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This Week's Film Reviews (Aug 8, 2014)

07 Aug 2014

TEENAGE MUTANT NINJA TURTLES  and INTO THE STORM two blockbusters open this week.

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Smaller films include CALVARY and THE HUNDRED-FOOT JOURNEY.

FILM REVIEWS:

ABOUT ALEX (USA 2014) **

Directed by Jesse Zwick

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One might have expected director Jesse Zwick to have picked something more original than this well worn used story for his debut feature.  Not only is this a take off of THE BIG CHILL, but the story is an almost complete ripoff of the 2009 Iranian film by Asghar Farhadi entitled ABOUT ELLY.

This is a film about really annoying characters who sleep with each other, taunt the hell out of each other, argue and fight and then somehow get their act together by the end of the last reel and take a lovely group photo.  It all begins with Alex’s (Jason Ritter, son of John Ritter) attempted suicide.  So his circle of 20-something college buddies reunite for a weekend to cheer him up and yes, irritate the hell out of each other (and the audience) in the mean time.  Despite the group's best efforts to keep it light and enjoy themselves, a tinderbox of old jealousies, unrequited love, and widening political differences leads to an explosion that, coupled with the flammable combination of drugs (- but not to worry, only pot here), wine, and risotto, cannot be contained.  (See image of asshole and prude.)

The most interesting character is Josh (Max Greenfield), the biggest asshole of the group.  It is interesting to see how Zwick has written the worst lines for him and then turns him into a likeable guy at the end, for no reason at all.  For a film of this genre, all the predictable elements are present.  The group break out into impromptu dance; they cook fantastic meals in the kitchen and some talk about the old days with shots of the characters younger.   But Zwick’s film should contain more humour than at present.  THE BIG CHILL was funnier and though the gathering of a dysfunctional college group is the least of my favourite film genres, humour would have elevated the film’s bogged down artificial drama.

When the film finally comes to a close, it will turn out that the film’s most likeable character is the black dog.  And not because the dog is so cute, but that it has the least dialogue to say.

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

CALVARY (UK/Ireland 2013) ****
Directed by John Michael McDonagh

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John Michael McDonagh’s (THE GUARD) critically acclaimed Irish-set film opens with Father James (Brendan Gleeson) listening to a confession.  His unseen parishioner explains that he had tasted semen when he was only seven, and had been abused orally and anally since then.  When Father James asks if he should file a complaint, the reply is that the guilty priest is already dead and he want to kill up righteous priest Father James as revenge and retaliation as that would make the difference.  Father James is given the following Sunday to put his affairs in order and to meet his death on the beach.

That is quite the beginning.  McDonagh’s film works then on several levels - a whodunit, an examination and criticism of the Roman Catholic priesthood and on the cinematic level, a black comedy and drama.

CALVARY is a brilliant little film in many ways.  It teases and wallows in the mud to reveal the light.  The film is so dark at times,  it will disturb and yet the dark humour is hilarious.  It also works as a whodunit with the many suspects thrown out to the audience that the guilty one is hard to predict.  The best thing  is what the script delivers as obvious turns out to be a decoy at the end.

McDonagh is brave enough to cast many comedians in serious roles.  Chris O’Dowd from BRIDESMAIDS plays the smart husband who figures out his wife and himself are better off with her being infidel while FATHER TED’s Ardal O’Hanlon plays the insecure sex addict.  But it is Gleeson that carries the film off, delivering a sensitive, intelligent yet fierce performance, dwarfing all the other actors, but in a  good way.

The film is set in Sligo County where the nearby beach is comprised of black rocks washed by high waves.  The beautiful Irish landscapes is the film’s added bonus.

CALVARY finally triumphs, just as it is the good will of man that eventually triumphs over evil.  But it is a wicked journey to the road to CALVARY.  But it is a well rewarding journey though a difficult one to make.  In the film, a character tells Father James: “This is what like about you.  You are too sharp for this parish.”  CALVARY is one of the most intelligent films I have seen this year.  Hopefully the film will not be too sharp for audiences to appreciate.

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LGM5rq_vX4U

AN HONEST LIAR (USA/Spain.Italy/Canada 2014) ***
Directed by Tyler Measom, Justin Weinstein

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In the film, an honest liar is one that lies to reveal as opposed to one that lies to deceive.  The subject of this documentary of one such honest liar is the world-famous magician, escape artist, and world-renowned enemy of deception, James 'The Amazing' Randi.

The film brings to life Randi's intricate investigations that publicly exposed psychics, faith healers, and con-artists with quasi-religious fervour.   The film follows Randi around on his exploits while he speaks directly to the camera on his philosophy on life.  He basically wants to save those fooled by psychics and healers who dupe the public out of their money.  A nice turn near the end of the film has thee people turn on him.  These people are shown as ‘idiots’ who want to be duped for being afraid of the truth while all Randi can do is glare in disbelief.

The audience is most riled up during the segments when Randi uses his expertise to reveal the dishonest liars.  The top two on his list are the metal bender and Reverend Popov (who Randi admits is the bottom of the sum) what Randi finally exposes.  Directors Measom and Weinstein allow these two to defend themselves, but it is clear that they haunting much to say after the embarrassment.

Directors Measom and Wesinstein play their film well.  The film won the Best Documentary award at the Newport Beach Film Festival.  They chose a fairly intriguing subject, an honest man who has made his life long goal a worthwhile one.  Randy is a  great man in his own way, but he is shown to he human with problems of his own, and also a sad man despite all the jokes he constantly cracks around people.   The film reveals more towards the end with a neat twist when Randi himself is forced to come out of the closet (at the age of 81) and stop living that lie.

The film turns dramatic when Randi's created fictional characters, fake psychics, and even turned his partner of 25 years, the artist Jose Alvarez, into a sham guru named Carlos.  At one point, he is angry at the filmmakers for revealing too much about his personal life.

The audience grows to respect the bearded man known as Randi James by the end of the last reel, the same person that appears annoying at the film start, a Houdini wannabe.  A nice feat from directors Measom and Weinstein who unfortunately claim at the end of this entertaining documentary that they are still in debt and asking the audience for donations.

Randi himself will be present on the Friday Aug 8th 6.30pm showing for an Q&A after the screening.  That should be a blast!

Trailer: http://vimeo.com/91847894

THE HUNDRED-FOOT JOURNEY (USA 2014) **

Directed by Lasse Hallstrom

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Swede director Lasse Hallstrom (MY LIFE AS A DOG, CHOCOLAT,  WHAT’S EATING GILBERT GRAPE?) is well known for his sentimental melodramas that often delight audiences so much so that critics will forgive him for his excesses.  In his latest THE HUNDRED-FOOT JOURNEY, he goes overboard with the culinary nonsense of blending Indian and French cuisine (with maybe fusion); an awkward inter-racial romance and the old bullshit that the patriarch of the family is always right.

The story, based on a novel by Richard C. Morais and adapted by Stephen Knight (LOCKE) follows an upcoming Indian chef, Hassan Kadam (Manish Dayal) who has moved with his family from Mumbai due to political unrest.  After trying London, Papa (Om Puri) settles instead for a small cozy town in France after the car breaks down there.  The silly reasoning of the brakes breaking down for a reason is given.

Ones tolerance for Hallstrom takes its limits in the scene in which one of Madame Mallory’s chefs, Jean-Pierre is fired for burning down the Indian restaurant.  Madame makes him read out in both French and English the French National Anthem and then goes on about Liberty, Fraternity and Equality before telling him to pack his knives and get out.  This is cheap theatrics in the highest order aimed to manipulate audiences to believe in the the colours of the French flag.

The romance between the two budding chefs, Hassan and Madame Mallory’s sous-chef, Marguerite (Charlotte Le Bon) looks and feels awkward.  Thank God they left the probable romance between Madame Mallory and Papa alone.  The other part with Chef Hassan attaining fame in Paris and finally getting his Michelin third star is pushing the limit.  Not only that, but the film starts to really lag in interest.

One bright surprise comes a cameo by Michel Blanc (MONSIEUR HIRE) playing the bewildered but always well fed town major forced to listen to the squabbles of the two restauranteurs.  Helen Mirren is excellent in the role of the pompous Madame Mallory and the fact that she had a role in THE QUEEN is briefly made mentioned in the script’s dialogue.  But she is British and one would have hoped to see one of France’s prominent actresses in the role of Madame instead - say Catherine Frot.

Besides the culinary scenes where one can drool over both the Indian and French cuisine, the tired tale of the coming together of two cultures is drab and dull for the most part.  The lack of humour in what is expected to be a comedy/drama is glaringly obvious.  Even the Queen cannot save the day!

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yEO1TWeM5JU

INTO THE STORM (USA 2014) **

Directed by Steven Quale

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INTO THE STORM is one film that audiences will see for their insatiable curiosity for tornadoes.  The film satisfies visually in terms of special effects courtesy of CGI, but the other aspect i.e. the education is sadly missing.

INTO THE STORM is not the first film made on storms.  THE PERFECT STORM and TWISTER are two films that immediately come to mind, and many still have the latter film with the flying cows still fresh in the mind.  In INTO THE STORM, as in TWISTER, the core group on screen is a group of tornado chasers, this one led by Pete (Matt Walsh).  At the start of the film, it appears that a random group of characters are dumped into the script (as disaster films often do) but these characters are linked together quite soon, thankfully.  Some human element, no matter how silly has to be included into action blockbusters or else the film feels empty.  Like in TRANSFORMERS 4, it is the father children relationship (replacing the romantic element) that is put into the picture.  The Vice President of a high school (the role of the President is reserved for the Obama actor look-alike), Gary Morris (Richard Armitage) is having relationship problems with the elder son, Jacob (Jeremy Sumpter), who takes off during the graduation ceremonies to be at a chemical site with his girl friend, Kaitlyn (Alycia Debnam-Carey).  Lo and behold, the twister strikes both places, the high school ceremony and the site and a major part of the film has him looking for his son.  Another subplot (hum drum duplication here) has a member of the twister case team, Allison Stone (Sarah Wayne Callies) needing to spend more time with her 5-year old daughter.  So-so comical relief is provided by the two drunk slackers who want to capture the action to upload on YouTube.

No one really cares for these human stories.  Director Quale takes a full 40 minutes of screen time before the first storm appears.  But the wait is worthwhile and the audience is wowed as the sky turns dark and the twisters form on screen.  Quale also ups the angst by putting the audience in the eye of the tornado.  The film’s best segment has the tank is taken up for a twirl right up into the sky.

The ‘found footage’ approach helps distracts the audience a bit from the hollowness of the plot.  The 25-year time capsule video project attempted by the Morris sons is more laughable than believable.

But one would imagine the audience would just be as interested in the theory of the twisters - how they are formed, how long they last and what paths they take.  The script only offers a few teasing solutions like giving the speed of the winds.  Apparently, one character in the film, Stone has a degree on the subject of storms so more theory should have been included in the script.

The climax is neatly put together with the biggest tornado hitting the characters all holed up in a hint manhole.  But the casualties in the film are too predictable (not mentioned in the review).  No cows are killed in the film a well, only large numbers of tractors, planes, buses, trucks and cars.

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LnTnbdd859A

LAND HO! (USA/Iceland 2014) **

Directed by Martha Stephens and Aaron Katz

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A pair of ex-brothers-in-law (the reason for ‘ex’ is explained early on in the film) set off to Iceland in an attempt to reclaim their youth through Reykjavik nightclubs, trendy spas, and rugged campsites.

Mitch (Earl Lynn Nelson) is the one paying for the trip and the wild one.  Paul (Paul Eenhoorn) is the tamer but he is still game for a good time.  This bawdy adventure is a throwback to 1980s road trip comedies with lots of movie references thrown in along the way.   The film touches practically the issues aging, loneliness, and friendship without being preachy.

But one wishes that directors Katz and Stephens did not go for the cheap laughs.  The smoking of joints, flirtation with younger women and smart talk are supposed to let the audience believe that Mitch and Paul are pretty cool guys and not dirty old men.

Nothing much happens in this film.  And that is the trouble with LAND HO!  Nothing much happens.  But the Icelandic landscape from the unfrozen ponds, to the geysers and hot springs to the volcanic soil is stunning.

It is difficult to crucify a film like LAND HO! which is simple, good hearted and well-intentioned.  But it is like watching a teen comedy, only at the other end of the spectrum.  Fart jokes are also present.  The jokes may be more meaningful and funnier if one is around the age of 60, if not LAND HO! is quite the boring affair.  The film does provide a good travelogue guide and an incentive to visit Iceland.

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

SENORITAS (Colombia/Canada 2014) **

Directed by Lina Rodriguez

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SENORITAS is the feature film debut of TIFF publicist Lina Rodriguez Colombian descent living in Toronto.

Her minimalist film follows a girl, Alejandra (Maria Serrano) in her late 20’s or perhaps early 30’s hanging around a bunch of friends.  She lives with her mother (played by Rodriguez’s real mother) who is a tad too nosy on her whereabouts and friends.

In one interview with Lina Rodriguez, she mentioned the 8-minute take of her protagonist  walking home in the night.  She mentioned that the intention is to show her loneliness while also indicating a fear factor as anything could happen to her.  (But it is to be noted that a song with the lyrics and title of ‘Loneliness’ has just blared on the screen, so the first part of the intention is already realized.)  For a 90-minute movie, this is a tenth of the film’s running time, not to mention that there are 3 segments with the camera behind Senorita’s back neck with nothing much going on.  Is the Rodrigues doing the Dardennes Brothers and Bela Tarr (apparently Rodriguez’s influence).

Nothing much happens in SENORITAS.  The film can best be described as an observational film.  If one wants to read more into the movie, one can, especially in the climatic swimming pool scene, but the discovery can be personal and inconsequential.  But the film, while moving at a snail’s pace, teases more than reveals - and this can be quite the annoyance to the typical commercial moviegoer.

Rodriguez’s camerawork is basically similar from start to finish.  Her camera is stationary and her actors act within the frame.  The only time a mild difference occurs is towards the end of the film when the camera moves left to right and then right to let to capture the actor’s dialogue.  One can imagine the frustration of the actors working within the frame and likely having to do multiple takes.  One immediately is aware to that there are no drops of water on the camera lens in the swimming pool scene to Rodriguez’s credit.  One wishes that she would pull her camera back more often instead of having her actors in the audience’s face most of the time.

Rodriguez said during that interview that she had problems with funding as the short features she had to show were basically experimental works (rhythm and shadow) with no narrative.  So it is not surprising that SENORITAS turns out to be a non commercial film with no strong narrative.
Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2C0jDXQJmPQ

TEENAGE MUTANT NINJA TURTLES (USA 2014) **

Directed by Jonathan Liebesman

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TEENAGE MUTANT NINJA TURTLES is a reboot of the original 1990 film adaptation of the Peter Laird comic book TV series that also spurned two sequels and one other TNMT.

The film opens with darkness settling over New York City as Shredder and the Foot Clan hold politicians in their power.  Crime is out of hand.  Meanwhile the TMNT are still being trained beneath the sewers and not allowed to appear in public till ready.  All this is told via voiceover before the film settles on the film’s protagonist, which happens to be human being, a fearless news reporter, April O’Neil (Megan Fox) who would do anything to get a story.

The dark atmosphere of the comic book is kept in the film while keeping the action and dialogue tongue-in-cheek.  The story is pretty much unchanged except for a few changes. Whoopi Goldberg has a welcome part as Bernadette Thompson, April’s supervisor who finally fires her.  April’s romantic interest (Will Arnett) is also present, but not enough to distract the audience too much from the action.

As the original audience of the series are presently in their 30’s the humour is catered towards the more mature.  For example, there is a sexual innuendo joke about the ‘froth’ on coffee.  There are also plenty of product placements (Pizza Hit, Victoria Secret) to annoy critics. But they are done so blatantly unlike with humour as in Michael Bay’s TRANSFORMERS 4.

The final climatic fight sequences are exciting enough (too much CGI and 3D) but nothing than has not been seen in recent action films like TRANSFORMERS 4 and DAWN OF THE PLANET OF THE APES.

Director Liebesman (BATTLE: LOS ANGELES, WRATH OF THE TITANS) does an ok job but there is no ingenuity or innovation on display here.

The first TEENAGE MUTANT NINJA TURTLES film cost $13.5 million to make and made over $200 million box-office.  This new reboot cost $125 million with super special effects and the Michael Bay touch.  It would be interesting to see how much it will make.

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dwXFsrp6WBs

 

 

Best Pics of the Week:

Best Film Opening: Calvary

Comedy: 22 Jump Street

Action: Transformers: Age of Extinction

Foreign: Snowpiercer (South Korea)

Horror: Under the Skin

Doc: An Honest Lie

Romance: Magic in the Moonlight

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