This week, OZ THE GREAT AND POWERFUL is Tinseltown’s hopeful for pulling this year’s box-office numbers out of the doldrums.
Spotlight on Japan continues at the TIFF Bell Lightbox with films from the 80’s
CLOUDBURST (USA/Canada 2011) ***
Directed by Thom Fitzgerald
When gay films started hitting film screens, topics such as coming out, sexual awareness, gay bashing, gay weddings and other issues were then novel and never made into films. But now, after about 25 years or so, the film industry appears to have exhausted every gay topic of gay storytelling. In CLOUDBURST the story concerns a gay eloping. The difference here is that the couple is lesbian and that they have decided to marry after 31 years of being together.
It does not matter than Dot (Brenda Fricker, the Irish actress of MY LEFT FOOT and THE FIELD) has gotten fat and blind. When her grand-daughter, Molly (Kristin Booth) commits her to a home, Stella (Olympia Dukakis) springs an escape and drives north to Canada to get married so that Dot can never ever be separated from her again. They pick up a sexy male hitchhiker, Prentice (Doug Doucette) who joins them on their adventures.
Despite the occasional sentimentality and the gay theme, CLOUDBURST contains the universal theme of love. The relationship between Dot and Stella can only be admired for its sincerity, strength and lengthy duration in time.
Canadian director Thom Fitzgerald shows in this film as he has demonstrated in his break-out first movie THE HANGING TREE that he knows how to create solid family drama. The confrontations between Dot and her grand-daughter, Prentice and his father makes the best parts, with humour as an additional bonus added in CLOUDBURST. But Fitzgerald’s new film is essentially a comedy at heart, aided by fine performances from the top 3 of the cast, Dukakis, Fricker and Doucette.
Though over sentimental and predictable, CLOUDBURST has gone on to win many awards, particularly audience awards, such as the ones at the Atlantic Film Festival. The scene in the straight bar in which the customers cheer for the couple’s marriage says it all in demoonstrating how far the cinema has progressed towards the acceptance of gay themed films.
DEAD MAN DOWN (USA 2013) **
Directed by Niels Arden Oplev
If for any reason this film is to be seen, it is for the fact that DEAD MAN DOWN has both the director Oplev and the star Noomi Rapace of the original GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO do their Hollywood thing.
Unfortunately, despite its occasional edginess, DEAD MAN DOWN fails to deliver. One reason is that the film is basically a romance at heart, which means that the film has to end up with a lubby-dubby happy ending.
The script is at least clever enough to keep the story on step ahead of the audience. One knows nothing about the protagonist, Vic (Colin Farrell) at the film start. When first revealed a third through the film that he is Hungarian (yes, quite laughable), the purpose of the film begins making sense. So, Vic a rising gangland player, has infiltrated the crime empire run by ruthless kingpin Alphonse (Terrence Howard), with the single purpose of making Alphonse pay for destroying his once happy life.
As he meticulously orchestrates his vengeance from his high-rise home, Vic watches and is watched by Beatrice (Rapace), a mysterious young woman who lives in the apartment across from his. On the surface a fragile woman-child, Beatrice seethes with a rage of her own. When she uncovers Victor''s dark secrets, she threatens to expose him unless he helps her carry out her own campaign of retribution. Each fixated on avenging the past, they devise a violent and cathartic plan that could change their worlds forever.
But the film is not as good as it sounds. For one, Oplev moves his film at a deliberately slow pace for a thriller. The only scene reminiscent of GIRL WITH THE DRAON TATTOO is the one in which an Albanian gets eaten alive by sewer rats. The only other shock part occurs when Vic rams into the house with a pickup truck. There is also a scene where Beatrice gets pelted bloody by stones thrown by kids. It would do some audience satisfaction to see these kids get a taste of their own medicine but director Oplev just leaves it at that. Other than that, the ridiculous, one man against all in the climatic shootout is hardy believable.
One wonders what Isabelle Huppert is doing in the film as Beatrice’s mother? But supporting actor British Dominic Cooper (MAMMA MIA!, THE DEVIL’s DOUBLE, STARTER FOR TEN) steals every scene right from under Farrell’s nose.
But DEAD MAN DOWN at least has a different look than the typical Hollywood action thriller. From the music, lighting and story telling, the film has a European touch. But by the time the last scene arrives, DEAD MAN DOWN grows more predictable with no one really caring what happens to Vic and Beatrice, or whether they exact their revenge by the final reel.
NEIGHBOURING SOUNDS (Brazil 2012) ****
Directed by Kleber Mendonca Filho
NEIGHBOURING SOUNDS is an amazing little film that weaves day-to-day incidents affecting the residents of present day Recife, in North East Brazil. Director Filho’s film contains real life characters dealing with real life problems such as money, relationships, survival, family and even sleeping at night. The incidents are blended effortlessly into one another, flowing smoothly as silk. They are run in 3 episodes with the activities of the newly formed Security Guard Company of Recife tying in the stories.
A history of violence and oppression threatens to engulf the residents of Recife, an affluent seaside community. Cars are broken into and stereos stolen. No car with a stereo has been left untouched. The security guy at the condo building is old and often caught sleeping on the job. Enter an outsider who asks for money in order to provide safety and patrol in the neighborhood streets.
At first the residents are suspicious and resentful. It does not help that most of the property is owned by an old man who likes to keep his power and his nephew a petty thief out of trouble. But eventually the additional security proves helpful.
The past and present Brazil is blended into the stories. Sofia sees her old home torn down by new developers. The end of the era of the wealthy plantation owners is also seen in the old, rich grandfather who owns property on the streets. Yet life goes on, as young couples have sex and make babies. Some find in hard to adapt, as Maria, the amid cannot tell the difference between outlet voltages. Thought there is no main narrative, the common theme of life ties the tales together in a rather interesting film. Yet, Filho is noy short of surprises as in one startling scene in s huge house where a figure suddenly appears out of nowhere.
NEIGBOURING SOUNDS is an exciting debut by unknown Brazilian director Filho. His film demonstrates style, ingenuity and a unique storytelling experience.
(Special Screening begins at the TIFF Bell Lightbox March the 8th)
SHEPARD AND DARK (USA 2012) **
Directed by Trena Wurmfeld
Documentaries have been made of diverse subjects but one wishes that at least these subjects would be worthy. SHEPARD AND FRANK is a doc that tells of a life-long friendship between two males, of Sam Shepard and John Dark. These two have had a very long friendship and relationship (non sexual, obviously) with communication carrying on primarily by letter writing. For one, I cannot figure out the reason for the making of such a documentary or how this story would interest anyone except for those who might know the two men. It seems a really boring exercise that would doubtedly make money much money as a film. But I was willing to give this film a chance, nevertheless.
Nothing much happens in the first 15 minutes or so, as the film introduces the two main characters with the two talking to the camera and often making private (and unfunny) jokes between themselves.
It does not help that the Sam Shepard in the doc is the Sam Shepard actor of films like LIFEGUARD who had an affair with Oscar winning actress Jessica Lang. Lang is seen through old snapshots. And it does not help that the film does try with the music, background and cinematography. The main problem is the fact that this is a doc about two too ordinary people, so why would one want to spend the time, less to pay to hear their story? The story of these two have parallels in the lives of other men an women, but one need not have to sit through this do to see that.
It is revealed in the film that each person ,John and Sam each would receive $250,000 each for their stories. At least someone is getting something for the tedium.
OZ THE GREAT AND POWERFUL (USA 2013) *
Directed by Sam Raimi
Following on the heels of fantasy, ALICE IN WONDERALND, Disney’s mega budgeted OZ THE GREATAND POWERFUL has its hopes on an audience that has grown up to love THE WIZARD OF OZ.
Based on an original story, the prequel of THE WIZRD OF OZ has the simple story of Kansas City magician of the name Oz (James Franco) enter the Land of Oz via tornado. There, he finds that Emerald City is looking for a savior to rescue them from the Wicked Witch of the Dark Forest. Eyeing the gold, Oz pretends to be that savior.
The film, shot in 3D first begins with a small back and white screen that transforms into 3D colour when Oz enters Oz, a ploy used already many times in other films. The CGI effects are impressive enough. Unfortunately, everything else is down right dull.
The film takes almost 30 minutes before Oz lands in Oz. In the mean time, the audience has to be bogged down with Oz’s silly shenanigans that include womanizing and abusing his colleagues. When he finally enters Oz, the audience has to sit through about 10 minutes of pure CGI effects. It seems that the story justifies the CGI here instead of the other way around.
The main trouble besides the toned down predictable storyline is the film’s dread monotonous pacing. The film plods on and on with the only break being the cheap jump out of your seat scares, found typically in found footage horror flick.
Most of the excitement build-ups are for nought. One anticlimax has the heroes pursued by menacing guards. They escape then under a mist of cloud dust. Another scene has them cornered at a cliff with monster bat objects. They escape by jumping off the cliff.
The film also lacks a romance that normally fulfills the satisfaction of a fairy tale. There is also no climatic fight between the villain and the hero, Oz. Instead, there is a silly witch fight between Gilda (Michelle Williams) and the Wicked Witch (Rachel Weisz). At this point, the film looks just like another version of SNOW WHITE in which the villainous witch is the start of the show.
All this might be forgiven if here is a big action scene or climatic battle. Besides the lame catfight, the saving of Emerald City by means of trickery does not make good cinema fare.
OZ is Hollywood’s hope that it will pull 2013 box-office takes up in March after a dismal start of the year. But after last week’s $200 million JACK THE GIANT SLAYER bombed with an initial weekend intake for $20 million, this similar themed also really expensive family special effects fantasy seems headed for similar bleak territory, made worse for the fact that these two films will directly compete with each other.
OZ THE GREAT AND POWERFUL might be true in terms of CGI effects but OZ THE GREAT AND WONDERFUL entertainment, it is definitely not. JACK is the better film while OZ is a sad disappointment.
TROUBLE IN THE PEACE (Canada 2012) ***
Directed by Julian T. Pinder
Two films on similar topics make their rounds in March. On the 15th, an American film GREEDY LYING BASTARDS directly attack its assailants, the oil and gas companies that hire politicians and false scientists to lead the world to believe that climatic change has no effect on mankind. In TROUBLE IN THE PEACE, a Canadian production, a more polite way is used to achieve a similar aim. Trouble is brewing in the Peace River region (the PEACE of the film’s title). Big Oil and Gas moves in, family farms suffer from lethal gas leaks and flarings, and the government fails to regulate safety standards, being instead preoccupied with catching a pipeline bomber. The community begins to fracture, with many residents expending vast amounts of time and energy on ineffectual protests and petitions. In the midst of this, cowboy, sculptor and father Karl Mattson struggles to make sense of what is happening to his town and its residents. As the situation continues to deteriorate, TROUBLE IN THE PEACE sees Karl embark on a startling plan to save his daughter and reunite his community.
Karl’s family and their community are shown to be in trouble. And the audience is again summoned to help. It is intriguing to note that these two films achieve their aim though by different means though this film has a very odd ending. In TROUBLE IN PEACE, the first sign of trouble is just as horrific – the birth on the family farm of a two headed calf.
PICKS OF THE WEEK:
Best Film Opening: Neighbouring Sounds
Best Film Playing: Django Unchained
Best Comedy: 21 & Over
Best Family: The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey
Best Foreign: Neighbouring Sounds (Brazil)
Best Documentary: The Gatekeepers