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This Week's Film Reviews (Jul 29, 2016)

29 Jul 2016

 

Opening this week is the latest Bourne wth Matt Damon reuniting with director Paul Greengrass, JASON BOURNE.  Woody Allen returns with his CAFE SOCIETY.  Lionsgate aims at the TWILIGHT, HUNGER GAMES crowd with NERVE.

FILM REVIEWS:

 

BAD MOMS (USA 2016) ***
Directed by Jon Lucas and Scott Moore

The story centres on a young mother, Amy Mitchell (Mila Kunis) who appears to have the perfect family.  She has a good mortgage broker husband, two smart over-achieving children and a career.  But she is overworked and the husband does not do much except maybe watch porn.  She catches him, kicks him out and finally has had it at being a good mom.  Teaming with two friends Carla (Kathyrn Hahn) and Kiki (Kristen Bell) who she gets drunk with, she decides, with them to f*** it and become BAD MOMS.  Amy does not make breakfast for her kids anymore and stops going to her meaningless job meetings.

The film picks picks up when the three meet the good moms headed by the head of the PTA, Gwendolyn Jones (Christina Applegate).  The war starts when Amy decide to run for the post of the head of the PTA.

If the film sound trivial, it actually is.  But the script by Lucas and and Moore, treats its subject very seriously.  This is the comedy duo that did the successful HANGOVER male raunchy comedies.  BAD MOMS does the same for the opposite sex.  So expect lots of foul language and lewd humour.  The moms here get drunk, laid and stoned.  For the most part, the males (husbands) in the film are all idiots (like the black school principal), clueless (Amy’s husband) or sexual objects (sexy latino Jay Hernandez s Amy’s fling).  But as the script is written by two guys, some redeeming qualities are written into Amy’s husband’s character as the two do share a moment and hug, after a big quarrel..

One of the best things about BAD MOMS is actress Kathryn Hahn.  She has a supporting role as Carla, one of Amy’s best friends who drinks and sleeps her way as a ultra bad mom.  Hahn has the ability to do both drama and comedy exceptionally well.  In the recent CAPTAIN FANTASTIC, she played the victimized mom at the dinner table.  In BAD MOMS she proves she is versatile also as an antagonist, Carla.  When not spurring Amy on to do bad things, her character is hounding other victims.  Hahn brings the most laughs in the movie, steals very scene and still has the audience wanting for more.  It would be difficult to imagine how funny the film would be without her.

The product placements (Arby’s and Bed Bath and Beyond) are a little too obvious.  The supermarket sequence where the three go on a drunken shopping spree is simply priceless.  Hahn is the funniest of the three.  This segment alone is worth the price of the ticket.  The film includes two cameos by Martha Stewart (very funny) and Wanda Sykes (not so funny).

BAD MOMS ends up a guilty pleasure for all mothers.  There are quite a lot of mothers out there that make up a good target audience number.  The film should do for females what The HANGOVER films did for the males.  Even the males can sit through and laugh through BAD MOMS. 

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

CAFE SOCIETY (USA 2016) ***1/2
Directed by Woody Allen

In Woody Allen’s new romantic comedy, Allen transforms into Humphrey Bogart through Jesse Eisenberg.  The famous CASABLANCA story is retold, Allen style with the hero falling in love with two women but giving his first love up as Bogart gave up his love for Ingrid Bergman in the famous closing scene.

CAFE SOCIETY is Allen’s tribute to old Hollywood, its people and its glamour.  The tribute takes the form of the coming-of-rites passage story of young Jewish NYC boy, Bobby Dorfman (Jesse Eisenberg).  Bobby leaves his family in NYC hoping to find a new life in Hollywood with the help of his successful Uncle Phill (Steve Carrell) - the hottest talent agent around.  In the process he falls in love with his Uncle Phill’s secretary, Vonnie (Kristen Stewart) who is having an affair with Phill.  Vonnie finally decides to marry Phill (the older gent always gets the younger girl in Woody’s films,  e.g. MANHATTAN and in his real life).  Bobby discovers he prefers NYC and returns home, eventually settling down by looking after his gangster uncle Ben’s (Corey Stoll) nightclub.  He falls in love and marries Veronica (Blake Lively).  An unexpected visit from Phill and wife Vonnie stirs up memories just as Ingrid Bergman’s visit to Bogart’s nightclub in Casablanca did.

CAFE SOCIETY is not the best of Allen’s films but it is not without its delights.  For the especially Allen fan, there is much to enjoy in terms of film references.  For one, this is Allen’s second tribute to Bogart after his play and film PLAY IT AGAIN, SAM.  Allen gets to narrate his own film, putting a good perspective of where everything is going.  He is s too old to star in his films and he knows it.  Eisenberg makes a new younger Allen, complete in diminutive stature, manners and outfits.  Bobby’s belted baggy Khaki pleats are similar to those often worn by Allen in his films like ANNIE HALL and MANHATTAN.  In one scene where Eisenberg says, “I am opening a bottle of wine to let it breathe,” he even sounds like Allen.  Though CAFE SOCIETY is less subtle at times, for example in the use of the melody of “I Only Have Eyes for You,” during the last meeting between Bobby and Vonnie, CAFE SOCIETY still succeeds as one of Allen’s romantic comedies.

Allen attracts the best cinematographers like Oscar winners Gordon Willis Jr. and Janusz Kaminski.  CAFE SOCIETY is beautifully shot by 3-time Oscar winner Vittorio Storaro (THE LAST EMPEROR, REDS, APOCALYPSE NOW) as evident in the ceiling view of a New Year’s party and in all the exterior shot segments.

CAFE SOCIETY is Allen in comedy mode though the humour is less manic or absurdist but more subtle, more profound.  Some examples include a Hollywood writer introducing himself to Bobby at a party: “You have never heard of me, I am a writer”, or  “Timing is everything in life!”  But the key quote of the film is Allen’s description on life: “Life is comedy but written by a sadistic comedy writer.”  The film’s funniest line is as in his other films, one that pokes fun at being Jewish.  Bobby: “I’m a bit drunk. I don’t usually mix champagne with bagels and lox.”  Yes, if everything else fails in Allen’s film (which doesn’t here), there is always his humour.

CAFE SOCIETY, though not Allen’s best, still comes with high recommendations.

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Rl4X6pFfmTI

JASON BOURNE (USA 2016) ***
Directed by Paul Greengrass

JASON BOURNE arrives as the 5th instalment of the Bourne films based on the Robert Ludlum novels.  Fans were given a break with the previous entry that starred Jeremy Renner working with director Tony Gilroy.  With Matt Damon reunited with director Paul Greengrass, one would have expected a top-notch action Bourne film.  Sadly, JASON BOURNE provides nothing than more of the same.  A few additional secrets regarding Bourne’s past are revealed as to his father’s (Gregg Henry) involvement, but nothing substantial.

Greengrass sets his action set pieces the way Bourne fans are used to - hand held camera with jittery frame and fast edits.  The technique creates more nervousness with audiences than anything else.  I am not a keen fan of this kind of action shots though they appear popular with Bourne fans. The problem is the lack of continuity as evident in the over extended ridiculous car chase segment at the climax where the assassin’s (Vincent Cassell) truck  ploughs through dozens of cars along a Las Vegas strip while in hot pursuit by Bourne.  The background of the Vegas hotels do not appear to change as much as the distance covered by the chase. 

Despite JASON BOURNE being an action film, the film’s most engrossing parts are the non action scenes. such as the suspense built up during the Exocon convention in Vegas where the founder of a high tech platform company (Riz Ahmed) is about to be shot.

Most of the Bourne characters are emotionless creatures from Bourne himself right down to the director of the CIA, Dewey (Tommy Lee Jones)  and other assorted villains.  The one with a conscience is Heather Lee (Alicia Vikander), sympathetic to killing Bourne and wanting to bring him into the CIA as another possibility.   It seems odd that the script calls for her to change this character completely at the end of the film for the sake of a plot twist.

The film’s story is very current and remarkably similar to Snowden’s whistleblowing, which will be revisited agin in the upcoming film called SNOWDEN.  The high tech convention setup is similar to for example, the real life unveiling of new products by Apple Inc.  Another sequence that takes place in Athens has mobs of angry Greeks protesting the current economic crisis, clashing with the police.  

The script asks the audience to accept a lot of credibility points like whether a lap top memory can be erased by a nearby cellphone.

The question is whether this JASON BOURNE film is really necessary and if it is, how it compares to the other Bourne films.  The first THE BOURNE IDENTITY based on Robert Ludlum’s first novel is the most solid of the lot, directed by Doug Liman since it is the one that sets the wheels rolling and established the ground rules.   Paul Greengrass then came on board as director, and with Damon establishing the new Bourne style with the next two films and in this one.  The diversion with Renner and director Gilroy was ok but did not make any memorable difference.  This new JASON BOURNE should satisfy Bourne fans, but provides just more of the noisy same.

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=F4gJsKZvqE4

LACE CRATER (USA 2015) **1/2
Directed by Harrison Atkins

LACE CRATER is a low budget indie romantic supernatural comedy/drama/horror about a young woman, Ruth (Lindsay Burdge) having sexual relations with a ghost.

It all begins when Ruth and her pals head out to the scenic Hamptons for a weekend of fun.  The fun includes getting drunk, sitting in the hot tub and joking around.  Ruth ends up sleeping in the guest house which Andre (the host) claims to be haunted.  That night a drunk Ruth has a visitor.  Yes, the ghost (Michael Vack) is not too bad looking.  (The last time friends sat in a hot tub they went through time in the Hot Tub time machine.)  To make matters worse, Ruth contacts STD from the ghost as well.

Atkin’s film plays weird funny.  The best way to describe it is the scene where Ruth meets her doctor about to take her blood.  “Hope you've enough to spare.” When Ruth gives the doctor an odd look, he confesses that it is a joke and that he has tried standup comedy.  LACE CRATER plays its comedy whether the audience gets it or to, and mainly plays in the way the story unfolds.

It would help connect the audience to the film if director Atkins made Ruth a more sympathetic character.  Ruth is just there, having the ‘roll in the hay’ with the ghost and that is it.  Nothing much is also known about Ruth’s background.

Near the end, writer/director turns up the angst with Ruth’s behaviour.  It is here that the film slides into creepy horror.  Ruth barfs black stuff all over the floor at a party, freaks out and goes back to the guest house to meet the ghost.  This is where the film falls apart.  Atkins starts to take the film too seriously, complete with explanation what happened to the ghost before he died. The rules are dealt out, the ghost says and he has to take them without question.  Really?  Atkins implies the same for his film.  The only difference is that the audience need not have to take them.

LACE CRATER played last year at the Toronto International Film Festival in the Vanguard section.  The Vanguard section is the festival’s oddest section where the weirdest films often uncategorized fall into.  LACE CRATER clearly falls in this section.  Be prepared for LACE CRATER, whether you get it or not!

What happens when you have sex with a ghost?  One can google the answer or watch this film.  The former appears the better solution.  Atkins also leaves LACE CRATER with a open ending with still questions unanswered.

The film opens this week in NYC and is availbale now on VOD.

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QMebF1ymfng

NERVE (USA 2016) ***1/2

Directed by Ariel Schulman and Henry Joos

NERVE is a video game comedy/thriller/horror written by Jessica Sharzer based on her 2012 novel.  Directors Schulman and Joos have previously made a documentary called CATFISH based on similar material.  The video game NERVE is online reality based focusing on the dare part of ‘truth or dare’.  Going on line with the underground app, one can click on ‘watchers’ or ‘players’.  Players make money as they complete dares suggested by the watchers who pay to watch their players.

Enter into the game high school senior Venus Delmonic aka Vee (Emma Roberts).  Fed up of being her best friend’s (Emily Meade) sidekick, Vee becomes a player for VERVE.  She is caught up in the game with fellow-player Ian (Dave Franco) who has a secret.  The film plunges Vee and Ian deeper and deeper until they become prisoners of the game.  The climax of the film where all the watchers gather is somewhat similar to how raves were organized in the past.  The film is incredibly real and current in today’s youth scene.

The film begins like a teen comedy with the girls acting like another version of MEAN GIRLS.  Once Vee enters the game, directors Schulman and Joos slowly and effectively alter the mood to thriller and finally to horror.

The film contains a few very funny scenes as well as a few really suspenseful ones.  The funniest line heard in a film by me this year comes in the hospital scene with Vee’s mother (played by Juliette Lewis, one of my favourite actresses).  The suspense scene is high-octane fuelled as Vee and Ian complete a dare riding a bike blindfolded at 60 mph.

Dave Franco, shows here that he is capable as a lead of carrying an entire film.  The actor has only done supporting roles in the past.  He and Emma Roberts make good romantic chemistry.  The kisses are done old movie style with lip smooching rather than with tongue.  Here, it is apparent that the directors are aiming at a less restricted rating.  The film is also noticeably absent form blood and violence despite the film’s theme.  The best thing too is that the film contains a message about video games, though quite obviously stated at the climax of the film and more subtly put forward during a dramatic argument between Vee and Sydney. 

American rapper MGK does an excellent job in the small but important role of Ty, a psychotic NERVE player who makes it to the finalist.

With all the hype on video games like POKEMON GO, NERVE arrives at the best timing possible.  If the film seems far-fetched, it isn’t.  There is an app called “Periscope” half similar to NERVE that emerged half way during the filming of NERVE.

NERVE is a very clever film  released by Lionsgate famous for THE HUNGER GAMES and TWILIGHT franchises.  This is definitely a film that caters to the same target audience and with some luck and good marketing, the desperate-for-a-hit studio will hit the big bucks with this film.

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CIUSEw9YVPM

PHANTOM BOY (France/Belgium 2015) **

Directed by Jean-Loup Felicioli and Alain Gagnol

PHANTOM BOY is the next animated feature after the French directors Felicioli and Gagnol’s successful Oscar nominated A CAT IN PARIS.  While the latter film took a distinct Parisienne personality, the new film hopes to do the same with New York City where the story is set.

The film begins with a boy reading a story to his little sister.  It is revealed then that the boy has a sickness and has to go to hospital for extended periods of time.  The boy somehow (don’t ask!) attains supernatural powers of being able to leave his body.  He befriends a cop who is wheelchair bound.  The cop is in the process of saving NYC from a computer hacker that will hold the city ransom.  A girl (Audrey Tatou from AMELIE) helps destroy the virus and saves the city with the help of both he cop and the boy.

PHANTOM BOY as an animated feature looks like the older toons such as BETTY BOOP unlike the slicker animated features from Disney, Pixar or Dreamworks that North Americans are spoilt with.  Inevitable comparison will make PHANTOM BOY look inferior despite the directors attention to detail  The stars on the socks of a character can be seen just as clearly as any of the character movements.

The film is screened in French with English subtitles.  The  French is simple enough so that those learning the language can understand the dialogue without resorting to reading of the subtitles.  But as much as foreign films should not be dubbed and shown in their original languages, the characters in New York City speaking French look odd.  The film loses its credibility.

Despite the supernatural story, the story is quite plain and predictable.  A lot of rules are dictated into the story.  The boy, for example will die if he does not return to his body after  a certain amount of time.  How does he know and how did this rule come about?  Strange supernatural reasonings make little sense in the film.

There is nothing super exciting or super funny.  The main humour is derived from the black mayor who is always screaming at the cop for all the accidents caused while doing his duty.

The film is progressive in featuring a black NYC mayor.  The film is current with the fact that hacking a central computer can bring the entire modern city down as just last year the whole New York stock exchange was brought to a halt because of a virus.

I have not seen A CAT IN PARIS but assume that that film is better than PHANTOM BOY which might also be called A PHANTOM IN NEW YORK.  The film might have worked better if set again in Paris, France in the home country of the two directors.

Trailer: https://vimeo.com/136214120

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