Big Films opening this week are WE ARE YOUR FRIENDS and NO ESCAPE.

TIFF Cinematheque presents a retrospective of Ingrid Bergman films.


COURT (India 2014) ***1/2

Directed by Chaitanya Tamhane

A sewerage worker's dead body is found inside a manhole in Mumbai.  An ageing folk singer is tried in court on charges of abetment of suicide.  He is accused of performing an inflammatory song which might have incited the worker to commit the act.  As the trial unfolds, the personal lives of the lawyers and the judge involved in the case are observed outside the court.

Hollywood has fascinated audiences with high profile courtroom dramas like JUDGEMENT AT NUREMBERG and A FEW GOOD MEN, but a different kind of courtroom drama arrives with tons of accolades from Mumbai.  The film depicts the lives of the poor in Mumbai.  The story is as dramatic in the courtroom as out of it as the camera weaves in and out of the Mumbai slums and the stories of the lawyers and judge.

The film first premiered at the 71st Venice International Film Festival where it won the Best Film in the Horizons category and the Luigi De Laurentiis (Lion Of The Future) award for Tamhane.  The film went on to win 18 other awards at film festivals, including honours at the Mumbai, Vienna, Antalya, and Singapore film festivals.   Though not without flaws, COURT should intrigue both critics and non-critics alike.

The film follows several Mumbai residents.  The first is the old teacher and aging folk singer performer (Vira Sathidar), aforementioned, who has had trouble with the law in the past.  Then the film follows the lives of they two lawyers and finally the judge.

The Mumbai judicial system is displayed with all its flaws and problems.  Documents are misplaced, witnesses can be bought and the lawyers like the prosecutor have higher ambitions like being promoted to the position of a judge.  Meanwhile, the accused is in jail, without bail and deteriorating in health in the process.

The final verdict will not be revealed in the review, but it is safe to say that the drama is sustained from start to finish.  The interweaving of the personal lives of the subjects will in no way affect the result of the case, but it is interesting to see how judges and lawyers behave outside the court.  For example, the judge is shown as an impatient man screaming at kids.

Tamhane’s Mumbai is on display here.  And it is not a pretty sight.  The slums, dirty streets, overcrowded roads, dust and dirty conditions complement the unhappy characters in the film.  Even the seaside resort looks disgusting.  but is is this Mumbai that gives the film its character and intrigue.  And director Tamhane is unafraid to show it as it is.

COURT ends up an original work from a first time feature director, and one whose future work should be something to look forward to.

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4sc8z7zav9A


Directed by James Ponsoldt


Though based on real life events, the words ‘based on a true story’, ‘inspired by true events’ or any such statements are not flashed on the screen.  One would assume that this film’s audience would have knowledge of the literary book world and be aware of the 2008 suicide of well-known author David Foster Wallace (Jason Segel) after his acclaimed work ‘Infinite Jest’.  that novel was cited by Time magazine as one of the best 100 novels of the century.

The film begins with the news of Wallace’s suicide, as heard by David Lipsky (Jesse Eisenberg).  The film flashes back to Lipsky, a reporter at Rolling Stone and an author himself, reading the novel ‘Infinite Jest’ with his girlfriend and being so impressed, that he convinces his boss at Rolling Stone that he would do a fantastic interview story of Wallace.  At this point in the film, the audience can expect two authors to go loggerheads at each other.  And the script by playwright Donald Margulies takes this route.  The gist of the film which occurs during the last third concentrates on the deteriorating relationship between the two, when among other things, familiarity breeds contempt, besides pride and duelling literary words.

It is a solid 5-day interview.  Lipsky travels to Wallace’s home and begins an interviewer/interviewee relationship.  Both are at first weary of each other.  It is only when the two begin to get at ease that the trouble starts.  The catalyst of their deteriorating relationship is Wallace’s accusation of Lipsy’s hitting on his girlfriend.  Lipsky also gets under Wallace’s skin by probing into his possible heroin use and past depression.  This is where the film gets quite intense with the two debating furiously and hitting at each other emotionally.  Wallace has made Lispky promise that certain things never be published ruing the interview, and this might be the reason the interview was never published in real life.

Both Eisenberg and Segel deliver nuanced and credible performances.  Segel, with his stubble and bandana looks just like the real Wallace.  This is a different Segel without the comedy audiences are used to.

But this is basically a two-handler film about two writers.  The female roles by Meryl stress’s daughter, Mamie Gummer and Joan Cusack have little impact.

But despite the film’s intensity, one wonders who would really one to watch a film about two men sparring with each other with no winner.  The film has already done disappointing box-office (its per screen average last week was lower than the also disappointing THE MAN FROM U.N.C.L.E.) in its limited release.  But THE END OF THE TOUR is not a bad film, well-written and performed and should be given  chance.

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DBk1Mrb4RyM


NO ESCAPE (USA 2015) *

Directed by John Erick Dowdle

It was in 2009 that it was reported that Owen Wilson was to start in an action film called THE COUP with the theme similar to TAKEN about a husband saving his family at all costs.

The setting, however is an unnamed South-East Asian country where true enough, a coup is underway.   Jack Dwyer (Wilson) has been sent with his family to re-locate as he had just landed a job as an engineer dealing with some water company.  The film opens with the family on the plane.  When hell breaks lose in the Asian country, his family is the target as the locals believe the foreigners are out to steal their water.  So amidst bullets and explosions, Dwyer has to take his family to safety.  In the film, this means crossing the border to Vietnam in a boat.

But the film is so full of flaws and loose ends that all the action set pieces serve no purpose.  But some are, to the director’s credit nail-biting suspenseful, especially the segment in which the family has to jump across from one building to another.  But most of the action sequences involve Asians jumping around during explosions and firing weapons at random.

It can be ascertained from the end credits that the film is shot in Thailand from all the Thai names that appear.  The reason the film was shot there is the immense talent of the Thai film film crew.  But judging from the end piece where the family crosses to Vietnam by boat, the country can be assumed to be Cambodia.  Though unmentioned, the political turmoil could arise from the Khmer Rouge problems from the past.  The fact that nothing is mentioned of the story’s background, the story loses its credibility.

An inherent problem of the film is that the hero of the piece is not a trained killer.  Jack Dwyer has never fired a weapon or killed anyone till he is forced to protect his family.  Unlike the Liam Neeson hero in TAKEN where he efficiently does away with the bad guys, all Jack can do is quiver after he kills his first victim.  Having a hysterical wife (Lake Bell) and two young daughters (Sterling Jerins and Claire Geare) and annoying ones at that, does not help this action flick either.

All the local Asians blame the Americans for all the bad that occur in their country and all of them are disposed during the action scenes in a ridiculous manner.  The Dwyer family is aided in their escape by a stranger, Hammond (Pierce Brosnan) who turns out to be a James Bond like British agent.  The Hammond character is strange, appears out of nowhere at various points in the film and is never fully explained.

With all the action films released weekly, this silly effort, shot in Thailand with lots of locals and explosions turns out to be a total waste.

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DOjj07EuO50


Directed by Anna Muylaert

The SECOND MOTHER of the film title is Val (Regina Casé), the maid of a wealthy Sao Paolo family.  Maids have been interesting subjects of films lately, the most memorable being the recent film called THE MAID, the Oscar nominee for Best Foreign Film from Chile.

This Brazilian entry that could also be titled THE MAID, tells of maid Val, 13 years working as nanny to Fabinho (Camila Márdila) in Sao Paulo. She is financially stable but has to live with the guilt of having left her daughter Jessica (Karine Teles), in Pernambuco, in the north of Brazil, raised by relatives. As college entrance exams roll around, Jessica wants to come to Sao Paulo to take her college entrance exams too. When Jessica arrives, cohabitation is not easy. Everyone will be affected by the personality and candor of the girl while Val finds herself right in the middle of it.

The story contrasts three strong females characters.  Each of them are used to their own way of life and stubbornly so.  Val is so comfortable as a second class citizen, she is more concerned about the status quo being disturbed rather than her rights.  Her daughter, on the other hand, is an independent youth unwilling to see herself or her mother disrespected.  The mistress Dona Barbara (Lourenço Mutarelli) is rich and spoiled and used to be getting her own way.  When the three come into conflict, they each, hilariously find their own solution which largely means segregation from the other two.

Muylaert’s film moves at a snail’s pace but it allows her audience to make keen observations on both her characters and situations.  She never judges her characters but allows the audience to make up their own minds, as to who is correct or wrong.  What is marvellous is that often in an argument on screen, both parties are right.  But the audience is still forced to take a side, depending on ones beliefs and attitudes.  For example when mother and daughter argue about their separation, one could side with the mother for not being able to be with her daughter but also on the daughter’s side for not trying hard enough.

The film covers important social issues - the main one being the co-habitation of different classes.  Both Val, the maid and her employer, Barbara who she calls Dona Barbara are living in perfect harmony provided their unwritten rules are kept.  Other issues covered are the absent mother and daughter presence during growing up which again are in harmony till the can of worms are opened.  Sexual desires develop between Jessica and both the elderly Dr. Carlos (Luis Miranda) and the mistress’s son.  These form the film’s most uncomfortable segments.  Muylaert’s solution is to have Val leave the residence and the boy sent to Australia.  Another minor but no less interesting issue is the family’s dealing with drug use.

The film also contains a few great moments of exhilaration.  The one scene in which Val finally gets the guts to enter her mistress’s pool is funny as she wades in the pool that has been drained and only contains a foot deep of water.

The film moves believably to a stable compromise in which each party is more comfortable than the present.  Each is happier, the film has a happy ending, and the audience is happier, too.

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fXEYqXE4_sg



Best Film Opening: SECOND MOTHER

Best Animation: INSIDE OUT

Best Documentary: AMY

Best Action comedy: AMERICAN ULTRA


Best Indie:  DOPE and TANGERINE

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