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This Week's Film Reviews (June 5, 2015)

04 Jun 2015

ENTOURAGE, SPY (both early openings on Wednesday) and INSIDIOUS 3 are the big ones opening this week.  Watch out for HUNGRY HEARTS an excellent psychological suspense drama.

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FILM REVIEWS:

ALOFT (Canada/France/Spain 2013) **

Directed by Claudia Llosa

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ALOFT is Peruvian director Claudia Llosa’s follow up to her Golden Bear winning THE MILK OF SORROW. Llosa is known for her stunningly shot cinematography and lyrical films.

ALOFT follows the same fashion as her other films. Shot in icy landscapes of an Arctic Circle setting, there are scenes of beauty like the underwater scenes of a frozen sea and thought provoking words like going for darkness instead of the light for safety.

ALOFT follows a desperate mother, Nana Kunning (Jennifer Connelly) who has two sons, one of whom is dying of cancer. She follows faith healers to save her son though she ends up losing him in an accident. She is also suspected to be a faith healer after she cures a girl’s sight after she touches her eyes. Interwoven into this tale is her other son, Ivan’s (Cillian Murphy) together with another French reporter, Jannia (Melanie Laurent) search for her.

Llosa’s film is confusing, annoying and a narrative mess. For one, she requires the audience to figure out the plot that moves at a snail’s pace. Llosa does not make it easy either. The audience will be trying to figure out then plot right to the last reel. She tells her story intercutting different times and stories without offering any explanations whatsoever. One could argue that is sometimes worth working for ones pleasure of enjoying a film, but this is pushing the limit. 

There are also loopholes in the plot. Does Nana rely possess any healing powers? The training of the hawks really has nothing to do with the story but provide metaphors. And when it is revealed that Jannia is also searching for a miracle to be healed, one can only wonder what could get worse for the film.

Llosa’s film ends up in a climax where Ivan loses it, screaming at the top of his lungs at Nana which could be described as shameless cheap melodrama. One cannot blame the actors like Connelly and Murphy who do their best but are are hampered by the awful script.

ALOFT ends up as a meaningless artsy exercise, in which it is best to stay all aloof from the movie.

Trailer: https://vimeo.com/90206863

BERKSHIRE COUNTY (Canada 2014) ***

Directed by Audrey Cummings

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At a Halloween party, Kylie Winters (Alysa King) dresses as Little Red Riding Hood but gets caught on a video giving her boyfriend (Aaron Chartrand) a blow job. Everyone in school knows. She is bullied and beaten up. 

The premise of the film has her babysit at an isolated country mansion on Halloween night. When a small boy in a pig mask appears at the door trick-or-treating, Kylie's night transforms into a horrifying and violent cat-and-mouse game.  She must go beyond what she ever thought possible if she and the children are to survive the night. This is actually quite a good slasher film. It bears similarities to many classic horror films with a difference. For one, the Kylie character is like CARRIE without the telekinetic powers. In this film, she has to use her human instincts to survive and prove herself. 

At one point in the film when she she running away from the killers, her blow job boyfriend shows up. She has now to depend on this dick to save her. Hilarious at parts and totally enjoyable.  Also love the part when Kylie’s mother (Amy Winters) tells her daughter off.

Trailer: https://vimeo.com/110957989

DARK STAR: H.R. GIGER’S WORLD (Switzerland 2014) ***
Directed by Belinda Sallin

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The dark documentary on H.R. Giger is a free flowing one, illustrating the work and life of the artist that garnered world acclaim after winning the Oscar for his work on ALIEN.

If the film moves slowly and does not reveal much on the man, part of the reason is the man himself. Giger was in flailing health when the doc was made, evident by his slow movements whenever he has to move or speak. Thus, the interviews with him present are short so that most of the information is derived from his entourage, who are also interviewed.

But it is not the man alone that is fascinating. It is his work and influenced factors. Director Sallin spends a fair amount of screen time showing his work, including his masks, sculptors at home and also on the set of ALIEN. What is shown on screen is pretty dark and scary just as the unknown is. Giger attributes his dreams and LSD usage to have influenced his work.

If at the end of the documentary, nothing much has been determined about Giger’s family or youth, one can complain that Sallin’s film has missed all these out. But the film is uncompromising in the fact that it does not want to prejudice people’s view of the man. Shot in German and in English.

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=U1MXYaQA04U

ENTOURAGE (USA 2015) **1/2

Directed by Doug Ellin

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The much anticipated feature film version of the 8 season HBO series is a difficult project. It has to satisfy its fans as well satisfy non-fans as a stand-alone film. It succeeds in a way in both but the film lacks the hilarity that is expected from a Hollywood comedy that pokes fun at the Hollywood film-making machine.

The film reunites the show's original cast, led by Kevin Connolly, Adrian Grenier, Kevin Dillon, Jerry Ferrara and Jeremy Piven. Movie star Vincent Chase (Grenier), together with his boys, Eric (Connolly), Turtle (Ferrara) and Johnny (Dillon), are back...and back in business with super agent-turned-studio head Ari Gold (Piven).

The film begins where the last episode in the last HBO season left off. Ari is living in Florence with his wife, both dissatisfied with the new life. Vincent is breaking up with his fiancee. Eric is supportive of his ex who is about to deliver a baby. To those unfamiliar with the series, it really does not matter. The film can begin as it it with all those beginnings. And no one will notice either.

Of the entire ENTOURAGE cast, the best performances are from Piven, Dillon and Haley Joel Osment (the boy who sees dead people in THE SIXTH SENSE) as Travis, the most obnoxious rich son of a Texas tycoon (Billy Bob Thornton) who one would just want to strangle. But the interaction of the actors work really well, which helps lift the film above its flaws. An added bonus is the list of cameos (Liam Neeson, Gary Busey, Pharrell Williams, Mike Tyson, Bob Saget, David Arquette, Mark Wahlberg et al.) who appear at various points in the film. The funniest performance comes from Korean Rex Lee playing the actor planning his perfect gay wedding.

The film displays both the absurdity and the glamour of Hollywood. Everyone is drop dead gorgeous with buffed bodies, both male and female. The music during the parties are top notch.

The chief complaint for this comedy is that it is just not funny enough. Otherwise, the film does pretty well. Ellin does a surprisingly good job at poking fun at Hollywood. 

It is a pity ENTOURAGE does not reach the full potential that it could. Still, it is entertaining, despite it not being that funny and has enough material to satisfy the HBO ENTOURAGE fans.

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Vz2HyCgUWh4

HUNGRY HEARTS (Italy 2014) ****
Directed by Saverio Costanzo

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Though a complete Italian production, HUNGRY HEARTS is set in a New York apartment and shot entirely in English with the lead actor being American. But the lead actress and director are Italian. HUNGRY HEARTS is another assured feature from director Costanzo who have made successful features like IN MEMORY OF ME and THE SOLITUDE OF PRIME NUMBERS.

The film traces the complete relationship of a young married couple. The first meeting between the gregarious Jude (Adam Driver) and the shy, withdrawn Mina (Alba Rohrwacher) occurs when they are trapped together in a Chinese restaurant washroom. This is a lengthy 15-minute segment that is one of the most hilarious romantic meetings ever captured on film.

Jude and Mina fall helplessly in love. The wedding dance is shot to the tune of “What a Feeling” from FLASHDANCE which turns out to be a real emotions lifter. What follows after is a downright contrast of unbearable emotional drama.

The problem arises with the birth of their baby. Mina wants nothing artificial for the baby, not allowing the baby to go out into the sunlight or feeding on meat. The baby’s growth is stagnant. Jude is prevented from bringing the baby to the doctor. So, Jude steals the baby away and feeds him protein secretly. Mina finds out, of course, and Jude eventually kidnaps their son to be looked after by his mother. (Roberta Maxwell)

HUNGRY HEARTS captures the audience’s attention and never lets go. The result is a compelling and frightening account of the couple’s troubles. Coupled with it is the fate of the baby that could result in stunted growth both physically and mentally.

Costanzo shoots certain scenes as if the characters are seen from the reflection of ‘distorted’ mirrors. The distorted shapes of Mina heightens the monster that she is. Though Jude slaps her across the face in the film, one would take Jude’s side and not Mina’s for Mina is shown as a total wreck of a mother, insane and unreasonable. Both lead actors are extremely good, both winning top acting prizes at festivals. Rohwacher is so good that the audience is ready at any point of the film to kill her.

The film occasionally feels like a reversal of ROSEMARY’S BABY for the claustrophobic look of the NYC apartments and for the mother having no one to turn to, even though she is the crazed one here.

The one complaint is the unevenness of the film’s mood as it shifts from hilarity to romance to horror too quickly But director Costanzo could be going for contrast of mood in the film.

It is hard to find a happy ending for the couple that appears to have no feasible solution in sight. But the film has a satisfactory ending in a sense as the baby survives. HUNGRY HEARTS is a truly scary suspenseful thriller that could very well come true for any couple. A surprise gem of a horror film!

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wc7PexA5P8E

LIVE FROM NEW YORK! (USA 2015) ***

Directed by Bao Nguyen

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LIVE FROM NEW YORK! is an affectionate tribute to Saturday Night Live (SNL) - all forty years from the beginning to the present.

The film has several aims. One is to recount the history of SNL, another to provide a taste of the best skits and the the next to relate of the importance of the program to America.

Using archival footage, the first group that includes the likes of the late John Belushi and Gilda Radner with the then young producer, Lorne Michaels is shown in all its glory and action. It is emphasized that the show is live, which it holds, perhaps with maybe a few seconds delay. Whether this is true, it is not revealed. SNL is touted as the best of American television. The best skits are shown, many with the founders like Candice Bergen and Chevy Chase doing a spoof of TV news. Here, is related the reason for SNL’s success. The contents are relevant to current affairs, be it then Watergate, The Vietnam War or politics.

For those who love SNL and the younger generation new to it, the film paints a rosy picture, that SNL is ‘the’ show of shows. It briefly mentions of the time when the show lost its edge and humour. SNL, current though it was and is, often falls flat and is often unfunny.

Like SNL itself, the film runs out of steam quite fast despite its short running time of less than 90 minutes. Still picking the best of SNL and watching them is still quite a treat, as many are still fresh in their humour.

This is a special one-night only Cineplex Entertainment release of LIVE FROM NEW YORK! across Canada on June 10th.

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

PATCH TOWN (Canada 2014) **
Directed by Andrew Nackman

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A few years back, a short film PATCH TOWN debuted at the Toronto International Film Festival. It was a hit that led to a full fledged feature production on its theme of cabbage patch babies. The film is as weird as its premise, but weirdness has to be put into perspective to develop a good movie.

Little babies are harvested in cabbages and transformed into toy dolls for little girls. When the girls overgrow their dolls and childhood, the dolls are stolen back and the babies ‘re-educated’ so that the past is forgotten. However, some still do remember the past.

After years in a loving home, Jon (Rob Ramsay), a toy, was forgotten, deserted and ultimately betrayed by his adoptive mother, Bethany (Zoie Palmer). He returns to live a sad life as a worker on the line. With each new birth, Jon laments the days when life was good and he was loved. Jon learns that the evil child catcher, Yuri (Julian Richings), has discovered they stole a new born baby from the factory floor, he moves into action to escape the oppressive city and find a safe home for his wife and child. With each day, Jon and Mary find the safety and sense of home they have always longed for, but it's not enough. Jon is torn between saving the mother he has always dreamed or saving his own family.

Director Nackman turns the weirdness factor several notches by making his film part musical by adding rock-opera like songs crooned by most of the cast. But the songs are less memorable than anything else and could have been left out without much effect. But the special effects (especially the grey fluid oozing out of the cabbages as the babies are harvested) are good as in the depiction of the factory as well as PATCH TOWN. It is clear that the look of Jean -Pierre Canet’s DELICATESSEN is sought for in the film.

But despite the inventiveness, the film’s story plods into predictability. Jon eventually discovers that his family is with his present wife, Mary and the baby and not with the one he had lost.

The cast try their darn best to invoke laughs. Richings too, but with little effect, thanks to the unfunny script. But the best laughs come from actor Suresh John who plays a Pakistani cab driver. John utilizes his stereotyped character to the fullest, complete with accent and behaviour.

The film contains no real message except maybe the family one, where love is to be found wherever one is. One wishes the film could have been better for all the effort put in.

Trailer: https://vimeo.com/83271965

SOME KIND OF LOVE (Canada 2014) ***
Directed by Thomas Burstyn

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The title of the documentary SOME KIND OF LOVE refers to to the unlikely love that exists between the two siblings, Yolanda Sonnabend and her brother Joseph. Despite their constant complaining about each other, Joseph says on camera that he cannot leave her as she cannot live on her own. He takes care of her whether he likes it or not. And at the end of the film when Yolanda is in her advanced stage of Alzheimer’s, Joseph is the only face she recognizes.

Documentaries are often made on famous, talented people. But when SOME KIND OF LOVE opens, it appears weird that the subject is an old lady, the aunt of the filmmaker who lives in an uncared house in a posh neighbourhood in London, England. Soon it is revealed that she is quite a well known painter, Yolanda Sonnbend, whose paintings are featured in the film. The camera then turns to her brother, again later revealed to be a famous doctor. Then like a fictional film, supporting characters appear like the live-in handyman who cares for the two. Finally, the camera turn on the director himself with his acrimony for his absent brother finally resolved. Burstyn shows that intriguing characters make fascinating documentaries just as famous subjects do.

The film also works on many different levels. Like Yolanda the artist and her brother, Joseph the scientist, the film contrasts art and science. On one hand is the absolute artist, whose art comes first never putting herself or anything else before her paintings, sculpture and whatever else. On the other is the brother who works without monetary compensation as a medical doctor. Having spearheaded the use of condoms in the A.I.D.s era as well as being the first to isolate the virus, he is a famous doctor known also for his humanity. “He is my personal Moses’” says an A.I.D.s patient to the camera. As expected, the two do not get along. “He does not love me,” the sister says.

Other issues on display are ageing and acrophobia. In one sad scene, Yolanda lies in bed staring at the walls remarking that she has no desire to do anything else any more. This is just 2 years after she had designed the stage production set and costume design of the ballet Swan Lake for the Royal Opera House in Covent Gardens. She also suffers from Alzheimer’s, as admitted by Joseph. Yolanda often stays in the house weeks at a time. There is a filmed sequence when she reluctantly leaves the house.

The film introduces some tension when Joseph forbids Burstyn to film his sister out of his respect for her. Burstyn argues with him, as revealed on camera in a very moving segment. Joseph finally relents, after Burstyn secretly films her, without his complaining.

As an additional bonus, director Burstyn also ponders the philosophy of the camera. As illustrated in the subjects of this film, when the audience thinks the camera has captured the essence of its subjects, Burstyn’s camera slips into another shadow, revealing another angle. Much is revealed in this otherwise complex documentary, simple though it might look on the surface.

There is much to be informed and entertained in SOME KIND OF LOVE.

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rZp9lTwfhOU

SUNSHINE SUPERMAN (USA/Norway 2014) ***
Directed by Marah Strauch

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As heart racing as the sport itself, SUNSHINE SUPERMAN is the heart-racing documentary portrait of Carl Boenish, the father of the BASE (Buildings, Antennas, Structures, Earth) jumping movement. A variation of sky diving, Carl engaged in spectacular and dangerous feats of foot-launched human flights from cliffs and high buildings.

Carl claims to be foremost a filmmaker/photographer and second a skydiver. It aids in the making of the doc as he likely had lots of footage already available for the film. The first third of the film sees gorgeous aerial photography, like the scene with his team mid-air wearing bright colours holding hands in aerial formation.

The film then takes an odd turn. What might seem irrelevant at first, on the meeting of Carl and Jean, his wife turns the film into a beautiful love story. Jean, starts the sport herself and the two make an awesome team. Director Marsh Strauch, being a female brings a tender touch to a doc set in a male oriented world.

The film also delves briefly into Carl’s principles, on how he is only controlled by nature’s and not man’s rules. He is deemed paranoid and radical but Carl does not mind that if it is truth that he stands for. Strauch brings out comfortably both the exterior and inside of the man. The film also devotes a fair amount of time to his wife, Jean who takes over during the last part of the film.

The highlights in Carl’s wife are highlighted in the film - his marriage to Jean and the legalization agreement for BASE jumping by the rangers in Yosemite National Park. The soundtrack includes a few uplifting sons to go with the flow.

SUNSHINE SUPERMAN is a U.S. Norwegian co-production as one of the key jumps occur in Norway. Carl has scouted a peak that would register as the largest jump from top to the base. The jump is shot in all its glory forming what is close to the climax of the film.

The film takes a dramatic turn towards the last 20 minutes. What this turn is will not be revealed as it would be a spoiler. But despite the turn, the film drags towards the end. Still SUNSHINE SUPERMAN celebrates man as a free individual that should be free to enjoy life for what it is. Who would imagine that a boy who had suffered from polio would come his far?

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3CsJW3_NqJ4

 

BEST BETS:

Best Film Opening: Hungry Hearts

Drama: Hungry Hearts

Action: Mad Max: Fury Road

Animation: When Marnie Was There

Foreign Language: Saint Laurent

Comedy : Spy

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

 

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