This Week's Film Reviews (Oct 10, 2014)

09 Oct 2014

Big Films opening include DRACULA UNTOLD and ALEXANDER.  Other films opening include THE JUDGE and KILL THE MESSENGER.

2 series continue at Bell Lightbox.  TIFF Cinematheque presents Godard Part 2 and Wes Craven.



DIRTY WEEKEND (LE WEEKEND) (France 2013) ***

Directed by Christophe Granier-Deferre


DIRTY WEEKEND, originally titled LE WEEKEND sees some pretty nastiness covered up as mild comedy.  If the script or direction took the material into farcical territory, the film could have worked better.  

The dirty weekend takes a romantic couple to Normandy, north of France.  But do not expect to see French Normandy as the action takes place at a cottage that could very well by anywhere in the U.K.

On a ferry boat bound for France, Trish (Kristy Oswald), a 17-year old school girl is on her way to spend a long planned weekend away with her lover and history teacher Mike Mallory (Jamie Parker of THE HISTORY BOYS and VALKYRIE), 34 years old, yet still boyishly handsome.   This is underage pedophile territory, the subject often just dismissed as a laugh in the film.  After a short drive, the couple arrive at a small idyllic country house.  Taking a tour round the house, the romantic setting is suddenly shattered as the couple discover broken glass and muddy footprints.  They search the house for the intruder and finally find Vincent (Pierre Perrier), inside the bathroom.  He lies deathly still, eyes closed and has blood caked all over his forehead with an oversized duffle bag filled with cash by his side.  Trish wants to do the right thing, but Mike convinces Trish they should stash the money and destroy the bag it came in. Meanwhile Vincent wakes up – not dead after all, but wishes he was, until he remembers the money.

The film appears to have a simple plot, but as the saying goes, the plot thickens.  Trish is pregnant unknown to Mike.  Mike had intended to murder her to save his reputation.  Mike blackmails Vincent to do the deed as he is too chicken for murder.  Gendarmes show up and in their own words, rather let them kill each off other than interfere.

The script does not bother to explain in detail where the gold coins came from or how this good-looking Vincent could be such a cold blooded killer.  The script has to let the audience believe that any one of the three is capable of murder, given the right opportunity.

The film is not half bad but the laughs are few and far between.  But there is one really funny line that Trish spurts out (will not be spoiled in the review) just before she hits Vincent with a shovel.  The many plot developments distract from the film’s lack of hilarity, so the film turns up quite watchable.  the film is available on VOD and DVD from October 14th, if one wants to spend a nice evening with murder on the menu.  The film is shot in English with a little French.

(No trailer found)


Directed by Gary Shore


DRACULA UNTOLD begins with a lengthy voiceover of the origin of the monster imprisoned in a cave, while the Turks invade a Kingdom to force all the boys to fight for them.  Later, one of them, Vlad, the Prince returns to his Kingdom only to be invaded again by the Turks unless 100 more children are given to them for conquering new lands.   So this Prince (Luke Evans) enlists Dracula’s power to save his Kingdom.  But in the process, puts himself in grave danger of becoming the monster forever, unless he refrains from drinking blood again for the next 3 days.  The silly script just makes rules like these as the film trods along.

Running at around 95 minutes, the film feels like 3 hours.  The IMAX gave me a big  headache rather than spectacle.

The film also purports the origin of Dracula.  But Dracula existed before this story, so the heading is a misnomer.  But this is not the only thing terrible wrong with the film.  There is one scene in which the enemy Turks are all blindfolded and matched to fight because as the voiceover says, “You cannot be afraid of what you cannot see….”  Not only is this a load of illogical crap, but in the film’s next segment, what has been said is entirely forgotten and the blindfolds on the men are totally gone.  The film’s original running time according to imdb is 2 hours, so something must have been cut along the way without any due consideration for continuity.

The film is deadly serious with the humour in unintentional lines like the one uttered by Vlad: “It’s not a child’s place to save a country.  I’ll find a way.”  Or the laughable message: “Those who love last forever!”

The film’s main plus is the CGI special effects, which are abundant from start to finish.  But if one man (Dracula) can wipe out an entire army with his bats, then the suspense is non-existent.

Worst still, the film plays with the vampire myth.  Sunlight still burns Dracula’s flesh, but not enough for him to die.  He can still cover up to fight and win.  Dracula is now with the werewolves able to be killed now by silver bullets.  And if a vampire sucks the blood of another human being, the human being does not transform into a vampire but dies unless he or she drinks the blood of another vampire.  And the vampire is a good guy.  And what happened to his original title of Count?  This want is a King.  King Dracula!

Luke Evans probably got the job to play Dracula because of his past successes in FAST AND FURIOUS 6 as Toronto’s own Sarah Gordon got to play the Queen because of her good looks.  The usually good British actor Dominic Cooper (THE DEVIL’S DOUBLE, STARTER FOR 10 and MAMMA MIA!) cannot do much here to help but growl and look mean.

DRACULA UNTOLD is a tale should have been kept untold. Why play with a myth that has worked for ages?  Especially when this film wants to fool round with it for no better reason than making a quick buck.

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_2aWqecTTuE


Directed by Felix Herngren


Likely the longest title of a film released this year, this Swede box-office success is every senior’s wet dream of an adventure.  Allan Karlsson (Robert Gustafsson) escapes from a senior home only to embark on a series of outrageous adventures only outdone by his earlier adventures in real life when younger.

THE 100-YEAR-OLD MAN WHO CLIMBED OUT OF THE WINDOW AND DISAPPEARED is about Allan Karlsson.  After a long and eventful life (told in flashbacks), Karlsson ends up in a nursing home after blowing up the fox that killed his cat, believing it to be his last stop.  The only problem is that he is still in good health, and that the days are getting tedious.  When the celebration of his 100th birthday approaches, which Allan is uninterested in at all, he decides to escape his boring everyday life.

The film requires a bit of credibility on the audience’s side.  But since this is a fairy tale for the seniors, one can forgive the incredulous events.  He climbs out of a window and a series of events embarks him on a hilarious and entirely unexpected journey, involving a gang of criminals, murderers, a suitcase stuffed with cash, an elephant and an incompetent policeman.  His encounters, past and present include Allan’s ride on a 40-year old elephant, killing a rude punk with a mallot, saving Franco’s life, designing the atomic bomb and making away with 50 million cash.  Besides meeting Franco, Allan also met President Harry Truman, Stalin and believe it or not, Albert Einstein’s idiot brother, Herbert.

It would be the adventure of a lifetime for anyone else, but to Allan it is just ordinary life.

The film contains lots of quotable lines like” “Never talk too much,”, “Never plan anything,” “I eat, sleep and blow things up,” which are even funnier when heard in context of the film.

Director Hengren stays away from sentimentality and lets the tale, based on the bestselling book by Jonas Jonasson takes its course.  It is a film that celebrates life with the message of not taking life too seriously.  Those that plan in the film do not make it.  The heroes are the ones like the guy that never finished his studies or the girl that stole the abused elephant from the circus as it was the right thing to do.

Many critics will likely dismiss the film as forgettable whimsical nonsense.  But the film has already played 40 countries and grossed $50 million and a sequel is being considered.  There are not many films made these days that celebrate seniors.  This is one of them and should be enjoyed by everyone over the age of 60 or even earlier.

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6SEiaODjTZw

THE JUDGE (USA 2014) **

Directed by David Dobkin


The film starts off and spends quite a bit of time investing in the lead, Chicago defense attorney Hank Palmer’s (Robert Downey Jr).  He is shown at the court washroom pissing on the prosecutor's pants, smart talking, overconfident and always right.  If one can tolerate that behaviour throughout the film as well as Downey’s over confident performance, THE JUDGE might be a treat.

This is the story of the prodigal son who made good in law and came back home to defend his father Judge Joseph Palmer (Robert Duvall) from a hit and run.  The father and son relationship is as much the key issue as the trial.   But the dysfunctional familial drama suffers from the usual stuff - over doting grandchildren, sour wife, current swing with old girlfriend (Vera Farminga) and so on.  The silly sub plots of the challenged youngest brother with the camera and his sleeping with who cold be his possible daughter lengthens the film already too long 140 minutes running time.

Dobkin’s (WEDDING CRASHERS) film is not short on subtlety.  It cannot be more drilled into the audience of the two highly different paths the father and son have taken that a wide shot be taken of the two walking opposite directions after coming out of their car.  Again in another highly charged argument scene, the judge and son walk out into gale winds, the ferocity of which reflects their anger.  But it then turns funny, with the prosecutor’s (Billy Bob Thornton) collapsable compact coffee mug, signifying that he can squash his opponent's defence away.

But worse is Downey’s outburst in court when he finally breaks down.  His character is allowed to go on rambling in court, a procedure no presiding judge would allow.

The big plus of the movie is Duvall’s brave performance as the ageing judge trying to  keep his honour and dignity something his son and the script will not allow him to keep.  The bowel loosening segment also serves to remind everyone in the audience what each has to go through with his/her parent eventually.  It is only when Duvall and Downey have it out that the film comes alive.

The courtroom scenes are shot (example: from low so as to see Downey’s head and the ceiling fans of the court room) as if this film is going to be a courtroom classic like TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD.  The film plays overconfidently just like the Downey character.  It turns out that THE JUDGE is just a poor man’s courtroom drama mixed with too much melodrama.

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-qlSOBDWeO8

Directed by Michael Cuesta


KILL THE MESSENGER is an issue film directed by Michael Cuesta (L.I.E.) and based on the true story of Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative reporter, Gary Webb (two-time Academy Award nominee Jeremy Renner, THE HURT LOCKER and THE BOURNE LEGACY).  Based on the book of the same name by Nick Schou as well as Webb’s own book Dark Alliance, the film is pretty much a Renner vehicle, with him appearing in almost every scene, doing the acting honours as well as serving in the executive producer’s chair.  His clout likely helped the film attain an impressive all-star cast that includes Barry Pepper, Michael Sheen, Oliver Platt, Andy Garcia and Ray Liotta among others.

Webb stumbles onto a story which leads to the shady origins of the men who started the crack epidemic on the nation's streets...and further alleges that the CIA was aware of major dealers who were smuggling cocaine into the U.S., and using the profits to arm rebels fighting in Nicaragua.  It is the conspiracy theory brought out into the open by a guy who needs to do what is right, despite all costs.

The film displays a lot of passion as evident in Renner’s acting.  But despite the controversial nature of the material, the film fails to make the lasting impression it so strives for.  For one, the script by Peter Landesman has too many items on its plate.  First of all, it deals with the crusader Webb fighting not only the CIA but all the top honcho journals like the Washington Post, LA Times who do not want to see his small news agency get the credit for the story.  So, naturally when they use their powers to tear apart Webb’s story (breaking his sources), Webb has to face his own editor, Anna (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) and her boss Jerry Ceppos f(Platt).  Never mind, Webb has his family to deal with - his neglected wife, Susan (Rosemary DeWitt) and three sons.  The film also goes into detail of how he got the information by flying to Nicaragua and finding all the sites for flying the drugs as all as the people involved with the trafficking.  Webb also wins the Pulitzer Prize.  His speech makes the film’s climax.

In short, the film deals with the workings of the news agency, a man’s fight for his conscience to do right, the CIA conspiracy, drug trafficking and family relationships (husband and wife/father and son).

Renner resolves to too many gestures in his acting to get his point across.  For example in his Prize acceptance speech, he flicks on and of his glasses and even turns his back to his audience before facing them again.   And the speech on what good reporting does has already been drummed into the audience.  Director Cuesta also shoots the climatic speech scene like a sports game - editing the speech with shots of his boss’s face, then his enemies, then his family’s and back to him and the game.

But when the film’s climax is overshadowed by the end credit shots of the real Gary Webb, one knows the film has not lived up to expectations.  “Some stories are too true to tell”, is the warning Webb gets at one point in the movie.  But at least the story is told and despite the film’s flaws, this story is one that deserves to be heard.

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VW4XO-52ubE


Best Suspense: Gone Girl

Foreign: The Notebook (Le Gran Cahier) (Hungary)

Action: The Equalizer

Drama: Mommy

Family: The Boxtrolls

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