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This Week's Film Reviews (May 29, 2015)

28 May 2015

SAN ANDREAS opens!  Also opening are ALOHA, WHEN MARNIE WAS THERE, I'LL SEE YOU IN MY DREAMS and SURVIVOR.  

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TIFF Cinematheque continues its series on Georgian Cinema.

Inside Out LGBT Film Festival ending in Toronto

FILM REVIEWS:

ALOHA (USA 2015) ***
Directed by Cameron Crowe

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Cameron Crowe’s ALOHA pays tribute to the natives of Hawaii just as the George Clooney vehicle did in THE DESCENDANTS.  in ALOHA, the Americans need the sacred burial lands of the natives in order to build a space facility.

So into the picture comes Brian Gilcrest (Bradley Cooper) working for shady, playboy billionaire Carson Welch (Bill Murray). Brian is a defines contractor assigned to oversee the launch of a weapons satellite from Hawaii, thus contributing to the militarization of space.  His guide is Captain Allison Ng (Emma Stone), who Brian eventually falls in love with. But Brian has been in Hawaii before. His ex-girlfriend Tracy (Rachel McAdams) who is married to Woody (John Krasinski) forms a solid side plot to the story.

But ALOHA is a Hollywood romantic comedy in the worse sense, despite Crowe’s occasional amusing touch. The romance begins with the couple, Brian and Allison meeting on ill terms. The usual man’s best friend role is replaced by he ex-girlfriend Tracy. The obstacle to the romance - Harlequin style, is the issue of the militarization of space. Allison believes strongly that the sky should always be free whereas Brian has to undo his contribution to the militarization to prove his love. It is all predictable fare and of course, the happy ending is there when the couple finally make up and all’s well that ends well.

Despite the film’s shortcomings, there are some prize comedic set-ups. The best of these is the silent confrontation scene between Woody and Brian, done with subtitles. The second is the dance segment in the club with Emma Stone and Bill Murray showing the moves.

Performance-wise, Emma Stone steals the show. The inside joke where her character is called at one point Allison A reminds one of her breakout role in EASY A. It is also odd to watch Bill Murray in the rare role of the villain. Alec Baldwin is hilarious as the very angry General Dixon as is clean-shaven Danny McBride as "Fingers".

Despite being formulaic, ALOHA is an entertaining romantic comedy for the not too demanding audience.

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=O3mf_ewjc7s

I’LL SEE YOU IN MY DREAMS (USA 2015) ***

Directed by Brett Haley

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The title derives from the song a character, the pool cleaner, Lloyd (Martin Starr) has written and sings for Carol a 70-something widow (Blythe Danner from MEET THE PARENTS, FUTUREWORLD) at the end of the film. It is unclear, though quite likely if Lloyd wrote the song for her, but the uncertainty here and in many parts of the film is what gives Brett Haley’s film its charm.

The story follows the life of Carol a retired schoolteacher, former singer and a longtime 20 year widow in her 70s. She enjoys a tranquil routine playing cards with close friends, keeping up her garden, and relaxing with a glass of wine. When her beloved dog, Hazel dies, there's a mournful vacuum that draws new experiences and attachments into her world. She forges a friendship with her pool guy, Lloyd and allows a pal to drag her to a speed dating shindig. And then there's the gravelly-voiced, exuberant gentleman, Bill (Sam Elliot also to be seen in the upcoming GRANDMA), who comes out of nowhere. They begin dating. Bill shows his ‘joie de vivre’ insisting not to live his life like the majority. He buys a boat and takes carol boating and fishing.

What works here is the ease at which the incidents flow. Though occasionally slow moving, the antics of the weed-smoking and card playing group of old folks are amusing enough. The love-making scene between Bill and Carol is also done with good taste and amusement.

Danner is winning in her role and she is the main reason the film works well. Her rendition of “Cry Me a River” at a Karaoke session marks both her character’s sadness in life and her spirit to try new ventures. But the best song is the title song which is sung imperfectly with a few flat notes but yet very earnestly with appropriate lyrics. Listening to that song alone (performed by the songwriter and dubbed into Starr’s voice) is worth the price of the film ticket. Danner is supported by an able cast including Judy Squibb (Oscar nominee in NEBRASKA), Mary Kay Place and Rhea Perlman playing her cronies.

Nothing is expected, anything can happen. Carol’s dog dies, she gets another one. She finds another friend while one dies. And so life goes on. That perhaps is the message of the movie. Life goes on. Also opening soon is the Swedish art film A PIGEON SAT ON A BRANCH REFLECTING ON EXISTENCE. I’LL SEE YOU IN MY DREAMS is perhaps the Hollywood version of a human reflecting existence.

There are a few films made for the over-50’s. I’LL SEE YOU IN MY DREAMS is one of the better ones.

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=F1VbBOTXzfI

RESULTS (USA 2015) ***

Directed by Andrew Bujalski

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COMPUTER CHESS director Andrew Bujalski attempts a more commercial storyline in his latest love story triangle comedy/drama RESULTS while still maintaining all his quirkiness. The film deals with a story concerning real issues sprinkled with lots of keen observations and sarcasm. Occasionally witty and hilarious, RESULTS is a fine little movie that also occasionally shines.

The setting is Tennessee with the main character, Trevor (Guy Pearce) running around like a chicken with its head chopped off and speaking with an Australian accent. Like many budding entrepreneurs, his hardly successful business is his life dream and goal, though his management of the company, a fitness facility called Power 4 Life is another matter. He forgets to deposit checks, has his employees do forms but never follows up and lets his fitness employees get the better of him. Worst of all, he has an affair and falls in love with employee Kat (Cobie Smulders) but lets her go in lieu of his business expansion plans. The script, written by Bujalski has lots of juicy potential for comedy and drama, which he blends together comfortably. He adds a third person into the picture - an unfit super-wealthy client, Danny (Kevin Corrigan) who does not know what to do with his recently inherited money. Don’t we all wish we were in his shoes? Danny also falls in love with Kat. His spur of the moment rendering of his love is both the saddest and funniest part of the film.

Bujalski also captures the inane behaviour of many business owners. Trevor also meets a half crazy kettle drum guru Grigory (played with a German accent by Anthony Michael Hall) who is also a rival gym owner. 

Bujalski also creates a lot of inventive comedic set-ups including a weed-smoking sequence, the many confrontational segments - Danny and ex-wife; Kat and Danny and Kat and Trevor and fitness sessions

RESULTS is like a simpler Woody Allen film in which the characters are all real and not living in posh Manhattan apartments and cracking jokes on art, music or literature. In RESULTS, the characters live in the suburbs, argue more than joke, get angry a lot and cannot articulate their emotions half the time. Bujalski’s characters are also real life characters that fumble more than succeed, mostly due to their desperation and inadequacies. They are not perfect Hollywood characters that live in a fantasy world. It is good that the audience will be able to laugh at themselves watching similar people or acquaintances on display. 

The result is RESULTS being a more relevant film. But unfortunately it ends like a predictable romantic comedy complete with Hollywood ending of boy getting the girl.

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XoM_dM7tQvI

SAN ANDREAS (USA 2015) **

Directed by Brad Peyton

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SAN ANDREAS opens this week with all the hype of a great disaster movie. The last film made solely on an earthquake was way back when in the now obsolete Sensurround System in the film called EARTHQUAKE starring Charlton Heston. 

SAN ANDREAS directed by JOURNEY 2: MYSTERIOUS ISLAND’s Brad Peyton which also starred Dwayne (The Rock) Johnson is an earthquake disaster movie. Like Tom Cruise’s WAR OF THE WOLRDS, it is a father looking after his child but this case a teen daughter, Blake (Alexandra Daddario) in the midst of the chaos. Daddario screams most of the time, looking like the typical scantily clad female stalked in a slasher killer film. A subplot involving the hero, Chief Ray Gaines (Johnson) trying to patch up his marriage to wife Emma (Carla Gugino) is silly enough to have the whole film geared to it. Unsurprisingly, she is currently seeing a man, who is an asshole. What else can ever be new in a cliched plot with well used incidents in a terrible script by Chad Hayes, Carey Hayes, Allan Loeb and Carlton Case. Never mind the line “We Will get through this”, the perhaps most used line in cinema script history proudly displayed in a poster at the end of the film. Also, lines such as “We will find her, I promise”, or “We’ll get out, I promise” abound. 

The special effects and the CGI (though I always despise CGI) look particularly real. But how many times does one want to see the Golden Gate Bridge destroyed with all the vehicles on it swept into the water? The best scene is a helicopter rescue of a girl stuck on a ledge in a San Fernando Valley fault at the start of the film. Nothing else in the film can match this start. The film also teases the audience with her talking to the cell and digging into her handbag while never getting into an accident until landslide pushes her car into the fault. The film goes downhill right from there, pretty fast.

The cast of relative unknowns fare better. Now action star Dwayne Johnson has proven himself as capable an actor as a worker on his biceps. He does his best with the sorry script which is so lazy, it also discards any opportunity for humour.

It is one disaster set-up after another that turn so ridiculously unbelievable (driving a boat into a skyscraper) that it turns boring quite soon.

As this is a family film, no blood, broken body parts or graphic violence is shown on screen adding to the film’s boredom. The intercut story of Professor Lawrence (Paul Giamatti) and his crew of students predicting earthquakes is also highly unimaginative.

SAN ANDREAS turns out to be quite a disaster instead of quite the disaster film.

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Bz9e0PGSDeU

SURVIVOR (USA 2015) **

Directed by Lewis McTeigue

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Milla Jovovich plays SURVIVOR, Kate. Kate, a Foreign Service Officer newly posted to the US Embassy in London (working on Visas), United Kingdom is on the run after she is framed for crimes she did not commit. She is is chased by not only the police but by yes, what the script calls the most wanted assassin in the world named The Watchmaker (Pierce Brosnan) who attempted to eliminate her during one of his bombings. 

It is a catch and mouse chase from London to New York City.

But what transpires is a Milla Jovovich vehicle similar to her RESIDENT EVIL films. So,leave credibility to the wind.

Australian director McTeigue’s film shoots an impressive opening with chopper crash amidst a takedown somewhere in Afghanistan that serves as an introduction to the story. 

It turns out that one of the American men in the chopper is the son of Kate’s colleague, the chief of the Visa applications (Robert Forster) in the Embassy. He gets blackmailed to approve visas for terrorists applying to the U.S.

But the film goes downhill from here. In fact the more the film progresses, the more outrageous it gets, often with large loopholes in the plot, that the script by Philip Shelby assumes the audience will fill in. One big loophole is what the Taliban has to do with the central plot of exploding a bomb that will kills hundred of Americans on New Year’s Eve in NYC. The only other time the Taliban is involved is at the beginning of the film in Afghanistan. All the other villains are east European.

The one most ridiculous segment has Kate’s boss (James d’Arcy) left for dead after a shoot out in the middle of the film, only to have him standing up as if nothing has happened giving Kate a congratulations telephone call at the end of the film. The other is the rip-off Hitchcock NORTH BY NORTHWEST like airport scene in which Kate is caught on camera holding a fired pistol after the victim collapses.

Kate plays a super efficient agent, yet her character does not have the idea of using make-up to cover up the scratches she obtained in an explosion when she is hunted down by the police. 

The one good thing of the film is the lack of romance. There is a hint of homosexual tension whenever Kate meets her best friend working at the art gallery - a slant likely ripped off from Hitchcock’s REBECCA. The musical score is annoying in the way it always starts playing when the mood of the film changes, to ensure the audience feels the right way.

The film has a modern look - especially of London. Sights of flashy cars, fancy restaurants serving fancy good (the Gaston), the Overground and the London Eye bring the film to the new century. The impressive cast that includes Emma Thompson, Angela Bassett and Dylan McDermott unfortunately cannot lift the film above its failures. Pierce Brosnan's role as the watchmaker is his worst since his singing debut in MAMMA MIA!

But one thing going for it are the unintentional laughs and a few intentional ones. Sometimes it is hard to tell which are intentional. “The Longer she lives, the more men die” uttered by the U.S. ambassador (Angela Bassett) is one of them. The film, though ridiculous in storyline, is still a bit entertaining to watch just for the sake of laughs. 

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GtQR5KGJiQk

WHEN MARNIE WAS THERE (Japan 2014) ****

Directed by Hiromasa Yonebayashi

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WHEN MARNIE WAS THERE is the latest and perhaps the last animated film to come out of Japan’s financially struck Studio Ghibli, following the retirement of Hayao Miyazaki, the man responsible for the studio’s successes like SPIRITED AWAY, PONYO and HOWL’S MOVING TO CASTLE, to name my 3 favourites. Director Yonebayashi has worked as a key animator in quite a few Ghibli films and the spirit of the films is clearly felt in MARNIE. The story is a fantasy involving a mansion, ghosts, illness and romance - elements often found in Miyazaki’s films.

Based on the British novel of the same name by Joan G. Robinson, WHEN MARNIE WAS THERE, follows 12-year old Anna spending a summer with relatives in a seaside town to recover from her asthma problems.  Anna discovers an abandoned mansion, dilapidated and overgrown, across a seaside marsh and wades across the marsh to investigate it. She dreams of the mansion well lit and sees a blond girl, Marnie. Marnie tells Anna she is not dreaming. They form a close bond - two lonely girls, as Marnie is often left on her own by her parents in the large mansion only to be bullied by the servants. But reality is not all it seems and there is more behind the story of Marnie. The film is strong on story, which results in a animated family film , good for children too, but short on action and comedy.  This is perhaps a good recommendation as a family film as what goes for the film is a good solid story.

Compared to the other Ghibli films, MARNIE is exceptionally animated. Every scene is like a Japanese painting. The scenes with water, like the rain and streams are exceptional.

Anna is animated with a girl with very short hair, so thats she looks like a boy in the film. The reason likely for Anna to keep her hair short is for ease in her convalescence. 

The story contains magical moments like a hidden diary with missing pages that reveal a secret. But the story is a very sad yet beautiful one, with a wonderful twist in the plot. The characters are colourful like the silent fisherman Toichi who finally speaks at the end, the plump aunt who fusses about Anna and of course the leads Anna and Marnie.

I saw the original Japanese version with subtitles. The dubbed version has the voices of Hailee Steinfeld as Anna, Kieran Shipka as Marnie, with stars like Vanessa L.Williams, Catherine O’Hara, Geena Davis, John C. Reilly, Kathy Bates and Ellem Burstyn also lending their talents. The film’s Japanese title translates directly into “Memories of Marnie”.

WHEN MARNIE WAS THERE ranks as one of the best of the Studio Ghibli films. One cannot ask for a better animated feature this year.

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UCAjMGl1mJg

BEST BETS:

Best Film Opening: When Marnie Was There

Drama: '71

Action: Mad Max: Fury Road

Animation: When Marnie Was There

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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