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This Week's Film Reviews (May 1, 2015)

02 May 2015

The biggest film so far this year opens. THE AVENGERS: AGE OF ULTRON has already grossed $200 million worldwide before opening in North America.  So all other films will pale in comparison.

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Toronto BIG Hot Docs Film Festival continues this week

FILM REVIEWS:

THE AVENGERS: AGE OF ULTRON (USA 2015) **

Directed by Joss Whedon

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Director Joss Whedon of the first AVENGERS film reunites the Marvel superheroes in the second blockbuster special effects actioner that lasts 2 and a half hours too long.

Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.), Captain America (Chris Evans), Thor (Chris Hemsworth), the Incredible Hulk (Mark Ruffalo), Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner) and the Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) among others attempt to put their egos aside (without much luck) to battle the evil Ultron (voiced by James Spader) in order to save the earth.

The plot, if one can decipher it concerns Tony Start (Ironman) putting together a peacekeeping program. The film begins with a raid on a hydra outpost in which it is hard to distinguish the good from the bad guys. The prize catch happens to be a sceptre that holds a gem containing artificial intelligence of some kind. The story gets more confusing. If one tries to make head or tail of it, it will soon be realized that it is of no consequence and it is best to just sit back and filter through the rubbish. Even the dialogue is senseless. Take for example Fury’s (Samuel L. Jackson) words: “No matter who wins or loses, trouble always comes.” The peacekeeping attempts go awry but eventually get sorted out. Unlike the film. For one, the film is all over the place. Literally! It begins in the Eastern European country of Sokovia moving to a desolate farm which is Barton’s safe house to Seoul, South Korea to New York. 

The film contains $280 million worth of special effects (best to see the film in 3D or IMAX of course) and actor egos. Lots of explosions, destruction of buildings, mechanical robots (Transformers style) and flying action are present, enough to saturate the demands of action fans and to give others a sizeable headache.  But the fights are less than thrilling but just short spurts of special effects.  There is little continuity in the fighting sequences.

Ultimately, the film comes to an end with a few casualties and the audience realizes that what has transpired is a noisy incoherent mess of the worst that Hollywood has to offer. Obviously this film will make lots of money, having already grossed more than $200 million overseas before opening domestically. Cinema fans will flock to see this for the prime reason that it is the big film to see, with all the Marvel heroes coming together again. There are two sequels already planned on the way.

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MZoO8QVMxkk

CAN’T STAND LOSING YOU: SURVIVING THE POLICE (USA 2012) ***

Directed by Andy Grieve

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It took 2 years for this Police documentary, already released in the U.S. to reach Canadian screens, but Sting and Police fans should be more than pleased. Andy Grieve’s documentary offers an uncompromising look at the band’s history to the present largely using archive footage of performances and interviews. The band members look so amazingly young and gorgeous.

The film is wholly narrated by one of the three band members Andy Summers, the other two being Sting and Stewart Copeland. This is more appropriate as the film is based on the acclaimed memoir One Train Later by rock guitarist Andy Summers. 

The film follows Summers' journey from his early days in the psychedelic '60s music scene, when he played with The Animals, to chance encounters with drummer Stewart Copeland and bassist Sting, which led to the formation of a punk trio, The Police. During the band's phenomenal rise and its dissolution at the height of their popularity in the mid-80s, Summers captured history with his candid photographs. Utilizing rare archival footage and insights from the guitarist's side of the stage, the film brings together past and present as the band members reunite, more than two decades later, for a global reunion tour in 2007, which is where the film begins before flashing back to the past.

The film’s best moment has a participant at a karaoke bar singing “Every Breath You take”, before noticing Andy Summers besides him singing along. The film has many similar bright moments that will amuse Police fans. The highlights, obviously are the Police performing their hits like Roxanne.

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QAtOXEGJZm0

FAR FROM THE MADDING CROWD (UK 2015) ****
Directed by Thomas Vineterberg

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FAR FROM THE MADDING CROWD, Danish Thomas Vinterberg’s (CELEBRATION) 2015 adaptation of the famed Thomas Hardy classic novel will inevitably be compared to the 1968 John Schlesinger film with Julie Christie as the heroine courted by Terence Stamp (the soldier), Peter Finch (the landowner) and Alan Bates (the farmer).

Having just re-seen the Schlesinger film on my hard drive, it is a hard toss to decide the better film. Both have its plusses and minuses. It is probably best to note the differences and also best to watch both films back to back. But needless to say, Brit Schlesinger’s film is more English to look at than Vinterberg’s.

The story is kept faithful to the book. Bathsheba Everdene (Carey Mulligan) is a handsome woman in her prime owning good farmland in Dorset, England. Vinterberg’s Bathsheba is wealthy (whereas Schlesinger’s is barely making it) and the pastures of farmland and countryside are all green compared to the tough barren brownness of Nicholas Roeg’s cinematography. She is courted by no less than 3 suitors all worthy gentlemen. Gabriel Oak (Matthias Schoenaerts) is the first to make his intentions known. A sheep farmer who recently lost all his sheep to mad dog (it is not that funny but quite sad), he is a decent chap who is truly faithful. From the first scene, the audience is able to guess that he is the one she will finally settle down with. The rich one is William Boldwood (Michael Sheen), no lesser a gentleman but the third is a scrounging soldier, Sgt. Frank Troy (Tom Sturridge), the suave kind of male who will sweep any female off her feet. He gets her for the first hand of marriage.

No need to spoil enjoyment revealing the rest of the story, as it is good not to know what happens. Vinterberg’s film and camera loves the English countryside from the green meadows, to the cliffs to the breaking waves on the rocks. It is a romanticized period piece. 

Mulligan makes a good headstrong woman. But she looks too good with her perfectly curled groomed hair under the headdress compared to Julie Christie’s free flowing long hair. The three males are just as efficient in their portrayals but the real star of the piece is the background of the Thomas Hardy tale. The traits and mores of the times, the wheeling and dealing of wealth and the hardship of the times are what gives the film its distinctness. Vinterberg has kept his film handsome looking, sometimes a little too much. Schlesinger’s film is more dirty, down-to-earth right down to the dialogue. In Schlesinger’s film, Bathsheba turns Gabriel’s proposal of marriage down by saying it right out front that she does not love him. Vinterberg’s heroine tells him she wishes not to be anyone’s property and admits that she rather does ‘like’ him.

But it is the romance that finally brings the film to its conclusion. Though what occurs might be expected, the journey there is still a very worthwhile story to tell. 

FAR FROM TH MADDING CROWD beats most Hollywood romances hands down. It is a beautiful film to look at and and a beautiful film overall. Forget THE LONGEST RIDE and THE AGE OF ADALINE.

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WCm1XNVD_0c

PREGGOLAND (Canada 2014) ***
Directed by Jacob Tierney

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PREGGOLAND acted and written by Sonja Bennett has a simple premise. An ostracized female Ruth (Bennett) is again accepted by her high school clique after she feigns pregnancy. She realizes that a pregnant woman is treated like a goddess and she takes the pretence to the limit. Similarly, the script takes the premise to the limit, and with desirable results.

The film touches many other key important issues. It covers the suburban woman stuck in a rut, infertility, the hypocrisy of birth classes, growing up as well as including an unexpected romance, father/daughter relationship and corporate biased company mentality.

When Bennett makes a fool of herself while creating trouble at a baby shower, her three friends tell her that she is no longer welcome in the group until she lies that she is pregnant. Her new boss at the grocery store she works gives her her job back and promotes her to assistant manager. Her father (James Caan) who suffers a heart attack, is delighted at her pregnancy, suddenly favouring her over the other sister. Meanwhile, the store’s janitor (Danny Trejo) aids her in the masquerade.

The film is not that funny at the start but the film slowly picks up and grows on the audience. By the middle of the film, director Tierney has generated sufficient laugh-out loud moments to make the film a winner. There are choice key moments too that comes from keen observations and some  clever writing.

Bennett is winning as the main character. But Caan as the father and Trejo provide prize supporting roles. Though it can be criticized that Trejo’s Mexican character is stereotyped, he does provide a good portion of the laughs. And according to interviews, he provided those “si, senior” lines on his own.

Despite the heavy female theme, PREGGOLAND should entertain both sexes as an overall comical entertainment.

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zgDec0lak90

BEST BETS:

Best Film Opening: Far From the Madding Crowd

Drama: '71

Action: Kingsman: The Secret Service

Foreign Language: Wild Tales (Spain/Argentina)

Animation: Paddington

Comedy : What We Do in the Shadows

Best documentary: The Salt of the Earth

Horror: It Follows

 

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