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This Week's Film Reviews (Jan 14, 2011)

14 Jan 2011

Two comedies THE DILEMMA and THE GREEN HORNET compete for top spot at the box-office this weekend.

Smaller films opening include NOSTAGIA FOR THE LIGHT, LONDON RIVER and a special screening of ARMY OF CRIME.

ANOTHER YEAR (UK 2010) ****
Directed by Mike Leigh


Mike Leigh (HAPPY-GO-LUCKY, SECRETS AND LIES, LIFE IS SWEET) latest humanistic tale tells the story largely of a happily married couple and a friend in the course of a year, told in 4 segments titled spring, summer, autumn and fall.

The couple is Tom and Gerry (Jim Broadbent and Ruth Sheen), getting on in years.  Their daily chores and interaction with friends show them to be secure, stable and loving.  The film’s best line from Tom: “You are gorgeous and perfect!” to his wife after she complains of her middle age spread shows without doubt his love for his wife.  Their friend, Mary (Lesley Manville), on the other hand, is a little neurotic and everything seems to go wrong with her attempts at bettering her life.  The new car she purchases is a constant headache and when she starts taking an interest in Tom and Gerry’s son, disaster is on its way.  Mary is the exact opposite of the HAPPY-GO-LUCKY Sally Hawkins character, Leigh created in his last film.

Though there is no real story or conclusion to the tale of Leigh’s characters, his keen sense of observation of the raw emotions of his characters is extremely intriguing and moving, resulting in an excellent heart-felt drama aided by the excellent performances of his actors all round.

ANOTHER YEAR has made many critics list of top 10 films of the year!  The film could also be called UNHAPPY-GO-LUCKY as it is the opposite of Leigh’s HAPPY-GO-LUCKY last year!

L’ARMEE DU CRIME (ARMY OF CRIME) (France 2009) ***
Directed by Robert Guediguian


French war drama ARMY OF CRIME deals with the French resistance fighters nicknamed by the Germans as the army of crime to discourage their acts.  The film is based on a story by Serge Le Peron who co-write the script with director Guediguian.

But this army, formed of Red Spaniards, Armenians, Hungarians and Polish Jews are at times an army of crime, lashing out without plan or purpose. Still, director Guediguian, who has mainly directed smaller personal dramas has a affinity for his characters.  It takes half the film’s length before this army is formed.  But he creates an effective atmosphere of danger, desperation and fear of Jews living under the Germans growing in power.  He elicits the best performances from his younger cast (Robinson Stevenin) as well as French veterans such as Jean-Pierre Darroussin as the sly inspector and his wife Ariane Ascaride as a Jew sympathizer.

No group comes out the winner in the end – even the Germans have their ‘innocent’ casualties, but Guediguian’s film is moving and believable in the way how war and survival affects the kindest souls.  The film contains a few very graphic torture scenes, including one in which a blow torch is taken to the body.

The film opened with generally positive critical reviews but fared badly at the box-office, which explains the reason it took so long to get here.  But the film is definitely worth a look!

Screening:
Sunday January 23, 2011
SilverCity Richmond Hill, 8725 Yonge Street (Yonge and Hwy 7)
Tea – 4:00pm | Film – 5:00pm
Tickets can be purchased in advance by calling, 416-599- 8433
Or online through the TJFF website, http://www.tjff.com
Tickets are also available at the door (subject to availability) $15

THE DILEMMA (USA 2011) *

Directed by Ron Howard

The premise of this Ron Howard comedy is the dilemma a best friend faces when he sees his best friend’s wife fooling around – to tell or not to tell.  As Hollywood is well known to be short on ideas for films, this silly premise was extended to a full blown comedy starring a host of comedians that basically embarrass themselves rather than entertain an audience.

Ronny (Vince Vaughn) and Nick (Kevin James) are good friends and partners in an auto design firm. They are pursuing a project to make their firm famous. Ronny sees Nick''s wife Geneva (Winona Ryder) kissing another man (Channing Tatum). Ronny seeks out answers and has to figure out how to tell Nick about what he saw while working with him to complete their critical presentation.  (Does anyone care?)

The original trailer received complaints about a gay joke used negatively.  This joke was retained in the film.  But what is unforgivable (and therefore me giving the film a ‘one star’ rating) is Vaughn’s toast speech where he makes and really offensive sexual remark about an offspring from sex with a second cousin.

So what is wrong with this film besides the fact that it isn’t funny and that it is offensive?  Firstly, all the comedic setups do not ring many laughs.  These include a group therapy session where everyone exposes their secrets; company meetings involving Queen Latifah making crude sexual innuendo; a couples 40th anniversary celebration; a long speech about honesty and other assorted desperate failures.  To keep the narrative flowing, the script adds in a number of boring subplots, one involving the non-commitment of Ronny to his girlfriend, Beth (Jennifer Connelly) and the worst involving the design of a super car before the deadline approaches.  Nobody cares for the characters, events or deadline.

Vaughn is less funny here than in his previous movies as is Kevin James.  Surprisingly the female leads (Connelly and Ryder are especially good) fare much better which really says that the comedy in the film does not work.  Winona looks really sexy in this movie whereas James looks way below average.  So, the script calling for these two to be a loving couple is hardly credible.  Vaughn should shed a few pounds as well, looking mismatched for the slim Connelly.  The scene in which Winona French kisses Tatum is really hot!

Ron Howard is a director not particularly known for comedy safe for PARENTHOOD.  The best of his humour is likely derived from his role as Richie in HAPPY DAYS.

But the greatest flaw in the script is the fact that Ronny keeps the secret from Beth.  There is absolutely no logic in him not telling her except to have them argue at the film’s end to provide the couple some conflict before a happy romantic ending.

At least there is no dilemma on whether to see the film or not.  Avoid it and all will be good!  See it and suffer tremendously!

 

THE GREEN HORNET (USA 2011) ***
Directed by Michel Gondry


Comedy or pure action superhero flick?  THE GREEN HORNET is more comedy than action.  Cult filmmaker, Kevin Smith was initially hired to write and direct this film before French director Michel Gondry (HUMAN NATURE, ETERNAL SUNSHINE OF THE SPOTLESS MIND) took over.   Smith wrote quite the few pages before detaching himself off the project, but the first 15 minutes of THE GREEN HORNET are the most hilarious and most entertaining of the entire movie.  It all starts when THE GREEN HORNET, the boy is chided by has father (Tom Wilkinson) ripping apart the head of the son’s action hero figure.  Then there is the confrontation of words (Tarrantino style) between two crime bosses (Christoph Waltz and Edward Furlong).

The first 15 minutes reminds one of the sharp, edgy and biting humour of Kevin Smith’s best movie DOGMA.  Many lines make no sense (like Chudovski’s attire being described to be like a disco Santa’s), but the laughs forgive all the other flaws of the movie.  But the movie isn’t half bad. THE GREEN HORNET is hilarious enough (though many jokes do not work or are overdone, like the running misfired joke of giving the sidekick, Kato a superhero name), with inventive gadgets, super charged cars and excitingly executed action sequences.

The story centres on Britt Reid (Seth Rogen), the son of wealthy newspaper publisher James Reid (Tom Wilkinson), is a ne''er do well playboy who inherits a media empire after his father dies. One day, he meets an employee named Kato (Jay Chou), who is more than he appears. They become crimefighters, taking on the identity of the Green Hornet. With the help of his new sexy secretary, Lenore Case (Cameron Diaz), Britt discovers that Russian criminal Benjamin Chudnofsky (Oscar winner Christoph Waltz) controls the city''s criminal underworld. Meanwhile, Chudnofsky, paranoid that he is losing his edge as a crime boss, has united all of the gangs of the city and seeks the Green Hornet, believing him to be a direct threat to his elaborate grand plan.

Rogen shed some 30 pounds to play the action hero.  He looks acceptable, though still a little pudgy, which allows Kato to shine in the limelight, as the script intends.  The script pays a nod to Bruce Lee (the original Kato in the TV series with a sketch of the late Lee seen in the movie).  Jay Chou holds up well as Kato stealing many scenes from Rogen.  Rogen who co-wrote the script, gives himself many funny lines, but many get tedious as in many of the other films Rogen is in.  Rogen is best when he allows his sidekick or partner to outshine him (as he allowed James Fracno top billing in PINEAPPLE EXPRESS.

Michel Gondry’s THE GREEN HORNET has enough style and unexpectations that should entertain the most seasoned action hero audience.  And the 3D effects are not bad either!

LONDON RIVER (UK 2009) **

Directed by Rachid Bouchareb


Set in the aftermath of the 2005 London bombings, Rachid Bouchareb’s LONDON RIVER is a poignant drama about a Christian (Brenda Blethyn) and
a Muslim (Sotigui Kouyaté) who cross paths while searching for their
20something children who are students in the city – and missing.

For a director who made the very effective and dramatic DAYS OF GLORY, LONDON RIVER, is by contrast a rather uneventful affair.  The two leads mainly scout around trying to find out what happened to their respective daughter and son.  It does not help that the film is predictable and it does not take a genius to guess that the two knew each other and were lovers.  It is clear that Bouchareb wishes to make the statement that Muslim and Christian should work and live together but making them a couple is a bit unbelievable.

The audience tends to feel and favour Elisabeth (Blethyn) more than the oterh as the other acts a bit weird and behaves in a way to foreign.  Whe the truth is finally revealed by Bourchareb and the film comes to a logical conclusion still feels a bit of a letdown as no major issues have been resolved.

NOSTALGIA FOR THE LIGHT (France/Gem/Chile 2009) ***
Directed by Patricio Guzman


NOSTALGIA FOR THE LIGHT is a very thoughtful, lyrical, insightful and timeless documentary set in the driest place on the planet where humidity is at its lowest.  At seen on the map on screen, the only brown colour on the map belongs to the Atacama Desert in Chile where an old German telescope is located.

As the narration goes o, director Guzman brings together several distance topics – all tied together with the human element of hope.  NOSTALGIA FOR THE LIGHT is thus enlightening for both its information and its lifting of the human spirit.  Guzman shows the desert to provide an exemplary climate for the work of archaeologists, as the dryness prevents rotting and mummifies specimens intact. It is from here that Guzmán explores the importance to Chile of the persistence of memory.

Near the astronomers’ telescopes, which detect the oldest light in the universe, a group of women sift through the sand searching for any evidence of their loved ones. Hidden in the desert floors are the bones and body parts of the “disappeared” – remnants of the crimes of Pinochet’s dictatorship. By juxtaposing the quest of the astronomers with that of the grieving but determined women, Guzmán’s intimate and insightful documentary forces us to ask why, in a country where people are trying to determine what happened millions of light years ago, is there so much resistance to confronting the turmoil of the past forty years? Similarly, why is there so little discourse on the exploitative treatment of the country’s indigenous peoples that dates back centuries?

Guzman personalizes his film with an interview of Valentina, the daughter of disappeared parents who was brought up by her grandparents from the age of one. She enlightens us with the profound and comforting notion that we, like the disappeared, are all essentially star dust.

Beautiful (a few scenes is filled with Guzman’s colorful stardust) and poetic, NOSTALGIA FOR THE LIGHT is rare thoughtful documentary that inspires hope.

1900 (Novecento) (Italy/France W Germany 1976) ****
Directed by Bernardo Bertolucci


Bertolucci’s flawed overlong 4-hour plus long epic should be seen for its outrageousness and unforgettable elements.

The film chronicles two men. Olmo and Alfredo (Gerard Depardieu and Robert De Niro) born on the same day at the turn of the century, one to a rich landowner and the other the illegitimate son of a farm labourer.  As the padre (Burt Lancaster) screams at the same time he kicks his hunchbacked servant, “There is no difference in men when they are born”, the film goes on to document the class struggle under the rise of Italian fascism as the two men grow up.

The first half of the film has the two as boys and ends with the poor one off to war while the rich is bribed to stay out of the war.  The film finally ends on the Day of Liberation under socialism when the farm labourers have their day.  And revenge!

A lot of screaming is in the movie as over-the-top acting (particularly by Burt Lancaster and Donald Sutherland as the sadistic murderous foreman) and unforgettable sex scenes (a threesome in which Depardieu’s hand is placed on De Niro’s coc* to give him a hand job.  All this is good and obviously entertaining, but it undermines the seriousness of the subject matter.  Taboo subjects as child abuse and under-aged sex are treated as normal proceedings in the farm.

The result is a vastly entertaining and watchable epic that still gets its message across in its own weird way.

Screening at TIFF LIGHTBOX 17th Jan Sunday and again later this week.  Check www.cinemathequeontario.ca for showtimes.

Best Film Opening This Week: Another Year
Best Films Playing: The Social Network/The Fighter/True Grit/Another Year
Best Family: Tangled
Best Documentary: Inside Job
Best Foreign: - 1900

Avoid: The Dilemma

Best re-issue: Bertolucci’s 1900 at Bell Lightbox

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