Lots of new films opening this week. These include JACK RYAN: SHADOW RECRUIT, THE NUT JOB, RIDE ALONG and DEVIL’S DUE.
BIG BAD WOLVES (Israel 2013) ****
Directed by Aharon Keshales and Navot Papushado
BIG BAD WOLVES has been touted as director Quentin Tarantino’s best film of 2013. Despite the extremely high expectations audiences would then take to the film, BIG BAD WOLVES does deliver the goods. For one, it is a compelling film from start to finish, sickly hilarious at parts while being inventively brilliant at times.
BIG BAD WOLVES is a revenge torture flick. A serial killer of little girls chops off their fingers, tear away their toenails before sawing their heads off with a rusty saw. He then buries them headless. When prime suspect, Dror, (Rotem Keinan) a religious teacher is brought open to the public, one victim’s father, Gidi (Tzahi Grad) kidnaps him and tortures him the same way (breaks his fingers; tear out his toenails) in order to find out where his daughter is buried. There is one renegade detective, Miki (Lior Ashkenazi) involved, who loses his job as a result of a video of his beating up of the suspect going viral on You Tube.
If the plot sounds familiar, it has just been used in the highly visible Warner Brothers’ film PRISONERS directed by Denis Villeneuve and starring Hugh Jackman as the father and Jake Gyllenhaal as the detective. PRISONERS, by inevitable comparison looks tame and flawed compared to BIG BAD WOLVES, in which directors Keshales and Papushad appear totally in control of their material. Both films are similar in a way. They share the same twist in plot at the end of the film in terms of the identity of the serial killer.
Yet the films contain distinct differences. In BIG BAD WOLVES, the detective is initially out to get the suspect, as he believes that, that would enable to get his job back. The directors also realize how much humor there exists in the material despite the grim nature of the film. The three main leads also play extremely well against each other, in terms of plot as well as characterwise. But be forewarned that the torture scenes might be too violent for some to watch.
The result is a totally delectable film for the audience who likes their entertainment highly skewed. The directors have shot to fame after making RABIES, which was what had been touted as the first Israel horror film and I bet the best is yet to come from this invincible duo.
L’INCONNU DU LAC (STRANGER BY THE LAKE) (France/Belgique 2013) ****
Directed by Alain Guiraudie
The most touted gay film of 2013 and winner of the gay Palm d’Or; STRANGER BY THE LAKE has more going for it than say its lesbian counterpart, BLUE IS THE WARMEST COLOUR. For one, this film is less pretentious and more sincere, which director Guiraudie achieves despite his film being more artsy. Just as erotic, STRANGER contains lengthy sex scenes between the two main leads that include both a cum shot and a full hard-on blow job.
For male gays, STRANGER BY THE LAKE is a Godsend. It has been ages since something this original has appeared on screen. Of course when gay themed films first started appearing, there were lots of new material (coming out; acceptance; bullying; parenting) but fresh material soon ran out. Though cruising has been explored before in films such as William Friedkin’s CRUISING, Guiraudie has injected his own inventiveness.
The film begins with a far shot of cars being parked around trees by a lake. Franck (Pierre Deladonchamps) appears and cruises while making friends with a pudgy, Henri (Patrick D’ssumcao). That night, Franck witnesses Michel (Christophe Paou) drown his lover. But Franck is attracted to Michel, nevertheless and a hot affair ensues. Henri warns Franck of the danger while an inspector appears asking questions.
In the midst of all the sex and killing going on, Guiraudie infuses his own two cents worth in terms of moralizing. In one unexpected confrontation, the inspector in charge of the murder at the cruising lake expresses his disgust to Michel and Franck how cruising continues just two days after the murder, claiming that gays do not take care or respect their own kind. This remark might have caused Michel to take repercussions, but the beauty of the film is the constant ambiguity present in the film. The background of Michel is also in question. Why is he so secretive of his private life? Does he have a family and kids? Not much detail except his profession of a vegetable stall seller is also given of Franck. Surprisingly, the audience knows the most of the supporting character Henri that allows the audience to have greater respect for the man.
The film is shot without music. The sounds of the water, the rustling leaves of the trees blown by the wind are some examples that form the natural score for the film. The night scenes are also beautifully shot as are the sex scenes erotically hot.
A film like this does not warrant a Hollywood ending in which the killer is caught. That would be a betrayal of what Guiraudie has given already on screen. But STRANGER BY THE LAKE is a fierce exercise of an art form true to its roots of male eroticism.
THE INVISIBLE WOMAN (UK 2013) ***
Directed by Ralph Fiennes
English actor Ralph Fiennes’ second directorial effort THE INVISIBLE WOMAN seems like just as improbable a project as his first, one of Shakespeare’s most unpopular plays CORIOLANUS. The film tells the secret affair of one of England’s greatest authors Charles Dickens (played by Fiennes himself) and an actress half his age, Nelly Ternan (Felicity Jones).
Nelly was performing in London’s Haymarket Theatre (still in existence today) when she (then seventeen) was first spotted by Dickens. He cast her in his new production THE FROZEN DEEP. This did not stop their torrid love affair, kept secret from the public.
Though Fiennes could have played this affair to be one of the greatest love stories in literary history on film, as alluring for the speculation it inspires for the details on record as fact, he treats it as a common love affair with problems, arguments and authenticity.
Dickens the Master is depicted here as the callous victimizer. Though his wife warns Nelly at one of the film’s most dramatic segments that the man loves the public more than his woman (yes, a bit clichéd here), Dickens is shown often as the wolf in prowl. In one key scene, Nelly stops short of his advances, reminding him of the fact that he is a married man. Though the two eventually consummate, the sex scenes are controlled to a minimum of nudity.
Fiennes captures the period atmosphere adequately that includes the crucial train crash towards the film’s climax. He also captures Dickens’ mixed emotions, torn between his love for Nelly and the need to keep the secret for fear of losing his loyal readership.
But by the end of the film, the audience feels cheated that nothing has been resolved and what transpires would have come about even if the lovers had not done anything different. Though the film might have opened ones eyes to the real story of Dickens’ life, one cannot claim that one has gained that much more knowledge of the man either.
JACK RYAN SHADOW RECRUIT (USA 2014) ***1/2
Directed by Kenneth Branagh
An update and welcome one of Tom Clancy’s hero Jack Ryan (Chris Pine) pits our London economist graduate against Russia in a cold war post 9/11.
The script moves efficiently and quickly to establish Jack Ryan’s need to serve America. A bombing helicopter accident forces him to take a desk job as an analyst only till he discovers a Russian global plot to topple the U.S. and hence world’s economy. In the meantime, he has to keep everything secret from his doctor girlfriend, Cathy Muller (Kiera Knightley) who had nursed him back to health.
Though audiences have seen similar material before in the James Bond, Mission Impossible and Bourne Ultimatum movies, Branagh’s film still manages to impress with high-octane action sequences, suspenseful nick-of-time set-ups and a strong romantic element.
Watching Branagh’s film makes one wonder how much he borrowed from Hitchcock’s TORN CURTAIN, which had a similar plot of Julie Andrews trailing her professor husband Paul Newman behind the Iron Curtain suspecting him of cheating on her. Knightley as Cathy does the same and is eventually forced to help Ryan in his mission. In TORN CURTAIN, Hitchcock had a scene in which he demonstrated how difficult it is to kill man without a gun. In this film, Branagh does the same with an extended sequence in which Ryan has to kill his Ugandan assassin sans weapon.
The best moments have Jack Ryan and his mentor, Thomas Harper (Kevin Costner) sitting on public steps in Russia discussing the fate of the world and Jack Ryan and the villain, Viktor Cheverin (Branagh himself) have a go with word insults (Russians are soft while pretending to be poetic while Americans are rude while pretending to be forward).
The film plays well as both an action thriller and a suspense thriller. The segment in which Ryan saves his fiancée from the light bulb almost rammed down her throat just in the nick of time cannot be matched by the climax at the end of the film.
Despite the film feeling as if it is split into two distinct parts, JACK RYAN: SHADOW RECRUIT still delivers edge of the seat excitement from start to finish.
THE NUT JOB (USA 2013) ***1/2
Directed by Peter Lepeniotis
THE NUT JOB is an action packed 3D animated comedy involving Surly, a squirrel (Will Arnett) attempting a nut heist at Maury’s Nut Store so that he can comfortably live out the winter.
Initially banished from the park to the city as a result of an accident that destroyed the winter storage supply, Surly is aided by a sympathetic female, Andie (Katherine Heidl) and two sidekicks, one egoistic, Grayson (Brendan Fraser) and the other a silent rat (money saved for voice characterization here). The irony of it all is that as Surly plans his job, crooks plan to rob money from the adjacent bank. The two groups clash of course, giving the story ample opportunities for high jinx. The 3D effects are good, the highlight being the corn burnt in an explosion in one scene with popcorn spewed out at the audience.
The NUT JOB has satisfactory goofiness, action and hilarity but nothing really outlandish memorable, except the last credit sequence as explained in the last paragraph. The romance is thankfully kept at a minimum and the film is devoid of any songs, again, except for the end credit sequence.
THE NUT JOB had every single one of the audience at the promo screening stay for the entire end credit sequence. This is no simple task for any film to achieve but it is easy to see why. Immediately after the director’s credit comes on, an animated pudgy South Korean figure (immediately recognizable as South Korean rapper Psy in real life) with hat and suit jumps out of a door and performs his infamous rap sequence Gangnam Style, which is soon imitated by all the characters in the film. The song and dance routine is so amusing as already 800 million You Tube fans know, that one cannot help but sit back and gawk.
Best Bets of the Week:
Best Film Opening: Stranger by the Lake (L’Inconnu du Lac)
Best Film Playing: American Hustle
Best Drama: The Wolf of Wall Street
Best Foreign: Stranger by the Lake (L’Inconnu du Lac)
Best Fantasy: The Hobbit2: The Desolation of Smug