This Week's Film Reviews (Jan 10, 2014)

10 Jan 2014

New films opening this week are AUGUST:OSAGE COUNTY, GABRIELLE and LONE SURVIVOR.




Directed by John Wells


If you quiver at the notion of having to watch another film about a dysfunctional family, there are actually two good reasons to see AUGUST: OSAGE COUNTY.  One is that it is based on a very well-written play by Pulitzer Prize winning Tracy Wells (last film made was KILLER JOE) who also adapted it for the screen and the other are the performances of the ensemble cast led by Oscar winners Meryl Streep and Julia Roberts.

Beverly Weston (played by Sam Shepard) is an Oklahoma poet battling alcoholism, while his caustic wife Violet (Meryl Streep) suffers from cancer and a new-found drug dependency.  Not long after hiring a live-in caregiver for Violet, Beverly vanishes, prompting the family to unite in a search that ends with a morbid discovery. Mother and daughters (Julia Roberts, Julianne Nicholson and Juliette Lewis) are left to deal with the aftermath, and each other — the four women have never exactly seen eye-to-eye.

Of course, as in all dramas on dysfunctional families, there are hidden skeletons in the closet – all waiting to provide more drama during the funeral.  Director Wells (THE COMPANY MEN) knows drama well and milks it for all its worth.  The only tender moment with Little Charles (Benedict Cumberbatch) playing his written song to his sweetheart (Nicholson) is even cut short with the appearance of high drama in the form of his mother (Margot Martindale).

Streep, Roberts and Chris Cooper outshine the cast and these are obviously Oscar performances here.  Despite the cinema of discomfort, AUGUST: OSAGE COUNTY is compelling drama from start to finish.

Trailer:  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9Hd_uO72h1s


GABRIELLE (Canada 2013) ***

Directed by Louise Archambault


            In her introduction to the public screening of GABRIELLE at TIFF, director Louise Archambault emphasized how much love went into the film making and how she wanted this love not only to spread but people to sing out loud whether they can sing or not.

Her spirit is clearly portrayed in her tender drama, about a developmentally challenged young woman’s quest for independence and sexual freedom.  Slightly challenged Gabrielle (Gabrielle Marion-Rivard who has Williams syndrome in real life) and Martin (Alexandre Landry) want to explore their feelings for one another physically, but are not allowed.  Convinced that living alone will allow her to have the intimate relationship she so desperately craves, Gabrielle tries valiantly to prove she can be independent.

But good intentions, though evident in her film do not always make a good film.  For the one and all too familiar story of an individual trying to break out on his/her own is nothing new, despite the different setting.  Archambault’s film also suffers from a weak narrative that cannot pin down on what the climax of the film should be – the choir’s performance, Gabrielle’s independence or the rekindle of the love affair.

The film has been selected as Canada’s entry for the Best Foreign Film Oscar.





HER (USA 2013) ***

Directed by Spike Jonze


As the film Awards season approaches, Spike Jonze’s new difficult film comes as a worthy contender.  The director of hits like BEING JOHN MALKOVICH, WHERE THE WILD THINGS ARE and ADAPTATION, Jonze is one in which originality is the director’s forte.

Creating quite the buzz as the closing film at this year’s New York Film Festival, HER is another fine writing and directing from Jonze.  The story concerns a tortured soul, Theodore Twomby (Joaquin Phoenix) a writer for a letter website who is recovering from a divorce from his wife, Catherine (Rooney Mara).  When Theodore gets a new Artificial Intelligence Operation System (OS1) for his new computer, he falls in love with her.  The OS calls herself Samantha and the two develop a difficult relationship.

If all this sounds ridiculous, it might be – but Jonze gives his subject the deadliest of seriousness and he creates a credibility that surprisingly works.  The biggest test is the sex scene between Samantha and Theodore, which is done in good taste with  black screen and encouraging music by Ren Klyce.

Phoenix delivers a more restrained performance compared to last year’s as the shouting and screaming mental character in THE MASTER.  Phoenix does not raise his voice even once in HER.  The strength of his performance can be observed in the segment when he has lost contact with his operating system and he knows not what to do.  Deserve of mention is Scarlett Johansson who voices the operation system HER.  She replaced Samantha Morton (no reason given in the press kit) who is not a bad actress herself.

But full credit should be given to Spike Jonze for treading unchartered territory.  Though the film is long and contains a few predictable segments, it is still a worthy effort.  Just as the character HER describes falling in love – an acceptable form of insanity.

Trailer:  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WzV6mXIOVl4



Directed by Peter Berg


Peter Berg writes and directs this action drama based on Marcus Luttrell’s nonfiction book of the same name.  The film is an account of SEAL Team 10’s failed mission Red Wings that was to capture a Taliban leader during the Afghanistan War.

Peter Berg shot to fame with the buddy movie VERY BAD THINGS about buddies doing all the wrong things.  Berg has directed many other films, the most well known being THE KINGDOM.  LONE SURVIVOR, which encompasses the two themes in these movies therefore seem an ideal project to Berg, who directs competently in LONE SURVIVOR.

The title of the film/book is already a spoiler as the audience knows the outcome of the film despite all attempts of the SEAL Team to stay alive.  Marcus Luttrell (Mark Wahlberg) will eventually be the only one alive. The film therefore does not work in the first third when Berg devotes the film towards the other men in the team.  There is the typical military camaraderie, male chauvinism, daily routines and team’s reminiscences of their loved ones.  All that go on appears authentic enough, though no one really cares and the film feels like it is just going through routine formula.  And the only survivor will be Luttrell, anyway.

When Luttrell’s group is finally forced into combat with the Talibans on the hill, which begins a third into the film, the action takes off.  Berg does not skimp on the blood and gore.  Certain scenes like the two in which the Americans have to tumble from the top to the bottom of a rocky slope are excruciating to watch.

Berg treats the American as chivalrous heroes, especially with the decision to let suspected Talibans go, which proves a fatal mistake.  They also go through great lengths to help each other out during the fight.  The Talibans have little to say, and when they do, they do so indistinguishly in their own language, but they are clearly the bad guys with little compassion shown.  But Berg makes a point to make it known that not all Afghanistan villagers are part of the Taliban.

Wahlberg (delivering an excellent performance) is supported by quite the well-known cast that includes Taylor Kitsch, Eric Bana, Emile Hirsch, Ben Foster and Alexander Ludwig.

But as one wonders what the director’s message is regarding all that have occurred, one becomes totally clear by the end of the final reel.  Berg takes his time to make his point but creates quite the jolting impact!

Trailer:  http://trailers.apple.com/trailers/universal/lonesurvivor/#videos-large





Best Bets of the Week:

Best Film Opening: Lone Survivor

Best Film Playing: American Hustle

Best Drama: The Wolf of Wall Street

Best Action: The Hobbit2: The Desolation of Smaug

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