- Category: Movie Reviews
- Written by Gilbert Seah
Now that the Toronto International Film Festival is over, the period now till Christmas usually sees a good spat of films.
Opening this week are OUR MAN IN TEHRAN, BATTLE OF THE YEAR and PRISONERS.
BATTLE OF THE YEAR (USA 2013) *
Directed by Benson Lee
BATTLE OF THE YEAR is based on the annual Planet B Boy competition in which dance crews come from all over the world compete for the coveted first prize. A documentary was made a decade back entitled PLANET B BOY and countless dance competition films like the STEP UP and YOU GOT SERVED films also serve as fodder for this stand-alone dance film.
The well-worn premise is simple enough. Retired coach is hired back from recluse to train a group of dancers, many with issues to enter the dance contest this time in France to win the trophy. One of the dancers happens to be a hotheaded Chris Brown (as if anyone has not already known this least of all Rhyanna) who breaks his leg as a result. But the rest gets to go, and compete and maybe win? But the review will not contain a spoiler.
But the Dream Team does make it to the finals. They end up competing with the Koreans for first place. As far as excitement goes, BATTLE OF THE YEAR is the most bring of all the STEP UP or YOU GOT SERVED films. With no romantic interest, the film drags on and on. The only partly saving grace is the shots of the Koreans during their routine during the finals.
BATTLE OF THE YEAR is definitely not the dance movie of the year. Watching any episode of Randy Jackson’s American Best Dance Crews is more exciting!
CUTIE AND THE BOXER (USA 2013) ***
Directed by Zachery Heinzerling
Oshio (Bullie) dabbles in boxing art and his wife nicknamed Cutie in cartoon art. The documentary begins illustrating Oshio’s art from both points of view, but mainly Cutie’s.
Cutie arrived at the age of 19 from Japan to New York and met Bullie then 40. A quick romance led to marriage – which lasted over 30 years and to the end of the film. Heinzerling captures both the loves and lives of the two as they struggle through hardship with money and their art.
But the film eventually progresses into a beautiful love story. Tolerance, especially from Cutie and also from Bullie allows the couple to stay together despite Bullie’s long fight with alcoholism.
CUTIE AND THE BOXER emerges as a beautiful little film about life and art.
ENOUGH SAID (USA 2013) ***
Directed by Nicole Holofcener
ENOUGH SAID is an indie made romantic comedy. The story involves Eva (Julia Louis-Dreyfus) a divorcee working as a massage therapist who meets Albert (James Gandolfini) at a party as well as a new friend Marianne (Catherine Keener). Eva and Albert start dating and a relationship develops. Eva discovers that Albert’s ex is actually Marianne, her new client. Eva lets Marianne’s bitterness affect their relationship. ENOUGH SAID of the story.
Holofcener’s comedy and film works on words. The dialogue is simple and funny and the message gets across. Instead of the typical director using images to get an idea across, Holfcener uses just the correct amount of dialogue. The first date is successful because Eva and Albert engage in an evening of comical conversation. When they have their big fight, the cause is the unthoughtful words communicated during their party.
James Gandolfini delivers a cast-against-type role as a sensitive, gentle romantic bear. But it is Eva’s character that is a problem. Eva comes across as slightly neurotic, insincere and too talkative for someone to be romantically involved with.
Flaws aside, ENOUGH SAID still manages to engage as a charming romantic comedy, the first with Thanksgiving as a setting for the October/November holiday.
GOOD OL’ FREDA (USA 2013) ***
Directed by Ryan White
Documentaries have been made on famous people, fascinating subjects or controversial issues. GOOD OL’ FREDA is one made because its subject is an ordinary person, a person so ordinary that she shied away from fame for many, many years.
It is only now that Freda Kelly, a shy Liverpudian has decided to tell her story – ad it is an ordinary life of a secretary, he only difference is that she served in that position for close to half a century for the most famous pop group in the world – The Beatles.
Her story bears witness to the music, culture and period from an insider’s point of view. She worked as a teen till the Beatles are no more. Now in her 60’s, she tells her story. Using archive footage, director White weaves her life story related to the group from her work as manager of The Beatles fan club to their secretary forever.
Though her tale is simple in its telling, the mood and atmosphere of the early Beatles era is captured on film, aided of course by old Beatles songs like ”Please, please me” and “I Saw Her Standing There”. Though no big secrets about The Beatles are revealed, the intimacies of fur’s family lives come across to the audience. But their privacy is maintained as Freda also says to the screen that she always respects ones privacy.
So the documentary GOOD OL’ FREDA is a nostalgic walk down memory lane. No message or new revelations here, but nevertheless GOOD OL’ FREDA is an entertaining documentary that will be cherished even more by true Beatle fans.
MUSCLE SHOALS (USA 2013) ***
Directed by Greg Camalia
This documentary was made for the following reason. Musicians believed that once you visited the place known as Muscle Shoals in Alabama, you would have hit record.
Director’s Camalia’s film is a rather simple piece. With interviews from famous artists that include Mick Jagger. Keith Richards, Bono, Alicia Keys, just to name a few, he blends his films with the famous songs (the most famous one being ‘When a Man loves a Woman’) and sights along the Tennessee River to create an easy-going entertaining little feature.
At the centre of the piece is Rick Hall, the founder of Fame Studios. Hall brought together black and white in an era of racial segregation to produce many of the best records ever to come out from the south.
Whether you believe the spiritual influence of the ‘Singing River’ as Native Americans called it or not, the music of Muscle Shoals changed the world and sold millions upon millions of copies. MUSCLE SHOALS the movie is just entertaining for the music alone.
OUR MAN IN TEHRAN (Canada 2013) ****
Directed by Drew Taylor and Larry Weinstein
OUR MAN IN TEHRAN is Canada’s own hero Kenneth Taylor, Canada’s former ambassador to Iran, who personally sheltered six American diplomats in the operation that became known as "the Canadian Caper." The informative documentary pays homage to his valiant efforts, as well as his wife and colleagues, to provide a safe haven and counterfeit documents to the six Americans who clandestinely made it out of Tehran unscathed.
Ben Affleck's ARGO, last year’s big winner at this year's Academy Awards, rekindled public awareness of Canada's pivotal role in the rescue of US diplomats during the 1979 Iran hostage crisis. And likely is the spur towards the making of this documentary. ARGO was fun, a crowd pleasure, exciting and suspenseful right down to the very narrow escape of the Americans like in a Hitchcock movie. But ARGO was foremost fiction based nevertheless on true events with the American that planned the false film ARGO as the true hero. In this film, the Canadian is the hero.
But both are excellent made films. ARGO was truly entertaining and made many North Americans aware of the Iran hostage of the American Embassy. But OUR MAN IN TEHRAN gives audiences a more insightful look at the whole picture wile still making Canadians feel good. One might argue that reading back copies of TIME magazine might grant the same historical education a the film provides, but Taylor and Weinstein’s film provides much more – extensive interviews of Ken Taylor himself and other primes subjects like Ken’s wife, and the Americans who were hostages who made in safely out of Iran. Taylor also gives his perspective of what actually happened, especially his views of then President Billy Carter and what the Iranians actually gained by taking the American Embassy people hostage.
Also included is mention of the incident that triggered the Embassy takeover and Iran’s actual response against Canada after the rescue.
OUR MAN IN TEHRAN also includes what happened after the 6 hostages were brought back to the States i.e. what happened to the other 52 hostages. Also included are the views of what it means to serve as a diplomat in an embassy, what a real hero is and what is at stake in a country rife with tensions.
The result is a very well made, compelling yet entertaining documentary that provides both the facts and perspective of not only the hostage rescue (which occurs only after two-thirds of the film has elapsed) but of the entire Iran/American conflict
PRISONERS (USA 2013) ***1/2
Directed by Denis Villeneuve
Quebec director Denis Villeneuve has not made a bad movie yet. His films INCENDIES, MAELSTROM and POLYTECNIQUE were all compelling dramas with a tinge of thriller. PRISONERS about the disappearance of two little girls leans more to the thriller aspect while maintaining the drama between the two main protagonists, the father of one of the missing girls and the detective assigned to solve the case.
The premise is simple enough. The father (Hugh Jackman so good in his role that he is almost unrecognizable) is so impatient with the detective’s (Jake Gylllenhaal) finds that he turns vigilante. He kidnaps and tortures the main suspect, a slightly mentally challenged man (Paul Dano) who lives with his aunt. The whodunit is solved in the end with a slight twist in the story but it is also the drama that plays out with the suspense.
Acting is top notch all around from the supporting cast that includes the excellent Melissa Leo and a controlled performance by Dano. As often in a suspense drama, performances make or break the movie. In this case, it makes the film. The only flaw is a ew loose ends in the plot, such as how the girls got kidnapped and brought to the place of captivity. The reason of the kidnapping is also a bit weak as well as why suddenly th secret of the maze is uttered out by one of the characters.
Still PRISONERS show Villeneuve in fine form, though this is not his best movie. His best ones being the early one such as UN 32 AOUT SUR TERRE and MAELSTROM in which the cinematography outdoes the story.
UNCLAIMED (USA 2013) **
Directed by Michael Jorgensen
The documentary UNCLAIMED is about lost souls – Tom Faunce, a Vietnam vet dedicated to finding and bringing back Prisoners-of-war from Vietnam. He is too involved resulting in detachment from his family. His lost cause is Dang Than Ngoc who perhaps could be John Hartley Robertson an American G.I. missing in action or later changed to killed in action.
As the doc goes, John cannot speak English and cannot recall much. Tom hunts down John’s family in the States. But up to the film’s end , is Dang he missing man?
Besides the unsatisfactory ending, Jorgensen’s film tethers on two stories an cannot decide on which one to settle on. One is the story of John Robertson and theother is of Tom Faunce.
Jorgensen’s film is not all that exciting either. His film meanders from on story to the other never coming to a solid point. Too bad, as the subject matter is quite an intriguing one.
Best Bets of the Week:
Best Film Opening: Our Man in Tehran
Best Film Playing: Blue Jasmine
Bes Comedy: This is The End
Best Foreign: The Deep
Best Animation: Turbo
Best Action: Kick-Ass 2 and RED 2
Best Documentary: Our Man in Tehran