This Week's Film Reviews (Aug 1, 2014)

31 Jul 2014

GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY and GET ON UP, two blockbusters open this week.




THE CALLING (Canada 2013) ***

Directed by Jason Stone



Based on the novel by Inger Ash Wolfe, THE CALLING sees veteran female detective Hazel Micallef (Susan Sarandon) solving a series of murders in a small town.

The Coen Brothers’ FARGO immediately comes to mind.  But both are highly different films, the only common thread being the female detective in a small town.

The small town in question is Port Dundas (now incorporated into Hamilton) a few hours drive from Toronto.  This is a Canadian made and Canadian set story, with murders taking place in all the different provinces of Canada.  It appears that the killer is fulfilling a higher calling, and hence the film’s title.  The result is a mixed horror detective film.

The story is nothing out of the ordinary.  In fact, the script by Scott Abramovitch contains nothing that audiences have not seen elsewhere before.  Detective Hazel is a hard-drinking detective with a large skeleton in the closet.  She defies her superiors, disobeys orders and obviously does not go by the book in solving her case.  She is aided by veteran Detective Ray Green (Gil Bellows) who goes by the book and an eager new recruit from Toronto, Ben Wingate (Topher Grace).  A mother (Ellen Burstyn) daughter relationship is thrown in as a side plot.

But it is great to see Sarandon deliver an Oscar winning performance in a Canadian film.  She also has the choice lines in the film including the words: “f*** you!”  Donald Sutherland lands his hand as an elderly priest who helps in the case.

The timeline in Hazel’s solution of the case is only indicated by the seasons.  But we see only one winter scene - the murder and the dogs eating a victim’s stomach on a frozen pond.  So, it is assumed the story takes place within a year.

Director Stone does not shy away from violence.  There is one scene that will almost guarantee the audience turn away.  (I did, and I can normally take a lot of on screen violence.)

It is surprising that director Stone executively produced the hit Seth Rogen comedy THIS IS THE END.  THE CALLING is downright dead serious, like FARGO without the humour.  But it is is not a bad movie and though a bit slow moving, THE CALLING is an absorbing watch from start to finish.

Trailer: (No trailer can be found)

GET ON UP (USA 2014) **

Directed by Tate Taylor


GET ON UP is the biopic of Godfather of Soul, James Brown (a riveting performance by Chadwick Boseman of the film 42) by the director of THE HELP, Tate Taylor.

GET ON UP bursts into life whenever James Brown performs - whether in the studio or on stage.  The choreography, songs, screaming and excitement are what made him famous and the film tick.

On the editing side, the film is a complete mess, all over the place.  But director Tate probably wanted a non-chronological narrative.  So, the film begins with a shotgun wielding James Brown at a auto seminar immediately following him transported on a plane to perform for the Vietnam soldiers.  Then in one scene, there is the car broken down, then another at a diner where a label scout is hunting down Brown and then a segment with Brown’s private plane on the tarmac.  His love life is shown sporadically on screen and one is never sure who his real woman is.  It is not surprising then that his mother (Viola Davis) shows up out of the blue, only to disappear again without a trace.  One is never too, know how one scene is going to lead.  When you think the band is going to be right telling Brown off, the scene turns out the opposite way around.    One realizes then, after seeing GET ON UP, how undisciplined THE HELP was, due to its long running length.

The biopic, like most, shows Brown’s ups and especially downs.  His wife beating, bad business sense (he never pays his band or keep finances) and vulgar outbursts are emphasized.

Boseman would likely earn himself an Oscar nomination for Best Actor given James Foxx’s success with Ray Charles biopic RAY.  Viola Davis does her dramatic best as Browns’ mother but Octavia Spencer has only two scenes in the film as the surrogate mother.  One scene has her telling the boy has the spirit - a key scene in the movie.  But the other one has her dancing with the spectators during a performance.

The film is supposedly told non-chronologically as in the titles that list the year and the songs or Brown’s nicknames as the film progresses.  Still, the continuity is in question as the film is not hard to understand but hard to follow.

The film also concentrates on key segments on Brown’s career such as the relationship between him and his promoter (Dan Akryod) which suddenly ends in a funeral scene followed by him (the promoter) collapsing from a heart attack during a gold game.  But Taylor does not attempt to link the relationship to any other part of the narrative., except to emphasize it as a highlight in Brown’s life.  As such the many highlights are displayed with no connectivity except it being the timeline in Brown’s life.  At least the film ends with his Brown’s death on Christmas Day.

Running at 133 minutes, the biopic runs too long and bores after it fails to engage this viewer.  Boseman’s performance and the the energetic songs are not enough to lift the film to the heights of Brown’s achievements.

Trailer: http://www.getonupmovie.com/post/79573996508/teaser-trailer


Directed by James Gunn


The third action blockbuster screening 3 days in a row, after LUCY and HERCULES can be a bit much even for the avid film critic.  And that is after TRANSFORMERS and SNOWPIERCER the last 2 weeks.  Again this is not the first Marvel comic book adaptation on screen this year, so watching GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY can prove quite tiring.

It does not help that the story or premise provide nothing new to the genre.  Like a cartoon version of THE DIRTY DOZEN or THE MAGNIFICENT SEVEN, a band of prisoners are picked up to save the galaxy.  An orb of some sort is supposed to be the prize catch and there is an assortment of villains wearing masks and speaking with coarse voices that makes the whole enterprise look like STAR WARS.  But do not be mistaken, this is formulaic, copied in everyday, with supposedly smart talk from each of the troop of heroes, complete with what is supposedly catchy tunes from the past.

The band of heroes is led by Star-Lord or Peter Qui (Chris Pratt).  The band includes ext Gamora (Zoe Saldana), Drax the Destroyer (Dave Bautista) and two animated  characters Groot (Vin Diesel) and Rocket, a genetically engineered racoon (Bradley Cooper).  Everyone appears to want to put their two cents worth of smart talk and one liners into the film, from start to finish.  This gets pretty tiring, not to mention that the one-liners are not that hilarious.

Gunn directed SUPER and SLITHER and appears unable to surprise audiences in any manner.  Worst of all, language, nudity and violence have been toned down for this film which is obviously catered towards a family friendly audience.

The 3D and special effects are all right and up to par for an action pic like this blockbuster production.  But the audience should be able to expect more than banter from a racoon voiced by Bradley Cooper and repeated dialogue like “I am Groot” from Vin Diesel.

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=B16Bo47KS2g


Directed by Woody Allen


MAGIC IN THE MOONLIGHT opens impressively with a Chinese magic theatrical show in Berlin 1928.  The theatre is packed full with an audience all impeccably dressed and there is a live elephant on stage.  Woody Allen’s film never matches this feat, but as in every Allen film, there are enough neat touches, sly humour and references from his previous films to satisfy his fans.

The Chinese conjuror is Wei Ling Soo (Colin Firth) the most celebrated magician of his age.  In real life, he is Stanley Crawford, a grouchy and arrogant Englishman with a sky-high opinion of himself and an aversion to phoney spiritualists' claims that they can perform real magic.  Persuaded by his life-long friend, Howard Burkan (Simon McBurney), Stanley goes on a mission to the Côte d'Azur mansion of the Catledge family: mother Grace (Jacki Weaver), son Brice (Hamish Linklater), and daughter Caroline.  He presents himself as a businessman named Stanley Taplinger in order to debunk the alluring young clairvoyant Sophie Baker (Emma Stone) who is staying there with her mother (Marcia Gay Harden).  But it is romance in the air in this Allen movie, with Stanley falling for Sophie.

The MAGIC IN THE MOONLIGHT refers to the midnight drive of the couple, when the car breaks down and they take refuge from the rain in a planetarium.  This is the part when the two fall in love.  But the segment is highly reminiscent of the run for cover from the rain with Woody Allen and Diane Keaton in ANNIE HALL.

But despite the film’s flaws, Allen’s film is gorgeous to look at.  He always utilizes the services of the best cinematographers, in this case the French Iranian Darius Khondji (EVITA, DELICATESSEN) who has worked with Allen twice before.  The film is set in the 30’s but there are no Cole Porter music here though the selection of tunes is impressive.

The romantic chemistry between Firth and Stone does not really work, as the 30-year difference between the two is clearly visible.  But this is an Allen film and age difference seldom make a difference, as in MANHATTAN and Allen’s real life.  The segment in which Stanley, Sophie and her mother go swimming is indicative of that.  Firth does not show his body only his arms resting on a rock.  In a previous shot, the age difference of the couple is emphasized with Sophie’s fiancé (Hamish Linklater) looking very comfortable in sexy bathing trunks in comparison.

The segment in which Stanley believes that Sophie is for real occurs too suddenly - especially when this event is followed by a press conference.  The same flaw occurs when Stanley suddenly realizes the futility of prayer when he regains his senses.  But Allen treats his film like a whodunit saving the revelation of the mystery’s solution at the very end.

At one point in the film, Stanley Crawford verbally despises the spiritualists that prey on the gullible but then goes on to say that the gullible are so stupid they deserve it.   In a weird referenced way, Allen is insulting his audience for believing everything he (the director who weaves his magic) puts on screen.  But Allen uses cheap tricks like the re-entry of Sophie Baker back into Stanley’s life.

MAGIC IN THE MOONLIGHT is average Allen, using reused tricks with little surprises with some lazy writing.  The only turns in the film is a bit more philosophy on life thrown in at the film’s end.  The film comes across more like used tricks rather than real magic in he moonlight.

Trailer: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LAwbwKURvm0

THE ZERO THEOREM (UK/France/Romania 2013) ***
Directed by Terry Gilliam


THE ZERO THEOREM, the latest film from Monty Python’s Terry Gilliam (BRAZIL, TWELVE MONKEYS) is as eccentric a film its main character, Qohen Leth (Christoph Waltz), a programmer that has the job ‘crunching entities’ for the company Mancom.  The theme of meaning of life appears in the film as a major concern for Qohen.  He is supposed to get an important phone call for the answer which he eagerly awaits.

He gets in trouble with management (Matt Damon) and assigned Dr Shrink-Rom (Tilda Swinton) while his supervisor Joby (David Thewlis) toys around with him.  Qohen has a fling with Bainsley (Melanie Thierry) on a beach,which is the highlight of his existence.

The dystopian future depicted here is absurdist as in Kafka-ish logic.  Human beings form an insignificant part of the big machine that ultimately does nothing.  The actual Zero Theorem described in the film is absurdly comical too.

The script is by Pat Rushin who was inspired by the Book of Ecclesiastes.  It was reported that after writing a 145-page draft, he admitted he had no idea what he was doing.  It shows in the film though this is not necessarily a bad thing.  The film flows without a strong narrative, but this gives director Gilliam more play with his material.  He milks it with all that is imaginative worth with the result of a Monty Pythonish logic type film except without the humour.

The film’s highlight are the amazing visuals.  Like THE IMAGINARIUM OF DOCTOR PARNASSUS, the inventive innovation found in the exterior shots are mind blowing from talking lips advertising billboards to the surreal beach swim segment.  The interiors with massive computers and peripheral machinery would delight BRAZIL fans.  The streets and buildings are instantly recognizable instantly as the Soho London area with the Zip cars whizzing past.  The CGI special effects are mostly used in Qohen’s dreams and computer.

Director Gilliam called this film the final of his dystopian satire trilogy after BRAZIL and TWELVE MONKEYS.  But the film is nowhere as good as those two classics.  It has, however, the same feel in look and atmosphere with his last film THE IMAGINARIUM OF DOCTOR PARNASSUS and hopefully would not be as forgettable.

The film has a limited run in Toronto and also available on VOD.  The colourful and visual ecstatic film is best seen on the big screen. 

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


Best Pics of the Week:

Comedy: 22 Jump Street

Action: Transformers: Age of Extinction

Foreign: Snowpiercer (South Korea)

Horror: Under the Skin

Doc: Life Itself

Romance: They Came Together

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