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This Week's Film Reviews (Jul 1, 2011)

01 Jul 2011

Opening this week besides TRANSFORMERS: DARK SIDE OF THE MOON are romantic comedies MONTE CARLO and LARRY CROWNE.


The Fellini Retrospective begins this week at Bell Tiff Lightbox.

ARMADILLO (Denmark 2010) ***
Directed by Janus Metz


ARMADILLO, winner of the Cannes Critics Week prize is very similar in theme to the recent American RESTREPO where an entire mission of a group of soldiers is recorded on camera in Afghanistan.  But where RESTREPO was entirely made-up, ARMADILLO is supposed to be 100% genuine.

In ARMADILLO (the name of active military base, used to support tactical operations in Helmand, Afghanistan), Danish and British troops are responsible for providing security to the surrounding area and eliminating any Taliban insurgency.  But the camera follows a group of Danish soldiers stationed in Armadillo through an entire tour of duty  Metz captures both the boredom and the horror of the situation highlighting  the danger of fighting and death while coping with each other and the memory of their loved ones left behind in Denmark.

Director Metz stated his intention of placing the viewer in a position where he/she could say that it’s not even possible to know what was going.  He accomplishes the feat by getting his audience to relate to his characters and feel for them by documenting their daily routine during the mission.  Metz brings his film to a satisfying finish with the soldiers returning home to a grand welcome back at the airport.

But one problem of the film is the question of how the camera manages to record all the dangerous battle scenes in the movie as the film is supposed to be a documentary.

MONTE CARLO (USA 2011) *
Directed by Tom Bezucha


MONTE CARLO is loosely based on the novel HEADHUNTERS in which 3 middle-aged women pretend to be wealthy heiresses searching for their dream beaus.  In the film version catered for a more youthful audience, the 3 leads are now high school graduates with the main actress Disney star Selena Gomez playing the lead.

The result is a terribly unfunny romantic teen or preteen comedy that has a totally unconvincing mistaken identity story.  Grace (Gomez) and her best friend, Emma (Katie Cassidy) save up for their dream trip to Paris.  Come that day, and Grace’s uptight stepsister, Meg (Leighton Meester) is forced by the parents to tag along.  Needless to say, the three will nicely bond at the film’s end.  Before that, their Paris tour group turns out to be the worse ever imagined.  Director Mezucha could have milked these segments for more laughs but opts instead more interested in showing audiences how pretty Paris is.

In Paris, Grace is mistaken for a rich Brit heiress Cordelia Winthrop Scott (nicely played by Gomez) and the three enjoy the deception by being whisked to Monte Carlo, no expense spared.  But the story is too far-fetched, that the trio would not be billed for anything or that even the closest friends could not tell that Grace is not Cordelia.  Aunt Alicia (British comedieene Catherine Tate, the best thing about this movie), at least recognizes the scam.

The biggest potential for a great climatic hilarity is sadly wasted.  Near the film’s close, Emma’s Texan boyfriend shows up, the real heiress Cordelia discovers the truth and brings in the police, while Grace’s and Meg’s beaus suddenly appear out of nowhere.  Instead of engineering the film into a possible unforgettable hilarious climax, the film sizzles instead to sappiness where romance is flung to the air.

MONTE CARLO is formulaic, unbelievable and boring despite having a feel-good dream come true type plot.  In the end, it turns out that it is not Grace but the film that is the biggest imposter (for entertainment).

LE NOM DES GENS (THE NAMES OF LOVE) (France 2010) **

Directed by Michel Leclerc


French films are renowned for their inventive premises.  LE NOM DES GENS has quite the novel one, despite it being in reality a romantic comedy.  It is one between a man and a woman who are as strange as their ethnic backgrounds.

The film is an offbeat comedy that gently satirizes many hot-button topics – including anti-Semitism, Arab-Jewish relations, immigration and racial/cultural identity – in contemporary France.  The film centres on a young left-winger, Baya (Sarah Forestier) who lives by the classic motto “make love not war.  She literally sleeps with the enemy and when they fall for her, changes their political ideals to the left.  She is fascinated with Arthur Martin (Jacques Gamblin), a French Jew whose parents were deported.  They fall in love.

Director Leclerc tries too hard to make his film quirky and different.  His film begins for one, like a history lesson, with events occurring one after another as if, they are so important.  Unfortunately, half the time, his tactics do not work.  One segment of the film requires Maya to forget to wear her clothes while taking the metro.  This is not only highly unbelievable but puts this character to the point of crazy.  Also the premise that a guy would change the political stance of a trick is improbable.  They would more likely deem her a dumb chick.

The misadventures of the two would be entertaining if the mishaps were funnier.  One detects that Leclerc lacks the knack of creating laughs.

LE NOM DES GENS was the film chosen to open the Cannes critic’s week in 2010.  Actress Forestier also won the Cesar (French Academy Award) for Best Actress.  Though good, she is not that impressive, showing off more skin than talent, just as Leclerc’s film is more hype than substance.  If only this film which has an important message to tell had been more sincere instead of bogus, the message would have gone through more effectively.

TRANSFORMERS: DARK SIDE OF THE MOON (USA 2011) ***
Directed by Michael Bey


TRANSFORMERS 3 (the previous title) takes a full 10 minutes or so to establish the story and situation of the story.  Necessary of course, to bring audience to understand what is happening, despite the simple story line.

When the war on Cybertron between the Autobots and Decepticons appears lost to the Autobots, their leader, Sentinel Prime (voice of Peter Cullen), attempts to launch the Ark from their planet, containing technology that could have saved his kind. Attacked by Starscream, it crashes on Earth''s moon in 1961. President John F. Kennedy makes his famous promise to the nation to put a man on the moon.  To tie history with the film’s story, the audience is supposed to believe the 1969 NASA moon landing is actually an investigation of the wrecked spacecraft.

As hero Sam Witwicky (Shia LaBeouf, looking more beefy) goes into adulthood, the Autobots are busy as they learn of a Cybertronian spacecraft on the Moon and must race against the Decepticons to find it and learn its secrets, which could turn the tide into the apocalyptic final battle.  Sam has a new girlfriend (Rosie Huntington-Whiteley) who has a superjob with handsome boss (Patrick Dempsey) who is more than what he appears to be.

For the $200 million movie, director Michael Bey goes all out and often over-the-top in all departments.  For example he follows a long action sequence with a shot of the sexy curves of Rosie Huntington-Whiteley – a total contrast of mood and atmosphere.

Two of the writers of the TRANSFORMERS 2 and Megan Fox were dropped from the movie by Bey and executive producer Steven Spielberg.  A good thing, as the English supermodel playing the romantic interest is quite the sex bomb.  The dialogue in this movie is also over-the-top.  This is in a good way, as the humour, for example in the banter between Sam’s parents (Julie White and Kevin Dunn) is bitingly hilarious as in the first TRANSFORMERS and also verbal discourse between Charlotte and Agent Seymour.  Humour was notably missing in TRANSFORMERS 2 and that film was flat out dull.

The film’s story is as simple as it can get.  Roughly spit into two parts, the film consists of action segments and human segments.  The latter are interesting enough and even if the basics are not, Bey goes overboard again with the emotions and looks (like the initial confrontation of the two lovers) so that boring is never in any scene.

The comedic set-ups are impressive.  Agent Seymour’s (JohnTurturro) TV interview (which he calls ambush journalism), Sam’s job interview with first boss, Bruce (John Melodic) and the build up of the anal retentive character of the US Secretary of Defence, Charlotte Mearing (Frances McDormand) are priceless moments of hilarity.

On the fighting front, the special effects and CGI take over.  Though very impressive technically, it is still hard to distinguish the good from the bad robots (Autobots and Decepticons) initially.  Still the transformation of the mechanical beings from car ro robot as they thunder over the highways is impressive, to say the least!

TRANSFORMERS 3 follows the Michael Bey school of thinking that sequels be louder, bigger and more of the original.  That said, the film succeeds more than expected and box-office results should make the man happy judging from the enthusiastic audience at the promotional screening.  Of course, certain critics were reeling in their seats.

THE TRIP (UK 2010) ***

Directed by Michael Winterbottom


What happens when you have first two class comedians playing themselves embark on a 3-day road trip?  The result is an often very hilarious film as the audience observes the two annoy each other to death or compete with each other at who can do the better James Bond or Michael Caine impressions.

Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon travel the North of England through the Lake District and Yorkshire Moors on an assignment for The Observer.  They dine the best gourmet restaurants while driving each other mad.  If they are not arguing about what is the best music to be played with the current landscape, they are testing each other to no end at the silliest of things including whether Wales or Northern England has made the most to impress the world.  They do impressions of celebs like Woody Allen, Al Pacino, Dustin Hoffman and countless Michael Caine’s, compete who can sing the greater number of octaves and make side comments when each gourmet dish is served at the various restaurants.  Coogan and Bryd are gifted comics as evident in their comedic timing.  The beauty of Northern England is nicely captured on film and the audience will no doubt be fascinated at the gourmet entries served at the quaint restaurants.

Winterbottom has a message snugly delivered that family and loved ones are more important than any amount of fame.  He also has a cameo from a major star snuggled into the film through Coogan’s dream.

I found THE TRIP extremely funny the first time viewing, but on second viewing found it a bit tiring at times – like a road trip gone on for too long.

BEST BETS OF THE WEEK:


Best Film Opening This Week: The Trip
Best Film Playing: Hanna
Best Horror: Insidious
Best Family: Hop
Best Documentary: The Future is Now!
Best Foreign: Potiche

Avoid: Monte Carlo