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Big films opening include CHAPPIE, UNFINISHED BUSINESS and THE SECOND BEST EXOTIC MARIGOLD HOTEL.   There are also a few excellent smaller films opening such as '71 and WILD TALES.

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

FILM REVIEWS:

CHAPPIE (Mexico/USA 2015) **
Directed by Neill Blomkamp

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CHAPPIE is yet another film about robots, a favourite subject of recent films like I, ROBOT, BIG HERO 6 and WALL-E. But CHAPPIE is the brain child of writer/director South African Neill Blomkamp who shot to fame with the success of DISTRICT 9. It is not surprising then that he has shot CHAPPIE in his hometown of Johannesburg but surprising that the film is extremely violent in nature, quite unlike the aforementioned robot movies.

The film’s basic premise is the flow of artificial intelligence to human intelligence. The story centres on A.I. designer/engineer Deon (Dev Patel from the EXOTIC MARIGOLD HOTEL films) and his protege design called Chappie (DISTRICT 9’s Charlto Copley doing motion capture). The police have commissioned an elite team of robots – called 'Scouts' – from a the firm, Tetravaal to restore law and city and reduce the body count for the force as well. The 'Scouts' are the brainchild of Deon (Dev Patel). Deon has masterminded the human robot called Chappie which runs into trouble with the public after being seen on the news as a participant in a heist.

But the story gets more convoluted with Chappie running into bad company. Two low-life gangsters who cannot pay a huge loan decide to kidnap Chappie for the heist. This part of the story goes over-the-top, typical of and expected from Blomkamp. The female member becomes Chappie’s mummy, reading him bedtime stories and hugging him, while the male is a nasty daddy teaching Chappie to steal cars and kill people.

Hugh Jackman and Sigourney Weaver are both largely wasted in terribly written roles. Jackman, quite unrecognizable with facial hair, plays a weak villain whose only incentive for evil is jealousy over his colleague’s success. Weaver plays the company CEO who cannot make up her mind on supporting or axing Deon. The supporting roles of the not-so-bad villains are played with sufficient gusto by Ninja and Yo-Landi Visser who play characters called Ninja and Yo-Landi. Apparently the two actors are members of a rap group Die Antwood which director Blomkamp is in love with, though it has been reported that he and Ninja ended up with problems on the set.

Blomkamp is more content with all his actors in hyper-tension mode, screaming and running all over the place from lead actor Patel to all his supporting cast.

The uncomfortable mix of goodness (robot becoming human with feelings and emotions) and the film’s inherent violence does not help the film either. As in DISTRICT 9, Blomkamp’s film is incredibly intense, a trait that can now be expected from this seasoned director. But the action sequences, mayhem and violence are impressively executed, no complaint here.

The chaotic mess of modern Johannesburg is matched only by the Blomkamp’s direction.

Despite the impressive special effects of the dystopian society and super impressive robotic mechanics, the fact that CHAPPIE is quite the chaotic mess is still quite evident.

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=l6bmTNadhJE

KIDNAPPING MR. HEINEKEN (Netherlands/UK/Belgium 2014) ***
Directed by Daniel Alfredson

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Committing the crime is the easy part. Getting away with it is the hellish almost impossible part. As is the classic films THE KILLING by Stanley Kubrick and LA CITTA SI DIFENDE by Pietro Germi, the robbery is executed without much difficulty. But in both films, the crooks are eventually caught in the gruelling aftermath. They are always being tailed by the police and public and much worse, the adage of no honour among thieves also comes into play. And so, the same occurs with the identical true story of the kidnapping of beer magnate Alfred (Freddy) Heineken in 1983. Though the largest ransom (3 million Guilders) ever for a kidnapping was paid, all the kidnappers were eventually caught and served jail sentences.

The film is written by William Brookfield and Peter R. de Vries, based on the 1987 book by Peter R. de Vries. Shot in Amsterdam, the film is cast primarily with a British cast all sporting British accents. The sights of the canals in the Dutch capital and the sight of the Dutch treat of ‘ollebollen' on a plate at a house on New Year’s Eve serve to remind the audience that this is a Dutch story.

The film, as well as the book is told from the point of view of one of the more mentally stable kidnappers, Cor van Hout (Jim Sturgess). He and his pals are fed up with banks and living poor, so he devices a kidnapping plan with the help of his brother-in-law, Willem (Sam Worthington) and a few others.

The execution of the actual kidnapping occurs efficiently without much incident. Director Alfredson (THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO films) has to resort to what happens after to keep the film interesting. Unfortunately, he is not that proficient, primarily for the reason that it is the psychological play between captor and kidnapped that should play out. Oscar Winner Anthony Hopkins does his best in a particularly underwritten supporting role. He taunts his captors but the script seems more intent to concentrate on the lives of the kidnappers instead. A fair amount of time is devoted to Cor’s family and the relationship with his wife, Sonja (Jemima West).

Most of the reasons behind the police discovering the whereabouts of the kidnappers are never clear but just hinted at. Did the kidnappers blunder or did the watching public inform? The real nasty suspenseful moments are the ones in which the captors decide to leave Mr. Heineken and his driver in the hidden shed in the countryside after they discover they are in trouble. Being left abandoned without food or water and without the knowledge of being found is a real scary scenario.

Performances are fair at best with Sir Hopkins faring the best in his limited role.

In the end, it turns out more interesting when the end credits roll informing what happened in real life to each of the story’s characters. KIDNAPPING MR. HEINEKEN is not a bad film, but it is not as compelling as THE KILLING or LA CITTA SI DIFENDE, for the one reason there can be more to be made up in a story of fiction than in a true story like this one.

Opening at TIFF Bell Lightbox and available on VOD March 6th.

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=He-z_L1rGEA

QU’EST-CE QU’ON A FAIT AU BON DIEU? (SERIAL BAD WEDDINGS) (France 2014) ***

Directed by Philippe de Chauveron

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This is the new film that is a big hit in France and still running in Quebec after 26 weeks. The question is whether this racial comedy will do well in English-speaking Canada. As the film contains lots of jokes that are very French considering their history, a lot of humour might be overlooked. France loves to poke fun at prejudice, one of their last biggest hits being BIENVENUE CHEZ LES CH’TIS (WELCOME TO THE STICKS) that just did so-so here.

This film sees a catholic French couple, Claude (Christian Clavier from LES VISITEURS) and Marie (Chantal Lauby) have their life turn upside down when their three daughters get married to men of different religion and origins - Jewish, Arab and Chinese. They are delighted though to hear their fourth daughter, Laure, announce her intention to marry Charles, a Catholic. But Charles is black from Africa. Marie plunges into meltdown depression while Claude plots to sabotage the wedding, with Andre, the groom’s father.

Unfortunately, the film is not that funny. It is standard French comedy fare, successful likely because it attempts to be different and racy. But director Chauvron moves his film very fast, so one hardly notices that there are not that many laughs in the script, which he co-wrote with Guy Laurent. But the three husbands, the Jew, Chinese and Arab try their hardest and are at least, very amusing.

The film contains lots of stereotypes with jokes created on them. If this is your kind of thing, SERIAL BAD WEDDINGS will be for you. 

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IbyLWzBLLf8

THE SECOND BEST EXOTIC MARIGOLD HOTEL (UK 2015) ***

Directed by John Madden

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The first film, THE BEST EXOTIC MARIGOLD HOTEL was formulaic, eager to please and felt like the typical British comedy export. So, expect more of the same with the sequel. With the likes of a fabulous cast like Maggie Smith, Judi Dench, Bill Nighy and apt direction by John Madden (SHAKESPEARE IN LOVE, MRS. BROWN), nothing should go wrong. As a bonus, there is an excellent dance sequence at the end, Bollywood-style that has the entire cast set in musical motion.

Running at a lengthy 2 hours and 2 minutes (overlong for a comedy), the time moves fast. There are many stories to tell in the film which is divided into 3 sections, ‘the engagement party’, ‘the wedding party’ and ‘the wedding’. One Marigold Hotel is not enough for Sonny Kapoor (Dev Patel). He plans to open a second one and his ambition gets between the romance between Sonny and his bride, which is the main plot of the film. The other stories involve various romances of the other elder guests like Douglas (Bill Nighy) and Evelyn (Judi Dench) and Norman (Ronald Pickup) and his neglected wife. Subplots are aplenty involving forgettable Douglas serving as the hotel’s tour guide and Evelyn starting her own business. And Muriel (Maggie Smith) trudges along the hotel grounds offering her cynical remarks. There are lots of activities to keep the audience occupied. Richard Gere joins the cast as a mysterious guest.

The Marigold Hotel is fully booked, according to he script. But the audience never see the hotel bustling with other customers except for the main cast.

Madden’s film aims to please. He plays it safe with the story and cast. It is a feel good movie where romance is in the air with just a hint of naughtiness. There are no villains and even the menacing wife is left with the audience’s sympathy at the end. Undiscerning audiences should be pleased.

Trailer: http://trailers.apple.com/trailers/fox_searchlight/thesecondbestexoticmarigoldhotel/

WILD TALES (RELATOS SALVEYES) (Argentina/Spain 2014) ***** Top 10
Directed by Damian Szifron

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The film’s title tells it as it is.  This is a film consisting of 6 WILD TALES.  The common theme is revenge.  They are inherently wild and the humour can get really dark.

The first few tales are more fun with a less serious tone, but every tale is fresh as fresh can be.

The first story is “Pasternak” which completes just before the opening credits roll.  This tale is arguably the funniest, shortest and the freshest.  It deals with an airplane full of passengers who have done wrong to a certain Gabriel Pasternak.  This short just gets the entire audience cheering through its cheeky energy, preparing the stage for what is to come.

The second is my favourite entitled “The Rats”.  A waitress (Julieta Zylberberg) in a diner discovers her only and extremely rude customer (Cesar Bordon) is the loan shark who drove her father to kill himself.  This is what she always dreamed of - of meeting the guy responsible for her family’s tragedy.  But she does not know what to do.  When she has not the courage to invoke revenge, the old cook (Rita Cortese) entices her to put rat poison in his eggs and chips.  This one has you, the audience spurring the waitress to kill the bastard.  Funniest thing too, is that the poison has past the expiry date.   Does that make the poison less or more potent?  The sardonic question goes….

The third “Road to Hell,” has Diego (Leonardo Sbaraglia), a hotshot businessman in an Audi, insult a redneck Peugeot driver (Walter Donado).  The result is a coyote vs roadrunner cartoonish fight which is also edge of the seat exciting.

The fourth is “Bombita”.  Simon (Ricardo Darin), a demolition engineer  has his car impounded and goes through “I’m as mad as hell” routine.  This one is funny but one does not connect all the way with Simon, as he appears like the annoying guy in the queue in front of you who wants his way, holding up the line, regardless.

The most serious “The Bill” is also the most unexpected and I cannot complain about this one.  Mauricio (Oscar Martinez) is a wealthy man which his lawyer (Osmar Nunez) milks to get his son, Santiago off a hit and run accident.

The last and my least favourite “Till Death Do Us Part,” set at a Jewish wedding reception sees bride Romina (Erica Rivas) discovering her groom Ariel (Diego Gentile) sleeping around with a guest.  She takes matters (i.e. revenge) into her own hands resulting in outrageous situations but with a predictable outcome.

This is a rare case of watching a film that you want never to end, though WILD TALES runs more than 2 hours. And that is the best compliment one can give to a movie.  Besides saying this is the most fun I have had in a movie!

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3BxE9osMt5U

 

BEST BETS:

Drama: '71 (opens next week)

Action: Kingsman: The Secret Service

Foreign Language: Wild Tales (Spain/Argentina)

Animation: Paddington

Comedy : What We Do in the Shadows

Best documentary: Red Army