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This Week's Film Reviews (Feb 12, 2016)

12 Feb 2016

Two films that cater to very unique tastes open this week. Make sure you do not wander into any of these two films unless you are in the know.  DEADPOOL caters to comic book antihero fans while ZOOLANDER 2 the fashion/model media disciples.

FILM REVIEWS:

DEADPOOL (USA 2016) ***

Directed by Tim Miller

DEADPOOL the latest Marvel comic book ‘hero’ movie arrives with great anticipation and fanfare of comic book fans.  Fans know their comic book hero and expect to see a foul-mouthed, angry, sexy and ugly fighter in an R-rated movie.  

First of all, some background on DEADPOOL.  Those familiar with the marvel character, best described as an uncensored personality would best skip this paragraph.  DEAD POOL is the name of the lead character previously known as Wade Wilson (Ryan Reynolds). The character is less a hero than an antihero.  He describes himself in the film as a bad guy paid to take out other bad guys.  At first a normal human being, then voluntarily subjected to experiments in order to cure his cancer, Deadpool ends up totally mutated but also with accelerated healing powers and fighting agility.  He is badly scarred especially facial wise and wears a skin tight costume.  He is angry, swears all the time and beats various people up, depending on his mood.  The fans expect the film to be extremely violent, especially in the already famous touted skewer scene in which Deadpool props a baddie up with his twin blades.  Director Miller satisfies the fans with the segment not only shown twice, but also in slow motion.

To director Miller’s credit, the film is energetic and funny enough for the audience to be distracted from the film’s flaws.  The film begins with mock opening credits that no doubt is funny at first, but soon wears out its welcome.  It says for example that the film is directed by an overpaid tool with all other members of the the filmmaking team insulted except for the writers. The real credits appear at the end of the film.  

The film begins with Deadpool (Reynolds) taking a cab, driven by Dopinder (Karan Soni) to fight his enemies, the main one being Francis (Ed Skrein from the TRANSPORTER remake).  Deadpool has a lengthy irrelevant but hilarious conversation with Dopinder.  The fight ensues, but because Deadpool has forgotten his bag of weapons, has only 12 bullets in his gun.  As a result, he has to cut off his hand from a handcuff in order to escape in a garbage truck.  The film flashes back to how this scene takes place.  In the process, the audience learns that the film is a love story - one between Wade Wilson and Vanessa (Morena Baccarin).

The film’s storytelling format is chopped up unnecessarily as if the target audience is assumed to have a very short attention span.  There is no need for the excessive violence, except maybe to satisfy the hardcore Deadpool comic book fans.  The humour is forced, the dialogue terribly crude and blunt and many characters appear out of nowhere.  An example is the blind old back lady, Al (the wonderful Leslie Uggams) who ends up as Deadpool’s lover, living in his apartment.  Her quotable line: “I miss my cocaine.”   All this might be entertaining to some but on the other hand , terribly boring to others, like the film critics.  

For what it is worth, DEADPOOL delivers to its core audience.  The film turned out better than I expected, having very low expectations after watching the trailer.  But I am not the core audience.  DEADPOOL fans will definitely be pleased!

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gtTfd6tISfw

NINA FOREVER (UK 2014) **

Directed by Chris and Ben Blaine

Writers/directors Chris and Ben Blaine’s new horror-romance film NINA FOREVER is a horror love story so dead serious, that they consider it as a real relationship story.  The question is whether it works.

The idea of a returning dead lover, however, is not that original an idea.  It has been done before in the 1971 Brazilian movie DONA FLOR AND HER TWO HUSBANDS.  Dona Flor’s dead husband keeps showing up during the lovemaking to make up for her current husband’s lack of passion.  This film is pure black comedy and was a big hit in North America.

After girlfriend Nina (Fiona O’Shaughnessy) dies in a car crash, Rob (Cian Barry) unsuccessfully attempts suicide.  As he begins to overcome his grief, Rob falls in love with a coworker from his supermarket job, Holly (Abigail Hardingham).  Their relationship is extremely complicated when Nina, unable to find rest in the afterlife, comes back to life to sarcastically torment them whenever they have sex. 

The rest of the film involves Rob and Holly who must find some way to deal with the situation and put Nina to rest.

As expected, the film eventually descends into a threesome involving Rob, Nina and Holly.  Though the actors are all very good-looking, the scene, with sheets covered in blood (see photo) is far from being sexually erotic.

According to the film notes, the directors try to keep their film on the reality road, preventing it from descending into camp.  The result is obviously a more serious movie, and one quite devoid of humour.  The audience has to believe that the situation could be as real as reality can be.  In a way, the concept could happen.  People with dead loved ones, could metaphorically not get over their past lovers, and though the dead might not physically appear with dripping blood during future lovemaking with other partners, it could happen in the head.  

But the trouble with the film is that it is too slow and too dead serious (pardon the pun).  It also requires more concentration deciphering the film’s strong British accented dialogue.  It is not really convincing either especially in the part when Rob declares his love to Holly on the  bus.  A bit of comic relief is provided by Nina’s parents, the father in particular who is trying to write a novel.  But the Blaines keep it serious with the father freaking out when Holly sits at Nina’s place at the dinner table.  One wonders what the film would be like if it were campier.  It might be an improvement.  The film also contains a different sounding soundtrack by Dan Teper.

It is difficult to envision anyone sympathetic to a character like indecisive Rob who cannot leave his past dead lover, Nina.  As such, Holly should just move on.  The directors are too convicted with their theme on moving on, and should have themselves, moved on with the film’s limited premise.  The film has garnished generally favourable reviews after premiering at the recent SXSW Film Festival but I would rather watch DONA FLOR AND HER TWO HUSBANDS again.

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1IokJt_05co

PORTRAIT OF A SERIAL MONOGAMIST (Canada 2014) **
Directed by Christina Zeidler ad John Michell

This spritely romantic relationship comedy is exactly what the title promises.  It is the story of monogamist, Elsie (Diane Flacks), in her thirties who cannot, no matter how much she tries change her ways.  A slight twist to the story is that Elsie is a lesbian.

When the film begins, Elsie has just broken up with her girlfriend, Robyn (Carolyn Taylor).  Robyn has not taken the breakup too easily.  It is tough for them to remain friends without fighting.

Meanwhile, Elsie has a fling or two while trying to survive her job was aTV producer after a corporate takeover.  She is offered advice from friends and family.  As the saying goes: “Everyone has a advice and everyone is full of sh**”

That is basically what the entire film is about.  It is pretty boring for those who cannot connect with the main character.  Whether one does depends, but to Flacks, credit, she is not a bad actress.  

The film is shot in Toronto and the directors are proud of the fact.  Torontonians will recognize familiar sights like the local streets, streetcars and buildings.  The film also showcases local musical and art talent.

Diane Flacks inhabits her role comfortably, passing off as a desperate lesion trying not to be desperate.  She creates a likeable character and a very human one.  She is pretty though not overtly pretty and smart, though human enough to make mistakes and smart enough to recognize them.  She takes a little time to figure out what she wants.  In other words, she is a normal person, a nice Jewish girl from Toronto (as she describes herself) in the ordinary sense.  Of the supporting cast, Robin Duke stands out as Elsie’s mother, a nice Jewish woman from Montreal.

The film ends up an ok watch, but there is nothing exceptional about the film, which is a shame.  Everyone tries very hard, as is evident in the last scene of the cat funeral.  During the cat funeral, Elsie and Robyn have it out amidst the ceremony.  It is definitely a far-fetched scene that is funny at parts, but feels too artificial.

There are no sex scenes, thanks goodness for that!  The actresses are pretty but not sexy enough that the audience would like to watch them doing it in the nude.  The kissing scenes are sufficient and short.

PORTRAIT OF A SERIAL MONOGAMIST, made in 2014 finally reaches the big screen after making its round across the country’s LGBT festival circuit.  The film is unlikely to become a big hit, but its target audience is clearly the LGBT festival audience and maybe the local Toronto art scene.

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=i1A7_9doTVg

RAMS (Iceland 2015) ***
Directed by Grímur Hákonarson

Few films from Iceland make it to North America, so when one like RAMS comes along, it is a real treat.  The audience gets to see an unfamiliar lifestyle while experiencing a tale set in an unknown setting.

The film contains seldom seen images.  These include, obviously the somewhat barren and pastoral Icelandic landscape and also other man-made concoctions like a character scrubbing his sheep in a bathtub.

RAMS is about sheep and rams.  As the voiceover narrative informs, for a thousand years, sheep is of foremost importance to the Icelandic people.  Sheep affect the outlook of the people. The film begins with a ram competition in a secluded valley in Iceland.  The top prizes are announced with the top two ending up in the hands of two brothers by the names of Gummi and Kiddi.  It turns out that the brothers are not on speaking terms, though they are neighbours.  The story is one of hard survival of sheep farming under the harsh conditions of winter in Iceland.

Director Grímur Hákonarson used to make documentaries, so RAMS is detailed and authentic in its look.  It features a harsh landscape of the valley, and does not show the modern capital city at all.

A lethal disease suddenly infects Kiddi’s sheep with the entire valley coming under threat.  The authorities decide to slaughter all the animals in the area to contain the outbreak.   The story is familiar after the recent remake of Thomas Hardy’s novel, FAR FROM THE MADDING CROWD, the English period drama that featured a similar sheep disease.  This is a near death sentence for the farmers, whose sheep are their main source of income, and many abandon their land in despair.  But Gummi and Kiddi don’t give up so easily – and each brother tries to stave off the disaster in his own fashion: Kiddi by using his rifle and Gummi by using his wits.   As the authorities (depicted here as emotionless) close in, the brothers will need to come together to save the special breed passed down for generations, and themselves, from extinction.

One thing is that it is difficult to distinguish between the two brothers as they are both old, bearded and slightly fat.  But one can tell after a while,as one has a whiter beard than the other.

The reason for the brothers’ conflict is explained but not really satisfactory - not that it matters that much.  The conflict is eventually resolved, as expected, and this make the film’s more tender moments.  There are two extremely moving segments one with Gummi and Kiddi hugging each other naked as brothers.

But the film demonstrates the triumph of the human spirit.  It shows how man survives against all odds if he has the will to do so.  Besides containing images of wild beauty that includes a snowstorm in the mountains in the film’s climax, Hákonarson’ film is a meticulously and sincere made film that is entertaining while being educational at he same time.

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

SNOWTIME! (Canada 2015) ***
Directed by Jean-François Pouliot

LA GUERRE DES TUQUES (3D) is the highest grossing Canadian film of 2015.  But almost no one in English Canada has heard of it.  As the saying goes in the film industry, French Canadians see French Canadian films but English speaking Canadians do not see Canadian films at all - French or Canadian.  So, it would be appropriate then to dub the French animated feature into English complete with an English title SNOWTIME! as if the original never existed.

But when the film, a delightful kids fantasy set in real life progresses, it becomes apparent that the film is very Quebecois despite the fact that all the character are speaking English.  Even the names of the leads Luke and Sophie sound French (Luc et Sofie). The setting is a little village, snow covered, the typical seen in pictures of Quebec, which one kid calls the best village in the world.  And he and the other kids believe it too.

The animated feature is based on and is an animated version of the 1984 family film THE DOG WHO STOPPED THE WAR (French title LA GUEREE DES TUQUES, no change here).  

This review is based on the 3D English version.

The film centres on a group of children, led by Luke (Nicholas Savard-L'Herbier in the French version, Angela Galuppo in English) and Sophie (Mariloup Wolfe in French, Lucinda Davis in English), who plan and stage a giant snowball fight during the Christmas holidays.  The story is unimportant.  The fact that all the children appear to be having a fine time at war is all that matters.  Until someone loses an eye - or a dog is hurt, as in the case of this film.  As in most children’s films, SNOWTIME! is one centred around the children.  There are no adults around.  The kids behave like adults mostly, dealing with issues such as acceptance, loyalty, friendship and chivalry, elements that make a good family or children’s tale.  This is a delightful Canadian film, quite unlike Disney expensive blockbuster animated features like FROZEN.  Still, there are a few catchy tunes like “You are My Sweater” (whatever that means, I have no clue) performed at the end credits.

The 3D effects are well done with lots of snowy stuff tossed out of the screen at the audience.  The village looks very Christmassy and the film has an overall warm and fuzzy atmosphere despite the ‘war’ setting.

The humour is mild at best.  It is not overtly hilarious or extremely goofy, characteristics of most animated features these days. Getting brain freeze from drinking milkshakes or changing the odds of winning during an arm wrestling match are examples of the kind of humour found in the film.

The result is a rather mediocre entertaining film.  The plusses of the film include the gorgeous animation on the screen, better bang for the buck that the multi million dollar products churned out by the Hollywood studios.  At least Canadians can say this is our animated feature.  It is up against strong competition like NORM OF THE NORTH and KUNG FU PANDA 3.

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8NVHUxcAYGI

ZOOLANDER 2 (USA 2016) ***

Directed by Ben Stiller

ZOOLANDER and ZOOLANDER 2 are milder versions of Sasha Baron Cohen’s BRUNO which are still pretty wild for most audiences unfamiliar with films like these that satirize the fashion/modelling industry.  

It took a while, 15 years, since the first ZOOLANDER (2001) also directed by Ben Stiller hit the screens.  It has been a long wait - the stars have grown older, and the plot makes use of the fact.  Whatever goes on in the movie does not make much sense, but famous pop stars are being killed as they are protecting the Chosen One.  “You can’t kill us all.” utters Justin Bieber, the 6th pop star killed in a year, before he kicks the bucket after posing on Instagram.  Even Madonna has struck her last pose!  Who is the Chosen One and who is the villain?  As outrageous as the plot is, the twist is even more outrageous than anything found in any film in a while.  Hilarious?  It is in a way if one sits back and ponder over what has occurred.  The script, by no less than 4 writers including Stiller, Justin Theroux (the writer of AMERICAN PSYCHO who also appears in the film as an evil DJ) is actually hilarious, though it might not seem so on first appearance.  Perhaps ZOOLANDER 2 should be seen a second time to digest the mayhem on screen.

So, the not-so bright Zoolander (Stiller) is drawn out of recluse together with fellow model, Hansel (Owen Wilson).  The villain is Mugatu (Will Farrell hamming it up, the most he can ever muster), engineering his escape from fashion prison.  (Don’t ask!)

Not everything is original in the film.  A lot of the jokes are similar to ZOOLANDER 1 and the ending sexy cat fight between two beauties, Penelope Cruz and Milla Jovovich, to the delight of all the males watching is way too similar to the scene from the French film (that did not get released here), OSS 117 NEST OF SPIES, directed by THE ARTIST’s Michel Hazanavicius.

The star cameo list is staggering.  They include Bieber and real life fashion icons, Valentino, Vera Wang, Marc Jacobs, Tommy Hilfiger and Anna Wintour.  The trouble is that these icons are not immediately recognizable, but their names are emphasized at least so audiences know who they are.  Of the recognizable star cameos, Susan Sarandon (doing a ROCKY HORROR PICTURE SHOW routine), Milla Jovovich, Macaulay Culkin, Billy Zane, Katy Perry, Sting and Neil deGrasse Tyson strut their stuff, all playing themselves.  But the best of these belong to Benedict Cumberbatch who surprises as he plays All, a transgender looking super model so full of himself that he marries himself.

ZOOLANDER 2 plays like a spy spoof as well as a satire of the fashion/model industry.  Hate it or love it, my partner best described the film as “not that funny but sill entertaining.”  Yes, and the film has lots of energy!  But audiences not in the know might be totally bewildered at the goings-on!

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4CL4LNWHegk

BEST BETS:

Best Film Opening: RAMS

Best Film Playing: THE HATEFUL EIGHT

Best Action: STAR WARS: THE FORCE AWAKENS

Best Animation: ANOMALISA

Best Foreign Language Film: RAMS

Best comedy: HAIL, CAESAR

Best Drama: CAROL

Best Comedy/Drama: JOY

Best Horror: JERUZALEM

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