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This Week's Film Reviews (Aug 19, 2011)

19 Aug 2011

Opening this week are the 3D reboots CONAN THE BARBARIAN 3D are FRIGHT NIGHT.

Also opening is ONE DAY and the Norwegian horror TROLL HUNTER.

CONAN THE BARBARIAN (USA 2011) **

Directed by Marcus Nispel


Seems that it is time already for a CONAN THE BARBARIAN reboot.  This week sees two reboots – this one as well as FRIGHT NIGHT.

The original CONAN THE BARBARIAN was something to look forward to with John Milius, the macho action director with two then recent hits BIG WEDNESDAY and THE WIND AND THE LION at his helm. Though over serious with a lack of a strong narrative, Milius’s CONAN with Arnold Schwarzenegger’s leaden acting still entertained.

The new Marcus Nespel 3D version suffers from the same flaws of a weak narrative and an over serious story set elsewhere on which audiences cannot relate to. The film is, at least, lighter in tone with the new CONAN, played by newcomer Jason Momoa looking younger, fresher though not necessarily less leaden.  But the film suffers terribly from freshness and the whole exercise is more than a tad dull.

A quest that begins as a personal vendetta for the fierce Cimmerian warrior soon turns into an epic battle against hulking rivals, horrific monsters, and impossible odds, as Conan (Jason Momoa) realizes he is the only hope of saving the great nations of Hyboria from an encroaching reign of supernatural evil.  The film begins with his mother giving birth to him amidst his fighting father (Ron Pearlman) who later trains him and forges his sword.  That is as much as the plot and story goes.

The actions scenes, particularly the fights with a tentacled monster and the crumbling creatures are impressive but then everyone knows that Conan will come forth the winner.  Most of the other fight sequences are similar.  The lack of good dialogue and punch lines like: “I don’t like you any more”, proves that this reboot entry should have been best left shelved!

FRIGHT NIGHT (USA 2011) **
Directed by Craig Gillespie


Besides being in 3D and having louder explosions and bigger fights than the original FRIGHT NIGHT, the new 3D reboot version is still a lacklustre affair with lots of missed opportunities.

The story by Tom Holland, who wrote and directed the original, remains pretty much the same.  High school senior Charley Brewster (Anton Yelchin) suspects that his new neighbour Jerry Dandrige (Colin Farrell) is a vampire, after several disappearances in the area (including many students at Charley''s school), and decides to investigate. After sneaking into Jerry''s house and taking a few pictures, he finds a place to hide and witnesses Jerry attacking and feeding on a local call girl. Charley enlists the help of his girl friend Amy (Imogen Poots) and Las Vegas magician and self-declared vampire expert Peter Vincent (British TV’s Doctor Who David Tennant) and to help him.

The film works best when director Gillespie (LARS AND THE REAL GIRL, MR. WOODCOCK) plays with the audience’s anticipation i.e. the parts in which Charley is the only one who knows the truth. His trying to convince his mother (Toni Colette) that Jerry is a vampire and not to open the doo to him are the most hilarious.  The fight scenes are too big in a film set in a small town.  Fright NIGHT works best as a little horror film (like the original) than a 3D big special effects blockbuster.

Anton Yelcin is sufficiently wooden as the straight man in this horror flick dotted with laughs.  Gillespie gives Farrell too much license to ham up his role.  This can be observed in one take when the camera lingers on Farrell when he has finished all his lines.  David Tennant does a toned down Russell Brand type character and mummy Colette is just there for the screaming.  The most interesting character, Charley’s geeky friend Ed Thompson (Christopher Mintz-Plasse) is unfortunately done away early in the film, though he has a reprisal as a vampire later on.  One might complain that Mintz-Plasse is reprising his McLovin role from SUPERBAD, but not everyone has seen that film and his character is still the most interesting in the film.

But the laughs, vampire fights, scares are scattered all over the place giving the film a disjointed feeling.  The original is still the better film without the headache of 3D.

GRIFF THE INVISIBLE (Australia 2010) **

Directed by Leon Ford


Nerdy office worker by day and Crusader of Crime by night?  GRIFF THE INVISIBLE (Ryan Kwanten) is this dilemma.  Problems arise when his secret is jeopardized by a romantic interest, Melody (Maeve Dermody) who wishes to aid him in his quest.

This is one superhero movie in which the audience sees more of the hero beaten up than normal.  Griff is tormented by one colleague to no end.  Griff’s one retaliation leads him to being beaten up in the alley.  One would expect a film of this nature to contain a lot of highs when the bad guys get their come-uppance.  No such luck in Ford’s movie.  At least Ford is brave enough to attempt something different in his film.

How Griff gets invisible is not really convincing either.  Apparently, one can buy stuff at a store that will do it.

When the film leads to a climatic confrontation or fight (as when Tim confronts Griff), Ford pills his movie back with restraint.  The biggest question then is why Griff does not just beat up after being tormented so many times since he obviously could do so when he is the superhero.

The film falters from being a romantic comedy, an action flick or a film with a strong message.  Perhaps the world can make us invisible or courage can make us incredible?  Ford is as indecisive as Griff on where he wants his film to go.

The lack of a strong narrative coupled with the fact that the film detours in too many directions eventually leads to the film also failing as a crowd pleaser owing to its slow pace.  At least this is one of the superhero films that attempts to tackle the twin problems of harsh reality and superhero fantasy.

ONE DAY (USA 2011) ***

Directed by Lone Scherfig


(This review contains a spoiler.  The spoiler is in bold lettering towards the review end.)

The ONE DAY in the film’s title refers to the story revealing one day (the same day of July the 15th St Swithin’s Day) for 20 years in the lives of the two protagonists, Dexter (Jim Sturgess) and Emma (Anne Hathaway).

The two initially meet for a quickie after their graduation at Edinburgh University.  The two decide to be friends and not lovers though they do make uses of benefits.  As the years pass, each get married to their respective spouses, but the one thing on their minds is what could have happened in if they married and loved each other.  She becomes a successful writer after a stinge in teaching while he fails as a TV presenter.  Wonder what fields they graduated in.

Scherfig makes it clear that the two friends do love each other.  And she gets it right to the point when Emma’s husband tells Dexter at one point that Emma brings out the decency in him while it is he that makes her happy.

Not one for comedy, Scherfig could have lightened up her film a bit.  She misses several opportunities for comedy.  Shooting a segment of Dexter fumbling up as a TV presenter or Ian during a stand-up comic appearance would have been very funny.

Her film aims more for the serious.  To her credit, she often gets under the skin of her characters to reveal the hidden good and evils.  She does this best with the Ian (Rafe Spall) character.  Ian is revealed as both a very good husband but an irritating one.  But she keeps the bad stuff Dexter does off screen.  There are no nude scenes of Dexter bedding down his other flings or of his cocaine use.  She also lower the dramatic confrontations between the two friends a notch down.  The overall effect is a more melodramatic pensive film than a full fletched drama with more bite.

It does not matter whether Hathaway spots an accurate Brit accent or not in this movie.  Everyone knows her as an American and that really spoils it for her in the role.  Her initial appearances in the film with her glasses after her graduation from the Edinburgh University are not too flattering.   Suppose she were forced to wear them to look the studious type.  At one point in the film, she bears an uncanny resemblance to Audrey Hepburn – so did the lead Carey Mulligan in Scherfig’s last movie.  Sturgess comes across as annoying but his character is supposed to be that way.

ONE DAY aims to be a tearjerker weepy.  The story could have taken another route but scriptwriter David Nicholls who also wrote the book chose this ending.  Spoiler Alert: Scherfig shot the accident with Emma innocently riding her bicycle her normal route, when a van appears out of nowhere and rams her down, no doubt jolting the audience right out of their seats due to pure unexpected shock. Though no doubt, she meant her audience to suddenly sit up, the fact that this type of shot has been used more than once before in other films, does leave a bad taste in ones mouth that ones emotions have been deliberately manipulated.

ONE DAY leaves the audience wet in their eyes for no solid reason.  Though the film is not a romance but rather a film about love not consummated, the main message to the audience would but to realize how life would have turned out under different lovers.  ONE DAY is recommended to those who like a good cry.

SARAH’S KEY (ELLE S’APPELAIT SARAH) (France 2010) ****

Directed by Gilles Paquet-Brenner


The moving holocaust drama based on a kid Sarah''s story makes its debut this week in Toronto after a successful run in Europe.

When her mother, herself and father are rounded up as Jews during the July of 1942, Sarah locks her little brother in the bedroom closet (their secret hiding place) forcing him to promise never ever to make a sound and only to let her unlock him out.  A little girl’s promise means a lot.

Locked up in a temporary roundup camp, Sarah escapes to unlock her brother only to find her old apartment occupied by another French family.  It turns out that the family that of the husband of Julia Jarmond (Kristin Scott Thomas), assigned to write a story of his Vel’d’Hiv roundup in 1942.  She discovers the truth and hunts down Sarah’s family and whereabouts causing friction between herself and her husband (Frederic Pieerot).  These are two stories.

Director Brenner intercuts both but it is clear that the Sarah’s story is the more interesting one compared to Julia’s.  It is on when the two stories meet when Julia finds Sarah’s family that the film gains momentum.  Last year’s Cesar winner for Best Supporting Actor (for UN PROPHETE) Neils Arestrup is cast as a sympathetic farmer who risks his and his wife’s lives to aid Sarah in her escape.

The suspenseful train sequence when he, his wife and Sarah travel without documents is something right out of a Hitchcock movie.  SARAH’S KEY contains many sentimental moments especially when Sarah’s son is confronted with the truth and he realizes that he has lived for 50 years under a lie with his life meaning nothing.  Compelling, entertaining and emotional wrenching, SARAH’S KEY makes one of the most moving films about the holocaust.

The film is based on Tatiana de Rosnay’s book, ELLE S’APPELAIT SARAH spent many weeks on the New York Times best seller list and sold well over 2 million copies worldwide.

TERRI (USA 2011) ***
Directed by Azazel Jacob


TERRI is a little film about a big boy called Terri(Jacob Wyscoki).  So big is he that he is known around the school he attends as having the largest tits.

Writer/director Azazel Jacob(MOMMA’S MAN) appears intent on laying on affliction upon affliction on his poor protagonist Terri.  Not only is his overweight problem hampering his social activities, but Terri is burdened with the task for caring for his uncle (Creed Bratton) suffering from dementia.  He is bullied in school but worse of all he is disillusioned with life and has no daily purpose.  This results in him wearing his pajamas to school and thus sent to the vice principal, Mr. Fitzgerald (John C. Reilly) whose unorthodox methods of dealing with misfits classifies him as equally odd.

It is here that director Jacob works out Terri’s problems.  His forced interaction with Mr. Fitzgerald and other misfits, particularly Chad (Bridger Zadina) that Terri matures and learns life’s lessons.

The message in the film is not evidently apparent, but Jacob delivers the message head on half way through the film similar to delivering the film’s climax way too early in the film.  According to Mr. Fitzgerald: “Make use of the best of what life has to offer”!  That in reality is very sound advice.  Of course, one could argue that one could do better by improving oneself or improving the current situation.  But that is not the point.  Once the Jacob’s message is delivered, the film stagnates.  Jacob could have progressed his film further by perhaps showing that there could have been more than could be done.

Still, the interaction of the film’s characters and the fact that he offers loser Terri a genuine chance in life makes an interesting film.  But that is not all.  In fact Jacob shows also that a very attractive person as in the character of Heather (Olivia Crococchia) undergoes social difficulties as well.

All the actors are unknown professionals except for Reilly who has appeared before in Hollywood films like STEP BROTHERS and TALADEGA NIGHTS.  Performances are genuine and Jacob’s film is rooted in authenticity of real events and problems of a troubled teenager.

TROLLHUNTER (Norway 2011) ***

Directed by Andre Ovredal


Apparently there is a lot to learn about Norwegian folklore.  Last year, director Jalmari Helander revealed to the world in the film RARE EXPORTS: A CHRISTMAS TALE that Santa Claus was in reality an evil giant monster that eats children during Christmas.

In Norway’s latest export TROLLHUNTER, audiences will learn that trolls are not just fictitious monsters in Norwegian fairy tales but come in all shapes and sizes (some fairly huge).  Their true existence is kept secret by some government agency called Troll Management.  At the start of the film, it is mentioned that a huge amount of film footage have been found and these have been verified authentic material and that what we are about to see (chronically) is true and real.

All thus fictitious fodder makes really intriguing premise for a troll horror film with a twist of comedy. Writer/director Ovredal takes great pains (a bit too much, in fact that the film lags) to explain troll folklore.  Trolls turn into stone when hit by ultraviolet light.  So, hunters travel with ultra violet guns, just as werewolf hunters carry silver bullets and vampire hunters crosses or wooden stakes.  Trolls smell Christian blood (a Muslin character wonders about herself in the film) and eat animals and rocks.  Trolls  will not detect human beings if they rub their bodies with troll manure, disgusting as it is.

Shot in a vérité style, Troll Hunter is the story of a group of Norwegian film students led by Thomas (Glenn Erland Trosterud) and Johanna (Johanna Morch) that set out to capture real-life trolls on camera after learning their existence has been covered up for years by a government conspiracy. They follow a troll hunter, who at first wants nothing to do with them.  Eventually being fed up with bad pay and poor hours with no special troll benefits, Hans (Otto Jespersen) relents and allows the students to film and follow him in his hunting.

TROLLHUNTER, because of its fake documentary/cinema vérité style has the same feel as the PARANORMAL ACTIVITY and BLAIR WITCH PROJECT films.  But, thankfully, the audience is spared here from the shaky camera which can only be tolerated for a short time.

Ovredal piques the audience interest too soon.  All the troll information made up of course is relatively interesting, but he goes overboard and with too much information and too little action.  There will be, undoubtedly some in the audience who will be plain fascinated and others a bit bored with all the troll paraphernalia.  The film is basically a c comedy dotted with action horror.  The blend is inconsistently mixed.  Still, the audience should be satisfied with an exciting enough climax complete with furious giant trolls creating havoc on human beings.  The overall nicely done film has great shots of Norwegian forests, lakes, rivers and of course, the fiords, illustrating the scenic wonders of Norway.

Reviewer’s notes:

I have been to Norway, to me the most beautiful place I have ever been in the world and own a tourist T-shirt with trolls on it!

TROLLHUNTER has a limited run beginning this week at the Royal Cinema on College Street in Toronto.

WHIRLIGIG (Canada 2011) ***
Directed by Chaz Thorne


After the weird odd very black comedy JUST BURIED (2007) writer/director Chaz Thorne debuts once again with another quirk comedy again set in Nova Scotia.

This time around the setting is normal.  No funeral home to be inherited or living to be killed to bring in business as in JUST BURIED.  An ordinary house, settled in by a couple, Viv (Jennifer Overton) and Al (Brian Downey) by the sea for retirement.  But into their lives arrives their young son, Nicholas (Gregory Smith of THE PATRIOT) after a failed business venture.  Damned if they would let their fast-talking, freeloading son is going to ruin it for them.  Viv resolves to get Nicholas out of the house and back on his feet, even if it destroys him.

As events unfold, weirdly I might add, Nick ends up having an affair with the neighbour’s wife, Nina (Fiona Hughet) just as his mother flirts with the neighbour.  The film feels odd here as Nick is sleeping and falling in heads over heels in love with someone old enough to be his mother. That is the pleasure of Thorne’s weird sense of humour in his storytelling.  His film runs often uneasily on uneven ground, mixing drama and comedy.

His film works best as comedy as in the film’s first 30 minutes where most segments are laugh out loud funny.  One good thing about the film too, is that anything can happen, given Thorne’s record of storytelling.  The film also brings a good old Nova Scotia feeling to things, as the voice of the airline captain says in the announcement at the start of the film “If you are staying in Nova Scotia, lucky for you!”

As expected, the ending is unpredictable though it ends on a good note.  WHIRLIGIG ends up as  a entertaining little film about very odd people made by maybe an equally odd person about how to survive (as in JUST BURIED) given any odd situation in life.

BEST BETS OF THE WEEK:

Best Film Opening This Week:  Sarah''s Key 

 

                                                          Best Film Playing: Attack the Block
Best Comedy: Bridesmaids
Best Family: Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2
Best Documentary: Project Nim
Best Foreign: Sarah''s Key

Avoid: The Change Up

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