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This Week's Film Reviews (Dec 13, 2013)

12 Dec 2013

The big film opening this week is Peter Jackson’s THE HOBBIT: THE DESOLATION OF SMAUG.  Disney’s SAVING MR. BANKS is also worth a look.


The Studio Ghibli animated series begins at the TIFF Cinematheque.  These Japanese gems are a must-see!



Directed by Steve Hoover


BLOOD BROTHER is the true to life document of Rocky Braat, an American graphic artist who gave up everything to do work with the suffering HIV Children in India.

Shot and directed by his best friend Steve Hoover, who also made a trip to the Indian continent, the film offers an authentic first hand account of the work done there by what I would consider a modern-day saint.

The film offers a horrid look at the Indian continent.  The poverty, the flies the overpopulation and the sicknesses are all on full display here.  A disturbing segment has ants carrying away a dead cockroach depicting an uninviting climate in which the toughest survive.  Yet, there is something in the documentary that is inviting to outsiders.  Though one might be living in the comfort zone of a first world country, the need to learn more, to do good is there in every human being.  And watching Rocky Braat (nicknamed Rocky Anna meaning Rocky Brother by the children) do his thing brings out the best in human beings.

Though not an exhaustive documentary in any matter – it does not go into the details of the origins the HIV positive children; the conclusion of the disgruntled villagers on the intrusion of the children has been left out as well as the future of the children etc.- but who really cares?  By omitting these facts, director Hoover is able to concentrate more on Rocky, his work and the fruits of his work.  The film lets the audience determine on their own the motivation force behind Rocky’s dedication and the reason for his marriage to an Indian and to finally spend the rest of his life in India.

There are two exceptional segments in the film.  One is his scurrying on his bike of a dying young girl to the hospital.  The scene of the stop at the railway crossing as the girl writhers in pain is worthy of any Hollywood suspense movie.  The other is Rocky’s nursing back to life a young boy, Surya who all the doctors at the hospital was sure would die.  As the camera shows the boy’s open sores, his eyes clammed shut from the hardened mucus and his spitting of thick blooded phlegm with his lips thick, red and bleeding as if falling off, one can only echo the words of the doctors.  Yet Rocky bandages, feeds and sings to the boy who miraculously lives.

BLOOD BROTHER is the exceptional rare film that brings out the power of love.  Rocky Braat comes across as a saint as he sacrifices his life for the children.  If there is one moving documentary that should be seen this year , BLOOD BROTHER is it!




THE CRASH REEL (UK 2013) ***

Directed by Lucy Walker


London born director Lucy Walker takes on the documentary genre with a heart felt tale of snowboarder Kevin Pearce.  A champion in his own right, Kevin pushed his body to the limit while training for the X Games till a crippling accident landed him a brain injury.

Walker’s tale is told primarily from sports footage, family interviews and camerawork while Kevin was recovering.  Many of the footage is gut wrenching stuff.  Many of the tough family arguments are captured on film.  Kevin wants to keep snowboarding but another crash to the head might leave him vulnerable for life, and the family is upset that Kevin can be so insensitive.  What makes the doc so moving too, is that Walker captures other skiers who suffer identical accidents and who do not make it.

But despite the depressing side of the story, the film also has its uplifting moments.  This is particularly seen from the side of Kevin’s family.   Kevin’s younger brother, David suffers from Down’s Syndrome.  But David has succeeded in the handicapped Olympics scoring wins in swimming and skiing.  And his parents say to the camera that they would never give David up for anyone else.

Walker’s film ends up as the occasional life lesson to pick up on life no matter what.  And one has to admire those who dabble in Extreme Sports. As the saying goes, the cautious are those that have never lived.


Directed by Peter Jackson


The second in the trilogy of epic fantasy HOBBIT adventure films based on the J.R.R. Tolkien 1937 novel THE HOBBIT, which together act as the prequel to the already released LORD OF THE RING films, the film THE  HOBBIT: THE DESOLATION OF SMAUG offers pretty much more of the first and the same.  And that is not at all a bad thing.

There is no real need to read up on the story of the first film, as there is hardly any (story).          The storyline continues the events of AN UNEXPECTED JOURNEY, in which the hobbit Bilbo Baggins (Martin Freeman) travels with the wizard Gandalf (Ian McKellen) and 13 dwarfs led by Torin Oakenshield (Richard Armitage) into the Kingdom Erebor to fight the dragon called Smug (voiced by Benedict Cumberbatch) underneath the mountain in order to reclaim their stolen kingdom.  As the first film ended, the company had made the journey to the mountain after many battles.  Now thy still have to open a door at the mountain as well as to travel to the foot of it.  This takes them through the Mirkwood spiders Esgaroth and Dale where they finally awake Smaug.

Do not expect any conclusion as there is none.  This film is the prep for the last of the trilogy.

As in the first film, this one uses a higher frame rate of 48 frames per second.  Jackson’s film delivers in terms of the excitement, colour, special effects, CGI (especially the Smaug), beauty (shot in New Zealand) and awe of under Earth  as well as the new and old creatures including the White Elves played by Orlando Bloom, Lee Pace and Evangeline Lilly.

Peter Jackson is in fine directorial form here and Tolkien fans will be more than pleased!

Trailer:  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oGjmAQdQ8uY


Directed by Sophie Fiennes


Fiennes’ new documentary is a sequel to her 2006 doc THE PERVERT’S GUIDE TO CINEMA.  The film is written by the well-known Slovene philosopher and psychoanalyst, Slavoj Zizek.  This is not the first film on Zizek, another doc entitled ZIZEK! was made sometime back.

Zizek talks throughout the film on the mechanisms that shape what human beings believe and how we behave.  Well-known films are used to illustrate his theories.

One flaw of the film is that there seems to be no head or tail of the topic.  Zizek throws ideas at random and rattles on and on throughout the lengthy 136 minutes of the film’s running time.

But Zizek is a very enthusiastic speaker.  He talks and emphasizes every point as if they are the most important.  Though he speaks in perfect English and uses lots of philosophical jargon, his accent and mannerisms (he keeps brushing his nose every so often) distract a bit.

But the films used to illustrate his ideas are famous ones such as THE SOUND OF MUSIC, FULL METAL JACKET, JAWS, CABARET, TITANIC, A CLOCKWORK ORANGE as well as foreign classics as TRIUMPH OF THE WILL and THE FIREMAN’S BALL.  Zizek’s sense of humour is also catching.  Audiences should stay to the end credits for the big TITANIC joke.

A lesson in philosophy has never been this entertaining!

Trailer:  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NUKbhKV7Ia8



SAVING MR. BANKS (USA 2013) ****

Directed by John Lee Hancock


Disney has been providing solid family entertainment for decades past and present.  SAVINGS MR. BANKS is for a change, Disney magic for the adult, as it deals with the hardships of the adults face in bringing fantasy to the children. The plot concerns Walt himself (Tom Hanks) fulfilling his 20-year promise to his daughters to make a movie of their favorite book, P.L. Travers’ MARY POPPINS.  It must not strike many that the daughters must be in their mid-20’s by the then present, and not really care about the promise any longer.

The film opens with a young girl in the Australian outback.  Her love for her father (Colin Farrell) who eventually succumbs to death by consumption is what deters the adult Mrs. Travers (Emma Thompson) from giving the rights of the book.  She has her demons to exorcise.  But when money becomes tight, she reluctantly agrees to travel to L.A. to hear Walt’s plans.  Walt pulls out all the stops suing storyboards as well s the songs of the Sherman Brothers to enchant the stubborn lady.

The magic of this film occurs on at the end when Mrs. Travers is converted by the movie.  The film also has a wonderful 5-minute condensation of the musical MARY POPPINS complete with clips from the mot essential parts.  Of course, the soundtrack from the Sherman Brothers is heard throughout the film.

The success of this film hinges on the performances of the leads playing Disney and Mr. Travers.  Both Tom Hanks and Emma Thompson deliver sensitive yet powerful Oscar worthy performances.

The only complaint is the clumsy intercutting of the Australian flashbacks with the real story.  The flashbacks basically repeat the same point and could be shortened as the intercuts also break the dramatic flow of the main story.

The film also ends with an old tape recorder playing the actual grumblings and objections of the real Mrs. Travers over the making of certain parts of MARY POPPINS.





Best Bets of the Week:

Best Film Opening: The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug

Best Film Playing: Philomena

Best Horror: Oldboy

Best Animation: Frozen

Best Action: The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug

Best Documentary: Blood Brother

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