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This Week's Film Reviews (Nov 14, 2014)

13 Nov 2014

DUMB AND DUMBER TO and BEYOND THE LIGHTS open together with a slew of smaller films.

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FILM REVIEWS:

THE BETTER ANGELS (USA 2014) ***
Directed by A.J. Edwards

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Set in Indiana 1817 and based on 19th century interviews with Lincoln’s family members, THE BETTER ANGELS tells the story of Abraham Lincoln (Braydon Denney) - spanning three years - as a boy as he undergoes the hardship of living off a harsh land with a very stern father (Jason Clarke).

THE BETTER ANGELS refer to his mother (Brit Marling) who passes on and the father’s second wife a kind soul (Diane Kruger), two women that mold the boy into the famous American president and one of the most revered men in American history.

A.J. Edwards has been endorsed by Terrence Malick (TREE OF LIFE) and it is easy to see why.  The film has the identical feel of Malick’s films.  Shot in black and white, the film is stunning with less emphasis on story.

The result is an art historical drama.  Patience is the key to the appreciation of this film.  The film, not due to lack of story is difficult to follow.  For one, the voice over is by Abraham’s cousin, which can be confusing as one would automatically forget and think it is Abraham himself who is saying the words.  The voiceover is often mumbled and superimposed with the dialogue of the characters in the film - a very frustrating tactic.

But one can feel for the boy and the hardship of living in a log cabin and off the land.  The boy is often punished and whipped by his father, a practice considered child abuse by today’s society.

There is much to think about in Edwards’ THE BETTER ANGELS.  The film has a short screening run at the Carlton Cinemas beginning November the 14th as the distributors believe, and rightly so, that the film will be appreciated by a much smaller audience.

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cjj2Twtik_c

BEYOND THE LIGHTS (USA 2014) *

Directed by Gina Prince-Bythewood

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BEYOND THE LIGHTS is touted as writer-director Gina Prince-Bythewood’s revelation of a diva’s life and romance.  But her cliched, silly and narratively hollow film is an awful film - like the character Noni’s life.

The film opens with Noni winning the first runners up prize for singing ‘Blackbird’ at a young talent contest in Brixton.  The film forwards to the present, when the grown up Noni (Gugu Mbatha Raw) is at the verge of superstardom and suicide.  But all this is altered when hunk police officer Kaz (Nate Parker) saves her and begins a romance.  As far as Kaz's father (Danny Glover) is concerned, his law-and-order work is only the first step towards a future career in politics.  Meanwhile, Noni is heaving problems with her ultra strict manager mother (Minnie Driver).  The two subplots only match each other in terms of cliched stupidity.

But the romance is not only unbelievable but silly.  The last film made on a bodyguard/star romance was the Kevin Costner/Whitney Houston hit THE BODYGUARD.  But that was a critical mess though not as bad as this one.  At least that film had a sub plot of a stalker.  BEYOND THE LIGHTS relies on the romance and the parental/children conflict subplots.

Where does the script come up with these ridiculous names for their characters? The lead is called Noni and the cop is called Kaz (short for Kazam).

Mbatha-Raw was excellent in last year’s BELLE.  She deserves full acting credit for keeping a straight face and pulling off all seriousness in this bloody mess.  Nate Parker is there for his ripped body.  The script calls for him to take off his shirt on any excuse - which he does, for example to dress Noni’s hand when she gets cut.  And what is it with Minnie Driver’s ridiculous British accent?

There is a scene set in Mexico in a Karaoke cafe.  Noni pushes Kaz up to sing.  This was the closest point in the film I had at leaving the theatre.

The film is all over the place - literally.  It starts off with a setting in Brixton, South London.  Next thing, Noni has achieved fame in the U.S.  She retreats all suddenly in Mexico with her beau after a lover’s spat.  Then, not only is Noni now performing again in Brixton, but her lover appears right outside her stage door, yes stage door in Brixton to declare his love for her.

The script is too concerned with a happy ending. The lovers make up.  The father and son as well as the mother daughter conflicts are resolved without much explanation.

If this is supposed to be the director’s most satisfying film after LOVE AND BASKETBALL and THE SECRET LIFE OF BEES ‘telling a widely accessible story with a black woman at its centre while uncovering layer after layer of emotional truth to reveal the woman inside a diva’ as the TIFF write-up describes, I must be a monkey's uncle.  BEYOND THE LIGHTS must be the worst experience I have had this year since the lights went down.

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jkx83oHIfvQ

DUMB AND DUMBER TO (USA 2014) **

Directed by Peter and Bobby Farrelly

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It took 20 years before the sequel of DUMB AND DUMBER, not counting the prequel (DUMB AND DUMBERER) that did not star Jim Carrey and Jeff Daniels got made.  Whether the wait is worth it depends on the audience.  Comedy is subjective, even all-out gross comedy.

There are no shortage of fart and shit jokes in this film.  The film might have broken the Guinness Book of Records for this one.  Lloyd cleaning Harry’s ass, the fart game in the car, the smelly drink bit all work their bit.  But the Farrelly Brothers appear to put every joke (unfunny ones as well) into the movie.  For example, the fart game and the smelly drink ones were funny but not the cleaning ass joke.  The film also takes a while to establish its pace.  The first half of the film has lazy writing with no development of story or plot.  The film improves during the second half, becoming quite funny as well.

Jim Carrey is totally at home as the annoying Harry Christmas.  Hey, I did not like his hits ACE VENTURA or THE MASK, but those were his most successful hits.  Jeff Daniels does his best as is a good match with Carrey.   Kathleen Turner has a supporting role, again that of a strong woman who's not afraid to lay a mean punch.

The story concerns Lloyd taking Harry out of a mental institution.  It appears Harry was faking it all along once Lloyd claims that he has a problem and can not visit Harry again.  (There is a big problem with the timing of this revelation as it conflict with a major plot twist at the end, which is explained below the review as this is a major plot spoiler.)  The two embark on a road trip to find Lloyd’s missing daughter so as to get a kidney to be donated for Lloyd.  The misadventures take them to a  scientific convention where the dumbest meet the smartest. 

DUMB AND DUMBER does not necessarily translate to Funny and Funnier.  But 95% according to Rotten Tomatoes want to see it.  So, this film will likely be a hit.  But the auditorium where the promo screening was held was pretty quiet.

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

Spoiler (Plot inconsistency):

At the end of the film Lloyd confesses that he did not need a kidney as he was faking it just as Harry faked his mental illness to get him back.  But Lloyd told him of the kidney before Harry admitted to his faking of the illness.

HERMITAGE REVEALED (UK/USA/Neth/Russia 2014) ***

Directed by Margy Kinmonth

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The State Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg is one of the largest and most visited museums in the world, holding over 3 million treasures and world class masterpieces in stunning architectural settings.  The film directed and written and partly narrated by Margy Kinmont celebrates the Hermitage’s 250th anniversary in 2014.

Besides displaying the vast treasures that include paintings, sculptures, costumes, ornaments, furniture, the film also dishes out the history of the Hermitage that include surviving revolutions, wars and thefts.  Restoration is also explained and shown its detailed process.  For those who are not as fortunate to have visited, this film provides an exhaustive if not unprecedented tour.

Like the recent Frederick Wiseman’s NATIONAL GALLERY, the film inspires.  But there is more to discover in this museum.  Unlike RUSSIAN ARK which was a wordless tour of the museum’s Winter Palace, Hermitage Revealed reveals much more.

HERMITAGE REVEALED is a must-se for art lovers, and an education experience for everyone else.

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

Special Screenings on Nov 16th and 19th as part of Cineplex Entertainment Front Row Centre Events series.

KEEP ON KEEPIN’ ON (USA 2014) ****
Directed by Alan Hicks

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The title KEEP ON KEEPIN’ ON is another way of saying, in music people’s terminology, to keep trying and not give up.  The advice is given by Clark Terry to pianist prodigy Justin Kauflin.

Clark Terry is simply the best living jazz trumpeter alive.  He was born in 1920 in St. Louis.  The film shows CT’s celebrations of his 91st and 92nd birthdays.  Though one would expect a film about CT to be one that showcases his greatness with perhaps lots of footage of his performances, there is hardly any of both.

After a brief introduction to TC, the film cuts to Justin Kaufman, a pianist who has a disease causing him to lose his sight.  By the age of 11, Justin is blind.  But this does not stop him from pursuing his life long quest, which is to be a jazz pianist.  Hick’s film now diverts to the relationship between Justin and TC, as the two form a bond of friendship that is inspirational.

It seems that God afflicts a horrible payment for the gift he endows in human beings.  Justin is blind and CT has diabetes that causes him to have both legs amputated.  But with affliction emerges the beautiful bond between the two.  But Justin is still seeking the success due to him.  But Hick’s film has a happy ending.

The teacher/pupil relationship between CT and Justin is a loving one of respect, quite contrary to the caustic bullying abusive one depicted in the recent film WHIPLASH, which was based on true events.  Thankfully, this feel good film offers the best that can be observed in human nature.  The film’s best moments show the two working together on tunes - CT humming and Justin replicating them on the piano.

Hick’s film has three stories on display here.  One is of Clark Terry himself, the other of the bond between teacher and prodigy (CT and Justin) and the third of the friendship of CT and Quincy Jones.  Jones is the producer of the film which makes it not surprising that the film gives him the role of a hero.  The third part serves to tie in the first two parts and brings the film to a favourable conclusion.

KEEP ON KEEPIN’ ON is an inspirational documentary about attaining greatness through the two invaluable human attributes of hard work and respect.

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QrHA4axGXZo

WOLVES (Canada 2014) ***
Directed by David Hayter

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WOLVES, written and directed by David Hayter who worked on the X-MEN films is a teen romance horror action flick aimed at the same audience as the TWILIGHT series.  Werewolves and vampires do not make that much of a difference  Especially when they live in packs with a romantic conflict with the head of the pack.

Hayter’s film works better in the beginning before Cayden and the audience discovers the secret of the wolf pack and Lupine Range.  The script deliberately avoids the word werewolf, replacing it with wolf, though the effects are highly similar, like a transformation occurring during a full moon.  The film has also the feel of the recent BEFORE I GO TO SLEEP in which the protagonist has no knowledge of his history or family background or even what had just happened.  After the story falls into place, the film degrades to a cliched horror slasher film with the typical few plot twists thrown in for good measure.

It all starts when Cayden  (Lucas Till) gets tackled down in a football game.  His anger causes him to lose control.  That night during a lovemaking session, he transforms to a wolf and wounds his girl.  Later finding his parents killed, he leaves town in search for the truth of his origins.  This takes him to Lupine Range where he falls in love with Angel (Merritt Patterson) while working at the farm of a sympathetic local, John (Stephen McHattie).  Conflict arses when he meets the chief wolf of the pack (Jason Momoa).  Hayter’s script also includes a bit of darkness, Darth Vader STR WARS style.

The film is satisfying more from the story than the action point of view.  Though the story is in reality quite simple, director Hayter does well to hold important plot points, just dishing out enough to encourage audience anticipation.

Make-up of the wolves is satisfactory.  But it can nowhere be compared to earlier werewolf films such as AN AMERICAN WEREWOLF IN LONDON in which the transformation scene from human to wolf was more than worth the price of the ticket.  Older horror films in the 80’s such as THE FLY and THE THING had memorable monster transformation special effects.

The sex scene between Cayden and Angel is quite hot.  Imagine genuine animal sexual desires but the participants in human form but scratching in orgasm.  Fortunately the segment is short and tasteful, leaving the audience unembarrassed while wanting for more.

WOLVES is not based on a famous young adult or teen bestseller and will not do that well at the box-office for that fact of limited exposure.  But Hayter’s effort is not bad, though cliched and undemanding audiences should get a bite (sorry, had to use this pun) out of WOLVES.

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZN71HDzBQjU

BEST BETS FOR THE WEEK:

Best Sci-fi: Interstellar

Best Suspense: Gone Girl

Action: Fury

Foreign Language: Mommy

Animation: The Tale of Princess Kaguya

Documentary: Keep on Keepin' On

Comedy: St. Vincent

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