This week's Film Reviews (Jan 24, 2014)

24 Jan 2014

Great little British Film opening this week THE SELFISH GIANT is a must-see!


TIFF Cinematheque begins two series of films by Godard and Verhoeven.


DEVIL’S KNOT (USA 2013) ***1/2

Directed by Atom Egoyan


DEVIL’S KNOT is a biographical crime drama based on the book by Mara Leveritt that tells of the wrongful conviction of three teenagers for the murder and sexual abuse of three 8-year old boys.

The film begins with the disappearance of the boys, the search and the conviction of the three teenagers.  Enter the hero of the piece, Ron Lax (Egoyan’s regular Colin Firth), a private investigator working pro bono as he believes that the three are innocent an that the community has determined who the killers were and fixed the evidence and trial to get their personal satisfaction.  But the film is wise to concentrate on one of the murdered kid’s mothers (Reese Witherspoon), Pamela Hobbs.  Through Pamela, the audience sees both a mother’s grief as well as suspicion that the convicted could be innocent.

Egoyan is no stranger to the murder mystery genre having made films such as his best film THE SWEET HEREAFTER and others.  He knows how to filter the important facts from a story and intersperse the reactions of the characters at various points of the plot, resulting in a well paced film that is compelling from start to finish.

But Egoyan overuses his extras to the point of embarrassment.  When the accused are bought to court, the extras in the courtroom will hurl insults and make the typical degrading remarks expected to be heard. When a new piece of evidence is turned up, the members of the jury will feign surprise.  It is as if Egoyan is using all the extras to indicate how the audience should feel at various parts of the film.

But made at a very modest cost compared to Hollywood blockbusters, Devils’ Knot is an example of efficient filmmaking.


LINSANITY (USA 2013) ***
Directed by Evan Jackson Leong


Any sports fan has heard of the term LINSANITY.  NBA worldwide phenomenon, Jeremy Lin has donned the cover of Time Magazine and countless other magazines as he rose to fame.  The documentary tells the story of Jeremy Lin, from his point of view.

From the very start, Lin is portrayed as the underdog, a Taiwanese American who is as humble as he is devoted to his belief in Christianity and that he is part of God’s plan.  It is hard to dislike a hardworking person like Lin who often never brags his talent.  Yet his winning swagger at the games are often more inspirational than boastful.

Director Leong began Lin’s chronicle in 2010 when Lin was looking to burst out into recognition.  In February 2012, the world of basketball unexpectedly went “Linsane.” Stuck in the mire of a disappointing season, the New York Knicks did what no other NBA team had thought about doing—they gave an undrafted, Taiwanese-American, third-string point guard from Harvard named Jeremy Lin an opportunity to prove himself.   He took full advantage, scoring more points in his first five NBA starts than any other player in the modern era, and created a legitimate public frenzy in the process.  Prior to this now-legendary run, Lin had faced adversity in his career at every turn.

On initial appearance, it would appear that this would be another typical run of the mill story of an underdog star.  But director Leong is smart enough to include plenty of footage of Lin’s games in which he scores by tossing the ball through the net no matter how far the distance he is from the net.  With the crowds cheering and Lin scoring, the film transforms into an adrenaline rush that has to be experienced to be believed.

Lin is no stranger to working with the issue of race in basketball.  The Asian American is looked down upon in this game and many believe should no have a place in basket ball.  But director Leong, who had worked with director Justin Lin in BETTER LUCK TOMORROW some 10 years back about Asian Americans surviving in a white environment, covers the racial issue with restraint and tact.                                                                 

LINSANITY finally emerges as an informative documentary of a talented sportsman who has seen his dream come true as a result of perseverance, hard work and devotion to family and faith.  It thus encompasses good human values making it an excellent family outing.

LE PASSE (THE PAST) (France 2013) Top 10 *****

Directed by Asghar Farhadi


            From the director of last year’s Best Foreign Film Oscar Winner UNE SEPARATION comes another high drama about separation.  This time around the subjects are trying to build their lives back together but unavailable to do so easily because of incidents of THE PAST.

When the film opens, Marie-Anne (Berenice Bejo) meets her Iranian ex-husband, Ahmad (Ali Mosaffa) at the airport. Marie-Anne is about to remarry an Arab, Samir (Tahar Rahim from UN PROPHET), but her daughter, Lucie is totally against it and doing all in her power to prevent it.  Lucie hates the mother’s lover, Samir whose son and him are also currently staying with them.  Ahmad finds all this too much for him, especially when he is obliged to sort out differences.

The film’s ending has Samir asking his wife, who is in a coma at the hospital to squeeze his hand if she can smell the perfume he is wearing.  The camera pans down the arm to her hand, where the audience’s eyes are glued to see if she will manage the squeeze.   The brilliance of it all is that whether the hand is squeezed or not would make no difference to the events that have occurred just as the key point on whether the wife red he emails or not mattered in the story.

Director unveils bits of his plot little at a time, so that this drama plays like a whodunit (like UNE SEPARATION) complete with a twist at the end.  Great performances especially from the young children help.  Like his previous film, LE PASSE puts director in a class of his own.  His films have demonstrated both a good blend of story telling and drama.  And not a dull moment from beginning to end, making the film already the top 10 of 2014!

Trailer:  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iFTK5yFV0K4

THE SELFISH GIANT (UK 2013) TOP 10 *****

Directed by Clio Barnard


THE SELFISH GIANT is the BEST film I have seen this year and is going to be a very hard one to beat.  An emotional powerhouse of a movie that takes the audience on a roller coaster ride right up to its crash bang finale, director Clio Barnard (THE ARBOR is her first other film) treads on Ken Loch territory of social drama, also set in Northern England.  THE SELFISH GIANT is reminiscent of Loach’ best early works especially KES also about a boy and his pet kestrel, a wild bird (like him) impossible to domesticate.

Clio Barnard’s protagonist is also a boy (Conner Chapman), an angry but ambitious Arbor (probably so-named after Barnard’s last film) who suffers from the mental ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder) illness causing him to be super hyper half the time.  His best mate, Swifty (Shaun Thomas) helps him out and vice versa.  When the two get excluded (Brit term for expelled) from school, the two go stealing cables for the local scrap man, Kitten (Sean Gilder) who has a penchant for racing horses, notably his own horse.  Swifty has a gift with horses and helps Kitten with his horse.  But Barnard’s tale set in Bradford, is one that does not compromise her convictions.  And the result shows on the screen at the ending that will definitely blow audiences away.

The film is inspired by a real life encounter of the director’s personal encounter of a boy and a horse.  The inspiration is tied in with her very loose adaptation of the well-known story of THE SELFISH GIANT by Oscar Wilde.

But the brilliance of THE SELFISH GIAN is no flash in the pan.  Barnard understands hardship and raw emotions and transmits them to her audience.  The film is also beautifully shot showing the metal wastes in the scrapyards and the barren unfarmed lands around Bradford.  Her actors also radiate a certain authenticity to the bleakness of the tale.  But her ‘chariot’ race with Kitten’s horse racing his competitors, shot amidst speeding cars is incredibly exciting, if not stunning.

As an additional bonus, North Americans will get to see the people of a land they are not familiar with.  The northern accent is strong, and a bit different from the Geordies that most Americans might be more familiar with in the Loach and Shane Meadows films.  But the film comes compete with English subtitles, so there is no worry about comprehending the dialogue.

THE SELFISH GIANT, a film about hope and redemption amidst despair has been voted Film number 6 in the Sight and Sound’s poll of the Best Films of 2013.  It stands on my list as number one, which means it is a must-see for anyone reading this review.  You will not be disappointed!

Trailer:  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jrHcLLWCVI0


Best Bets of the Week:

Best Film Opening: The Selfish Giant

Best Film Playing: American Hustle

Best Drama: The Wolf of Wall Street

Best Action: The Hobbit2: The Desolation of Smaug

Best Documentary: Linsanity

Best Foreign: Le Passe (The Pasat)


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