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This Week's Film Reviews (Sep 23, 2011)

23 Sep 2011

Opening this week are ABDUCTION, THE KILLER ELITE, MONEYBALL and the Hong Kong hit DETECTIVE DEE AND THE MYSTERY THE PHANTOM FLAME.

For dolphin lovers, there is a doc on the mammal in 3D.

ABDUCTION (USA 2011) *

Directed by John Singleton

The film centres upon a Nathan Harper (Taylor Lautner, the very good looking teen from TWILIGHT), who has had the uneasy feeling that he''s living someone else''s life.  He sees a shrink (Sigourney Weaver) for the problem.

When he stumbles upon an image of himself as a little boy on a missing persons website, all of Nathan''s darkest fears come true: he realizes his parents are not his own and his life is a lie, carefully fabricated to hide something more mysterious and dangerous than he could have ever imagined. Just as he begins to piece together his true identity, Nathan is targeted by a team of trained killers, forcing him on the run with the only person he can trust, his neighbour, Karen (Lily Collins). Every second counts as Nathan and Karen race to evade an army of assassins and federal operatives.  He finds his true father, who saves him and the day.

For a movie with an ok TV movie type premise, everything else in the film backfires.  Singleton’s direction is atrocious.  He seems to be going through the motions resulting in an absolutely boring piece with action scenes that are no less exciting than watching a Road Runner cartoon.  For a film that should contain a bit of violence and language, thus film would be ok rated for toddlers.  The editing is awful as witnessed in the climactic scene taking place in a stadium full of baseball fans.  All potential for excitement like a possible stampede or crowd pandemonium is left unutilized.  Even Singleton is unable to sap some sentimentality from the re between Nathan and his real father.  Though this would be sappy, it would otherwise lift the film out of the doldrums.

Lautner is hoping that this film with him in a starring role carrying the piece would put him in the same shoes as Tom Cruise, whom it is reported, he admires.  No way!  Lautner thinks acting means squinting the eyes.  The guy playing the hot dog vender in the film does a better job than Lautner.  Lily Collins as his romantic interest fares just as badly.  Alfred Molina as Agent Frank Burton and Mario Bello as the mother add just a little class to the otherwise classless act.

It is hard to believe that John Singleton directed the unforgettable BOYZ N THE HOOD.  This poor man’s (or rather, beggar’s version) of UNKNOWN made strictly for Lautner fans would best be forgotten as a really embarrassing piece of brown stuff.  The film is over-rated on Rotten Tomatoes with a 0%.

DETECTIVE DEE AND THE MYSTERY THE PHANTOM FLAME

(HK/Chin 2010) **
Directed by Tsui Hark

Hong Kong director is well known for his martial arts films in the east and west and his latest feature DETECTIVE DEE AND THE MYSTERY THE PHANTOM FLAME is a welcome wait.

The film is part action, part mystery as the title implies.  DETECTIVE DEE (Andy Lau) has the undaunted task of solving the mystery of what makes a person explode (or implode if the origin is from within the body) into flames.  Is it poison taken ignited by the heat of the sun?  This phenomenon has occurred quite the few times and everyone has his theory.

Detective Dee is a real character, an apparent celebrated officer of the Tang Dynasty, but the stories of him in the book and the film are fictionalized.

The script, written by Chen Kupfu film is an adaptation of the book, Detective Dee and the Mystery of the Phantom Flame, authored by Lin Qianyu.  But like most of Hark’s films, narrative is not the director’s strong point.  The result is a film that jumps all over the place despite its relatively simple plot.   The logic is at times difficult to follow.  But also like most of Hark’s films, the beauty is in the film’s choreographed action sequences.  The art direction and fight choreography is done this time round by Sammo Hung, himself an actor and martial arts expert.  Needless to say, his input is what makes this film.  If one ignores the mystery part (too many red herrings) and just enjoy the fights (the swordplay is exemplary) and simple story, the film is quite entertaining.

DETECTIVE DEE AND THE MYSTERY THE PHANTOM FLAME went on to win Hong Kong Film Awards for Best Director, Best Actress (Carina Lau), Best Costumes, Visuals (especially the underground bazaar segments)and Production Design.  It is just too bad that Sammo Hung did not win for Best Fight Choreography.  (Yes, there is such a category for the HK Film Awards).  There is a 3D sequel in the planning.

THE KILLER ELITE (USA 2011) ***1/2
Directed by Gary McKendry

Director Gary McKendry’s first feature is Jason Statham’s first thinking man’s action film.

The film is smart, action-packed with a fairy tale look with characters that are not black and white bad or good.  Danny Bryce (Statham) is forced out of retirement  of Britain''s Elite Special Air Service (Jason Statham) to help his mentor (Robert De Niro) taken captive.  Because it is the right thing to do!  The impossible mission is to kill three assassins of the SAS dispatched by their cunning leader (Clive Owen) years back for a killing.

Statham is once again an efficient killing machine but his dream is to retire in a farm with his girlfriend.  There is an extended (slightly incredible) action sequence in which Danny fights his way out while tied to a chair.  But to help his mentor, he is taking no money for the job as it is the right thing to do even when his private life is threatened.  Owen plays an ambiguous nasty and Robert De Niro as the ‘voice of experience’ has the film’s best lines.

The pairing of Owen and Statham lifts the film one step up in the action film status.  The film feels like a Frederick Forsyth or John Le Care espionage novel, mostly because the SAS is involved.  Though this film got mixed reviews at TIFF where it premiered, I found this exercise totally entertaining.

LIMELIGHT (USA 2011) ***
Directed by Billy Corben

 

The Limelight was one of New York’s most famous nightclubs, but beneath its glamour and celebrity was an underworld of drugs, betrayal and murder. Billy Corben’s latest documentary LIMELIGHT is less about this nightclub but more about its creator Peter Gatien through his career and the business of clubbing that nearly destroyed him.

Corben traces Gatien’s history, beginning with his early career in Canada, and captures the historical role the Limelight played in New York’s music and dance scene.  While Gatien kept a low profile, his club became a hotbed for drugs and a focal point for the NYPD. With countless raids and drug busts, and the murder conviction of Limelight’s party promoter, Michael Alig, the Limelight’s days were numbered. Gatien became the centre of a federal investigation that unearthed a dramatic string of corruption and lies leading all the way to the police force. It is clear from the movie that Corben is on Gatien’s side, where his movie proves that the New York judicial system is inapt at nailing Gatien.  But one important point that Corben brings out is that Gatien did not, in any way profit from the sale of any drugs.  The film puts more emphasis on Gatien’s trials than on club culture or how a club of this stature operates.  It would be more satisfying if Corben included more club partying footage in the film.  After all, those interested in this movie would likely be those who have frequented one of Gatien’s clubs – like me for one.

The film puts the man high on the pedestal of successful nightclub creator.  One wishes that some mention be made of the luscious club Gatien opened in the Entertainment district in Toronto – called Circa.  Circa, (I have been there), was one of the best and most glamorous clubs ever in Toronto, but it closed down, not because of the cops or drugs but because of a variety of other reasons like poor marketing, lack of good DJ’s brought in and unattractive cliental from the GTA.

MONEYBALL (USA 2011) ***1/2

Directed by Bennett Miller

MONEYBALL is the name of the strategy Oakland A’s General Manager Billy Beane (Brad Pitt) adopts with his protégé, Peter Brand (Jonah Hill) in bringing the baseball team from a losing to a winning streak, making him possibly the highest paid General Managers in baseball history.

The film traces the success in Beane’s method though his tough talking and workings.  His failure as a baseball player is shown through flashbacks.  But MONEYBALL is quite the different baseball sports film.

Like Bennett’s last film, Capote, MONEYBALL is a dialogue film.  The script contains lots of verbal exchanges among the characters, where the highs of the film are derived mainly from confrontations, such as the sacking of one of Billy’s employees; the arguments on play strategy between Billy and his own manager et al.  The film’s missing romantic interest is replaced with the relationship between Billy and the daughter.  The script cleverly plays this into the main theme with a catchy song the daughter has written and sung ending the film on a high note.  Much of the humour is surprisingly played by the low keyed Johan Hill.

MONEYBALL is less a sport movie than a business movie.  The in-and-outs of baseball that occurs behind the scenes are the matter at hand.  There is less than 15 minutes of baseball play on screen.  Though the film would be more interesting to experts of the sport, no knowledge of baseball or baseball business is required to comprehend the film.  In fact, the lesser known the better as the film reveals a whole different world of operations here.

Brad Pitt delivers a harried caring General Manager and one would expect him to behave the same way in real life towards his family.  Hill and Hoffman steal the show as supporting players.

Running at 126 minutes, the time flies, which is proof that MONEYBALL is a compelling watch fro start to finish.

STARBUCK (Canada 2011) **
Directed by Ken Scott

STARBUCK tells the story inspired by the true events of the legendary bull who fathered hundreds of thousands of off­spring through artificial insemination.                          David Wozniak (Patrick Huard) is a train wreck of a middle-aged man, deep in a $80,000 debt. When he’s not disappointing his brothers at his family-owned butcher shop or flaking out on his too-good-for-him girlfriend Valérie (Julie Le Breton), he’s getting his head dunked into a bathtub full of water by thugs to whom he owes the money.  David’s loser-ish existence is upended when a lawyer informs him that he’s fathered no less than 533 children via his one and only talent: donating sperm. 

The rest of the film is whether he can claim a countersuit that will enable to pay his debt or own up and become a human being by accepting responsibility of being a real father.  Director Scott taps the sentimentality to no end.  The scene with the crane shot showing the group hug between David and the 533 offspring is too much.

But this is the kind of movie audiences like and critics cringe at.  STARBUCK came in the second runner-up for the Toronto International Film Festival popular audience award. 

Though this is a Quebec movie en Francais, it feels so much like a commercial Hollywood no-brainer.  Though the premise of the sperm donor might be different, STARBUCK ends up just as boring and uninventive as a typical Hollywood romantic comedy.

BEST BETS OF THE WEEK:

Best Film Opening This Week:  The Killer Elite and Moneyball
Best Film Playing: Attack the Block
Best Comedy: Bridesmaids
Best Family: Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2
Best Documentary: Chasing Madoff
Best Foreign: Sarah’s Key (Elle S’appelait Sarah)

Avoid: Abduction

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