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This Week's Film Reviews (June 17, 2011)

17 Jun 2011

Opening this week are MR. POPPER’S PENGUINS and GREEN LANTERN.  It will be a tough call which one will come on top at the box-office.

Also opening are BEGINNERS and the Sundance hit THE ART OF GETTING BY.

THE ART OF GETTING BY (US 2011) ****

Directed by Gavin Wiesen


Kids these days have motivational problems.  In SUBMARINE that opened last wee, the protagonist only gets out of bed if he finds some reason to.  In THE ART OF GEETING BY, high school student George (English actor Freddie Highmore) refuses to do homework as he does not see the point of it as every human being ultimately dies.

THE ART OF GETTING BY (original title at Sundance was HOMEWORK) is essentially a romantic comedy with the subplot of coming-of-age, very much like the excellent (500) DAYS OF SUMMER two years back.  These two films work very well, as the director manipulates the audience without the audience fully aware, allowing the audience to experience and discover truths about the lead character as the plot develops.

George will not graduate unless he changes his ways.  He has not done any assignments though his teachers recognise his talent.  But as the story develops, George meets and falls for Sally (Emma Roberts).  But his non-committal nature leads a past art graduate (Michael Angarano) to steal her away from him.  This and another event (will not be revealed here) force him to wake up and realise that one has to act to survive in the short life on the planet.

Freddie Highmore is charming and winning as the kid forced to grow up by circumstance yes, within his control.  Sally has more problems than George, and most of hers out of her control, though these are brushed off with her saying: “I don’t know!” Though the supporting cast is not half bad, it is Highmore that carries the film.

In the film, the school gives George a second chance.  George has to hand in all his missed work in 3 weeks and pass his exam.  But in real life, this is extra work for the teacher and no teacher would likely make this exception as this would create a precedence.  Can a year’s work that includes trigonometry, biology, art and literature to be completed in 3 weeks?  This is also no easy feat.  But, hey!  We are at the movies where magic happens.  A majority of the audience would more than forgive these plot flaws.

This is not the first indie film about love and growing up.  It seems that this is one of the most common themes.  But Wiesen’s film is charming though a bit trying at times and eventually comes out a winner just like its protagonist!

BEGINNERS (USA 2010) ***
Directed Mike Mills


What would you do if your 70-year old father came out of the closet so that he can live his gay life practically and no more theoretically?  In the case of 38-year old, Oliver (Ewan McGregor), the answer is to go into recluse.

He is unable to accept his father Hal’s (Christopher Plummer) new happiness and new boyfriend, Andy (Goran Visnjic) as he starts having problems with his own newly found girlfriend (Melanie Laurent from INGLOURIOUS BASTERDS).  As the film title implies, both father and son are beginners in their new relationships.  Director Mills tells the twin stories of the two, while infusing lots of sentiment, hilarity and heartfelt emotions all at the same time.  Humour is provided, mainly in the form of Oliver’s Jack Russell who can understand about 150 words of English.  Everyone once in a while, his thoughts are indicated to the audience via word balloons.

But Mill’s emphasis is how the father’s coming out affects his son’s life.  Mills lays all the cards on the table in he film’s first 10 minutes, talking about the father’s coming out and 4 years of living before dying of cancer, then flashbacks to relate what happens in between, which is the film’s focus.  Plummer is utterly charming in his role while McGregor delivers an understated but effective performance.  This is McGregor’s second gay role after I LOVE YOU, PHILLIP MORRIS.

The dialogue is clever at times.  At stage 4 cancer, Hal says it all means that the cancer has passed 3 stages while Oliver pessimistically says that there is no Stage 5.  The script also contains an unexpected twist when Hal talks about his marriage of 44 years to Oliver.

But though Mill’s film is never short on charm, his film lacks depth and insight. For example, the reason for Hal’s really late coming out is not satisfying.  I first saw the film at the Toronto International Film Festival last year and though I liked the film, could hardly recall anything about it.

GREEN LANTERN (USA 2011) **
Directed by Martin Campbell


The latest entry to the film comic book series is the GREEN LANTERN.  This hero (Ryan Reynolds) joins the troupe of other alien super guardians of the universe.

The green light chooses Hal, who begins training.  He loses interest but comes back to save his planet and also the universe with the corny belief that if there is a will, there is a way – the way of the GREEN LANTERN.

The film is interesting but sometimes odd in parts.  With the story set far away from the planet earth, the film looks more like a sci-fi STAR WARS type film than a superhero movie.

It does not take long for the audience to lose interest in Green Lantern.  Once the audience is lost, it is hard to get them back on track.  It is analogous to the film’s plot when the story suddenly takes a turn when Hal loses interest in training to become a superhero when he thinks he was wrongly chose and good enough.  The film makes a weird turn with Hal courting the girl and ironically losing audience interest.

For an over $200 millions film, the special effects and CGI scenes are no doubt impressive.  The battle between the Green Lantern and the monster which is invading earth with its multiple tentacles is breathtaking.

The format of GREEN LANTERN follows the typical comic book movie (SPIDERMAN, SUPERMAN) with a slight twist.  Each of these films has for example, the hero charm their girlfriend, and go through the process of learning to master their newly found super powers.  The script adds more humour and a darker twist here.  The girl in this case, is totally disgusted at the hero initially, and able to guess this identity poking fun at the ridiculous fact that a mask cannot hide the fact that both have known each other for years.  The training of the super hero takes the form of learning from a wisecracking Kilowog (Michael Clarke Duncan).  I wonder about the racial naming of this character.

But director Campbell seems undecided what to do with the script.  He appears to be rehashing old formula with a twist instead of infusing fresh material.  For a $200 million movie, this is clearly not enough.  The money and special and 3D effects are largely wasted with a familiar storyline, predictable climax and lacklustre effort in the imagination department.

The film ends with the possibility of a better sequel.  So, the audience should stay till the close of the end credit.

One could blame the original story of the DC comic book Green Lantern for the narrative mess and lack of punch of the film.  But filmmakers can and have made excellent films out of bad material, for example the cheesy Ian Fleming spy novels.

One would expect a better film from Martin Campbell who directed the two Bond movies GoldenEye and Casino Royale than this noisy nonsense.  But I shudder to think what he will do with the remake of the Alfred Hitchcock classic THE BIRDS.

MR. POPPER’S PENGUINS (USA 2011) **

Directed by Mark Waters


In MR. POPPER’S PENGUINS, Mr. Popper (Jim Carry) a successful driven businessman is clueless when it comes to the important things in life - until he inherits (don’t ask how) six penguins.· Apparently the scriptwriter, director and crew are also clueless on what how to make this family comedy work.

The film is really loosely based in the classic children’s book of the same name.· In the book, Mr. Popper is a poor house painter who only inherits one penguin. The penguin is mated and before long or 10 babies later, Mr. Popper has designed a circus act to save the penguins.· No such thing in the film.· The script by Sean Anders, John Morris and Hared Stern has Mr. Popper neglect his two children for his business.· He is a divorcee and the kids want him back with mother (Carla Gugino).· The scriptwriters turned a children’s classic into Hollywood rubbish!

If the story sounds familiar, it should be as the film is made up of one cliché after another.· Not only that, but director Waters ups the cutesy factor with the penguins.· Thank God penguins do not have long arms or they will be hugging as well.· Carrey is downright annoying making silly faces, loud noises and doing stupid antics that he should have outgrown by this stage.· His last movie I LOVE YOU, PHILLIP MORRIS did show a more matured and restrained actor.· The humour is strained and I only recall one part that I laugh out aloud.· (I will not reveal this joke as it is a precious and only one in the movie.)

Most of the supporting cast are largely wasted especially Angela Lansbury who should have been offered more.· The exception is British Ophelia Lovibond as Mr. Popper’s British assistant.

At one point in the movie, Mr. Popper says: “Have I ever disappointed anybody?”· The audience of this film surely knows the answer to that question.

TRUE LEGEND (China 2010) **
Directed by Woo-ping Yuen


After an absence of 10 years, martial-arts choreographer/director (Jackie Chan’s DRUNKEN MASTER, IRON MONKEY), Woo-ping Yuen makes his comeback with a stunningly exciting and action choreographed martial-arts flick that unfortunately fails in other departments.  The film finally opens in North America after making huge losses in Asia.

The setting is period China when the foreigners (the whites) are invading China and treating the poor Chinese as dogs.  General Su (Man Cheuk Chiu) has just rescued the prince in a spectacular staged fortress invasion at the film’s start that is hardly to beat in the rest of the film’s action sequences.  Su retires with his family but his peaceful lie is shattered when his vengeful adopted brother,Yuan Lie kills Su’s father, kidnaps his son and leaves Su for dead. Saved from his demise by his wife Ying and the reclusive doctor Yu, (Michelle Yeoh making a welcome special appearance), Su resolves to perfect his technique so that he may defeat Yuan Lie and reunite his family. Aided by the mystical "God of Wushu" and the eccentric "Old Sage," Su masters the art of Drunken Boxing, and embarks on the path that would eventually give rise to the legend of the "King of Beggars." DRUNKEN FIST was the alternative title for this film.

This is not the first time director Yen has dealt with drunken fighting (DRUNKEN MASTER for Golden Harvest films).  But the drunken art of fighting is only introduced after ¾ of the film is through, and does not really seem as if Su needed this to win his final battles.  While the early films were tapped for comedy, TRUE LEGEND treats these fighting segments with 100% seriousness.  The sequences look odd and out of place.

The film also falls into the same traps that most bad martial-arts films fall into.  Predictable plot, overacting (especially by Man Cheuk Chiu in the parts when he is recovering from the broken arm), poor pacing, editing and the lack of a proper climax are some of them.  The most obvious is the latter with the film stretching on after the audience has the feel that the film should have already ended.

Nevertheless, the fight scenes are phenomenal.  Director Yuen has assembled a few like the fight in the shaft and the fortress invasion that are amazing.  To his credit the decent into madness of a pupil over trained and obsessed in martial-arts is a topic that has never or seldom being touched in any martial-arts film.

See TRUE LEGEND for the fights!

 

BEST BETS OF THE WEEK:


Best Film Opening This Week: The Art of Getting By
Best Film Playing: Hanna
Best Horror: Insidious
Best Family: Hop
Best Documentary: African Cats    

Best Foreign:  Potiche

Avoid: Mr. Popper’s Penguins

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