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This week's Film Reviews (Dec 6, 2013)

06 Dec 2013

Not much opening this week, after the U.S. Thanksgiving weekend – the lull before the storm with HOBBIT opening next week. OUT OF THE FURNACE and a few documentaries make their debut.


The Bette Davis and Coen Brothers retrospectives continue at the TIFF Cinematheque.



Directed by Nicholas Wrathall



HOT DOC SOUP (Dec 4,5 2013)


Hot Docs is pleased to announce that December’s Doc Soup will present the Toronto premiere of GORE VIDAL: THE UNITED STATES OF AMNESIA (D: Nicholas Wrathall, USA, 89 min.) An official selection of the 2013 Tribeca Film Festival, GORE VIDAL: THE UNITED STATES OF AMNESIA will screen on Wednesday, December 4, at 6:30 p.m. and 9:15 p.m., and on Thursday, December 5, at 6:45 p.m. at the Bloor Hot Docs Cinema, 506 Bloor St. West. Filmmaker Nicholas Wrathall will be in attendance to introduce the film and answer questions following the screenings.

Single tickets for GORE VIDAL: THE UNITED STATES OF AMNESIA are $15 and can be purchased in advance online at www.hotdocs.ca or in person at the Bloor Hot Docs Cinema box office. In the event advance tickets sell out, a limited number of tickets may be available at the door on the night of the screening. Tickets and Student 6-Packs can be purchased online atwww.hotdocs.ca, in person at the Bloor Hot Docs Cinema box office, or by phone at 416-637-5150.

Upcoming screening dates for Toronto’s Doc Soup are January 8 and 9, February 5 and 6, March 5 and 6 and April 2 and 3. Doc Soup titles are announced at least one month prior to their screenings and, whenever possible, guest directors are in attendance.




It is often said that a documentary is only as good as its subject.  Fortunately, the subject of Nicholas Wrathrall happens to be one of the wittiest, sarcastic and charismatic critics and writers of all time – Gore Vidal.  He is already well known in film circles as the writer of the book of one of the worst movies of all time – MYRA BRECKINRIDGE.  The documentary traces the life and work of Vidal.  Featuring never before seen interviews and candid footage of Vidal in his final years, the film explores his enduring global impact on art, politics, and everything in between.  Commentary by his life partner, Christopher Hitchens, old friend, Mikhail Gorbachev, Burr Steers, Stephen Fry, Tom Ford, Sting, David Mamet, William F. Buckley, Norman Mailer, and Dick Cavett, blends with footage from Vidal’s legendary on-air career to remind us why he will forever stand as one of the most brilliant and fearless critics of our time.  The best line in the film has him saying: ‘We had bad presidents in the past, but this one (referring to Bush Jr.) is a goddamn fool.”  The films shows his utter disgust and disappointment with the U.S.   The title comes from the fact that ever since being founded, Gore maintains that the U.S. have forgotten what they stood for.

THE LAST DAYS ON MARS (UK/Ireland 2013) **

Directed by Ruairi Robinson


This is a strange film.  Directed by L.A. based Irishman Ruairi Robinson and scripted by Clive Dawson based on a short story The Animators, THE LAST DAYS ON MARS tells the story of a space crew waiting to leave Mars for home before the horror – ALIEN style begins.  Apparently, bacteria infects the crew, one by one and they transform into zombie-like creatures.

There is nothing here that has not been seen before in terms of horror films like ALIEN or THE THING.  The only main difference is that the film is set on Mars (shot in the Jordan desert) in which the landscape is full of dust an opening crevices in which the color blue (not explained) is missing.

The 8-crew members (Schreiber, Elias Koteas, Romola Garai, Olivia Williams, Johnny 
Harris, Goran Kostic, Tom Cullen and Yusra Warsama) wind down a six-month stint.  They are 
disappointed about their failure to find life there.  But, less than a day 
before heading home, a renegade crewmember, Marko (Kostic) discovers bacterial 
cell division.  Not wanting to share the credit, he secretly heads out 
to collect further samples.  A routine excavation turns into disaster 
when the ground gives way and swallows him up.  Then another 
crew member vanishes.  But they show up as zombie like creatures with super fighting strength.

Robinson’s film is all over the place with confusing technical jargon thrown in that makes little sense even when understood.  It dos not help that Schreiber mumbles most of his lines.  It is not explained the reason so many of the crew is British.  Did the Brits suddenly have a space program with the U.S.?  And how did the bacteria suddenly come about during the last days?  A ridiculous love romance is also thrown an then left hanging.  The only interesting character of the film is the queen bitch, Kim (Williams) of the crew who is actually smart and has all the answers.  And all other things considered, the cinematography isn’t half bad given the small budget of the film.

Trailer: http://www.imdb.com/video/imdb/vi1046194457



Directed by Jason Osder


The documentary begins with the disposition of a Michael Ward aka Birdie Africa as he is asked to tell the truth of what happened on the fateful night of May 13, 1985.  The film then flashes back to that night in which footage is shown of a 5-alarm blaze that went out of control.

LET THE FIRE BURN is a somewhat angry documentary in which the events are unfolded of the burning of a house on Osage Avenue.  The story is told from the hearings filmed as well as from newsreel footage.   What occurs can easily piece together but what caused the events and the ones responsible are still in question.  Director Osder leaves the audience to form their own conclusions.

Amidst all then anger and blame slinging, Osder managers to single out a hero in all the mayhem, a police officer who risked his life to save a boy, the Michael Ward during the fire.  This welcome bit of film reminds the audience that there is still some good to be found in human beings.  But his reward is far from desired – with the trauma and name calling (he being called a nigger lover after the brave deed) causing him to leave the force.

LET THE FIRE BURN is a safe, well-constructed documentary.  It traces the beginnings of the group ‘Move’ and the incidents that have led to the Osage Avenue burning.  The burning takes place two-thirds through the film with the final third of the film relevant to the title LET THE FIRE BURN.  Director Osder obviously is not on the side of the Fire and Police Chief showing clearly how these two can twist the truth to suit their needs.  But Osder also points out the evils of the ‘Move’ Group. It therefore comes across that no one group is in the right and that the catastrophe comes from the result of anger, intolerance and the human need for the satisfaction of revenge.

Trailer: http://vimeo.com/74386937


Directed by Scott Cooper


            Ridley Scott, Tony Scott and Leonardo DiCaprio must have quite a bit of faith in co-writer and director Scott Cooper to produce his film.  To Cooper’s credit, his American dramatic thriller earns a high score on reality with the film set in the poverty stricken, economically hard times of the Rust Belt in the town of Braddock, Pittsburgh.

            Worst still, hard luck befalls on the central character of the piece.  Russell Baze (Christian Bale) ends up in prison by a cruel twist of fate.  His brother, Rodney (Casey Affleck) in the mean time, gets into bare knuckle fighting.  The two unite when Rodney picks Russell up upon his release from prison.  But things go out of hand when Rodney ends up missing while going up against Curtis DeGroat (Woody Harrelson) in order to clear a debt.  As the law, in the form of Wesley Barnes (Forest Whitaker) get no results, Russell takes matters in his own hands.

            The bare knuckle fights are brutal to watch.  So is the sex scene in which Curtis does his lady in the hot tub.  The question is that do we all need to see this?  Of course it enhances the credibility of the story, but Cooper’s film is at time hard to watch.  Affleck is excellent and in shape for his role as the fighter and Bale plays the angry brother out for revenge the best he can play angry, which is pretty well.  Harrelson is plain ugly in the role that everyone in the audience loves to hate.

            OUT OF THE FURNACE ends up a compelling though difficult watch because of its grisly content.  Cooper succeeds well directing this piece and here’s hoping his next project will be more pleasant.     

Trailer: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mn5KB1y-HDE


Best Bets of the Week:

Best Film Opening: Out of the Furnace

Best Horror: Oldboy

Best Animation: Frozen

Best Action: Homefront

Best Documentary: Spinning Plates

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