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This Week's Film Reviews (Nov 7, 2014)

04 Nov 2014

INTERSTELLAR has an early Wednesday opening.  BIG HERO 6  and documentaries THE OVERNIGHTERS, CITIZENFOUR and PROPAGANDA also make their debut.

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 FILM REVIEWS: (Article was modified on the 7th for more reviews  due to embargo restrictions)

ADIEU AU LANGAGE (France 2014) ***

Directed by Jean-Luc Godard

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ADIEU AU LANGAGE, Godard’s latest venture is as exasperating as his NOTRE MUSIQUE and FILM SOCIALISM.

Shot in glorious 3D, but we were handed out smudged 3D glasses which the usher claimed had been cleaned.  Dirty glasses or not, the audience will surely be just as blurry of what Godard intentioned in the film before or after viewing the film.  Godard philosophizes on everything in this film with a very loose narrative at play and his dog, credited as Roxy Mieville, running around tying in all the loose pieces.  Godard haters - beware!

The 3D film is awesomely shot and the film is covered with bright colours as well as blurred and super clear images.  The sound is varied in stereo to create an accompanying 3D sound - if there is such a term.  Godard tries.  There also changes the camera rates from 15 to 60 frames per second.  His credits include philosopher names like Freud and Jung.

For those who insist on  narrative, the film contains two couples—one in the first half (Héloise Godet and Kamel Abdelli) and the other another in the second (Zoé Bruneau and Richard Chevallier).  They fight, argue, take off their clothes and do what they normally do in a Godard film.  Godard gave himself a cameo as well.  And he says his favourite values are zero and infinity, though never explaining the reason why.  This is the core of why the film can be so frustrating.  One is always trying to figure out what Godard is trying to do.  Perhaps the trick is not to, but just to relax an see what transpires on screen.

ADIEU AU LANGUE was a hit at this year’s Cannes but people appear to avoid it at TIFF.  But the film is back with the Tiff Cinematheque Godard Part 2 retrospective.  The critics claim that the film ought to be seen at least twice to be understood.  But I beg to differ.  Twice is not enough!

The film opens on Nov 14th at the Bell Lightbox for a theatrical run.

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dk2x3ZEsnh0

BIG HERO 6 (USA 2014) ***
Directed by Don Hall and Chris Williams

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Based on the Marvel Comic Book super hero team of the same name, the 3D computer animated feature BIG HERO 6 is typical Disney family fare.  It has what is expected from Disney, which is a good thing.

The 6 refer to the hero, a young robotics prodigy named Hiro (Ryan Potter) and his 4 sidekicks including Wasabi, Honey Lemon, GoGo Tomago, and Fred, with the big robot Baymax (Scott Adsit).  The team uncover a criminal plot and solve the mystery surrounding the crimes.

The film suffers a little from the lack of a very evil villain.  There is one, but it rates low on the evil scale.  Still, the script offers enough battle action scenes to keep the film slated as an action comedy.  The comedy borders on the cuteness factor (example: Baymaz has to be scotch-taped from leaking air) and recycled fare rather than goofiness or genuine hilarity.

BIG HERO 6 is an action hero film that normally would be screened during summer.  Nearer Christmas, fairy tales like TANGLED or FROZEN seem more appropriate programming.  But the film has its sappiness factor as well as good conquering evil and selfless heroics that sit well in the season of Good Cheer.  There is even a bit where the dead has a possibility of being rejuvenated back to normal life.

For a 3D film - it seems that all animated films have to be shot in 3D these days - there are a lot of objects thrown out of the screen at the audience, something that is a given must.  For an action flick, there is plenty of opportunity for this.

The film is set in a fictional metropolis called San Fransokyo (a combination of San Francisco and Tokyo).   The film premiered in Tokyo prior to its release in North America.  The hero has a Japanese name, Hiro Hamada, so the Japanese market would be well taken care of.  The technology of robotics is dished out as if the audience would comprehend everything, but the younger kids should still be awed by the gadgetry, if not by the dialogue.

Voice characterizations by the cast of not so expensive stars serve the purpose and lower the budget of the film.  Daman Wayans Jr. as Wasabi and Maya Rudoplh as Hiro’s aunt are the better known names.

The mix of Japanese American culture and the blend of humour, action and emotion both work well to the film’s advantage.  But the film lacks the innovative edge of TOY STORY, THE LEGO MOVIE or SHREK to make it truly outstanding.

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rD5OA6sQ97M

CITIZENFOUR (USA 2014) ***

Directed by Laura Poitras

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Edward Snowden is today, a household name.  He is the whistleblower on NSA (National Security Association) surveillance and has been branded a traitor.  But watching him given up all, sitting wearing a T shirt in a hotel room in a foreign country makes one ponder.  Traitor or man doing what he thinks is right?

The film, on the side of Snowden defines the term traitor and how the U.S. wants to charge him on this count.  It is a World War 1 charge and one in which an individual sells secrets to the enemy in time of war for personal gain.  There is no personal gain for Snowdon, and neither is the present a time of war.  In fact Snowden has lost everything for what he believes is he individual’s right for privacy - his family, home and girlfriend.  The reporter and filmmaker Laura Poitras are also under constant surveillance after being in contact with Snowden.  Yes, Big Brother is watching.  And he is not nice and does not play fair.

Director, Poitras (recipient of the 2012 MacArthur Genius Fellowship and co-recipient of the 2014 Pulitzer Prize for Public Service) was several years into making a film about surveillance in the post-9/11 era when she started receiving encrypted e-mails from someone identifying himself as "citizen four," who was ready to blow the whistle on the massive covert surveillance programs run by the NSA and other intelligence agencies.  In June 2013, she and Greenwald flew to Hong Kong for the first of many meetings with the man who turned out to be Snowden.  She brought her camera with her.  The film that resulted from this series of tense encounters is a 100% real-life thriller unfolding minute by minute before our eyes.

But Poitras' film moves extremely fast - in fact often too fast for one even to be able to read the titles on screen.  Very often, conversation on the internet are printed on the screen which requires the audiences to read and comprehend all at break-neck speed.  The dialogue is also technical and assumes one has prior knowledge of information, internet and surveillance.

But CITIZENFOUR is an important film.  One character in the film raises the all important distinction, what is deemed freedom in the past is now considered privacy in the present.

Trailer: https://citizenfourfilm.com/trailer

INTERSTELLAR (USA 2014) ****
Directed by Christopher Nolan

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INTERSTELLAR is the long awaited new $165 million space sci-fi film from DARK KNIGHT and INCEPTION’s Christopher Nolan who co-wrote the film with his brother Jonathan Nolan.

The film is Nolan’s most ambitious film, encompassing space travel and end of the world apocalypse.  The film will inevitably be compered to Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY and the recent Alfonso Cuaran’s GRAVTY.  But Nolan aims his film to be different and innovative in all ways.

A space film has to enthral visually and mentally.  Emotion is not a big factor and often fails.  In GRAVITY for example, the part with Sandra Bullock pining over her lost child did not work.  2001 fortunately dispensed of any emotional content.  In INTERSTELLAR, Nolan ties in the emotion between father, Cooper (Matthew McConaughey)  and 10-year old daughter and a brief romantic moment between him and a fellow astronaut (Anne Hathaway).  The former works but the latter is an embarrassment to the script.

The plot involves the planet earth in her dying days.  Again as in most end-of-the world films, no satisfactory explanation is given.  The audience sees loads of dust on the ground that is supposed to destroy all the world crops.  At present, only corn can be grown but not for long.  So, Cooper is sent up into space by his former trainer, Professor Brand (Michael Caine) to find a substitute planet.  10-year old daughter, Murph refuses to accept her father’s leaving, but Cooper leaves anyway.  He and fellow astronauts Amelia (Hathaway) and Romilly (David Gyasi) travel through a wormhole near Saturn to leave the solar system to enter another galaxy where they look at the possibility of 3 new planets.

As far as visuals go, INTERSTELLAR is a success.  And it should be seen in IMAX.  Even at the film’s start, Nolan makes full use of the story’s grandeur.  The shot of Cooper’s truck driving through the vast corn fields is a sight for sore eyes - never mind the fact that Nolan goes over the top with the truck driven on two flat tires.  The space photography, especially of the spaceship travelling through the wormhole (this takes place about an hour into the film) is both stunning and unforgettable.

As far as mentality goes, the film demands some knowledge of physics and lots of deep thinking.  Theoretical Physicist Kip Thorne served as technical consultant, providing credibility to the film.  But the technicalities, when not too complicated, works.  When things get more technical, for example with the duality of time with the states of present, now and future existing simultaneously, things get a bit dodgy.  This occurs especially towards the last 20 minutes.  Time has been considered absolute by Newton, but this theory has been dispensed by latter physicists like Albert Einstein and Stephen Hawkings.  There is also some mention of Hawking’s linearity theory which the film leaves alone after.  So, time is relative and the audience would do best to remember this, in order to make sense of the climax of the film.  But most intriguing is the travel through the worm hole, which is seen as a 3-dimensional sphere, a segment for once, clearly explained in the film.  The fact of an hour translating to a day when Cooper and Amelia travel to the first planet is also intriguing scientific fodder.

Oscar winner McConaughey is totally believable as the astronaut and father torn between duty and family.  He carries the film firmly aided by other stars like Jessica Chastain as an older Murph and Hathaway, despite the underwritten female roles.  Matt Damon has some fun playing Dr. Mann, a character that provides a weird twist and welcome change in the film’s pacing.

INTERSTELLAR succeeds visually as a space sci-fi fantasy despite its confusing and arguable unsatisfactory ending.  The first hour of the film in which Nolan devotes a fair bit of time on family values works to elicit the audience emotions.  Though running at 167-minutes, INTERSTELLAR ultimately survives as a compelling space film.

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zSWdZVtXT7E

LIFE’S A BREEZE (Ireland/Sweden 2013) ***

Directed by Lance Daly

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As the title LIFE’S A BREEZE implies, and a button bearing those words are tacked on the wall of the house of the main character, Nan (Fionnula Flanagan), life can go either way as blown by the slightest breeze.  At any time, riches can be lost and vice versa.  And similarly, a film can sway one from feeling good to feeling bad and vice versa.

LIFE’S A BREEZE shares a bit in common with the hit WAKING TED.  Both are Irish productions and deal with the winnings of a lottery.  There is one bit, in fact the film’ funniest segment in which  Colm (Pat Shortt) believes he won the first prize of the local lottery.  Otherwise, the film like WAKING TED, is about chasing money, in this case a mattress containing a millions euros.

The film follows a family struggling to stay afloat and together through hard times in Ireland.  When the family makes a well-intentioned attempt to clean out their mother Nan’s house, and accidentally trashes a mattress she has been stashing her life savings in, Nan, her unemployed slacker son Colm, and his niece Emma, (Kelly Thornton) must overcome their many differences to lead their family in a race against time to find a lost fortune.

Daly’s film is a sweet film which covers issues such as poverty (times are hard in Ireland and felt by everybody and the whole country goes on the mattress hunt), family values (they argue who is going to keep how much) and the relationship between the elderly (Nan) and the younger generation (Emma).  The film is funny enough, entertaining with solid moral values and depicts well the environment and mood of its setting.

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RHRikj2Djas

THE OVERNIGHTERS (USA 2014) ***1/2

Directed by Jesse Moss

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Jesse Moss’ documentary THE OVERNIGHTERS has been described as a modern-day Grapes of Wrath, the title referring to job-seekers desperately chasing the broken American Dream to the tiny oil boom town of Williston, North Dakota.  With the town lacking the infrastructure to house the overflow of migrants, a local pastor starts the controversial "overnighters" program, allowing down-and-out workers a place to sleep at the church.

The doc is framed with overnighters talking to the audience.  But the subject of the film is not the job seekers but the local pastor, Jay Reinke who houses them.

Documentaries have been made of great people (WATCHERS OF THE SKY, master criminals (THE UNITED STATES VS. JAMES L. BULGER) but rarely of relatively mediocre people.  But Pastor Reinke, though appearing a so-so important person in the community has a great heart, and feels he has to do something for the outsiders.  Many arrive with no place to stay and no food or no money.  As he quotes the Bible, the Good Shepherd has to look after his sheep.  So is this man with a heart really such a great man as to be picked as the subject of Moss’s film or is there something deeper and disturbing that the man is hiding?  Is he a criminal with a different motive?

Moss provides hints of both and piques the audience curiosity while at it.  In fact, his film is compelling to watch from start to end with the time flying fast.

The story is unfolded as Pastor Reinke faces resistance with his community.  It turns out that two of the people he houses are sex offenders, thus putting the neighbourhood in fear for their children.  Pastor Reinke takes them into his home as a result but the press gets word of it.  Reinke is about to lose his job and everything for them.   The audience is drawn into his problem with pity for the man who is now totally desperate at losing everything.

Moss’ film also shows the best of people being given a horrible slate of life.  In a way, it is a depressing film.  Hopefuls coming out to the oil fields to create a better life for themselves and their family but often returning home with nothing or worse still a slap in the face.

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=S5ER9Yo5Bfg

 

PROPAGANDA (New Zealand 2012) ****

Directed by Slavko Martinov

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PROPAGANDA is a very anti-western propaganda film about the influences of American visual and consumption culture on the rest of the world, as told from a North Korean perspective.

The film touts North Korea as the only place on the planet that is not consumed by Western imperialism.  North Korea, the film claims is the ideal place to live and the country has not invaded nor been invaded.  It also claims that the U.S. has invaded 37 countries and butchered innocents in the name of terrorism in order to proposer Fortune 500 companies.  It is a wild claim, but the film is not without merit.  Martnov’s film is also very funny and would have one laughing ones head off throughout the film.

The film features a North Korean professor lecturing the audience in Korean.  The sound is hushed with an English voiceover by Susannah Kenton.  As the lecture continues, hundreds of film, TV excerpts and archive footage show what's wrong with Western visual and consumption culture.  The film attacks the moral attenuation, political manipulation and hyper-consumerism that characterize the Western world in chapters with titles like "Rewriting History," "Complicity" and "The Cult of Celebrity”.

The segment on celebrity is the funniest.  Madonna goes shopping for children in third world countries.  The narrative poses the question why she would not adopt a black poverty stricken child in the U.S.  And Paris Hilton, which the film describes as a worthless parasite is shown paid $150,000 for showing up at parties.

As the film steals footage from many different sources, the filmmaker was initially worried of being sued.  But since he has no money and nothing to lose, he went for it anyway.  He was for one afraid of Michael Moore being upset, but Moore was more than pleased with the film.

The film reminds one of Michael Moore, who makes documentaries criticizing America.  He has seen this film and hails it as ‘genius’.  That is a very strong superlative for a film.  PROPAGANDA is not a masterpiece but should be seen, for it is sheer fun.  But a word of warning: the graphic scenes are very disturbing.

Propaganda has played countless festivals, received rave reviews, and won awards globally.  On November 14, 2014, for the first time Toronto audiences will get to experience what the Huffington Post calls “ A Must-See Film” and what Michael Moore has called “Genius!”

The film has its Canadian Premiere on November 11, 2014 at Big Picture Cinema.  As a special two for one double bill, PROPAGANDA will be playing along side BATTLESHIP POTEMKIN on Friday November 14, TRIUMPH OF THE WILL on Saturday November 15, and THE GODDESS on Sunday November 16, and PULGASARI on Tuesday November 18.

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1NwmqMuCCDU&list=UUHNk-3S4aeBjU7jvcT8NNLQ

 

BEST FILM opening: Interstellar

Best Suspense: Gone Girl

Action: Fury

Foreign Language: Mommy

Animation: The Tale of Princess Kaguya

Documentary: Keep on Keepin' On and Propaganda

Comedy: St. Vincent

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