This Week's Film Reviews (Mar 11, 2016)

10 Mar 2016

New films opening include 10 CLOVERFIELD LANE and THE LITTLE PRINCE.  These are highly imaginative films derived from original sources that keep ingenuity alive.  Both films are highly recommended!!


10 CLOVERFIELD LANE (USA 2016) ***1/2

Directed by Dan Trachtenberg

Spoiler Alert:  Please note that in order to provide a readable film review, there are minor plot points that have to be revealed in the review.    It should be noted that every attempt has been made to keep the key plot twists secret so that readers will not have their entertainment of this film compromised.

Films about sole captives have always done reasonably well at the box-office and have sat well with audiences.  From William Wyler’s THE COLLECTOR to Peter Jackson’s THE LOVELY BONES to the recent Oscar best actress winning film ROOM, creepiness has always translated to good suspense and thrills.  It is surprising that the above three films dealt with the main element of suspense and 10 CLOVERFIELD LANE is the only one that is truly a horror picture.  And  quite a good one at that.  The antagonist is played by the excellent John Goodman.  Can you imagine waking up after being unconscious in a tiny room only to be greeted by a gigantic unshaven monster of a man?  Now that is really scary.  And the script written by Josh Campbell, Matthew Stucken, and Damien Chazelle milks that idea to the limit.

The film is a science fiction horror film and the spiritual successor of the 2008 film CLOVERFIELD, although the two films do not share the same fictional universe or continuity. CLOVERFIELD dealt with teens protecting their neighbourhood from aliens.  So 10 COVERFIELD LANE obviously has real aliens in the plot, though the first part of the film teases the audience with the fact that there might not be ab alien invasion and that Howard (Goodman) is keeping both Michelle (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) and Emmet (John Gallagher, Jr.) prisoners in the dark on the false pretext of an alien invasion fall-out.  But whatever the reason, Michelle,the lead character, has decided to escape, regardless.

The best parts of the film is Trachtenberg’s depiction of the desperation of all the three characters - each one dealing with it in his or her own way.  The script also blends humour in the best of unexpected times.  This is obvious in the film’s start with the intercutting with Michelle’s car accident and the titles ‘Paramount Pictures Present” and then car overturning and then “A Bad Robot Production”.   The script is also clever enough to always keep the audience surprised with one plot turn after another.  Howard can turn from super nice captor, to suspicious host to totally angry monster.  The bunker itself is a contradiction of wonderfully designed live-in space to isolated captive room.  Even the start of the film is a surprise.  Michelle is shown driving away for 10 minutes of screen time before it is revealed she is running away from her lover, Ben (voiced by Bradley Cooper).  “I think we’re alone now” is also an obvious but fun choice of a song on the soundtrack.

 A bit of moralizing is included for good sport.  Is it better to be alive in this situation?

There are a few minor loopholes in the plot, which cannot be mentioned here due to they being spoilers, but these are minor and can be overlooked.  But the last 15 minutes of high tech, high budget climax destroys the otherwise excellent plotting of the first 3/4 of the film.  It could be argued that the last segment is necessary to bind the two CLOVERFIELD films, but unfortunately director Trachtenberg has thrown all logic out the door as the audience can see what one small bottle of whiskey could do.

Despite its flaws, 10 CLOVERFIELD LANE is thoroughly entertaining and succeeds as a horror movie.  One wonders though of the NORTH BY NORTHWEST styled letter credits the filmmakers have chosen to use.

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yQy-ANhnUpE

CEMETERY OF SPLENDOUR (Thailand/UK/France/Germany/Malaysia 2015) ***

Directed by Apichatpong Weerasethakul 

Director Apichatpong Weerasethakul known best for his UNCLE BOONMEE WHO CAN RECALL HIS PAST LIVES arrives with his newest art piece.  The film screen is black for a minute or two at the start and his characters often are found sleeping in his film.  So, expect a very slow paced though occasionally beautifully shot film.  His humour includes shooting a girl taking a dump in the woods and a girl licking the gross swollen leg of a friend.  The film follows a young medium and a middle-aged hospital volunteer who meet at a new hospital.  They investigate a case of mass sleeping sickness that may have supernatural roots.  The patients are always sleeping and the medium interprets their dreams.  Apparently, the Americans have tried to get her to join the FBI and tempted her with a new car and house but she prefers to be loyal to her country.  CEMETERY is funny, watchable and typical Apichatpong Weerasethakul.

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sEWBNM7mRiY

HIP HOP-ERATION (New Zealand 2014) ***
Directed by Bryn Evans


The feel-good crowd pleasing documentary from New Zealand is so-called HIP HOP-ERATION because the film’s subject, a troupe that competes in a hip hop dance championship in Las Vegas is made up of seniors, the oldest of whom is 93, many too who have undergone a hip operation.

The dance troupe is the brainchild of flash mob choreographer Billie Jordan.  She ably manages the group.  Credit goes to her for everything from her planning, choreography, cheerfulness right down to her financial management and chaperoning of the seniors down to Las Vegas.  Her motivation occurred during her experience of an earthquake while in Christchurch.  She chose to cherish life.  Jordan and the seniors are from an island in New Zealand called Waiheke Island.  The film includes some footage from the film that shows the island and its surrounding and like everything in New Zealand - the scenes are stunning and pretty.

Hip Hop-eration is an ok documentary that is clearly running out of material within the first 30 minutes.  Director Evans fills in the gap be selecting a few of the participants and have them talk about their younger days.  One assumes that he has chosen carefully the half dozen or so from the 80.

The film includes limited footage of other hip hop artists performing in Las Vegas.  The reason is obvious. They will overshadow Hip Hop-eration.  The seniors are not that good - they are so-so but if one factors the age into the equation, the group is phenomenal.  The best thing abut the performance is the support of the spectators.  The camera spends an equal amount of time on the reaction of the spectators, especially the astonished look on the faces when they experience aged seniors on stage doing hip hop.  Hip Hop-eration rocks - that is the unanimous reaction of the spectators.

Does Evans film also rock?  Not really.  As mentioned, the material is limited and there is little research that needs to be done of the subject.  It is a simple film simply executed.  But no critic, myself include wants to be a sourpuss in taking down a film which has so much heart.  And this fluff does have more than its share of delightful, feel good moments.

The participants also give themselves hip hop names.  The participants or the cast includes the following with their age in brackets: 

Kara “Bang Bang” Nelson (94, with cane)

Maynie "Quicksilver" Thompson (95)

Terri "2-cents" Wool-Moore Goodwin (94)

Eileen "Diva mystic" Evans (84)

Rosemary "Missy Ro-Yo" McKenzie (74)

Billie 'Billie J Buzz" Jordan (44)

The film is also supported by local New Zealand hip hop artists such as Dziah and Krash who also entered in the Las Vegas championships .

The film has understandably won many audience popularity awards in the festivals that it has been showcased.  The film also won the Best New Zealand documentary Award.

Trailer: https://vimeo.com/101680486


Directed by Robert Carlyle

The film THE LEGEND OF BARNEY THOMSON arrives with zero fanfare but is a film that should be taken seriously.  A film that could be alternatively titled THE DEMON BARBER OF GLASGOW, the film is based on the book “The Long Midnight of Barney Thomson” by Douglas Lindsay.  The film begins when barber Barney accidentally scissors to death his boss, Wullie (Stephen McCole) in the barber shop that leads to another death, thus classifying him a serial killer.  Barney becomes a Scots Sweeney Todd with several inept Glaswegian cops on his case.

The film takes quite a while to get a solid footing.  The first third of the film muddles around with little humour, ingenuity or direction (and those unable to decipher the Scots accent might leave the cinema) but Carlyle slickly gets the action in gear and keeps the film moving during the next 2/3 of the film, leading it to a climatic mother/son confrontation and a Mexican stand-off.  But the main plot of the reason Barney Thomson becomes a legend is still in effect, a comical farce that finally succeeds.

For a film entered on grisly murders that include chopping up of body parts, the film is free from violence.  But the film is not without queasy scenes that include a severed penis and other assorted boy parts bundled up for the Royal Mail.  The language is also particularly foul, especially the words coming out of Barney’s mother, oddly called Cemolina (Emma Thompson).

Three strong British actors headline the film.   Carlyle himself, Thompson and Ray Winstone are thee actors I would pay serious money to see on screen.  Thompson who is barely two years older than Carlyle, plays Barney’s mother with all the wicked relish she can muster.  Her make-up by Oscar Winner Mark Coulier makes her look the part.  Hissing out most of her lines with a fag always hanging from her mouth, this is Thompson the complete opposite, not the Thompson HOWARD’S END audiences know.  The funniest part has her dipping biscuit dropping into her tea and then remarking: “I now have to fish it out with my spoon.”  The mother/son confrontation in which she reveals how much she has done for him, including providing him dolly mixtures when he was a kid is priceless.

Carlyle is a Scots actor best known for his role in Danny Boyle’s TRAINSPOTTING.  Carlyle’s debut directorial feature has the occasional feel of a Coen Brothers film (BLOOD SIMPLE, RAISING ARIZONA), but Carlyle who has worked with great English directors like Ken Loach (RIFF-RAFF, CARLA’S SONG), Boyle (TRAINSPOTTING) and Shane Meadows (ONCE UPON A TIME IN THE MIDLANDS) and the influences of the three directors are evident here.  The atmosphere of small town mentality of Meadows is the most obvious.

THE LEGEND OF BARNEY THOMSON opened at the Cineplex Yonge and Dundas Toronto last week and continues with an added opening at the Carlton Cinemas.  The film arrived with zero publicity and no press screenings, the only reason I can think due to is the film’s macabre nature.  But this is a awesome little gem, that is a must-see!  

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ADcvH4B_LbA

THE LITTLE PRINCE (France/Italy 2015) ****
Directed by Mark Osborne

It would unthinkable to do a makeover of the much loved fairytale 1943 novel, Le Petit Prince written by Antoine de Saint-Exupery.  A film version had already been made, a faithful one by Stanley Donen, which everybody loved back in the 70’s.  So when the director Mark Osborne, pitched his film idea to the actors and financiers, he had better had a good viable one in mind.

And judging from this fantastic and stunning film, he did.

Osborne has created this English-language 3D stop-motion-animated adventure fantasy  with a script film written by Irena Brignull and Bob Persichetti based on the 1943 novel of the same name by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry.   It should be noted that Osborne uses stop motion animation for the novel's story and computer animation for an additional frame narrative.  Osborne also assembled a more than impressive list of voice characterizations including  Jeff Bridges, Rachel McAdams, Paul Rudd, Marion Cotillard, James Franco, Benicio del Toro, Ricky Gervais, Bud Cort, Paul Giamatti, Riley Osborne, Albert Brooks and Mackenzie Foy.

Saint-Exupery’s story of the boy on his planet is woven into an original narrative which involves a young girl.  The film begins as an ordinary story on Planet Earth. 

The mother (McAdams) of a prodigious young girl (Foy) wants her daughter to enrol in a prestigious Academy where the moot seems to be essential n everything essential.  To ensure her daughter will pass the entrance exam, the mother imposes on her a rigorous study schedule over the course of the summer that leaves little room for leisure.   The girl becomes distracted by her next-door neighbour, an elderly, retired aviator (Bridges) who shares with her the story of a young boy from a distant asteroid, the "little prince", whom he supposedly encountered in a desert after crashing his plane.  As the two play together without the mother's knowledge, the aviator has a secret that slowly unfolds.  The little prince, the real McCoy is cleverly woven into the film’s plot including the novel’s famous characters like the fox, the rose, the businessman and others.  A few are left out, but the atmosphere of the novel is left intact regardless.

Despite the child characters, the film is more an adult fantasy than a film for kids.  No doubt the kids can enjoy the animation, which is nothing short of marvellous.  The idea of freeing trapped stars back into the sky in one of the film’s most memorable segments, is something that is quite the sight for sore eyes.  The best looking segment has the aviator take the little girl on a flight into the night.  But the story’s logic is a tad too difficult for children to follow.  But to be fair to the filmmakers, the story of The Little Prince is quite abstract.  The message of the film of never forgetting being a child is a universal one.

And some background about the film: the film has already earned $88.4 million on a $77.5 million budget, before its North American release making it the most successful French animated film abroad of all time.  The end credits list it a a French/Italian co-production though the film contains quite a bit of Canadian production values.  The film will face tough competition with Disney’s ZOOTOPIA, another excellent animated feature also playing in theatres.

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qXtb_ZIq74A




Best Film Playing: THE HATEFUL EIGHT


Best Animation: ANOMALISA

Best Foreign Language Film: MOUNTAINS MAY DEPART


Best Drama: CAROL

Best Documentary: WHERE TO INVADE NEXT.

Best Comedy/Drama: JOY

Best Horror: THE WITCH