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This Week's Film Reviews (Nov 5, 2010)

11 Nov 2010

While big films like DUE DATE and MEGAMIND open, smaller gems like LE PERE DE MES ENFANTS also make their mark.

Film Reviews:

DUE DATE (USA 2010) **
Directed by Todd Phillips

Todd Phillips, the talented director of comedy hits like ROAD TRIP, OLD SCHOOL and THE HANGOVER cannot save this road trip movie of two mismatched guys travelling to L.A. to make it in time for the delivery (due date) of ones baby.

The high-strung father-to-be Peter Highman (Robert Downey Jr.) is forced off the plane as a result of meeting up with aspiring actor Ethan Tremblay (Zach Galifianakis).  Ethan rents a car and they partake on a road trip in order to make it to his child''s birth on time.  The story is derivative of any road trip movie and audiences have seen better before most notably in TRAINS, PLANES and AUTOMOLIES with John Candy pairing up with Steve Martin.  That film had two talented comedians.  This one has one non-comedian and an annoying mass of a man.

The film basically consists of a series of comedic set-ups loosely linked to the road trip.  These include an encounter with a wheel-chair bound veteran who beats the crap out of both Peter (especially Peter) and Zach (not funny), an escape from the Mexican border authorities (not as funny as it sounds) and a climatic delivery room arrival (not funny or climatic either).

The only saving grace of the movie is the small bit involving Juliette Lewis, the pharmacist selling weed to Ethan for his glaucoma.  Unfortunately, this segment does not last more than 5 minutes of screen time.

If Ethan is not irritating the hell out of Peter, he is annoying the hell out of his audience.  And what is Jamie Foxx, another unfunny man doing in this so-called comedy?  I do not understand Hollywood making comedies that do not star comedians.  I guess the joke is on us!  DUE DATE ends up nothing more than staged silliness.

FAIR GAME (USA 2010) ***** Top 10

Directed by Doug Liman

Joseph Wilson (Sean Penn) was hired by the U.S. government to find out if Nigeria had sold Iraq radioactive material to make nuclear weapons.  When Joe’s investigation was negative, the White House falsified the information to fuel the Iraqi War.  Joe comes out fighting to call the White House at the bluff but not after his family gets death threats throwing his marriage to CIA Agent, Valerie (Naomi Watts) into disarray.

When President Bush says in his speech (in one of the film’s shots) that the White House will do whatever necessary to protect American freedom, the words take a whole separate meaning in this film.

The script by Jez Butterworth offers two sides to the argument.  Most of the first half of the film is centred on the wife, Valerie (Naomi Watts) with hubby Joes barely making a presence.  So when Joe finally comes out full blast in the film’s second half claiming to do what is right, the audience clearly sees both points of view while knowing Joe is right.  When the marriage breaks down (as it often does too in real life when a couple cannot agree on an important principle), the shouting match between the two marks one of the best fighting scenes between spouses I have ever seen in a long while.  Joe screaming at the top of his lungs, louder than Valerie: “Do I win the argument?  Do I win because I am shouting louder?  The privileged few in the White House can thus shout the loudest and hide the truth?”  Valerie’s reply: “And after the White House is done, the truth does not mean anything anymore!”  This is brilliant writing, writing that argues winningly both ways while still offering two points of view on the problem.

Director Doug Liman delves in different territory here after hits like GO, SWINGERS and THE BOURNE IDENTITY.  He more than proves his mettle as a story-teller and a master of drama able to build and maintain tension in a very compelling film.

If there needs to be a film on anti-racism, FAIR GAME is not only it but one of the best films on the subject.  One of the film’s best scenes has Sean Penn lashing out at an ignorant dinner guest who has blamed Saddam Hussein on the 9/11.  “Do you know Saddam Hussein?  Have you met him?  You do not know what the f*** you are talking about?”   There is another scene in the beginning when the same racist man offers a scenario of what should be done if you find yourself seated to two very nervous, sweating passengers wearing a turban.  Joe’s (SEAN PENN) retort was not shown on screen but it would have been something if the film included that.  (But Joe refer to him as a racist pussy to his wife.)

Sean Penn has taken admirable roles of the underdog activist before - as gay politician Harvey Milk in MILK and as a union leader Willie Stark in ALL THE KING’S MEN and now as Joe Wilson in FAIR GAME.  His performance has never been better and his films match his intensity as well.  FAIR GAME is drama on conflict at its best and is a must-see, making the list of my top 10 films of 2010.

 

FOR COLORED GIRLS (USA 2010) *

Directed by Tyler Perry

Tyler Perry is well known for his MADEA films where he often appears in drag creating havoc as his character Madea.  Mostly comedy, these films are huge hits and are really funny though most critics slam them, especially when the films get serious.  Tyler Perry gets too preachy when serious.  FOR COLORED GIRLS is Perry at his peachiest worst!

FOR COLORED GIRLS is based on the hit 1975 play For Colored Girls who have Considered Suicide when the Rainbow is Enuf.  Most of what the play accomplishes is mostly missed in this movie.  Tyler Perry is unable to get the film’s point across. 

The play is a series of 20 poems, collectively called a "choreopoem." It is performed by a cast of seven women characters, each of whom is known only by a color: "Lady in Yellow," "Lady in Purple," etc. The poems deal with love, abandonment, rape, and abortion, embodied by each woman''s story, i.e. Lady in Blue''s visceral account of a woman who chooses to have an abortion, and Lady in Red''s tale of domestic violence.  The end of the play brings together all of the women for "a laying on of hands," in which Shange evokes the power of womanhood.

In the film, the characters appear out of nowhere with their problems tossed in the face of the audience.  The ladies in color i.e. red, purple etc. are never referenced, so that the audience would thing the colored women are just African Americans.  When the women finally get totally stressed out, they start quoting poetry and the effect of the choreopoem is never realised.  Scenes are embarrassing at most (consider one where a corpse gets slapped) and so is the acting (Whoopi Goldberg screaming about like a crazed possessed demon).  The climatic segment where all the troubled women gather to discuss what is missing and never to say ‘sorry’ is enuf!

The exceptionally talented cast that includes Janet Jackson, Kerry Washington, Thandie Newton and Loretta Devine could do better elsewhere.

Oprah indicated doubts about Tyler Perry undertaking this film production based on such an important slice of African American history.  Oprah is right again!  FOR COLOTRED HIRLS is Tyler Perry doing PRECIOUS times five.

  

MARWENCOL (USA 2010) **

Directed by Jeff Malmberg

MARWENCOL is the name of the fictional town created by Mark Hogancamp in which the fictional characters that include himself serves as mental and physical therapy.

On April 8, 2000, Mark Hogancamp was attacked outside of a bar in Kingston, NY, by five men who beat him literally to death.  Revived by paramedics, Mark had suffered brain damage and physical injuries so severe even his own mother didn’t recognize him.  After nine days in a coma and 40 days in the hospital, Mark was discharged with little memory of his previous life.

Unable to afford therapy, Mark decided to create his own. In his backyard, he built Marwencol, a 1/6th scale World War II-era town that he populated with dolls representing his friends, family and even his attackers. He used the small dolls and props to redevelop his hand-eye coordination, while he dealt with the psychic wounds from his attack through the town’s many battles and dramas.

After a few years, Mark started documenting his miniature dramas with his camera. Through Mark’s lens, these were no longer dolls – they were living, breathing characters in an epic WWII story full of violence, jealousy, longing and revenge. And he (or rather his alter ego, Captain Hogancamp) was the hero.

When Mark’s stunningly realistic photos are discovered and published in an art magazine, his homemade therapy suddenly becomes “art,” forcing Mark to make a choice between the safety of his fictional town and the real world he’s avoided since his attack.

Shot over the course of four years, Jeff Malmberg’s documentary intertwines the dual realities of Mark Hogancamp to tell the whole story of Marwencol – a surprising tale of love, secrets, pain, and adventure.

As intriguing as all this sounds, Malmberg’s film lacks depth and is rather boring.  Malmberg lets Hogancamp tell the story of what happens in Malmberg.  At one point he says that he puts a whole lot of Barbie dolls in the town to prevent it from being a total male gay camp.  He includes cat fights as a town feature.  One wonders about these homophobic and male chauvinist acts and makes one think what the man had said in the bar to get beaten up so badly.

The film also contains interviews of those around Hogancamp. They all have good things to say - except for one of his colleagues whose character in the town gets shot by SS soldiers.  But the film premiered at the SXSW Film Festival where it won the Grand Jury Award for Best Documentary.  It has gone on to win Grand Jury awards at the Cleveland and Seattle International Film Festivals, Audience Top 10 awards at Hot Docs and Seattle, and a Special Jury prize at IFF Boston. The film’s material is better than the film.

 

MEGAMIND (USA 2010) ****
Directed by Tom McGrath

MEGAMIND is the second 3D animated feature this year featuring an evil genius as its hero and minions (in this case, just one minion) as a sidekick.  Fortunately, MEGAMIND is funnier more inventive and entertaining than DESPICABLE ME.

This is the story of good vs. evil – or rather a tale of the lesser evil against the good turned evil.  Megamind is sent away from his planet (SUPERMAN style) but lands in a prison where he is taught the reverse of good and evil.  As a result, Megamind (Will Ferrell) is bullied, and ends up the bad guy and Metro Man (Brad Pitt) the hero of Mega City.  When Megamind kills off Metro Man, he finds himself a loss with no hero to fight against.  With no more purpose, he takes it upon himself to invent another superhero in the form of Titan (Johan Hill) who turns out to badder than he could have ever imagined.  Things get more complicated when he falls in love with Roxanne (Tina Fey), Metro Man’s girl.  With the aid of Minion, his fantastic fish sidekick (David Cross), he saves the day and wins the girl.  It turns out Megamind is all good inside.

The film has a good message on that one has to look inside to see the good.  Better still, the film does not hammer any message to its audience.  The story also allows the film to parody lots of action hero films especially the Superman films – from the baby transported in a rocket to earth to the element (in this case copper, not kryptonite) that is the superhero’s weakness.

As far as 3D effects go, MEGAMIND seems the perfect vehicle.  The superhero flies directly into the audience; exploding rubble is spewed out at the screen and rockets are ridden right out for full effect.  The 3D is felt from start to finish, not as in some hastily put together 3D films, where the 3D effects only exist in portions.

The casting of the voices cannot be imagined more appropriate with Will Ferrell as MEGAMIND, Tina Fey as the girl, Jonah Hill as Titan and Brad Pitt as the egoistic Metro Man.  But the best voice characterization belongs to David Cross as Minion aka Fantastic Fish.  He may be remembered as the villain in the Chipmunk movies.  Ben Stiller is funniest as Megamind’s father.

Though the characters do not embarrassingly burst into song, MEGAMIND contains a memorable score by Hans Zimmer with the AC/DC song HIGHWAY TO HELL used extensively.

Though the concept of death may be too much for the much younger audience, MEGAMIND has enough material to keep both adults and the children happy.  If things go well, MEGAMIND should make the big bucks DESPICABLE ME achieved at the box-office.

 

LE PERE DE MES ENFANTS (THE FATHR OF MY CHILDREN)

 (France/Denmark 2009) ****

Directed by Mia Hansen-Løve

If art imitates life, director Mia Hansen-Løve’s mentor also a filmmaker Humbert Balsan committed suicide just as her lead character Gregoire (Louis-Do le Lencquesaing) did in her film. 

LE PERE DE MES ENFANTS (THE FATHR OF MY CHILDREN) tells the story of Grėgoire (Louis-Do de Lencquesaing), a charismatic man who has it all – a
loving wife, three delightful children and a stimulating job.  His vocation as a
film producer fulfills him.  In fact, Grégoire devotes most of his time and energy
to his work, never stopping, except for weekends spent in the country with his
family.  But now, with too many risks and too much debt, his prestigious
production company is about to fail.  He contemplates suicide and finally shoots himself in the middle of the street. 

With the lead character done away in the middle of the film, just as Hitchcock did away with Janet Leigh in the shower scene in PSYCHO, Hansen-Løve’s focus shifts focus on to one of Gregoire’s daughters though the subject is still the filmmaker.  As the family ponders w\on what to do with the company and their lives (whether to stay in Paris or move to Itlay), Gregoire is still an imminent presence.

Hansen-Løve’s film is one of the most moving and charming films this year, her film pretty much reflecting the character of Gregoire.  A lot of time and pauses in the film are present for the audience to contemplate Gregoire’s deed and to consider the raison d’etre of his doing so.  The scenes with his happy family in the country are contrasted with his busy film schedule ladled with insurmountable debts. 

Hansen-Løve’s film is never rushed.  If there is any message in the film, it may be more than what appears at the ending with the rendering of the old favorite tune “Que Sera Sear “ (Whatever will be, will be…).  If there is one film that evokes emotions with such understatement about life, love, family and work, LE PERE DE MES ENFANTS is the one film that should be seen!

  

STRANGE POWERS: STEPHIN MERRITT AND THE MAGNETIC FIELDS

(USA/Denmark/France/Germany/UK 2010) **

Directed by Kerthy Fix and Gail O’Hara

The band is The Magnetic Fields.  The man is Stephin Merritt.  The manager is Claudia.  This film is their story.

As the narration goes at the start of the film, one would either know of the famous The Magnetic Fields or one would have never heard of them.  This reviewer is of the latter category and Kerthy Fix and Gail O’Hara’s documentary does not show the reason for the band’s fame – rather the reason the band has been so obscure. 

Except for two interviewee celebrities Peter Gabriel and Sarah Silverman who have shower accolades on the band, Kerthy Fix and Gail O’Hara has described he songs of the Magnetic Fields as sort of melodious conversational.  The performances are shot in all its non-glorified authenticity and the rebuttal of the singers on stage as hilarious as the performers or directors make them out to be.

Nothing much is told of the origin of his music talent or of Merritt’s life or family.  His homosexuality is only mentioned as Merritt talks about it at one point after he is gay bashed.  The film just moves along, like a conversational piece!

STRANGE POWERS: STEPHIN MERRITT AND THE MAGNETIC turns out to be a very ordinary doc about a band that appears terribly ordinary. Be prepared for an ordinary 90 minutes at the movies!  Very strictly for Magnetic Fields fans!

  

SUMMERHOOD (USA 2010) **
Directed by Jacob Medjuck

SUMMERHOOD is a summer camp saga based on former Dreamworks and Disney animator Jacob Medjuck’s personal summer camp experiences as a child.  Clear as crystal that this is his labour of love, SUMMERHOOD has been set up to look like (in set decoration) and feel like his good old days including the film’s 80’s soundtrack.

The lead character goes by the name of Fetus (Lucian Maisel).  The film follows his misadventures and Reckless (Scott Beaudin), his best friend and two others.  But what looks good on paper or what might be a helluva time in memory might not necessarily make up good film entertainment.  As is, unfortunately the case in this movie, even though Medjuck has so much drive and confidence in his material!

A key example is a segment in which Fetus and his gang steal all the brooms in the camp.  This prank is not at all funny on screen but is obviously hilarious when performed in real life.  Most of Fetus other exploits, like making up with his heart throb have all be seen in one form or another in other teen movies.  The film also lacks focus.  There is no real goal, climax or danger facing the characters.  The climax happens to be Fetus crossing a bridge in the camp, which according to the voiceover (by John Cusack) is a big deal.  Unfortunately, the audience does not feel the same way.  When this bridge was mentioned, it is predictable that this bridge be crossed at the end of the movie, though it hardly makes an exciting climax.  Medjuck is fond of throwing in jokes whenever he can so that his film lacks proper pacing.

The young characters not only speak but behave too much like adults.  Medjuck describes his lead as a 10-year old Woody Allen.  I don’t think so!  In contrast, all the adults are portrayed as idiots, especially the Assistant Camp Director (Christopher McDonald).

 The film boasts a fantastic 80-‘s soundtrack but the songs are played in its original form with no mixing or re-editing.  The production values are ok and the camp grounds look inviting enough on camera.

The guest I brought to the screening enjoyed SUMMERHOOD more than me.  I figured if you have experienced similar summer camp antics, SUMMERHOOD might be more entertaining, flaws and all.

           

THE TEMPEST (Canada 2010) ***1/2

Directed by Des McAnuff

We are such stuff dreams are made of.  Life is rounded with a sleep.  Such immortal words from the Bard’s TEMPEST resonate on the screen as uttered by veteran actor Christopher Plummer.

Tony-winning Director Des McAnuff’s film THE TEMPEST starring Christopher Plummer, premières across Canada on November 6, 2010, as part of Cineplex Entertainment’s Front Row Centre Events.  The stage production has received rave reviews and played to sold-out houses at the Stratford Shakespeare Festival this summer. Now Christopher Plummer takes the classical role of a lifetime to the big screen, starring as Prospero in Shakespeare’s culminating masterpiece.

Filmed live over two days by eight HD cameras, the film is a follow-up to Bravo!’s successful Gemini-nominated production of CAESAR AND CLEOPATRA.  Hopefully more will follow.

THE TEMPEST pits the desire for revenge against the demands of love and asks if man is capable of creating a brave new world. The story focuses on Prospero (Christopher Plummer), the banished Duke of Milan. Marooned on a distant island with his daughter, Miranda (Trish Lindström), Prospero has spent twelve years perfecting his magic arts. Now, with the help of the spirit Ariel (Julyana Soelistyo), he raises a storm at sea, bringing within his grasp the enemies who robbed him of his dukedom. 

Performances are needless to say spectacular with Soelistyo and Dion Johnstone as the bastard Caliban stealing the show.  McAnuff basically films what directly occurs onstage, capturing the action on stage s if from the front row.  The camera seldom moves elsewhere like overhead or below stage.  The costumes are basic but nothing regal.  But the timing is impeccable as can be heard by the audience laughter at the Bard’s immortal comedy.

I studied TEMPEST for my ‘O’ Levels and have never seen the play performed.  Watching THE TMPEST for the first time as performed at Stratford, even though on screen is more than pure delight!

Best BETS of the Week:

Best Film Opening This Week: Fair Game
Best Film Playing: Fair Game
Best Family: Megamind
Best Doc: Inside Job
Best Foreign: Le Pere de mes Enfants

Avoid: Score: For Colored Girls

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