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This Week's Film Reviews (May 20, 2016)

19 May 2016

Big films opening are ANGRY BIRDS THE MOVIE and NEIGHBORS 2: SORORITY RISING.

FILM REVIEWS:

ANGRY BIRDS THE MOVIE (USA/Finland 2016) ****
Directed by Clay Kaytis and Fergal Reilly

Animated films often contain a plot involving saving the world like THE LEGO MOVIE and RATCHET & CLANK.  ANGRY BIRDS and the recent ZOOTOPIA involves saving their own animal or bird sanctuaries.  

ANGRY BIRDS centres around such an angry bird that he is appropriately named Red (Jason Sudeikis).  After freaking out at his employers, Red is sentenced by the judge of the island anger management classes.  Green pigs suddenly land on the island befriending the birds.  Red figures that something is fishy and saves the day with the help of two friends, Bomb (Danny McBride) and Chuck (Josh Gad) from his class.  All this is an excuse for the birds to be shot at the pigs, as in the video game.  These birds all happen to be flightless, in case you are wondering.

ANGRY BIRDS marks the perfect combination of goofiness and cuteness.  Goofiness is best personified by the jokes that just come out of nowhere.  An example are the birds slingshoted to the pigs community.  One scene out of nowhere shows a pig throwing a bowling ball into the gutter, when a bird balls through the roof of the bowling alley to give the pig a strike.  The film also captures how ordinary lines can turn out plain hilarious given the right context.  When the birds find that the lake they had been swimming in is also the one Mighty Eagle (Peter Dinklage) pisses in, the remark by Red, “What a horrible turn of events” is one of the funniest lines in the film.

The anger management class that Red attends parodies these real-life a.m. classes from the instructor, Matilda (Maya Ruddolph) to the exercises performed.  The odd arrangements of attendees are just perfect enough tat Red would bond with two of them to save the eggs.

In films these days, the full credits are shown at the end rather than the start of the film.  The decision to do the full cast of voice characterizations at the film’s start pays off.  The long impressive list of stars primes the audience to try to pair up the birds and voices.  The casting of actor Sean Penn, famous for his display of anger in public as the angriest bird, Terence is priceless.  Maya Rudolph and Kate McKinnon from Saturday Night Live deliver many of the film’s funniest bird lines.

As THE ANGRY BIRDS is one of the most played games, it is just a matter of time before the Finnish company Rovio Entertainment, the games innovator produces this movie.  For those who have never played the game, it is birds shot in the air at pigs as the target.  The film explains many things like the reason the birds are so angry.  The anti-message of ‘good to be angry’ as the birds fight to reclaim their stolen eggs is a clever one.

Like the SHREK films, the film contains a lot of goings-on in any particular scene. ANGRY BIRDS moves along a mile a minute but this is a good thing.  ANGRY BIRDS is definitely worth a second or even a third viewing for all the humour than might be missed from one sitting. 

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QRmKa7vvct4

 

DARK HORSE (UK 2014) ***1/2

Directed by Louise Osmond

If one is to check imdb the internet film database, there has been no less than 4 films since 1992 that have the identical title of DARK HORSE.  But this 2014 documentary by Louise Osmond is the only one that is actually about a horse - and a dark horse, not destined to win any race.  DARK HORSE is the inspirational true story of a Welsh group of friends from a working men's club who decide to take on the elite 'sport of kings' and breed themselves a racehorse.  And one that went on to win Britain’s Grand National, enriching a lot of lives.

Director Osmond plays it safe for her documentary.  The doc traces the beginning to end of the life of Dream Alliance (the horse’s name) with various highlights of him winning many races.  There is also an obstacle portion near the end when Dream Alliance  runs into trouble with a serious accident.  “It is the end”, everyone thinks but miraculously, thanks to stem cell surgery, the horse emerges recovered and ready to race again.  Will he continue to win?

The film is made up mostly of interviews by the owners of Dream Alliance oddly called the syndicate, made up of a good number of common Welsh folk.  The rest is made up of archive footage of races.  One wonders about the footage of the surgery of the horse undergoing stem cell surgery as it seems that it is something just put together like a re-enactment.  But one can forgive Osmond for trying. 

Osmond proves to be an expert at pushing all the right buttons.  She primes the audiences at the very start of the film to get their hearts pumping.  The narrative voiceover goes: the greatest race in the world; we were there; can be something, given the chance.  She goes on to show, comically how it all got started, in a pub.  It is hard not to root for common decent folk like this tight Welsh mining community coming up with a tenner a week to breed a race horse.  It is wonderful to see a pub full of beer drinkers watching the television, cheering for their favourite horse at a race.

Osmond’s sense of humour works though odd at times.  The funniest is her revelation of a subjects’s teeth (the subject shown at various points in the film with only two front teeth) at the end of the film.

DARK HORSE has been wowing audiences wherever it has been played.  It has won the British Independent Film Award for Best Documentary and the Audience Award at Sundance for World Cinema Documentary.  Everyone loves an underdog story, or in this case an underhorse story and the best thing about all this is that the story is a true life fairy tale come true.

(The photo shows the lady who started it all, Jan Vokes with Dream Alliance.)

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YzA9Ct44oes

HIGH-RISE (UK 2015) ***
Directed by Ben Wheatley

HIGH-RISE is a much anticipated film among cineastes.  The rights for J.G. Ballard’s (best known for his novel CRASH directed by David Cronenberg) book had been snapped up by producer Jeremy Thomas for decades and a number of directors were slated to make the film, among them Nicholas Roeg.  But director Ben Wheatley, British new film enfant terrible snatched the prize after directing two art-house low budget hits A FIELD IN ENGLAND and THE SIGHT-SEERS.  Ballard’s book on a dystopian society set up in a 1970’s tower block (film shot in Northern Ireland) where the higher classes occupy the higher floors with better privileges such as parking spots and facilities usage like the summing pool, is a difficult one.  The social strata eventually breaks down following a string of building malfunctions.

HIGH-RISE opens with a Dr. Robert Laing (Tom Hiddleston) at his high rise building flat apparently roasting and eating a dog’s leg on the balcony.  The film flashes back three months earlier to the events that led to this odd state.

Dr. Lang arrives and occupies in the centre section of the building - reason not given.  He meets the building’s architect, Anthony Royal (Jeremy Irons) who lives in the penthouse and various other occupants including Charlotte, Royal’s aide (Sienna Miller) and a nasty documentary-maker (Luke Evans) who ends up creating a lot of trouble including wanting to take down Royal.  Wheatley’s film charts the downfall of order and the rise of anarchy in the building.  Finally, the residents stay in and do not venture out to work, waging wars with each other.  Wheatley has directed films with similar themes.  THE SIGHTSEERS sees the volatile and violent breakdown of the relationship of a new couple while A FIELD IN ENGLAND featured a battlefield among warring factions.

The Korean film SNOWPIERCER two years back featured a similar premise.  The last inhabitants on Earth are stuck on a train travelling around the Earth forever with the lower working classes at the back of the train and the richest at the front.  The workers revoke and move up the front of the train.

But HIGH-RISE fails to engage the audience despite the Ballard’s difficult novel.  It should be noted that Ballard used to hang around with William Burroughs whose NAKED LUNCH with Ballard’s own CRASH ended up as one of the most unlikeable/difficult films ever made.  Given that Amy Jump’s script and Wheatley’s direction make little attempt in tying to make their film more coherent or engaging.  When Dr. Laing first meets Chartlotte, her comment is on Laing’s body being almost a perfect specimen implying a detachment of human nature.  The rise of the building’s anarchy is also not well orchestrated.  Wheatley appears more interested in the film’s sets and images than anything else.  To the film’s credit, the production values look great with the film having a past future feel and a look like the old 70’s futuristic films like Joseph Losey’s MODESTY BLAISE.  Whereas films like SNOWPIERCER relied on action to grab the audience’s attention, HIGH-RISE consists of a whole lot of cinematic/dramatic set-ups with too much left to the audience to decipher as to what is happening.

Hiddleston delivers a good nuanced performance appearing out of place and finally connecting with the anarchy just as his confident behaviour at the start of the film breaks down to insecurity.  Still Wheatley’s film is an intriguing one and one that shows his ability to set his imprint on a story, whether it be successful or not.

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LYmY2tBYins

KISS ROCKS VEGAS (USA 2016) ***
Directed by Kevin DeHaven

 

For those who love music, Cineplex Odeon has put together a series called “Music at the Movies” that runs in cinemas across Canada.  This series features music documentaries, concert films and music movies where one can celebrate ones favourite artists with other fans.  KISS ROCKS VEGAS a concert film s scheduled to run for one night only all over the world on 25 May 2016.  The film is comprised of two parts.  The first is a documentary section lasting around 20 minutes where the planned show is talked about.  The second and main purpose is footage of KISS’s 9 day run of concerts at the Hard Rock Cafe in Las Vegas, Nevada on November 2014 that includes exclusive behind the scenes footage.   One night only!

In November 2014, a helicopter landed at the infamous Hard Rock Hotel as KISS invaded Las Vegas for an historic nine-show run.  As the Vegas residency involves KISS performing on stage in a smaller venue than they usually do in arenas, much planning and preparation had to be done.  The film reveals KISS to be rational business people, talented, ambitious and always thinking ahead.  Their costumes, make-up and guitar bashing on stage hides the true nature of the band.  The film shows a different side of a rock band that is seldom seen.  During an interview with lead guitarist Tommy Thayer, Thayer confesses that the greatest joy he has experienced is watching a 5-year old kid on the shoulder of his father enjoying their concert.  To him, he says, that is what genuine tribute is.

As the camera takes the audience on stage into the theatre in Vegas, exclusive footage seen includes sky-high flames, gigantic screens, a platform across the audience and of course, candid reactions of the spectators (priceless) as the concert goes on.

The film engages both KISS fans and non-KISS fans alike.  KISS performs a lot of their famous oldies such as ‘Parasite’ and ‘Do you love me”, which even non-KISS fans should be familiar with.

The film ends with the encore performance at the concert of one of KISS’s most famous songs “I wanna rock and roll all night.”  They do a sing-a-long with the audience in Vegas.  Be not surprised if the audience in the cinema break out into song as well.

KISS ROCKS VEGAS captures the unique experience of watching KISS live without having to be there with the noisy crowds.

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=02bgPo0O9x8

THE MAN WHO KNEW INFINITY (UK 2015) ***
Directed by Matthew Brown

THE MAN WHO KNEW INFINITY is the bio pic of Indian mathematician Srinivasa Ramanujan (Dev Patel) based on the 1991 book of the same name by Robert Kanigel. Growing up poor in Madras, Nujan (as he is fondly called in the film) earns admittance to Cambridge University under the mentorship of professor G.J. Hardy (Jeremy Irons).  Initially upset at Nujan for his pride and refusal to work out proofs for his mathematical theories, Hardy eventually relents and lets the horse run loose.  Together, they achieve milestones in mathematics, cracking the almost impossible task of formulating formulae for partitions.

The first 30 minutes of the film is boring while the the film is set up.  Nujan is just married, shown to love and excel in mathematics before fate forces him to leave Madras and serve his true calling.  For a biopic of this kind, one expects him to face hardship and prejudice in his new country while finally proving himself to the nonbelievers while uniting with his family at the end.  The film felt headed that way and one would almost walk out of the film if it had not changed course.

The typical story is altered by the First World War that creeps into the story.  The second is the illness (T.B. or Tuberculosis) that Nujan falls prey to.  The rest is pretty predictable stuff with the usual ‘stuffy’ English dialogue put in so that the film feels put up on a high pedestal since it is supposed to have a Cambridge university setting.

Patel was the second option to play the main role as the filmmakers wanted an actor internationally known to carry the film.  Patel, who has proven himself apt in comedy as in SLUMDOG MILLIONAIRE and the BEST EXOTIC MARIGOLD HOTEL films, demonstrates here that he is also capable of carrying a more dramatic role, one that needs to show suffering from illness as well as desperation and despair.  Irons looks convincing as the pipe puffing professor who ends up sympathetic towards Nujan’s course.  Stephen Fry is remarkable in being able to make a lasting impression from a performance than lasts only a few minutes.  The role of Bertrand Russell, the British philosopher and mathematician undertaken by Jeremy Northam is underwritten and exists only to make a few criticisms on Hardy’s character.

World War 1 is dealt with in terms of both prejudice and its futility.  The former issue is  demonstrated very effectively in a scene in which Nujan is beaten up by white English soldiers for being a freeloader in a country where the rest have to go fight and die for their country.  It is anger that has its point and one almost impossible to resolve.  Hardy organizes antiwar rallies dealing with the other war issue.

Associate producers Manjul Bhargava and Ken Ono are distinguished mathematicians who also served as the film’s math consultants.  The math is shown only briefly but the message on the intricacies of infinite series and partitions comes across clear enough.

THE MAN WHO KNEW INFINITY make its case more of one of cultural acceptance than (one) in the development of new mathematical theories.  Brown brings the film to an end all too quickly, wrapping everything up with Nujan’s eventual failure to survive from Tuberculosis. 

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=I9hytYnESJU

MEN & CHICKEN (Denmark/Germany 2015) Top 10 *****
Directed by Anders Thomas Jensen

Director Anders Thomas Jensen’s (THE GREEN BUTCHERS) is a very black comedy - none can come blacker, about two different brothers - same father  but different mothers.  Firstly, it should be noted that writer/director Jensen is an Oscar winner - for his short film in 1999.  So, this brilliant piece of filmmaking is no stroke of luck.

Gabriel (David Dencik) is a worn down university professor and Elias (Mads Mikkelsen) is a man whose only concern is women and trivial knowledge.  At the film’s opening, Elias is having dinner - apparently a first date with a woman in a wheelchair.  The reason he picked her are manyfold.  One is that he thinks that girls in wheelchairs are easier.  Secondly she is a psychiatrist and that he can get free advice on his dreams.  It is a hilarious scene that ends with him jerking off in the toilet.  It is there that the story picks up.  Gabriel receives a phone call that their father is dead.  Things take a turn when the brothers learn through a videotape recorded by their now late father, that he in fact wasn't their biological father.  Gabriel and Elias discover that their biological father lives on the island Ork.  They set out to the island and here they meet their real family.  And the family - all brothers with hair cleft lips behave like the three stooges, constantly beating each other up and obeying weird rules made up by one of them, Josef (Soren Malling).

They all live in a dirty abandoned sanatorium where animals roam everywhere.  The sets are made as as dirty and disgusting as they come.  The actors are also dressed as poorly as possible and everyone is plain ugly in the film.  All this is pure delight for those who love their humour served up weird and different.

There are too many extremely weird but hilarious segments to mention.   One of the best involves the four brothers driving out of the old sanatorium to pick up girls.  Where do they go?  The old age home.  “What happens if we don’t get any?” one asks.  Elias replies, “It will be a world record if I don’t get lucky.”  But there are slim pickings and they quibble who will get the jig-saw lady with the walker.  Another is the dinner table set-up (inspired by the director’s childhood experiences at the dinner table) when the brothers argue on the dog plate (the plate with a picture of a dog on it).  The one with the cow plate wants it.  Elias volunteers to give him his owl plate to prevent a fight but is told the owl plate is worse than the cow plate.  When an argument ensues, Elias switches his owl plate for the cow plate.  The situations get weirder and weirder, but director is dead serious on his material, pushing it past boundaries.

Mikkelsen and Dencil and the other actors work wonderfully well - weather fighting or sleeping together.  They have worked before with director Jensen.

I first previewed MEN AND CHICKEN last year at the Toronto International Film Festival.  Second viewing still proves the film fascinating weird, hilarious and inventive.  Not for the faint of heart nor for those who like their humour sane  This is insanity at its most heightened.  Love it or hate it, MEN AND CHICKEN is the weirdest movie of the year, hands down.

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XYVlN5hTP0M

 

NEIGHBOURS 2: SORORITY RISING (USA 2016) ***1/2

Directed by Nicholas Stoller

NEIGHBOURS the Seth Rogen comedy with Zac Efron as a frat neighbour was one of the best comedies of 2014.  It featured the funniest sequence in a comedy that year - the Robert De Niro segment in which Efron, Dave Franco and gang all dress up as De Niro to taunt Rogen and wife for calling the cops the night before to lodge a complaint about their party.

NEIGHBOURS 2 has tough shoes to fill.  But thanks to good writing from a script credited to 5 writers, the sequel makes it.  Jokes like the air bags and the Dean Carol Gladstone character (Lisa Kudrow) from the first film are brought back into the sequel.  If a few jokes do not work, one can be sure another couple will in a few minutes.  With hardly any time for the audience to take a breather, NEIGHBOURS 2 comes across as intense as the dressed up clown that shows up at a tailgate party, a segment that is almost as funny as the De Niro sequence.

The success of this film lies a great deal on the comedic potential of both Efron and Chloe Grace Moretz.  Efron plays the older frat member, now graduated and unable to find a decent job and living space while Moretz plays his younger female version looking to party all the time.  Teddy Sanders (Efron) helps her at first in renting her sorority house that just happens to be next to the house that Mac (Rogen) and Kelly (Rose Byrne) is selling.  But Teddy switches to Mac’s side to help him evict the sisters sorority.  It is a fairly simple plot but with plenty of comedy potential, with the setups well staged.  Efron has proven his mettle in comedy as in the first NEIGHBOURS and the recent DIRTY GRANDPA.  Efron can even be funny in moments demanding the audience to show sympathy for his character.  Teddy, for example, shows genuine puzzlement on why eggs get hard whereas pasta gets soft when dunked in boiling water,  Moretz, however, has the straighter role.  Her character serves to anchor the story.  Her sorority sisters, Beth (Dope’s Kiersey Clemons), and Nora (Beanie Feldstein) and other sorority members are left with the task of providing the laughter.

NEIGHBOURS 2 also lifts comedy to a level of political correctness.  The gay jokes are largely positive, with Teddy’s best friend, Pete (Franco) coming out and getting married to his new husband.  On the female side, the sisterly bond fosters positive feminism while male chauvinism (such as in the depiction of girls as whores in colleges) is frowned upon.  There is also a comedic discussion on the difference between a male teen vs. a female teen losing his or her virginity.

While NEIGHBOURS 2 is funny enough, its desperation to top the original is obvious.  The film grabs at any opportunity for a joke, even to have didoes dressed as princesses to get a laugh.  The result is the film looking a bit ‘all over the place’ compared to the more focused original despite the almost equal high to hit miss laughter ratio.

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=X2i9Zz_AqTg

 

BEST BETS:

Best Film Opening: MEN & CHICKEN

Best Animation: ZOOTOPIA and ANGRY BIRDS THE MOVIE

Best Foreign Language Film: MEN & CHICKEN

Best Comedy: Neighbors 2: Sorority Rising

Best Documentary: DARK HORSE

Best Horror: THE WITCH

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