botched robbery tests their friendship.  The film and the 3 actors are more animated than PARTNERS IN CRIME that does not help its credibility.

    Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JpRDHVlG2zk

    A DREAM OF IRON (USA/South Korea 2014) ***
    Directed by Kelvin Kyung Kun Park

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    Media artist filmmaker Kelvin Park’s A DREAM OF IRON reminds one instantly of Jennifer Baichwal’s MANUFACTURED LANDSCAPES as both films give cinematic form to industrial and manufacturing landscapes.  Park’s film, set in the South Korean port of Ulsan focuses primarily on the shipping industry the start and end of his film framed with overhead shots.  But Park brings in more meaning that Baichwal, with a voiceover that puts a story to the images.  The score is classical mixed with sounds like whale noises and industrial drones.  Still, this is a artistic piece that often moves at a snail’s place.  The film is stunning to look at and put into perspective with ancestral tales of early man and whales, but the long takes can be quite testing.  The best segment has the engineers of the shipyard discussing, at ease,  the massive details of the ship drawings that makes no sense to the ordinary viewer.

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

    FORCE MAJEURE (Swe/Den/Nor/Fra 2014) ***
    Directed by Ruben Oslund

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    A hit at Cannes, Östlund’s FORCE MAJEURE is a moral tale examines the breaking down of a family due to unexpected behaviour resulting from some impending catastrophe.

    It begins with a family’s skiing vacation in the French Alps.  The scenery is breathtakingly captured on film.  Tomas (Johannes Bah Kuhnke) and Ebba (Lisa Loven Kongsli) are enjoying lunch with their two children when their meal is suddenly interrupted by thunderous booms emanating from the mountain above them.  The complacent Tomas initially dismisses the possibility of danger — but when it appears that there may be an avalanche, he grabs his cellphone and bolts, leaving his wife and children to fend for themselves.  He denies running away and called the bluff by his wife.  The fallout is both scary and occasionally funny.  Oslund pulls a good one at the end with fate turning the tide on the wife.  The film is necessary slow paced but it pays off.

    Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fm7Ux_SkG78

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

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

    FOXCATCHER (USA 2014) ***
    Directed by Bennett Miller

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    FOXCATCHER, based on a true story tells of two brothers, both former Olympic wrestling champions Mark and Dave (Channing Tatum and Mark Ruffalo respectively) and their encounter with a neurotic millionaire (Steve Carell).  Bennett Miller who won the Best Director prize for this film at Cannes, directs this sports psychological drama darker and moodier than his other two films, CAPOTE and MONEYBALL.  Mark is summoned by John du Pont (Steve Carrell) to join the US team preparing for the 1988 Olympics in Seoul.   John also wants Dave who initially refuses to uproot his family for the sake of glories already achieved.  Tatum, Ruffalo and Carrell deliver performances against their usual type.  Director Miller likely forced them to tone down they acting several notches down as what we get her are really subdued though effective performances.  FOXCATCHER is also the name of the estate and du Pont’s Wrestling team.  It is clear that the fox (as in the hunting game) is a more elusive prey than imagined and perhaps the perfect American dream can never be attained.  Nor the perfect film to relay this message.

    Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7xYav--slEg

    LE GRAND HOMME (THE GREAT MAN) (France 2014) **
    Directed by Sarah Leonor

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    Hamilton (Jeremie Renier) and Markhov (Surho Sugaipov) are scouts in the Foreign Legionnaire.  Though they begin at loggerheads, they become like brothers after being forced to work together.  In Afghanistan, Markhov saves Hamilton’s life.  Markhov has a son Khadji (Ramzan Idiev).  Due to a car accident Markhov is killed and his family, illegal aliens are taken away by French Authorities.  Hamilton is now served by conscience to look after the kid of the man who saved his life.  Director Leonor tells her tale in three parts - firstly, the brotherhood of the two men, then Markhov’s reunion with son and family and thirdly with Hamilton coming to save the son.  For a film title like LE GRAND HOMME with such an important theme, Leonor’s film is bland with just the necessary dramatization.  Perhaps she wishes her audience to think for themselves and not be too influenced by cheap theatrics.  But the result is a slow moving mediocre piece.

    Trailer: http://www.allocine.fr/video/player_gen_cmedia=19546345&cfilm=224586.html

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

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

    THE GUEST (USA 2014) ***
    Directed by Alan Wingard

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    British actor Don Stevens (DOWNTON ABBEY) plays the handsome guest that appears from nowhere to change the lives of an entire family.  The film reminds one of the 70’s film SOMETHING FOR EVERYONE, in which a handsome Michael York appears and changes the lives of the aristocratic family headed by Angela Lansbury.   Son dies in Iraq war; mother devastated; enter stranger who claims knows Caleb; befriends and helps each member of family; things go wrong; guest might not be who he seems; guest turn from saviour to devil; someone has to slay him to save the day.  If all this sound predictable, it is and I could guess what happens right down to the detail of who puts out the final lights out for THE GUEST.  Still, this horror/action flick is entertaining enough, as director knows when to press the right buttons.  The last segment in a Halloween maze is a nice touch.

    Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-psayRM1XqU

    A HARD DAY (South Korea 2014) ***

    Directed by Kim Seong-bun

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    It is an extremely hard day for Detective Ko.  Everything has gone wrong on the day of his mother’s funeral.  He hits and runs, get caught in his corruption scams and misses the funeral rites.  A further string of events that pushes him deeper and deeper into a swamp of criminal activity.  Kim’s movie moves as fast as the speeding car with an unexpected turn around every corner.  Both noir-ish and hilarious, this commercial fare is both entertaining and exciting.

    Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-r1lJuk4EjA

    HEARTBEAT (Canada 2014) **

    Directed by Andrea Dorfman

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    Justine (Tanya Davis) is stuck in a rut with her mind-numbing job as a data management copywriter and a relationship that is going nowhere.  The aim of the film appears to be her adult coming-of-age.  Her encounter with her supervisor are the brightest parts of the film.  She lives in her grandma's old house, and wears questionable fashioned clothing.  There are no real reasons offered in the script that substantiates Justine’s self discovery.  She is encouraged by Ruby to perform, bonds with an older guitar store owner and quits her job.  The only slight hints are the effects of her friend’s new baby and Ben leaving town.  Dorfman’s film just plod along, aimless just as her Justine.  Actress Tanya Davis wrote and performs her own songs in the film.  But her songs are far from spectacular or even memorable.  Dorfman’s film occasionally has the odd animated objects moving around the screen.  Again, there is really nor purpose for this and the animation serves more as a distraction, like a kid drawing on the wall for nothing else better to do.  HEARTBEAT as a film moves along, but only too slowly as if there is no life in it, though the heart is still beating!

    HILL OF FREEDOM (South Korea 2014) ****
    Directd by Hong Sang-soo

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    There is much to enjoy in Hong’s observational tale of a lovesick Japanese man, Mori (Kase Ryo) who comes to Korea to meet his loved one, Kwon (Seo Young-hwa).  She is not there.  While waiting for her at the HILL Of FREEDOM cafe, he meets other interesting folk including his guesthouse owner’s niece who he sleeps with.  Hong’s film jumps in time and from one scene to the next an from narrative to the next, like a fantasy of Mori’s imagination.  Korean vs. Japanese culture, male vs. female ideology and behavioural traits are also brought into the picture, often with hilarious results.  The pick up scene that turns foul is priceless.  All this is eluded to the book that Mori is carrying around and reading called Time.  Hong’s characters philosophize but in broken English.  HILL OF FREEDOM is totally unexpected fun!

    I AM NOT LORENA (NO SOY LORENA)(Chile/Argentina 2014) **
    Directed by Isidora Marras

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    As the title of the film implies, this is a story of identity theft.  Actress Oliva (Loreto Aravena) gets calls from an unknown person Lorena asking for her bills to be paid.  A series of incidents, not to her favour such as losing her i.d.’s in a club do not help either.  She also has other problems like an ailing mother, her acting job and her previous boyfriend.  Director Parras weaves all these elements into her story while displaying a rather bleak outlook of Chilean society.  Her film, though slow, is quite intense.  But she cannot decide whether her film is supposed to be a thriller, suspense mystery, parody of society or personal self-discovery.  As a result, the film has a bit of everything, a kind of Jack of all trades but unfortunately, master of none, the film ending up not accomplishing too much.

    Trailer: http://vimeo.com/104762440

    THE IMITATION GAME (UK/USA 2014) ****
    Directed by Morten Tyldum

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    Everyone loves a good secret.  Britain apparently kept the secret of the Enigma and the code breaking team for 50 years.  There are countless quotable lines in the script.  A code is not a secret as it is in the open only that no one can understand its meaning.  A secret of why people love violence is revealed.  Graham Moore’s brilliant script that is surely deserved of an Oscar nomination.  THE IMITATION GAME is the story of the mathematics genius Cambridge Professor, Alan Turing (the excellent Benedict Cumberbatch) who spearheaded the code breaking machine during World War II.  The film also time shifts, intercutting the war effort with the 1951 year when pan was persecuted for his homosexuality.  He was also accused of being a Soviet spy, though this was the least of his worries.  Kiera Knightley has the role of his girl, Joan Clarke who almost marries him and Matthew Goode as Hugh, the hot headed member of the team.   But it is Cumberbatch who delivers an impeccable performance of the man and machine who is a genius and a monster.  The film is also about the beginning of computer, as observed by the first huge monster of mechanical rotors and number of cables which make up Turing's Enigma Breaking machine.

    Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ayErt0N2L3A

    IN HER PLACE (South Korea/Canada 2014) ***

    Directed by Albert Shin

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    The film begins with the shot of the back of a Mercedes driving to the farmhouse.  The camera shifts to show the front of the car approaching, then a woman exiting to knock on the door.  The impression here is a slow moving pensive film in which the director allows the incidents to unfold while allowing the audience to digest the emotional consequences.   Yoon Da Kyung plays an urban woman fleeing her own life of omission.  Trying to avoid telling her friends and family the truth of a miscarriage, she moves in with an impoverished farm-working mother (Kil Hae Yeon), and her lonely teenage daughter (Ahn Ji Hye), who are key in maintaining her lie.  The woman is intending to adopt the illegitimate baby of the expecting teen.  As expected in a moral fable about lies, turmoil and tragedy are the expected results.  Shin’s film is shocking at times with violence and raw emotions on display, but Shin has a soft spot which shows at the film’s end.  An unforgettable well made moral tale dramatically told to great effect!

    Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tinR_7nQV88

    THE INTRUDER (Netherlands 2014) ***
    Directed by Shariff Korver

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    A crime thriller with an identity issue, THE INTRUDER concerns a Moroccan, Sam (or Said) Almaleh (Nasrdin Dchar) in the Amsterdam police force ordered to go undercover and infiltrate a Moroccan drug family.  He discovers the feeling of brotherhood and sees the ways in which these criminals can be honourable and the authorities corrupt.  Director Korver, himself from Venezuela and living in both Venezuela and Holland brings his real life experiences and emotions in this related drama.  He plays  his film more a a thriller than a morality tale of loyalties, which makes sense.  He takes the film to a satisfying and logical ending in which Sam’s choice does not come into the ending, but his course of actions pays him back, metaphorically speaking, by biting him in the ass.

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

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    David Robert Mitchell's (THE MYTH OF THE AMERICAN SLEEPOVER) second feature has a simple premise.  A person is stalked by another for the purpose of murder.  No one can see the stalker except the stalked unless this curse is passed on to someone else through sexual intercourse.  The latest victim is nineteen-year-old Jay (Maika Monroe) stuck with the sexually transmitted serial haunting.  In the light of day, she is stalked, followed, and attacked by terrifying, half-naked figures that none of her friends can see.  Jay eventually passes it to someone else who is willing to take the risk for her (or rather have sex with her for the price of death).   Monroe is quite drop dead gorgeous.  Though a bit slow paced for a horror film, director Mitchell keeps the scares coming steadily.   IT FOLLOWS is basically a cheap rip-off of the zombie movie.  It is cheaper in IT FOLLOWS as there in only one zombie needed and with minimal make-up.  And the person playing it changes, so that if there is a sequel, another low paid newcomer can be hired.

    THE JUDGE (USA 2014) **

    Directed by David Dobkin

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    This is the story of the prodigal son, Hank Palmer (Robert Downey Jr) who made good in law and came back home to defend his father Judge Joseph Palmer (Robert Duvall) from a hit and run.  The father and son relationship is as much the key issue as the trial.   But the dysfunctional familial drama suffers from the usual stuff - over doting grandchildren, sour wife, current swing with old girlfriend (Vera Farminga) and so on.  The silly sub plots of the challenged youngest brother with the camera and his sleeping with who cold be his possible daughter lengthens the film already too long 140 minutes running time.  The big plus of the movie is Duvall’s brave performance as the ageing judge trying to  keep his honour and dignity something his son and the script will not allow him to keep.  The bowel loosening segment also serves to remind everyone in the audience what each has to go through with his/her parent eventually.  It is only when Duvall and Downey have it out that the film comes alive.   It turns out that THE JUDGE is just a poor man’s courtroom drama mixed with too much melodrama.

    Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-qlSOBDWeO8

    LABYRINTH OF LIES (West Germany 2014) ***1/2

    Directed by Giulio Ricciarelli

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    The film is set in Frankfurt, of 1958. Johann Radmann (Alexander Fehling of Inglourious Basterds and Young Goethe in Love) is the young prosecutor trying to climb the ladder in a major law firm.  When he learns of hidden criminals in prominent institutions and branches of government entangled in a conspiracy to cover up the crimes of Nazis during World War II,  Johann works obsessively alongside journalist Thomas Gnielka (André Szymanski) and Jewish concentration camp survivor Simon Kirsch (Johannes Krisch) to uncover the evidence.  And to hunt and prosecute them.  But director Ricciarelli shows more of the resistance and obstacles in the task.  But what is most moving abut the film that plays like a thriller, is that it is based on true events, and it is the first time Germany is taking responsibility in prosecuting her own Nazi criminals.  But what is most striking is the fact that a large number of young Germans have never heard of the Holocaust.  One of the best lines in the film is that the that the purpose of the trials is not to punish but to educate.

    LEARNING TO DRIVE (USA 2014) ****
    Directed by Isabel Coixet

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    This sweet comedy about two lonely people a Sinkh cab driver, Darwan (Ben Kingsley) and a recently separated woman, Wendy (Patricia Clarkson).  The best thing about this smartly written script by Sarah Kernochan, based on, believe it or not, an article by Katha Pollitt is that it is that rare film about a relationship between two people that is not a romance nor about family members.  Wendy takes driving lessons from Darwan.  The driving lesson is obviously a metaphor for life lessons.  The two characters are highly different, and play very well against each other.  The film is also tolerant of race, age another prejudices.  It also contains the best joke in a film I have heard so far during TIFF regarding the reason why that sexual act is called a blow-job.  A small movie that turned out to be a big surprise!

    LEVIATHAN (Russia 2014) ***** Top 10
    Directed by Andrey Zvyagintsev

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    Winner of the Best Screenplay prize at Cannes in Un Certain Regard, LEVIATHAN is yet another tale, loosely based on the Book of Job but set in the coastal town of the Barrents Sea in Russia.  Weather-beaten patriarch Kolya (Alexey Serebryakov) lives with his teenage son Roma (Sergey Pokhadaev) and second wife Lilya (Elena Lyadova).  Their idyllic homestead harbours deep-rooted familial resentments that are aggravated by the aggressions of the local mayor Vadim (Roman Madyanov), a drunken, corrupt bureaucrat set on grabbing their land for himself.  Kolya calls in his lawyer friend Dmitri (Vladimir Vdovitchenkov) from Moscow, but this defensive tactic triggers a series of dramatic events.  Unlike the other recent film on Job, A SERIOUS MAN by the Cohen Brothers, Andrey Zvyagintsev’s (THE RETURN) tale is drop dead serious but rich occasionally in dark black humour.  The best scene has Kolya and son Roma kidding at why lawyer Dmitri took so long to arrive.  “Did you lay a cable or find a good book to read?”  They joke unaware that he reason Dmitri is late is that Dmitri was screwing Kolya’s wife.  The other best scene has the drunk major show up at Kolya’s house only to find an equally drunk Kolya before they start an argument.  But it is also the stunning cinematography by Mikhail Krichman which gives a pensive and lyrical atmosphere to the story.   Though the film lasts around 2 and a half hours, the film hardly feels it as the events flow so smoothly proving Andrey Zvyagintsev not only a master storyteller but master filmmaker.

    LIFE IN A FISHBOWL (Iceland/Sweden/Finland/ Czech 2014) ***

    Directed by Baldvin Z.

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    Three intertwined stories in this film set in the capital of Iceland is Baldvin Z.’s plot line.  Eik is a single mother struggling to make ends meet by any means possible.  Sölvi is a former athlete who's now trying to climb the corporate ladder and deal with a dictatorial boss whose ethics leave more than a little to be desired.  Mori is a once-well-respected author who now appears to be a full-time drunk.  Eik is the link  She is ires as a prostitute at one of Solvi’s company parties award a yacht wile getting Mori to look after her kid.  LIFE IN A FISHBOWL offers a good look at Icelandic life and it did well at the local box office.  Apparently the film depicts actual such swindles in Iceland and the commentary on artists runs quite true as a whole.  The whole exercise feels like a smaller 23-story version of Robert Altman’s SHORT CUTS which I was bot particularly impressed with either.

    LI’L QUINQUIN (France 2014) ***** Top 10
    Directed by Bruno Dumont

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    Dumont’s (L”HUMANITE) latest feature is once again set out in the moonies, the Boulonnais region around Calais where a series of murders have taken place.  A county sheriff Van der Weyden (Bernard Pruvost) and his assistant, Carpentier (Philippe Jore) are assigned the case.  The sheriff is a bungling proud man, unable to control his facial features (always twitching and blinking) as well as the locals who make fun of him.  Most of his theories are stolen from his assistant.  But the murders are puzzling.  Body parts are found in a cow in a bunker that has an entrance too small for the cow to enter.  The solution is proved to the Police Captain by LI’L QUIN QUIN who is a brat that goes around betting up blacks and getting in trouble.  This is Dumont’s first comes and a very funny and observational one.  Running at 3 hours, the film is quite unlike his early art films but nevertheless just as eventful and entertaining.

    Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=grkfB4t2sPQ

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

    Directed by Joshua Oppenheimer

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

    MAGICAL GIRL (Spain 2014) ***

    Directed by Carlos Vermut

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    MAGICAL GIRL begins with a girl in school, Barbara caught by her teacher and forced to read her note out loud to the class.  The note magically disappears, a trick that is used at the end of the film to bring the story to closure.  This is a neat trick as there are so many loose ends in the film that closure makes no sense.  But the loose ends in this case are not a deterrent but work well into the film.  It shows that not every mystery needs to be explained for a film to maintain its hold on the audience.  Luis (Luis Bermejo) is desperate to fulfill his terminally ill daughter's last wish.   Luis turns to extortion when he crosses paths with the beautiful, mentally disturbed Bárbara (Bárbara Lennie).  Seeking revenge on Luis, she turns for help to the only person who truly knows how damaged she is: retired math teacher Damián (José Sacristán).  MAGICAL GIRL an arguably be awarded the creepiest film at TIFF.  Scenes like the forbidden room that has a lizard as a clock and the unmentionable sexual act that pays more the longer one stays are examples.  Goodness does not necessarily pay off.  The film is disturbing for the very fact that the film contains no message, need for redemption and badness pays off.  

    MAY ALLAH BLESS FRANCE (France 2014) **

    Directed by And El Malik

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    This is French rapper, author, and spoken word artist Abd Al Malik’s directorial debut with this adaptation of his 2004 autobiography.  He has no qualms on displaying that he is the best thing on the planet, which is the main downfall of this awfully made egoistic film.  He stars, writes  and directs.  Malik shows himself in the film as talented, educated, smart, romantic and handsome.  Whatever wrong he does is forgivable, such as the brutal beating up of his friend, his drug dealing and his pickpocketing of seniors.  His music is not all hat impressive either.  Enough is enough!

    MEN WHO SAVE THE WORLD (Malaysia/Neth/Fra 2014) **
    Directed by Lieu Seng Tat

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    A dilapidated house is the star of this boisterous observational comedy.  The owner Pak Awang (Wan Hanafi Su) has big restoration plans, aiming to make the house a wedding present to his only daughter.   The village men engage in the comical task of moving the house to its new location.  The house attracts an unexpected guest, Solomon (Khalid Mboyelwa Hussein), a Nigerian immigrant fleeing the mean streets of Kuala Lumpur who adopts Pak's house as a hideout.  Liew’s film is not as funny as it appears on paper.  The two narratives do not really gel well and the comedy seems forced.  The overacting and introduction of incidents like the village’s camel, its slaughter cross dressing and a visit by a government official do not help either.

    Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0DoUf5jSq_s

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

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

    NATIONAL GALLERY (UK/France 2014) ***** Top 10

    Directed by Frederick Wiseman

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    Master documentarian Frederick Wiseman (La Danse, Crazy Horse, At Berkeley) takes his audience in his latest film inside the inner workings of London’s National Gallery.  Shot in over 12 weeks in 2012, director Frederick Wiseman takes in visitor tours, staff meetings, restorations, classes, and protests.  The result is often extensively lengthy segments, but the result pays off.  In one informative segment, Wiseman takes the time to include a budget proposal during a committee meeting.  The various art experts/guides who offer their ideas are what makes this film soar.   For those in the know, there are sufficient paintings on display together with informed narratives.  Wiseman concentrates mostly on Old Masters, and his visit coincides with major exhibitions at the National Gallery of Titian, Leonardo Da Vinci, and J.M.W. Turner.

    Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GoE1NA_zi1M

    NED RIFLE (USA 2014) ***1/2
    Directed by Hal Hartley

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    NED RIFLE is the third of writer/director Hal Hartley’s trilogy that began with HENRY FOOL and FAY GRIM.  The film includes those characters Henry (Thomas Jay Ryan) and Fay (Parker Posey), but they are secondary characters in what turns out to be a film about their short of f***ed up son, Ned Rifle (Liam Aiken).  Ned is now eighteen and recently released from a witness protection program.  Despite the Christian upbringing he received from his foster parent, a church minister (Martin Donovan), Ned sets out to kill his father.   This is the typical Hartley film with Hartley type dialogue of smart, hilarious and irrelevant lines, quirky characters in quirky situations in which anything can happen, as in the in the climax.  One can complain that no one speaks the Hartley way, but it is this specific point that makes this film so entertaining.

    Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OTGs1V-KzK0

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

    Directed by François Ozon

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

    1001 GRAMS (Norway/Germany/France 2014) ***
    Directed by Bent Hamer

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    Bent Hamer makes quirky little comedies like EGGS, KITCHEN STORIES and O’HORTEN.  1001 GRAMS (Norway’s entry to the Oscars in 2015 for Best Foreign Film) is no different.  Norwegian scientist, Marie attends a seminar in Paris (the film is shot in both French and Norwegian) on the standard of the exact weight (mass actually) of a kilogram and brings it back in an encased bell jar.  Unfortunately, she has a car accident and the package is damaged.  She finds herself coming to terms with what is truly important (i.e. what weighs) in her life..  She falls in love.  Hamer’s humour here is derived mainly from observing the meticulousness of scientists in their pursuit of what is deemed the most important.   Those who have seen Hamer’s previous films know ‘exactly’ the kind of film to expect here.

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

    OVER HER DEAD BODY (Japan 2014) ***

    Directed by Takashi Miike

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    Director Takashi Miike who rose to fame with the unforgettable gory AUDITION returns to the horror genre in a story that blurs reality and horror.  Here,  life imitates art and horror imitates life following.  It all starts when a star, Miyuki Goto (Ko Shibasaki) plays Oiwa, the protagonist in a new play based on the ghost story Yotsuya Kaidan (audiences will be familiar with the Japanese horror classic KAIDAN) pulls some strings to get her lover, Kosuke Hasegawa (Ebizo Ichikawa) cast in the play, even though he’s a relatively unknown actor.  Other performers Rio Asahina (Miho Nakanishi) and Jun Suzuki (Hideaki Ito) lust after Miyuki.  Off stage the cast’s possessive love and obsessions exist as reality. Trapped between the play and reality, the cast’s feelings for each other are amplified.  Miike spends more time building up the suspense than in his other films.  The first gore only appears after half the film has transpired, but then it never stops.  From beheadings to gouged out eyes to self induced abortions, the faint hearted should beware!  The art and set direction which is stunning deserves mention.

    Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ljT3sxER6fA

    PARTNERS IN CRIME (Taiwan 2014) ****
    Directed by Chang Jung-chi

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    Three schoolboys spot a dead schoolgirl in an alley.  One discovers a note and forms a theory on why she might have been murdered.  They decide to punish the one responsible and tis become PARTNERS IN CRIME.  Unfortunately, one drowns as a result, a case of curiosity killing the cat.  Chang’s film is a mystery in which the plot thickens and never relents.  He weaves his tale with expert editing and intercutting like creating the pieces of a very big jigsaw puzzle.  A good look at Taiwanese school and life style is also on display here.  The film is also very dark with current issues like death (when you are dead, there is nothing), bullying (even the most ordinary people are capable of bullying) and use of Facebook and cellulars in the story.   A nice unexpected surprise from Taiwan and a relatively new director (TOUCH OF LIGHT).

    Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cecCpLP75-s

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

    Directed by Lucas Belvaux

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

    PRICE WE PAY (Canada 2014) ***
    Directed by Harold Crooks

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    The subject on display here is tax evasion.  Director Harold Crooks (SURVIVING PROGRESS, THE CORPORATION) tackles the dirty world of corporate malfeasance with this incendiary documentary about the dark history and dire present-day reality of big-business tax avoidance, which has seen multinationals depriving governments of trillions of dollars in tax revenues by harbouring profits in offshore havens.  Very well organized with a slew of informed international experts Crooks takes his audience on an informative journey as he analyzes the origins, damaging repercussions, and complex moral issues arising from corporate tax dodging.  Tracing the increase in off-shoring of corporate assets to the City of London in the sixties, and charting its dramatic rise in the eighties during the Thatcher and Reagan administrations, Crooks follows the thread through to the present day, where tax avoidance has directly contributed to the dominance of the "one percent" and further deepened income disparity and wealth inequality.   If the purpose of Crooks is to rile up the audience to action, he succeeds.  The protestors on screen serve to promote his message.

    Trailer : http://vimeo.com/103132639

    THE REAPER (CROATIA/SLOVENIA 2014) ***
    Directed by Zvonimir Juric

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    Many films have been made in which a murder is unsolved but served to demonstrate the way of life of a people - Nilge Ceylon’s ONCE UPONG A TIME IN ANATOLA and this year’s Bruno Dumont’s LI’L QUINQUIN and now Juric’s THE REAPER.  All three films are very slow paced but each have much to show.  In THE REAPER, the murderer is an ex-rapist in prison for 20 years.   He is Ivo (Ivo Gregurevic), a quiet labourer in the employ of an agro-industrial conglomerate, coming to the aid of a woman whose car has run out of petrol on a dark, deserted road.   Though he first appears in the guise of a saviour, the truth is that Ivo is anything but a hero.   Two other characters are cleverly woven into the plot - one a policeman and the other a gas station attendant.  The film shows the history of the town, the way of life, the behaviour, culture and history of non-acceptance emerging.  Ivo ends up dead but no one is sure that he killed himself.

    Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mGoza029rdk

    RED AMNESIA (China 2014) ****
    Directed by Wang Xiaoshai

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    Deng (Lu Zhong), a retired widow has her daily routine derailed when she starts receiving mysterious, anonymous phone calls.  But these are just the tip of the iceberg of her problems.  She is struggling with the loss of her husband, her two sons, a young stranger who keeps following her and a past skeleton in the closet.  Director Wang (BEIJING BICYCLE) plays his drama as a chilling contemporary thriller with Chinese politics thrown in.  A lot of the movie’s weight lies on the actress Lu Zhong who appears in every scene, delivering an impeccable and unforced performance.  But the smart narrative all falls into place at the very end.  A bit low moving but the patience more than pays off.

    RED ARMY (USA/Russia 2014) ***1/2
    Directed by Gabe Polski

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    No need to be a hockey fan or need to know anything about the sport to enjoy this immensely engaging documentary RED ARMY.   Director Gabe Polksi (born of Soviet parents) delves inside the Soviet Union team that dominated the sport at the height of the Cold War.  Like Communism, emphasis was not on individuals but on the team, which moved like the Bolshoi Ballet.  Polski interviews a wide spectrum of experts, the most time given to the team’s charismatic captain Slava Fetisov – one of the best hockey players of all time, with two Olympic golds, seven world championships and eventually three Stanley Cups.  Fetisov appears proud, and without the patience to take nonsensical questions.  But when his story unfolds, one understands the reason.  This man has demonstrated patriotism, familial values, and even torture and beatings.  Others interviewed include an ex-KGB officer, sports journalists and Slava’s wife.  But the footage of the Soviet team playing in top form is well worth the price of the admission ticket.  The bonus of the film is the Russian 5, the unstoppable team of five formed of which Slava is the head.

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

    THE RIOT CLUB (UK 2014) ****
    Directed by Lone Sherfig

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    It has been a while since any film dissected the class and eduction system since Lindsay Anderson’s IF.  Danish director Sherfig’s (ITALIAN FOR BEGINNERS, AN EDUCATION) THE RIOT CLUB (based on the play by Laura Wade) is a secret prestigious Oxford University club of 10 in which they carry on their awful tradition of indulgence and debauchery to excess.   The club is introduced to the audience with the induction of two new members, Miles (Max Irons) and Alistair.  Miles is plain curious but has a conscience.  Things go out of hand at one of their dinners at a Welsh pub with the owner almost beaten to the point of death.  No stranger to drama and conflict, Sherfig’s satire works well with a simple plot, allowing him to make the most of the crucial dinner that is central to the story.  The violence particularly the beating up of the pub owner is not easy to watch, but that is exactly the aim of Sherfig.  The slight twist at the end is predictable for the satire to be effective. The only complaint is that the film feels like a play.

    Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RfYsW7wIlRQ

    RUN (France/Ivory Coast 2014) ***
    Directed by Philippe Lacote

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    RUN is rare film to come out of the Ivory Coast and is about the last two decades of the country's blood-drenched history through the experiences of a young man drawn into the spiral of political violence.  Born into a country mired in wars and corruption, the film's protagonist has been on the run all his life — hence his name, Run (Abdoul Karim Konaté).  When the film begins, Run enters a church and assassinates the Prime Minister.  The rest of the film, told in flashback, follows Run’s twenty-year trajectory from country boy to political militant to assassin.  Isaach De Bankole (the gay maid in LA CAGE AUX FOLLES, the recent CALVARY) has the role of Run’s mentor.  The film explores how violence's twisted logic takes hold of a society, but the whole tale looks a bit simplistic despite Lacote’s effort to make his film more epic.  The violence is balanced by some humour in the segment in which Run encounters sex in the form of a fat woman called Greedy Gladys.

    SAMBA (France 2014) ***
    Directed by Olivier Nakache, Eric Toledano

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    From the directors of LES INTOUCHABLES, SAMBA the film has the subject matter again similar to their smash hit.  The person needing care of this time around is a black illegal worker called SAMBA (Omar Sy also from INTOUCHABLES) and the one looking after him is white and female (Charlotte Gainsbourg).  Samba has just been arrested without papers and his immigrant lawyer rookie has to learn the ropes.  Romance is in the air.  If all this sounds awful, it is not that bad as it sounds in the hands of our fearsome directors.  Quite a bit of insight is provided in terms of the justice system and the workings of illegals.  The numerous bouts of humour helps too.  The proceedings are livened up by Rahar Tahim (UN PROPHET) who plays a fellow illegal alien.

    Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-tqzwbjy0WQ

    A SECOND CHANCE (EN CHANCE TIL) (Denmark 2014) ***1/2

    Directed by Susanne Bier

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    Veteran police officer Andreas (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau) is happily married to the beautiful Anne (Maria Bonnevie).  They have a baby that dies from what he thinks is baby sleep syndrome.  He steals the abused child from an abusive junkie named Tristan (Nikolaj Lie Kaas), and girlfriend Sanne (Lykke May Andersen) to pass as theirs. This infant son is neglected, often lying in its own filth for hours.  This is their SECOND CHANCE.  The audience knows that the act is wrong, and something will go wrong.  Bier ups the angst from there and the suspense is mind boggling.  Director of films like BROTHERS, AFTER THE WEDDNG and the Oscar Winning IN A BETTER WORLD, A SECOND CHANCE is the most commercial of her work.  Which does not mean that she has compromised her films nor that his one is less important. The film does touch sensitive issues (like police abuse) and the drama fits into the suspense and bit of action that occurs.  It is good to see Bier flexible and still making a compelling film.

    Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yDQ7mX3SA80

    SENZA NESSUNA PIETA (Italy 2014) ***
    Directed by Michele Alhique

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    An Italian mafia version of The Beauty of The Beast is what SENZA is all about.  A great bear of a man, Mimmo (Pier Francesco Favino), the beast is a mob enforcer, the guy the boss sends out on dirty jobs when the money needs to be collected.  He's a loyal soldier to his uncle but he boss's son, Manuel, a serial womanizer, growing too big for his boots.  When things turn ugly during Manuel's "date" with an escort Mimmo was sent to pick up, Mimmo snaps and almost kills Manuel.  The Beauty is the woman (Greta Scarano) he doesn't even know but protecting.   This is not a Hollywood film, so no happy ending should be expected.  The film takes its obvious course leading to its obvious ending.  There is no redemption for the Beast for almost killing Manuel, but he tries his hardess.  Alhique should have provided more history and details on his two main characters, that will make the film more effective.

    Trailer: http://www.huffingtonpost.it/2014/07/31/senza-nessuna-pieta-trailer-pierfrancesco-favino_n_5637302.html

    SHELTER (USA 2014) **
    Directed by Paul Bettany

    SHELTER is actor Paul Bettany's (GANGSTER NO. 1, A BEAUTIFUL MIND) directorial debut about two homeless people in New York in winter.  The end credits claim that the film is dedicated to the couple outside Bettany’s building.  Whether the story is true does not really matter, as it is a simple one that could be the lives of any two homeless people.  Bettany does not provide much detail into the background of either Hannah (Bettany’s wife Jennifer Connelly) or Tahir (Anthony Mackie), except that she is an addict trying to quit.   The two meet by accident when Hannah has Tahir’s jacket and this develops into an unconvincing love story.   For one, the romance is inter-racial which makes credibility more difficult.  For a film on this subject, the film naturally rests a large part on the performance of its two leads.  Mackie fares better while Connolly hams it up way too much, especially in the segment with the helium balloon and the (we get the point already) sex scenes.  The film offers no real insight on the homeless that audiences are not already aware of, and the film is not a pleasant watch either.

    THE SHREW’S NEST (MUSARANAS) (Spain 2014) ***

    Directed by Juanfer Andrés, Esteban Roel

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    Many will see this film for the fact that it is produced by Alex de la Iglesia, director of previous TIFF hits like PERFECT CRIME, WITCHES AND BITCHES, THE LAST CIRCUS and PERDITO DURANGO.   But THE SHREW’S NEST is deadly serious horror, with hardly any humour, the key trait in his films.  The story concerns two sisters, one pretty and one crazy (Macarena Gómez and Nadia de Santiago)with agoraphobia.  When the handsome upstairs neighbour (Hugo Silva) falls down the stairs in their apartment building, the crazy one keeps him imprisoned in the bedroom with his very bad leg.  This all looks familiar, as it is MISERY territory with a twist.  Trouble is that I guessed the twist at the very end of the film.  Still, the film is very violent and nasty stuff, if one can bear it.

    Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mSCO95qb4Ss

    TALES OF THE GRIM SLEEPER (USA 2014) ****
    Directed by Nick Broomfield

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    The  grim sleeper is the serial killer in South Central Los Angeles so-called because everyone thought he took a sabbatical in his killings.  But he did not.  The police failed to inform that the killings never stopped.  Documentarian Nick Broomfield (Aileen Wuornos: Portrait of a Serial Killer, Biggie and Tupac) digs into the case of this notorious serial killer, Lonnie Franklin Jr. while uncovering other major issues such as class inequalities, race, police incompetence and the justice system while at it.  Broomfield demonstrates an easy-going way of shooting, often carrying his equipment in his car with his interviewees.  He even films himself getting a traffic ticket for not wearing a seat belt, while asking the officer afterwards whether he knows anything of the killer.  Broomfield asks questions to anyone he can get into contact with, fearless a man that he is.  The result is overwhelming with a lot of material on display.  The audience gets a full feel of what filming a doc is like and it is eye-opening and funny.  Broomfield does not takes sides or judge, asking questions in an unbiased way thus obtaining amazing results in this otherwise awesome documentary.

    Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MspO5rC6Vps

    LE TEMPS DES AVEUX (THE GATE) (France/Belg/Cambodia 2014) ****

    Directed by Regis Wargnier

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    Regis Wargnier’s (EST-OUEST, Oscar Best Foreign Film Winner INDOCINE) latest film is a no nonsense account of the true story of French ethnologist, Bizot (Raphael  Personnaz) set in the brutal era when the Khmer Rouge was gaining power in Kampuchea.  The film is split into 3 parts. The first concerns Bizot’s ordeal after being captured and falsely accused of being a foreign spy.  He meets and is ultimately saved by Duch (Phoeung Kompheak), a young K.R. zealot who believes his innocence.  The second, worthy of any Hollywood thriller, is his escape back to France with his daughter and wife’s friend.  Duch rises to power in the ranks and becomes involved with the torture and execution of hundreds of innocent lives.  When The K.R. fell from power, Duch is imprisoned and faces sentence.  The last part of the film - the shortest but most harrowing - deals with the meeting, again of the two men.  Shot in actual locations in Cambodia and using many non-professional actors, Wargnier’s film is chillingly effective (and not overly dramatized) in its portrayal of the folly of war.   This is as good as INDOCINE, if not better.  For a film about the killing of thousands, not on killing is shown on screen.

    THEEB (Jordan/Qatar/UK 2014) ***

    Directed by Naji Abu Nowar

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    This rare film set in the Hejaz Province of the Ottoman Empire centres on a young Bedouin by the name of Theeb (Jacir Eid) which means wolf.  It is  coming-of-age, self discovery story but also one in which survival (i.e. his life) is at stake.  He has to make life decisions on who or whom not to trust.  His teacher is elder brother Hussein (Hussein Salameh) who ends up dead while doing what is right helping a British soldier (Jack Fox).  The First World War is also raging in Europe while the Ottoman Empire is coming undone and the Great Arab Revolt brewing.   The film is beautifully shot on location against the ravishing desert landscape of Wadi Rum and Wadi Araba.  The film just won Nowar the Best Director Award at the Venice film festival.

     

    THEY HAVE ESCAPED (FINLAND/NETHERLANDS 2013) ***

    Directed by JP Valkeapää 

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    They Have Escaped opens with youth Joni (Teppo Manner), whose stutter forced him to flee military service, being given his orders working at a halfway house for troubled youth by a no-nonsense sadistic supervisor.  Joni is under the threat of a prison sentence if he runs away again.  He soon befriends bleached-blond punk Raisa (Roosa Söderholm) and the pair escape after he witnesses the brutality enforced on the inmates.   This is a sort of road movie - Finnish style, which means than weirder things can happen compared to American films.  Their journey takes them from a drug-fuelled island idyll to a brief sojourn in Helsinki, to an encounter with a hippie trinket salesman, and eventually a trip to Raisa's childhood home.  Valkeapää’s film, that plays like a nightmarish Grimm’s fairytale illustrates the joy and desperation of youth set in both an urban and country landscape.  But the violent ending is puzzling when the two are subject to torture when caught trespassing.

    Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MdUa4Haw04k

    TIGERS (India/UK/France 2014) ***** Top 10

    Directed by Danis Tanovic

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    Director Danis Tanovic (NO MAN’S LAND) has hit the jackpot again with a controversial - see it and it will change your life - film.  The story tells of Ayan (Emran Hasmi), hired by Lasta Foods (fictitious name) as a representative in north east Pakistan to sell infant formulas substituting for breast milk.  But the poor dilute the formula with contaminated water resulted in hundred of deaths of babies.  Ayan learns the truth, quits the job and whistle blows.  His story is about to be made into a film to expose the companies but the film faces legal consequences of being made.  Tanovic’s film is layered showing both how hard it is to fight a system and of getting a controversial film made.  Tanovic directs his film as a thriller.  The film zig zags between the two issues and the audience is constantly placed at the edge of the seat as to what will happen next.  It helps too that Ayan’s character is shown with all the faults of a human being, being tempted to take the company’s bribe.

    TOUR DE FORCE (Germany 2014) **
    Directed by Christian Zubert

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    TOUR DE FORCE is a film about a group of friends that do a last bicycle ride with their friend, Hannes who is about to end his life through assisted suicide as he has deteriorating ALS.  Zubert’s film is pretty standard, the parts introducing each friend including Hannes, then the ride and finally the final step.  The ride is across the Belgium countryside, because Belgium has legalized attempted suicide.  But Zubet’s film is neither insightful nor inventive, relying on melodrama and cheap jokes (like each friend having to do a ‘task’ on the way).  Sad to say, all this is a boring exercise and one cannot wait for it all to end.

    Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AjtGjCad0PQ

    THE TRIBE (Ukraine 2014) ****
    Directed by Myroslav Slaboshpytskiy

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    THE TRIBE, which garnered three Critics' Week awards, including the Grand Prix — is an unforgettably original drama set entirely in the world of the deaf.  The film begins with the warning that there is no subtitles or voice over.  The result is a film that often is difficult to understand, less put together unless one understands sign language.  The protagonist is teenage Sergey (Grigoriy Fesenko), arriving at a boarding school for the deaf and mute, and greeted by more than the usual challenges of integration.  He is put through the requisite initiation rites, he proves himself worthy and is brought under the protective wing of the school's gang leader.   But he falls in love, setting up major problems.  The main gist of the story can easily be understood.  Trying to understand exactly what is happening, might not really be necessary, (another example being last year’s STARRED UP), but THE TRBE is definitely a compelling watch from start to finish.

    Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bpLj9WYBK_c

    TRICK OR TREATY? (Canada 2014) ***
    Directed by Alanis Obomsawin

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    The treaty in question is the 1905 James Bay Treaty #9 signed over 100 years ago that is called into question today to set the record straight in terms of fairness and respect.  Directed by First Nations Activist Alanis Obomsawin, the documentary is moving and dramatic stuff and like a protest, the purpose is to create awareness, peacefully.  She also generates anger through the introduction of the government’s two omnibus bills.  The film records in detail two movements, the Idle No More Move by Cree Chief Theresa Spence and a 1,600 kilometre walk on foot by 16-year old David Kawapit from a Cree village in Quebec to Ottawa.  One wishes more information came about or if any meeting occurred after the walk.  But TRICK OR TREATY? is not only educational but essential viewing for every Canadian who now live on First Nation’s land.

    Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Lst4meSmVck

    UNLUCKY PLAZA (Singapore 2014) ****
    Directed by Ken Quek

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    Singapore seems to be consistently delivering above average films (SAND CASTLES, ILO, ILO) to TIFF considering that the island republic never had a film industry when I left in 1984.  UNLUCKY PLAZA, the title is so called as a lot of the action in the film originates from that Singapore shopping centre called Lucky Plaza.  For one the main protagonist has a food store there.  The film begins with an interview of three, involved in a hostage taking scheme gone wrong.  The Filipino is the hostage taker, the woman the wife of the owner of the apartment who is having an affair with her pastor. and the third, her husband. The film is very convincing, incorporating the different languages (Filipino, Mandarin, pigeon English and Malay) together with the accents used.  The camera work is impressive and Kwek’s film has a good balance of suspense, satire (film may be banned), humour and suspense.  The film deals with the touchy topics of the Chinese mafia, rioting (racial) and other topics that do not make Singapore look good.  Director Quek’s last short was banned by the Singapore Government.  Kwek relents a bit in his view when in the film the Filipino is asked if the Singapore Government failed him, and he said, “no”.  But I doubt that this will be a good enough reason for UNLUCKY PLAZA not to be banned, given its sensitive subject matter.

    Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=29BU1cGnpr8

    WET BUM (Canada 2014) ***
    Directed by Lindsay MacKay

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    WET BUM is a rare piece of work that deals on a pre-teen’s (she is 14) relationship with two aged seniors.  Writer/director Lindsay MacKay has developed a thoughtful, slow moving but compelling piece that is full of heart and emotional drama.  Sam (2014 TIFF Rising Star Julia Sarah Stone) has two things on her plate.  She is working for her mother (Leah Pinsent) while taking swimming classes to improve herself.  At work, she develops a relationship with two residents, the silent Judith (Diana Leblanc) and the boisterous Ed (Kenneth Welsh).  Ed rants non-stop.  Meanwhile, her swimming instructor is hitting on her, good for her as her classmates are bullying her.  The atmosphere of an Ontario small town is well captured in both the story and looks.  Once Sam is in a car and drives off, she is out of the town in the country.  Though MacKay’s film moves slowly, she tells a clear story with a clear goal in mind.  The result is a film with a strong narrative with no loose ends.

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

    WHOAMI (West Germany 2014) ****

    Directed by Baran bi Odar

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    From the director of THE SILENCE comes a current computer hacker thriller, as fast moving as the time it takes to compute logic.  Benjamin (Tom Schilling) is the prototypical twenty-five-year-old computer geek: no fashion sense, no friends, and definitely no girlfriend.  But he is like super hacker and the best in his ‘work’.  With charismatic Max (Elyas M'Barek), a would-be revolutionary who yearns to "hack the world," but needs Benjamin's prodigious skills and with fellow wunderkinds Stephan (Wotan Wilke Möhring) and Paul (Antoine Monot, Jr.), they form the hacker collective called CLAY (Clowns Laughing @ You). But they run into trouble with the German Secret Service, Europol when a sinister rival hacker adopts Benjamin’s identity and sells hacked information to Soviet cyberspace.  As in the film where Benjamin uses the adage, “Everyone is gullible and avoid conflict” to get into any place, director Odar follows the same idea with a clever script that does not confront any controversy to entertain.  One does not need to be a computer geek to enjoy this film!

    Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3MPFY6quEdM

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

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    The film’s title tells it as it is.  This is a film consisting of 6 WILD TALES.  The common theme is revenge.  They are inherently wild and the humour can get really dark.  The first story is “Pasternak” which completes just before the opening credits roll.  This tale is arguably the funniest, shortest and the freshest.  The second is my favourite entitled “The Rats”.  A waitress (Julieta Zylberberg) in a diner discovers her only and extremely rude customer (Cesar Bordon) is the loan shark who drove her father to kill himself.  The third “Road to Hell,” has Diego (Leonardo Sbaraglia), a hotshot businessman in an Audi, insult a redneck Peugeot driver (Walter Donado).   The fourth is “Bombita”.  Simon (Ricardo Darin), a demolition engineer  has his car impounded and goes through “I’m as mad as hell” routine.  The most serious “The Bill” is also the most unexpected and I cannot complain about this one.  Mauricio (Oscar Martinez) is a wealthy man which his lawyer (Osmar Nunez) milks to get his son, Santiago off a hit and run accident.  The last and my least favourite “Till Death Do Us Part,” set at a Jewish wedding reception sees bride Romina (Erica Rivas) discovering her groom Ariel (Diego Gentile) sleeping around with a guest.  This is a rare case of watching a film that you want never to end, though WILD TALES runs more than 2 hours. Besides saying this is the most fun I had in a movie this year!

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

    THE WORLD OF KANAKO (Japan 2014) **
    Directed by Tetsuya Nakashima

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    Fukamachi's novel Hateshinaki Kawaki big-screen adaptation is director Tetsuya Nakashima new violent movie.  Kôji Yakusho (The Eel, Cure, Babel) gives a ferocious performance as Akikazu Fujishima, a hot-tempered ex-police force officer who got thrown off the force after assaulting his wife's lover.  It gets worse.  Years later, his downward spiral is interrupted when seventeen-year-old daughter Kanako (Nana Komatsu) goes missing.   Kanako’s world is worse that an father can even imagine.  There needs to be some order in a film about chaos so that there is some perspective or standard. Unfortunately, there is none here, and the result is film filled with nonsensical violence with non head or tail.  The film is so over the top that no one can gets killed, hero or villain either.

    Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CJoHWFXpp4c

    X + Y (UK 2014) ***

    Directed by Morgan Matthews

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    A socially awkward teenage math prodigy, Nathan (Asa Butterfield from HUGO), lands a spot on the British squad at the International Mathematics Olympiad.  The film is divided into three parts, besides having lots of mathematic riddles for those interested in the subject.  The first deals with the boy’s background (father’s death; behaviour in school) before going to Taiwan for selection into the squad, the second part.  The final is the Olympiad in Cambridge where he learns a more important lesson in mathematics.  The film is a feel good weepie and director Matthews does well in the film’s buildup considering that there is no climax of a final contest in which the audience is cheering the contestants winning.  The film benefits greatly from two of the best actors in Britain, united together again since Mike Leigh’s HAPPY-GO-LUCKY.  Sallly Hawkins plays the boy’s thankless mother and Eddie Marson the mathematics squad leader.  The film celebrates differences in people.

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

    SHORT CUTS INTERNATIONAL

    CHOP MY MONEY (Congo 2014) ***

    Directed by Theo Anthony

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    Lively, musical, lyrical yet disturbing doc/drama following three  street kid who don’t give a damn about anything in east Congo.  They think it cool to fight, drink and smoke weed.  Patient, Guillain and David share their dreams and philosophies to the rhythm of Montreal-based musician Dirty Beaches.

    Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=avez_pDvSk0

    THE GOAT (South Africa 2014) ***
    Directed by John Tengove

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    After being subjected to a ritual circumcision intended to usher him into manhood and purge him of any homosexual desires, a young Xhosa teenager is painted white as a goat and isolated in a remote mountain hut, where his desperate desire to escape grows as his pain and panic mount.  Tengove contrasts the darkness of the hut to the bright sunshine outside where it is too bright to see.  It is clear that Tegove intends to illustrate the folly of he manhood ritual which he does well, with an ambiguous endng that is up to the viewer to interpret.

    SHORT CUTS CANADA

    UNE INDEE DE GRANDEUR (Canada 2014) **

    Directed by Vincent Biron

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    The 14-minute short shows middle geared Louis Belisle, defeated in his re-election campaign for town mayor.   Louis tries to find some way to escape the bitter taste of failure, but nothing too interesting happens on screen.  It is all a too dead-pan affair and the disappointment Louis feels rubs off on the viewer as well.

    INDIGO (Canada 2014) ***

    Directed by Amanda Strong

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    No narrative - nothing really needed to be followed n terms of story.  Just sit back, relax and enjoy the hand-crafted, stop-motion figures come to life in this dreamlike tale inspired by Native mythology.  A confined woman is liberated by a grandmother spider while opaque memories are projected in an effort to restore her spirit as life nears its end.

    INTRUDERS (Canada 2014) ***

    Directed by Santiago Menghini

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    3 short shorts in this short about mysterious forces at work in the dark of night or early dawn.  Menghini’s camera movement and motion of objects that include swinging doors indicate that he could be a new director to watch for chilling horror films.

    Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5bXZn2xl56c

    MYNARSKI DEATH PLUMMET (Canada 2014) ***

    Directed by Matthew Rankin

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    The 8-minute short is about the death plummet with a parachute unopened of Winnipeg’s doomed Second World War hero, Andrew Mynarski (1916-1944).   The descent is with classical and avant-garde animation techniques (including stop-motion, silhouettes, bleaching, scratching, hand-painting and rubbing letratone patterns directly on the celluloid).  There is no narrative or nothing to be understood, but to enjoy the colour and black and white.  The film also looks often like a Guy Madden film.

    PLAGE DE SABLES (THE SANDS) (Canada 2014)**

    Directed by Marie-Ève Juste

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    A group of friends retreat to a cottage for a weekend in the wood by THE SANDS, and tensions rise when the presence of a newcomer — the black, much younger boyfriend of one of the group.  The black is belittled (asked to get the bottle of Pinot Noir and then made fun of) and doted upon by an older blonde  Things turn to a head during the night.  But it is unclear what director Juste is trying to say or what actually is happening.  I take it that the boy stood up for what he believed in at the end.  But her shots of the night and the beach are gorgeous.

    SALE GUEULE (BROKEN FACE) (Canada 2014) ****

    Directed by Alain Fournier

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    Brilliantly done striking animation in which old man Morlaix lives as a mad recluse in a remote lighthouse.  When a disfigured sailor (the Sale Gueule of the title) is sent to join him, a lifetime’s worth of pain and fear resurfaces as a storm brews over the sea.  The film is told from the point of view of Broken face who despises the old man, but when death comes face to face with both men, he takes the side of the living.  Eerie, captivating and excellent story and animation of two men and the sea.

    Trailer:- https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Nzy38sJFSK0

    SLEEPING GIANT (GEANT ENDORMI) (Canada 2014) ****

    Directed by Andrew Cividino

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    Impressive 16-minute short on the theme of boys will be boys.  While spending a boring summer on Lake Superior, Adam falls in with two local boys and begins to fill his days attempting ever more hazardous stunts.  The stunt of jumping off the higher cliff into the lake forms the climax after a girl, Taylor enters the picture.  Stunning photography of the dives, the underwater shots and the realistic wrestling put this film one up above the other short films.

    Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SQQLy0o2Ias&feature=youtu.be

    SUR LE CIMENT (ON CEMENT) (Canada 2014) **
    Directed Robin Aubert

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    The film begins with an elderly lady staring at graffiti on cement, and hence the film ON CEMENT.  This is a daring lady who when witnessing another elderly French kissing a youth in a restaurant decides to go for one last sexual encounter.  Aubert’s short shifts between the two and the highlight seems to be the sex scene.  One wonders the point he is trying to make in this exercise.

    Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NSe061YnHzw

  • Adam Solomon: Raising awareness through music

    “Music plays a big part in the world,” says Kenya-born Toronto musician Adam Solomon. From the sound of birds singing outside to a TV ad, music manifests itself in many different ways to speak to our souls. Solomon was raised in a musical family in Mombasa, Kenya. He recalls how his father played guitar as a regular hobby until the day he stored the instrument away, leaving it to collect dust. One day a cousin retrieved it, cleaned it, and started teaching Adam how to play. “We played together in a family band. I later progressed and left the family band to develop on my own and with other collaborators,” as he recounts. He also played kivoti (flute) and kayaamba (shaker) at village celebrations and festivals.

    His musical journey took him eventually to Canada, where he landed and making it his home, in 1992. His musical style, blending blues with traditional African sounds, allowed him to get good recognition both as a soloist and with his bands. Soon after arriving in Canada, he founded a pan-African band, the Afronubians, with whom he toured Western Canada in 1993. Over the years, he continued to collaborate with various musicians such as Madagascar Slim, Donne Roberts, Pa Joe, Alpha Yaya Diallo and The Mighty Popo. These musical alliances culminated in the publication of a CD, in 2004, called “African Guitar Summit,” which went on to win a Juno for Best World Music Album of the Year in 2005.

    The Business of Music

    “Music is my full-time career,” he proudly says. When asked to explain the secrets of his success, Solomon compares himself to any other type of businessman. “Music is a business. Putting aside the spirituality aspect, music is a business like any other business. If somebody sells vegetables, and has five tomatoes of different sizes, they will sell them according to their weight and their size.”

    While Adam Solomon has made a name for himself with his distinctive brand of African renaissance blues, he’s also adept in a variety of styles including jazz, Latin, African, Caribbean, R'nB and funk.

    As he cautions, “if you’re not successful, you need to learn more. It’s just like anything, it’s all depends on you.” So he’s become a constant student of his craft and market.

    He also enjoys meeting many people and fans of his music through his busking sessions in the TTC’s subway platforms. “I get to meet interesting people there. Passengers sometimes buy my CDs, ask for my business card, and invite me to go play at their events, parties and even festivals,” he says.

    Music for a Good Cause

    His music has taken him to many places across North America. While he hasn’t been back to his home country of Kenya to perform his music yet, he has gone back to visit family and hopes to soon reconnect musically with his homeland. In the meantime, his music career in Canada continues to give him opportunities to discover new horizons, people, and ways to share his artistic gift.

    The many years he as spent busking in the subway, for instance, has helped him to forge a network of musicians. “Between us musicians who play in the subway, we have our own mailing list. We do contact each other,” as he explained. It’s through those TTC channels that he came to know more about Scotiabank BuskerFest -- North America's largest street performers festival, and the world's largest epilepsy event – and the opportunity to get involved. So this year her decided to take part.

    Running throughout this weekend, from August 21-24, along Yonge Street from Queen Street to College Street and surrounding areas, Scotiabank BuskerFest, is attended annually by around 1.5 million people. The international audience is treated to enthralling performances from world-class street artists from around the globe – including from Canada and the U.S., and as far away as Australia, Austria, Argentina, Belgium, Germany, Hungary, Ireland, Italy, Japan, Mexico, New Zealand, Russia, Spain, Sweden and the United Kingdom.

    Adam Solomon had originally heard about BuskerFest, North America’s biggest street performer’s festival and the largest Epilepsy awareness-raising event in the world, particularly through his African blues trio drummer who also works for the cause of epilepsy awareness in Toronto.

    Performing as a solo artist today and tomorrow at the festival, Solomon said “this issue of epilepsy is a cause that why I believe in getting involved with. What they’re doing it they’re bringing awareness of epilepsy and also supporting services for those who are living with epilepsy.”

    Related Links

     

  • This Week's Film Reviews (Aug 22, 2014)

     

    WHEN THE GAME STANDS TALL  and SIN CITY: A DAME TO KILL FOR  are two blockbusters opening this week.

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    TIFF Cinematheque is running a Robert Altman retrospective and a series on 'sequels'.

    FILM REVIEWS:

    Are You Here (USA 2014) **

    Directed by Matthew Weiner

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    Writer/director Matthew Weiner’s (TV’s MAD MEN) feature debut is a mixed bag of ticks.  Looking like a comedy perhaps like THE HANGOVER, it also treads serious dramatic water.  Weiner’s film is actually mostly about pretty serious stuff, and deals with a lot of key issues like the environment, family dysfunction, bromance and romance, some done well and others not.

    The film starts off as a buddy movie with Steve Dallas (Owen Wilson) and Ben Baker (Zach Galifianakis).  The two are complete opposites, Steve holding a TV local weatherman job and bedding the girls while Ben is jobless, clueless and womanless.  But Ben has a thing about helping the environment though has not clyde how to go about it.  Then Ben inherits his estranged father's fortune. but has to battle the legal challenge brought by his formidable sister (Amy Poehler), who claims him mentally unfit.

    There are a few weird things that run throughout the film.  Steve and Ben always end smoking up, thought there is really any need to show this.  Te running appearance of Amish folk, often giving solid advice, however, is hilarious though it does not enhance plot credibility.

    But Weiner basically cannot decide how t play his film.  As stated, this film can hardlybe called a comedy or a serious drama.  The mood swings.  When Ben finally shaves off his bear near the last third of the film (the first time audiences see Galifianakis clean shaven), the character and actor both undergo welcome change. To this critic. jack Black and Galifianakis are  the two most irritating actors on the planet.  The often scream out their lines, try their best to look cool when they are not and just create unfunny jokes half the time.  But when Ben is clean shaven, he actually stops shouting his lines (ok - he does just once) and creates a changed character.  But it is Amy Poehler that steals the show as the hateful sister who eventually turns over a new leaf.

    Weiner’s introduction of the romance between Steve and Ben’s stepmother (Laura Ramsey) is awkward and does not match the proceedings.  Worst is the fact that Ben has slept with her too.  And even worst is the corny scene of kissing in the rain.

    WERE YOU HERE? also contains a boing middle before getting moving along.  But Weiner’s film contains nothing sensational or different that has not seen seen in buddy or dysfunctional family film before.

    The film opens simultaneously in theatres and on VOD (video on demand) on the 22nd.

    Trailer: https://www.yahoo.com/movies/are-you-here-exclusive-trailer-zach-galifianakis-87904092037.html

    THE ONE I LOVE (USA 2014) ****

    Directed by Charlie McDowell

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    There has been many films about doppelgangers (last year had THE DOUBLE and PRISONER) but never one with double dopplegangers.

    A rare experience an an excellent movie going one, McDowell’s meticulously plotted film written by Justin Laser works so well that it was a surprise that he revealed that a lot of the lines were improvised by the actors.

    Though light and humorous, the film is more a drama with lots of anticipation, much, much more than found in a whodunit.  For those who like a good suspense thriller THE ONE I LOVE is it, and though the last twist in the plot is predictable, the film still satisfies.

    The film starts off with a couple, Ethan (Mark Duplass) and Sophie (Elisabeth Moss) having a session with their therapist (Ted Danson).  Having insurmountable relationship problems the therapist suggests they spend some quality time at a retreat.  At this time, the film feels like a romantic drama.  But at the retreat home, Ethan engages in wonderful sex with Sophie the first night after smoking some pot.  The next morning, Sophie denies that they had sex.  Later, she has a nice encounter with Ethan that Ethan denies ever happened.   It becomes apparent to Ethan (who hilariously describes it both as Twilight Zone shit and a cosmic aberration) what is going on and he confronts Sophie that there exists doubles of themselves.  They play the game to their advantage but things get messy.

    This is not the first time fantasy has been used to solve relationship problems in a film.  Woody Allen used the premise in THE PURPLE ROSE OF CAIRO and MIDNIGHT IN PARIS.  In fact, THE ONE I LOVE has the same feel as those Allen moves till the last third when things get really weird and the film heads into Lynchian territory.  But unlike MULHOLLAND DRIVE where David Lynch drives his film to an illogical end, everything is mostly explained here.  The best thing about McDowell’s film is that it feels wholly original.

    To help the audience tell one character from another, the real Ethan goes around wearing glasses while his doppelganger goes without.  Moss and Duplass make an excellent befuddled couple who radiate that their love for each other is not lost despite the current state of affairs.

    But the film is so well constructed that it is hard to pinpoint any flaw in the logic of events.  McDowell also takes his film to a perfect ending to the Mamas and Papas familiar song ‘Dedicated to the One I Love’.

    This Film can also be labelled a romantic comedy or dramedy of sorts and one wishes romantic comedies had more ingenuity like his one.

    Highly recommended!

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

    SENORITAS (Colombia/Canada 2014) **

    Directed by Lina Rodriguez

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    SENORITAS is the feature film debut of TIFF publicist Lina Rodriguez Colombian descent living in Toronto.

    Her minimalist film follows a girl, Alejandra (Maria Serrano) in her late 20’s or perhaps early 30’s hanging around a bunch of friends.  She lives with her mother (played by Rodriguez’s real mother) who is a tad too nosy on her whereabouts and friends.

    In one interview with Lina Rodriguez, she mentioned the 8-minute take of her protagonist  walking home in the night.  She mentioned that the intention is to show her loneliness while also indicating a fear factor as anything could happen to her.  (But it is to be noted that a song with the lyrics and title of ‘Loneliness’ has just blared on the screen, so the first part of the intention is already realized.)  For a 90-minute movie, this is a tenth of the film’s running time, not to mention that there are 3 segments with the camera behind Senorita’s back neck with nothing much going on.  Is the Rodrigues doing the Dardennes Brothers and Bela Tarr (apparently Rodriguez’s influence).

    Nothing much happens in SENORITAS.  The film can best be described as an observational film.  If one wants to read more into the movie, one can, especially in the climatic swimming pool scene, but the discovery can be personal and inconsequential.  But the film, while moving at a snail’s pace, teases more than reveals - and this can be quite the annoyance to the typical commercial moviegoer.

    Rodriguez’s camerawork is basically similar from start to finish.  Her camera is stationary and her actors act within the frame.  The only time a mild difference occurs is towards the end of the film when the camera moves left to right and then right to let to capture the actor’s dialogue.  One can imagine the frustration of the actors working within the frame and likely having to do multiple takes.  One immediately is aware to that there are no drops of water on the camera lens in the swimming pool scene to Rodriguez’s credit.  One wishes that she would pull her camera back more often instead of having her actors in the audience’s face most of the time.

    Rodriguez said during that interview that she had problems with funding as the short features she had to show were basically experimental works (rhythm and shadow) with no narrative.  So it is not surprising that SENORITAS turns out to be a non commercial film with no strong narrative.
    Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2C0jDXQJmPQ

    SIN CITY: A DAME TO KILL FOR (USA 2014) ***
    Directed by Robertson Rodriguez and Frank Miller

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    Frank Miller’s (writer and co-directer) graphic novel adaptation into comic book style the graphic movie would be more appropriately called SIN CITY: A DAME TO DIE FOR as more guys end up dead rather than alive for their one sin - love for the voluptuous dames.

    This R-rating film has lots of gory and violence to satisfy adults - especially those that might be disappointed with THE EXPENDABLES 3’s downgraded R-Rating.  This film will have the audience cringing at the fingers broken by pliers, eyes gouged out from the head and multiple dismemberments during the many gory segments.   But all this should be taken in good stride as it is all good old dirty fun, if audiences just remember that this is only a movie.

    The plot is made up of 4 independent stories but linked with one or more common characters.  The film begins with ‘Just Another Saturday Night’ with John Hartigan (Bruce Willis) reuniting with stripper Nancy (Jessica Alba) as witnessed by Marv (Mickey Rourke) as he awakes after being beaten up.  The story shifts to “The Long Bad Night” with young Johnny (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) beating Senator Roark (Powers Boothe) at poker only to end up physically beaten up.  Then the shift is to “A Dame to Kill For” in which Dwight McCarthy (Josh Brolin) struggles with his inner demons and tries to maintain control until his former lover, Ava Lord (Eva Green).  she returns, wanting his help to escape her abusive husband, billionaire Damien Lord (Arton Csokas) and his massive bodyguard Manute.  The last story is ‘Nancy’s Last Dance’ in which Nancy of the first story hunts down the Senator.

    The graphics and visuals of the film (as in the first SIN CITY and 300 films) are stunning.  At times, the film appears like a moving comic book.  The dames are usually coloured while the rest of the frame remains black and white.  The blood is usually red but not all the time.  The portrayal of SIN CITY as a downtrodden sin-filled dump is done ever so well.

    But as amazing as the film looks, the novelty still wears down.  Just like the 3D effects, where audiences normally get used and not feel the 3D after a while, audiences want more from the film than looks.  The multiple stories tied loosely together mainly with the Mickey Rourke character works but the intercutting among the different tales loosens the momentum and buildup of each one.

    It seems that the criteria to get hired in this film is to be extremely sexy if you are a lady or extremely ugly (Joseph Gordon-Levitt has undergo ugliness touch-ups) if you are a guy.

    Directors Rodriguez and Miller do know how to build up the tension in a scene - the poker game segments are the best.  And  they keep the action segments slick, gory and violent.

    Not for everyone, but for those able to handle the sex, action and violence, IN CITY: A DAME TO KILL FOR has lots to offer.

    Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nqRRF5y94uE

    WHEN THE GAME STANDS TALL (USA 2014) ***

    Directed by Thomas Carter

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    There words ‘inspired by a true story’ flashes on the screen at the start of the football movie WHEN THE GAME STANDS TALL.  One can take it that the events occurred, i.e. the  winning and losing games on display but that the filmmakers have taken certain liberties in dramatizing the characterizations.

    The selling point of the film is the remarkable feat of legendary football coach Bob Ladouceur (Jim Caviezel), who took the De La Salle High School Spartans (California) from obscurity to a 151-game winning streak that shattered all records for any American sport.  It is surprising that a documentary has not been made of this journey.

    But the film begins with the 151st game. So the audience knows that the game is a winner but the one following is a downer with the streak lost.  This is the story the filmmakers wish to tell.  Coach Lad must teach his players - and the entire town - that the streak is not the game, a point drummed into the audience time again and one last time at the end of the film.

    The film leads to a final climatic match in which the Spartans has to win the game or lose everything they have worked for.  The usual editing is there, typical in a sports match - the intercutting among the players, the ball, the spectators, the coaches on both sides, the injuries etc.  The dialogue contains the usual pick up speeches.  The script also contains the lives of the poverty stricken players and goes so far as to emphasize the accidental death of one.  But despite all those distractions, the film is supposed to be about Coach Ladouceur.  But when the film dwells back on him, as in the end game or during a funeral, the flow is erratic.

    At its worst, the film dips into melodrama.  This happens when Coach lad invites the team to say whatever they want to say during a training session.  What follows are sob stories and pseudo inspirations relayed by the players.  One goes on to say that his grandfather ridden with cancer waits for him to cmd home to tell how the team played.

    For a dramatic film about Coach Lad, actor Jim Caviezel delivers a very subdued performance.  Even his speeches to the team are delivered soft like advice given by a father to a son (example: the perfect effort not the perfect play is what counts) than revving up spirits.  Laura Dern makes the most of the minor written part of Lad’s wife.  The performances of the actors playing the high school kids are however, fresh and winning.

    Director Thomas Carter (the forgettable SWING KIDS in 1993) has made an exciting enough sports saga but formulaic so that the winning point is the underlying story and not an major surprises.  As expected, the closing credits come with shots of the real Bob Ladoceur and a few of the footballers.  Sports fans and commercial audiences should be pleased with this film, but don’t expect anything else.

    Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qT0aE4iAnJo

    Best Pics of the Week:

    Best Film Playing: Calvary

    Comedy: 22 Jump Street

    Action: Transformers: Age of Extinction

    Foreign: Snowpiercer (South Korea)

    Horror: Under the Skin

    Doc: An Honest Lie

    Romance: The One I Love

  • This Week's Film Reviews (Aug 15, 2014)

    THE EXPENDABLES 3  and THE GIVER  are two blockbusters opening this week.

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    Smaller films include YVES SAINT LAURENT and FRANK.

    TIFF Cinematheque is running a Robert Altman retrospective and a series on 'sequels'.

    Best Pics of the Week:

    Best Film Playing: Calvary

    Comedy: 22 Jump Street

    Action: Transformers: Age of Extinction

    Foreign: Snowpiercer (South Korea)

    Horror: Under the Skin

    Doc: An Honest Lie

    Romance: Magic in the Moonlight

    FILM REVIEWS:

    THE EXPENDABLES 3 (USA 2014) ***
    Directed by Patrick Hughes

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    The 3rd foray into THE EXPENDABLES franchise is less serious than the original and less funny than the second.  Falling in between the two, the film recognizes its limitations of older actors and have included a younger cast of 20-somethings to join in the ranks. Patrick Hughes (RED HILL) lands a hand at the director’s wheel this time around.

    The film has Barney Ross (Sylvester Stallone), Lee Christmas (Jason Statham) and the rest of the team come face-to-face with Conrad Stonebanks (Mel Gibson), who years ago co-founded The Expendables with Barney.  Stonebanks subsequently became a ruthless arms trader and someone who Barney was forced to kill... or so he thought.  Barney decides that he has to fight old blood with new blood, and hires with his recruiter (Kelsey Grammer) to help him.

    The film is not short of action. From the opening prison break sequence on a travelling train, the action quickly moves to the operation the prisoner (Wesley Snipes) was sprung for.  One cannot say that the film is boring though may be far from perfect.

    There is always lots to complain about a blockbuster action film.  But for the plusses, it is good to see an action film done with minimal CGI, where real stunt work has to take place, with real explosions and crashing of vehicles, and where the actors have to sweat and run about.

    The visuals range from ugly (lot of mechanical and dilapidated warehouses) to stunning (scaling of a high rise building with reflecting panels).  The old fashioned special effects make a welcome change.

    The film contains lots of humour that can be read between the lines.  After Doctor Death (Wesley Snipes) is rescued from prison, his answer to what he was there for is: ‘tax evasion’.  Jokes abound too of the young vs. the old.  The best joke has the young recruits termed ‘the deletables’ for their tech know-how.  Gibson’s character also has his say as to how he is treated that is reflected in Gibson’s real life.  But Stallone is clearly on an ego trip with this film, though credit has to be given tom him for the difficult job of putting everything together.

    Of all the stars, Mel Gibson does the best as the villain and saves the film.  The best of the others include Antonio Banderas and Harrison Ford.

    Background information for the film?  A near perfect DVD copy has been available on the net and has been downloaded as many as 300,000 times when this review was written.  The film has also been downgraded from an R-rating which means adults can expect less violence and blood and language while the younger can watch action figures their father’s age do their thing.  Bet is that EXPENDABLES 3 will only do so-so at the box-office.

    Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4xD0junWlFc

    FRANK (UK/Ireland 2013) **1/2

    Directed by Lenny Abrahamson

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    The FRANK of the film title is the eccentric titular character and leader of the band called Soronprfbs (yes, the name is unpronounceable) who wears a large papier-mâché head throughout the film.  He finally has to take it off at the end of the film revealing a Michael Fassbender, who is supposed to have played the character throughout the film with that head on.

    But the lead character of the film is not Frank but Jon (Domhnall Gleeson), a younger musician wannabe.  When he witnesses a man’s attempted suicide, he is offered the man’s job as guitarist in the band for the night’s concert.  After the disastrous performance, Jon is then whisked to joining the band and be put up at a rental cottage in Ireland to record the band album.  Jon begins posting videos on the internet of the band's rehearsal sessions as they aim to appear at the South by Southwest festival.  Fame makes strange bedfellows.

    If his sounds a bit weird, the film is weirder.  Frank, the band leader never takes the head off.  Jon wonders how Frank brushes his teeth but told not to ask any questions.  There is Clara (Maggie Gyllenhaal), who is clearly in love with Frank and willing to stab Jon if he gets in the way.  The other band members are just as crazy.

    The film knows its music and the audience is given a good lesson on song writing - the problems, inspirations as well as the mechanics of it (i.e. the chords, scales etc.).

    Domhnall Gleeson is winsome as the naive Jon, growing a full beard at one point in the film, only to have it shaven off again. But it could be anyone inside Frank’s head for that matter.  When Frank takes his clothes off, the body bearing the head did not look like Fassbender’s body, but a much smaller one. (But I could be wrong.)

    The film works well as a life lesson rather than a lesson on what has to go through to attain fame as a musician.  Jon sacrifices his inherited nest egg to the band he believes in - only to have the money squandered away.  Still, he remains loyal to the very end.  But besides being a mean film most of the time, Abrahamson’s film occasionally takes a flight into fantasy.  The most uplifting segment has Frank show an European tourist the enlightenment in life.

    Abrahamson’s film is weird and different that puts it one step up the pedestal compared to other films.  But it suffers in that  the climax and lack of a happy ending fails to satisfy audiences expecting a big punch given all the film’s build up.

    Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Wk-hWzq67w4

    THE GIVER (USA 2014) **

    Directed by Phillip Noyce

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    Films on teens in a futuristic, dystopian society appear to be the big moneymaker in Hollywood these days.  THE HUNGER GAMES and DIVERGENT series have proven that.  But THE GIVER which is set in a supposedly planned perfect world where there is no conflict, envy, hatred or sickness, is different in that it is not an action movie.  The novel uses the term ‘sameness society’.

    In DIVERGENT, society is separated into classes.  Similarly in THE GIVER, every member of society has a specific role.  16-year old Jonas (Brendan Thwaites) is selected to be the Receiver of Memory.   As Jonas uncovers the truth behind his world's past, he discovers that many years earlier, his forefathers gave up humanity in order to have a stable society.   The Giver (Jeff Bridges) is training Jonas under the suspicious eye of the Chief Elder (Meryl Streep).

    The film plays like the the old sci-fi ZERO POPULATION GROWTH, where the main characters are running away from the government.  But director Noyce seems to be at a loss on how to play his film.  There is not enough thrills or excitement nor is there a strong enough romantic element.  The trouble is that the film is predictable and the audience knows from the start, that the boy is going to rebel, be hunted down by the authorities and eventually escape.

    The novel has Jonas at the age of 12 (as the the book on which the film is based is a children’s novel) but the film matures the main character to the age of 16.  It makes the story more believable as one can hardly expect a 12-year old to be in love or matured enough to carry on his intuitive feelings

    Brenton Thwaites is credible as the boy in turmoil.  But Noyce is unable to illicit memorable performances form the more well-known actors like Alexander Skarsgard or Katie Holmes whom play Jonas’ father and mother.  Holmes and Skarsgard just stand around like models, obey or look bewildered.  The chief elder is one of Meryl Streep’s) silliest roles, one that would normally be played by Tilda Swinton (as in SNOWPIERCER and THE BEACH).

    The film is shot largely in muted colours, the screen turning into full brightness during the segments where memories are recalled

    It is surprising that Australian director Noyce who has directed on of the best Aussie films NEWSFRONT and the exciting DEAD CALM has directed such a bland film about human nature’s most essential traits - love.  When Jonas discovers the re-birth of love, one would have expected a solid power punch emotional ride.  All the audience got is the fizzle of a kiss.

    Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iJNNugNe0Wo

    HARD DRIVE (Canada 2014) **

    Directed by William D. MacGillivray

    Laura Slade Wiggins and Douglas Smith as Debs and Ditch in Hard Drive.

    Canadian director William MacGillivray’s (LIFE LESSONS) latest feature is another Life lesson in a sort of way.  Based on the novel Ditch by Hal Niedviecki, the story centres on two teens that find love amidst a world that does not dish them life on silver platters. In Nova Scotia, Ditch (Douglas Smith) is a slacker still living with his mother.  His mother nags him to go to Community College as he is good with his hands.  But he meets instead and falls in love, much to the mother’s chagrin, with runaway teen named Debs (Laura Slade Wiggins).  Director MacGillivray shows that she is not good for him.  But he still drives her back to her father in the U.S. The film is filled with a different indie music track that suits the theme of runawaysvin a road movie.  But the movie just struggles along and the script or story does not offer the two a decent way out of the rut. It does not help that Debs is portrayed as a complete crazed floozy.  She drinks most of the time despite Ditch’s objections.  She screams at him for looking at her computer (claiming privacy and liking it to reading her brains) and is completely ungrateful for what he is doing for her.  The film offers no reason for Ditch to be in love with her.  So the idea of the two lovers running away together is not very believable. The contemporary love story also contain quite a bit of nastiness that includes a segment of ironing out an old tattoo.  The other secret is in the hard drive of Debs’ computer.  The film might be an ok watch for those not too fussy about their entertainment, but otherwise there are no real life lessons learnt here. (No trailer found)

    L’ECUME DES JOURS (MOOD INDIGO) (France/Belgium 2013) ***

    Directed by Michel Gondry

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    Based on the 1947 book ‘Froth of the Daydream’, Michel Gondry’s (ETERNAL SUNSHINE OF THE SPOTLESS MIND) whimsical romantic fantasy draws its inspiration from the gadgets and the then futuristic look of the past.  That is where the strength of the film as well as its failures lie.

    The story is centred on Colin (Romain Duris).  Colin has a very pleasant life: he is rich, he loves the food his cook, Nicolas (Omar Sy) makes.  Colin loves his pianocktail (contraction of piano and cocktail, a word invented by Vian) and his friend Chick (Gad Elmaleh).  One day while having lunch with Chick, Chick tells him that he met a girl named Alise (Aissa Majga) with whom he has a common passion: the writer Jean-Sol Partre (a spoonerism of Jean-Paul Sartre who was Boris Vian's friend).  Colin meets Chloe (Audrey Tautou from AMELIE) at a party Chick invited him to.  They fall in love, marry, but Chloe becomes ill during their honeymoon. As time passes, Chloe's condition deteriorates while the relationship between Chick and Alise turns sour.

    The setting is the future as observed in the past ie. the 40’s.  What this means is that automation is shown with conveyor belts of old fashioned typewriters, electronics displayed as solid state and cathode ray tubes and the future is seen as in the old 60’s and 70’s films.  

    The best thing about the film is the Duke Ellington music numbers that add a fresh turn to the proceedings.

    Nothing is bothered to be explained.  How did Colin come about his independent wealth and then run out of money?  Why the interest in all the odd inventions?  Who is this mouse and where did he come from?

    It does t help that the film heads towards an unhappy instead of a happy ending.  The film also turns black and white.  The romances also turn bad.

    Charlotte Le Bon who was practical unheard of this year, has the small role of Isis in this film.  She has major roles in two other films this year, YVES SAINT LAURENT, which also the same day as this film and THE HUNDRED-FOOT JOURNY that opened last week.

    The film should be seen for the ingenious props that include everything from the door alarm running around like a roach to a workplace filled with typewriters set up like convey manufacturing. The colourful visuals that include wardrobe and set decoration are out of this world.  Unfortunately, these dwarf the main plot which ultimately turn out too whimsical at the end.

    Faults aside, one has to credit the filmmakers for trying extremely hard to make a different kind of movie.  This they succeed but whether it is a satisfactory and entertaining one is up to the audience’s individual taste.

    Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=38ugyccL5zU

    THE TRIP TO ITALY (UK 2014) ***
    Directed by Michael Winterbottom

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    THE TRIP TO ITALY follows the camaraderie and misadventures of two British friends hired by The Guardian paper to do a culinary article based on gourmet restaurants in several cities in Italy.

    Director Michael Winterbottom’s (24-HOUR PARTY PEOPLE, JUDE) second edited film from the hit TV series on culinary critics Rob (Rob Brydon) and Steve (Steve Coogan) has one of the shortest introductions.  Within 2 minutes or so, Rob and Steve are whisked off to Italy doing much of the same shenanigans as in their first film THE TRIP.

    At the film’s start, Steve tell Rob that sequels are rarely ever as good as the original, referring to their second excursion.  He also tells Rob, ‘No more impersonations’ during the trip, an instruction that is quickly forgotten.  One of the best things about THE TRIP was to watch the two at it competing who can do the best impersonations of selected celebrities.  This time around they do Al Pacino and Michael Caine again, the various actors that have played James Bond, Marlon Brando, Robert De Niro, just to name a few.

    One can find it hard to complain about a film that has to amusing actors at the helm, beautiful scenery (of Italy) and mouth-watering gourmet dishes on display.  Winterbottom does away with the wives  as if it is ok to indulge in infidelity on holiday.  The film also displays what it is to enjoy the good life - when one has fame, money and rich connections.

    But Winterbottom’s film runs out of material in the last third.  So, he brings in a meeting with Coogan’s son visiting.  The last scene with the two (father and son) swimming in the sunset appears clear that there is nothing more to be said.

    Trailer: http://trailers.apple.com/trailers/ifcfilms/thetriptoitaly/

    YVES SAINT LAURENT (France 2013) ***

    Directed by Jalil Lespert

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    The film opens in 1957 with the camera on the back of a young Yves Saint Laurent (Pierre Niney of the Comédie-Française) as he sits at a desk working gazing out of the window.  But the man is sketching dresses rather than writing and his elegant attire coupled with the antique furniture prepares the audience to an immaculately art and wardrobed designed biopic.

    Lespert’s stylish film traces the start of YSL’s career just as Christian Dior passes on and wills him the prestigious spot of the one taking over the Dior house.  His mental instability erupts but the film does wise not to  dwell too much on this dark side of the designer genius.  Laurent’s drug use is also just shown in passing of him doing a line of cocaine. The film concentrates on the human aspects, particularly his relationship with his business partner, Pierre Berge (Guillaume Gallienne, also of the Comédie-Française).  The love/hate relationship portrayed is typical not only of gay designers but of many gay couples - so nothing too much shocking here.  Laurent is displayed occasionally as a spoilt child, but not without some good sayings: "Without inspiration, there is no life!"  But the man’s occasional foray into the dangerous zone is still scary.  Lespert does well to end the film on a high note.

    As expected, the film is not always easy to watch.  But the designer gowns are gorgeous and the various shows are themselves worth the ticket admission price.

    Young Pierre Niney is really good (and sexy, especially in the scene in his swimming trunks) as Saint Laurent and manages to carry the film’s heavy tone from start to finish.  Charlotte Le Bon (THE HUNDRERD-FOOT JOURNEY) has the role of Victoire, Laurent's model and muse.

    There are no French films that made a commercial release this year except this one.  Hopefully its deserved success will spurn more interest in French fare.

    Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bXQoO9r_CuY

  • TIFF Cinematheque Presents - Sequels

    TIFF Cinematheque Presents - Sequels

    The title of this program, SECOND COMINGS consists of the finest follow-ups (sequels) paired with the originals.  Cinema’s Greatest Sequels runs from August 8th to the 31st, starting with THE GODFATHER PART II, in 4K digital restoration, opening on August the 7th.

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

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    Capsule Reviews for selected films follow:

    BATMAN (USA 1989) ***
    Directed by Tim Burton

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    Michael Keaton plays Batman and millionaire Bruce Wayne in this Tim Burton version that arrives hot on the heels of their success.  But Jack Nicholson as the Joker gets top billing and almost equal screen time as Batman.  The femme fatale is Kim Basinger who is torn between her loyalty to Wayne and Batman.  The film follows true to the roots of the d.c. comic books unlike the Christopher Nolan DARK KNIGHT films (that have become too serious for their own good with Christian Bale training in Tibet and have taken too many liberties with the stories like Batman getting married and Alfred dying).  Burton’s BATMAN is creepy and dark but the film still manages to be fun (courtesy of Nicholson hamming it up) even if it is a tad too long.  All the special effects are there from the batmohile and batplane and Burton’s surrealism is also ever present as seen in the petrified forest around Gotham City.  Prince lends his hand at the songs and music during the 200th year celebration of Gotham City.

    THE EVIL DEAD (USA 1981) ***

    Directed by Sam Raimi

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    THE EVIL DEAD is the first of three and a reboot of EVIL DEAD films that spun a cult following.  This one is more horror and less comedy compared to the sequel, and really nasty in terms of scares, blood and gore.  Five college students vacation in an isolated cabin.  They find an audiotape and book that releases a legion of demons and spirits that begin possessing the members of the group.  Unlike most horror films, the men are the survivors with Ash (Bruce Campbell) being the last one surviving (or not) into the sequel.  Though this film contains potential for humour, Raimi only taps it in the sequel.  This is the perfect film to bring up to the cottage to watch in the night.

    THE EVIL DEAD 2 (USA 1987) ***

    Directed by Sam Raimi

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    This is a weird sequel.  It starts off where the original left off with Ash (Bruce Campbell) being the last survivor than being possessed by the evil dead.  The tim then goes on to retell the story, an alternate version.  Ash and his girlfriend Linda are now in a remote cabin in the woods. There he discovers a tape recorder that a professor had used to record incantations from the Necronomicon XMortis - the Book of the Dead.  When he turns it on, the recording releases a dark, sinister force from the woods.  It turns Linda into a zombie, her soul possessed by some hideous demon, and then tries to do the same to Ash.   The sequel is more comedy horror then horror and so it would be more fun to watch this in a theatre full of enthusiastic horror fans.  The segment with the spirit chasing Ash all around inside the cabin is particularly hilarious as the one with him trying to get rid of his possessed hand.

    FISTFUL OF DOLLARS (Spain/Italy/W Germany 1962) ***
    Directed by Sergio Leone

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    This is the film that started the popularity of the spaghetti western.  Different from American westerns, the spaghetti western was always  shot in sparse barren landscapes in Spain that doubled for the west in America.  Mexico was always in the foreground with bounty hunters looking to make a small fortune hunting down bandits.  There are no ranches, or wagons or calvary in these films.  In FISTFUL OF DOLLARS, the first of its kind, the man with no name (Clint Eastwood) enters a remote town and sells his services to two waring factions.  If the plot sound familiar, it is a copy of Akira Kurosawa’s classic YOJIMBO.  The film resulted in legal problems that delayed its release in the U.S. for about 3 years.  Still, the resetting from japan to the west is a well done if not a more serious version of YOJIMBO.

    FOR A FEW DOLLARS MORE (Italy/Spain/W Germany 1965) ****
    Directed by Sergio Leone

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    “Where life is cheap, death comes with a price.” The humorous titles state in the beginning of the film, which is the justification for bounty hunters.  Two of them, the man with no name (Clint Eastwood) and the Colonel (Lee Van Cleef) are bound to join forces to take on the biggest prize (Gian Maria Volente) who is planning a big bank robbery complete with a full gang of misfits.  The film has plenty of action and shoot-outs amidst the dry bare landscape that is  typical of spaghetti westerns.  Leone’s brand of humour is just too funny - from the buck-teethed busty woman at the hotel trying to pick up the man with no name to the little kid that asks for money any time he divulges information to the man with name.  The Ennio Morricone score makes this the perfect Sergio Leone western.

    FRANKENSTEIN (USA 1931) ****

    Directed by James Whale

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    The most iconic horror film of all time based on the play and novel of the same name, FRANKENSTEIN has all the elements of a classic horror movie - a scary enough looking monster, a madman, storms always lurking in the background, a huge castle (lighthouse, actually) and a damsel in distress.  It is 1894 in Nyon, Switzerland and Henry Frankenstein, a young scientist, and his assistant Fritz, a hunchback, piece together a human body, the parts of which have been collected from various sources. Frankenstein desires to create human life through electrical devices which he has perfected.  The black and white visuals are stunning as anything seen lately in CGI current horror flicks.  Boris Karloff with make up by Jack Pierce makes the excellent monster while Colin Clive overacts to perfection as Dr. Henry Frankenstein.  Mae Clarke is suitably distressed and puzzled as Elizabeth over her fiance’s obsession to create life while Dwight Frye plays hunchback Fritz with a good balance of humour and creepiness.

    Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BN8K-4osNb0

    BRIDE OF FRANKENSTEIN (USA 1935) ****
    Directed by James Whale

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    The much critically acclaimed sequel to FRANKENSTEIN follows on immediately from the events of the earlier film.   A chastened Henry Frankenstein (Colin Clive) abandons his plans to create life, only to be tempted and finally coerced by the Monster, encouraged by Henry's old mentor Dr. Pretorius, (Ernest Thesiger) into constructing a mate for him.  Elsa Lanchester plays both Mary Shelley who appears in the film as the author of the novel, who tells the continuation of the story and the monster’s mate.  A lot happens in the last climatic 5 minutes of the film, that includes the monster’s mate’s creation, the mate’s reaction and what happens to Henry and Elizabeth.  The burning windmill at the climax of FRANKENSTEIN is matched by the burning and blowing up of a castle in the sequel.

    Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=r9t6NHlPJHA

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

    Directed by Francis Ford Coppola

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

    THE GODFATHER PART II (USA 1974) ***** Top 10 

    Directed by Francis Ford Coppola

    (sequel to THE GODFATHER)

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    Co-written by Francis Ford Coppola and Mario Puzo, PART II is both the prequel and sequel to THE GODFATHER that went on to win 6 Oscars including Best Picture.  An epic film running at 200 minutes, the film tells the dual stories of Michael Corleone (Al Pacino) , the new Don of the family and his ‘business ventures’ after an attempt was made on the life of his family and the other of Vito Don Corleone (Robert De Niro) of his escape from Sicily in 1901 to the rise in his empire in New York City.  Both stories are absorbing and aptly executed.  De Niro and Pacino are both excellent with the former winning the Oscar for Best Supporting Actor and the latter nominated for Best Actor.  Coppola intercuts both stories with grace and expertise, often switching the stories at their highlights - example at the crucial family fight between Michael and his wife, Kay (Diane Keaton).  The mood and atmosphere of PART II are maintained, with the music of Nino Rota and the cinematography of Gordon Willis.  Though not as violent but just as disturbing in its portrayal of organized crime, THE GODFATHER II was released in 1974 to great acclaim and deservedly so.  Arguably the best sequel (and prequel) ever made!

    SANJURO (Japan 1963) ****

    Directed by Akira Kurosawa

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    Director Kurosawa and actor Toshiro Mifune unite in the sequel to YOJIMBO.  Mifune reprises his role as a clever and expert masterless Ronin for hire who help a clan rid itself of the vermin.  The superintendent of the clan is the traitor aiming to blame the Chamberlain for corruption and hence take over the clan.  The Ronin aids the clueless good guys.  The best line in the film, as uttered by the Ronin: “It’s a stupid plan, but the excitement will keep me awake!”.  SANJURO is more entertaining and more fun than YOJIMBO and not as confusing in terms of plot.  The villains are also, in the words of the Ronin, quite clever and often comes one up on top in ideas before the good guys.  Kurosawa’s humour is ever present in the form of the Ronin’s behaviour.

    YOJIMBO (Japan 1961) ****
    Directed by Akira Kurosawa

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    The year is 186o in feudal Japan.  A ronin (masterless samurai) (Toshiro Mifune) wanders into a small village and hires himself between the two warring gangs, Seibei and Ushitora.  The ronin stays with the old man, Gonji at the inn who feeds him and grumbles half the time about him and the town.  At the same time, he feeds the Ronin information.  The film contains lots of comical characters from Gonji, to the major to the henchmen on both sides.  But Kurosawa does not shy against violence and brutality.  There are lots of beatings and dismemberments with blood spurting out everywhere.  But Kurosawa has a soft side shown when the Ronin rescues a mother and child and when he offers his enemy some sympathy.  A rare chance to see two Japanese greats together - director Kurosawa and actor Mifune.

  • This Week's Film Reviews (Aug 8, 2014)

    TEENAGE MUTANT NINJA TURTLES  and INTO THE STORM two blockbusters open this week.

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    Smaller films include CALVARY and THE HUNDRED-FOOT JOURNEY.

    FILM REVIEWS:

    ABOUT ALEX (USA 2014) **

    Directed by Jesse Zwick

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    One might have expected director Jesse Zwick to have picked something more original than this well worn used story for his debut feature.  Not only is this a take off of THE BIG CHILL, but the story is an almost complete ripoff of the 2009 Iranian film by Asghar Farhadi entitled ABOUT ELLY.

    This is a film about really annoying characters who sleep with each other, taunt the hell out of each other, argue and fight and then somehow get their act together by the end of the last reel and take a lovely group photo.  It all begins with Alex’s (Jason Ritter, son of John Ritter) attempted suicide.  So his circle of 20-something college buddies reunite for a weekend to cheer him up and yes, irritate the hell out of each other (and the audience) in the mean time.  Despite the group's best efforts to keep it light and enjoy themselves, a tinderbox of old jealousies, unrequited love, and widening political differences leads to an explosion that, coupled with the flammable combination of drugs (- but not to worry, only pot here), wine, and risotto, cannot be contained.  (See image of asshole and prude.)

    The most interesting character is Josh (Max Greenfield), the biggest asshole of the group.  It is interesting to see how Zwick has written the worst lines for him and then turns him into a likeable guy at the end, for no reason at all.  For a film of this genre, all the predictable elements are present.  The group break out into impromptu dance; they cook fantastic meals in the kitchen and some talk about the old days with shots of the characters younger.   But Zwick’s film should contain more humour than at present.  THE BIG CHILL was funnier and though the gathering of a dysfunctional college group is the least of my favourite film genres, humour would have elevated the film’s bogged down artificial drama.

    When the film finally comes to a close, it will turn out that the film’s most likeable character is the black dog.  And not because the dog is so cute, but that it has the least dialogue to say.

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

    CALVARY (UK/Ireland 2013) ****
    Directed by John Michael McDonagh

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    John Michael McDonagh’s (THE GUARD) critically acclaimed Irish-set film opens with Father James (Brendan Gleeson) listening to a confession.  His unseen parishioner explains that he had tasted semen when he was only seven, and had been abused orally and anally since then.  When Father James asks if he should file a complaint, the reply is that the guilty priest is already dead and he want to kill up righteous priest Father James as revenge and retaliation as that would make the difference.  Father James is given the following Sunday to put his affairs in order and to meet his death on the beach.

    That is quite the beginning.  McDonagh’s film works then on several levels - a whodunit, an examination and criticism of the Roman Catholic priesthood and on the cinematic level, a black comedy and drama.

    CALVARY is a brilliant little film in many ways.  It teases and wallows in the mud to reveal the light.  The film is so dark at times,  it will disturb and yet the dark humour is hilarious.  It also works as a whodunit with the many suspects thrown out to the audience that the guilty one is hard to predict.  The best thing  is what the script delivers as obvious turns out to be a decoy at the end.

    McDonagh is brave enough to cast many comedians in serious roles.  Chris O’Dowd from BRIDESMAIDS plays the smart husband who figures out his wife and himself are better off with her being infidel while FATHER TED’s Ardal O’Hanlon plays the insecure sex addict.  But it is Gleeson that carries the film off, delivering a sensitive, intelligent yet fierce performance, dwarfing all the other actors, but in a  good way.

    The film is set in Sligo County where the nearby beach is comprised of black rocks washed by high waves.  The beautiful Irish landscapes is the film’s added bonus.

    CALVARY finally triumphs, just as it is the good will of man that eventually triumphs over evil.  But it is a wicked journey to the road to CALVARY.  But it is a well rewarding journey though a difficult one to make.  In the film, a character tells Father James: “This is what like about you.  You are too sharp for this parish.”  CALVARY is one of the most intelligent films I have seen this year.  Hopefully the film will not be too sharp for audiences to appreciate.

    Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LGM5rq_vX4U

    AN HONEST LIAR (USA/Spain.Italy/Canada 2014) ***
    Directed by Tyler Measom, Justin Weinstein

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    In the film, an honest liar is one that lies to reveal as opposed to one that lies to deceive.  The subject of this documentary of one such honest liar is the world-famous magician, escape artist, and world-renowned enemy of deception, James 'The Amazing' Randi.

    The film brings to life Randi's intricate investigations that publicly exposed psychics, faith healers, and con-artists with quasi-religious fervour.   The film follows Randi around on his exploits while he speaks directly to the camera on his philosophy on life.  He basically wants to save those fooled by psychics and healers who dupe the public out of their money.  A nice turn near the end of the film has thee people turn on him.  These people are shown as ‘idiots’ who want to be duped for being afraid of the truth while all Randi can do is glare in disbelief.

    The audience is most riled up during the segments when Randi uses his expertise to reveal the dishonest liars.  The top two on his list are the metal bender and Reverend Popov (who Randi admits is the bottom of the sum) what Randi finally exposes.  Directors Measom and Weinstein allow these two to defend themselves, but it is clear that they haunting much to say after the embarrassment.

    Directors Measom and Wesinstein play their film well.  The film won the Best Documentary award at the Newport Beach Film Festival.  They chose a fairly intriguing subject, an honest man who has made his life long goal a worthwhile one.  Randy is a  great man in his own way, but he is shown to he human with problems of his own, and also a sad man despite all the jokes he constantly cracks around people.   The film reveals more towards the end with a neat twist when Randi himself is forced to come out of the closet (at the age of 81) and stop living that lie.

    The film turns dramatic when Randi's created fictional characters, fake psychics, and even turned his partner of 25 years, the artist Jose Alvarez, into a sham guru named Carlos.  At one point, he is angry at the filmmakers for revealing too much about his personal life.

    The audience grows to respect the bearded man known as Randi James by the end of the last reel, the same person that appears annoying at the film start, a Houdini wannabe.  A nice feat from directors Measom and Weinstein who unfortunately claim at the end of this entertaining documentary that they are still in debt and asking the audience for donations.

    Randi himself will be present on the Friday Aug 8th 6.30pm showing for an Q&A after the screening.  That should be a blast!

    Trailer: http://vimeo.com/91847894

    THE HUNDRED-FOOT JOURNEY (USA 2014) **

    Directed by Lasse Hallstrom

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    Swede director Lasse Hallstrom (MY LIFE AS A DOG, CHOCOLAT,  WHAT’S EATING GILBERT GRAPE?) is well known for his sentimental melodramas that often delight audiences so much so that critics will forgive him for his excesses.  In his latest THE HUNDRED-FOOT JOURNEY, he goes overboard with the culinary nonsense of blending Indian and French cuisine (with maybe fusion); an awkward inter-racial romance and the old bullshit that the patriarch of the family is always right.

    The story, based on a novel by Richard C. Morais and adapted by Stephen Knight (LOCKE) follows an upcoming Indian chef, Hassan Kadam (Manish Dayal) who has moved with his family from Mumbai due to political unrest.  After trying London, Papa (Om Puri) settles instead for a small cozy town in France after the car breaks down there.  The silly reasoning of the brakes breaking down for a reason is given.

    Ones tolerance for Hallstrom takes its limits in the scene in which one of Madame Mallory’s chefs, Jean-Pierre is fired for burning down the Indian restaurant.  Madame makes him read out in both French and English the French National Anthem and then goes on about Liberty, Fraternity and Equality before telling him to pack his knives and get out.  This is cheap theatrics in the highest order aimed to manipulate audiences to believe in the the colours of the French flag.

    The romance between the two budding chefs, Hassan and Madame Mallory’s sous-chef, Marguerite (Charlotte Le Bon) looks and feels awkward.  Thank God they left the probable romance between Madame Mallory and Papa alone.  The other part with Chef Hassan attaining fame in Paris and finally getting his Michelin third star is pushing the limit.  Not only that, but the film starts to really lag in interest.

    One bright surprise comes a cameo by Michel Blanc (MONSIEUR HIRE) playing the bewildered but always well fed town major forced to listen to the squabbles of the two restauranteurs.  Helen Mirren is excellent in the role of the pompous Madame Mallory and the fact that she had a role in THE QUEEN is briefly made mentioned in the script’s dialogue.  But she is British and one would have hoped to see one of France’s prominent actresses in the role of Madame instead - say Catherine Frot.

    Besides the culinary scenes where one can drool over both the Indian and French cuisine, the tired tale of the coming together of two cultures is drab and dull for the most part.  The lack of humour in what is expected to be a comedy/drama is glaringly obvious.  Even the Queen cannot save the day!

    Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yEO1TWeM5JU

    INTO THE STORM (USA 2014) **

    Directed by Steven Quale

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    INTO THE STORM is one film that audiences will see for their insatiable curiosity for tornadoes.  The film satisfies visually in terms of special effects courtesy of CGI, but the other aspect i.e. the education is sadly missing.

    INTO THE STORM is not the first film made on storms.  THE PERFECT STORM and TWISTER are two films that immediately come to mind, and many still have the latter film with the flying cows still fresh in the mind.  In INTO THE STORM, as in TWISTER, the core group on screen is a group of tornado chasers, this one led by Pete (Matt Walsh).  At the start of the film, it appears that a random group of characters are dumped into the script (as disaster films often do) but these characters are linked together quite soon, thankfully.  Some human element, no matter how silly has to be included into action blockbusters or else the film feels empty.  Like in TRANSFORMERS 4, it is the father children relationship (replacing the romantic element) that is put into the picture.  The Vice President of a high school (the role of the President is reserved for the Obama actor look-alike), Gary Morris (Richard Armitage) is having relationship problems with the elder son, Jacob (Jeremy Sumpter), who takes off during the graduation ceremonies to be at a chemical site with his girl friend, Kaitlyn (Alycia Debnam-Carey).  Lo and behold, the twister strikes both places, the high school ceremony and the site and a major part of the film has him looking for his son.  Another subplot (hum drum duplication here) has a member of the twister case team, Allison Stone (Sarah Wayne Callies) needing to spend more time with her 5-year old daughter.  So-so comical relief is provided by the two drunk slackers who want to capture the action to upload on YouTube.

    No one really cares for these human stories.  Director Quale takes a full 40 minutes of screen time before the first storm appears.  But the wait is worthwhile and the audience is wowed as the sky turns dark and the twisters form on screen.  Quale also ups the angst by putting the audience in the eye of the tornado.  The film’s best segment has the tank is taken up for a twirl right up into the sky.

    The ‘found footage’ approach helps distracts the audience a bit from the hollowness of the plot.  The 25-year time capsule video project attempted by the Morris sons is more laughable than believable.

    But one would imagine the audience would just be as interested in the theory of the twisters - how they are formed, how long they last and what paths they take.  The script only offers a few teasing solutions like giving the speed of the winds.  Apparently, one character in the film, Stone has a degree on the subject of storms so more theory should have been included in the script.

    The climax is neatly put together with the biggest tornado hitting the characters all holed up in a hint manhole.  But the casualties in the film are too predictable (not mentioned in the review).  No cows are killed in the film a well, only large numbers of tractors, planes, buses, trucks and cars.

    Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LnTnbdd859A

    LAND HO! (USA/Iceland 2014) **

    Directed by Martha Stephens and Aaron Katz

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    A pair of ex-brothers-in-law (the reason for ‘ex’ is explained early on in the film) set off to Iceland in an attempt to reclaim their youth through Reykjavik nightclubs, trendy spas, and rugged campsites.

    Mitch (Earl Lynn Nelson) is the one paying for the trip and the wild one.  Paul (Paul Eenhoorn) is the tamer but he is still game for a good time.  This bawdy adventure is a throwback to 1980s road trip comedies with lots of movie references thrown in along the way.   The film touches practically the issues aging, loneliness, and friendship without being preachy.

    But one wishes that directors Katz and Stephens did not go for the cheap laughs.  The smoking of joints, flirtation with younger women and smart talk are supposed to let the audience believe that Mitch and Paul are pretty cool guys and not dirty old men.

    Nothing much happens in this film.  And that is the trouble with LAND HO!  Nothing much happens.  But the Icelandic landscape from the unfrozen ponds, to the geysers and hot springs to the volcanic soil is stunning.

    It is difficult to crucify a film like LAND HO! which is simple, good hearted and well-intentioned.  But it is like watching a teen comedy, only at the other end of the spectrum.  Fart jokes are also present.  The jokes may be more meaningful and funnier if one is around the age of 60, if not LAND HO! is quite the boring affair.  The film does provide a good travelogue guide and an incentive to visit Iceland.

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

    SENORITAS (Colombia/Canada 2014) **

    Directed by Lina Rodriguez

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    SENORITAS is the feature film debut of TIFF publicist Lina Rodriguez Colombian descent living in Toronto.

    Her minimalist film follows a girl, Alejandra (Maria Serrano) in her late 20’s or perhaps early 30’s hanging around a bunch of friends.  She lives with her mother (played by Rodriguez’s real mother) who is a tad too nosy on her whereabouts and friends.

    In one interview with Lina Rodriguez, she mentioned the 8-minute take of her protagonist  walking home in the night.  She mentioned that the intention is to show her loneliness while also indicating a fear factor as anything could happen to her.  (But it is to be noted that a song with the lyrics and title of ‘Loneliness’ has just blared on the screen, so the first part of the intention is already realized.)  For a 90-minute movie, this is a tenth of the film’s running time, not to mention that there are 3 segments with the camera behind Senorita’s back neck with nothing much going on.  Is the Rodrigues doing the Dardennes Brothers and Bela Tarr (apparently Rodriguez’s influence).

    Nothing much happens in SENORITAS.  The film can best be described as an observational film.  If one wants to read more into the movie, one can, especially in the climatic swimming pool scene, but the discovery can be personal and inconsequential.  But the film, while moving at a snail’s pace, teases more than reveals - and this can be quite the annoyance to the typical commercial moviegoer.

    Rodriguez’s camerawork is basically similar from start to finish.  Her camera is stationary and her actors act within the frame.  The only time a mild difference occurs is towards the end of the film when the camera moves left to right and then right to let to capture the actor’s dialogue.  One can imagine the frustration of the actors working within the frame and likely having to do multiple takes.  One immediately is aware to that there are no drops of water on the camera lens in the swimming pool scene to Rodriguez’s credit.  One wishes that she would pull her camera back more often instead of having her actors in the audience’s face most of the time.

    Rodriguez said during that interview that she had problems with funding as the short features she had to show were basically experimental works (rhythm and shadow) with no narrative.  So it is not surprising that SENORITAS turns out to be a non commercial film with no strong narrative.
    Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2C0jDXQJmPQ

    TEENAGE MUTANT NINJA TURTLES (USA 2014) **

    Directed by Jonathan Liebesman

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    TEENAGE MUTANT NINJA TURTLES is a reboot of the original 1990 film adaptation of the Peter Laird comic book TV series that also spurned two sequels and one other TNMT.

    The film opens with darkness settling over New York City as Shredder and the Foot Clan hold politicians in their power.  Crime is out of hand.  Meanwhile the TMNT are still being trained beneath the sewers and not allowed to appear in public till ready.  All this is told via voiceover before the film settles on the film’s protagonist, which happens to be human being, a fearless news reporter, April O’Neil (Megan Fox) who would do anything to get a story.

    The dark atmosphere of the comic book is kept in the film while keeping the action and dialogue tongue-in-cheek.  The story is pretty much unchanged except for a few changes. Whoopi Goldberg has a welcome part as Bernadette Thompson, April’s supervisor who finally fires her.  April’s romantic interest (Will Arnett) is also present, but not enough to distract the audience too much from the action.

    As the original audience of the series are presently in their 30’s the humour is catered towards the more mature.  For example, there is a sexual innuendo joke about the ‘froth’ on coffee.  There are also plenty of product placements (Pizza Hit, Victoria Secret) to annoy critics. But they are done so blatantly unlike with humour as in Michael Bay’s TRANSFORMERS 4.

    The final climatic fight sequences are exciting enough (too much CGI and 3D) but nothing than has not been seen in recent action films like TRANSFORMERS 4 and DAWN OF THE PLANET OF THE APES.

    Director Liebesman (BATTLE: LOS ANGELES, WRATH OF THE TITANS) does an ok job but there is no ingenuity or innovation on display here.

    The first TEENAGE MUTANT NINJA TURTLES film cost $13.5 million to make and made over $200 million box-office.  This new reboot cost $125 million with super special effects and the Michael Bay touch.  It would be interesting to see how much it will make.

    Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dwXFsrp6WBs

     

     

    Best Pics of the Week:

    Best Film Opening: Calvary

    Comedy: 22 Jump Street

    Action: Transformers: Age of Extinction

    Foreign: Snowpiercer (South Korea)

    Horror: Under the Skin

    Doc: An Honest Lie

    Romance: Magic in the Moonlight

  • TIFF Cinematheque Presents - Robert Altman

     

    TIFF Cinematheque Presents – Robert Altman

    As TIFF Bell Lightbox presents the Canadian premiere of Ron Mann’s new documentary Altman on August 1, TIFF Cinematheque presents some of the greatest films from the iconoclastic director’s long, rich, and remarkably eclectic career. Films include Altman’s breakthrough success M*A*S*H (1970), which firmly established his directorial signatures (long takes, restless zooms, overlapping dialogue, a fondness for improvisation, and a unique degree of collaboration with his cast and crew); his brilliant excursions into genre revisionism McCabe & Mrs. Miller (1971), The Long Goodbye (1973) and Thieves Like Us (1974); the wacky comedy-spoof-fable Brewster McCloud (1970); the panoramic, multi-character masterpieces Nashville (1975), Short Cuts (1993) and Gosford Park (2001); the acclaimed theatrical adaptations Come Back to the Five and Dime, Jimmy Dean, Jimmy Dean (1982) and Secret Honor ( 1984); and his swan song A Prairie Home Companion (2006).
    Company Man: The Best of Robert Altman screens from August 7 to 31 at TIFF Bell Lightbox.

    Special guests include Ron Mann and Robert Altman’s widow, Kathryn Altman, to introduce a one-night only premiere screening of Mann’s new documentary Altman, on Friday, August 1 at 7 p.m.; and on Friday, August 8 at 6:15 p.m., Academy Award-winning Cinematographer Vilmos Zsigmond will introduce Altman’s McCabe & Mrs. Miller, a hauntingly gorgeous revisionist western that is rightly regarded as Robert Altman’s masterpiece.

    IMAGES (UK/USA 1972) ***

    Directed by Robert Altman

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    Altman alternates between big budget all start cast productions like GOSFORD PARK, THE PLAYER, SHORT CUTS and small budget indies like THAT COLD DAY IN THE PARK and this film IMAGES.  Ironically, his small films are harder to watch than his biggies.  IMAGES follows the emotional downward spiral of a children’s book writer of unicorns, Cathryn (Susannah York) as she juggles three lovers while trying to remain faithful to one awkward husband , Hugh (Rene Auberjonois).  The husband and wife retreat to their secluded cottage out in the beautiful and stunning countryside.  What turns up instead is blood in the hall, unexpected guests and images of past lovers.  It is hard to make sense of all this except to dismiss the unexplained to the girl’s mental state.  The scariest segment has a ghost giving the girl a rifle and asking her to shoot him.  This is when it dawns on her that she has to kill all her ghost lovers in order for them not to appear again.  But can she distinguish reality from images?The film is still a disturbing tale beautifully shot.  This is rare Altman rarely seen and my first viewing of this film.

    THE LONG GOODBYE (USA 1973) ****
    Directed by Robert Altman

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    Marlowe has only two friends.  One is his cat and the other is a murderer.  If you enjoyed the smart talking Trapper character in M*A*S*H*, THE LONG GOODBYE contains a full film full of smart-ass dialogue mouthed by Private Investigator Philip  Marlowe (also played with relish by Elliot Gould).  Marlowe is paid a visit in the dead of night by a friend who he drives to Tijuana.  He is arrested the following morning on the account of harbouring a criminal.  It turns out according to the newspapers that his friend has beaten up his wife and the committed suicide, a situation that Marlowe does not believe.  He takes a case of finding a missing writer who is blackmailed into paying a large sum for this therapy.  It turns out that there is a connection.  There is much to be enjoyed in this film, besides the wry dialogue.  Marlowe’s sexy neighbours are always dancing in the nude; there is a twist in the plot that occurs ever so often and the performances are great.  Be cautious of the spouts of unexpected violence (the smashing of a bottle on a girl’s face, for example), but that should keep the audience on their toes.  Film noir – Altman style, and never has it been this effective or distinctive!

    M*A*S*H* (USA 1970) ***** TOP 10

    Directed by Robert Altman

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    The film that spurned the famous TV series of the same name, M*A*SH* the film is a black satire rather than the harmless sitcom that most people are familiar with.  The Mobile Army Surgical Hospital Unit is assigned two replacements ‘Hawkeye’ (Donald Sutherland) and ‘Duke’ Forrest (Tom Skerritt) who arrive in a  stolen jeep.  They are later joined by Trapper (Elliot Gould).  The trio take the unit apart by their womanizing, insubordination, drinking and wild parties.  But there are very good at their work as surgeons – so no one can complain.  The main victims are religious surgeon Frank Burns (Robert Duvall) and the new head nurse, “Hot Lips’ Houlihan (Sally Kellerman).  There is much to offend in the movie, politically and religiously especially the staging of a ‘last supper’ for a suicidal dentist.  The climax of the film is the unit winning a football match, by no fair means.  M*A*SH* shot Altman (and its three actors) to fame and won the film an Oscar for Best Adapted Screenplay and nominations for Best Picture and Director as well.  The film is absorbing from the opening song “Suicide Is Painless by Johnny Mandel with lyrics by Altman’s son to the very end.  M**S*H* is my best Altman film which I have now viewed 4 times.

    Trailer: http://www.imdb.com/video/screenplay/vi3013083417/

    MCCABE & MRS. MILLER (USA 1971) ***** TOP 10

    Directed by Robert Altman

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    Deemed by many critics as Altman’s Masterpiece, this near perfect anti-western tells the unlikely romance between McCabe (Warren Beatty) and Mrs Miller (Julie Christie).  McCabe arrives at a mining town to set up a gambling and whore house.  But with the arrival of Mrs. Miller, the two start a strange partnership that brings in more money for McCabe while providing more class to his business.  The mining company offers to buy McCabe out, but when he refuses, three bounty hunters are dispatched to kill him.  There is much to admire in this western including Vilmos Zsigmond’s cinematography (the man will be present to introduce the screening) and Leonard Cohen’s music.  But it is the climax of the movie that mass the film what it is – a showdown in which McCabe defends himself against the three killers amidst the town putting out a fire in the church.

    NASHVILLE (USA 1975) ****
    Directed by Robert Altman

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    NASHVILLE is the ambitious almost 3-hour Altman film made for a paltry $2 million that ended up winning numerous awards.  The film takes a snapshot of people during 5 days in Nashville culminating at the outdoor concert at Parthenon.  The ensemble cast includes Altman regulars Keith Carradine singing the Oscar winning song “I’m Easy”, Shelley Duvall, Elliot Gould (playing himself), and others like Lily Tomlin, Geraldine Chaplin, Karen Black, Julie Christie, Ned Beatty and Ronee Blakley.  They play hilarious characters that pop up like running gags in the film.  There is the husband that is forever looking for his runaway wife (Barbara Harris) looking for her big break, a girl that cannot sing, an army guy that keeps popping up, a Gospel singer with two deaf children, and a country singer who sleeps around as if it was his last day on the planet.  Altman’s film contains plenty to laugh at, while remaining true to the spirit of country and Gospel music.  The film contains a whole lot of original songs, the majority written and sung by the actors themselves.  The film is a good solid look of reality and life, cruelty and hilarity and an altogether unforgettable experience.

    SHORT CUTS (USA 1993) ***

    Directed by Robert Altman

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    Based on 9 short stories and a poem by Raymond Craver, and re-set in L.A., SHORT CUTS opens as a fleet of helicopters sprays for medflies, revealing all the characters along the path of their flight.  These are the numerous characters in the 3-hour film.  Dr. Ralph Wyman (Matthew Modine) and his wife, Marian (Julianne Moore), meet another couple, Stuart (Fred Ward) and Claire Kane, (Anne Archer) at Zoe Trainer’s (Lori Singer) cello concert and make a spontaneous Sunday dinner date.  Marian’s sister Sherri (Madeleine Stowe) is married to philandering cop Gene (Tim Robbins), who makes up unbelievable but humorous stories to hide his affair with Betty Weathers (Frances MacDormand).  Betty is in the process of divorcing one of the helicopter pilots, Stormy (Peter Gallagher). Waitress Doreen Piggot (Lily Tomlin) is married to an alcoholic limo driver named Earl (Tom Waits). TV commentator Howard Finnigan (Bruce Davison) lives with his wife Anne (Andie MacDowell) and their young family next door to Zoe and her mother (Annie Ross), cabaret singer Tess Trainer. Their pool cleaner is Jerry Kaiser (Chris Penn), whose wife, Lois (Jennifer Jason- Leigh), works from home as a phone sex operator, tending to the children while she talks off strange men. Jerry and Lois are friends with Doreen’s daughter, Honey (Lili Taylor) and her husband Bill (Robert Downey, Jr.), who works as a makeup artist.  If all these characters are too many to keep track off, Altman’s film is not, with the audience able to to identify with each.  Altman divvies almost equal time to each culminating with an earthquake that rocks L.A. that forms the climax of the film.  SHORT CUTS is long but watchable but nothing like his other longer classics.

    Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aQZD0vKvSJY

    THIEVES LKE US (USA 1974) ***1/2

    Directed by Robert Altman

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    Based on the book by Edward Anderson, the three thieves of the film title in question are

    Bowie (Keith Carradine), a youthful convicted murderer, and bank robbers Chicamaw (John Schuck) and T-Dub (Bert Remsen).  They escape from a Mississippi chain gang in the depression 1930s.  They continue robbing banks and show no sign of remorse.  When Bowie is injured in an auto accident, he takes refuge with the daughter of the gas station attendant, Keechie (Shelley Duvall) and a love relationship, the key to the film develops.   It is hard to feel sympathetic for hard criminals who have no qualms about putting a bullet into their fellow man, but there is something about young lovers that keeps the audience on their side.  Altman’s film is moody, stylish and realistic and he gets his tale told effectively in what might be described as a disturbing film to watch.

     
  • This Week's Film Reviews (Aug 1, 2014)

    GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY and GET ON UP, two blockbusters open this week.

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    FILM REVIEWS:

    THE CALLING (Canada 2013) ***

    Directed by Jason Stone

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    Based on the novel by Inger Ash Wolfe, THE CALLING sees veteran female detective Hazel Micallef (Susan Sarandon) solving a series of murders in a small town.

    The Coen Brothers’ FARGO immediately comes to mind.  But both are highly different films, the only common thread being the female detective in a small town.

    The small town in question is Port Dundas (now incorporated into Hamilton) a few hours drive from Toronto.  This is a Canadian made and Canadian set story, with murders taking place in all the different provinces of Canada.  It appears that the killer is fulfilling a higher calling, and hence the film’s title.  The result is a mixed horror detective film.

    The story is nothing out of the ordinary.  In fact, the script by Scott Abramovitch contains nothing that audiences have not seen elsewhere before.  Detective Hazel is a hard-drinking detective with a large skeleton in the closet.  She defies her superiors, disobeys orders and obviously does not go by the book in solving her case.  She is aided by veteran Detective Ray Green (Gil Bellows) who goes by the book and an eager new recruit from Toronto, Ben Wingate (Topher Grace).  A mother (Ellen Burstyn) daughter relationship is thrown in as a side plot.

    But it is great to see Sarandon deliver an Oscar winning performance in a Canadian film.  She also has the choice lines in the film including the words: “f*** you!”  Donald Sutherland lands his hand as an elderly priest who helps in the case.

    The timeline in Hazel’s solution of the case is only indicated by the seasons.  But we see only one winter scene - the murder and the dogs eating a victim’s stomach on a frozen pond.  So, it is assumed the story takes place within a year.

    Director Stone does not shy away from violence.  There is one scene that will almost guarantee the audience turn away.  (I did, and I can normally take a lot of on screen violence.)

    It is surprising that director Stone executively produced the hit Seth Rogen comedy THIS IS THE END.  THE CALLING is downright dead serious, like FARGO without the humour.  But it is is not a bad movie and though a bit slow moving, THE CALLING is an absorbing watch from start to finish.

    Trailer: (No trailer can be found)

    GET ON UP (USA 2014) **

    Directed by Tate Taylor

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    GET ON UP is the biopic of Godfather of Soul, James Brown (a riveting performance by Chadwick Boseman of the film 42) by the director of THE HELP, Tate Taylor.

    GET ON UP bursts into life whenever James Brown performs - whether in the studio or on stage.  The choreography, songs, screaming and excitement are what made him famous and the film tick.

    On the editing side, the film is a complete mess, all over the place.  But director Tate probably wanted a non-chronological narrative.  So, the film begins with a shotgun wielding James Brown at a auto seminar immediately following him transported on a plane to perform for the Vietnam soldiers.  Then in one scene, there is the car broken down, then another at a diner where a label scout is hunting down Brown and then a segment with Brown’s private plane on the tarmac.  His love life is shown sporadically on screen and one is never sure who his real woman is.  It is not surprising then that his mother (Viola Davis) shows up out of the blue, only to disappear again without a trace.  One is never too, know how one scene is going to lead.  When you think the band is going to be right telling Brown off, the scene turns out the opposite way around.    One realizes then, after seeing GET ON UP, how undisciplined THE HELP was, due to its long running length.

    The biopic, like most, shows Brown’s ups and especially downs.  His wife beating, bad business sense (he never pays his band or keep finances) and vulgar outbursts are emphasized.

    Boseman would likely earn himself an Oscar nomination for Best Actor given James Foxx’s success with Ray Charles biopic RAY.  Viola Davis does her dramatic best as Browns’ mother but Octavia Spencer has only two scenes in the film as the surrogate mother.  One scene has her telling the boy has the spirit - a key scene in the movie.  But the other one has her dancing with the spectators during a performance.

    The film is supposedly told non-chronologically as in the titles that list the year and the songs or Brown’s nicknames as the film progresses.  Still, the continuity is in question as the film is not hard to understand but hard to follow.

    The film also concentrates on key segments on Brown’s career such as the relationship between him and his promoter (Dan Akryod) which suddenly ends in a funeral scene followed by him (the promoter) collapsing from a heart attack during a gold game.  But Taylor does not attempt to link the relationship to any other part of the narrative., except to emphasize it as a highlight in Brown’s life.  As such the many highlights are displayed with no connectivity except it being the timeline in Brown’s life.  At least the film ends with his Brown’s death on Christmas Day.

    Running at 133 minutes, the biopic runs too long and bores after it fails to engage this viewer.  Boseman’s performance and the the energetic songs are not enough to lift the film to the heights of Brown’s achievements.

    Trailer: http://www.getonupmovie.com/post/79573996508/teaser-trailer

    GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY (USA 2014) **

    Directed by James Gunn

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    The third action blockbuster screening 3 days in a row, after LUCY and HERCULES can be a bit much even for the avid film critic.  And that is after TRANSFORMERS and SNOWPIERCER the last 2 weeks.  Again this is not the first Marvel comic book adaptation on screen this year, so watching GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY can prove quite tiring.

    It does not help that the story or premise provide nothing new to the genre.  Like a cartoon version of THE DIRTY DOZEN or THE MAGNIFICENT SEVEN, a band of prisoners are picked up to save the galaxy.  An orb of some sort is supposed to be the prize catch and there is an assortment of villains wearing masks and speaking with coarse voices that makes the whole enterprise look like STAR WARS.  But do not be mistaken, this is formulaic, copied in everyday, with supposedly smart talk from each of the troop of heroes, complete with what is supposedly catchy tunes from the past.

    The band of heroes is led by Star-Lord or Peter Qui (Chris Pratt).  The band includes ext Gamora (Zoe Saldana), Drax the Destroyer (Dave Bautista) and two animated  characters Groot (Vin Diesel) and Rocket, a genetically engineered racoon (Bradley Cooper).  Everyone appears to want to put their two cents worth of smart talk and one liners into the film, from start to finish.  This gets pretty tiring, not to mention that the one-liners are not that hilarious.

    Gunn directed SUPER and SLITHER and appears unable to surprise audiences in any manner.  Worst of all, language, nudity and violence have been toned down for this film which is obviously catered towards a family friendly audience.

    The 3D and special effects are all right and up to par for an action pic like this blockbuster production.  But the audience should be able to expect more than banter from a racoon voiced by Bradley Cooper and repeated dialogue like “I am Groot” from Vin Diesel.

    Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=B16Bo47KS2g

    MAGIC IN THE MOONLIGHT (USA 2014) ***

    Directed by Woody Allen

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    MAGIC IN THE MOONLIGHT opens impressively with a Chinese magic theatrical show in Berlin 1928.  The theatre is packed full with an audience all impeccably dressed and there is a live elephant on stage.  Woody Allen’s film never matches this feat, but as in every Allen film, there are enough neat touches, sly humour and references from his previous films to satisfy his fans.

    The Chinese conjuror is Wei Ling Soo (Colin Firth) the most celebrated magician of his age.  In real life, he is Stanley Crawford, a grouchy and arrogant Englishman with a sky-high opinion of himself and an aversion to phoney spiritualists' claims that they can perform real magic.  Persuaded by his life-long friend, Howard Burkan (Simon McBurney), Stanley goes on a mission to the Côte d'Azur mansion of the Catledge family: mother Grace (Jacki Weaver), son Brice (Hamish Linklater), and daughter Caroline.  He presents himself as a businessman named Stanley Taplinger in order to debunk the alluring young clairvoyant Sophie Baker (Emma Stone) who is staying there with her mother (Marcia Gay Harden).  But it is romance in the air in this Allen movie, with Stanley falling for Sophie.

    The MAGIC IN THE MOONLIGHT refers to the midnight drive of the couple, when the car breaks down and they take refuge from the rain in a planetarium.  This is the part when the two fall in love.  But the segment is highly reminiscent of the run for cover from the rain with Woody Allen and Diane Keaton in ANNIE HALL.

    But despite the film’s flaws, Allen’s film is gorgeous to look at.  He always utilizes the services of the best cinematographers, in this case the French Iranian Darius Khondji (EVITA, DELICATESSEN) who has worked with Allen twice before.  The film is set in the 30’s but there are no Cole Porter music here though the selection of tunes is impressive.

    The romantic chemistry between Firth and Stone does not really work, as the 30-year difference between the two is clearly visible.  But this is an Allen film and age difference seldom make a difference, as in MANHATTAN and Allen’s real life.  The segment in which Stanley, Sophie and her mother go swimming is indicative of that.  Firth does not show his body only his arms resting on a rock.  In a previous shot, the age difference of the couple is emphasized with Sophie’s fiancé (Hamish Linklater) looking very comfortable in sexy bathing trunks in comparison.

    The segment in which Stanley believes that Sophie is for real occurs too suddenly - especially when this event is followed by a press conference.  The same flaw occurs when Stanley suddenly realizes the futility of prayer when he regains his senses.  But Allen treats his film like a whodunit saving the revelation of the mystery’s solution at the very end.

    At one point in the film, Stanley Crawford verbally despises the spiritualists that prey on the gullible but then goes on to say that the gullible are so stupid they deserve it.   In a weird referenced way, Allen is insulting his audience for believing everything he (the director who weaves his magic) puts on screen.  But Allen uses cheap tricks like the re-entry of Sophie Baker back into Stanley’s life.

    MAGIC IN THE MOONLIGHT is average Allen, using reused tricks with little surprises with some lazy writing.  The only turns in the film is a bit more philosophy on life thrown in at the film’s end.  The film comes across more like used tricks rather than real magic in he moonlight.

    Trailer: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LAwbwKURvm0

    THE ZERO THEOREM (UK/France/Romania 2013) ***
    Directed by Terry Gilliam

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    THE ZERO THEOREM, the latest film from Monty Python’s Terry Gilliam (BRAZIL, TWELVE MONKEYS) is as eccentric a film its main character, Qohen Leth (Christoph Waltz), a programmer that has the job ‘crunching entities’ for the company Mancom.  The theme of meaning of life appears in the film as a major concern for Qohen.  He is supposed to get an important phone call for the answer which he eagerly awaits.

    He gets in trouble with management (Matt Damon) and assigned Dr Shrink-Rom (Tilda Swinton) while his supervisor Joby (David Thewlis) toys around with him.  Qohen has a fling with Bainsley (Melanie Thierry) on a beach,which is the highlight of his existence.

    The dystopian future depicted here is absurdist as in Kafka-ish logic.  Human beings form an insignificant part of the big machine that ultimately does nothing.  The actual Zero Theorem described in the film is absurdly comical too.

    The script is by Pat Rushin who was inspired by the Book of Ecclesiastes.  It was reported that after writing a 145-page draft, he admitted he had no idea what he was doing.  It shows in the film though this is not necessarily a bad thing.  The film flows without a strong narrative, but this gives director Gilliam more play with his material.  He milks it with all that is imaginative worth with the result of a Monty Pythonish logic type film except without the humour.

    The film’s highlight are the amazing visuals.  Like THE IMAGINARIUM OF DOCTOR PARNASSUS, the inventive innovation found in the exterior shots are mind blowing from talking lips advertising billboards to the surreal beach swim segment.  The interiors with massive computers and peripheral machinery would delight BRAZIL fans.  The streets and buildings are instantly recognizable instantly as the Soho London area with the Zip cars whizzing past.  The CGI special effects are mostly used in Qohen’s dreams and computer.

    Director Gilliam called this film the final of his dystopian satire trilogy after BRAZIL and TWELVE MONKEYS.  But the film is nowhere as good as those two classics.  It has, however, the same feel in look and atmosphere with his last film THE IMAGINARIUM OF DOCTOR PARNASSUS and hopefully would not be as forgettable.

    The film has a limited run in Toronto and also available on VOD.  The colourful and visual ecstatic film is best seen on the big screen. 

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

     

    Best Pics of the Week:

    Comedy: 22 Jump Street

    Action: Transformers: Age of Extinction

    Foreign: Snowpiercer (South Korea)

    Horror: Under the Skin

    Doc: Life Itself

    Romance: They Came Together

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

    HERCULES and LUCY, two action packed blockbusters open this week.

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    FILM REVIEWS:

    AND SO IT GOES (USA 2014) ***

    Directed by Rob Reiner

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    AND SO IT GOES is billed as a romantic comedy drama.  Directed by Rob Reiner (WHEN HARRY MET SALLY, THE PRINCESS BRIDE, STAND BY ME and Meathead in ALL IN THE FAMILY), one can expect the film to waver closer to emotional tear-jerker territory than laugh out loud humour.  One wishes Rob had more of his father’s (Carl Reiner) sense of humour.  The father directed really funny comedies like OH, GOD!, THE JERK and a lot of other Steve Martin comedies.

    No luck here, the humour is only slight and Rob Reiner’s film leans safely on what works in the past.  The script is also careful not to offend anyone.  If a black couple is singled out as not good real-estate subjects, the fault is corrected with an intelligent black couple who have all the bright dialogue following.  Diane Keaton, who has been starring these days in too many elderly romantic films, does a variation of her ANNIE HALL ‘lah-dee-dah' routine that worked for her in the Woody Allen days.

    As in Carl Reiner films, Carl always gives himself a small role in his films.  Rob follows his dad’s footsteps, playing the bumbling not-too-observant pianist for singer Leah (Keaton).

    The story concerns an egoistic realtor, Oren (Michael Douglas) who has lost all compassion since his wife passed away from cancer.  A twist of fate forces him to look after his granddaughter, Sarah (Sterling Jerins) who takes after Oren’s neighbour Leah (Keaton).  But this is a romance of when Oren met Leah with slight variations thrown in.

    Reiner throws in lots of sentimental songs from “Both Sides Now” to “Shadow of Your Smile”.  He also required Keaton to cry on cue, which she seems to have no problem doing.  JERSEY BOYS fans will like the cameo from Frankie Valli.

    As the title of the film goes, AND SO IT GOES.  This is not an exceptional film but an ok one, and so it goes!

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

    HERCULES (USA 2014) **

    Directed by Brett Ratner

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    The second HERCULES film after the dismal failure earlier this year of Lionsgate’s THE LEGEND OF HERCULES is expected to be a hit as Ratner’s (X-MEN, RUSH HOUR) film is as formulaic as it gets.  The only thing left out is a romantic slant, that no one would want anyway in a film about a macho-man with huge muscles set in Ancient Greece.

    Having endured his legendary twelve labours according to legend, Hercules (Dwayne Johnson, looking really ugly unshaven but extremely buffed), the Greek demigod, has his life as a sword-for-hire tested when the King of Thrace (John Hurt) and his daughter (Rebecca Ferguson) seek his aid in defeating a tyrannical warlord.  But this is based on the Radical Comics' Hercules by Steve Moore, so this ensemble-action film takes a revisionist take on the classic myth.  Whether Hercules here is a God or human is up to the audience to decide, but the formulaic message of being one own hero is a well-worn one.

    Hercules appears here with a band of fighters.  But they don’t seem to do that much and are not that distinguishable one from another, except for Atalanta (Ingrid Bolso Berdal), the only female warrior in the group and the young storyteller, Iolaus (Reece Ritchie).

    The film can be seen in 3D as well as in IMAX.   Most of the battle scenes are exciting enough and I have never seen that many arrows coming out of the screen as in this film.  But once the CGI comes to play, with the thousands of characters seen in battle on screen, the film starts looking ridiculous like a video game.

    Ratner plays his film for a bit of fun, so one can hardly tell if he taking the Hercules myth seriously or not.  He keeps the film as an action pic, but one remembers that he is a director too, of comedies like the RUSH HOUR movies and the upcoming BEVERLY HILLS COP 4.  The script contains a few unexpected plot twists towards the end that keeps the film interesting.  But it is basically the same old story, and with an action blockbuster appearing every week, one would expect something fresher than another son of Zeus pic set in ancient time.

    HERCULES is a Ratner film.  So expect a fast paced action film with humour be it a forgettable one.

    Trailer: http://www.imdb.com/video/imdb/vi459057689/

    I ORIGINS (USA 2014) **

    Directed by Mike Cahill

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    Originally screened at Sundance, I ORIGINS, the second sci-fi romance from Mike Cahill writer/director of ANOTHER EARTH, I ORIGINS is also a sci-fi romance but tamed down a notch, thankfully from ANOTHER EARTH. I ORIGINS is more credible and the romance more believable while toned down as well.

    It all starts at a Halloween party and a sex fling with PHD student Ian Grey (Michael Pitt).  The two eventually wed and have a blissful marriage.  As he is a doctorate in molecular biology or something, specializing in the ‘iris’, he photographs her eye.  He attains fame while doing research with Karen (Brit Marling), who Sophie (Astrid Bergés-Frisbey), the new wife gets intensely jealous with.  The tables are turned when Sophie dies of a freak accident.  He marries Karen and they have a child.  He finds Sofie’s iris in a database with an identical one from girl in India.  He travels there to make a remarkable discovery.

    The remarkable discovery is revealed (not to be spoiled here) and the film fizzles to the end.  Despite the rather ingenuous plot, Cahill’s film is extremely slow and ‘moody’ as its main lead actor Michael Pitt.  Pitt loves to brood and brood.

    Despite story’s inclination to the iris, no reference has been made to the naturopathic subject of  Iridology which is the study of a patient’s past medical history as captured by a shot of the human iris.  Here, the novelty is that no two humans can have the same eye.  But hey!  No two humans can have the same fingerprint.  So a film could have more easily been made about two humans with the same thumbprint.

    Another flaw of the story is the sudden shift of focus from the son Tobias’s autism tests to the discovery of the Indian girl’s identical eye.  It seems that Cahill has lost focus of his story which results in the film losing whatever message he wants to deliver.

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

    LUCY (France 2014) **

    Directed by Luc Besson

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    Excellent premise and trailer that sadly does not transform into the exciting film that is expected of French Master Luc Besson.  LUCY combines the femme fatale of NIKITA and LE CINQUIEME ELEMENT with the innocent Lucy (Scarlett Johansson) forced to transport a satchel of drugs sewn into her body.  When her body absorbs some of the chemicals, her brains begin operating at higher capacity from over 10 % to 100% by the film’s climax.

    To tie in credibility to the plot, the script by Besson incorporates a character who is a professor and expert of brain neurology, Professor Norman (Morgan Freeman).  As he lectures his students, the audience is fed cinematic sci-fi bullshit that somehow sounds credible to action movie fans.  The audience is delighted then when Lucy uses her super powers to turn the tables on her enemies that include drug dealers, Korean thugs or anyone who stands in her way.

    Besson is known for his cinematic excesses. One can become immune to them quite soon.  After all the shootings, bloodshed and violence, the segment in which Lucy puts her hand into a carrier’s body to retrieve another satchel of CPH4 hardly seems shocking any more.  The film works better in the first third where there are lots of action with Lucy thrashing all her Korean captors.  Once the film settles into its sci-fi component, the momentum slows down and interest wanes.  It is worse when Besson begins displaying his style of philosophy on life, knowledge and the future.  The last part of the film, a high adrenaline paced 2001 A SPACE ODYSSEY segment looks silly and does not really come off as believable or innovative.  There are points that could have turned the film around.  The sweet kiss Lucy plants on her French detective, Pierre Del Rio (Amr Waked) is not developed into any romance.  Nothing is known too, about Lucy’s family except for a brief call she makes to her mother.  The reason she is abroad studying is just left hanging.  (All is said in the film is that she has to study for examinations.)

    Besson builds up the film’s pace with Lucy’s brain raging from 20% to 99% to final 100% utilization.  But what occurs on screen, action-wise does not match the brain build-up.

    Still it is entertaining fun to see an attractive lady (like Anne Parrillaud in NIKITA) kick butt.  All else, like the rest of the film looks pale in comparison.

    Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RnKVv8Lp_xU

    A MOST WANTED MAN (USA 2014) ****
    Directed by Anton Corbijn

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    The film begins with a brutally tortured half-Chechen, half-Russian Issa Karpov (Grigoriy Dobrygin) turning up in Hamburg's Islamic community, laying claim to his father's ill-gotten fortune.  Both German and US security agencies take a close interest: as the clock ticks down and the stakes rise, the race is on to establish this most wanted man's true identity - innocent oppressed victim or destruction-bent extremist.

    It should be clear to anyone contemplating watching this film that this is a John Le Carre spy adaptation.  So, don’t expect any James Bond type action fare with pyrotechnics and car chases.  In fact the only car chase lasts maybe 20 seconds at the climax of the film.  But this is a spy film, in which the pleasure derives from having to decipher a story that is here, compelling to an attentive audience.  Still, the film is not as difficult to follow compared to the last Le Carre film SOLDIER, TAILOR, TINKER, SPY.

    The script is by Andrew Bovell, responsible for the excellent Aussie flick, LANTANA, a sort of detective whodunit years back.  Corbijn’s best film is CONTROL which displayed Joy Divison’s lead singer’s downward spiral from fame.  There is much to be praised in the film.  One is its meticulously calculated humour.  The element of Good Spy, Bad Spy is incorporated in the interrogation of Issa’s lawyer Annabel Richter (Rachel McAdams).  This, combined with the debate on “Why are we doing all this?” make both good subtle and out-front humour.

    The story is centred on Gunther Bachmann (Philip Seymour Hoffman), an out of luck spy in charge of a small, low-profile intelligence, invisible unit dedicated to tracking Hamburg’s large Muslim community, in which the terrorists’s U.S. attack was plotted.   He tracks Issa’s arrival.  But the other groups are also after Issa, wanting to take him out before more can be used out of the situation.  Issa works through a human rights lawyer Annabel Richter (Rachel McAdams) while laying a claim to the contents of his late father’s account in a private German bank headed by Thomas Brue (Willem Dafoe).

    Hoffman, once again proves himself almost perfect in the role of the tortured hero trying to do his best with limited resources working under extreme pressure and against time.  Though his last role is in the upcoming final HUNGER GAMES series, this is his last big leading role.  His performance is worth the price of admission, if not for anything else.  The supporting cast, both young and older is just as perfect.  And the city of Hamburg, with its dull and muted colours add to the perfect picture.

    The film’s best 2 segments deserve mention.  One is the chase on foot between Issa and Annabel and Gunther’s men.  Both are good sides and the audience is at this point torn to whether they want the two to escape or not to escape.  It is an emotion never or very rarely felt in a chase film before.  The other is set in a bar where Gunther angrily punches up a another customer abusing his girl, which convinces Gunter’s American date/observer to give him more time. in the assignment.

    The best thing about this film’s is its effectiveness as a thriller despite the lack of a villain.  The only evil forces on display are the human elements of pride and impatience which clearly make their point in the film’s climax.

    A MOST WANTED MAN is a most satisfying spy film that still manages to surprise with a twist ending.  As a bonus, a discreet message, not a positively one like the unhappy ending is presented but it is swell observed intelligent one - like Corbijn’s film itself.  A highly recommended film for the thinking man!

    Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cYORzJ3e-Og&feature=kp

    Best Pics of the Week:

    Comedy: 22 Jump Street

    Action: Transformers: Age of Extinction

    Foreign: Snowpiercer (South Korea)

    Horror: Under the Skin

    Doc: Life Itself

    Romance: They Came Together

  • 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:

    tiff.net

    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

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