This Week's Film Reviews (Jul 20, 2013)

17 Jul 2013

Big weekend for new movies.  TURBO and RED2 have Wednesday openings while others like RIPD and THE CONJURING  open Friday.

THE ACT OF KILLING (Denmark/Norway/UK 2012) *

Directed by Joshua Oppenheimer

            THE ACT OF KILLING is a documentary in which ex-killers talk to he camera and explain as well as re-enact the killings they have done in the past.  Apparently the reason for the making of this film is for the killers to understand their act  But the question is that these guilt scum of the earth should be brought to trail for their wicked deeds rather than given the glory to talk on film.

            The setting is Indonesia.   When President Sukarno was overthrown by Suharto following the failed coup in 1965, the gangsters of Anwar Congo ad Adi Zulkadry in Medan in the north of Sumatra were promoted from selling black market movie theatre tickets to leaders of the most notorious death squad responsible for countless murders. Anwar personally killed approximately 1000 people, usually by strangling with wire.

Today, Anwar is revered as a founding father of a right-wing paramilitary organization that grew out of the death squads. The organization is so powerful that its leaders include government ministers, and they are happy to boast about everything from corruption and election rigging to genocide.                                                                                                               

Anwar and his friends eagerly re-enact the killings for the cameras, and make dramatic scenes depicting their memories and feelings about the killings. The scenes are produced in the style of their favorite film genres: gangster, western, and musical. Various aspects of Anwar and his friends' filmmaking process are shown, but as they begin to dramatize Anwar's own nightmares, the fiction scenes begin to take over the film's form, leading the film to become increasingly surreal and nightmarish. Oppenheimer has called the result "a documentary of the imagination”.                          

Some of Anwar’s friends realize that the killings were wrong. Others worry about the consequence of the story on their public image. Younger members of Pemuda Pancasila argue that they should boast about the horror of the massacres, because their terrifying and threatening force is the basis of their power today.                                             

This documentary has won rave reviews around the world for its content.  But this reviewer finds the whole exercise nothing short of revolting.  To watch  ex-killers bask in their glory is too much.  Their sense of regret shown at the end of the film is not enough for redemption.  If Oppenheimer made a similar film getting ex-Nazi criminals to re-enact their killing acts in the concentration camps, the result would be nothing less than an uproar.   The reason he gets away with this disgusting documentary is that the oppressed in Indonesia have lost their rights to have their say.

Of the scrrenings, the 2pm ones daily will feature the director's cut.

 THE ACT OF KILLING:Producer Anne Kohncke will be present for a Q&A following the Friday, July 19 6:00pm screening of THE ACT OF KILLING at The TIFF/Bell Lightbox. 

BLACKFISH (USA 2013) ***1/2

Directed by Gabriela Cowperthwaite


            BLACKFISH is the name given to Orcas also known as killer whales by the First Nations people.  These mammals are strong, fierce and dominant creatures that are not to be messed around with.  So if Orcas are captured from the wild, separated from their communities, and forced to perform while living in horrid confined pools in parks like SeaWorld, it would be just a matter of time when nature will take revenge when the killer whales eventually emotionally cannot take it any more.  Unfortunately, it is not the ones who mistreat the whales that pay, but the innocent trainers at the sea parks.

            Director Cowperthwaite begins her message laden film with the supposedly ideal SeaWorld.  An ad of SeaWorld is seen with the whales diving in and out of he clouds in the sky.  Performances are show that depict he ideal relationship between man and mammal.  Then, Cowperthwaite lets the shit hit he fan with a trainer being mauled by an animal.

            The owners of the parks such as SeaWorld are clearly targeted as the enemy in the film.  The words “the owners of SeaWorld refuse to be interviewed for the film,” is boldly displayed on the screen.  And the director is also proud to include the title of ex-SeaWorld trainer when the camera focuses on one.

            Again this documentary reveals the inherent greed, evil and insensitivity of the human race.  And Cowperthwaite’s documentary also ensures the audience to take the animal’s side.


Directed by James Wan

            Based on the real story of one of the supernatural cases of ghostbusters Ed and Lorraine Warren (Patrick Wilson from INSIDUOUS and VERA FARMIGA), who lectures at universities and also perform an assortment of tasks like exorcism, dispelling fears of the supernatural and logical explanation of supernatural phenomena, THE CONJURING follows this particular case till its final solution.

            A family, Roger and Carolyn (Ron Livingston and Lili Taylor) moves into a farm house.  Paranormal activity occurs – girl is dragged by her legs; a ghoulish figure descends from the cupboard; doors slam and open; dark shadows appear behind the children.  It turns out that a witch used to live in the farmhouse.  She killed her daughter before killing herself and her spirit has latched itself to the family.  The father, Roger panics and persuades Ed and Loraine to come investigate.

            THE CONJURING (more accurately called the Harrisville Horror after THEAMITYVILLE HORROR) does not contain any original ideas or new tricks.  In fact the film is a bastardized version of THE EXORCIST, POLTERGEST and the PARANONORMAL ACTIVITY films.  There are the classic scares – things that go bump in the night; creatures hiding behind corners; creepy toys like the music box; dark and long corridors and the cheap shock tactics – sudden increase of soundtrack volume; scary images suddenly jumping out of the screen (ghoul jumping from cupboard) for no reason; build up of music and then burst of blackness of screen (at the end).  Director Wan also includes a bit of blood and gore (the image or redness merging from white sheets) that was his trait in the SAW films.  The story basically is Ed and Lorraine, exorcising the demons from the house and that is it.  The witch variation of the story does not do much to the over told tale but provide a few images of hanging bodies.

            The script also contain too many convenient coincidences  Lorraine is able to use and put all the pieces of the history puzzle far to easily.  Ed saves their daughter Judy by yanking her from the door in which an object goes smashing into it.  How did Ed know this?  Or how did they manage to arrive at the grandmother’s house to save Judy just in the split second nick of time?  Based on a true story, maybe but the film sure  takes its liberty with the facts.

            On the plus side, fans of the horror genre should have enough fun being scarred out of their seats.  Wan has assembled quite the thorough assortment (though used) of scare tactics.

            So sure is Warner Bros. is of the success of this film that a sequel is already in the planning.  But this is what WB needs to make back the money lost from PACIFIC RIM.


THE HUNT (JAGTEN) (Denmark 2012) ****

Directed by Thomas Vinterberg


In William Wyler’s THE CHILDREN’S HOUR, a precocious schoolgirl tells the lie of her two teachers played by Shirley MacLaine and Audrey Hepburn kissing leading to disturbing results.  A similar premise in Danish director Thomas Vinterberg’s (CELEBRATION) new film has kindergarten girl Klara (Annika Wedderkopp) make up a lie about popular childcare worker Lucas (Mads Mikkelsen) making sexual advances towards her.  This leads to his firing and the whole community turning against him.  It could not happen at a worse time when Lucas is trying for custody of his son, Marcus.  The lie grows with more horrible stories made up about Lucas.  Vinterberg also ties in the hypocrisy of small town Denmark mentality with traditions like the deer hunt when boys become men and vice versa.  THE HUNT is a harrowing film from start to finish and one wonders midway during the film how a satisfactory ending can come about all this.  Vinterwberg steers his audience to a happy (sort of) ending that is both believable and satisfactory.  Though the story of a child’s lie is by no means novel, it has been a while since THE CHILDREN’S HOUR made its debut.  Mikkelsen delivers more than a fine performance of a man torn between retreating into hopeless solitude and uncontrollable anger that won him this year’s Cannes Festival prize for Best Actor.


ONLY GOD FORGIVES (Denmark/France 2013) ****
Directed by Nicolas Winding Refn

            The second collaboration between Danish writer/director Refn (PUSHER) and actor Ryan Gosling after the sadistic satisfying thriller DRIVE delivers very much of the same but in a more violent and surreal setting.  Though realistically set in the kick boxing drug world of Bangkok, Thailand, the film possesses a western feel, which is the reason the title sounds like one of the typical spaghetti westerns that were popular during the 70’s.

From the very start, director Refn makes authenticity of prime importance.  The colours of red and dark shadows give the film an oriental Thai look while the opening credits in both English and Thai indicate that the film could pass off as a Thai film.  As the film progresses, it becomes more surreal, from the dialogue and action.  The violence intensifies. At times, the film evokes memories of David Lynch’s BLUE VELVET with the ether inhaling villain Dennis Hopper.  (In BLUE VELVET, a kidnapped victim gets his ear cut off.  In ONLY GOD FORGIVES, an ice pick is inserted horizontally into a tortured victim’s earlobes.)

Refn is daring enough to substitute a well known actor playing the villain for an unknown, Thai Vithaya Pansringarm playing the role of the ‘angel of death’. Though one may consider him to be the good guy, as he masters a ‘sort-of’ personal justice on those wronged in the film (the father of the prostitute’s daughter get his arm chopped off; the killer of the under aged prostitute is led to be killed by her father; the hit man hired to kill him is duly tortured), he is the film’s villain per se as he is the that goes up against the protagonist, Julian Thompson (Ryan Gosling).

            The story centres on Julian.  Julian Thompson is an American expatriate living in Bangkok, Thailand who runs a boxing club, which is actually a front for a massive drug smuggling operation.  His brother Billy brutally murders an underage prostitute before surrendering to the Thai police.  Lieutenant Chang (Pansringarm) – known as the "Angel of Death" – arrives on the scene before informing the girl's father, Choi Yan Lee. Chang allows Choi to beat Billy to death, but cuts off the man's arm for allowing his young daughter to remain in the business of prostitution.  

 But the real trouble starts when Julian's mother, Crystal (Kirsten Scott Thomas), arrives in Bangkok to identify Billy's corpse, much to Julian's surprise. Crystal implores Julian to find the men who killed Billy.  And the story twists towards a spectacularly violent ending that could be argued as predictable though Refn has infused a fair amount of shock surprises.          

 Audiences who have seen Gosling with his top off know that the actor is three times the size of Pansringarm.  Yet the boxing fight scene in which the latter beats Gosling to a bloody pulp is totally credible, thanks to Refn’s cinematic skills.                              

Refn’s film is a fresh gory cinematic experience set in his own world of fantasy.  Do not expect realistic but instead, over-the-top dialogue.  For example in the scene in which mother Crystal hurls insults to Julian and his Thai call-girlfriend, she reasons his incapacity to perform his filial duties as akin to his cock size, while putting his girlfriend in place before apologizing.                                                                                                                   

ONLY GOD FORGIVES was nominated for the grand Palme d’or at this year’s Cannes.  But the film was met with quite the few boos by critics during its showing.  The film might drive audiences to the hills with his violence but this critic finds the film quite the fascinating cinematic experience.




RED 2 (USA 2013) ***
Directed by Dean Parisot
            Formulaic actioner that benefits from the participation of high profile stars like Bruce Willis, Helen Mirren, Anthony Hopkins, John Malkovich and Catherine Zeta-Jones.  RED 2 is the sequel to the 1970 RED based on the limited DC comic book of retired agents.
            Standard plot has retired agent Frank Moses (Willis) attempting to settle down with his wife Sarah (Mary Louise Parker) to a normal life.  Yanked out of retirement to save the world from a weapon of mass destruction by his best friend (Malkovich) the trio enlists the help of an assortment of other killing machines. A nice touch as Sarah as an action seeker rather than the passive screaming female lead.
            The action and humour are fast and furious. Director knows how to keep audiences’ eyes pinned to the screen by a combination of music, sound effects, camera angles and sheer movement of the camera.  Even the car chase between a Porsche and motorbike is out of this world.  The James Bond like caper also takes the action to England, Russia, the U.S.  and Honk Kong.
            REDS 2 makes the better Bruce Willis vehicle than the Die Hard films.  Even the dialogue is just as sharp if not sharper.  “You have not killed anyone for months:” the Moses character is told at one point.  Action fans will not be disappointed with RDES 2 as te film has everything one wants in an action film.  And this is no simple feat.

R.I.P.D (USA 2013) **

Directed by Robert Schwentke

            RIPD (Rest In Peace Department) dealing with law enforcement officers capturing escaped dead people in the form of monsters unseen by other human beings sounds familiar.  In fact the entire film works like a poor man’s version of the MEN IN BLACK movies (minus slick and style, add sarcasm Jeff Bridges style).  One difference is that the human beings do not see the law enforcement as what thy really are but as someone else.  Bridges has the appearance of a voluptuous female while Reynolds in not so lucky.

            Cop, Nick (Ryan Reynolds) is shot dead by his partner, Hayes (Kevin Bacon) after he refuses to cooperate stealing evidence.  He is given one chance to be with his wife again if accepts heavenly duty of capturing monsters pretending to be human beings.  His partner, Roy (Jeff Bridges) is not easy to work with and neither is this new job.  The only main villain in the piece turns to to be Hayes whose ridiculous aim seems to bring all the undead back to earth.  The weak story suffers from a strong villain, a fresh storyline and articulate dialogue.

            At first glance, RIPB appears to be an original summer flick not based on a comic book nor is it a sequel.  But I reality it is quite the rip-off.  Whatever audiences have seen in MIB (partner train; partner bonding and respect) is repeated shamefully.

            But the special effects are quite spectacular, the vertical office of files and cabinets seen at the start of the film demanding mention.  More comedy than action, most of the laughs are provided by Bridges uttering his one-liners under his breath.  Often, what e says is so quick, that much may missed by the audience.

            Running at less than 90 minutes not counting the end credits, it is clear that the 4 writers credited for the script are unable to come up with fresh ideas.  Hopefully, RIPD should be put to rest without any sequels.

TURBO (USA 2013) ****

Directed by David Soren


            In Disney’s MONSTERS UNIVERSITY, there is one scene, the first day of class, in which a monster slug is seen trying to move as fast as he can while screaming: “I cannot afford to be late for my first class!”  Arguably the funniest joke of the film, the segment only serves to show the potential of snails in a full length animated movie.

            Director double dips into the pudding.  The story deals not with one but two sets of brothers.  Turbo has to prove to Paul he has what it takes just as Tito (Michael Pena) has to do the same with his (Luis Guzman).  Making Tito aka Taco Man round and chubby and Hispanic works extremely well.

            The story deals with a teen called TURBO (Ryan Reynolds) who has the dream of racing cars and being fast. Too bad he is as snow as a snail.  In fact, he is a snail.  And his brother, Paul (Paul Giamatti) is sick of getting him out of trouble.   A freak accident gives Turbo superpowers of being fast.  A human, Tito (Michael Pena discovers and uses Turbo to enter the Indy Race to promote his Taco Store as well as fulfill Turbo’s dream.

The film, of course is formulaic to a certain degree.  One difference is the lack of a major villain.  The only villain, who shows his face only after the second half is actual Turbo’s role model, the racer Guy Gagne (Bill Hader).  The climax in this case, is the big race at the end in which Guy will stop at nothing, using dirty tactics to win the race.

            The script plays well with snails.  There are a lot of snail jokes playing on their slowness of pace, their fears (crows, salt and little boys on tricycles) and their livelihood (harvesting tomatoes).  There is no shortage of imagination and humour.  Snails can retreat into their shell and roll around, contort their mollusc bodies or slide their way to the audience’s heart.

            The songs are nicely blended into the film, unlike a lot of Disney films, in which the embarrassing songs can appear out of nowhere.  The new song “That Snail is fast” or the older “We are the Champions’ are played at appropriate spots.

Animated features usually come with messages.  TURBO’s clever script does as well but the dialogue plays with them. The message comes with Guy’s saying: “No dream is too small” and then immediately followed by “No dream is too big…”.  But the funniest (and true) line; “Everyone loves an underdog to win as they wish they were the underdog themselves, able to achieve their dreams.  But in real life, these underdogs never win.” 

Michael Pena would be an unlikely choice as the voice of a major comic character, Tito the Hispanic Taco Man who befriends Turbo.  Pena is hilarious, distinct and memorable as Tito’s voice even outdoing Guzman and Reynolds.  Samuel L. Jackson also deserves mention for his funny voice characterization of Whiplash.

            TURBO will go head to head to head with Disney’s PLANES (the sequel to CARS) to race for box-office market share as well as the Oscar for Best Animated Feature.  The climatic race between TURBO, the snail and the cars in the Indianapolis  Race comes across as dead ironic.  PLANES ad PLANES have the inherent problem of making inanimate objects animated.  They do not have arms or legs.  But slugs somehow do not have that problem, making them perfect for animation.




Best bets of the week:


Best Film Opening: TURBO

Best Film Playing: TURBO

Best Action: RED 2

Best Family The Lone Ranger

Best Horror: The Conjuring

Best Doc: Blackfish

Best Foreign: The Hunt

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