This Week's Film Reviews (May 10, 2013)

10 May 2013

Literary fans have THE GREAT GATSBY to watch out for.  Lovers of THE SHINING have a documentary on the hidden implications behind the many scenes of the film.




AT ANY PRICE (USA 2012) ***

Directed by Ramin Bahrani


            There have been very few films on the problems of modern farmers, especially those using genetically altered seeds.  The documentary MUSANTO has educated quite the many filmgoer on companies that peddle the product to the point of punishing farmers that do not comply.  In the film AT ANY PRICE, the effects are seen in a fiction film.

            Set in Ohio in the competitive world of modern agriculture, ambitious farmer Henry Whipple (Dennis Quaid) wants both the family farm business to prosper as well as see his sons take over the huge acreage of land.  No such luck.  The elder is off climbing the Andes, while back home, the younger Dean (a brooding Zac Efron doing a James Dean) has his ambition on becoming a race car driver.

            AT ANY PRICE deals with quite the few issues – father and son relationship; the business of genetically altered seeds; romantic conflict (both father and son have an affair with Meridith (Heather Graham)) - so much so that the film gets bogged down with family melodrama.

            But Bahrani’s film is not without its plusses.  For one, the atmosphere and attention to detail of the film’s setting are top notch.  The racing segments are well edited and more exciting than most action flicks playing this year.  The script, also written by Bahrani gives females very strong characterization in what is predominantly a male oriented world.   Most films reduce the female role to just housewives doing chores or crying over their husband’s problems.

            Though the film is mostly compelling, the film has a lagging middle.  The happy ending in which everything turns out well is a bit out of credibility’s reach.  Still the audience yearns a happy ending for the Whipple family who have tried so hard to succeed that it hurts.


BLACKBIRD (Canada 2012) ****

Directed by Jason Buxton


            Troubled teen, Sean Randall (Connor Jessup) is falsely accused of planning a Columbine shooting scenario.  The film traces the beginning when it all begins with an unlikely bond forming between him and a preppy teenage girl named Deanna Roy (Alexia Fast). Deanna''s boyfriend is deeply threatened by Sean and Deanna''s friendship, resulting in a violent confrontation. Seeking to protect himself, Sean issues a death threat online - and is swiftly arrested.  When the police raid Sean''s home, they find rifles, shotguns, knives and ammunition - all property of Sean''s father Ricky (Michael Buie), an avid hunter. They also find a supposed "hit list" with twenty names of people who have tormented Sean. The authorities and the media proclaim another Columbine has been narrowly averted, and soon Sean faces a terrifying imprisonment in a youth detention facility. Sean''s only hope is to overcome his dark image, and prove his innocence to Deanna and to his community.

            This remarkable fictional story of a bullied boy left to his own surviving devices feels like a documentary the way it is shot.  With the camera often following behind the head of the protagonist and with events unfolding chronologically, director Buxton has fashioned a compelling teen drama.

            The audience is made to identify and feel for the kid.  Every time he is bullied or stands up for himself, he gains respect – especially when he stands up against his father, though his father means well.  The film also looks at the dilemma faced by the father – trying to control an uncontrollable personality with a mother figure, while keeping finances in place.  The film also looks at the flaws of a judicial system and the prejudice and ignorance of the town

Jessup is excellent as the young protagonist undergoing considerable character development.  He is forced to change his attitude (and attire) from angry rebel to accepting prisoner.  His final statement at the end of the film is a most powerful shaker.

The film was first screened at the Toronto International Film Festival last year and won the prize for Best First feature.  This both deeply moving and brutally  frightening film is also the best Canadian film I have seen for some time.


THE GREAT GATSBY (USA 2013) ***1/2

Directed by Baz Luhrmann



            From the Australian director Baz Luhrmann of over-stylized films like STRCITLY BALLROOM, MOULIN ROUGE AND ROMEO+JULIET, comes another adaptation of the American classic F. Scott Fitzgerald novel THE GREAT GATSBY.  Love it or hate it for its Luhrmann’s personal imprint, the film still dazzles in its over excess as do the characters do in the newly found riches and decadence of the Roaring Twenties.

            The film begins with the unforgettable prose of Fitzgerald heard as a narrative voiceover: “I remember my younger and less vulnerable years when my father taught me to look at the best in a person…” words memorable to anyone who have read the novel.  Much of the author’s writings are heard throughout the film, thus maintaining the atmosphere of the novel.  Jay Gatsby (Leonardo DiCaprio), is seen through the eyes of would be writer Nick Carraway (Tobey Maguire) as a person of great integrity, building himself in society from poverty to riches while always in love with Nick’s cousin, Daisy (Carey Mulligan) who he enlists to arrange a meeting again after losing her to her now crass husband Tom Buchanan (Joel Edgerton).

            The music soundtrack cannot beat the 1975 Robert Redford version, which won the Oscar for Best original song score by Nelson Riddle.  No one can forget the immortal lyrics: “What will I do, when you are faraway….?”  Here the blend of Cole Porter songs and rap music does not really work as it takes the film to present rather than the 20’s.

            Though glitzy in look, especially the segments showing the parties at the Gatsby mansion, Luhrmann includes quieter moments reflecting the thought of Gatsby, especially the long takes of him looking out at the green light over the bay.  The flowing white curtains in the room in which the audience first gets a glimpse of Daisy is excellent art direction.

            Thought the story is a bit predictable, the film works with Luhrmann keeping the narrative containing the original Fitzgerald words.  This is what keeps the film literary and gives it the class it seeks to achieve.

            DiCaprio may be a little young to play a man who has established himself in life and reaching his maturing years, but he gives the character its due.  His confrontational scenes are top-notch impressive and dramatic fire.  The female roles of Myrtle (Isla Fisher) and Jordan are toned down in the film.

            THE GREAT GATSBY the film works very much like the Gatsby character – lots of glamour but deep inside, a serious film that takes its literary source with the respect it deserves.

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I DECLARE WAR (Canada 2011) ****

Directed by Jason Lapeyre and Robert Wilson


            With so many remakes of the story WAR OF THE BUTTONS, it is not surprising that this Canadian film about two groups of boys at battle took 2 years to get a commercial release.  LORD OF THE FLIES, WAR OF THE BUTTOS French and English films) have worn out the novel idea of boys fighting for whatever reason.  Even the Japanese had an offshoot version, BATTLE ROYALE.  But wait!  I DECLARE WAR turns out to be quite the different kind of film – an adult film bout kids which also turns out  to be the best Canadian film I have seen this year.

            I DECLARE WAR treads the fine line between parody and satire of life.  It could have very well been both – and good ones at that.  The film covers key growing up issues like infatuated  love, friendship, ambition, hero-worship, bullying as well as adult themes as honour, cowardice and camaraderie.

            The film begins with the two group of kids (roughly the age of high-schoolers) already in the game of war.  The rules of war are quickly explained to the audience, visually in writing (which is good for memory reasons) as well as verbally at the very start and the rest of the film takes place as the ‘war’ is fought.  Though a kids war, everything is treated dead serious.  The kids are obsessed with winning and being heroes, they swear with the ‘f’ word, and there is quite a bit of violence (rock throwing, torture, death by grenade) that takes place as well.  This is how kids behave when adults are absent.  In many ways, it is a more cruel world of survival.

            The film also works because the kids make pretty good actors.  Everyone is practically perfect and believable.  The credits give their mothers and fathers mention, which is likely rightly deserved.

            I DECLARE WAR is a major good surprise of a movie! Ignore the well worn theme, and give the film a chance.  You won’t be disappointed!

ROOM 237 (USA 2013) **

Directed by Rodney Ascher


            237 is the room number of the hotel in Stanley Kubrick’s horror classic THE SHINING which was based on the Stephen King novel.                                            

            Rodney Ascher’s ROOM 237 tells the stories as related by several people who have developed theories after decoding hidden messages and symbols (that include superimposing the film playing backwards with it playing forwards.  Ascher has los o repeated segments from THE SHINING repeatedly shown on screen as the theories are verbalized, so those who loved THE SHINING will be more than satisfied with these images.

            But for all the theories, (for me especially the super positioning of the film backwards and forwards), some may seem like nonsense, conjured up by fanatics with nothing else better to do.  For example, an image of a cartoon character missing on the wall may just have been a continuity error than Kubrick’s deliberation.

            The enjoyment of this film thus depends on the audience’s acceptance on these theories that Kubrick was a genius sending multiple images and messages with the movie.  My question is this: Why is he not also doing this with his other movies?

            There are better more important things to do in life than make wierd conjectures on stuff or coming up with conspiracy theories,  Of course, I could be completely wrong.  But at least Ascher lets these people have their say, which are well expressed in his documentary.

SKULL WORLD (Canada 2012) **

Directed by Justin McConnell


            One of the prime reasons a documentary is made is the interest of its subject.  The subject could very well be a famous person like an artist or director or an exposure of a corrupt government or industry.

            In the new doc SKULL WORLD, the weird subject is box cardboard wars.  Combatants make up their own armor out of cardboard boxes and battle it out in public.  The one left standing with the armor still on is crowned the winner.  Director McConnell himself is a big fan and participant – the reason this film got made.

            McConnell follows Torontonian Greg Sommer a.k.a. Skull Man in his skullworld – 2 years of it as he takes it  to the road and partying.  It is highly doubtful whether box wars will become a sport of the future as it is too geeky and the rules too difficult to follow (you can hit but cannot hurt like the MMA etc.), so the appeal of this documentary will likely also appeal to a few.

            As far as how good this documentary is, McConnell has shot his film with sufficient spirit, done his homework to include the origins of the sport (supposedly from Down Under) and amassed enough material on the subject.



Best Film Opening: THE GREAT GATSBY

Best Film Playing: TRANCE


Best Foreign: NO


Best Comedy: ADMISSION

Best Action: PAIN AND GAIN

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