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This Week's Film Reviews (May 22, 2015)

21 May 2015

Tomorrowland opens!

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TIFF Cinematheque continues its series on Georgian Cinema.

Inside Out LGBT Film Festival begins in Toronto.

FILM REVIEWS:

BANKSY DOES NEW YORK (USA 2014) ***
Directed by Chris Moukarbel

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In October 2013, British graffiti artist Banksy announced his New York residency by producing a new piece of work each day every day for 31 days in the various 5 boroughs. Like a scavenger hunt, the art works had to be hunted down and often removed a few hours after being discovered. Clues were given on the internet.

Director Moukarbel’s documentary traces all 31 days showing all his artwork. That is quite a chore and credit should be given to Moukarbel for both his dedication and hard work. His documentary celebrates art that is public and not confined to the galleries of the rich and fortunate. This is art that the street person can enjoy and relate to. Often, the works refer to current events such as terrorism.

No one knows who Banksy is or what he looks like. It would be enlightening if Banksy could be interviewed for the film for him to give more perspective on his work or motive. But no such luck! The mystery behind the man is just as fascinating as his work.

One fascinating segment has Banksy hire a man to sell his original works fro $60 each on the street. The first sale was made at 3 pm at a discounted price. This was captured on film. One wonders if the filmmaker was given prior information of the event or the segment was a re-enactment.

A good perspective is given from both Banksy hunters and a capitalist art gallery owner who appropriates Banksi’s work for personal profit. But Banksy does a good deed when the proceeds from one of his works at a thrift store are donated to a housing project for people with HIV.

BANSKY DOES NEW YORK works like a tutorial on the artist. Everything one should know about Banksy is revealed. The film plays safe and is both informative and entertaining.

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

THE FACE OF AN ANGEL (UK 2014) **

Directed by Michael Winterbottom

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THE FACE OF AN ANGEL is Michael Winterbottom’s (THE TRIP, THE TRIP TO ITALY, 24 HOURS PARTY PEOPLE) ambitious new film based on the real-life story of Amanda Knox who was accused of the murder of Meredith Kercher in 2007. The names of the accused and murdered have been changed with the lead character being a London film director (alter-ego of Winterbottom himself?) sent to Sienna to make make a movie of the case. It is also a case of life imitating art imitating life, a premise visited already once too often by other directors, notably Woody Allen, and done much better. 

The director is Thomas (German actor from Ron Howard’s racing film RUSH, Daniel Bruhl). He meets up with reporter Simone (Kate Beckinsale) who he has an affair with. The fact that he is married, on coke and constantly Skypes his daughter complicates matters as well as Winterbottom’s film. The hallucinations Thomas have cause more confusion as to often what is real or imagined.

The one thing similar about the film and Thomas’ character is that both the film and Thomas are a complete mess. Winterbottom, in the script claims that the audience of the to-be-made film will be more anxious on whether the accused is guilty. It would be be the same case for Winterbottom’s film as well. Winterbottom then goes on the ‘high and mighty’ route of how the truth can be falsified and interpreted and that the director’s duty is not to do that. In the film, Thomas is reading Dante’s Inferno and he wants to incorporate that into his film. So, both Thomas’ and Winterbottom’s films get sidetracked in the same way. It is interesting to a point, but Thomas’ character does not invoke any sympathy at all. In fact, he is shown as a pompous, cheating and drug addicted character who finally gets his due when his financial backers remove the movie from him.

Winterbottom has another twist in the plot that turns out rather predictable. But worse is that no one really cares about the Thomas character any longer.

Winterbottom devotes too much screen time to Jessica, the accused (Genevieve Gaunt) and flashbacks of the murdered Elizabeth (Sai Bennett) for a film with the main plot revolving around Thomas.
But Daniel Bruhl isn’t half bad in the role of Thomas. The film also celebrates the beauty of Italy (the university town of Sienna, that is) as in Winterbottom’s last film, THE TRIP TO ITALY. Model newcomer Cara Delevingne makes her debut as the sexy Melanie who Thomas hires as a guide (with benefits) to show him around the town.

If Winterbottom’s film fails to solve the mystery of the murder, it also fails to make the point on media exploitation clearly. But a half intelligent audience can guess the purpose of Winterbottom’s film pretty early on, but his film still turns out to be a messy one.

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=W7PkNP4vCxY

SAINT LAURENT (France 2014) ****
Directed by Bertrand Bonello

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Two films on the French designer Yves Saint Laurent in the space of a year apart can be a little confusing. This later one SAINT LAURENT (the first was entitled YVES SAINT LAURENT), is the longer and better one, also chosen as France’s entry for the Best Foreign Film Oscar, though it did not get a nomination.

Bertrand Bonello’s film centres on Saint Laurent’s life from 1967 to 1976 when he was at the peak of his career. His past years in the army are mentioned, and with him aging is also displayed at the end of the film, intercut with one of his showings. The story is not told in chronological order, beginning in the 70’s going back to 1968 and then back to 1974.

The film spends quite the bit of running time celebrating life in the 70’s and late 60’s. A fair amount of time is also devoted to YSL at work with his staff, polishing the touches of his design just before a show. YSL at work and his partner Berge making business deals are the best parts of the movie. A dialogue taking place between one of his managers and himself showing not only how tight his schedule is but who he designs for (Catherine Deneuve for the Truffaut films) is particularly intriguing and insightful. Watching YSL designing, prancing around in the clubs, making love and living the decadent flamboyant lifestyle makes the film shine. It surely shows the fashion industry as a demanding one. Truly, he has fought the fight for elegance, as voiced by YSL himself.

Bonello also proves how compelling fashions is. Using split screen to tell twin events - the left of current events such as the riots in Paris and the right screen of the models and clothes on display, the audience would find the right screen more intriguing. Bonello’s film is as stylish as the subject he presents.

Bonello’s film concentrates more on the drugs and sex than the other film, in which drugs are just briefly mentioned. YSL’s hallucinations (the snakes) are vivid and there is a disturbing scene of his pet overdosing on pills left on the floor. There is full male frontal nudity displaying actor Gaspard Ulliel’s big package as well as Jeremie Renier’s. That might be worth the price of the film itself.

Ulliel who won the Cesar for Best Actor for this role is excellent and totally credible as YSL. Jeremie Renier plays his manager and lover Pierre Berge while Louis Garrel (Bertolucci’s THE DREAMERS) plays the ‘mistress’ Jacques de Bascher.

Cineastes in the know will recognize Bonello’s inside joke. There is a scene where an old YSL played by Helmut Berger watches an TV screening of the old Luchino Visconti film THE DAMNED in which Berger himself starred when young in the 70’s. YSL’s mother was just briefly mentioned and the scene in THE DAMNED depicts the Helmut Berger character about to rape his mother played by Ingrid Thulin.

But Bonella’s film runs too long as it is at 150 minutes. It could easily be cut down to 90 minutes, but it would have lost the extravagance that is typical of the subject YSL himself. SAINT LAURENT is not a masterpiece, but it attempts to be on and one cannot fault Bonello for trying so hard.

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vhkSXbmm-uQ

TOMORROWLAND (USA 2015) **

Directed by Brad Bird

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TOMORROWLAND, first known as one of the attractions at Disneyland is now a full length feature movie. The film celebrates the future. TOMORROWLAND, as it appears in the film, looks like an amusement park complete with futuristic gadgets, sky trains and modern clothing (ridiculous as they may look - especially the cloak on Governor Nix (Hugh Laurie).

TOMORROWLAND is the land or earth in the future. Only the future is not what it seems and the gates at the entrance are now shut. The place is guarded by killer robots led by Dave Clark (a wonderful performance for a robot by Canadian Matthew MacCaull). The reason takes most of the film to explain and the last third is a fight to ‘save the world’ action. But the film is a complete mess. 

The film begins with two interviewees, Frank Walker (George Clooney) and Casey Newton (Britt Robertson) talking out to the screen about TOMORROWLAND. The two disagree on what to say, whether to praise or condemn the place. The film then flashes back into two stories, one involving young Frank (Thomas Robertson) and the other Casey eliciting the aid of the older Frank to enter TOMORROWLAND. There are 3 stories here, the third one involving saving the world.

Brad Bird (THE INCREDIBLES and UP) directs as if he is directing a cartoon. The manic pace is not only hard to follow but makes little sense. Before telling the third story, the audience is totally in the dark as to what is happening. This could be the purpose of the script, but keeping the main plot of the film from the audience and confusing the audience are two definitely separate things. Finally when the audience understands the plot, the film culminates in action-hero type fight sequences that make no sense and contains no continuity. The last fight sequence has the audience forced to concentrate on 3 fights at the same time, taking place in two places simultaneously (a beach and Tomorrowland) with gigantic robots appearing out of nowhere. Worse still, Bird’s film then takes off on a tangent becoming too preachy on spreading some message on good will - so ridiculous that it has to span different continents and races with all the chosen suddenly appearing just as confused as the audience in the fields outside TOMORROWLAND.

The one plus factor about the film is the art and set decoration, wardrobe excluded. TOMORROWLAND does look like the perceived future. The sets including the Eiffle Tower and the scene of the pod shooting out of the tower form mesmerizing sights. But there is more to a movie than special effects. Product placements like Coca-Cola are also present, but at least these are integrated into the story.

Performance-wise, Clooney does Clooney. Clooney takes his role very seriously as can be seen with his character freaking out then lecturing the younger ones. But the prize performance comes from Raffey Cassidy, who plays robot Athena that not only Frank but the audience will fall in love with. She is a child with a grown up face, and actors with this feature appears to have a gift for acting. She creates in her character wonderful multiple personalities like charm, unpredictability, innocence and maturity.

At the film’s start, Frank’s flying invention is rejected by Nix because it serves no purpose but to create joy for the contraption. The same might almost be said for Bird’s movie. It serves no purpose but unfortunately, it is hardly that entertaining either. But for TOMORROWLAND, the best thing that will be remembered will be its best robot performances by both Raffey Cassidy and Matt MacCaull.

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1k59gXTWf-A

 

BEST BETS:

Best Film Opening: Saint Laurent

Drama: '71

Action: Mad Max: Fury Road

Foreign Language: Saint Laurent

Comedy : What We Do in the Shadows

Best documentary: Going Clear: Scientology and the Prison of Belief

 

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