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This Week's Film Reviews (Apr 29, 2011)

29 Apr 2011

Finally opening is HOODWINKED TOO! HOOD VS. EVIL, after major studio disputes.

Also opening is WATER FOR ELEPHANTS.

The Hot Docs film festival begins in Toronto.

THE CONSPIRATOR (USA 2010) ***1/2

Directed by Robert Redford


THE CONSPIRATOR is good courtroom drama but nothing really that audiences have not seen before.  An underdog lawyer Frederick Aiken (James McAvoy) defends an innocent that everyone else once hung.  The innocent in this case is the mother of a collaborator of Abraham Lincoln’s assassin.

In the defence, he loses his girlfriend but fights for honour, his conscience and the constitution.   Though this is no TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD and James McAvoy is no Gregory Peck, Redford’s story is relevant to today’s headlines as it is still a story of a nation thirsty for revenge.  In THE CONSPIRATOR, President Abraham Lincoln has just been assassinated by John Booth, and the public wants Mary Surratt (Robin Wright Penn), mother of John Surratt, suspected of collaborating with Booth found guilty and hung.  The generals in the military court do more than oblige preventing the innocent mother the right of a fair trial.

Director Redford pushes the right buttons, invoking the audience’ anger with just enough sentiment and guilt to make THE CONSPIRATOR a satisfying entertaining drama.  Tom Wilkinson steals the show as Aiken’s mentor in a film in which performances are excellent all round.

EVEN THE RAIN (TAMBIEN LA LLUVIA) (Spain 2010) ****

Directed Iciar Bollain


This Spanish Best Foreign Film Academy Award nominee is an ambitious complex film that ties together a timely related theme as a film crew shoots the conquest of Latin America in the South American Bolivia.  Bollan’s (a Spanish actress by profession) film works majestically as she understands the troubles of the poverty stricken Bolivians as well as the hypocritical white man filmmaking process.

A Spanish film crew helmed by idealistic director Sebastian (Gael García Bernal) and his cynical producer Costa (Luis Tosar) come to Bolivia to make a revisionist epic about the conquest of Latin America - on the cheap. Carlos Aduviri is dynamic as “Daniel,” a local Bolivian cast as a 16th century native in the film within a film. When the make-up and loin cloth come off, Daniel sails into action protesting his community’s deprivation of water at the hands of multi-national corporations.

But the fight is a fight for life.  The Bolivians hardly make enough to pay for the water and the families will perish in poverty as a result.  When riots break out in Cochabamba, protesting excessive fees for water, production is interrupted and the convictions of the crew members are challenged. Sebastian and Costa are forced to make an unexpected emotional journey in opposite directions.  Bollain’s film captures effectively both as aspects of the fight and the filming.

At the same time, the film demonstrates the Spanish imperialism (the stories of the stories of 16th century priests, Fathers Bartolome de las Casas and Antonio Montesinos, the first radical voices of conscience against an Empire) that resonates as problematic as it was in the Columbus days as it does at present.  At one point in the film, Costa is confronted with the importent decision of whether to do the film or help Daniel.

EVEN THE RAIN could have also worked as a documentary on water rights but Bellain has incorporated fiction into a marvellous tale that also tells the ugly truth of what multi-corporations continue to do to harm the planet.

HOODWINKED TOO! HOOD VS. EVIL (USA 2011) ***

Directed by Mike Disa


Written by the same writers Tony Leech Cory and Todd Edwards and directed by the same director Mike Disa as the original HOODWINKED, the sequel should not displease fans of the original.                                                                                                          The plot is simple enough.  Red (Haydsen Panettiere from SCRE4M, taking over Anne Hathaway) is in training for the Sister Hoods.  Now, teaming with Wolf (Patrick Warburton), Red must investigate the mysterious disappearance of Hansel and Gretel (Bill Hader and Amy Poehler).

Red and the wolf’s adventures are as manic as they come.  These involve stuff like killer grannies, huge explosions, giant German babies and of course lots of farts and brown stuff.  Disa’s film is undoubtedly very, very funny and given its manic pace, one will not notice the missed jokes.  If the audience can forgive the film’s silly plot and lack of story and message, HOODWINKED TOO! delivers what the original gave, with lots more crazy humour – of course a lot making no sense at all.

The voice characterizations are very good, all around though a few like Wolf’s and the squirrel (or is it chipmunk?) are hard to decipher.

HOODWINKED TOO!  took an extra year for its release due to company disputes.  The wait is worthwhile for the original’s fans and surely, many new converts.

WATER FOR ELEPHANTS (USA 2011) ***
Directed by Francis Lawrence


Based on Sara Gruen’s novel of the same name, WATER FOR ELEPHANTS is the romantic adventure told by a 90-year old Jacob Jankowski (Hal Holbrook) of his early days at the circus of the Benzini Brothers.

As an adventure, WATER FOR ELEPHANTS tells quite the incredible story.  As a young man, Jacob Jankowski (Robert Pattinson sans TWILIGHT makeup) was tossed by circus.  It was the early part of the Great Depression, and for Jacob both his salvation and a living hell. A veterinary student just shy of a degree, he was put in charge of caring for the circus menagerie.

Salvation in that it provided him a job, at first clearing dung and later on as a vet for the animals, particularly the main act of Rosie a bull elephant.  Romance budded in the form of Rosie’s rider, Marlena (Rosenbluth).  The living hell occurs mainly in the form of circus owner August Rosenbluth (Christophe Waltz reprising another psychotic ultra violent character after INGLOURIOUS BASTERDS), who also happens to be Marlena’s jealous husband.

As a romantic drama, director Lawrence provides all the drama and suspense in the form of psychotic August.  The romance between Pattinson and Witherspoon looks ok, so long as they are not making love or kissing when the segments look uncomfortably false.  Something also seems amiss in this circus adventure.  Too much is concentrated on the romantic pair.  A subplot or two involving the other circus performers would help.

But the elephant training and climatic stampede scene is spectacular though it can nowhere be compared to the train wreck scene of Cecil B. DeMille’s THE GREATEST SHOW ON EARTH.

Though WATER FOR ELEPHANTS is no GREATEST SHOW ON EARTH (an extremely hard act to follow), Lawrence’s (IAM AM LEGEND, CONSTANTINE) film has its moments and it is good to see a romantic drama in a different environment and time setting for a change.  Full credit for Lawrence for his hard work and his best film so far!

Best Film Opening This Week: Even the Rain


  Best Film Playing: Hanna
Best Horror: Insidious
Best Family: Hop
Best Documentary: The Topp Twins: Untouchable Girls
Best Foreign: Winter in Wartime
Avoid: The Warring States

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