This Week's Film Reviews (Oct 18th 2013)

18 Oct 2013

Opening this week are the remake CARRIE, the TIFF opening night film THE FIFTH ESTATE, COTTAGE COUNTRY and the $70million action blockbuster ESCAPE PLAN.




COTTAGE COUNTRY (Canada 2013) **

Directed by Peter Wellington


            COTTAGE COUNTRY is a very Canadian term and so is the film.  The scenes o red and yellow leaves on  trees and the waters of the lake are typical of what can be seen driving in the country roads of southern Ontario.  But the tale that is about to be told in the film COTTAGE COUNTRY is far from the typical story.

            An outwardly nice looking couple Todd (Tyler Labine) and Cammie (Marly Akerman) head up their parents cottage to spend quality time together.  Todd intends to propose to Cammie though she has already found the engagement ring in his suitcase.  But when Todd’s obnoxious slacker brother Salinger (Daniel Petronijevic) shows up with his dumpy girlfriend, a fight and constant nagging from Cammie result in Todd accidentally axing his brother. One murder leads to another in a film that plays along similar lines to the murdering couple in Ben Wheatley’s SIGHTSEERS

            But s the script gets blacker, the film begins to stumble.  Besides credibility issues, there are segments that do not work.  The appearance of Salinger as a ghost or Cammie’s hallucinations distract from the flow of murders.  The events occur to fast for credibility and a slower pace might have helped.  The subplot about their quarreling  parents is nasty but it works.

            But the actors do a good job particularly Tyler Labine as the likeable buffoon who just can’t help but get his hands in hot water all the time.

            Upon careful consideration, the story likely looked very good on paper.  It all goes to show how difficult it is to make a good black comedy, or even a good comedy.  But COTTAGE COUNTRY has its moments, and quite a few of these, to the director’s credit.  COTTAGE COUNTRY is a good failure and still welcome entertainment despite its flaws.




Directed by Mikael Hafstrom


The film’s start traces the seemingly simple escape from the Colorado penitentiary by one ‘lucky’ Ray Breslin (Sylvester Stallone).  As the story goes, Ray is one man who makes his living in prisons – studying how to break out and then escaping.  He is the top dog for hire to test prison security.

As the rather preposterous plot goes, he is hired again to escape from a super security prison.  The only trouble is that his trace is erased and he is all on his own by a betrayal.  This is the story of his escape, aided by fellow inmate Rottmayer (Arnold Schwarzenegger).

It takes a while for the film to get into action gear.  The first 30 minutes or so of the movie is all set-up and introduction.  Fortunately, the smart script and deft direction keep the audience at their full attention The only true action (gunfire, pyrotechnics) segments only occur during the last 30 minutes or so.  So the film is mixed suspense, prison escape, and action.  So fans of the different genres should be warned that this film might not be what is expected.

The film relies quite a bit on flashbacks to reveal the story.  At the start, a flashback is used to explain how Ray escaped and at the end used again to explain how Ray and his aide connected.  For an action flick, ESCAPE PLAN has more story than the average.  And that is a good thing.

A part of the film has Ray building a sextant in secret.  The script does not insult its audience by explaining the use of the sextant and assumes the audience is able to figure that one out.

There is a brilliant hidden message in the film as well.   The duo enlist the help of a Moroccan in their escape.  His Islamic region is well respected and the sacrifice this Muslim makes as a martyr for the cause serves as an excellent anti-racial message that all races can work together for a common good.

For a $70 million production, the sets look really impressive, together with all the CGI generated effects of the prison cells vertically designed.

It is no doubt that Summit (owned by Lions Gate) hopes to make big dollars with this film.  For one, it boasts 2 stars Schwarzenegger an Stallone (though both have yet to have recent hits).  Lions Gate’s RED2 bombed and it would be a surprise if this huge production earns its profit.  Nevertheless, ESCAPE PLAN is an above average actioner, complete with funny on-liners and expertly executed action sequences.



THE FIFTH ESTATE (USA/UK/Belgium 2013) ***

Directed by Bill Condon

            Chosen as the opening film for this year’s Toronto International Film Festival, THE FIFTH ESTATE is the typical academic exercise that should fascinate both cineastes and an adult audience.

            This is the story if Wikileaks as well as its founder Julian Assange (Benedict Cumberbatch), who in a recent BBC interview expressed hi dissatisfaction at the film.  And no wonder!  Condon’s film depicts Julian as a egocentric personality who is frequently given to outbursts of anger and indecision.  The hero of the piece is his bets friend and committed worker, Daniel Domscheit-Berg (Daniel Bruhl, recently in RUSH) whom he constantly abuses.  He is the reason behind Wikileaks and often offers ignored advice to Julian.

The film is a mesmerizing, complex portrait of an embattled new-media luminary.  It details WikiLeaks's rise to international notoriety and the subsequent souring of relations between Julian and Daniel.  Though it takes 30 minutes or so for the film to get its footing, this is the part that makes the movie. 

                                                            The revelation of the identities of the whistle blowers pose the main problem of wikileaks.  When the film resorts to concentrate on this part, it fails.  There is one odd segment about an Egyptian whistle blower brought to safety to the U.S. that looks out of place in the movie.        

 Cumberbatch is excellent in his role as well as the supporting cast that includes Stanley Tucci, Anthony Mackie and especially Laura Linney.                                                           

The last segment of the film featuring Cumberbatch talking to the camera as if interviewed brings a good perspective overall to the film and brings it to a satisfactory conclusion.



A TOUCH OF SIN (China/Japan 2013) ***1/2

Directed by Jia Zhangke


Winner of the Best Screenplay award at Cannes this year, Jia’s (THE WORLD) film tells the stories of 4 disgrunted Chinese from different provinces that are so upset that they turn violence to  obtain satisfaction.  Extremely violent and occasionally hugely satisfying could be how to describe Jin’s new film.  The screenplay weaves together the b4 different tales all smartly tied by a loose link and Jin also brings all the stories to a nice closure  full circle.  The only flaw of the film is the strength lengths of each.  They are not of equal lengths.  The first story of the miner who exacts his own revenge on the Chinese officials who wronged his village is the strongest and would have best been left the last as the film loses momentum after that story is done.  The film also requires the audience to devote their full concentration in order to figure what is going on and what Jin is doing… but that is a  good thing.

Trailer: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VUJt_kf7uKQ

12 YEARS A SLAVE (USA 2013) ***

Directed by Steve McQueen


A simple but true 19th century story of a free man captured and sold as a slave story is given the full McQueen (HUNGER) treatment (artistic panning shots; stunning outdoor cinematography; outstanding elicited performances) that should not disappoint fans.

A black freeman by the name of Solomon Northup (Chiwetel Ejiofor) is kidnapped and sold as a slave under the name of Plank.  The film tracks his 12 years of suffering under slavery till his eventual release back to his family.  It is a difficult journey and an even more difficult one to imagine.  But all the drama is emphasized a great deal with the result of the film winning the Audience Choice Award at the Toronto International Film Festival.

The atmosphere and period from costumes, wardrobe and hair are convincing enough as is the dialogue spoken.  Each period of time under different masters is given equal screen time.  The audience is exposed to the brutality and inhumanity of the white masters.  McQueen (himself black) is not shy to show the lashings the slaves receive or the torture undergone that include rape, verbal abuse and human degradation.  Yet the dialogue also examines the feelings and points of view of both the whites and the slaves.

Performances are often more than not outstanding.  Surprisingly, the best ones come from the actors playing the good masters rather the cruel ones.  The best of these belong to British actor Benedict Cumberbatch (recently voted sexiest man alive) as master John.  Sympathetic to Plank, he also shows his vulnerability to been exposed to the discrimination of the white man.  Paul Dana and Paul Giamatti also shine as an abusive supervisor and slave buyer respectively.  Producer Brad Pitt give himself a cameo as an important character in the film.

It is only during the last few minutes of the film that Plank is finally freed.  The last few moments in which he is rescued as a free man are priceless high drama.  The film should do wonders at the box-office judging that tickets were being sold on eBay at $300 each for the sold out performances during TIFF.  Bu it is no doubt not an easy film to watch, (and even more so than Tarrantino’s  DJANGO UNCHAINED) because of the sensitive content of black slavery.







Best Film Opening: The Fifth Estate

Best Film Playing: Blue Jasmine

Bes Comedy: This is The End

Best Foreign: Les Salauds (Bastards)

Best Animation: Turbo

Best Action: Escape Plan

Best Documentary: Design One: Lella and Massimo Vignelli


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