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This Week's Film Reviews (Oct 16, 2015)

16 Oct 2015

Films opening include BRIDGE OF SPIES, STEVE JOBS, the new Deepa Metha hit BEEBA BOYS and the Guillermo Del Toro ghostly horror CRIMSON PEAK.

The Deepa Metha film restrospective continues at TIFF Bell Lightbox

FILM REVIEWS: 

BEEBA BOYS (Canada 2015) ***1/2
Directed by Deepa Mehta

BEEBA BOYS or good boys, translated, tells the story of a brutal and violent Sikh gang that terrorized Vancouver with a trail of drugs and blood.  Despite the entertaining look of the film, the story is based on true events.  

Jeet (Randeep Hooda) lives with his family that includes his very young son, Peter who idolizes his father.  Jeet also lives with his parents, who he devotedly calls mummyji (Balinder Johal) and papaji (Kulbhushan Kharbanda) in a huge house in a posh neighbourhood.  But Jeet loves his family and especially his Polish girlfriend, Katya (Sarah Allen) who loves him equally as much.  There is a bit of Romeo and Juliet type romance immersed in the gunplay.  

The loose story-line of the film allows Metha to use style to mould her film.  Using colour (the coloured title at the film’s start set the mood), wardrobe, camera angles (overhead shots seem to be her favourite) and well executed action scenes, she keeps her film in full throttle high style mode.  The club scenes with their dances, a mix of Bollywood and house capture the integration of the Sikh and white western worlds.  

It is rare to see a woman director making a gangster film.  One can tell that her influences come from THE GODFATHER films.   Katya’s role is similar to Diane Keaton’s in GODFATHER II in which both women are kept from the knowledge of the family business.  Killing off the competition to increase turf is also the strategy in both BEEBA BOYS and GODFATHER 1. 

Mehta’s best moments are the family reactions to the gangway.  One well handled segment is the one in which a freaked out katya drives to the Jeet family home demanding to see Jeet.  When Jeet’s son Peter tells her “Go Home,” Peter;s face is not shown but his woods are only heard.  This is key filmmaking as the purpose of the words are the reaction of Katya and Jeet and not the boy - and hence no need for his face to be shown uttering the words.

Performance-wise, Hooda is ok a chief Jeet, but he is no Al Pacino.  But Sarah Karen is quite awful as the constantly whimpering damsel-in-distress.  She is not helped by her cliched written role.  The script contains lots of Sikh jokes, especially heard during in the dialogue among Jee’s henchmen.

Metha’s disdain for the British royalty can be observed in two scenes.  One is a sentence uttered at the start comparing an incident to the Queen sitting on the throne.  Another has a quick camera shot of the Queen’s portrait just after a trial in which Jeet is acquitted - as if mocking the entire justice system as a travesty.  

Though not her best work, Metha has consistently delivered a diversified portfolio of entertaining work, and BEEBA BOYS is one a film that sits well as another accomplished and very watchable film.

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WpNDKj4Cg3w

 

BRIDGE OF SPIES (USA 2015) ****

Directed by Steven Spielberg

BRIDGE OF SPIES arrives as one of the better films of 2015.  There are 4 reasons for this.  First and foremost is director Steven Spielberg, world class filmmaker performing at his best and having almost complete control of his material.  The second is the polished script by the Coen Brothers and the third and 4th, two exceptional performances by the two leads, Tom Hanks and Mark Rylance.

Hanks and Rylance deliver stellar Oscar winning performances.  Hanks might win his next Oscar.  Rylance, is a relatively unknown film actor but is a famous British Shakespearean actor - likely experienced in delivering tragedy as in this role.  And only the Coen Brothers can deliver a script that has the same joke said three times, and still funny each time.  ‘Are’t you worried?” asks Donovan to Abel on three separate occasions to which the same reply comes: “Would it help?”.  There is also neat writing in a case of one car accident and five claimants  (is this considered one or 5 insurance claims?) reflected again later in the film to exchange of one Russian spy for two American suspected spies (Is this 1 exchange or 2 exchanges?.) The script also lifts the courtroom drama out of the courtroom with other but related issues to the case.

The setting is 1964 though the script is based on the book written only in 2010 and another written by Donovan in 1964.  Accolades for the period set design, props and cinematography by 2 time Academy Award winner Janusz Kaminski (SAVNG PRIVATE RYAN and SCHINDLER’S LIST).  Little details like the theme song of the hit 60’s series 77 SUNSET STRIP heard ON TV in one segment of the film help. The filmmakers have gone to great expense the make Brooklyn look like the times of the cold war.  The vintage cars, dresses, road signs and aircraft must have cost a bundle.

The Glienicke Bridge (also known as the BRIDGE OF SPIES) is the historic location where the exchange of spies took place.  The story concerns an arrested Russian spy, Rudolph Abel (Rylance) operating in Brooklyn.  While the American people want him dead, lawyer James B. Donovan (Hanks) is given the task to defend him.  “Everyone in America will hate me, but at least I will lose,” says Donovan in the script’s best line.   But it is still a kangaroo court with judge for the case (Dakin Matthews) wishing Abel found guilty as quickly as possible.  Though the judge may seem the bad guy, he is not.  If something like this were to happen today, poor Abel would be labelled a terrorist and shipped to Guantanamo Bay with no lawyer but torture friendly military guards.  Abel is found guilty and sentenced to 30 years imprisonment.  But when an American U-2 spy  plane is shot down and pilot Francis  Gary Powers (Austin Stowell) captured, Donovan is given a mission to negotiate the release of Francis Gary Powers in exchange for Abel.  The rest of the film has Donovan travelling to Berlin, getting robbed and finally completing the exchange complete with another pawn, an innocent American student caught at the wrong place and the wrong time.

BRIDGE OF SPIES is not an action film or a true suspense film in the true sense of the word But the Coen Brothers realize the potential of suspense in the script and milk it for good.  (examples: Donovan getting robbed inn the midst of winter by East German thugs; Donovan followed by a stranger in the night; a hit on Donovan’s family; the exchange of prisoners).  The script also emphasizes that it is a case of fighting for what is right - like Gregory peck defending the black accused in TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD.  But the film’s best achievement is creating a human drama set during the cold war.  The audience feels for Abel just as Donovan worries for his client on how the Russians might treat him after being returned.  When Abel says to Donovan, “You will know the answer when you see whether they embrace me or signal me to the back seat of the car.”  True to those words, all eyesore now glued to the screen to see how Abel will be treated.

The intercutting of the stories with the pilots flying over Russia and Donovan at Abel’s trail is as sloppy as the student's arrest scene at the building of the Berlin Wall.  But these slight flaws aside, Spielberg’s BRIDGE OF SPIES is still a compelling watch from start to finish matched by the outstanding period atmosphere created.

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

A CHRISTMAS HORROR STORY (Canada 2015) ***
Directed by Grant Harvey, Steven Hoban and Brett Sullivan

(Capsule review only here/full review on oepning day) 

(Screened at the AFTER DARK film festival Saturday Oct 17th)

Canadian made A CHRISTMAS HORROR STORY, a collection of Christmas horror vignettes begins on a relatively good start.  It  could have turned into a classic like BLACK CHRISTMAS but unfortunately the rest of the film could not not maintain the momentum.

The film begins with DJ Dangerous Dan (a hilariously festive drinking DJ) pulling a long shift on Christmas Eve at Bailey Downs, enjoying his constantly filled glass of good cheer while announcing to his listeners to be good and stay home as something odd is happening around the malls.  It is during the broadcast that 4 murderous events take place.

The film is comprised of 4 separate horror stories, intercut and just loosely tied together (if not) by the dj’s warnings.  The trouble is that the audience expects some kind of connection but there is none.  Each ends in turn before the film resorts back to DJ Dan and ends.

But the best segment has the Bauers, visiting their rich aunt for the reason that father is broke and need the old aunt’s money for investment.  There is ideal comic material here as the family despises the aunt and vice versa. Father and mother and kids are constantly arguing too.  It looks like National Lampoon’s Vacation from hell with a Christmas horror twist.  This is the funniest story and works quite well in surprises and scares and comes complete with a plot twist.  The monster Krampus also arrives with quite impressive special effects.

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7Z3ybMTpqFw

CRIMSON PEAK (USA 2015) ***1/2

Directed by Guillermo Del Toro

 

CRIMSON PEAK comes advertised as a horror film but with two contrasting genres.  One is the violent bloody and violent slasher genre and the other, the period old fashioned ghost story.  It succeeds as a mesh of the two.  For audiences who love both the mood and atmosphere of classics like THE INNOCENTS and the gore of Del Toro’s own PAN’S LABYRINTH, then they are in for a mean treat.

The film centres on budding author Edith Cushing (Mia Wasikowska) who writes stories about ghosts, which she insists are not ghost stories.  So, the audience assumes that Del Toro’s film is likewise not a ghost story.  Edith is frequented by visits of hr mother as a ghost warning her to beware of Crimson Peak.  When Edith falls for a mysterious Baronet (the film explains what one is), Thomas Sharpe (Tom Hiddleson), they get married and move to England where she discovers the property she is moving into is nicknamed Crimson Peak.  Turns out too that Sharpe and weird sister Lucille (Jessica Chastain) have other plans up their sleeves that include murdering Edith and stealing her money.

But there is much used material in CRIMSON PEAK.  The violent and bloody murder of the father by the bashing of his head on a sink is akin to the poacher struck with an empty hard bottle in PAN’S LABYRINTH.  Both films also had a knife stabbed into the cheek of the victim’s face.  On the less gory side, both films had a young female protagonist set in a world of fairies and mysterious ghosts.

CRIMSON PEAK has stunning production values from its sets (shot in Toronto and not in England) complete with fabulous period gowns.  The haunted mansion with its countless rooms and antiques (paintings, door handles, stairs) is quite the elaborate set.  The cinematography with light snow in many scenes is reminiscent of the sets in PAN’S LABYRINTH.  The waltz segment in which the pair waltz, European style to the delight of the guests at the ball, without extinguishing the lit candle s all pure cinematic delight.

The pace of CRIMSON PEAK is a bit slow in the first half.  It eventually picks up in the second half once the horror begins and the girl moves to England.

The film also contains segments worthy of Hitchcock.  The one with the doctor, Dr. Alan (holding up the drugged Edith reminds one immediately of Cary Grant carrying Ingrid Bergman down the stairs in NOTORIOUS.  The segment of stealing the key and replacing the key on the keychain after use is also suspense worthy of Hitchcock.  The mansion at CRIMSON PEAK with its many locked rooms, corridors and forbidden cellar could be inspired by the property in Hitchcock’s REBECCA.  And father’s words about the mystery suitor: “There is something about him I don’t like.”  These are words that create an anticipation of fear for the audience - another common Hitchcock technique.

PAN’S LABYRINTH remains Del Toro’s best film to date.  CRIMSON PEAK with all its scares and a few false alarms, period atmosphere and gore is still a satisfactory horror feature worthy of Del Toro.

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4zBlG8Lv01k

EXPERIMENTER (USA 2014) **

Directed by Michael Almereyda

EXPERIMENTER is a biopic on famed social psychologist Stanley Morgan.  Morgan is known for the famous 1961 Milgram experiment in which people think they were delivering electric shocks to an affable stranger strapped into a chair in another room.

The ones delivering the increasing electric shocks were the ones studied.  The ones receiving were just pretending to scream.  The strange results were that almost all the subjects continued to produce the shocks as instructed without saying no, even though they perceived that the ones they are receiving the shocks to might be in extreme pain or dying.

Almereyda spends quite a bit of the film’s initial running time showing the experiment to the audience.  Obviously, Almereyda was very fascinated with the man and his experiment.  Variations of his methods occur at other points of the film, but this one experiment is the one always alluded to.  But the subject of the film is Milgram (played with a very straight-faced Peter Sarsgaard).  The audience sees him in his life, conducting his experiments, falling in love with Alexandra (Winona Ryder) who he meets in an elevator, his family life and work at other universities.  

Almereyda injects lots of deadpan humour in his otherwise serious material.  The humour is occasionally so deadpan, it appears too serious for any laughter.  So, when a scene calls for Milgram to lose it in anger and scream at his wife, Alexandra, the effect is odd as if the audience is unable to believe that this odd person, so straight-faced, is capable of any emotion.

The film contains an impressive cast of cameos that includes Anthony Edwards, Anton Yelchin. John Leguizamo, Lori Snger and a host of others in relatively small roles.

But the trouble with EXPERIMENTER is its aimlessness and lack of a conclusion or message.  Besides the experiment itself and Milgram’s relatively uninteresting family life, the film runs out of interesting material fast.  The uneven blend of dead seriousness and deadpan humour does not help either.

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=O1VOZhwRvWo

FREEHELD (USA 2015) ***1/2

Directed by Peter Sollet

Like his last feature RAISING VICTOR VARGAS, director Peter Sollett knows how to move his audience.  FREEHELD is both a lesbian love story and one involving the fight for equal rights.  But because the lead character, played by Oscar Winner Julianne Moore is also a dying cancer patient, the film will leave you in tears for more than half the running time.  I have not cried so much in a film for such a long time.  Though I am not the one to like sentimental films - they are a hard watch - this one is quite the film.  Based on a true story, the lead is a New Jersey police officer Laurel Hester (Moore), in the closet before she meets Stacie Andree (Ellen Page).  She is diagnosed with cancer and unable to pass her pension benefits to her partner.  She has given her town justice and now justice is taken away from her.  The film has 4 great performances - Page, More and also of Michael Shannon as Laurel’s work partner and of Steve Carrell’s best of his career as a homosexual Jewish activist.  The script’s dialogue is also top notch.

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=blk27Jj9UE8

GUIBORD S'EN VA-T-EN GUERRE (MY INTERNSHIP IN CANADA)(Canada 2015) ****

Directed by Philippe Falardeau

Too bad I had missed this political farce at this year’s Toronto International Film Festival as this is one of the best Canadian films I have seen this year.  Directed by Philippe Fallardeau who also directed two of my favourite films in the past, CONGORAMA and MONSIEUR LAZHAR, Falardeau has proven to be consistent in delivering thought provoking and entertaining fare.

Farce is a bit strong a word to describe this political film.  By definition, the film is a political farce, but it is a gentile one, likeable without tearing apart any beliefs or adversely putting down any political parties or indigenous groups.  The film respects all which makes it particularly affable while still getting its message of peace across.  But it does condemn hypocrisy and government politics. It is an intelligent and humorous film, well acted and executed while never getting distracted from the main issue at hand.

The French title translates to Guibord Goes to War.  Guibord (Patrick Huard) is an independent Member of Parliament in Canada.  The film opens with him hiring an intern from Haiti, hence the English title of the film.   The young Rousseau quoting Haitian intern (Irdens Exantu) ends up surprisingly aiding the hapless backbencher navigate the complexities and pitfalls of Parliament Hill.

It all happens when a Conservative minority government tries to pass a bill that will enable them to go to war.  It suffers a setback when one of the Tory MPs falls ill — leaving the key vote to MP Steve Guibord.  Guibord’s wife (Suzanne Clément) wants him to say yes while  his peacenik daughter (Clémence Dufresne-Deslières) wants a no vote.  Guibord is unable to decide.  At the same time, he is trying to solve highway blockages by the Natives protesting logging and polluting their land.

These are all key political issues. The film claims in the titles at the start: “Based on true events, that have not happened but will happen soon.”  But many of these the events have already hit close to home.  In Canada, natives blocking highways in peaceful protests are common.  The current Prime Minister Harper is a warmonger, sending troops to fight in foreign countries claiming to fight freedom.  The actor chosen to play the P.M. looks like Harper, down to his white hair and pudginess.  The P.M. bribes Guinord to cast the vote for the war while promising him the minister’s seat.  The P.M. is shown hilariously as a hypocrite, playing classical piano to his politicians while jamming with heavy metal music on his guitar in private.

Director Falardeau is clearly on the side of peace though he also exposes the politics of peace groups.  One hilarious scene has the door of the tour bus of the peace open to white doves flying out.  But when an Afghan native veteran amputee show up to correct Guibord’s ambitions, it is a moving experience.  

The film shows at many times both sides of an argument, illustrating how difficult it is for Guibord to please both sides.  If he goes on the sides of the natives to protect their land, the miners and loggers in his ridings will lose their jobs.  Guibord is also a hockey star in his youth, again the irony of a fighter now fighting for peace.  At the same time, his family conflict comes into the open.  Guibord discovers that his wife did not vote for him.  But her answer is that politicians rarely make any difference, so not voting for him means him not going to Ottawa and she having more time with him.

This is a very moving, relevant and eye-opening political feature.  A major surprise for me and one that I would highly recommend as it is the Best Canadian Film I have seen so far this year.

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dEGECiVM02I

JUMPERS FOR GOALPOSTS (UK 2015) ***** TOP 10
Directed by Paul Dugdale

Who is Ed Sheeran?  For the uninitiated, the British pop rock singer is currently the most successful artist in the world.  See the film and guaranteed you will be converted to a Sheeran fan.  I was.  And I cannot stop listening to his songs.  His music and songs bring tears to my eyes every time I put them on making this hardened critic to a sobering mess.

What is the event?  The live event takes place on October 22nd at selected Cineplex Odeon Theatres (51 screens across Canada and thousands across the world).  It is a one time screening of the documentary JUMPERS FOR GOALPOSTS (which is reviewed here) preceded by a live set from London’s world-famous Leicester Square.  This special cinema event, including red carpet highlights, an exclusive live performance from Ed and the film shown in its entirety for the first time, will be beamed via satellite live from London’s Leicester.  The doc is around 100 minutes and the live set approximately 3 hours.  The event comes with my highest recommendation.

JUMPERS FOR GOALPOSTS centres on Ed’s triumphant achievement of his dream of performing at London’s legendary Wembley Stadium in July of this year.  It was his dream, he making the wish on his birthday as indicated in an old footage segment when cutting his guitar-shaped birthday cake.  The film intercuts selected songs from the consecutive 3 days at the Stadium.  The film also intercuts footage of Ed backstage and on the road, offering audiences a rare glimpse of what this artist is like.

Ed performs his biggest hits including “Thinking Out Loud”, “Sing”, “The A Team” and my favourite “Photograph”.   (Link to Video of Photograph provided below.)  On the Saturday, the second day at Wembley Stadium, Sir Elton John arrives for a surprise duet with Ed for the rendering of “Don’t Go Breaking My Heart”.  John speaks to the camera with him praising Ed, looking at Ed and remembering himself as a young performer more than 40 years back.  It is a movie tribute to both artists.  John offers good advice to Ed and the best one is to do songs that the people know.  Ed confesses he did one performance doing all the songs from one album that was a mistake.

Director Dugdale recognizes the impact Ed has on his fans.  His camera frequently shifts from performance to their reactions the euphoria of the fans is witnessed.  The fans are singling along, dancing and crying.  A man proposes to his girlfriend, caught on camera.

But the film’s highlight is the spectacle of a performance at Wembley Stadium.  As Ed sings, the camera swoops from above, capturing the 80,000 fans each night of his 3 performances.

The doc reveals very little of Ed’s personal life, which is a shame.  The doc only begs for the audience wishing to know more - perhaps of his love life, influences, school and the like.

The film, besides showing Ed Sheeran as a mega talented star, also reveals the man to be humble, ambitious and extremely sweet.  Sheeran's character rubs off on the film.  JUMPERS FOR GOALPOSTS is a sweet, ambitious and extremely entertaining documentary.  

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iR4nF18vyTk&feature=youtu.be

“Photograph” video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nSDgHBxUbVQ

STEVE JOBS (USA 2015) ***

Directed by Danny Boyle

The third film about late Apple co-founder Steve Jobs in 3 years since 2013, after Ashton Kutcher’s JOBS, Alex Gibney’s documentary STEVE JOBS: THE MAN IN THE MACHINE, STEVE JOBS is given the full cinematic treatment by director Danny Boyle (TRAINSPOTTING, SLUMDOG MILLIONAIRE, TRANCE) and writer Aaron Sorkin of THE SOCIAL NETWORK and THE WEST WING.  As expected, the new film is not the run-of-the-mill biopic.  It is a cinematic marvel at times, but it might not be to everyone’s satisfaction.

The film is intense, maddening, frustrating and fast.  But those words could also be used to describe Steve Jobs. portrayed by Michael Fassbender who has delivered similar-type performances (HUNGER, SHAME) in the past.

The film is set like a 3-act play.  Everything about Job’s life is cleverly summarized into Job’s reactions, dialogue and actions during three settings which are Job’s product launches.  At times, the film STEVE JOBS looks like BIRDMAN, where most of the action occurs behind the stage.

This is not the best film to learn about the life of Steve Jobs.  This film is more like the best dramatic segments in Job’s life - abridged.  Though the film assumes that audiences have a basic knowledge of Apple and Mac computers, Jobs’ life and his character, knowledge is not a necessity, as the film brings the audience up to par quite quickly.  

Those familiar with Sorkin’s writings know that his characters speak ten times as fast as the normal human being.  The film’s dialogue is therefore sharp and very quick.  This provides a big demand on the actors.  Just as Jesse Eissenberg had to spew out dozens of words per minute while acting in THE SCOIAL NETWORK, Michael Fassbender and the other actors have to follow suit.  To his credit, Fassbender does really well, even looking like the 43-year old Jobs in the last third of the movie, from his glasses, haircut and wardrobe.  The rest of the cast are nothing short of excellent but special mention has to be paid to both Jeff Daniels as John Sculley and Seth Rogen who plays the neglected engineer of Apple 2, who is constantly shunned by Jobs as well as.  Kate Winslet makes an impression out of the small role of Job’s publicist, Joanna Hoffman.

As too much information is crammed into the three acts, credibility is let out the door.  One can hardly believe that Jobs has made up with his daughter for a lifetime of sins in the few minutes before he went on stage for his new Mac launch.  Other parts of his life like his link with Buddhism, his womanizing and the stolen phone from the bar (his later life) are left out.

Boyle puts in his characteristic urgency into this film.  His frantic camera work in TRAINSPOTTING can be recognized the way the camera follows Jobs along the corridors of the stage or when Boyle intercuts two separate arguments at two different times between Jobs and his CEO, John Sculley (Jeff Daniels) into one segment.  Boyle does this twice.  The arguments are manic, giving the film an identical effect.

Working well together as filmmaking or a 3-act play, STEVE JOBS is well executed.  For a biopic, STEVE JOBS is sh**.  So, the bottom line is to love or fate the film as those who have come across Jobs - to love or hate the man.

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aEr6K1bwIVs

 

BEST BETS:

Best Film Opening: BRIDGE OF SPIES

Best Animation: INSIDE OUT

Best Documentary: JUMPERS FOR GOALPOSTS

Best Action comedy: AMERICAN ULTRA

Best Foreign: MY INTERNSHIP IN CANADA

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