This Week's Film Reviews (Nov1, 2013)

01 Nov 2013

Lots of new openings this week to choose from!  Among them the excellent DALLAS BUYERS CLUB about AIDS drugs, MAN OF TAI CHI, LAST VEGAS and FREE BIRDS 3D.


Also opening at TIFF Bell Lightbox is the Cronenberg retrospective.



Directed by Jean-Marc Vallee


Homophobe Rodney Woodroof, (Matthew McConaughey) is diagnosed with AIDs and given 30 days to live.  He sources FDA unapproved drugs outside the U.S. (Mexico, Japan…) and sells membership at $400 a month into the DALLAS BUYERS CLUB which grants free access drugs for HIV and AIDs sufferers. This sounds like a very intense, depressing and dramatized film.  Fortunately, under the expertise of director Jean-Marc Valee (C.R.A.Z.Y., YOUNG VICTORIA), DALLAS BUYERS CLUB turns out to be a controlled, insightful and occasionally uplifting piece of work aided by outstanding performances.

The success of a film about terminally chronic characters would understandably depend on the actors’ performances.  McConaughey who, as everyone knows, had shed loads of muscle to inhabit the role of a scrawny sick patient delivers an Oscar worthy performance.  But it is Jared Leto as his drag queen business partner Rayon who steals the show in a performance that guarantees an Oscar for Best Supporting Role.  If his Rayon does your swell up your tears, you should seriously check your emotions.  Other supporting roles by Steve Zahn and Jennifer Garner are just as impressive.

The story of Woodroof is simple enough.  Diagnosed with the illness, he discovers help in unapproved drugs, which he obtains and sells to desperate patients who would do anything not to die.  The Feds and the FDA swoop down to stop him in another tale of the underdog fighting the big companies. Woodroof is aided in his fight by the very people he despises.

Vallee hits the right notes and knows how to play the audience.  As expected, the supermarket scene in which Woodrow would finally protect the gay person he initially despised is firecracker material.  The film plays out well despite its rather predictable story.  The drama is at least controlled though effective.

DALLAS BUYERS CLUB would be the rare film about a gay disease that has a central straight character that undergoes a change of heart.  Hopefully, the target audience will not be only gay or only straight people but for both who would be able to get some insight of the drugs fight to save people with AIDs.



THE DISAPPEARED (Canada 2013) **

Directed by Shandi Mitchell


From Nova Scotia, a Canadian Atlantic Province comes a film about a shipwreck survival or non-survival, depending how one looks at director Mitchell’s account.

When the film opens, a sordid band of misfits are found in two lifeboats after what apparently occurred was a shipwreck.  Director Mitchell, who penned the script gives no detail of what happened.  Of course, what happened would not affect what would transpire but if he wants the audience to feel for his characters, it would be best if he delivered some detail.  But there is a captain (Brian Downey) who somehow managed to obtain a gun, several mates and a young kid, Dickie who is bullied half the time.

For a film about a shipwreck, the film does not contain lots of scenes of open water and the boat.  In fact, the feeling of claustrophobia is eminent from start to finish of the film – in the sense that there is nowhere to go in the boats.  Being in Atlantic waters, the cold is felt more than the heat.  The foggy atmosphere and rain comes down more than the sunshine.  Of course, what is expected occurs.  Tempers flair, the men argue and fight, drink and make merry, laugh and cry.  That is pretty much what happens during the 90 minutes screen time.  Mitchell bothers not with life lessons, action scenes, suspense or tips on survival skills.  The result is a very dry film, despite water, water everywhere.

Mitchell opts for a noncommercial ending.  Unfortunately, the film meanders all over long enough, and such an unsatisfactory ending only serves to frustrate audiences even more.  The end is a total boring exercise.  One would have gotten more from the reading of The Ancient Mariner.




ENDER’S GAME (USA 2013) ***1/2

Directed by Gavin Hood


Set in the future in which the earth’s future is at stake, the premise involves training new warrior combatants so that the earth can win the next attack by the aliens nicknamed ‘buggers’.  One child is observed to be the talented savior and the story reflects the boy’s training, rise to glory and the climatic fight.  But the film has an unexpected twist that will not be revealed in the review.

Director Gavin Hood (TSOTSI) who also penned the script based on the bestselling novel by Orson Scott Wood has made a film that hits all the right notes.  Hood has captured key points in hit films such as the HARRY POTTER series (boy pulled from home to save the world while studying in strange school) as well as key issues such as bullying, teenage romance and familial ties.  It also works wonders that the romantic element in the film is not the conventional falling in love but his strong sibling tie with his sister Valentine (Abigail Breslin).

What lacks in humour is more than made up by audience anticipation.  Hood has the audience rooting for the boy from start to finish. The underdog making good theme is prevalent from the film’s start to finish.

The boy, Ender is played by British Asa Butterfield who carries the entire film remarkably well, standing well among reputed stars like Harrison Ford, Viola Davis and Ben Kingsley.

The battle scenes are mostly the combat games carried on in the school.  The climatic battle is exciting enough but is kept to a minimum amount of screen time so as not to spoil the plot twist.  The special effects in this $110 million production are used to full effect in the battles, dream sequences and sets of the space school.

It should be noted that the author’s publicized criticism of gay marriage invoked controversy with LGBT groups though the film in no place reflects (except for the aliens nicknamed buggers) the author’s views.  The filmmakers have made it clear that they do not share the author’s dated and biased views so that there is no purpose in boycotting this film, which surprisingly has a tolerant side towards aliens in it.

But ENDER’S GAME is an adrenaline rush from start to finish.  It is noted that the word ‘game’ is in this film’s title as it is in the other Lionsgate series THE HUNGER GAMES.  If this film does just half as well as THE HUNGER GAMES, another hit series will be underway that will boost the already successful Lionsgate stock price.




FREE BIRDS (USA 2013) **

Directed by Jimmy Hayward


As Thanksgiving approaches, an animated film about turkeys trying to save their skin is the order of the day.

The ridiculous plot has two turkeys (voiced by Owen Wilson and Woody Harrelson) travel through time to the period before the bird was on the menu.  One of them is directed by a higher power known as ‘the great turkey’.  Their quest is to save turkeys all over the world.  Of course, as everyone knows, they hardly succeed as the world still serves roast turkey during Thanksgiving.

The film has goofy characters.  But there is goofy funny and goofy unfunny.  Unfortunately, the film falls into the latter category.  Running into doors, repeating ones lines and talking to a reflection not realizing it is one are examples here that generate no laughs.  Everything about this feature is on the mediocre level, even the sorry romance that leads nowhere.  The funniest thing about the film is the time machine called Steve but that still generates no laughs.

It does not help that there is no single villain in the piece.  Human beings (the hunters) are the general enemy.  Other standards fare that makes good animation like cutesy characters, song and dance numbers and layered humour in the background (example in SHREK) are noticeably missing.  The end result is a boring animated feature even for the kids.

It is just too easy to call a film about turkeys a turkey but this film is pretty close.





Directed by Jacob Kornbluth


The topic in this documentary is the income gap in the U.S between the middle class and the top 1% wealthy.  Director Jacob Kornbluth’s film is basically an economics lesson with Richard Reich as the lecturer whom he features throughout the movie.

At the start of the film, Reich proposes to answer three questions in relation to the topic.  What is happening?  Why?  And is this a problem?

The first question is answered though statistics and the number of graphs displayed on the screen.  The other two are answered by Reich as he goes about his duties, at work, lecturing and as advisor to Bill Clinton during his tenure that he swears made a difference to the U.S. Economy.  The film is quite the ego trip for Reich who appears to be having a helluva great time making the film.  Fortunately, this short 5-foot man (there are countless jokes on his height) is charismatic enough and he does have good intentions to make the world a better place to eliminate poverty and stimulate the economy.

Kornbluth’s climax of the film is the last lesson of Reich’s university course in which he delivers a standing-ovation final speech.  The film then moves on to the credits, which display sites to go to if one wishes to help make a difference.

INEQUALITY FOR ALL provides a little insight on a problem most Americans are already aware of.  But at least Kornbluth does so in an entertaining fashion with a short protagonist who more than meets the height of his endeavours.

Trailer:  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9REdcxfie3M


Directed by John Tutteltaub


Four friends take to Vegas for the bachelor party of 60ish Billy (Michael Douglas) about to wed his 32-year old girlfriend.  The other 3 are Sam (Kevin Kline), Archie (Morgan Freeman) and Paddy (Robert De Niro).  Skeletons in the closets surface, enmities arise and the old quartet have the most fun of their lives.

But a comedy this film is not.  For one, there are too many dramatic subplots that outshine the comedy and even if this film is a comedy drama, the script is so bad, I did not laugh once.  The typical joke?  The friends comment on where Billy get all his head hair – whether the hair came from his ass.  Or to brush his hair or wipe it.  Worse – the script attempts a few in really bad taste such as Billy’s marriage proposal during the eulogy at a funeral.

This is the kind of film where the older folk always have to prove that they are better at getting the girls than the young male hunks.  Then they realize to settle with females their own age.  Also, in LAST VEGAS as in films of this kind, the only people that go to sunbathe at the pool with their clothes full on are the aged and overweight stars.  Everyone else have their tops off.

The climax of the film is the solution of the long enmity between John and Billy.  Without a comedic climax, it would be assumed that LAST VEGAS is more a drama.  But being advertised as a comedy would result in a huge disappointed fan base but also box-office disaster.  Robert De Niro has this year’s record of being in the year’s two worst films THE WEDDING and this film.  50 Cent has a cameo in the film and the film’s funniest joke is likely the one in which the credits use his real name, Curtis Jackson

The film ends with the group’s possible reunion at Disney World.  Heaven forbid!   There is not one redeeming feature in this film.



MAN OF TAI CHI (USA/China 2013) **

Directed by Keanu Reeves


The directorial debut of actor Kean Reeves sees his interest in Kung Fu and experience in THE MATRIX films on screen.  MAN OF TAI CHI is a martial-arts action flick with the occasional set design looking futuristic like the MATRIX sets.

Tai Chi student Linhu (Tiger Chen) masters the art but his Master warns him of his lack of control over power.  When the temple where he trains comes into financial difficulties, he accepts a dodgy deal from dirty fight club promoter Donata Mark (Keanu Reeves).   Of course, Linhu stands up for his principles and eventually to the climatic fight between him and Dagoda.  The fight choreography us my Matrix’s Yuen Wooping.

There are plenty of things wrong with Reeves’ film among them the climatic fight not being exciting enough.  Linhu’s fight with Donata occurs just after his last big match that is better choreographed and more dangerous for Linchu.  Though an action film, MAN OF TAI CHI gets boring quite soon.

The reason Danata hires Linhu is to tape all the fights so that he can make tons of money by showing the world the fighter’s loss of innocence.  Reeves obviously believes this point to a fault with a film about a fighter who losses his innocence to a point.

There is nothing in MAN OF TAI CHI that is novel that audiences have not seen before in a Shaw Brothers or Golden Harvest film.  In fact it is better to just rent one of those old films.







Best Film Opening: Dallas Buyers Club

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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