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This Week's Film Reviews (Mar 11, 2011)

11 Mar 2011

RED RIDING HOOD, MARS NEEDS MOMS and BATTLE LOS ANGELES are the  big Hollywood films opening this week.

On the smaller front, AND EVERYTHING IS FINE and the excellent THE ARBOR open.

Film Reviews:

AND EVERYTHING IS GOING FINE (USA 2010) ***
Directed by Steven Sodernergh


Director Steven Soderbergh alternates his Hollywood movies like the OCEANS films, ERIN BROCKVICH, TRAFFIC and smaller excursions like BUBBLE and THE GIRLFRIEND EXPERIENCE.  For his break after THE INFORMANT!, he chose to shoot an intimate portrait of master monologist Spalding Gray.

Tracing his origins as a performer to the present, the audience is brought in to connect primarily with Gray the performer.  Soderbergh blends in several of his stage performances including one where he has suffered an accident.  But he keeps the audience at bay from Gray’s personal life.  A few lines outlining his relationships with his father and son are included but these are largely forgettable.  One wonders why too, Soderbergh has his father say a few sentences to the audience as they make little impact. The son, Forrrest’s influence is more pronounced as he provides the music or this film.

What is impressive about this film is the cleverly edited 40 years of footage that reveal the art and success of this man’s career.

Whether one is a Spalding Gray fan or not, one would still find that the film still holds interest.  The best part is Gray’s account of his homosexual encounter – one which is as much as intriguing in the encounter as its telling!

THE ARBOR (UK 2010) ****
Directed by Clio Barnard


THE ARBOR is best described as a biographical documentary of British dramatist Andrea Dunbar and her family.  She became famous from her plays, that were praised for their wit and perception that depicted the hard cruel life of their housing estate called the arbour in Bradford, West Yorkshire, England.  Andrea Dubar grew up with seven siblings in suburban housing estate Bafferton Arbor in Bradford, England. At the age of 15 in the early 1960s she began writing her first play “The Arbor” which described the experiences of a pregnant teenager who was abused by her drunken father. Her first play had its premiere at The Royal Court Theater in London 1980.  One thing to note is that THE ARBOR is not really a documentary but a true story shot doc style.  Real actors lip sync the words of the film’s characters.

But THE ARBOR is a totally engrossing piece of work, as the social problems of the poor and abused are downright heartbreaking.  The drinking, drug adduction, racial prejudices all rear their ugly heads.  Director Barnard also has surprises (or shocks rather) up her sleeve that jolts the audience out of their seats for their sheer horror and inhumanity.  But at least Sunbar’s excellent plays and this film have come out of all these woes. The film has quite the few unintentional laughable parts like in the segment in which Valerie remarks how big her grandmother’s eyes are, just as Red Riding Hood did to the wolf in the folk tale.

BATTLE LOS ANGELES (USA 2011) *

Directed by Jonathan Liebesman


Hot on the failure of SKYLINE barely a year ago, comes another big budget earth vs. aliens war film.  Set, obviously in L.A., the film follows a platoon of marines led by Staff Sergeant Michael Nantz (Aaron Eckhart) during the city attack.

The events of the film are inspired by the Battle of Los Angeles during a supposed World War II air raid.  Director Liebesman (THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE –THE BEGINNING, the hardly seen THE KILLING ROOM) aims at authenticity with the marines fighting the aliens as they would an enemy during World War 2.  Extended battle scenes are reminiscent to the one at the start of SAVING PRIVATE RYAN but there is a major problem here.  The enemy are the aliens from outer space.  Credibility goes down the drain.  For one, the audience is not made aware of what the invaders are capable of, so any thrills or suspense is non-existent.

The film opens in the midst of the fighting in the August of 2011.  With special effects, explosions and battles aplenty, the narrative is a bare minimum.  Sgt. Nantz is supposed to have lost men during a previous mission, a disaster that is haunting him during the current battle.  When the men question his tactical moves, Nantz has to prove himself.  But not till he delivers an embarrassing almost 10 minute monologue on what it is like to live with what had happened.

Most of the marine characters are interchangeable with little differences given to each of them – one is about to be married, one is a virgin, another with mental problems etc.  The dialogue gets really silly at times.  At one point, a marine sympathizes with the aliens saying that they are probably just as scared as them.  Then, the film goes on to display the ferocity of the aliens.

The human emotions for the film are provided by a busload of kids suddenly caught in the midst of an attack.

How is a film like this going to end?  The lazy script has the audience believe that once the communications control tower of the aliens is taken down, they have lost.  But the film takes too long a time for this to happen.  BATTLE LOS ANGELES is a silly idea for a movie and no matter how well made it is, rubbish is rubbish and BATTLE LOS ANGELES emerges well made rubbish!

 

RED RIDING HOOD (USA 2011) **1/2
Directed by Catherine Hardwicke


Based very loosely on the black folk tale LITTLE RED RIDING HOOD, director Catherine Hardwicke’s (one of the most successful female directors in Hollywood: TWILIGHT, THIRTEEN, LORDS OF DOGTOWN) feels very much like her first TWILIGHT film and the reason is obvious.

RED RIDING HOOD pits the heroine in red cape (Amanda Seyfried) with two gorgeous hunks.  She is betrothed to woodcutter Henry Lazar (Max Irons) who isn’t all that bad a guy but loves an outsider of her village, Peter (Shiloh Fernandezm who has an uncanny resemblance to Robert Pattinson).  As in TWILIGHT, the two young men vie for the love of the girl and the story is set in a gothic background.  RED RIDING HOOD is written by the writer of ORPHAN, and the script can hardly be described as brilliant though clever enough to retain all the elements of the folk tale.

The story has lots of cinematic potential and Hardwicke uses it fully.  The image of a girl in a flowing red cape in a snowy background in the mountain or forest is undoubtedly stunning.  The story is modified to have a werewolf living among the villagers making the story a whodunit.  The script plays with many suspects with the audience taken for quite the ride.

Valerie plans to run away with her woodcutter lover, an outsider named Peter, in order to avoid an arranged marriage to Henry.  Valerie and Peter''s plan to elope is forestalled when Valerie''s older sister is found slaughtered by the mysterious werewolf that has terrorized their village for years. The people of Daggerhorn have maintained an uneasy truce with the beast by offering the creature a monthly animal sacrifice. But under a blood-red moon, the werewolf ups the stakes and takes a human life. Hungry for revenge, the people summon a famed Witchfinder General, Father Solomon (Gary Oldman), to help them track down and kill the beast. Solomon’s arrival, however, brings unintended consequences, as he warns that the werewolf, who takes human form by day, could be any one of them.  As the death toll rises with each moon and panic grips the town, Valerie discovers she has a unique connection to the beast – as the werewolf makes her understand that it wants to take her away with him from the village.

For a film set in the open, RED RIDING HOOD feels claustrophobic for the reason that the villagers are imprisoned by the werewolf.  The gothic atmosphere and wardrobe are decent enough for credibility.  In the acting department, Oldman hams it up as the villain and werewolf slayer and the audience would cheer when he is finally done in.  Seyfried is able to carry the movie and the hunk newcomers, though not Lawrence Oliviers, carry their romantic scenes credibly enough.  The actors wear too much make up for a medieval movie.

The film has quite the few unintentional laughable parts like in the segment in which Valerie remarks how big her grandmother’s eyes are, just as Red Riding Hood did to the wolf in the folk tale.

But RED RIDING HOOD is again, like TWILIGHT aimed at the teen target audience, particularly females.  Bearing that in mind, the film isn’t half bad in achieving its purpose.

BEST BETS OF THE WEEK:

Best Film Opening This Week: The Arbor

Best Films Playing: The Social Network/The Illusionist/True Grit/Another Year

Best Family: Rango

Best Documentary: Inside Job

Best Foreign: Incendies

Avoid: The Dilemma

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