- Category: Movie Reviews
- Written by Gilbert Seah
Lots of new movies opening this weekend the big ones being the dud AFTER EARTH. M. Night Shyamalan proves that he still has not got what it takes to make a hit.
Also playing is the 23rd Inside Out LGBT Film Festival in Toronto.
AFTER EARTH (USA 2013) *
Directed by M. Night Shyamalan
Another dud from THE LAST AIRBENDER director M. Night Shyamalan. But at least AFTER EARTH is not that bad. But it is far from good either. Pretentious, boring, self-indulgent and ultimately stupid with more plot loopholes than the number of craters found on the moon, AFTER EARTH also contains a performance by Will Smith that could have possibly been phoned into the studio. His son performs better than his brooding father, but nothing can save the day.
The film is supposedly set in the future of 1000 A.D. (the film’s original title) when the inhabitants of the planet Earth have been moved to Nova Prime. Why the Earth is uninhabitable is never explained. All the audience sees is burning buildings and burning oil towers, courtesy of the $130 million dollars given for this production. There is also no bother to explain how a peacekeeping organization called the Ranger Corps came to be formed.
It is also too convenient that the Corps is trained by a stern General called Cypher Raige played by Will Smith, the star of the movie. Shyamalan (UNBREAKBLE, THE SIX SENSE, and THE VILLAGE) has been known to make up fantasy bedroom stories for his children, who likely never asked father any questions. He treats his audience as kids accepting whatever they are told.
The basis of the story is the father and son relationship. Apparently the son, Kitai (Jaden Smith) is ill-disciplined. Father dislikes his son’s behaviour while the son seeks approval of his father. All this has been seen in countless other father/son relationship films. The only difference here is that the filmmakers have $130 million to do what they want. So, monsters are lurking everywhere, chasing the son who has to retrieve some silly beacon that would save father and mankind. Smith broods during half of the film giving his son’s orders through some transmitting device.
Shyamalan’s film is also so slow and poorly paced. Monsters chase Kitai for no reason. Of course he escapes and saves the day and wins his father’s respect. All this takes 90 minutes of screen time but feels over 3 hours long.
Shyamalan is on a roll of making bad films.
BLANCANIEVES (Spain/France 2012) ***
Directed by Pablo Berger
BLANCANIEVES translated from Spanish to Snow White tells the old Brothers Grimm tale with a twist. Snow White (Marcarena Garcia) is a female matador hunted down by her evil stepmother Encarna (Maribel Verdu).
BLANCANIEVES translated from Spanish to Snow White tells the old Brothers Grimm tale.
But the story in told in a silent film, written and directed by Pablo Berger with titles and in black and white. After THE ARTIST, the novelty, though not well worn is already no longer a novelty. And the Snow White take also runs low on ideas. But on the plus side, the black and white cinematography is excellent to look at, and the expressions on the characters’ faces are more pronounced given that the film is silent. The film is also extremely charming in parts and needless to say has more than sufficient moments to behold. The bullfight scenes are also expected with considerable flair and provide some excitement, rare in silent films.
But at least the film has an ending that is unexpected from the fairytale.
Despite a few dull spots, BLANCANIEVES is still entertaining for its most part.
CHARLES BRADLEY SOUL OF AMERICA (USA 2012) **
Directed by Poull Brien
Documentaries are a dime a dozen these days. The last HOT DOCs festival in Toronto saw hundreds of new docs made by newcomers on a wide variety of subjects. As long as a budding filmmaker finds a somewhat viable subject, a new do is made. Who is this Charles Bradley then, and why is this doc made about him?
This man happens to be the son of famous blues singer James Brown though he still is a nobody waiting to break it big into the music industry. When the film begins, the audience gets to see Bradley performing at various gigs.
The doc takes the normal path of a doc on the subject of budding performer. There are talking heads (friends and associates in the business who testify to the man’s talent. The camera follows Charles on his daily routines where his poverty, poor mother and housing are on display. There are also enactments of him reminiscing the past as well as a boy playing him sleeping on the subway trains at night. All this is watchable but unless one has a sincere love for the blues, what transpires on screen is another sob story of a poor soul living n America.
One scene has Bradley visiting old friends at a house. Another two have members of the audience praising Bradley’s performance. It seems that there is shortage of material to be put in the documentary.
The result is a doc that has enough information on a no doubt talented singer that might interest a large enough audience. Unless one is really into the James Brown kind of music, this relatively well made film will fail to intrigue.
THE LESSER BLESSED (Canada 2012) **
Directed by Anita Doron
The coming-of-age drama is one of the most common genres used in indie movies. In THE LESSER BLESSED, the film contains no real original material, the omly niche being that the protagonist s a First nations kid in school.
Larry Sole (Joel Evans) is a quiet kid at school bullied most of the time by fellow classmate, Darcy (Adam Butcher). The film lets the audience know later in the film that they were both friends before torn apart by some mystery that the script will allow the audience to now only at the end. New school kid, also a native, Johnny Beck (Kiowa Gordon) arrives and protects Larry from Dracy. They become reluctant friends. The story includes a romance with Juliet Hope (Chloe Rose). Why this character is always referred to by her full first and last name is strange, maybe to emphasize that the boy sees hope in her. Larry’s family life is not all that smooth either. He tries to get along with his mother’s (Tamara Podemski) new boyfriend, Jed (Benjamin Bratt) who tries to inplant some discipline into the lad.
Nothing much really happens in the film except all the problems eventually working themselves out. The performances from the largely unknown cast are satisfactory. The humour is slight and the film contains no highly emotionally charged scenes.
The final result is a somewhat satisfactory film on a well worn theme that sheds no new insight on life lessons or life in general.
LORE (Germany/Australia 2012) ***
Directed by Cate Shortland
LORE tells the coming-of-age tale of Lore, a Nazi SS Officer daughter survivor set just after the Germans lost WWII. There have not been many or any film told from the ‘enemy’ side of the fence, so LORE makes a welcome though dark change.
The film begins with the SS Officer father evacuating the family home with the upset mother, puzzled Lore and her siblings, younger sister, twins Jurgens and Gunter and baby Thomas. They take refuge in a shack in the woods, but fate is not on their side. Father is taken away to prison, mother abandons them leaving poor Lore to take care of the rest of the family. Lore has to travel to paradise in the form of the grandmother’s house somewhere north in the Hamburg area. All she knows is that it is a house painted with windmills with a garden of flowers. They travel, without papers in a Germany that is no longer Germany but divided into different zones run by the Allied Forces.
The film is necessarily bleak in outlook, with lots of scenes without sunlight and lots of shots of mud be in from the sea or ground. Director Shortland loves to play with ambiguity with the journey’s end never certain nor the identity of the young man (who appears to be a Jew) who aids them. The conflict between naïve Lore and the Jew is expectedly disturbing especially with her prejudice that stems out of her limited knowledge. The audience is similarly expected to have mixed feelings for Lore and her family – sympathetic to her dilemma and yet upset at her upbringing.
But the preachy ending with the director displaying Lore’s hardened heart is a bit much. Something subtler would have been more appropriate as the audience would have already got the point after watching the film. Still, the atmosphere and performances from the young cast make a convincing war survival drama.
NOW YOU SEE ME (USA 2013) ***
Directed by Louis Leterrier
NOW YOU SEE ME, a smug film about magician tricksters pulling an ambitious heist starts off with a confident card trick performed by smart-talking Michael (Jesse Eisenberg) in which the card chosen by his audience (and the movie audience at the same time), the 7 of diamonds appears lit on a high rise building. When asked how he did it, he replied that he bribed the building technician.
This is a clever opening sequence as it comprises a magic trick pulled on the audience as well. This atmosphere of smugness is carried on consistently throughout the film, in fact a bit too much that the audience will undoubtedly feel manipulated, if not used and played for.
The simplistic plot is mixed with very complicated magic tricks, all of them explained fully to the audience so that there is no complaint of plot flaws. 4 individual magicians played by Jesse Eisenberg, Isla Fisher, Dave Franco and Woody Harrelson are brought together by entrepreneur Arthur Tressler (Michael Caine) to rob bank while giving the money to their audiences. The purpose is a much larger heist that one can even dream of. Hot on their case is cop Dylan (Mark Ruffalo) aided by a hot French Interpol agent (Melanie Laurent), who is played the fool most of the time.
The 4 are as confident and smug as director Leterrier’s film. Nothing can go wrong and every job, no matter how preposterous, succeeds with the utmost efficiency. Unfortunately, the film does not turn out that way. The film moves from one robbery to another, a bit too fast. Even the Master of Suspense, Hitchcock said that a film often needs a breather. Though watchable and entertaining as one watches the 4 succeed consecutively, the credibility factor is stretched tremendously. The story contains a few twists, though it takes no genius to guess who the real trickster in all this is.
Eisenberg is just as fast-talking as he was in THE SOCIAL NETWORK as Woody Harrelson as annoying as in his other films. Dave Franco (James’ younger brother) is immediately recognizable for his good looks, but is not given that big a role as to just smile and maybe perform a few fight scenes. Ruffalo steals the show while Freeman does his usual know-it-all bit.
Whether this film will do well at the box-office is a good guess. Films about magicians rarely do well at the box-office, the recent Jim Carrey/Steve Carrel one being a case in point. However, one combined with a bank heist made by Lionsgate whose shares have risen 300% since the past year, the film might be another winner like its heroes.
PIETA (South Korea 2012) ***
Directed by Kim Ki-Duk
The film begins with a shot of a hook, reminiscent of the fishing hooks in a girl’s vagina in Kim’s breakout film THE ISLE. The titles also indicate that PIETA is Kim’s 18th film. The film has lots to remind his audience of his trademark – gross violence and angry characters – elements that keep his film a compelling watch from start to finish.
But PIETA is less gross than most of his other films. There are still unwatchable segments like the protagonist breaking the legs of his victim or an eel’s head being chopped off, but these are nothing compared to his early films. Whether this is a sign of the director maturing is a matter of debate, but PIETA has a stronger narrative, more characterizations and more focus. But his characters are no less crazy.
The craziest of which is Kang-do’s mother who suddenly shows up out of the blue to change Kang-do’s life, the reasoning being that she had abandoned him as a baby and now wishes redemption. But redemption in her own way. Kang-do is a hired money collector who often maims those who cannot pay back their loans. He takes pleasure in his work, leaving atrial of cripples on the way.
Though not always violent, Kim’s scenes which include Kang-do raping his mother or his mother masturbating him are just as disturbing. But the film traces the mother’s redemption in her own crazy work.
It is hard to like a film with dislikeable characters who are self-destructive most of the time. The result will be a film, relatively well made in the director’s own way that many would hate. But the film did go o to win many prizes including the Golden Lion at the Venice Film festival.
SIGHTSEERS (UK 2012) **
Directed by Ben Wheatley
SIGHTSEERS plays like a violent serial killing diversion of Mike Leigh’s NUTS IN MAY. Even the two leads, Alice Rowe and Steve Oram in SIGHTSEERS bear physical resemblance to the couple (bearded Roger Sloman and then wife Alison Steadman) in NUTS IN MAY. They are as described in the Leigh film : English touiststs touring England. And in this one, with an angry vengeance for what has occurred in their ‘loser’ lives.
At one point in the film, Chris, the man angrily chides the woman, Tina: “This is utter chaos. What I need is some organization in my life!” This pretty much sums up the problem with this picture. Tina and Chris, as serial killers, do away with people for no apparent reason. Initially the victims are nuisances that do the human race no good – litterbugs harming the environment or loud people with no morals (the would be bride making out with the man at a pub), but then they soon include innocent bystanders such as a jogger on the road or a harmless camper. The two quarrel and make love, switching their feelings at total random. This gives the viewer the impression that Wheatley is just aiming for cheap tricks to shock his audience rather than provide any purpose for their actions. This is unlike WHEATLEY’s other films such as DOWN TERRACE when the violent actions of a family follow a logical reasoning. The weirdness of the material might be what attracted Edgar Wright (SHAUN OF THE DEAD) to executive produce this film.
Worst still, Tina at the middle of the film says to Chris: “I was worried, I thought I had lost you!” this is in complete contradiction to what she does to him at the end of the film.
The interesting relationship between the mother and daughter, brought up at he film’s start is never developed, which would have made a more interesting story giving the film a more solid purpose.
In the end, SIGHTSEERS comes off as just a curiosity piece, entertaining in a wicked way, but rooted in, as the characters say, chaos. (Sight and Sound the British film magazine did give this film its due, with the film being on a monthly cover.) Pity as SIGHTSEERS could have developed into something more, perhaps providing a realistic insight on how society has failed on human beings
Best Film Opening: NOW YOU SEE ME
Best Film Playing: TRANCE
Best Family: THE HOBBIT: AN UNEXPECTED JOURNEY
Best Foreign: NO
Best Doc: REVOLUTION
Best Comedy: ADMISSION
Best Action: PAIN AND GAIN