This Week's Film Reviews (Jan 31, 2014)

31 Jan 2014

Opening this week are romantic drama LABOR DAY and romantic comedies, AT MIDDLETON and  in prep for Valentine’s Day.


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



Directed by Adam Rodgers


Written by Glenn German and director Adam Rodgers, AT MIDDLETON is a sweet romantic comedy about a man and a woman who fall in love while getting lost during the college tour while with their children at Middleton College.

For a romantic comedy, AT MIDDLETON does away with the obstacle bit which is usually a pain to sit through, as these are quite bogus as can be found in any Harlequin novel.  But as expected the parents George Hartman (Andy Garcia) and Edith (Vera Farmiga) are at loggerheads with their kids, who again as expected, seem to have more level heads over their shoulders.  Still, the initial argument between George and Edith is quickly diffused with some humor, at the expense of the geeky tour guide, Justin who is actually trying his best to impress.  Oddly enough, when the tour ends, the script labels him an idiot for putting his love interest above the tour job.

For a romantic comedy, the script goes through a risk, as the dramatic parts are over serious, such as the improvised play George and Edith agree to perform.  But once they get into it, they manage to unexpectedly capture the audience’s attention.

The chemistry between Garcia and Farmiga works well.  Her youngest sister plays her daughter in the film and the two look quite identical, which explains that fact.

Like the college MIDDLETON which is a small campus trying to compete with the bigger universities, this little low budget romantic comedy succeeds when compared to the Hollywood blockbusters.  It is also good to see distributor Anchor Bay venture into a different genre than horror.

Trailer:  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vQK7Ve3Ag0Q




Directed by Paolo Sorrentino


From the opening shot of director Paolo Sorrentino’s (IL DIVO) new film, of a shell fired from a cannon, the audience knows that they are in for a spectacular ride.  The journey is the life of successful journalist Jep Gambardella (Toni Servillo) which his closest friends acknowledge (him) as just Jep.

Jep frequents lavish parties in Rome’s high spots while bedding the beautiful women of everyone’s dreams.  Jep is a smooth talker, as evident in one of the film’s best segments in which he puts down a haughty self-righteous bitch.  At times, Sorrentino’s film reminds one of Fellini’s LA DOLCE VITA for the lavish parties, the decadence and recognizable spots of Rome.

It is THE GREAT BEAUTY that Toni is seeking.  Whether he finds it or what it turns out to be will not be revealed in this review, but it forms the crux of the film.

The film is beautifully shot.  From the natural beauty of a speedboat splashing across the blue sea, to the rocks that house the Italian sunbathers by the hundreds, this is a film of exquisite beauty.  At the same time, Sorrentino captures the club scene with mature partiers.

At the same time, Jep reflects on life’s disappointments and what truly mattered in his life.  The result is an excellent film that has won accolades wherever it has been screened.

Trailer:  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fJfvX6zPAuQ



LABOR DAY (USA 2013) **

Directed by Jason Reitman


Based on the novel by Joyce Maynard, LABOR DAY is the story of an escaped convict who forces himself into the home of a depressed mother, Adele (Kate Winslet) and son.  The son is, at present, looking after his mother, the best he can, serving often the husband role, except for that one important chore.  The Stockholm Syndrome comes into play between kidnapper and mother, with the two falling in love and trying to escape to Canada to live a new life. The story told from the boy’s point of view.

The trouble with this film is twofold.  Firstly, it is obvious from the first quarter of the film that Frank, the convict (Josh Brolin) is going to get caught and the two lovers will not make their escape.  Second is that director Ivan Reitman’s film quickly turns into a sentimental chick flick.

But as the script the story from the son’s (Gattlin Griffith) point of view, the film results into a mix romantic drama and a coming-of-age story.  It is a comfortable blend so that the film caters also to the needs of the male audience.  Henry is taught baseball by Frank, and Henry learns about love though he is only in the seventh grade.

The film is set in 1987 as stated in the credits at the early part of the film.  But as the film is basically shot in the house with a few scenes in the town, the only props needed to indicate the 80’s setting is a few cars and the appropriate music.  With that, Reitman has crafted a modestly budgeted little crowd pleaser that studio heads should be pleased about.

If one wonders about the credibility of two people falling in love within the couple of only two days, the explanation is offered with confidence by Henry’s quirky love interest who explains how things like this are common once sex occurs.

But Reitman’s film meanders along its predictable path.  Reitman, responsible for films like UP IN THE AIR, JUNO and THANK YOU FOR SMOKING is unwilling to take many risks with his material.  The only time the film comes into life is when Henry’s quirky love interest offers her weird lessons of life.

But given the talents of Kate Winslet an Josh Brolin, LABOR DAY could have been evolved to a more daring film than this forgettable time waster.


Directed by Jeff Barnaby


Much anticipated full-length debut of Award winning native director Jeff Barnaby (the short, THE COLONY) is an ambitious, uncompromising but confusing look at the tragedy of Canadian aboriginal children.  The film is steeped in mythology, violence and anger which are apparent from the film’s start to end.

The film centers on 15-year old Aila (Kawennahere Devery Jacobs) who is the young drug queen of her local Indian reservation.  Things get complicated when her father, Joseph (Glen Gould, not to be confused with the pianist) is released from prison.  Hot on the heals of trouble is the corrupt and sadistic Popper (Mark Antony Kruper) who wants Aila and Joseph not only beaten up but crushed.  He has no qualms on abusing his authority including an attempt rape of Aila towards the end of the film.

All this makes interesting fodder for drama and a bit of action thrown in.  The trouble is that Barnaby is not that good a storyteller.  His film is hard to follow.  For example, it takes a while to determine who Aila’s brother, father and mother are in the film.  The incidents occurring are even more difficult to follow.  So, it is just best to realize the gist of the story and not to worry about the details.  Michel St. Martin’s cinematography, however, is stunning especially the night scenes and his use of lighting, which makes up for the film’s shortcomings.

Barnaby cannot decide whether he should go for surrealism, visual poetry or just plain graphic messaging.  The result is a rather unsatisfactory though predictable yet gorgeous looking film.  The film was based on the novel by H.E. Hilton.

Trailer:  http://www.traileraddict.com/trailer/rhymes-for-young-ghouls/trailer


Directed by Mark Cousins


            From the director of THE STORY OF FILM: AN ODYSSEY comes a less ambitious though just as moving an effective a documentary on cinema.  This time around, writer/director Mark Cousins focuses on children, stressing that no other art form but the cinema has devoted so much time to children.

            It all begins with Cousins setting up his camera in the home of his nephew and niece over a couple of days.  As Laura and Ben move in and out of the frame, playing and shouting, Cousins draws parallels with children in the history of film.

            Cousins first looks a the stares of the youngsters.  He claims that it is this stare that is most important in children’s films, drawing then, examples of films with kids’ stares from French, Russian to Japanese films.  Next he mentions, and is observant from the accents, that Ben and Laura have North English accents and that there are from the working class.  He hypothesizes that children are stuck in their class, drawing from films like the Russian classic in which a boy plays the violin for a working class man and of course, Ken Loach’s KES.  Cousins narrates the entire film with his North English accent, often instructing the audience on the composition of the shot, thus providing an education on film.

            But what transpires on screen is his personal view and one might not totally agree with the strength of his convictions.  But the main pleasure of this film is more of the clips of the classic films that audiences are familiar with (E.T., THE KID, NIGHT OF THE HUNTER, YELLOW EARTH) as well as countless other little gems (MOVING, I WISH) that I am sure audiences have never heard of.  To watch someone like Cousins so involved in his work and convictions is also inspiring.

            THE STORY OF CHILDREN ON FILM is both entertaining and informative and a super treat especially for the cinema buff.

Trailer:  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5l0k7Jld5tI



Directed by Tom Gormican


THAT AWKWARD MOMENT refers to the moment when the question is asked: “So?”  i.e. when the boy is asked if it is the start of a relationship after the dating has come to a point.

As the film begins three best friends, Jason (Zack Efron), Daniel (Miles Teller) and married Mikey (Michael B. Jordan) who has just been filed papers of divorce for a very stupid reason to stay single and answer no at that ‘So’ question.  It does not take a genius to guess that they will really fall in love and the girls will be upset to find the boys just playing around.  And so another predictable romantic comedy is turned out of the mechanical film factory.

It takes a talented director (like David O. Russell) and a equally good cast to pull out a smart comedy without being too smug.  Unfortunately director Gormican is no such talent.  The characters spurn out dialogue that is too smart and unfunny for their own good.  An example is the running joke Daniel makes about his girl, Chelsea’s (Mackenzie Davis) granny.  The joke is not even remotely funny and the only two laughing at it are Daniel and Chelsea.  It does not help that Efron, Teller and Jordan are not comedians.

A real life example is Justin Bieber getting DUI charges and trouble for drag racing.  He thinks it is cool but everyone else thinks NOT.  As the adage goes, one is born cool.  One cannot learn to be cool!

THAT AWKWARD MOMENT comes pretty quickly in the film that the film is just not working.




Best Bets of the Week:

Best Film Opening: The Great Beauty

Best Film Playing: The Selfish Giant

Best Drama: The Wolf of Wall Street

Best Action: The Hobbit2: The Desolation of Smaug

Best Documentary: The Story of Children on Film

Best Foreign: The Great Beauty


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