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This Week's Film Reviews (Mar 24, 2011)

24 Mar 2011

Quantity is the order of the week.  Despite 8 or so new films opening, the Cinefranco Toronto French film Festival and Arthur Penn retrospective at TIFF Lightbox also make their debut.

 

HOBO WITH A SHOTGUN (Canada/USA 2011) ****

Directed Jason Eisener


HOBO WITH A SHOTGUN is the debut feature film of director Jason Eisener whose only other film credit is his Sundance Short Award Winner TREEVENGE in which Christmas trees take revenge on the holiday makers cutting them down. So, one would expect a strange experience from HOBO WITH A SHOTGUN.

And Jason Eisener delivers.  Blood, guts innards, dismembered digits and all!  The plot involves a vigilante homeless man, the Hobo of the title (Rutger Hauer) pulling  into a new unnamed city and finds himself trapped in urban chaos, a city where crime rules and where the city''s crime boss reigns.   As this is basically a Canadian flick, the unnamed city could be in the U.S. as well thus giving the film a wider audience appeal.  The urban landscape is filled with armed robbers, corrupt cops, abused prostitutes and even a pedophile Santa jerking off in his car by a school (who of course gets his comeuppance).  The Hobo goes about bringing justice to the city the best way he knows how - with a 20-gauge shotgun. “You can’t solve all the world’s problems with a shotgun,” Abby (Molly Dunsworth) tells him.  His reply: “That’s all I know!”  Mayhem ensues when he tries to make things better for the future generation.

The script by John Davies is filled with great quotes.  The best comes from Slick who is just about to have his dick blown off.  “Please don’t shoot my dick off!  I still have a lot of f**king left to do!” or perhaps from a crooked cop who tells Abby: “You are so hot, I will cut off my c**k and rub it on your titties!”.  Besides the choice dialogue, director Eisener fills his screen with lots of red, from blood to fire (to the tune of Burn, Baby, Burn) and to even more blood.

The film is full of action with never a dull moment from start to finish.  The characters are screaming at the top of their lungs half the time so that no one can doze off.  The characters are down right nasty especially Drake (Brian Downey) the main villain of the piece down to his two sons (Gregory Smith and Nick Bateman), Tom Cruise RISKY BUSINESS look-alike complete with the shades and all.

Eisener is unafraid to surprise his audience up to the very last reel.  If you think the heroine will get away unscathed, maybe she will but not till she loses her fingers, cut off by the blade of a lawnmower.

HOBO WITH  SHOTGUN is inspired and energetic filmmaking that is also loads of fun.  But what is the message here?  There is one, but it is likely hidden in all the bloodied piled up body parts.

HORS-LA-LOI (OUTSIDE THE LAW) (Fr/Tun/Alg/Bel 2010) **
Directed by Rachid Bouchareb


The direct follow-up though not a sequel of Bouchareb’s excellent INDIGENES (DAYS OF GLORY), OUTSIDE THE LAW takes place in time when the last film ended.  The story is completely different though both films share the same 3 stars.

The story takes place between 1945 and 1962 and focuses on the lives of three Algerian brothers in France, set to the backdrop of the Algerian independence movement (the FLN) and the Algerian War.  (The first had the 3 stars as Algerians recruited to aid the French fight the Germans in WWII.)  While the first film was a feel-good film that displays the Algerians in good light, OUTSIDE THE LAW is the direct opposite.  It is a wonder that the film got French financing considering its dangerous theme  Bouchareb is dead serious with the theme and it shows throughout the film.  The portrayal of the 1945 Setif massacre which shows the French killing off Muslims without thought and pity is disturbing to watch.  The ease at which Muslim lives were destroyed also questions how much have been exaggerated on screen.  What also is noticeable in that the film is totally devoid of humour.  Bouchareb’s film is dead serious from start to end – too serious – and this creates a problem in the story’s flow and acceptance.

The story concentrates on the beliefs and lives of the three brothers.  One is totally dedicated to the course, another but with restraint but the third sympathetic but more involved in his boxing scheme.  The narrative is split into three which weakens its strength especially with the three all feeling differently about the FLN.  The scene where brother is pitted against brother is moving but a bit difficult to take in.

OUTSIDE THE LAW is well shot, acted but it is a pity that the film is so one sided.  Bouchareb is an excellent filmmaker with this film being his third nominated for the Best Foreign Film Academy Award.  He is currently making another period film with a similar there.  Hopefully, it will be more like DAYS OF GLORY than this one.

SUCKER PUNCH (USA 2011) ***
Directed by Zack Snyder


Following in the reins of 300 and WATCHMEN, director Zack Snyder’s latest action fantasy flick is a more ambitious, artistic and poetic film with more sex, dragons and fights but with even more emotions added in.

SUCKER PUNCH is a story of a girl’s fight for survival.  Set in the 1950s, Babydoll (Emily Downing) is sent to a mental institution in by her step-father.  With only her dreams and vivid imagination to provide an escape from her dark reality, she fights on.  Unrestrained by the boundaries of time and place, she is free to go where her mind takes her, blurring the lines between what''s real and what is imaginary.  She enlists four other young girls - the outspoken Rocket (Jean Malone), the street-smart Blondie (Vanessa Hudgens), the fiercely loyal Amber (Jamie Chung), and the reluctant Sweet Pea (Abbie Cornish) — to band together and try to escape from their captors.

The action segments take the girls into fantastical warfare against everything from samurai to serpents, with a virtual arsenal at their disposal. These are shot using CGI and are stunning to look at on screen.  The fights are just as exciting.  The only problem is that since the fights are mainly her fantasies, a bit of thrill and suspense is lost as the audience knows everything is not really real, though the lines are blurred.

In the emotions department though there is no clumsy romance added in the plot. The reasons behind Babydoll entering the asylum is emotion enough – her love protecting her sister from the evils of their stepfather.

Director Snyder ups the sex factor too.  At times, the film looks like a modern revamp of female prison films like CAGED HEAT, especially in the scene where Babydoll first enters the asylum and witnesses two pretty inmates wrestling on the floor pulling hair.  The scanty clad costumes add to the sexual angst.

Though no original songs were used in the film, classics like “White Rabbit”, “Love is the Drug” and “Put Some Sugar on Me” were used when the girls are launched into fantasy land.

If 300 and WATCHMEN are you cup of tea, SUCKER PUNCH delivers more than a punch.  But still once the actions starts, the film reduces back to nothing more than an emotionless action film with very little plot or story.

THE TOPP TWINS: UNTOUCHABLE GIRLS (NZ 2010) ***1/2

Directed by Leanne Pooley

 

The Topp Twins from Huntly, New Zealand are a folk singing sister duo who do comedy as well.  Famous in New Zealand especially for their live and television shows, the twins are also activists for just causes.  Pooley’s film shows as much as possible on the twins.

Some things are difficult to reason.  As one interviewee put it in the film: “Who would believe that two yodelling lesbians singing country and western would make it so big”?  But the film clearly shows the audience why.  Jools and Lynda Topp are down to earth everyday wholesome girls with a cheerful, winning cheerful personality always laughing or singing and putting their audiences at ease with their performances.  Never intimidating and always fun, the Topp Twins are tops!

Poole’s documentary takes the same amiable route.  In fact the film won the Toronto International Film Festival People’s Choice Award.  Light and enjoyable, Pooley often just lets the girls talk and entertain through her film. But she pulls in three surprises tactically laid out during the film.

The first occurs a third way during the film when the twins openly declare that they are lesbians.  But as one character put it, lesbians were at that time depicted as twisted people who ended up murdered or committing suicide.  They were not cheerful wholesome girls like the Topps.  The film goes on to playfully discuss their coming out and their fight for gay and lesbian rights.  One twin said: “The other side lost because they were full of hate and made grave mistakes!”   The second surprise show the side of the twins as activists taking up several worthwhile causes like land rights and nuclear freedom.  The third and most shocking documents Jool’s fight and victory over breast cancer.

With an agenda as moving and crowd pleasing as described, this documentary makes one of the best feel-good films of the year.  One also gets to see them perform a few wacky TV characters as Camp Mother and Camp Leader, the Bowling Ladies and Ken and Ken, tow cross dressers.  THE TOPP TWINS: UNTOUCHABLE GIRLS is pure delight!

WEST IS WEST (UK 2010) ***
Directed by Andy DeEmmony


More than a decade has past since Pakistani George (Om Puri) and his English wife (Linda Basssett) entertained audiences with the very funny EAST IS EAST.  In that movie, George wants his children to keep the Pakistani tradition and arranges marriages for his two sons.  He tries initially but finds the eldest turning up gay.

WEST IS WEST is a completely different bag of tricks with George going past his limit and taking the youngest Sajit home to Pakistan to learn and appreciate his roots.  But Sajit is brought up English and initially hates everything Pakistani.  The action is set primarily in Punjab, Pakistan as opposed to Salford in greater Manchester where parts of this film is shot.

Sajit makes friends, learns about life and gets to understand his father.  Less funny and more sentimental, WEST IS WEST is still entertaining meticulously crafted fodder with lots of laugh out loud laughs as well as a few tears shed as well.  Om Puri and Linda Bassett are winning in their roles but it is the kid Aqib Khan who steals the show.  WEST IS WEST puts the other British comedies FOUR LIONS and THE INFIDEL to shame.

WHITE IRISH DRINKERS (USA 2010) ***
Direted by John Gray


At one point when the Brooklyn boys were offered some weed, one of them  replies: “we don’t do that or pills for we are WHITE IRISH DRINEKRS.  John Gray’s film is a Brooklyn tale of one such kid, torn between his mates and family with the decision to stay or leave Brooklyn

The story takes place in the early autumn of 1975 in Brooklyn.  18-year-old Brian Leary (Nick Thurston) is killing time, pulling off petty crimes with his street tough older brother Danny (Geoff Wigdor), whom he both idolizes and fears. He doesn''t really want to be a criminal, but he doesn''t share the dreams of his old friends from their working class neighbourhood either. The Brooklyn boys all yearn for the culturally approved 9-to-5 Civil Service jobs with benefit packages that will carry them through weekends of beer into lazy retirement.  But Brian has a secret -- he''s a talented artist. In the basement of the bagel shop beneath his parent''s apartment, he creates impressionistic charcoal and watercolor images of the stifling city that surrounds him.  But he also has to deal with an abusive father (Stephen Lang).

Gray’s film is as energetic as his young cast.  The dialogue is ripe with really excellent small talk.  Sample: The best thing about you is still dripping down your father’s leg!”  And “It still feels like yesterday that you kicked me in the balls!”  The highlight of the film is the Rolling Stones concert takes place at the theatre where Brian works as an usher.  Sanny wants to rob the place to escape Brooklyn and the owner (Peter Riegert) needs the cash to pay his debt to Jimmy (Jimmy Palumbo).

In a film like this, one can tell the overall outcome.  Brian will leave to make a better life for himself.  But Gray, who also penned the script has major surprises on the way.  A good unexpected twist occurs at the concert climax as does the final confrontation between father and Brian.

The actors are pretty good especially the relatively unknown Nick Thurston who plays the lead of Brian.  The romance is believable and blends comfortably into the story.  WHITE IRISH DRINKERS ends up as a solid period family drama with well though of characters.  Gray grew up in Brooklyn and it shows.

WIN WIN (USA 2011) ****

Directed by Thomas McCarthy


Like director McCarthy’s previous films THE STATION AGENT and THE VISITOR, WIN WIN concerns how a down and out guy redeems himself.

The protagonist in this case is a not so bad person, an attorney by the name of Mike Flaherty (Paul Giamatti), who loves his wife but is flat broke.  He takes money from a client Leo Poplar (Burt Young) to take care of him being unable to locate his daughter.  But he puts Leo in a home.  Leo’s grandson Kyle (Alex Schaffer) suddenly shows up, running away from his mother (Leo’s daughter) and compassionate Mike and his wife Jackie (Amy Ryan) take him in.  Turns out the boy, Kyle is a star wrestler and aids Mike in the wrestling team in which Mike is a coach.  Then the mother Cindy (Melanie Lynskey) shows up to take the boy and her father Leo home.  The boy finds out that Mike took the money and had put Leo in a home.

This is where Mike does well and redeems himself helping everyone out including Leo’s family.  WIN WIN is not overtly hilarious and the film takes its time to enchant the viewer.  The first half hour introduces the characters and the situation with few laughs.  But this gem of a film is pure heart and reinforces the fact that there is good in all human beings.  Past mistakes can be corrected and the bad past can be redeemed.

With these points as a theme, director McCarthy who also wrote the script has come up with a winner of a feel good film.  The film is also well acted and it is good to see actor Paul Giamatti in a good guy role instead of always seeing him in films (like BARRNEY’S VERSION) where he plays unlikeable characters.  Veteran actor Burt Young is as good as the newcomer boy Alex Schaffer.  The wrestling scenes are believable enough as is the drama of the situation.  Best of all there is no sappiness in McCarthy’s film.

At one point of the film Mike questions the boy what it is like to be famous.  “Feels very good,” says the boy.  Director McCarthy should feel the same way with this winner of a movie.

BEST BETS OF THE WEEK:

Best Film Opening This Week: Win Win
Best Films Playing: The Social Network/The Illusionist/True Grit/Another Year
Best Family: Rango
Best Documentary: Topp Twins: Untouchable Girls
Best Foreign: Incendies
Avoid: The Dilemma

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