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This Week's Film Reviews (May 16, 2014)

15 May 2014

Biggest film opening has GODZILLA saving the world instead of terrorizing it.  See review posted.  Lots of other films like MILLION DOLLAR ARM, JEUNE & JOLIE and SHEKINAH make their debut.

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 FILM REVIEWS:

 

AI WEIWEI: THE FAKE CASE (Denmark 2013) **

 

Directed by Andreas Johnsen

 

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This is the sequel to the documentary AI WEIWEI that opened the HOT DOCs festival a few years back.  It begins where the last one ends when the Chinese artist is kidnapped by the Government and released after 81 days for the made-up accusation of tax evasion.

 

Johnsen’s tracks Weiwei’s life that follows his release that includes his art and his followers that support him all the way. The government monitors his every move and confiscates his passport but he refuses to be intimidated or portrayed in any way except by his own hand and voice. He firmly believes that “to show you’re alive, you have to speak out” and slowly regains his confidence by finding novel ways to irritate the authorities despite the restrictions of his parole. He assembles a sculpture based on his imprisonment and smuggles it out of the country.

 

There is nothing depicted in this film the world does not really know of the Chinese government.  The film runs out of material very fast.  Though the audience will clearly sympathize with Weise’s plight, all can be said in about 30 minutes of film.

 

Trailer:  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=w0sSwTw2-bs

 

 

 

FOR NO GOOD REASON (USA 2013) ***

Directed by Charlie Paul

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            FOR NO GOOD REASON is a documentary about British cartoonist/artist Ralph Steadman and his work in the U.S. featuring him at work and in interviews as well as featuring Johnny Depp who puts in his two cents worth for credibility.  At the end of the film Depp remarks to the camera that Steadman has inspired him FOR NO GOOD REASON.  But director Paul’s film proves otherwise.

Steadman’s opening statement says that if he could learn to paint, he would change the world.  In the middle of the film, he also states that America nurtures everything that as gone badly in the world.  He has particular disdain for ex-President Richard Nixon.  One of his works has Kissinger as the head of a spider spinning a web.  Whether Steadman achieves his purpose in life is up to the audience to determine.  But director Paul is smart to include the artist at work – which is nothing short of amazing.

The film’s best scene shows how a splash of paint evolves into the creation of ‘an unwanted pet’.  Of course, the film also contains lots of complaints on the world by Steadman.

Trailer:  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UjgFgD0Q3hQ

FOXFIRE: CONFESSIONS OF A GIRL GANG (France/Canada 2012) ****

Directed by Laurent Cantet

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Laurent Cantet’s features TIME OUT and the Cannes winner ENTRE LES MURS (THE CLASS) are top notch films that examine human emotions of a group be it a family faced with the breadwinners hidden loss of a job or a class of pre-teens.  Similar territory is treaded here.  This group in concern, is a girl gang, one initially out to take revenge only those who wronged them before things go out of control in the form of a botched hostage taking.

Cantet’s film is smart enough to win the audience on to the side of the girls.  Their initial preys are the worst scum of human life – child molesters (Maddy’s uncle) and boy rapists.  Noted too, is how innocent they can them - both initially agreeing to help Maddy - before showing off their true colours.

Set in 1950’s America, it is odd that the production is Canada/France.  The props (vintage cars, dresses) and especially the music (a mix of rock and roll, jazz and nostalgia) aid create both the mood and atmosphere.  It is clear that the events that occur in the film cannot happen at present as we do not see girls renting their own place or buying  a car in the way they do in the film.

Running art over 2 hours, the pacing is excellent running from humorous and fun to serious. The characters also grow in maturity from innocence to reality.

The story is told from the point of view of Maddy (Rita O’Hagan), who writes her book from what she can remember.  In an interview with director Cantet, he tells of removing the vagueness of the book in the book, which makes complete sense as it would only serve to blur the authenticity of the events and characters.

The performances from the cast of nonprofessional actors are impressive particular as the gang leader Legs (Raven Adamson).

Note that there is another version of the film just called FOXFIRE based on the Joyce Carol Oates directed by Annette Haywood-Carter.

Cantet once again proves his mettle as a director of high human drama.

Audiences might want to check out his other two films (HEADING SOUTH and HUMAN RESOURCES) that did not get commercial distribution in North America.

Trailer:  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Rad6l9iyMRc 

GODZILLA (USA 2014) *

Directed by Gareth Edwards

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Most action movies like the James Bond flicks begin with a full action sequence before the starting credits roll.  GODZILLA begins with an anticipatory segment in which the action will take place 15 years later.  In it, a wife (Juliette Binoche) dies, while the husband (Bryan Cranston) and boy survives only to see the monster scare the world.

The premise given is the seismic tremors that are not natural but come from some other source, implying the monsters.  As the plot develops, there are two spawning monsters (looking very mechanical – transformer-like) that eventually have to fight with Godzilla.  If Godzilla wins, Japan and the world will be saved.

There are too many loose ends in this film which leads to gigantic Godzilla stupidity.  For one, the tremors leading to the spawning monsters make no sense at all.  And where did these monsters originate in the first place or come to rest on our planet?  Our hero, Ford Brody (Aaron Johnson-Taylor) and his father (Cranston) appears to know everything and what is going on and what will happen next.  There is also an old Japanese scientist (Ken Watanabe) and his assistant (what is British actress Sally Hawkins doing here?) that could disappear from the story with no consequence.  In the climatic fight, Godzilla suddenly out of nowhere begins breathing out fire.  Where did all this come from?  Had  Godzilla been eating monster chilies?

The special effects are all right and it is all fine to watch Godzilla in IMAX.  But there is hardly any suspense generated.  All the anticipation created all leads to naught.  The audience have enough repeated scenes of actors looking in aghast at the huge monsters.

The best Godzilla film I have seen is the Japanese 1962 one entitled KING KONG VS. GODZILLA in which the climax had King Kong kill Godzilla.  That film had genuine scary scenes like a train travelling at night through the mountains while electricity goes out and darkness engulfs the train.  King Kong appears as can be seen through the control room.  There is also a train segment in GODZILLA which is probably the film’s most chilling scene.

The result is a terribly silly and boring film that is 2 hours too long.  At the film’s end, the people applaud Godzilla that had apparently saved them while the monster moves out to disappear in the sea.  Never mind the fact that it has likely trampled lots of vehicles on the way and killed at least a dozen more people.

Trailer:  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QjKO10hKtYw

JEUNE & JOLIE (YOUNG AND BEAUTIFUL) (France 2013) ***

Directed by Francois Ozon

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            It would appear that Francois Ozon, the director of original naughty comedies like SITCOM, LES AMANTS CRIMINELS is treading used waters with his tale of a young story of a prostitute by night, student otherwise after films like BELLE DU JOUR and LOVELACE.

But Ozon takes his film further with the story set in a strong familial setting (many of Ozon’s films derive their strength from this familiar setting) with more subplots than can be expected.   The film starts with the young and beautiful Isabelle (Marine Vecht) lying topless on a towel by the beach.  She is observed by binoculars (as if the audience were voyeurs themselves) by who turns out to her brother.  Her antics take to have a sexual encounter with a young German, Felix (Lucas Prisor) and later selling services to older clients.  When one dies of a heart attack when she rides him, her secret is blown.  Mother (Geraldine Pailhas) finds out and Isabelle has to accept the consequences including meeting the dead’s client’s wife (Ozon’s regular Charlotte Rampling).

Ozon’s tale of desire is interesting from start to finish with a few subplots left hanging, for example if Isabelle’s little brother is gay.

Trailer: Trailer:  http://www.dailymotion.com/video/x16hzcm_young-and-beautiful-movie-uk-trailer-2013_shortfilms

MILLION DOLLAR ARM (USA 2014) ***

Directed by Craig Gillespie

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MILLION DOLLAR RM is a biographical sports drama that the filmmakers re proud to tout as a true story as it us one in which dreams come true – Disney Fantasyland style.  So, Disney Studios notable for making formulaic films have come up with perhaps the most formulaic film of the year.  But this is not a bad thing as the film gets all the points done right, except there is nothing left that is surprising in the film.

The film tells the story of sport agent J.B. Bernstein (Jon Hamm) who travels to India to discover new talent in the form of baseball pitchers.  It is a case of JERRY MAGUIRE meets SLUMDOG MILLIONAIRE in which a large part of the film is shot in Mumbai where Indian boys Rinku Singh (Suraj Sharma) and Dinesh Patel (Madhur Mittal) are discovered and brought to L.A.

The film works best when set in Mumbai as the audience at least get to view things foreign to North America and the west.  He music by A. R. Rahman, a blend of rap and Bollywood helps create the mood.

A little romance in the form of lodger, Brenda (Lake Bell) is added in with the expected eccentric talent scout (Alan Arkin) and skeptical coach (Bill Paxton) in the story.  The usual culture jokes abound with the Indian kids seeing the excesses of Americans (elevators, big house, huge television, media) for the first time.  One wishes the script might include some sarcasm of the American way of life but the script appears to eager to please.

The result is satisfactory family entertainment for the not too discernable viewer.  And this is not a bad thing considering how easy it is for movies even following a formula to go wrong.

Trailer:  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nl4QeQzIkOM

SHEKINAH: THE INTIMATE LIFE OF HASIDIC WOMEN (Canada 2013) ***

Directed by Abbey Jack Neidik

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SHEKINAH which is the English translation of the word God with a feminine connotation is documentary that takes the audience into the world of Chabad Lubavitch, a sect of orthodox Hasidim, one of the more conservative Judaism branches existing today.  The setting is the Quebec town of Sainte-Agathe-des-Monts where the school exists to teach Hasidic girls the ways of their religion and living.

This is a world that most North Americans or the world are unfamiliar with.  It is a educational experience and one worth diving into, so that one can respect other human beings for what they believe and so that the world can live in harmony without prejudice.  This appears to be the aim of director Neidik, who in the voiceover claims to be a non-practicing Jew.

The first part of the film introduces the audience to the young women in the school, with interviews of both the teachers, students (the one from England being most prominent) and outsiders.  The perspectives of these young women are studied from school age through courtship and marriage. Their views on courtship and their relationships with men are based on the Kabbalah, the mystical aspect of Judaism.  They see God as both masculine and feminine, and marriage as pre-ordained in heaven.

The second part aims to convert the audience to appreciate these women and their beliefs.  Nedidik does a good tactic by highlighting an incident of a swastika painted on the window of the school one night.  This intolerance definitely angers anyone decent and puts the audience on the side of the Hasidic women.

The third deals with the girls in the world itself, their sexuality and interaction for example with girls in another school.  One disturbing matter that is brought up is their non-acceptance of homosexuality.  But too bad, this important subject is just brushed away.

SHEKINAH, shot in Hebrew, French and English is both educational and eye opening, and entertaining in a way of how these women’s lives are dramatic, romantic, musical and relevant at times.

Trailer:  http://vimeo.com/65188601

Best Bets of the Week:

  1. Under the Skin
  2. The Grand Budapest Hotel
  3. Like Father, Like Son
  4. Foxfire: Confessions of a Girl Gang
  5. Neighbors

Best Family: Bears

Best Doc: Teenage

Best Foreign: Like Father, Like Son

Best Animation: The Lego Movie

Best Comedy: Neighbors

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