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This Week's Film Reviews (Jun 10, 2011)

10 Jun 2011

Big films opening this week are the commercial SUPER 8 and the non-commercial THE TREE OF LIFE by Terrence Malick, the Cannes Palme d’Or winner.

The smaller films opening that are worth a visit include SUBMARINE and LOOSE CANNONS

LOOSE CANNONS (MINE VAGANTI) (Italy 2010) ***

Directed by Ferzan Ozpetek


Turkish born but Italian bred Ferzan Ozpertek’s Inside Out opening film LOOSE CANNON, a hit on the U.K. last year is a breezy Italian comedy centering on a wealthy pasta family.

The Patriarch is Vincenzo (the excellent Ennio Fantstichini) who wants to hand down control of the pasta factory to his two sons.  The younger, Tommaso (Riccardo Scamarcio), who is supposedly to be studying business in Rome, has returned home.  Home is the picturesque city of Lecce, a seaside town with lush trees, blue sky and the golden hue of sun-bleached stone.  But he confesses to his elder brother Antonio (Alessandro Preziosi), who is already working at the factory, two things.  Firstly, he has been studying writing not business and secondly that he is gay.  But at the big family dinner, Antonio beats Tommaso to it, confessing that he himself is gay.  As a result Vincenzo kicks Antonio out and suffers a heart attack.  Tommaso is bound by family bond to keep quiet about his secret and aid the family pasta business.

Antonio’s coming out scene at the dinner table is one of the comedic highlights of the film, especially the look on Tommaso’s face.  More comedic setups include the sudden visit of Tommaso’s four gay friends from Rome, all trying to hide their sexual identity.  To add to the fun, it turns out that Tommaso and Antonio aren’t the only ones hiding a secret.  So are their philandering father, wistful grandma (Ilaria Occhini)
and kooky aunt (Elena Sofia Ricci).

The love affair between Tommaso and Marco is treated sweetly.

LOOSE CANNONS is very entertaining and funny.  It includes a Priscilla style dance sequence by Tomasso’s four friends in their swimming briefs.  Ozpetek’ blends in comedy with Italian mores.  The only complaint is the copout ending in which the dying grandmother examines a blissful party where everyone is happy and dancing.  One would expect Ozpetek to offer some viable ending after giving the audience so many problems to the family.

SUBMARINE (UK 2010) ***1/2

Directed by Richard Ayoade


Shot in Wales complete with all her grim colours, SUBMARINE begins with a sour outlook on life.  The voiceover claims that it is for the reason human beings believe that they are different that they get out of bed every morning.

The lead character Oliver Tate (Craig Roberts), a precocious 15-year-old whose worldview is exceedingly clever but largely delusional is such a different person.  He has two big ambitions: to save his parents'' marriage and to lose his virginity before his next birthday.

The story is simple.  Oliver loves Jordana Bevan (Yasmin Paige), but foils up the relationship ever so often.  He is also trying to rekindle the love between his mom (Sally Hawkins) and dad (Noah Taylor), believing mom to be having an affair with a seriously funny and totally out-of-it New Age life coach Graham T. Purvis (Paddy Considine).

So, Oliver gets out of bed every morning to achieve his goals though destructive in many ways to those around him.  He is coerced into bullying, yet regrets it.  Thus, writer/director Richard Ayoade has created a sympathetic protagonist for the audience to root for.  Despite the grim premise, Ayoade who has a background in British TV comedy injects sufficient comedy to keep his film from falling too deep into the recesses of gloom.  This involves for example, Oliver’s failed attempt to break in and muck up the house of her mother’s would be lover and unsuccessful trials at wooing the love of his life.

For a small movie, SUBMARINE is nicely shot, displaying the simple grandeur of the beach, streams and hilly area where the Tates live.  The film also features original songs by Alex Turner of the Arctic Monkeys.

But the key success of Ayoade’s film is the film’s connection of its character with the audience.  Aided by some excellent performances (mostly understated), especially by the young Craig Roberts, Oliver Tate’s desperation and sadness are deeply felt.  SUBMARINE is an entertaining heart-felt movie about the coming-of –age of a boy with more than his share of problems, but surmountable ones with the help of family and examination of himself. 

SUPER 8 (USA 2011) ***
Directed by JJ Abrams


(Warning: the review contains a few necessary spoilers.)

SUPER 8 is a period sci-fi fantasy that at times feels like the best film of the summer and at other times feels like a complete load of rubbish.

At its best, JJ Abram’s film has all the elements that make a good solid summer blockbuster. It has no 3D, outstanding special effects, visuals, human emotions, feeling, romance, magic and depth.  The story centres about the boy (Joel Courtney) and his film crew friends making an 8 mm zombie movie.  In the process, they discover an army kept secret.  It is this secret, its revelation and solution that mars the entire movie.  The reason is that the solution to the monster and how it builds its spaceship to return home makes absolutely no sense at all!

Yet, JJ Abram’s film contains many forgivable pleasures.

One of the film’s best scenes has Deputy Sheriff, Jackson Lamb (Kyle Chandler) running around the town flooded by the townfolk confronting him and venting their complaints to him – of stolen electrical appliances, to lost dogs to whatever.  Any film director would recognize this scene, as seen in Truffaut’s LA NUIT AMERICAINE (DAI FOR NIGHT).  The director (like the deputy) is supposed to have all the answers to all the problems (in the case of the film director – the colour of the wardrobe, hairstyles, set décor etc).

Though set in the late 70’s the year is never flashed on the screen.  Abrams only hints at the time his film is set.  Hints like the songs heard on the radio, the current appliances (the new Walkman and the popular CB Radio) revealed on screen, trends like disco and the drugs (pot) indicate the setting to be the 70’s.

The family film contains necessary swearing for the sake of authenticity.  The ‘f’ word is heard once and the brown word uttered a few times by the kids.  To counteract, a scene has the kids agree that ‘drugs re bad.”  Though directed by Abrams, SUPER 8 contain a lot of Spielberg touches.  The bicycle and moon shots, the typical chaotic (Spielberg) family with the uncontrollable yelling kids and other favourites of Spielberg are easily noticed.

But what is magnificent about SUPER 8 is the way the film captures the magic of the cinema.  When the actors perform on camera, the film takes on a certain magical journey.  Also cool, is the kids’ zombie film entitled THE CASE, shown over the end credits.  It is great how the kids are learning the importance of storyline, production values and other aspects of a good movie.

If only Abrams would have penned a more credible plot, SUPER 8 would definitely have been the blockbuster summer film of this year and many years to remember.  Abrams should have a note on the importance of credibility to an audience of a movie.

THE TREE OF LIFE (USA 2011) ****
Directed by Terrence Malick


Terrence Malick’s long anticipated new film is given a boost by winning the grand Palme D’Or prize at the recent Cannes Film Festival.  It has everything a Cannes winner possesses, a director’s strong imprint, a strong artistic slant and deals with some controversial topic.  The only difference is that THE TREE OF LIFE is perhaps the only big budget film to win the Palme D’Or.

Malick’s film moves at a snail’s pace for its 2 and a half hour length but his film is mesmerizing.  The shots (cinematographer is Douglas Trumbull) are stunning and his film pushes the audience not only to think but question key human issues like death, loss and eternity.  The film has an imaginative sequence similar to the ending of Kubrick’s 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY, which Trumbull also shot.

The key character is Jack.  Malick traces the evolution of this eleven-year-old boy in the Midwest, Jack, (a wonderful performance by newcomer Hunter McCraken) one of three brothers. At first all seems marvellous to the child. He sees as his mother (Jessica Chastain) does with the eyes of his soul. She represents the way of love and mercy, where the father (Brad Pitt) tries to teach his son the world’s way of putting oneself first. Each film intercuts the childhood with Jack as a grownup executive (Sean Penn) working in a world in which high rise buildings replace the simple farmlands.  The drowning of his brother takes a toll on Jack leading him to question life even as a grown up. His beautiful world, thing of glory, becomes a labyrinth.

Malick poses the inescapable threat of death at the film’s beginning when the O’Brien family listens to a church sermon expounding the fact that no one escapes death or sorrow.  The death of the brother is disturbing to all and each family member copes in a different way.  In the film’s most unwatchable scenes, father abuses his family as he believes he has to treat them rough to survive in a rough world.  Ironically, he gets laid off, after serving faithfully his company without taking a day’s sick leave.

The voiceover explains thoughts and emotions of the characters and implication of incidents rather than relaying facts.  Malick uses images to force his audience to think – a few of these involve the birth of the universe.  The film is set in the 50’s but also moves into the present (where all souls meet, though at different ages, on a beach) and into the beginning of time.

THE TREE OF LIFE is Malick’s most ambitious film and he takes risks in how he wishes to portray an idea or though.  His film feels rough at times moving across time, but one has to hand it to him that THE TREE OF LIFE is one film that is quite unlike any other.

BEST BETS OF THE WEEK:

Best Film Opening This Week: The Tree of life

 

Best Film Playing: Hanna


Best Horror: Insidious
Best Family: Hop
Best Documentary: Bobby Fischer Against the World


Best Foreign: La Princesse de Montpensier


Avoid: Last Night

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