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

30 Jun 2015


Early openings Wednesday becasue of Canada Day and U.S July 4th holidays.

MAGIC MIKE XXL and TERMINATOR GENISYS open Wednesday and SUITE FRANCAISE open at the Bell Lightbox, Toronto on Thursday July 2nd.


DEEP WEB (USA 2015) ***

Directed by Alex Winter


Director Alex Winter, best known as Keanu Reeves slacker friend in BILL AND TED’S EXCELLENT ADVENTURE has made another informative documentary, this time about the deep web aka the Silk Road.  Winter has ventured into directing, his last feature being another doc called DOWNLOADED.  DEEP WEB is narrated by Keanu Reeves who has an interest in Bitcoins.

DEEP WEB covers the events surrounding Silk Road, Bitcoin and politics of the Dark Web.  Covering the trial of Ross Ulbricht, the documentary features interviews with Wired writer Andy Greenberg who puts the whole picture into perspective.

The film begins with facts, facts and more facts.  Just when the film tethers towards being too technical, it swings to concentrate on its administrator, Ross Ulbricht, aka Dread Pirate Roberts (name from THE PRINCESS BRIDE).  But when using the search engine TOR which totally encrypts the information of users accessing this, Deep Web or Silk Road, users can ‘safely’ buy illicit drugs alike LSD, molly and heroin from the web.  But the feds finally caught on with Ulbricht finally arrested.  How the feds found the information, through some server in Finland is never explained. The film is now able to connect to the audience in more human terms.  So the film switches from the technical information of the wide web to Ulricht’s trial.  But some may complain that the film never gets to the core of the Wide Web.  But the film also goes into some detail, with a segment on British encryptors having a meeting in London.

Ulbricht is not allowed to be interviewed when he is in prison.  So the film uses old footage, family and news of the man as well as interviews from his family, particularly his mother, who has turned out quite the articulate crusader.

The film is obviously biased towards the Deep Web and to the case of Ross Albricht.  His mother is the one who condemns the judicial system as unfair.  Evidence that would help her son is deemed inadmissible by the judge who always seem to favour the prosecution.

Albricht has been accused of being a drug lord as well as a murderer who has hired hit men to kill his witnesses.  How true this is - no one will ever know, and Winter allows the audience to make their own decision, which is a good thing.  But Winter provides testimony on Albricht, how he would never hurt a fly.  And what he is only guilty of - is to be the administrator of the Deep Web.

The film holds the result of Ulbricht’s trial to the last, forming the film’s climax. If the trial turns out positive with Ulbricht acquitted, that would account for a happy ending.  Those who have followed the news on the Deep Web already know that this is not the case.  Ulbricht has got a life sentence on May the 29th with no parole.  But he is finally allowed to be interviewed.  The questions  posed to him are what he would see himself in 5 yard and further into the future.  His answers form the film’s conclusion.

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BRTps__Ym5M



Directed by Gregory Jacob


The sequel MAGIC MIKE XXL is an improvement to Steven Soderbergh’s terrible original in 2003, but that is not saying much.  Soderbergh served as executive producer for the sequel leaving the directorial reigns to Gregory Jacob who was Soderbergh’s first assistant director all the OCEAN’S ELEVEN sequels and original.

The film begins three years after Magic Mike (Channing Tatum) bowed out of the stripper life at the top of his game.  Mike and the remaining Kings of Tampa hit the road to Myrtle Beach to put on one last blow-out performance.

The promo screening was 90% female and it is easy to see why.  The film on male dancers or male entertainers, the industry term, would delight all the women for the great male bodies on display.

A lot of screen time is devoted to the male dancing.  The film has the feel of “So You Think You Can Dance” with each member of the cast doing their thing that forms the climax of the film.  In fact one of the male dancers is played by Stephen Boss, was one of the winners of the TV series.  The script by Reid Carolyn is smart enough to realize that the audience are paying the bucks to see male flesh and not story or character development.  In fact the film runs into trouble whenever it begins on any story, such as Mike’s meeting with a girl Zoe (Amber Heard) on the beach.  They try to spice up the meeting with her catching him peeing in public, but the ‘souped up’ dialogue is totally silly, ridiculous and contrived.

For a film about male strippers, there is surprisingly no nudity - front or back.  But lots of teasing and going through the motions.  

The best part of the film occurs at the beginning when the dancers ham it up doing effeminate moves on a show host by a drag queen.  Nothing else in thefilm can match up to that.

The dance moves are a riot and almost good enough to save the movie.  But the dances are not nearly as good as “So You Think You Can Dance”.  But Channing Tatum is a hoot as Magic Mike.  Andie MacDowell has her fun as drunk rich socialite, Nancy Davidson, whose mansion is fortunately invaded by Mike and gang.  But Jada Pinkett Smith overstays her welcome as the dancers’ M.C. becoming really tiresome with her silly written introductions to the dancers.

The film ends as abruptly as an end to a strip dance with the screen going black.  The shortage of material comes across loud and clear.  But the females in the audience do not seem to mind.

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RwPR0q5es0A



SUITE FRANCAISE (France/Belgium /UK 2014) **

Directed by Saul Dibb


SUITE FRANCAISE stands for two things in the film. One is the French suite that a German Officer, Lt. Bruno stays in, in Central France during the German Occupation and the second the name of musical piece, this composer, Bruno wrote whose melody reminds his French love, Lucille (Michelle Williams) of their affair.

The film is a World War 2 romantic drama based on Irene Nemirovsky’s 2004 novel of the same name.  It centres on a romance between a French villager and a German soldier during the early years of the German occupation of France.

The novel was supposed to be in 5 parts, but the author died in a concentration cpm before she finished writing.  The film is based on the fist 2 parts, the Exodus of the French from Paris to the outskirts, which is barely shown in the film.  The second part is where the film dwells.

But when the filmmakers decide to make the film in English to appeal to a wider audience and using British instead of a French crew, one can smell trouble brewing.  The French speak English with a French accent to the French and to the Germans.  The Germans actors playing the Germans speak in German and English with a German accent when peaking to the French.  Unfortunately, the film occasionally has the feel of the TV series “Allo, Allo” in which British actors play French villages in WWII.

Due to the source material, the film has a very strong woman’s point of view. In a sense it is a case of love conquers all and that love can overcome the enmity felt among war enemies.  It is a really romantic view of the war that does not really hold true nor work, but to the credit of the script co-written by Dibb and Matt Charman, the story does question Lucille’s loyalties at one point into the film.

Lucille is staying with her stern mother-in-law Madame Angellier (Kristin Scott Thomas) in Bussy who she does not get along with while her husband, not seen in the film is at war.  When the Germans appear in the village, each home is forced to house a German soldier.  Madame Angellier takes it Lt. Bruno (Matthias Schoenaerts).  Lucille discovers her husband’s unfaithfulness and that he has had a son. Lt. Bruno and Lucille have an affair.  Things get complicated when a villager shoots a German Officer and Lucille gives him a hiding place.

Though the atmosphere is full of tension, Dibb’s film has a surprising dull middle section.  It is only when Benoit comes into the picture, killing the German officer that the film picks up.  Otherwise, the other elements of the story such as the shootout at the German check point and the doomed love affair of the French and German hidden from the mother-in-law feel contrived.  And executed like a TV movie.

Of all the performances, Ruth Wilson stands out as the long-suffering wife of Benoit (Sam Riley). 

Despite the excellent cast including the well known German actor Tom Schilling playing the nasty Kurt Bonnet, Dibb’s film is poorly paced and alternates between scenes of suspense and ones whee nothing much happens.  But the film, shot in France and Belgium gives the film the appropriate period atmosphere.

The voiceover during the entire film that relates exactly what is going on is annoying.  The worse is the line spoken at the end: “We did our part and in the same way in 4 years, France was free.”  - quite a preposterous statement.  The film has an open ending, likely reflecting the unfinished parts of the author’s 5-part novel.

The piece SUITE FRANCAISE was composed by Alexandre Desplat who was replaced in the film by Rael Jones.  The film features original music by these two as well as recognizable French tunes by Lucienne Boyer, Josephine Baker and Rosita Serrano.

Director Gibb chose to put the film into perspective by bookending it with the novel’s discovery by Denise Epstein (Eileen Aitkins), the author’s daughter.

But the film is a clear disappointment.  One can hope that the novel be given a better treatment with a French director that will do justice to the material.

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4cR0L6invGQ




Directed by Alan Taylor

TERMINATOR GENISYS, the fifth instalment of the TERMINATOR series started by James Cameron is not so much a re-boot than a culmination of all the films, attempting to summarize all of the stories.  The film begins with a 15 minute voiceover amidst starting credits to inform the audience the state of affairs of the dystopian world.  Skynet has destroyed the world and terminators are killing off all the human beings, with the survivors gone into hiding.

For those who have forgotten, terminators are machines designed to kill human beings.  The boy Kyle Reese is saved from a terminator by John Connor (Australia’s Jason Clarke).  John and Kyle, when grown up (Jai Courtney) destroy the terminators HQ in a feat too easily done.  But nothing is as good as it gets.  The terminators have travelled to the past to kill John’s mother to wipe out that point in history so that the revolution and the event of their defeat is erased from history.  If John’s mum is killed, there is no John and no destruction of the terminators HQ.  Kyle travels back and finds the mother, called Sarah Connor (Emilia Clarke), who somehow knows who Kyle is.  Kyle also meets a good terminator (Arnold Schwarzenegger) who protects Sarah Connor.  Why is Sarah always called by her full name Sarah Connor is funny.  Why there is a good terminator is also unconvincingly explained.  And there is a bad John Connor who suddenly appears to kill Sarah Connor.  And the plot gets more complicated with the story changing as the film progresses.  The story changes so many times that one need not bother about following any longer.  There is some silly theory too about dual timelines and characters seeing themselves.  This is a case in time travel where logic is thrown down the gutter.  Kyle’s new mission is altered now to destroy skynet before it destroys the world.

The film, thankfully is action non-stop.  The plot holes, at least can be dismissed by the unassuming fan.  But there are segments seen before in other films, like the collapse of the Golden Gate Bridge, done before in the recent SAN ANDREAS.  But without pacing, the action segments tend to get tiresome.

Even Schwarzenegger’s presence cannot save the movie.  His “I’ll be Back”, an already too-familiar phrase did not register any response from the audience at the promo screening.  His new smile showing his white teeth did garner laughs, but it is quite a creepy smile.  The John Connor character appears in the film at times, with and without his facial scars, which is puzzling.  And Oscar winner J.K. Simmons has a token role as a police officer who wants to help the time travellers.

TERMINATOR GENISYS proves that social effects, CGI and lots of action cannot make a good movie.  It can fool audience to be glued at the action sequences, but that is about it.  Audiences can now wait for the next action blockbuster reboot.  There will be no shortage of the  BATMAN and SPIDER-MAN reboots, which are already in the process.

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

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