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This Week's Film Reviews (Feb 13, 2015)

12 Feb 2015

New films opening include KINGSMAN:THE SECRET SERVICE, FIFTY SHADES OF GREY and the musical THE LAST 5 YEARS.  African Canadians would be interested in the African Best Foreign Film Oscar Nominee TIMBUKTU opening at Bell Lightbox, Toronto.

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Alex de la Iglesia, Hou Hsia-hsien, Michael Mann and Barbara Stanwyck retrospectives go on at TIFF Cinematheque.

FILM REVIEWS:

IN HER PLACE (South Korea/Canada 2014) ***

Directed by Albert Shin

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The film begins with the shot of the back of a Mercedes driving to the farmhouse. The camera shifts to show the front of the car approaching, then a woman exiting to knock on the door. The impression here is a slow moving pensive film in which the director allows the incidents to unfold while allowing the audience to digest the emotional consequences.   

Yoon Da Kyung plays an urban woman fleeing her own life of omission. Trying to avoid telling her friends and family the truth of a miscarriage, she moves in with an impoverished farm-working mother (Kil Hae Yeon), and her lonely teenage daughter (Ahn Ji Hye), who are key in maintaining her lie. The woman is intending to adopt the illegitimate baby of the expecting teen. 

As expected in a moral fable about lies, turmoil and tragedy are the expected results. Shin’s film is shocking at times with violence and raw emotions on display, but Shin has a soft spot which shows at the film’s end. An unforgettable well made moral tale dramatically told to great effect! Watch for an unexpected twist in the story!

The film’s director Shin was selected Best Canadian Emerging Artist (the Jay Scott prize) by the Toronto Film Critics Association.

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tinR_7nQV88

KINGSMAN: THE SECRET SERVICE

Directed by Matthew Vaughan

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Samuel L. Jackson is one mother f***ing bad ass. I do not remember a single movie with him in it where he had not used the ‘mf’ word and I thought this film, being a sort of James Bond spoof (usually for family audiences) would be the exception. Wrong! And KINGSMAN is no really a family targeted film. It is ultra violent with the director and scriptwriter pulling all the stops at getting their film stylized.

Director Vaughan is responsible for the comic book adaptations KICK-ASS and X-MEN: FIRST CLASS. All his films including KINGSMAN are excellent films. Vaughan strives for cartoonish humour, BOND stylishly executed. And he succeeds. It would be fair to say that this film might even be more entertaining than the Bond film that will out later this year. For one the Daniel Craig Bond has gone far too serious. What ever happened to the wry humour provided by Sean Connery. the best Bond actor?

KINGSMAN is based on the comic by KICK-ASS’s Mark Millar. Gary 'Eggsy' Unwin (Taron Egerton), is taken under the wing of super spy Harry Hart (Colin Firth). With the aid of head, Arthur (Michael Caine) and second-in-command, Merlin (Mark Strong), they soon come face-to-face with the villainous Richmond Valentine (Samuel L. Jackson); a crazed madman who has a plan to rule the world, by destroying it and re-populating it with his chosen elite. This is not an original plot, as this is perhaps the storyline of half a dozen Bond films.

But despite the standard storyline, the theoretical plot takes many unpredictable turns. So the audience will be pleased to know that anything can happen or anyone could be killed before the last reel. Besides the spy/villain plot, a fair portion of the film deals with the training of young Eggsy. He is fighting for the one and only opening position in his training camp. The training portion of the film is intercut with the villain Valentine at work. The tactic keeps the film interesting on both levels. The training is also split into a comraderie/bullying portion (the wizard training of the HARRY POTTER films) and a rigorous instruction part (FULL METAL JACKET).

Eggsy’s lesson includes one on how to become a gentleman. There is a sly message here. Included too, is a neat quote on Hemingway’s take on nobility. All this is so classy!

Colin Firth is perfect as the stylish fighting spy machine Harry Hart. Newcomer Taron Egerton is equally effective as are the supporting cast. Jackson is Jackson and always ‘mf’-ing good.

Romance is kept at a minimumt and with good reason. The script contains sufficient material without the need for more distraction. But the film is still playfully sexy with two female characters - a Scandinavian Princess and Valentine’s right hand woman, appropriately named Gazelle (Sofia Boutella) with razor sharp skis replacing feet. (Don’t ask!)

As far as parodies go, KINGSMAN is no AUSTIN POWERS. For one, KINGSMAN is not that funny. This is not an adverse comment as Vaughan is not aiming at comedy but parody of a different sort. Parody need not always needs to be comedy as his film proves. Parody can still be achieved with suspense, action, style and violence while still keeping the entertaining value at its highest level.

KINGSMAN THE SECRET SERVICE succeeds admirably. This weekend this film opens back-to-back with FIFTY SHADES OF GREY. To me, KINGSMAN is definitely the sexier movie. And needless to say, more fun!

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kl8F-8tR8to

THE LAST 5 YEARS (USA 2014) **
Directed by Richard LaGravenese

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THE LAST 5 YEARS is the film adaptation of the hit 2001 American musical of the same name written by Jason Robert Brown. Based on Brown’s own failed marriage, it is

a musical deconstruction of a love affair and a marriage taking place over a five year period.

The twist is this: in the musical, the solos are sung in isolation and the viewer must imagine the presence of any other characters in the scene. But the scenes in the film directly depict interaction between the two leads, Jamie (Jeremy Jordan) and Cathy (Anna Kendrick) and occasionally other people (though still only one character sings in most scenes, as in the play).  The love story is told almost entirely through song. Another catch is that all of Cathy's songs begin at the end of their marriage and move backwards in time to the beginning of their love affair, while Jamie's songs start at the beginning of their affair and move forward to the end of their marriage. The songs meet at the centre of the film.

But what sounds good on paper does not necessarily turn out well on screen. Though a few of the songs are catchy, the film ends up quite boring, unless one is in music theatre. It does not help that this is a musical without choreography and that there are only two characters and one love story as the main plot. Because of the disjointedness of the story, it is occasionally difficult to follow the state of the romance.

Kendrick performs better that her male counterpart. She is natural and has her audience on her side and against her depending on how the story goes. Jordan, on the other hand, tries very hard but his performance looks too forced to be credible.

The supporting characters do not have that much to do, story wise or even comedy. 

Director LaGravenese (P.S. I LOVE YOU) tries hard too. For example at the film’s start, he tries to bring the stage musical out in the open with an opening shot scanning the outside of a building before settling on Cathy in her apartment. The other outside scenes in the park do not do much either.

The film also suffers from a satisfactory ending. The film is strictly for the young musical enthusiast.

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9FKjLJZdycI

TIMBUKTU (France/Mauritania/Mali 2014) ***

Directed by Abderrahmane Sissako

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There is a lot of History that goes into the film’s background. Knowing the various tribes, the past of the city of Timbuktu, the political situation and the geography help understand the context of the story. But none of this is explained in the film. But one can likely figure

it out a little as the story progresses.

All the action takes place as a result of the recent jihadist takeover of northern Mali. The lives of the residences of ordinary people (the Tamasheks) living in and around the city is adversely affected by the extremist foreign fighters. Believe it or not, music, laughter, and sports have been prohibited, and kangaroo courts hand down horrendous and absurd punishments. In one graphically violent scene, a girl is stoned as a result of listening to music.

The main story concerns a proud, independent herder living on the outskirts of the city who accidentally kills a man in a dispute. He experiences first-hand the nightmarish perversion of "justice" practiced by the occupiers. He is taken into custody while his wife and daughter wait anxiously for his return. They have cell phones but often no signal - a kind of irony of the situation. They also speak a different tribal dialect from the captors. Worst still, the daughter is courted by an extremist fighter but the mother stands up for her. It is a difficult no win situation even when they seek court intervention.

The film begins with a deer running away from hunters shooting at it with a machine gun. The scene is revisited at the end of the film, a case of a metaphor drummed too obviously into the audience’s heads.

But Sissako’s film is stunningly shot. TIMBUKTU is beautiful to look at, especially the ancient city itself as well as the sandy surroundings. His film is both a lyrical and poetic essay as well as a document educating the audience on the troubles faced by the people.

TIMBUKTU has been nominated for Best Foreign Film at the 2015 Academy Awards. It is a rare film that thankfully got a commercial release. It also won the prize of the Ecumenical Jury, Festival de Cannes 2014.

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

WHAT WE DO IN THE SHADOWS (New Zealand 2014) ****
Directed by Jemaine Clement and Taika Waititi

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WHAT WE DO IN THE SHADOWS is a mockumetary THIS IS FINAL TAP style in which a crew of humans are allowed to film a flat of vampire flatmates as they prepare to attend the annual Unholy Masquerade set on June the 6th at 6 pm (666). The humans have been promised that they will not be killed but wear a cross anyway for added protection. This is one of many mockumentaries that have been made since then, but it is one of funniest so far.

The story is told from the point of view of 18th Century neat-freak Viago (director Waititi). He is the self professed leader of the flat who frets over the indelibility of bloodstains, the sloppy slaughterer Vladislav the Poker (the other director Clement), the Lugosi-ish Deacon (Jonathan Brugh) and the Nosferatu-like ghoul Petyr (Ben Fransham), who is about eight thousand years old and is best kept in the basement. He doesn’t like plasma TV. The “new guys” are boorish, newly-turned Nick (Cori Gonzalez-Macuer) and unlikely human best-friend Stu (Stu Rutherford), a too-nice-to-kill chap who introduces the gang to the Internet and social media. The vampires promise not to eat Stu (stew) as he is their friend.

Their misadventures move along quickly. They have problem entering clubs (the vampire rule is that they have to be invited in or they can’t enter). And after they have such a hard time dressing up since they have no reflection in the mirror. It is a laugh out loud moment per minute and the laughter never slows down.

The climax is both the Unholy Masquerade and the confrontation of the vampires and the werewolves.

New Zealand is on a roll with these horror comedies, HOUSEBOUND, equally funny just released a few weeks earlier.

From jokes like Viago awaking from his coffin with the alarm going off at 6 pm to drinking virgin blood, the jokes are fast and furious. (Why the vampire preference for virgin blood? Would you eat a sandwich after it has been f***ed?).  There are countless vampire jokes that are surprisingly fresh.

The film flows effortlessly with a solid climax at the end. The special effects are proficient enough especially the vampire fights up the walls and upside down on the ceiling. The makeup is top notch too, especially Petyr’s who looks scarier than Nosferatu or Dracula.

The vampires have the power to hypnotize as well. At the end of the film, a vampire hypnotizes the audience to forget the 90 minutes they have seen on screen. But this mockumentary, which is thoroughly enjoyable will not be an easy film to forget. Definitely a highly recommended film for a howling good time.

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Cv568AzZ-i8

BEST BETS:

Drama: Mr. Turner

Action: Kingsman: The Secret Service

Foreign Language: Leviathan (Russia)

Animation: Paddington

Comedy : What We Do in the Shadows

Best documentary: Red Army

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