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This Week's Film Reviews (Aug 22, 2014)

22 Aug 2014

 

WHEN THE GAME STANDS TALL  and SIN CITY: A DAME TO KILL FOR  are two blockbusters opening this week.

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TIFF Cinematheque is running a Robert Altman retrospective and a series on 'sequels'.

FILM REVIEWS:

Are You Here (USA 2014) **

Directed by Matthew Weiner

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Writer/director Matthew Weiner’s (TV’s MAD MEN) feature debut is a mixed bag of ticks.  Looking like a comedy perhaps like THE HANGOVER, it also treads serious dramatic water.  Weiner’s film is actually mostly about pretty serious stuff, and deals with a lot of key issues like the environment, family dysfunction, bromance and romance, some done well and others not.

The film starts off as a buddy movie with Steve Dallas (Owen Wilson) and Ben Baker (Zach Galifianakis).  The two are complete opposites, Steve holding a TV local weatherman job and bedding the girls while Ben is jobless, clueless and womanless.  But Ben has a thing about helping the environment though has not clyde how to go about it.  Then Ben inherits his estranged father's fortune. but has to battle the legal challenge brought by his formidable sister (Amy Poehler), who claims him mentally unfit.

There are a few weird things that run throughout the film.  Steve and Ben always end smoking up, thought there is really any need to show this.  Te running appearance of Amish folk, often giving solid advice, however, is hilarious though it does not enhance plot credibility.

But Weiner basically cannot decide how t play his film.  As stated, this film can hardlybe called a comedy or a serious drama.  The mood swings.  When Ben finally shaves off his bear near the last third of the film (the first time audiences see Galifianakis clean shaven), the character and actor both undergo welcome change. To this critic. jack Black and Galifianakis are  the two most irritating actors on the planet.  The often scream out their lines, try their best to look cool when they are not and just create unfunny jokes half the time.  But when Ben is clean shaven, he actually stops shouting his lines (ok - he does just once) and creates a changed character.  But it is Amy Poehler that steals the show as the hateful sister who eventually turns over a new leaf.

Weiner’s introduction of the romance between Steve and Ben’s stepmother (Laura Ramsey) is awkward and does not match the proceedings.  Worst is the fact that Ben has slept with her too.  And even worst is the corny scene of kissing in the rain.

WERE YOU HERE? also contains a boing middle before getting moving along.  But Weiner’s film contains nothing sensational or different that has not seen seen in buddy or dysfunctional family film before.

The film opens simultaneously in theatres and on VOD (video on demand) on the 22nd.

Trailer: https://www.yahoo.com/movies/are-you-here-exclusive-trailer-zach-galifianakis-87904092037.html

THE ONE I LOVE (USA 2014) ****

Directed by Charlie McDowell

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There has been many films about doppelgangers (last year had THE DOUBLE and PRISONER) but never one with double dopplegangers.

A rare experience an an excellent movie going one, McDowell’s meticulously plotted film written by Justin Laser works so well that it was a surprise that he revealed that a lot of the lines were improvised by the actors.

Though light and humorous, the film is more a drama with lots of anticipation, much, much more than found in a whodunit.  For those who like a good suspense thriller THE ONE I LOVE is it, and though the last twist in the plot is predictable, the film still satisfies.

The film starts off with a couple, Ethan (Mark Duplass) and Sophie (Elisabeth Moss) having a session with their therapist (Ted Danson).  Having insurmountable relationship problems the therapist suggests they spend some quality time at a retreat.  At this time, the film feels like a romantic drama.  But at the retreat home, Ethan engages in wonderful sex with Sophie the first night after smoking some pot.  The next morning, Sophie denies that they had sex.  Later, she has a nice encounter with Ethan that Ethan denies ever happened.   It becomes apparent to Ethan (who hilariously describes it both as Twilight Zone shit and a cosmic aberration) what is going on and he confronts Sophie that there exists doubles of themselves.  They play the game to their advantage but things get messy.

This is not the first time fantasy has been used to solve relationship problems in a film.  Woody Allen used the premise in THE PURPLE ROSE OF CAIRO and MIDNIGHT IN PARIS.  In fact, THE ONE I LOVE has the same feel as those Allen moves till the last third when things get really weird and the film heads into Lynchian territory.  But unlike MULHOLLAND DRIVE where David Lynch drives his film to an illogical end, everything is mostly explained here.  The best thing about McDowell’s film is that it feels wholly original.

To help the audience tell one character from another, the real Ethan goes around wearing glasses while his doppelganger goes without.  Moss and Duplass make an excellent befuddled couple who radiate that their love for each other is not lost despite the current state of affairs.

But the film is so well constructed that it is hard to pinpoint any flaw in the logic of events.  McDowell also takes his film to a perfect ending to the Mamas and Papas familiar song ‘Dedicated to the One I Love’.

This Film can also be labelled a romantic comedy or dramedy of sorts and one wishes romantic comedies had more ingenuity like his one.

Highly recommended!

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

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

SIN CITY: A DAME TO KILL FOR (USA 2014) ***
Directed by Robertson Rodriguez and Frank Miller

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Frank Miller’s (writer and co-directer) graphic novel adaptation into comic book style the graphic movie would be more appropriately called SIN CITY: A DAME TO DIE FOR as more guys end up dead rather than alive for their one sin - love for the voluptuous dames.

This R-rating film has lots of gory and violence to satisfy adults - especially those that might be disappointed with THE EXPENDABLES 3’s downgraded R-Rating.  This film will have the audience cringing at the fingers broken by pliers, eyes gouged out from the head and multiple dismemberments during the many gory segments.   But all this should be taken in good stride as it is all good old dirty fun, if audiences just remember that this is only a movie.

The plot is made up of 4 independent stories but linked with one or more common characters.  The film begins with ‘Just Another Saturday Night’ with John Hartigan (Bruce Willis) reuniting with stripper Nancy (Jessica Alba) as witnessed by Marv (Mickey Rourke) as he awakes after being beaten up.  The story shifts to “The Long Bad Night” with young Johnny (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) beating Senator Roark (Powers Boothe) at poker only to end up physically beaten up.  Then the shift is to “A Dame to Kill For” in which Dwight McCarthy (Josh Brolin) struggles with his inner demons and tries to maintain control until his former lover, Ava Lord (Eva Green).  she returns, wanting his help to escape her abusive husband, billionaire Damien Lord (Arton Csokas) and his massive bodyguard Manute.  The last story is ‘Nancy’s Last Dance’ in which Nancy of the first story hunts down the Senator.

The graphics and visuals of the film (as in the first SIN CITY and 300 films) are stunning.  At times, the film appears like a moving comic book.  The dames are usually coloured while the rest of the frame remains black and white.  The blood is usually red but not all the time.  The portrayal of SIN CITY as a downtrodden sin-filled dump is done ever so well.

But as amazing as the film looks, the novelty still wears down.  Just like the 3D effects, where audiences normally get used and not feel the 3D after a while, audiences want more from the film than looks.  The multiple stories tied loosely together mainly with the Mickey Rourke character works but the intercutting among the different tales loosens the momentum and buildup of each one.

It seems that the criteria to get hired in this film is to be extremely sexy if you are a lady or extremely ugly (Joseph Gordon-Levitt has undergo ugliness touch-ups) if you are a guy.

Directors Rodriguez and Miller do know how to build up the tension in a scene - the poker game segments are the best.  And  they keep the action segments slick, gory and violent.

Not for everyone, but for those able to handle the sex, action and violence, IN CITY: A DAME TO KILL FOR has lots to offer.

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nqRRF5y94uE

WHEN THE GAME STANDS TALL (USA 2014) ***

Directed by Thomas Carter

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There words ‘inspired by a true story’ flashes on the screen at the start of the football movie WHEN THE GAME STANDS TALL.  One can take it that the events occurred, i.e. the  winning and losing games on display but that the filmmakers have taken certain liberties in dramatizing the characterizations.

The selling point of the film is the remarkable feat of legendary football coach Bob Ladouceur (Jim Caviezel), who took the De La Salle High School Spartans (California) from obscurity to a 151-game winning streak that shattered all records for any American sport.  It is surprising that a documentary has not been made of this journey.

But the film begins with the 151st game. So the audience knows that the game is a winner but the one following is a downer with the streak lost.  This is the story the filmmakers wish to tell.  Coach Lad must teach his players - and the entire town - that the streak is not the game, a point drummed into the audience time again and one last time at the end of the film.

The film leads to a final climatic match in which the Spartans has to win the game or lose everything they have worked for.  The usual editing is there, typical in a sports match - the intercutting among the players, the ball, the spectators, the coaches on both sides, the injuries etc.  The dialogue contains the usual pick up speeches.  The script also contains the lives of the poverty stricken players and goes so far as to emphasize the accidental death of one.  But despite all those distractions, the film is supposed to be about Coach Ladouceur.  But when the film dwells back on him, as in the end game or during a funeral, the flow is erratic.

At its worst, the film dips into melodrama.  This happens when Coach lad invites the team to say whatever they want to say during a training session.  What follows are sob stories and pseudo inspirations relayed by the players.  One goes on to say that his grandfather ridden with cancer waits for him to cmd home to tell how the team played.

For a dramatic film about Coach Lad, actor Jim Caviezel delivers a very subdued performance.  Even his speeches to the team are delivered soft like advice given by a father to a son (example: the perfect effort not the perfect play is what counts) than revving up spirits.  Laura Dern makes the most of the minor written part of Lad’s wife.  The performances of the actors playing the high school kids are however, fresh and winning.

Director Thomas Carter (the forgettable SWING KIDS in 1993) has made an exciting enough sports saga but formulaic so that the winning point is the underlying story and not an major surprises.  As expected, the closing credits come with shots of the real Bob Ladoceur and a few of the footballers.  Sports fans and commercial audiences should be pleased with this film, but don’t expect anything else.

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qT0aE4iAnJo

Best Pics of the Week:

Best Film Playing: Calvary

Comedy: 22 Jump Street

Action: Transformers: Age of Extinction

Foreign: Snowpiercer (South Korea)

Horror: Under the Skin

Doc: An Honest Lie

Romance: The One I Love

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