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This Week's Film Reviews (Dec 17, 2014)

17 Dec 2014

The week before Christmas.  ANNIE and NIGHT A THE MUSEUM 3 open as well as a small Aussie movie SON OF A GUN.

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Two docs NATIONAL GALLERY and CATHEDRALS OF CULTURE make their debut.

See the Kubrick Exhibition at the TIFF Bell Lightbox.

FILM REVIEWS:

ANNIE (USA 2014) *

Directed by Will Gluck

Celebrity Sightings In New York City - September 25, 2013

ANNIE, the new film adaptation of the hit musical of the same name does it worse than the 1982 adaptation by John Huston with Albert Finney as ‘Daddy’ Warbucks.

The story concerns ten-year-old Annie Bennett, a foster child living in Harlem. She lives with the alcoholic and bitter Colleen Hannigan (Cameron Diaz), who has taken in four other foster children—Isabella, Tessie, Mia, and Pepper in order to receive money from the state. Unlike the other girls, Annie believes her parents will one day return for her and imagines what they might be like. The story links Annie to Will Stacks, cell phone mogul and billionaire (Jamie Foxx), who is running a disastrous campaign for mayor of New York City. His hotshot adviser Guy (Bobby Cannavale), his assistant Grace (Rose Byrne), and bodyguard Nash (Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje) attempt to help him clean up his public image using Annie.

There are many reasons not to see this ANNIE.

This new adaptation is different in primarily that this is a black ANNIE. Besides being produced by Jay-Z and Will Smith and starring Jamie Foxx and the cutie child Quvenzhané Wallis from BEASTS OF THE SOUTHERN WILD, the film is set in the modern era of Twitter and cell phones while doing away with the famous character of Daddy Warbucks (heaven forbid! and replacing him with politician Will Stacks. Three reasons right here.

Two memorable performances deserve mention. But not in a good way. Cameron Diaz deserves an award for hamming in up to the max in her role of bitter alcoholic Colleen Hannigan. Unfortunately it would be raspberry award for worst performance of the year. Her performance is bad enough in the first half, but turns 100% worse after she begins singing, and again 100% worse than that after she starts rapping. The other is lead performance by Jamie Foxx who looks totally out of place and that he did not want to be in the film at all. The scenes in which he has to appear cute and cuddly to Annie show it all.

There are three unmemorable new songs written for the film. The most famous of the original songs, ‘Tomorrow’ occurs early on in the film with a lacklustre choreographed segment, and once that is over, there is nothing else to look forward to.

Oscar nominee Quvenzhané Wallis plays ANNIE. All she does is try to look cute from start to end. She gets really tiresome very quickly, looking like a spoilt black kid who made top bucks in her first movie rather than a poor orphan. Her lines such as: “You all will get adopted. I promise,” to the other orphans do not help either.

The last musical number forming the film’s climax deserves mention, so that you will be forewarned.  The entire cast begin dancing on the street complete with Cameron Diaz rapping and cops (the extras) swaying their bodies in rhythm to the music. It be best to get out of the theatre before this! (Careful - there might be speed bumps installed to slow down the massive Exodus).

These should be enough reasons given to avoid the film. One good thing about this ANNIE is that the film is so bad that any idea for another remake like perhaps a Chinese ANNIE would probably be flushed down the toilet right away.

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nasLuiP-1E0

CATHEDRALS OF CULTURE Parts 1 and 2 (Norway/Germany/France/Denmark 2014) ***
Directed by Wim Wenders

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If buildings could talk, what would they say about us?

CATHEDRALS OF CUTURE is a 3-hour marathon in 3D.  The relay marathon team is comprised of Wim Wenders and a host of other directors.  The topic is ‘the soul of buildings’, Narration voiceover is done in the first person, as if spoken by the buildings themselves.

The architectural structures include Berlin Philharmonic, the Centre Pompidou in Paris, the Oslo Opera House, the national Library in St. Petersburg, the Salk Institute in California and the Halden Prison in Norway.  Each segment is about 30 minutes with each director leaving his mark over it.  These six are a good choice of picks.

The segments are interesting enough primarily for the reason that the buildings are.  The ‘imagined’ voice of the buildings does not really work.  It feels awkward. When the directors chose to minimize this, as in Robert Redford’s Salk Institute, more information is disseminated unforcefully without theatrics.  But the trouble with Redford’s segment is that it is too sugary sweet with flowery dialogue, as is the majority of the film.  The documentary works best without gimmicks.

The same can be said of the 3D.  When the cameras are set up to emphasize the depth and vastness of the building spaces, the film looks artificial and feels forced.  The film works best to let the grandeur of the architectures speak for themselves.

CATHEDRALS OF CULTURE is an educational experience for those who do no have the time or money to travel to these places (the Halden prison being the exception).  But the documentary need not feel like an advertised travelogue brochure.

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=s3f52bMVWqw

THE HOBBIT: THE BATTLE OF THE FIVE ARMIES (NZ/UK/USA 2014) ****
Directed by Peter Jackson

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Director Peter Jackson has the knack of shooting long extended sequences in which nothing really happens and the film’s plot is hardly advanced. One example is the first of this 3-part instalment of THE HOBBIT, AN UNEXPECTED JOURNEY, where the first 45 minutes of the film has Bilbo Baggins’ (Martin Freeman) cottage invaded by dwarfs partying and wrecking the place. But if one can bear Jackson’s excesses, then sit back and enjoy the nonsense that he has to offer. He has stretched J.R.R. Tolkien’s THE HBBIT into not two, but three films.

Originally entitled THERE AND BACK AGAIN, that confusing title involving Bilbo already reaching and departing for Erebor has been changed to BATTLE OF THE FIVE ARMIES. As a majority of screen time involves battles, the new title more accurately depicts the tone of the film.

The film has the best and worst of what Jackson has to offer. At its worst, there are lots of battle scenes involving CGI effects, like not only giving the film a video game outlook but also a false unrealistic feel. Who cares if a computer figure is crushed? At its best, Jackson’s film has stunning New Zealand scenery, and his gift for staging action sequences are both inspiring and edge of the seat exciting.

Story-wise, the film continues where the last two ended. It is best if one remembers what occurs in the first two. For example, the village was under the attack of Smaug (Benedict Cumberbatch) and the dragon is supposed to be only destroyed by a spear thrown by Bard (Luke Evans). But even if this bit of information is forgotten, it really does not matter or hurt in the enjoyment of the film. 

From the first action sequences, it is evident that Jackson canon help but make his mark (his humour and inventiveness) in the film. “I am evacuating myself,” says a villager as Smaug attacks it. People are pushed off the boats in the evacuation in favour of carrying gold.  Pillars fall on people, more so than not, Jackson’s sense of humour, no doubt.

The cameos from the other LORD OF THE RINGS and HOBBIT movies should also please fans. These include Cate Blanchett, Orlando Bloom, Ian Holm, Hugo Weaving and others.

Jackson’s film turns emotional towards the end, partly due to the fact that there are a few deaths of the story’s primary characters. Also, there is the message of sacrifice, hope and keeping ones word. Greed and gold are two words starting with ‘g’ that are no-no’s.

But at the very end, Bilbo returns to his cottage in his shire after all his adventures completed. The sire loos just like a typically quaint English village in the countryside. It could have happened that he never have had left the place, just as Peter Jackson’s story did not matter. Bilbo gets a visit from his old friend Gandalf (Ian McKellen) which brings the film to a neat, comfortable closure.

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZSzeFFsKEt4

NATIONAL GALLERY (UK/France 2014) ***** Top 10

Directed by Frederick Wiseman

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Master documentarian Frederick Wiseman (La Danse, Crazy Horse, At Berkeley) takes his audience in his latest film inside the inner workings of London’s National Gallery.

NATIONAL GALLERY begins with a meeting in which the Head of Communications, Jill Preston tries to convince the director of the National Gallery, Nicholas Penny of the need to ‘really’ open the exhibits to the public, so that they can be educated and learn the most from it.  His reply is that it should not be the purpose of the Gallery to cater to the common man but there should be a standard that should be kept.   The scene follows with adverse comments made on restoration done  on Rembrandt’s work.  It is clear then that this will be no ordinary documentary of the National Gallery in London.

And so, this brilliant documentary that tells of the inside goings-on of this great British Institution as well as the complexes faced.   Shot in over 12 weeks in 2012, director Frederick Wiseman takes in visitor tours, staff meetings, restorations, classes, and protests.  As in his other films, he practices a strict observational approach, eschewing voice-over and interviews.  His method calls upon viewers to draw their own meaning from the material, just as they do with paintings.  The result is often extensively lengthly segments, but the result pays off.  In one informative segment, Wiseman takes the time to include a budget proposal during a committee meeting with detailed arguments for and against its austerity.

The various art experts/guides who offer their ideas are what makes this film soar.  The one on Leonardo Da Vinci explains the reason Da Vinci stands above his pupils.  The pupils repeat motifs while though the art might be craftful, it is Da Vici’s, according to the speaker, exquisite spirit that lifts the that exhibition to the level intended.  Painting is also talked about as the need to tell a story with a single image without the privilege of time.  Films and books have hours to tell a story, unlike a painting.

For those in the know, there are sufficient paintings on display together with informed narratives.  Wiseman concentrates mostly on Old Masters, and his visit coincides with major exhibitions at the National Gallery of Titian, Leonardo Da Vinci, and J.M.W. Turner.  There is one session about Turner’s paintings on history, such as the rise and fall of empires.

NATIONAL GALLERY is one of those rare movies that would change you outlook on life via paintings.  It is educational, entertaining, convincing and mostly inspirational.

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GoE1NA_zi1M

SON OF A GUN (Australia 2014) **
Directed by Julius Avery

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From Oz the world of prisons down under arrives a tough Aussie prison auctioneer that strives to be as tough as the private world it is supposed to depict. 

The Kingpin of the unnamed prison facility is supposed to be Australia’s Public Enemy number 1 Brendan Lynch (played with convincing gusto by Scots Ewan McGregor). But the lead character is 19-year-old JR (Brenton Thwaites of THE GIVER). After an arrest for a crime that is sort of vague to the audience, JR finds himself under the protection of Lynch. God - he needs it after witnessing a suicide and other nasty incidents that are performed off screen. The off screen violence tends to lower the edginess and brutality much needed for a film in this genre.

Things soon change when JR is out after serving his 6-month sentence. As required payback, he arranges an escape for Lynch and his cronies and later participate in an assortment of illegal activities, the most important being a gold heist. But JR runs foul of Lynch when he falls for his girl Tasha (Alicia Viander).

The gold heist after the first hour is excitingly enough shot, even though the plan is simplistic. The ensuing car chase allows the audience to forgive the fault.

McGregor, though in reality is in a supporting role outdoes relative newcomer Thwaites in terms of performance. But the two do have good chemistry when they appear together. Thwaites appear to be chosen for the prime reason of being a pretty boy. Odd thing is that Lynch keeps calling Lynch ‘chimp’, and he does look like a pirate with his crewcut. The same can be said for Alicia Vikander though one can argue that the script (also by Avery) does not give her much opportunity.

Avery makes use of the Australian outback the most he can. The car chases are taken out in the open with a landscape that clearly looks from down under.

The best parts of the film are the comical but truthful bits of advice Lynch offers to JR at different loins of his ‘education’. The script does some nice moves with the chess game throughout the movie.

But apart from being entertaining, SON OF A GUN offers little new to the crime action genre A little awkward romance, car chases, violent prison scenes and betray have all been seen in crime action films before. But the Australian background makes a welcome change.

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JgR7X7sO8R8

 

BEST PICS:

Best Sci-fi: Interstellar

Best Suspense Drama: The Imitation game

Action: The Hobbit: Battle of the Five Armies

Foreign Language: Mommy

Animation: The Tale of Princess Kaguya

Comedy or Musical: St. Vincent

Best documentary: National Gallery

 

 

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