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This Week's Film Reviews (Feb 7, 2014)

08 Feb 2014

Opening this week are two movies that not only meet expectations but should top the box-office during the weekend.

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THE LEGO MOVIE and THE MONUMENTS MEN are both excellent.

 FILM REVIEWS:

GORE VIDAL: THE UNITED STATES OF AMNESIA (USA 2013) ***

Directed by Nicholas Wrathall

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            It is often said that a documentary is only as good as its subject.  Fortunately, the subject of Nicholas Wrathrall happens to be one of the wittiest, sarcastic and charismatic critics and writers of all time – Gore Vidal.  He is already well known in film circles as the writer of one of the worst movies of all time – MYRA BECKINRIDGE. 

The documentary traces the life and work of Vidal.  Featuring never before seen interviews and candid footage of Vidal in his final years, the film explores his enduring global impact on art, politics, and everything in between.  Commentary by his life partner, Christopher Hitchens, old friend, Mikhail Gorbachev, Burr Steers, Stephen Fry, Tom Ford, Sting, David Mamet, William F. Buckley, Norman Mailer, and Dick Cavett, blends with footage from Vidal’s legendary on-air career to remind us why he will forever stand as one of the most brilliant and fearless critics of our time. 

The best line in the film has him saying: “We had bad presidents in the past, but this one (referring to Bush Jr.) is a goddamn fool.”  (The Dixie Chicks would be in good company.)  The film shows his utter disgust and disappointment with the U.S.   The title comes from the fact that ever since being founded, Gore maintains that the U.S. has forgotten what they stood for.

 Trailer: http://www.traileraddict.com/gore-vidal-the-united-states-of-amnesia/trailer

 

THE LEGO MOVIE (USA 2014) ****
Directed by Phil Lord and Chris Miller

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It would be unfair to quickly dismiss THE LEGO MOVIE as childish fodder unfit for the sophisticated moviegoer.  As it turns out, THE LEGO MOVIE not only meets the expectations of the trailer but exceeds it a dozen times.

Based on the Lego construction toys many of us are not bright enough to play with, animated by Australia’s Animal Logic Studios and directed by CLOUDY WITH A CHANCE OF MEATBALLS’ Phil Lord and Chris Miller, THE LEGO MOVIE follows the adventures of a boring construction worker called Emmett (Chris Pratt) who is suddenly given the awesome task of saving the universe.  This is the premise of every blockbuster action movie in which the super hero saves the world or universe.   In this case, it is the story of a nobody saving everybody.

The film is frantic action and hilarity mayhem from start to finish.  And the humor is goofy enough to entertain the kids and smart enough to bring laughs to the adults.  The famous YouTube Lego Clip with Eddie Izzard playing Darth Vader in a canteen getting food without a tray clearly exemplifies the type of humor found in the film.  The humour is Monty Pythonish.  Example is when the villain tells the old man not to move.  “You always move when I speak to your wife.”  The old man stands still with his wife.  The moment, the villain talks to his wife, he moves again.

Animal Logic has done a find job with the Lego animation as is apparent with the segment with an ocean made up of Lego blocks and yet another with space made up of them.  Of course, as in a 3D film, there will be objects spewed out of the screen at the audience.  But this is so well done that I actually (how embarrassing!) ducked.

Animation with songs sometimes does not work, especially when the songs appear at odd places.  But the Lego tune “Everything is Awseome!” is very catching and is played quite a few times throughout the film.  The dance of the Lego characters to the tune as well as their staccato’ed way of walking suits the song.

Lots of surprises are scattered throughout the film, the most welcome of which is an unexpected live action climax involved Will Ferrell with a tube of Krazy Glue.  The film also contains a cameo of Lego super heroes (Superman, Batman, Michelangelo the ninja turtle, Abraham Lincolnand many, many more) attempting to save the universe.

Imaginative, brilliantly executed, hilarious and exciting, THE LEGO MOVIE goes into my books as the best animated film of 2014.  This one will be hard to beat!

Trailer:  http://ca.movies.yahoo.com/video/lego-movie-trailer-3-211046998.html?.tsrc=appleww 

THE MONUMENTS MEN (USA/Germany 2014) ****

Directed by George Clooney

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The MONUMENTS MEN is a World War II Allied platoon formed in the U.S. that is comprised of seven members formed of museum curators, directors and art historians.  Though not in active combat, these magnificent seven have an equally dauntless task. Their mission is to rescue artworks plundered by the Nazis, saving them from destruction and returning them to the rightful owners.

The seven members are played by George Clooney, Matt Damon, John Goodman, Jean Dujardin, Bill Murray, Hugh Bonneville and Bob Balaban.  One cannot expect a more impressive cast.

Clooney’s film paints some excellent viewpoints of WWII never seen before in war films.  One segment shows the beach on Normandy before the crucial Allied landing.  The beach is filled with war props but looks really different empty of people.  Another is the view of the Germans as in a German town just after the Germans had surrendered and lost the war.  The Germans acting as if they have still the upper hand is quietly disturbing.

The film also contains nice touches such as red tie Ganger returns to Rose Valland on a train.

The impressive cast delivers the goods.  Cate Blanchett more that stands out as the Nazi hating French arts collaborator Rose Valland.

It should be noted that THE MONUMENTS MEN is not an action film but a suspense drama.  The script is clever enough to blend in humour and suspense.  The running joke of Ganger’s inability to speak Parisienne French is particularly funny, especially when he boasts that he learnt it in Montreal, Canada much to the disapproval of the French.  Or the part where Ganger accidentally steps on a land mine.  The film is moving as well, with the film stressing the bravery of THE MONUMENTS MEN.

The question of whether the saving of the art pieces is worth the life of a human being ultimately arises.  This point is dealt with not only at the film’s beginning but stressed again at the end.  Clooney’s speech that bookends the film serves as proper narration that strengthens the narrative of the film.

What stands out is the film’s perfectly captured atmosphere and mood.  The entire film is meticulously put together as is evident in every well crafted segment.

The film suffers from the lack of a climax.  The discovery of some major artifacts to the utter delight of Stout and Ganger serves as the somewhat ‘happy’ ending that will ultimately disappoint many commercial filmgoers looking for an action finale.  But the delay in the film’s release from Christmas 2013 to February due to postproduction definitely pays off.  Clooney’s film succeeds 100% in capturing WWII’s period and atmosphere.  And it gets my vote as a film well worth seeing.

Trailer:  http://www.tribute.ca/trailers/the-monuments-men/19332/

 

SEX AFTER KIDS (CANADA 2013) ***

Directed by Jeremy Lalonde

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SEX AFTER KIDS, an ensemble sex comedy attempts to prove and disprove (obviously nothing is clearly now black or white) the notion that sex after having kids can never be as good as before.  Through a few couples, sex after kids could be better but even if not, something else more worthwhile (such as growth in the relationship) appears to take its place.  Dr. Keaton (Gordon Pinsent) advises a couple having sex problems thus starting the ball rolling on several emotional issues.

The couples involved include the one aforementioned, an older couple whose daughter is leaving home, a British single mother afraid of touching her own child, a lesbian couple whose son distracts their sexual intimacy and a few others.  All the characters are played (except for Pinsent) by unknowns, which helps credibility, as it is difficult to watch well known stars making out, as audiences often know what they are in real life or in previous roles.  And the unknown faces perform remarkably well in their varied roles.  The sex scenes are tastefully done with restraint and thought.

To the writers’ (Lalonde co-wrote the script) credit, the stories touch relevant relationship issues such as overfamiliarity in a relationship, changes in sexual expectations, just to name a few.  It helped that Lalonde himself just had a baby and he writes from his personal experience.  It should be noted too, that the writing came after he cast his actors so that when roles were written, they were also for specific persons.  If the comedy occasionally doesn’t work, there is always more to come around but the drama in the film actually moves.  The audience will see part of themselves (at least I did) in at least one of the relationships on display.  Lalonde still sticks to the basic rules.  The one that commits on the spouse is in the wrong no matter how imperfect the spouse may be.

SEX AFTER KIDS finally emerges as a sweet, well-intentioned comedy drama adequately performed and written with sympathy and from experience.  And a film difficult to dislike.  And who knows?  One might also learn a thing or two on what is missing in our very own sex lives.

Trailer:  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WIHhbwMNz4o

 

 

Best Bets of the Week:

Best Film Opening: THE LEGO MOVIE and THE MONUMENTS MEN (tie)

Best Film Playing: The Selfish Giant

Best Animation: The Lego Movie

Best Drama: The Wolf of Wall Street

Best Action: The Hobbit2: The Desolation of Smaug

Best Documentary: Gore Vidal: The United States of Amnesia

Best Foreign: The Great Beauty

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