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This Week's Film Reviews (Feb 26, 2016)

25 Feb 2016

Big films opening this week are TRIPLE 9, GODS OF EGYPT and EDDIE THE EAGLE.  Michael Moore's funny WHERE TO INVADE NEXT. also opens one week after the States.

TIFF Cinematheque also presents an Abbas Kiarostami film retrsospctive.  (See separate posted article).  Oscars are this Sunday evening.

FILM REVIEWS:

FORSAKEN (Canada 2015) ***
Directed by Jon Cassar

FORSAKEN, as the title implies, is a brooding western, as described in the ad description.  The brooding continues throughout the entire film, with the action taking place only during the last third of the film.  But this is not a bad thing. Director Jon Cassar (of TV hits such as LE FEMME NIKITA) and scriptwriter Brad Mirman keeps audience anticipation and interest maintained.

There are several reasons for the lead character’s brooding.  Foremost, he is fast draw gunfighter, John Henry Clayton (Keifer Sutherland) and a civil war veteran who regrets his killing and violent past.  Secondly, he is retiring to his hometown to make peace with his estranged father, the Reverend William Clayton (Donald Sutherland).  And thirdly, he gets to meet the girl he left behind who he still loves. Mary Alice (Demi Moore) is already married with husband and a son.

The town John Henry returns to is facing another problem.  A powerful landlord McCurdy (Brit Brian Cox) is forcing the people to sell their land or face violent consequences delivered by a ruthless gang led by Frank Tillman (Aaron Poole) he has hired.  This gang pushes John Henry to the limit by almost killing his father.  This brings the film to the climatic fight at the film’s last third.

The main pleasure of FORSAKEN is to watch father and son Donald and Keifer Sutherland acting as father and son in the same film.  Father Donald who made his mark in M*A*S*H* has always been good in everything he has been in. Keifer gets to prove his mettle and proves his apt i many common scenes with his dad.  Keifer is basically playing the man-with-no-name Clint Eastwood role.

The atmosphere of a scared town controlled by a vicious gang is effectively created.  A sad and effective scene is the one whee the town folk would just look and not take any steps to interfere with another member being violently beaten up.

FORSAKEN is sufficiently violent in its execution.  One cannot help but to cringe at the scenes where John Henry is beaten up.  Other than that, the film is a classic western for the family.

FORSAKEN is a Canadian made American western.  A co-production between the provinces of Alberta and Saskatchewan, the film was shot in Alberta that stands for 1872 Wyoming.  It is a handsome looking production reminiscent of the old classic John Ford films.

FORSAKEN contains nothing new that has not been seen before in other westerns - retired fastest draw forced out retirement to save a town from violence.  Still, it is well executed and efficient with due respect paid to the old westerns.  One can hardly complain.

Unfortunately, the cinematography of Rene Ohashi (a winner of multiple TV Cinematography awards) FORSAKEN cannot be experienced on the big screen  The film is available on Blu-ray, DVD and Video On Demand on February the 29th and on March 1st on digital HD.

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zdPmvg7P_6g

GODS OF EGYPT (USA 2016) **

Directed by Alex Proyas

The Lionsgate blockbuster GODS OF EGPYT has been plagued by many problems the most notable of it being a totally white cast for its lead characters.  But this is the least of the film’s troubles.  Made by Lionsgate, the HUNGER GAMES company that desperately needs a big hit after their stock plummeted 30% in one day after the earnings announcement, this $140 million production is only expected to gross, by industry estimates only $15 million on its opening weekend.  To Lionsgate credit, it claims that it only footed $10 million of the budget, the rest covered by pre-sales and tax credits.  The Australian Government apparently paid half the production costs.

The director Alex Proyas (I, ROBOT, THE CROW) claims that the world of Gods of Egypt never really existed.  It is inspired by Egyptian mythology, and therefore it would make no sense to attempt any historical accuracy because that would be pointless — none of the events in the movie ever really happened.  So, it does not really matter that the film was never shot in Egypt but down-under.

The story of Gods and man is set in Egypt.  At the film’s start, the audience is given the heads-up by voice-over of the film’s setting.  Apparently God and man are co-existing side-by-side.  The film distinguishes one from the other by the size.  Gods are figures that appear much taller (or larger) than humans.  The film opens with a common human thief, Bek (Brenton Thwaites) stealing an amulet to offer it as a gift to his everlasting love.  They attend the coronation of the crowning of the new King, Horus (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau), whose throne is stolen by Uncle Set (Gerard Butler with all the growling he can muster!)  After that, it is the quest of reclaiming the throne.

Since when do Gods die or fight for a throne?  And where does the idea of so many Gods living together ever come from?  The main premise is as ridiculous as it looks and it does look even sillier in a big budgeted film.  One best example is the scene of the coronation with the screen filled with thousands of spectators as far the the screen can hold.  How then can they hear what is going on on the stage when the microphone was not invented then.  The scene reminds one of MONTY PYTHON’S LFE OF BRIAN where the Monty Python group complain about being unable to hear what Jesus was preaching during the sermon on the Mount.

The film running more than 2 hours is CGI gone mad.  The special effects, 3D and CGI are costly and look good on the screen.  But the script meanders more than the Nile giving the impression that the writers are making things up as they go along.  For a multi-million dollar epic, the one-liners could at least being funnier.  “Run…”, “Run Faster”… are the best the film has to offer.  The climatic fight is good enough, performed at the top of a pyramid, but the entire adventure turns out to be a totally boring affair.  Never has so much money been devoted to the realm of boredom.

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wbN4oJLkLRI

ONLY YESTERDAY (Japan 1991) ***1/2
Directed by Isao Takahata

ONLY YESTERDAY is a 1991 Studio Ghibli film which was generally produced by Master Hayao Miyazaki.  Takahata also directed the well-known and loved THE TALE OF PRINCESS KAGUYA and GRAVE OF THE FIREFLIES.  Studio Ghibli is known to be in financial trouble, so any reworking of the studio’s animated features is a huge welcome.

Though one wonders of the reason ONLY YESTERDAY is the film chosen for the reworking.  It is immediately noticeable that the film is so unlike the favourites of Ghibli Studios the most notable being Miyazaki’s HOWL’S MOVING CASTLE, PONYO, MY NEIGHBOUR TOTORO and SPIRITED AWAY.  There is an absence of Japanese folklore and mythical creatures.  Magic, is present though in a different form.  In ONLY YESTERDAY, the magic is in the imagination of the heroine and what life has to offer.

The premise is a simple one.  27-year old Taeko (Daisy Ridley) is unmarried.  She loves the countryside.  She visits her relatives there and a flood of memories brings her back to the days of first romance, puberty (done with much humour and taste) and the frustration of math (division of fractions, of all things) and boys.  Takeo meets a young farmer, Toshio (Dev Patel).  The two connect with feelings.  Taeko is taken aback and feels uncomfortable when she is  pressured by Toshio’s parents into marriage with their son. 

The 1991 Japanese version is available in laserdisc format but the film has been redone in an English version, with the voices of the now famous Daisy Ridely, who had the lead as Rey in STAR WARS; THE FORCE AWAKENS and SLUMDOG MILLIONAIRE’s Dev Patel.

I do not favour any dubbed version of a film, and the pleasure of ONLY YESTERDAY comes especially when the soundtrack with songs in Japanese comes on.  But there are lots of American influences in the film, such as baseball and the Beatles, though they also form part of the culture that Taeko grew up with.

The best parts of the film are the simple ones - like the family sitting by the dinner table slicing a pineapple for the first time, or Takeo literally taking flight in an imaginary sequence.

But the film is not without certain flaws.  For one, both Ridley and Patel could do British or American accents as Ridley is British and Patel could be coached to do American.  But the strong American accent of Ridley’s character and British accent of Patel clash in the film.  If one wants to argue that people from the countryside speak with a British accent to differentiate, why then only the Patel character an not the others from the countryside?  The film’s imaginary happy ending also leaves the audience a bit bewildered.  

But it is the animation of the Ghibli Studios, care of Takahata and his team of artists that triumphs.  From the detailed shadows of the characters to the landscape of the countryside and the glorious colour and glow of the insects and background, ONLY YESTERDAY astounds and is the best of what animated films can offer.  This alone is worth the visit to this breathtaking work of animated art.

ONLY YESTERDAY celebrates Studio Ghibli’s 25th anniversary (and 30 years in its founding).  The studio is sadly in hiatus with no new productions after disappointing box-office receipts of their recent efforts.

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XYm7IT_K5eo

TRIPLE 9 (USA/UK 2015) ****
Directed by John Hillocoat

No stranger to violent films, director John Hillcoat's (LAWLESS, THE ROAD and his best film THE PROPOSITION) latest entry into gangster genre proves himself apt at serious comic book sensibility.  TRIPLE 9, the code for ‘officer down’, plays like a ‘real’ serious adult comic book version of DEADPOOL.

It takes a while for the film to settle on its bearings.  The script by first time writer, Matt Cook is clever enough not to reveal all the plot points, but keeps the audience always one step behind what is happening.  An example is the bank heist.  Who are the robbers working for?  What is their aim?  One point is a bank officer removing a safety deposit box from the vault.  As far as I now, it requires two keys, one from the officer and the other from the customer to open a box.  It is a good tactic.  For example, the audience is aware that one officer is going down, but never sure which one or for what reason.  The characters are also individually distinct and eccentric all aided by superlative performances from a eclectic cast.

The key performance comes from Casey Effleck (brother of Ben) who has proven his acting mettle in previous films like THE TOWN.  His character is the only uncorrupt one, and the key one that puts the whole story into prospective.  The good must always prevail.  The script contains a few too many close calls for his character.  As for the ambiguous baddies, there are too many too count.  Interesting enough, many do good for the wrong reasons.  The true baddie appears to be the Russian moll, Irina played by Kate Winslet , complete with Russian accent and is barely recognizable in her makeup..  She is also doing bad for a good reason, to aid her crooked husband escape.

Hillcoat keeps the action and fury fast and furious and nonstop.  Be prepared to be glued to your seats!  The film alternates between highly charged action and drama sequences.  For the action segments, the bank heist at the film’s start is hard to beat.  The robbers show no mercy and show they mean business.  They do not shout warnings.  They fire and beat up the victims, and talk later.  All this makes the heist even more gripping.  Hillcoat also realizes that the devil is in the details.  On the highway, a robber points his rifle at a car, only to have it rammed from behind and the robber moving backwards to avoid being hit.  The camerawork is excellent, the best example being the one where the camera pulls back during a car chase showing where each in on the maze of highways in the city.

Hillcoat does not skimp on the violence as evident by showing a bag of bloodied teeth at another point in the film.  The characters are always angry, screaming at each other but not without reason.  Every character is desperate.  Every character is ready to kill.

Stay for the end credits.  The 1980’s song ‘Pigs” (called so for obvious reasons) by Cypress Hill is inventive, catchy, hilarious and totally appropriate.  The song can also be played on YouTube.

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

WHERE TO INVADE NEXT. (USA 2015) ***
Directed by Michael Moore

When the title of Michael Moore’s new movie WHERE TO INVADE NEXT. was announced at the Toronto International Film Festival, it was followed by an auditorium of laughter.  What would s***-disturber Michael Moore come up next to enrage his new film subject(s)?   His then new film was totally hush-hush till it premiered at TIFF.  Surprisingly, WHERE TO INVADE NEXT. offends no one.  It is a crowd-pleaser with Moore even praising the United States, though only at the film’s very end.  Moore must be getting soft in his old age.

The premise is a neat one.  Moore travels to different countries, steals the ideas that work and returns with them to the United States.  Moore plants the American flag wherever he travels in victory after stealing the ideas, though many countries would gladly have the U.S. adopt them.  Italy is first visited first.  The idea of paid vacations, extended holidays and happy workers is the norm of the Italians.  In France, it is the special care of a different public school cafeteria food that makes the difference in healthy kids.  Other countries visited include Germany, Portugal, Norway, Iceland and the highly surprising Slovenia and finally Tunisia.  It is a fun trip.  But the film runs long at close to 2 hours and like any vacation, no matter how entertaining, can grow a bit tiresome.

But what Moore clearly misses out on are the reasons the United States can never follow the ‘stolen’ policies of Moore’s invaded countries.  One cannot just take one working concept from one country and implement it into another.  Culture, upbringing of the people all come into play.  Americans are known to be taught to be individualistic, and one against all, quite unlike for example the asians where, respect for oneself comes last.  

Unlike Moore’s other films like ROGER AND ME and BOWLING FOR COLUMBINE in which the subjects were very focussed like GM’s auto factory and gun availability, this film is scattered and is all over the place like the countries he hops to, one after another.  Why did Moore pick most of the countries in Europe, one from Africa and none from Asia?  There is also no reason for the order of his countries in terms of the importance of policies.

But Moore captures the film’s idea in one brilliant segment in which he asks a Tunisian woman to give a two-minute advice to the American people.  “If you have two minutes of advice to give to the American people, what would it be?”  And what she says hits the nail right on the head.  This is the common theme tying in all of the film’s ideas of what makes a country work.  The film contains many other moving moments like the one in which a Norwegian father of a dead son (the 2011 Norway summer camp massacre) confesses that getting revenge on his son’s killer solves nothing.

Moore’s film is nicely concluded, like a textbook with an ending to please the U.S.  Moore says all the success stories from the countries have all originated from ideas in the United States.  All the Americans need to do is to follow.  But easier said than done.  In this way, Moore tries the other way, (compared to using anger as, in his other films) i.e using niceness to get his point across.  

The result is a crowd-pleasing, very entertaining film that somehow will have the same difficulty of getting Moore’s point or points implemented.  The question is whether audiences like the nastier old Moore or the nicer new Moore.

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2RYV04G0tHc

 

 

 

BEST BETS:

Best Film Opening: TRIPLE 9

Best Film Playing: THE HATEFUL EIGHT

Best Action: STAR WARS: THE FORCE AWAKENS

Best Animation: ANOMALISA

Best Foreign Language Film: EL CLUB

Best comedy: HAIL, CAESAR

Best Drama: CAROL

Best Documentary: WHERE TO INVADE NEXT.

Best Comedy/Drama: JOY

Best Horror: THE WITCH

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