This Week's Film Reviews (Nov 4, 2016)

04 Nov 2016

Blockbusters opening are DOCTOR STRANGE, TROLLS and HACKSAW RIDGE.  The RUSH documentary also begins it week-long limited run.



Directed by Scott Derrickson


The Marvel superhero DOCTOR STRANGE gets his first debut on the big screen complete with 3D.  Though the character has appeared in a TV movie and animated film before, he is given a fresh treatment which is a good thing considering that there are already too many super hero action movies each year.

It also helps that the film is directed by a horror film director Scott Derrickson rather than an action director.  Derrickson directed the two SINISTER films, THE EXORCISM OF EMILY ROSE including the Hollywood version of DELIVER US FROM EVIL, the latter of which contained a lot of dead-pan humour, repeated in DOCTOR STRANGE.  Those who have watched Benedict Cumberbatch in real-life know that this actor is prefect for deadpan straight face comedy.  

Stephen Strange (Cumberbatch), the world's top neurosurgeon, is as rich as rich comes.  He stays in a luxurious London apartment.  But he has an ego as enormous as his wealthy possessions.  His life is changed when he is injured in a violent car accident (well shot) that ruins his career. Strange sets out on a journey of healing, where he encounters the Ancient One, who later becomes Strange's mentor in the mystic arts.

More satisfying than the action set-pieces are the special-effect set pieces.  The first of these is the most impressive with a fight taking place on the side of British-type architecture where the windows turn into revolving folding panels.  The look reminds one immediately of Christopher Nolan’s INCEPTION, the film which likely gave Derrickson some inspiration.  Like that film, characters also travel through portals in between different dimensions.

As expected in all Marvel film adaptations, Stan Lee provides his surprise cameo.  Where he appears will not be revealed here, as it is always fun to spot him.

DOCTOR STRANGE contains less at action than the expected super hero action film. A bit too much time is devoted to Strange’s moping about everything.  For all the film’s different twists on the action hero film genre, the results are conventional.  There is the good guy (in this case a lady in the film personified by Tilda Swinton) that turns out questionable and the possible good trainee (Dane Mads Mikkelsen, MEN & CHICKEN, QUANTUM SOLACE) who turns out finally to be villainous.

But despite all these praises, the film begins to lag towards the middle.  The film also descends into a conventional action film by the climax - the fight between Strange and the villain, which is a real shame given the initial promise at the film’s start. 

The film contains too many puns that go with the hero’s name ‘Strange’ - a temptation that scriptwriter clearly yields to.

The Audience should stay for the end of the closing credits.  As in the other films set in the Marvel Universe, there is a short clip teaser of what is to arrive in the next instalment.

It is also odd that DOCTOR STRANGE gets a post summer release unlike the other action hero blockbusters.  This should work in favour for the film after a quiet weekend at the box-office where the previous week only saw one major Hollywood release (INFERNO).

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HSzx-zryEgM


Directed by Otto Bell

This is a simple tale of courage and determination magnificently shot in the mountains of Northern Mongolia.  The film offers sights seldom seen - majestic ice covered mountain peaks and lands seldom or never travelled by man.

Yet the subject of the film is not a man but a girl first shown at the age of 13 in school.  Her name is Aisholpan and she plans to be an EAGLE HUNTRESS.  The trouble is that no female has endeavoured this task - not in the past 12 years.

Director Bell provides intimate moments with the heroine showing her in her boarding school from Monday to Friday playing and studying while returning home on the weekends.

The film plays like a documentary but also works as a biographical account of Aisholpan.  Not too many interviewees appear and the only talking heads are the elders condemning the practice of a female as an eagle hunter.  That said, the filmmakers attempt to prove the elders wrong.  And in a magnificent way.

The story is basic.  Aisholpan trains her eaglet.  She is determined all the way.  She enters the eagle hunting competition.  Then she goes out to prove herself that she is actually a real huntress by venturing out to hunt a fox during one harsh winter with the help of her father.

There are three segments that deserve mention - three that will take the breath of audiences away.  The first is the girl’s capture of her very own eagle.  The trick is to train a baby captured from its nest.  Perched precariously on the side of a mountain, with a gigantic mother eagle circling overhead, the brave girl perseveres in the face of danger and manages to capture her own baby eagle.  The actual capture is documented on film complete with her using a lasso to bring the eaglet to her bag and then bringing it up to the cliff.  The second segment is her taking part in the Golden Eagle Festival.  She competes against 70 seasoned eagle hunters.  The contest involves among other feats,  releasing owns eagle and calling it to perch on the hunter’s arm.  Aisholpan wins first place coming in with a a record time of 5 seconds.  The final and most difficult passage that forms the film’s climax is Aisholpan seeking her true rite of passage as an eagle huntress.  With her eaglet, she has to release it after finding tracks of a fox, for it to fight and capture a fox.  All these three segments are realistically captured on film - better than any Disney adventure.  But be forewarned that certain scenes are not easy to see - particularly for younger children.  Skinning of small animals and the fight between the fox and the eaglet are brutal segments to watch.

But the film offers more than eagle hunting.  The daily routines of the nomads in the Bayon-Ölgii province of Mongolia are also on display here.  The stunning cinematography by Simon Niblett also deserves mention. 

This riveting documentary from director Otto Bell provides a rare look at one of the world's last true wildernesses coupled with a larger-than-life story that is well worth the price of an admission ticket.

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Vfi5JS6HTH0

HACKSAW RIDGE (USA/Australia 2016) ***** Top 10
Directed by Mel Gibson

After about a decade absence from the director’s chair (his last film was the misunderstood APOCALYPTO in 2006), the director of BRAVEHEART and THE PASSION OF THE CHRIST returns in top form as if redeem in himself of all the bad press he had garnered since his infamous run with the cops for driving under the influence.

The film is a true story, bravely told, inspiring as well, set in World War II featuring the most unlikely of heroes - a pacifist who refuses to carry a rifle.  Not only does the film boast inspired direction by Gibson, but it also contains perhaps the best performance of the year by a young actor, the most recent SPIDER-MAN, Andrew Garlfield - if not the best performance of his career.  It should be a crime against someone like Garfield for being so good-looking and talented at the same time.

The true story of medic, Private Desmond T. Doss (Andrew Garfield), who won the Congressional Medal of Honor despite refusing to bear arms during WWII on religious grounds. Doss was drafted and ostracized by fellow soldiers for his pacifist stance but went on to earn respect and adoration for his bravery, selflessness and compassion after he risked his life -- without firing a shot -- to save 75 men in the Battle of Okinawa.

The script by Andrew Knight and Robert Schenkkan can hardly go wrong.  What the story needs, the script does.  Firstly, it strongly establishes the reason for Desmond’s behaviour and beliefs.  The contradiction of the father’s character is also smoothly tied in with conviction.  The film is basically divided into two parts.  The first is Desmond’s basic training (boot camp) where he is mocked by both his superiors and his fellow soldiers.  He is also given the dreaded blanket party at night.  The second part of the film and the most brutal is his service in the battlefield.  At times, the film feels like Stanley Kubrick’s FULL MEATL JACKET which contains two similar segment but Gibson’s second section, unlike Kubrick’s is the more exciting one.

Besides Garfield’s outstanding performance, Vince Vaughan delivers an equally impressive one, the role of a stern sergeant, much uncharacteristic of what audiences expect from him.  Aussie Hugo Weaving (THE MATRIX movies; PRISCILLA, QUEEN OF THE DESERT) is also perfect as the hard drinking father who when finally does good and justice for his son, whose performance will break the hardest of hearts.

Those who are able to remember THE PASSION OF THE CHRIST will see more tortured scenes in the film.  The battle scenes - with heads exploding; guts pouring out; dismembered bodies and wounds infested with maggots and rats are not easy ones to watch.  The scenes rival Spielberg’s unforgettable beginning sequence in SAVING PRIVATE RYAN and one can only guess what is yet to come with Christophe Nolan’s upcoming DUNKIRK.

The closing credits serve to prove to the audience that as wild as this story might be, the truth exists.  Archive footage of the real heroes as depicted in the film speak out, often saying the identical words in the film’s script. 
America needs her heroes in these difficult times of terrorism and racism.  AMERICAN SNIPER and SULLY are heroes depicted in films that have done extremely well at the box-office.   Opening close to Remembrance Day, this film deserves to do well and might be the hit the flailing studio Lionsgate needs.  Forget DOCTOR STRANGE!  This film hits the mark!

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=s2-1hz1juBI


Directed by Dales Heslip

Less than a concert movie than a RUSH tribute, RUSH TIME STAND STILL caters to both the band’s ardent fans as well as novices.  The film is preceded by two shorts: a 20 minute documentary entitled RUSH - A TRIBUTE TO KINGS followed by a an animated 5 minute dedication to RUSH band member Neil Peart of the drums.

The 20-minute TRIBUTE TO KINGS begins with still photos of RUSH on stage followed by references given by other famous bands like KISS, Tin Lizzie, Red Hot Chilli Peppers and foo-fighters.  The talking heads humorously talk about RUSH while emphasizing the band’s energy, to be demonstrated later in the concert part of the actual film.   The 5-minute cartoon is there for novelty rather than for anything else.

In 2015, Rush went out for a 40th anniversary tour-  the R40 as seen on the many T-shirts of the fans.   At the time the R40 tour was rumoured to be their last tour – an end to Rush’s life on the road altogether.   The film, narrated by actor/comedian Paul Rudd, follows this farewell journey.  Exclusive behind-the-scenes access to the band and crew throughout the tour provide the raw and vivid emotional undertones of this feature-length film.  At its core are Rush’s devoted fans, and their undying devotion and quirky sense of ownership that are on full display as the R40 tour comes to a crescendo at the “Fabulous” Forum in Los Angeles.  Personal stories highlight the importance Rush holds in their lives and the lasting impressions of their extensive catalog.   Of the world fans members selected to be filmed are a Scots and an Argentinian who share their stories.  Particularly effecting is the story of Scot’s, who suffered a major car accident and spent weeks alone recuperating in a hospital room whee he experienced and got to love the music of RUSH.

The climax of the film is the last performance at The Forum in L.A., during their supposedly last tour.  Who knows?  They might do another one.  Their last song, their last bow, the tears of their fans (as shown during the closing credits) are all captured on film.

What is also very moving about this band is the camaraderie among not only the 3 members but also with the entire tour crew.  These include everyone from the lead truck driver, the stage manager to anyone small or big.  This is in contrast to other bands like VAN HALEN where the members are always fighting.  The sight of the three RUSH members taking their final bow on the Forum stage is a real sight for sore eyes.

The candid interviews are with among others, the RUSH members themselves Geddy Lee, Alex Lifeson, and Neil Peart that bring an emotional conclusion for a band who built their career the old-fashioned way; one show at a time.

RUSH TIME STAND STILL opens Thursday November 3 for a week-long run across Canada at Cineplex and Landmark Theatres.

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VXlu5GDlY-s


TROLLS (USA 2016) ***
Directed by Mike Mitchell and Walt Dorn

The new Dreamworks animation released by 20th Century Fox, TROLLS is a happy enough 3D computer-animated musical buddy comedy film based on the dolls of the same name created by Dane Thomas Dam way back in 1959.

The TROLLS are colourful figurine-sized doll characters who are known to be happy all the time.  They sing, dance and hug constantly.  But the happiness is now under threat as creatures known as Bergens have discovered the trolls and eating them up.  They do so in order to be happy as Bergens do not know how to dance or sing or be happy.  The name Bergens is likely derived from the coastal city of Bergen in Norway, the only country in the world known for trolls.

Many animated features share the identical premise (ZOOTOPIA, for example) of heroes saving their village.  In TROLLS, the plot revolves around two trolls on a quest to save their village.

Princess Poppy (Anna Kendrick), throws a big party to celebrate one trolls' escape from the Bergens, despite the fears and warnings of the glum and paranoid troll Branch (Justin Timberlake) that loud parties will attract them again.  Branch's fears are realized when indeed the banished Bergen Chef sees the fireworks and captures a number of trolls.   Poppy is among the trolls who manages to hide, but discovers that none of the other trolls dares to venture to the town of the Bergens to rescue their friends. She and the reluctant Branch together journey  to the Bergen's town to rescue their friends.

The Bergens also have interesting characters. The scullery maid Bridget (Zooey Deschanel) strikes a deal with the trolls.: if she frees their friends, they will help her get a date with the now King Gristle Jr. (Christopher Mintz-Plasse).  A plot twist involves the Zen-like troll Creek (Russell Brand) who after being apparently swallowed by the young king has been discovered being held captive in the jewel that decorates the king's mantle.  But things obviously work out in the very end, with as expected a happy ending that cannot be happy enough.

TROLLS is definitely a kid’s movie.  The only scary part involves a troll eaten by a Bergen, but thankfully there is minimally done with little troll gulped down.  The jokes are goofy enough for both adults and children to enjoy.  TROLLS is not as funny as SHREK but the humour is at least funnier than the average animated feature. 

TROLLS is also part musical.  Most of the songs are popular pop songs that suit the atmosphere of the film.  Of all the voice characterizations, John Cleese’s and James Corden’s are immediately recognizable.  The film is super colourful.  It helps too that the animated choreography is inventive enough to be entertaining as well as good silly.

As in most animated feature these days, TROLLS arrives in 3D.  It answer the question whether audience can do with too much happiness.  

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xyjm5VQ11TQ




Best Film Opening: HACKSAW RIDGE



Best Animation: WAY FAR NORTH

Best Documentary: TOWER



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