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This Week's Film Reviews (Apr 12, 2013)

12 Apr 2013

Opening this week is the much talked about THE PLACE BEYOND THE PINES and the baseball drama 42.  Cinefranco, a celebration of French film continues in Toronto.

42 (USA 2013) **

Directed by Brian Helgeland


Writer/director Brian Helgeland’s ambitious film tells the life story of Jackie Robinson (TV’s Chadwick Boseman) and the the guidance of team executive Branch Rickey (a gruffly Harrison Ford).  Robinson''s signed with the Brooklyn Dodgers to become the first African-American player to break the baseball colour code.

This is Robinson’s story.  The film traces his humbler beginnings ending with his leading of his team to victory.  The film highlights the courage of the man under extreme racial prejudice.

The predictable film’s climax involved Robinson’s decisive game in the series.  However, the excitement is undermined by Helgeland’s odd decision to intercut the game with scenes of Jackie returning home to his wife’s open arms after the victory.

The manipulative script is written to tug on the heartstrings and make the audience feel good.  A little of this is necessary in a sports drama dealing with a controversial issue such s racism but this is clearly overdone.  The dialogue is uplifting to the point of ridicule.

For a film that is supposed to trash racism, the film surprisingly contains a homophobic shower scene involving a player (Hamish Linklater) and Robinson in the showers.  On the other hand, Helgeland’s film includes a very effective but disturbing scene in which a young boy imitates his father’s racist remarks at a home game.

Typical to films in the sports drama genre, the female roles are under-written.  Robinson’s wife, Rachel (Nicole Beharie) is not given much to do but smile and carry the baby.

Harrison Ford overacts as the cigar-chomping growling manager.  Boseman as Robinson is barely ok, looking a bit too good as Robinson.  He scene-stealer is Alan Studyk playing the Ben Chapman, a verbally abusive Philadelphia Baseball Manager.

For a film by Helgeland who won the Oscar for his L.A. CONFIDENTIAL script, 42 is a major disappointment.  (He also wrote MYSTIC RIVER and directed A KNIGHT’S TALE).

This tepid film will definitely do well at the box-office as the number of baseball fans and African American form a large enough target audience.

PARIS-MANHATTAN (France 2012) ***

Directed by Sophie Lellouche


PARIS-MANHATTAN is a comedy about a young woman named Alice (Alice Taglioni) who takes advice from her favourite filmmaker Woody Allen to aid her in her love life and problems just as Allen did enlist the help of Humphrey Bogart in his play and film PLAY IT AGAIN SAM.

The trouble with a film based on another is that it can only be so good as the film it is based on.  PLAY IT AGAIN SAM was no masterpiece though it was quite a well-made film.

From the age of 15, Alice (name likely taken from Allen film lead in PURPLE ROSE OF CAIRO) has adored the works of Woody Allen and has kept him by her side ever since.  Alice always looks to him for advice and answers (from the poster in her flat), and believes watching a Woody Allen film can alleviate any ailment.  Concerned for their daughter, Alice ’s Jewish parents try curing her obsession by setting her up with a handsome French gentleman named Victor (Patrick Bruel ).  Although Victor is intrigued by Alice ’s unique quirks, he doesn’t quite know if he will ever be able to live up to the man of her dreams.  What makes the story works is Lellouche’s surprise of how Allen comes into the film at the end.

Apart from that, the film is plainly fluff, with no message, insight or many funny parts.  But Lellouche has given some charm like having her lead ride wearing a bright red dress riding a scooter to meet her idol.  

For a first feature, Lellouche has done a fair job.  Just don’t expect too much from PARIS-MANHATTAN.

THE PLACE BEYOND THE PINES (USA 2012) ***

Directed by Derek Cianfrance


(Spoiler alert!· It is necessary to reveal plot details in order to more effectively review this film.)

THE PLACE BEYOND THE PINES reunites director and star of BUE VALENTINE in a film that serves its material in very much the identical minimal fashion.· The strength of a Cianfrance film lies in its stars, which has proven in both his two films to carry his film rather successfully despite shortcomings.

The film is one divided into three parts.· The first focuses on the life of motorcycle stunt driver Luke Gianton (Ryan Gosling) turned bank robber.· In the process, he is shot by low ranking police patrolman, Avery Cross (Bradley Cooper) Cross feels guilty for the act.· The film follows his rise to public office before turning·· the story to their two sons who meet in school.·· Jason, the son of Gianton (Dane DeHaan from CHRONICLE) learns the secret of who is father is and exacts a revenge on the Cross family taking the film to a rather silly predictable ending (not to be mentioned here as too much of the story has been revealed already).

The problem of narrative shifts in a film such as in ANGELA’S ASHES when the boy grows up to become a man or when it shifts from bank robber to cop as in this film is whether the film can hold its interest.· Despite a big jump in continuity, the audience is forced in Cianfrance’s film to take a whole different side.· It does not help that the cop, Avery is being questioned on whether he was lawful in his duty.· The question of who fired the first shot comes up in the film as a major plot point but the scene was executed so fast that it is doubtful if the audience would remember who fired the first shot.

But fortunately Cooper is an actor as proficient if not more than Gosling.· It would be interesting to note if these two actors would garnish Oscar nominations, as they are both quite good.· Cooper effects tears at the end of the film, a sure sign of an Oscar win.· The last few times this happened (Richard Dreyfuss in THE GOODBYE GIRL and Matt Dillon in CRASH), both walked away with the statuettes.· Gosling, on the other hand (he has verbally indicated to wanting to take an acting break after this film), whether wearing a T shirt full of holes or inside out still comes across as sex on legs.

Eva Mendes and Rose Byrne make good of their underwritten female roles.· The young actors playing the sons fare quite well making this film very much an actor’s vehicle.

The soundtrack by Mike Patton captures the mood and atmosphere of the film.· Have not heard the Springsteen song DANCING IN THE DARK for such a long time as well.

Though the film contains many scenes in which the characters are brought beyond aged pines, the title of the film is derived from the English translation of the city of Schenectady, New York, a Mohawk name.· It is also the place where the fair is stationed where the character of Luke Gianton is hired as the motorcycle stuntman.

Running at almost 2 and a half hours, Cianfarnce’s film feels a tad too long if one cannot stand any of the lead’s performances.· Fortunately, every one is very good.

 

RENOIR (France 2012) ***

Directed by Gilles Bourdos


RENOIR turns out to be quite the movie surprise.  If one can be patient enough to watch this relatively slow film to the very end.  Patience has its rewards!

(Spoiler alert!  So skip this paragraph if you will.  On first impression, it appears that the film is about Renoir the artist.  But as the film progresses, the character in concern is not the old man but his model and later, the son who falls in love with Andree.  This son is Jean Renoir, the famous French director who made classics like LA REGLE DU JEU and LA GRANDE ILLUSION.) This is the reward I am talking about.

But RENOIR is a film that fails to engage the audience to it characters.  Partly, this is due to the fact that Renoir the painter and the model are not likeable people.  Renoir is full of himself, not giving to hoots about anything else.  The same can be said of Andree who behaves like a spoilt child most of the time.  The incidents in the story are not connected well enough to keep interest going.

Veteran French actor Michel Bouquet is excellent as Pierre Auguste Renoir while the younger players Christa Thenet and Vincent Rottiers appear immature and irritating in their characterizations.

But the music and lush cinematography by mark Lee capturing the mood of a period Cote D’Azur give Bourdos’ film its pleasures.  There are many scenes that look as if they were Renoir’s paintings come to life.  The one with jean Renoir walking out of the house into the morning light of the garden deserves mention.

The confrontation scenes work better as the argument and personal prejudices verbally outlined make sense, especially the naiive Jean romanticizing the war while Pierre dismisses it.  The competition for Andree’s love between the two men also makes perfect sense as director Bourdos highlights and celebrates Thenet’s beauty.

Though RENOIR eventually emerges a mixed bag of tricks, the character of Jean Renoir rises as he dominant one, thus contributing film as an art even though not much is explained of how the young Renoir developed his craft.

REVOLUTION (Canada 2012) ***
Directed by Rob Stewart

The maker of SHARKWATER that dealt with the banning of sharkfins, Rob Stewart takes on coral reefs.  Coral reefs are dying from the acidification of the oceans hat would eventually lead to fish dying and eventually the human race.  Stewart’s film begins where SHARKWATER left off, in fact this film boasts the success of that film in terms of achievement. 

Eighty percent of life on earth lives under the sea, a quarter of which lives in or around coral reefs, vital habitats which are themselves beginning to disappear. Travelling the globe to chronicle the efforts being taken — and not taken — to stem the tide of destruction, and plunging into the ocean depths to observe their wonders first-hand, Stewart examines our destruction of Canada’s own invaluable natural heritage (the oil sands project).  Stewart''s boundless compassion and tireless advocacy are evident throughout the film.  His technique for convincing the audience on his curse is similar to SHARKWATER – shows the evidence; show past and present and outlines what can be done (in the last 10 minutes of the film). 

The film also shows some stunning cinematography in the process, some of which are quite scary, especially the dying coral reefs.

TRANCE (UK 2012) ****

Directed by Danny Bole

TRANCE marks the 5th collaboration between director Boyle and scriptwriter John Hodge (TRAINSPOTTING, SHALLOW GRAVE, A LIFE LESS ORDINARY) after Boyle ‘defected’ to Hollywood with less remarkable films.

TRANCE is a crime drama set in the U.K. just as his early films were set.  This returns both artists to top form.  The script for TRANCE (which was made already in a Brit series) was offered to Boyle by writer Joe Aheame, Aheame shares writing credit with Hodge who doctored the script.  And a very good script with an unpredictable story as well.  The story juggles the roles of victim and predator, which no fine line marked till the very end when all is revealed.

An art auctioneer, Simon (James McAvoy) collaborates with a group of criminals led by a sadistic Franck (Vincent Cassell).  When a blow of the head results in Simon’s memory loss of where he hid the painting, Franck enlists the help of hypnotist Elizabeth (Rosario Dawson) to dive into Simon’s mind to recover the lost painting.

The three leads are superb in their roles.  Dawson has the role to be envied for.  She gets to make love to both Cassell and McAvoy. Nothing is what it seems – and that is what keeps the audience guessing as well as their interest piqued.

One can complain about the graphic violence in the movie – including a scene in which Simon fires at his opponent’s private part. Btu for a crime action drama, violence is a necessity and Boyle’s film is not short of it.  Boyle shoots in the style of TRAINSPOTTING with slanted camera, jittery segments and all that heightens the tension of an audience watching a fast paced thriller.

TRANCE delivers with above average performances, a solid script and spirited direction.  TRANCE is one of the best films to hit the screens this year!

Best Bets of the Week:

Best Film opening: Trance

Best Film Playing: Django Unchained

Vest Family: The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey

Best Foreign: No

Best Doc: The Gatekeepers

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