Opening this week RICKI AND THE FLASH and FANTASTIC FOUR. Smaller films include SHAUN THE SHEEP MOVIE, THE GIFT, DIAMOND TONGUES, STEAK (R)EVOLUTION and HOW TO CHANGE THE WORLD.
DIAMOND TONGUES (Canada 2015) **
Directed by Pavan Moondi and Brian Robertson
DIAMOND TONGUES (I have no clue why the film is called that) tells the difficult story of an unlikeable female character. Edith Weland (Leah Goldstein) is a total loser and aspiring actress living in Toronto. She is also not the nicest or most honest person.
She lands a small part as ‘annoyed customer’ in a vampire flick “Blood Sausages”. When she goes for rehearsal, she discovers to her dismay, that her ex-boyfriend, Ben (Adam Gurfinkel) who she had dumped has landed the main lead role. She cannot handle this and quits. Meanwhile, her roommate (Leah Wildman) gains a role in a new play. Her best friend (Nick Flanagan), an equal loser at least has a steady job as a writer but he hates the job.
The film follows Edith like a dog. The camera captures her idiosyncrasies and irrational behaviour. But she lies occasionally. Despite her behaviour, the audience adapts to her, forgiving her and is somewhat hopeful that she succeeds. This is partly due to the fact that Edith is portrayed like an authentic human being, and someone that the audience can relate to. Actress Leah Goldstein is perfect in the role and she delivers a performance to be reckoned with.
The film is complemented by the music of many indie Toronto musicians. But it often plays softly in the background so that it can faintly be heard.
The tacked on happy ending, especially once Edith comes to self realization of her destructive nature stands out as a cop-out.
Watching the film gives the feeling of the directors’ predicament. They, like the lead character Edith, believes that are perfect, and puts everything said to deliver a product they think is great. DIAMOND TONGUES, about a self-conscious loser who goes around annoying everyone, is watchable and occasionally insightful on the Toronto art scene,but who really wants to pay to watch a film or a character like this one.
FANTASTIC FOUR (USA 2015) ***
Directed by Josh Trank
A reboot and the third of 20th Century Fox’s FANTASTIC FOUR films, this one is remarkably different from the first two FANTASTIC FOUR films as well as from general Marvel super hero films. As a result, fans may not be appreciative of the novelty which has resulted in generally poor reviews received on the film so far. But this reviewer found the film a welcome change. Be forewarned that this reviewer did not like THE AVENGERS: AGE OF ULTRON or GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY.
The film begins with a tale of two outcast school kids. Reed Richards (Miles Teller) and Ben Grimm (Jamie Bell) have worked together on a prototype teleporter since their childhood, eventually attracting the attention of Professor Franklin Storm (Reg E. Cathey), director of the Baxter Foundation, a government-sponsored research institute for young prodigies. Reed is recruited to join them and aid Storm's children, scientist Sue Storm (Kate Mara) and technician Johnny Storm (Michael B. Jordan), into completing a "Quantum Gate" designed by Storm's wayward protege, Victor Von Doom (Toby Kebbell), who begrudgingly agrees to help due to his unrequited feelings for Sue.
This story based on a script co-written by Trank takes it to the full limit. The film concentrates on the four, their friendship and work together with a lot of emphasis put on their work on their teleporter. This takes the film right to the very end with only 15 minutes or so left for the action sequences, a point that will surely infuriate action fans expecting more fights and special effects.
The Planet Zero in the film looks like the set of Mars in the GET CARTER film. But it still a stunning set with the four, still without their super powers exploring the planet’s rugged terrain.
But once the film gets into the last 15 minutes of action, the film becomes indistinguishable from other action hero pics. The film has a good and careful build-up, perhaps too good that the climax cannot match what the audience has been primed to expect.
The last fight sequence seems to appear right out of a martial-arts movie (like DRAGON INN) in which the heroes have to group together to fight a villain that is stronger than each of the individuals. This film like MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE ROGUE CITY stresses the importance of looking out for one’s mates.
The script contains a few loopholes. Where did Doom get his cape or how did he survive alone on the planet. How the four travel in Sue’s transparent bubble to the other dimension also questions credibility.
Miles Teller, last seen in WHIPLASH has proven himself an apt actor and carries the film well on his shoulders. Tim Blake Nelson is good as Dr. Allen an evil government bureaucrat who gets his comeuppance.
FANTASTIC FOUR feels more like a science fiction mystery movie than a super hero action film. Hopefully the film will be a hit despite the negative reviews, for it is a good and worthy effort, and this reviewer found the film entertaining enough.
THE GIFT (USA 2015) ***
Directed by Joel Edgerton
Actor Joel Edgerton, best known for his role in STAR WARS Episodes II and III, stars n his own and first directorial feature, a horror suspensor that is as creepy as creepy can be.
Edgerton gives himself the prime role of the mysterious stranger, Gordo, nicknamed Weirdo. Gordo meets old schoolmate Simon (Jason Bateman) and his wife, Robyn (Rebecca Hall) as they move to a new town. Gordo keeps surprising them with gifts till Simon gets uncomfortable. As the film ads say, the first gift was a message, the second was a warning etc. Simon tells Gordo to leave them alone. The dog is kidnapped. But apparently, Gordo is not the bad guy. Robyn discovers from Gordo’s past that her husband Simon is not the man she thought him to be. Who is the real creep then?
The film plays like a variation of a house invasion horror film. Gordo shows up uninvited, more than once to turn the couple’s life upside down.
Edgerton relies on cheap scares, twice during the film. The first big shock on the audience occurs when the dog suddenly jumps at the glass door at night with the volume on the soundtrack turned 5 notches up. The other occurs during Robyn’s dream sequence. Though those are the only two, and guaranteed to make one jump, these tricks are annoying, unnecessary and non-cinematic.
The script contains a few unexpected surprises. Robyn has taken pills in the past. The intruder during a house party turns out to be someone totally unexpected.
But the film has one last trick at the end that is not that hard to guess. I guessed it correctly, due to the title of the film. The film would definitely be more enjoyable if the twist was unexpected. Despite this flaw, the film contains several other neat turns.
But Edgerton’s thriller is well paced, keeping key notes of the plot at bay and holding the audience’s interest despite is rather slow pace. In the end, all the loose ends tie in neatly and whoever has done bad get their comeuppance. THE GIFT ends up a satisfactory thriller and worthy directorial debut from Edgerton.
HOW TO CHANGE THE WORLD (Canada/UK 2015) ****
Directed by Jerry Rothwell
Many would remember Trish Dolman’s 2011 documentary ECO-PIRATE: THE STORY OF PAUL WATSON, the story of radical conservationist Paul Watson during anti-whaling campaigns in the Antarctic in 2009 and 2010, and recounts his history and controversial methods as an activist and media personality. Watson is a secondary though no less important character in another important documentary on the environment. HOW TO CHANGE THE WORLD, centres on Greenpeace rather than any single individual.
It all started in 1971, when a group of friends sail into a U.S. nuclear test zone, and their protest captured the world's imagination. The successful protest led to other projects like saving the whales and the seal cubs. The rare archive brings their extraordinary world to life. This is the troubled story of the pioneers who founded Greenpeace and defined the modern green movement.
The film is divided into 5 parts on “how to change the world’. Start a mind bomb; Put your body where your mouth is; Fear Success; The revolution will not be organized etc. all serve to gear the film into a directed perspective, which ironically was what Greenpeace lacked. But the titles tend to undermine the seriousness of the topic on how cruel man can be.
Though the film is a documentary, it follows the formula of a fiction film. There is the introduction to Greenpeace, the rise to glory followed by the obstacles and the destruction of what the organization had fought and stood for - like a Harlequin romance novel. Then comes the redemption with all the villains (the eco-Judas Patrick Moore, who earns a living now by talking rubbish about global warming being untrue) expelled, drawing the film to its satisfactory conclusion.
The anti-hero of the piece is Bob Hunter. The film is unbiased, showing both his good and bad side. The latter side is pretty scary, showing Hunter at his worst, being incoherent, indecisive, smoking pot, consuming excessive alcohol and hooked on morphine. The narration is provided by actor Barry Pepper (chosen most likely for the reason the actor is Vancouver born, like Greenpeace) doing Bob Hunter’s voice, as the film is based on the writings of Hunter. It is interesting to note that there is no mention of Bob Hunter in the Paul Watson 2011 documentary,
The film contains impressive research material and is coherently put together. The film invokes anger, disgust, shock, awe and finally forces the audience to question his/her stand on the subject. The film’s most effective and disturbing segment is the killing by whale hunters of a baby sperm whale. The blood that spills into the sea and the factory-like prevision of skinning the whale is almost unwatchable. This is exactly what a good documentary should do.
It has been said that a great film is one that would inspire one to change ones life after leaving the theatre. HOW TO CHANGE THE WORLD comes quite close to doing that.
RICKI AND THE FLASH (USA 2015) **
Directed by Jonathan Demme
RICKI AND THE FLASH has three big Academy Award names attached to it. 3-time Oscar Winner Meryl Streep stars as Ricki the rock singer in a rock comedy drama directed by Oscar winning Jonathan Demme (SILENCE OF THE LAMBS, PHILADELPHIA, SWIMMING WITH SHARKS) and penned by Oscar screenwriter Diablo Cody.
The film centres on Linda (Streep) who has renamed herself Ricki. The story is on her relationships with her rock band called the Flash and her estranged family.
Demme’s film is easy going on plot but often too easy going. At one point the main issue at hand appears to be the mother daughter relationship and at another point, the film discards it with the daughter seen sitting alone as if removed from her importance in the story. The film delves suddenly in the love relationship between Ricki and her guitarist, which appears to be in trouble only to be transformed into perfect love for no reason.
There are two restaurant scenes that do not make sense. The first has Ricki and daughter speaking out loud and lewdly embarrassing a father and young boy in their private space in a donut shop. The purpose of the scene is questionable as one would think that the script would like to have the audience take the side of the mum and daughter instead of strangers. The other has the family having a dinner gathering in a packed restaurant so that they can all overhear the family’s again embarrassing arguments. If the family knows that there is going to be trouble at the table, why go out, and why go out to such a packed restaurant?
The film’s ending in which Ricki sings on stage at the wedding to be then cheered along by the entire wedding party and guests is too staged and unbelievable despite the choice of a Bruce Springstein song. Worst still are the closing credits when the audience are forced to watch he entire cast do their dancing moves.
Streep looks a bit out of place singing the rock songs even though she did look authentic playing the guitar, which she learnt to play specially for her role. Question is whether she will earn another Oscar nomination. Mamie Gummer, Streep’s daughter plays Ricki’s daughter in the film. Gummerhas an unchaining resemblance to her mother and she delivers a performance that seems to be in competition with her mum’s.
Whether Ricki is a successful rock star is up to the audience to decide. At the start of the film, Ricki claims at the bar that she sings the popular songs because her audience want it. Ricki sings a few of her own written songs. The audience can assume that she is successful in her career in that she has her own songs but not for the fact that she has no money most of the time.
The house of Pete (Kevin Kline), Ricki’s too tolerant ex-husband for my liking, is remarkable characterless and bland but perfectly decorated with the lawns and garden perfectly groomed. The audience is supposed to believe that all his hard work and wealth has gone to waste here compared to Ricki’s rich life without money.
Despite watchable performances, RICKI AND THE FLASH is a film with a lazy script that ends up like its lead character Ricki, a woman with good ideas but eventually ending up nowhere trying to pick up the broken pieces.
SHAUN THE SHEEP MOVIE (UK/France 2015) ***1/2
Directed by Mark Burton and Richard Starza
To those unfamiliar with the Shaun the Sheep animation, it is stop-motion claymation containing no dialogue and very little on screen text from the Aardman Studios.
SHAUN THE SHEEP THE MOVIE moves the TV series to the big screen. In the series, Shun is the sheep that does not follow the flock. He often gets the better of Bitzer, the farmer’s sheepdog and gets into various misadventures at the farm. It is an gigantic task for the writer/director team Mark Burton and Richard Starza as the entire story has to be told in cinematic terms visually. The film appears at times like an old silent comedy for obvious reasons, but the directors are very inventive and expressive and the film works very, very well. An example is the cow jumping over the moon, thigh the moon in this case happens to be in the form of the sign of the local pub called The Moon.)
The film begins with the daily routine of Shaun, his buddies like the pigs, the sheepdog and the farmer himself) at the farm. The routines are repeated day after day to the point of boredom, even to the rooster that has to wake up the farm very morning. Shaun observes an ad on the bus ‘to go for a holiday’. So, Shaun devices a (very comical) scheme to escape to the big city.
The film’s funniest segment is the restaurant where the sheep all dressed up, try to disguise themselves as humans going for an expensive meal. When the youngest lamb escapes and heads for the dessert tray, things come to a hilarious hilt. The many other comedic set-ups are just as inventive and funny.
Shaun the Sheep began as a short TV series before making it to the big screen. Like many TV series, especially the British ones, the story on the the big screen takes the characters going on holiday to another city. Kevin and Perry in KEVIN AND PERRY AT LARGE (not released in North America) got into trouble in Ibiza while The Inbetweeners (series not shown in North America) also took to the European city of Crete. In this film, Shaun and his gang take a holiday from the farm and head to the city and get into their misadventures before they decide that the city is not their thing. They then try to get back to the farm while dodging the bad guy, which takes the form of an animal containment officer, known as Trumper.
This reviewer is not a fan of animation where the characters do not speak or utter unintelligible dialogue. But one cannot go against the grain of the majority. The film stands at the point of writing with a 100% approval rating. This film is definitely better than THE MINIONS movie for sure, but I still prefer the Aardman Studio talkies like WALLACE AND GROMIT, ARTHUR CHRISTMAS and CHICKEN RUN.
STEAK (R)EVOLUTION (France 2014) ***
Directed by Franck Ribière
This is the documentary every steak lover has to see. And the film will not only guarantee to whet ones appetite but to educate on what a good steak is all about.
Director Franck Ribière travels the world to bring the 10 best steaks in the world. The journey takes the audience through various destinations including Scotland, France, Corsica, JapanItaly, Brazil and of course, U.S.A and Canada. It is quite the world road trip with lots to learn from the different cultures.
One British butcher talks about beef aging - what is known as ‘well-hung beef’. But he says the circulation of the cold room is a big factor was how the hung meat matures. The idea is to let the meat break down a little and to get rid of the water. If there is no air circulation or of the meat is just hung at the butcher’s shop, the meat does not get any better. Another talks about how he could sell his land in Corsica to own villas but he prefer to keep his cows. Yet another talks of his ‘Florence’ before killing her and savouring her ground beef and steaks. The talking heads in the film make more than intriguing folk. Another is a French breeder, he has an MBA and a degree at the same time, indicating that times have changed. One butcher says he is now proud of his profession and not ashamed of it as in the past.
But the bests sights on film are the sizzling steaks. One restaurant’s secret is to cook the meat twice. The sight of the sizzling fat and meat are mouth-watering. And as all the restaurant chefs/breeders/butchers say; the meat has to be fat and the animal fattened slowly.
The audience is also educated on the various type of cattle, how they are differently fed (grass vs. grain which is the ‘earth’ way) and how the locality affects the meat. Even how the animal feels just before the slaughter matters. If the animal is tense, the meat will be tough. Wonder how this is true for other meats like chicken.
STEAK (R)EVOLUTION come highly recommended as an educational, fun and mouth-watering entertainment.
Best Film Opening: How to Change the World
Best Animation: INSIDE OUT
Best Documentary: AMY
Best Action: ANT-MAN
Best Foreign: A HARD DAY (South Korea)
Best Indie: DOPE and TANGERINE
Best Western: SLOW WEST