This Week's Film Reviews (July 18, 2014)

18 Jul 2014

The Disney animated PLANES: FIRE AND RESCUE opens with SEX TAPE, a naughty romantic comedy.  Other openings include Canada's CINEMANOVELS, SNOWPIERCER, BOYHOOD and WISH I WAS HERE.

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BOYHOOD (USA 2014) ***

Directed by Richard Linklater


BOYHOOD is the intriguing notion of a movie 12 years in the making.  A short film is shot every year for 12 years so that the primary character, a boy is seen actually growing and maturing from boyhood to the time he goes to college.

The film’s most absorbing segment involves the one with the boy’s step father, a college professor who marries the mother, only to turn out to be an abusive alcoholic.  The film bares a tense similarity to Ingmar Bergman’s FANNY AND ALEXANDER regarding child abuse.  And the film is extremely tense and frightening, something rare in a Linklater movie.  Unfortunately, the film never reaches this height again.

BOYHOOD suffers from the same flaws as Linklater’s BEFORE SUNRISE and BEFORE MIDNIGHT improvisation drama films.  Some parts are manipulative and the same feel occurs in BOYHOOD.  The segment in which Ethan Hawke teaches his daughter and son about safe sex comes off as too smug.  The film takes off though when the country style music sets in.  This is when the film glides on naturally and has an easy flow.

Patricia Arquette delivers an Oscar winning performance as the single mother of two kids that goes through more marriages in order to stabilize her family life.  Arquette shows both vulnerability and strength, sexiness as well as a fading beauty that has now become a mother.  Hawke, the perpetual smooth talker talks himself out of most of his difficulties in the film.  But the two kid actors are superb.  One wonders the reason Linklater picked the boy instead of the girl (his real daughter) as the protagonist in the film.  He could go either way.

BOYHOOD is more interesting as a project than what has turned out.  Unfortunately, in the 12 years, something got lost in the way.  Linklater’s film runs way too long at 160 minutes with a cop-out ending.  But the most important question is whether anyone cares for the kid?  The audience did at the start but the filming got lost in the way with the character developing into a slacker from a victim.

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ys-mbHXyWX4&feature=kp

CINEMANOVELS (Canada 2013) **

Directed by Terry Miles


The Canadian film CINEMAVOVELS, shot in Vancouver tells the story of a young woman, Grace (Lauren Lee Smith) prepares a memorial film retrospective for her late estranged father, his work begins to influence her life in strange and significant ways.

Miles has worked before with bother Jennifer Beals and Smith.  Their last film A NIGHT FOR FLYING TIGERS also observed destructive relationships.

Director Miles does not create a very likeable heroine.  It is often that a viewer connects with the lead and liking the film often follows liking the lead.  Grace here, cheats on her husband, rampages into her father’s mistress’ house, makes no effort to plan the retrospective for her father and tells off her confidante (Jennifer Beals).

There is a scene in which Grace appears upset with Ben for falling asleep when they both watch one of her father’s past films.  This is counteract to her ignoring all other father’s films before his death, so who is she to suddenly judge?

Ben Cotton is the ideal actor to portray Ben, the sleazy, weirdly off husband, Ben  He comes right across from the start as a bit of a weirdo, which director Miles uses t maximum effect especially in the sex scene,

The idea of showing clips of the father’s successful art films imply that director Miles is capable for doing the same.  But what appears on screen is far from similar.  Making up unconnected segments with artsy looks and odds dialogue like: “Don’t wear underwear,” comes across as unintentionally funny.  Miles’ intentionally funny parts, however, like the sexual innuendo segment are nut funny at all.  The central ideal of the film of art imitating life an vice versa is also a well worn up hem especially in the Woody Allen films.

Though there is nothing major wrong with CINEMANOVELS, the film just plods along.  One wishes for something more drastic or exciting to happen in Mile’s effort.  The film feels like  Woody Allen film with much less humour and fewer characters.

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Yal5FzNXe4k



Directed by Roberts Gannaway


PLANES: RESCUE & FIRE or simply PLANES 2 is the third of the Disney toy vehicle animated features after CARS and PLANES.  PLANES was original made intended straight for video, so like that one, not that much money had been invested into production of this latest feature.  It shows though the film will undoubtedly be a big money maker (with the toys tie-in) for Disney Studios.

PLANES: FIRE & RESCUE inherits all the same problems with the initial two of the series.  It is difficult to identify vehicles to human beings.  The vehicles have no arms or legs, just painted eyes and a smiling mouth.  It is also difficult to identify one vehicle from the other, though director Gannaway (director of other Disney videos - this is his first feature) has gone through great lengths to make them distinguishable from one another, such as voice, size and colour of the planes.

The central character is once again Dusty (Voiced by Dane Cook) who now is unable to race due to faulty engine parts which cannot be replaced due to absolution of Dusty’s damaged parts.  Dusty opts to join the firefighters under Blade Ranger (Ed Harris) and applies to get certification.  In the process, he proves his bravery and of course, saves the day with the possibility of another film in the making.

One must admire the filmmakers for trying very hard to humanize the story and to provide a fresh look to the story-line.  But it is still a monumental task and the film fails to engage from start to finish.  The film plays it safe and formulaic, a fixed trait in Disney films that have proven time and again to bring in money for their films.  But critically-wise, there is little that have not been seen here before.

It does not help that the film lacks a true evil villain.  The park superintendent with his eye for money appears to be the best the story can come up with.  But the fire fighting scenes (the film is shot for 3-D and real 3-D and all that) are stunning to look at and aids distracting of the film’s lack of a strong narrative.

The jokes are plentiful but not that funny.  Rudy Rotter is a character and the big party is held at the ‘fusilage’.  The music is mostly country western to tie in with audiences that favour working with vehicles in their spare time.

The film contains a few eye-opening information bits like the red spray used by the fire fighting planes to control the forest fires.  The film is dedicated (as indicated in the opening credits) to firefighters who have risk their lives to saver others.  That is as inspirational as the film gets.!

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OzWygkJlGcQ


SEX TAPE (USA 2014) *

Directed by Jake Kasdan


A simple bawdy premise of a married couple, Annie (Cameron Diaz) and Jay (Jason Segel) filming their own sex tape that is accidentally uploaded on the internet turns out to be a tired one-joke unfunny comedy.

Besides the main plot, the subplots involve the couple trying to steal an iPad from her new prospective boss, Hank (Rob Lowe) with their friends, Robby (Rob Corddry) and Tess (Ellie Kemper); then breaking into a YouPorn facility to retrieve their tape and a few other unfunny unimaginative ones.  The result is a total bore lasting a full 90 minutes.

Segel has lost a whole lot of weight since his FORGETTING SARAH MARSHALL and actually looks slim and sexy enough for this sex video comedy that has to include ‘mild’ sex scenes.  He and Diaz both bare skin.  But like their marriage that has lost the spark, Diaz and Segel lack the chemistry that makes a good romantic screen couple.  Their kissing less sex scenes make the audience feel terribly uncomfortable.

Kasdan’s film has no flow or pacing and the script primarily written by Kate Angelo is short on laughs and uninspired comedic set-ups.  A typical unfunny segment involves 5 minutes of Jay getting off Annie's roller blades before having sex.

The only pleasant surprise is a cameo appearance by Jack Black as the head of a YouPorn facility turning in the most non-irritating performance of his career.

There is nothing much else to say about this bad film except for the fact that I laughed only once.  This has to do with the repeated joke of eccentric Hank hanging portraits of his face in weird film scenes around his mansion.

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UONPSa1VgWw


SNOWPIERCER (USA/South Korea 2013) ****

Directed by Bong Joon-Ho


SNOWPIERCER is nasty piece of work.  The film is disturbing in the sense that it highlights the evil in man from start to finish and seen in both the hero and various villains.  At one point, the film got so intense I was almost unable to bear watching what is occurring on screen.  But don’t get me wrong.  Bong’s (MOTHER, THE HOST, MEMORIES OF MURDER - all excellent films) is literally a hell of a ride from start to finish filled sight spectacular special effects with hardly a dull moment.

SNOWPIERCER is based on the French graphic novel Le Transperceniege by Jacques Lob.  It was reported that Bong was so enthralled by the novel that he read it from start to end at the book shelf.  A labour of love, the film cost $40 million to make and has already grossed double that in South Korea.  Surprising that The Weisntein Company is playing down this rather awesome film.

In 2014, an experiment to counteract global warming causes an ice age that kills nearly all life on Earth.  The only survivors are the inhabitants of SNOWPIERCER, a massive train, powered by a perpetual-motion engine, that travels on a globe-spanning track.  A class system is installed, with the elites inhabiting the front of the train and poor inhabiting the tail.  The train circles the earth once every year.

The film takes place in 2031.  There is a slight flaw here in that the Jamie Bell character, Edgar was a baby when the train began and 2031 makes him the age of a mere 17.  Bell looks young but 17 is pushing it.  The hero of the piece is Curtis (Chris Evans) leading the tail inhabitants in revolt, forcing their way through several train cars to the prison section. There,  they release prisoner Namgoong Minsu (Song Kang-ho), the man who built the doors dividing each car, and his daughter Yona (Go Ah-sung). They offer him Kronol, an addictive drug, as payment for unlocking the remaining doors.   The film is highlighted by several villains, the best of which is Mason (Tilda Swinton), ready to betray anyone for her own purpose.

The film is shot in various languages, English, Korean and a little French included and includes an international cast.  But the logistics of the train is what steals the show.  The train’s interior is frighteningly claustrophobic while the exterior is a frozen ice age.  The battle scenes are inventive (in the dark when the train enters a tunnel) and a kaleidoscope of colours and riches as Curtis and his men advance towards the front of the train.  The climax includes a good plot twist, indicating that story is of prime importance in any film including an action blockbuster.

But the film is not without humour.  The kids classroom segment in which the children are brainwashed by ‘teacher’ (Alison Pill) is both laugh-out loud hilarious and satirical.

SNOWPIERCER will inevitably be compared to the Hollywood blockbuster TRANSFORMERS: AGE OF EXTINCTION due to the proximity of their releases.  It is wishful thinking that SNOWPIERCER will get the credit it deserves, if not make a portion of the money it deserves at the box-office.

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=r6UmqNuMdY4&feature=kp

WISH I WAS HERE (USA 2014) ***
Directed by Zac Braff


From the writer/actor/director of the cult Sundance hit GARDEN STATE, WISH I WERE  HERE again playing an actor dealing with his father Saul’s (Mandy Patinkin) upcoming death due to cancer.  In GARDEN STATE, it was the mother’s death.

As Braff is Jewish, his film is naturally Jewish as well.  Aidan Bloom (Braff) sends his children to a private Jewish school.  The script contains lots of Hebrew words and the film is filled with Jewish jokes, which are actually quite funny.

WISH I WAS HERE is a comedy drama dealing with death and relationships.  The family is stressed as the number one importance.  (“If you don’t believe in God, believe in family!” - is a line in the movie.  Aidan is always keeping the kids and his wife (Kate Hudson).    As the ‘death’ topic is rather heavy, Braff fills his film with lots of jokes.  “What are you growing?”  Saul asks at one point, “Typhoid of Hepatitis B?” referring to his son’s empty pool.  The jokes elevate the movie over dreariness for sure.

Braff, quite a good-looker judging from all the magazine shoots he has been in, mopes around the film, unshaven and with hair dishevelled most of the time.  Braff is generous to give his co-star Kate Hudson the best looks as well as the script’s best lines, as in the daughter-in-law/father death bed scene.

WISH I WERE HERE is as good as GARDEN STATE though less inventive, and is the typical indie film that emerges from Sundance.

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aCponfeWNOI&feature=kp

YOU ARE NOT I (USA 1981) ***

Directed by Sara Driver


TIFF Cinematheque presents indie filmmaker Sara Driver.  She will introduce her 58-minute feature, a low budget but mesmerizing work elegantly shot by Jim Jarmusch.

Directed by Driver and written by Jarmusch, YOU ARE NOT I follows a woman that walks as if unseen and not much unlike the undead.  The narrative voice over informs the audience on what is going on, so that the audience is not in the dark like the protagonist.  Slow moving but never dull, the film has been appropriately described as a dreamlike psychodrama reminiscent of David Lynch’s ERASERHEAD.

YOU ARE NOT I will be preceded by the 10-minute short entitled THE BOWERY - SPRING 1994, a deftly edited but exhaustive portrait of the infamous Lower East Side neighbourhood, tracing its history from one-time prominence to the prototypical Skid Row.

Trailer: http://www.dailymotion.com/video/xlc0ld_you-are-not-i-trailer_shortfilms

(Special Screening is on July 24th at 630pm at Bell Lightbox)

Best Pics of the Week:

Comedy: 22 Jump Street

Action: Transformers: Age of Extinction

Foreign: Snowpiercer (South Korea)

Horror: Under the Skin

Doc: Whitey: United States V. James J. Bulger

Romance: They Came Together

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