Opening this week is the most anticipated film of the year THE HUNGER GAMES: CATCHING FIRE. Everyone is looking to see how much it will gross this weekend. On a smaller scale, Alexander Payne’s excellent NEBRASKA also opens.
The Bette Davis retrospective continues at the TIFF Cinematheque.
DELIVERY MAN (USA 2013) **
Directed by Ken Scott
The 2011 Quebec film STARBUCK was quite the hit when first screened at the Toronto International Film Festival earning it the runner up prize for the most Popular Film. Doing also well at the box-office, Disney picked it up for an Americanized version, hiring the original director Ken Scott to write and direct the new version.
This could be a good or bad thing. For one, the original film, which was ok and not that impressive anyway, stays pretty much the same in the new film now called DELIVERY MAN. It is the story of a sperm donor who fathered 533 children, all who now demand to know who their father is, despite them having singed an anonymity clause. In the mean time, David Wozniak (Vince Vaughn) searches out his children and helps a few of them (a playwright, a hotel worker, a street performer, a lifeguard) with their lives. Besides Steve being the delivery stock for babies, he also delivers meat and sausages from his father’s butcher business, so the title referring to either or both of these tasks.
With a story like this and with the Advent season approaching, the film banks on lots and lots of sentiment and the feel good pulls. The two films are too similar and the climatic scene at the end of the film when the camera looms above for the overhead shot of Steve hugging his 533 children in the hospital lobby is taken right from the first one. The romantic subplot is just as clumsy in this one as in the original. If you have seen the first one, which is slightly better than the new version and less sappy, the advice is not to bother with this over saccharine sweetness. The few changes such as the protagonist changed from Italian to Polish (as Vaughn does not look a bit Italian) do not make much difference. The title change from STARBUCK is typical of Disney Studios as not to offend anyone.
The result is a comedy that was a bit raunchy in the Quebec version that starred Quebec hottie now turned into family fare with overweight Vaughn. Actor Chris Pratt gained 60 pounds for his role as Steve’s buddy in the film, but it serves absolutely no purpose or makes the slightest difference.
EMPIRE OF DIRT (Canada 2013) ***1/2
Directed by Peter Stebbings
Impressive first feature by Peter Stebbings about three generations of First Nations protagonist. Lena (Cara Gee) is a single mother who cleans houses for a living. After losing a few jobs in a row and after she finds her daughter Peeka (Jennifer Podemski) in hospital from a drug (spray paint actually) overdose, she uproots the family and they take off to the village where they came from. Lena and Peeka are put up by Lena’s mother who as it turns out threw her out when pregnant with Peeka. A lot of old skeletons (in fact to many) come out of the closet. For a movie less than 2 hours long, the script contains too many incidents and subplots. But Stebbings’ excellent camerawork and camera placement, evident from the very first frame make it all worth it. Cara Lee delivers a winning performance matched no less than playing the grandmother. EMPIRE OF DIRT is worthy both as a First Nations and a Canadian film!
THE HUNGER GAMES: CATCHING FIRE (USA 2013) ***
Directed by Francis Lawrence
Based on the second of the three books that are being made into films, THE HUNGER GAMES: CATCHING FIRE looks just like that. It is a continuation of the first story and though a bit of introduction is given on what has happened, it is best advised that one does a bit of reading up if you have not caught the first film. The film has an abrupt end prompting the next movie (or next two movies if you will, as they have split the last novel into two films like the last HARRY POTTER franchise.)
CATCHING FIRE is pretty much more of the same. It is a second installment and looks just that – a high-end production of a fictitious reality show in which contestants have to kill each other off the island (instead of voting other out of the show.) At the centre of all this is returning heroine Katniss (Oscar Winner Jennifer Lawrence) who must use her skills to win in the new Games.
A few famous names appear in the cast (Toby Jones, Phillip Seymour Hoffman and Donald Sutherland) though they do not have much to say. This is pretty much a special effects action film, and if one can ignore minor things like character and plot development, then the film may makes more sense. CATCHING FIRE the film serves its purpose.
NEBRASKA (USA 2013) ****
Directed by Alexander Payne
Payne’s latest road film displays the connection the director has with geography. THE DESCENDENTS had George Clooney preserve the rights to a beautiful portion of Hawaii while the same justice was done for the wine areas in SIDEWAYS. Though there is no fight for land in NEBRASKA, the stunning black and white cinematography parading the open spaces, mountains and rolling country is unmistakably mesmerizing.
The story from the script, which for this time Payne did not write himself, is slight. A son, David (Will Forte) and father Woody (Bruce Darn from FAMILY PLOT and POSSE) take a road trip to the town of Lincoln in Nebraska to claim a $1,000,000 lottery prize. David fails to convince Woody that it is s sham but takes him there anyway.
En route they stop at the town of Woody’s long abandoned home in the fictitious town of Hawthorne where they meet relatives and an old crony of Woody’s (Stacy Each) who all want a part of the million dollar winnings.
Bruce Darn gives an Oscar winning performance that already won this year’s Cannes prize for Best Actor. But Woody’s wife, the sharp-tongued Kate (June Squibb) has the best lines and steals the show. Tempers flare, old skeletons emerge from the closet and the father and son team escape a few times by the skin of their teeth.
The end of the film has Woody and David arriving at the rundown publicity shack, the one that holds the address on the lottery ticket. No prizes here to guess whether Woody got his million bucks. And the lesson to all this? Did father and son bond during the trip? A little. Did they learn important life lessons? Well, perhaps. This is the wonder of Alexander Payne’s excellent new movie – life just goes on. One just has got to accept that and keep going on.
Best Bets of the Week:
Best Film Opening: Nebraska
Best Film Playing: Blue Jasmine
Bes Comedy: This is The End
Best Foreign: Les Salauds (Bastards)
Best Animation: Turbo
Best Action: Ender’s Game
Best Documentary: Red Obsession