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This Week's Film Reviews (Sep 30, 2011)

30 Sep 2011

Opening this week are DREAM HOUSE, 50/50 and WHAT’S YOUR NUMBER?


Also opening are two different films with very odd themes, POETRY from South Korea and THE LAST CIRCUS from Spain, both of which make excellent viewing.

BELLFLOWER (USA 2011) **

Directed by Evan Glodell


Bellflower is the name of the street where a few of the characters live and where some of the action (like the drunken parties) takes place.

The film tells the story of "two guys who build flamethrowers and other weapons in the hope that a global apocalypse will occur and clear the way for their imaginary gang," called Mother Medusa (also the name of their flame throwing car). It turns into a violent, apocalyptic love story.

Director Evan Glodell plays the lead himself, Woodrow who suddenly meets at falls for Milly (Jessie Wiseman) at a local bar.  His best friend, Aiden (Tyler Dawson) has a fling with Courtney (Rebekah Brandes) whom Woodrow has a fling with himself.  The love relationships distract the guys from building more flamethrowers, which may be a good thing, except that they do too much destruction to each other.

It is hard to identify with characters that get drunk and fight most of the time.  They sleep with each other’s women and have no ambition (except maybe for construction ridiculous pyrotechnic gadgets) or moral ethics.  They may seem cool but I would gather that most of the audience, myself included, have passed this infantile stage of drunkenness and made off with a better constructive lifestyle.  For audiences who are teetotallers, these characters must seem absolutely detestable.  The films condones politically incorrectness like drinking and driving, senseless drunk fights and meaningless sex.

The film is shot with sharp images.  The explosions are loud and impressive.  At times, the film feels like a MAD MAX road movie.  But most of the time, the film leads nowhere with its meandering plot in which anything can happen for nor real reason.  The motorbike accident that occurs out of nowhere seems to be inserted into the storyline so that Woodrow would re-think his future options.

The reason for seeing this ultra low budget film would be the film''s distinctive look, credit given to cinematographer Joel Hodge''s shooting style and the one-of-a-kind camera designed and built by Evan Glodell, who combined vintage camera parts, bellows and Russian lenses, around a Silicon Imaging SI-2K Mini.  Apart from that, BELLFLOWER is less engaging than it sounds.  It lost me 20 minutes into the movie.

50/50 (USA 2010) ****

Direcetd by Jonathan Levine

Three films about cancer hits the screens soon.  Two open this week.  RESTLESS treats cancer as a romance gone questionably awry while the one to open later DEATH OF A SUPERHERO treats the subject with dead seriousness.

50/50 is a comedy about cancer.  It works and the best of the lot of cancer films.  So, expect to both shed a tear or laugh during the movie, though not necessarily at the same time.  Adam (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) is a 27-year old too nice a guy who''s been diagnosed with a rare form of cancer.  Luckily, he doesn''t have to face this dark journey alone: by his side are his annoying best friend (Seth Rogen), his doctor (Philip Baker Hall), a therapist-in-training (Anna Kendrick) and a smothering mother (Anjelica Huston).                                                                                                                Surprisingly, the film’s funniest scene has Rogen outing Adam’s girlfriend as unfaithful, irritating the hell out of her. The story in Will Resier’s script is nothing out of the ordinary but a series of set pieces that lead the plot to a climax in which Adam is to undergo a risky operation.  These set pieces include the doctor telling Adam of his cancer (funny); Adam then telling his parents (sad);  Adam’s therapy sessions (sad); the waiting room scene where friends and family await the results (very funny).

The film benefits from two stekkar supporting performances – one form Set Rogen and the other from Anjelica Huston.            .  Huston delivers an Oscar winning performance aided by the fact that she is given the best lines.

But Levine’s film works well as moving entertainment because despite the humour, the sincerity is what makes the whole exercise worthwhile.  The script is based on Reisner’s memoirs about his own personal health struggles.

THE LAST CIRCUS (BALADA TRISTE DE TROMPETA) (Spain/Fr 2010) ***
Directed by Alex de la Iglesia


One can expect the wildest from Spanish director Alex de la Iglesia who made PERDITO DURANGO, PERFECT CRIME, DAY OF THE BEAST, among others.  Álex de la Iglesia’s latest feature, Balada Triste (The Last Circus), is a wild and hilarious film that exposes the nature of political conflicts in his country’s recent history.

The film begins in 1937, as circus workers are forced to aid the Republican army in a battle against the National front. The Silly Clown (Santiago Segura), dressed in full costume, manages to wreak havoc on their ranks with a machete. His full costume has him still wearing a dress, clown shoes and make-up.  When his young son Javier (Carlos Areces) attempts to help him escape from a work camp, Colonel Salcedo (Sancho Gracia) thwarts his efforts and Javier is left an orphan.  That is quite the beginning but once the film shifts to 1973, when Javier, now an adult (Jorge Clemente), landing a gig as the sad clown in a circus, things start to fall apart, just as his love for the girlfriend of  a silly clown. The silly clown, Sergio (Antonio de la Torre), is a cruel thug who terrorizes his co-workers and beats his girlfriend, the beguiling dancer Natalia (Carolina Bang).  According to press notes, Iglesia made this film to exorcise his early demons, but his film is quite confusing for the fact that Javier’s character changes from hero to violent to unstable and again to hero.

The film’s climax is something to be commented on.  The three principles fight to the death on a huge cross.  Though kind of ridiculous and over-the-top, one must hand it to de la Iglesia that that segment is edge of the seat excitement.

The actual title of the film in Spanish means Sad Ballad of the Trumpet, a song which inspires Javier to become a man and take things into his own hands.

There are still lots of dark humour in this tragicomedy, but this is not a film for everyone.  No doubt, BALADA TRISTE may at times be the most outrageous, inventive and original comedy, but it is also at times, the most violent (slaughtering with a machete) and disgusting (animal parts).

POETRY (South Korea 2011) ***** Top 10

Directed by Lee Chang-Dong


POETRY traces the thoughts and events that occur to a 66-year old grandmother, Yang Mija (Yoon Jeong-Hee) after she hears the news of the suicide of a 16-year old schoolgirl as revealed in the film’s startling opening sequence.

The POETRY of the tile comes from the fact the Mija takes poetry classes.  Why?  Because she was told by her daughter that she loves flowers and that she keeps talking.  But when the classes commence, she find difficulty completing the class final assignment which is to be write a poem at the end of the class.

If all this sounds a bit boring, it is not.  Inspired by a real life suicide incident, director Lee ties the schoolgirl suicide incident to the life of Mija, who happens to be looking after her grandson.  The diary of the dead girl reveals that she has been repeatedly raped by 6 schoolmates, one of which is Mija’s lazy grandson.  The fathers and Mija meet to resolve the problem by paying the dead girl’s mother off by offering a hefty sum, which Mija cannot offer to pay.

Director Lee weaves in the different aspects of the plot very smoothly.  One subplot involves Mija working as a maid taking care of an elderly.  Not only is this subplot tied in with the main story, Mija’s feelings and character are revealed raw from her care for him.  Her final decision to grant the old man’s wish to have his final sex act is moving, disturbing, sad and heroic on her part.

The film also reveals a simple magnificence of the Korean suburbs, in the same way the story reveals beauty through poetry and other circumstances.  The river that flows surrounding the area and the countryside with the wild flowers blooming and the fallen apricots on the walking path both reveal a simple splendour seldom seen in films.

One aspect of Koran culture is worthy of note.  In the event of a crime even as serious as a murder, the involved parties can resolve their differences without involvement of the law.

Lee does not rely on special effects like whirling images to emphasize Mija’s descent into Alzheimer’s, which is diagnosed at the start of the film and which progresses worse.  His film is simple and the film’s power lies in the incidents that unfold rather than in cinematic effects.  Often, the most moving parts come with the reading of the poem or the relating of an incident.  One of the film’s most riveting scenes has Mija talking, tears flowing freely from her eyes, on how she remembers her elder sister loving her when she was a toddler walking towards her open arms.

Once a while comes a little film that will blow audiences away.  POETRY is such a film.  POETRY is an amazing film that deals with love, death, memories, justice and doing what is right.  Incidentally, it also delivers the message that beauty can be discovered in any simple situation.

RESTLESS (USA 2011) **
Directed by Gus Van Sant

Fall 2011 appears to be the season for cancer films.  50/50 treats cancer with tasteful humour, the upcoming DEATH OF A SUPERHERO with more seriousness and depth while Gus Van Sant’s (MILK, MY OWN PRIVATE IDAHO) looks unsure of where it is headed.

The first half moves at a snail’s pace with nothing much happening with boredom creeping in stealthily into the film.  Van Sant’s pulls the punches during the second half when it is revealed that the romantic interest has a brain tumour.  The film speeds to a finish with Van Sant pulling at the heart strings at his sappy worst.

RESTLESS deals with the restless Enoch (Henry Hopper, son of the late Dennis Hopper) as he struggles with his parent’s death. He lives with his aunt whom he blames.  He does not attend school but funerals for no real reason except maybe to steal eats.  (There are a lot of things that do not make sense in Jason Lew’s sorry script.)  He meets

the vibrant Annabel (Mia the vibrant Annabel (Wasikowska from ALICE IN WONDRLAND). A tentative romantic relationship develops, with French songs playing in the background and everything.

Van Sant plants a friendship between Enoch and a Japanese (Ryō Kase) before revealing the latter to be a ghost in the second half.  One segment has Enoch having a big quarrel with Annabel to the point of breaking up and the next scene has him fighting at the hospital for the doctors not doing enough for her.  The script’s obsession for water birds is odd.

It is difficult for the audience to identify with a protagonist who is aimless, fickle and is plain spoilt rotten.  Screaming most of the time (as in the hospital) to qualm his moods, the character is nothing more than an annoying spoilt kid.

This film was screened at Un Certain Regard section at the 2011 Cannes Film Festival, but came away with nothing.  The audience would likely be just as restless with this odd film thus justifying the film’s title for a different reason.

WHAT’S YOUR NUMBER (USA 2011) **
Directed by Mark Mylod

Lead Anna Faris has proven that she can hold her own in successful comedy hits like THE HOUSE BUNNY or even in films that hardly contain a plot as in Greg Araki’s SMILEY FACE.  SMILEY FACE (Faris’ funniest film) just showed Faris during one day when she was totally stoned.

Unfortunately, Faris does not fare that well in the single girl supposedly raunchy comedy WHAT’S YOUR NUMBER based on the book 20 Times a Lady by Karyn Bosnak.  The plot and comedic set ups (mother and ex-husband) distracts, the laughs uneven, the story totally predictable and the film cliché ridden (Ally gets up earlier than her lover to put on make-up, to look good in the morning).  Needless to say, the song 3 Times a lady is sung a few times during the film.

The plot concerns Ally Darling (Faris), who after reading a magazine article that leads her to believe she''s going to be forever alone, begins a wild search for the best "ex" of her life.  She has had 19 lovers and the article says that a girl who reaches the number of 20 will never be married.  Envying her sister’s upcoming wedding, she makes it her quest to get hitched.  But she searches her ex 19 lovers with the help of her hunky neighbour, Colin (Chris Evans) to choose the perfect husband.  Anyone can tell right away that the neighbour with the Captain America body is the one that Ally will fall in love with.

Like the hit and miss jokes, the audience is put through the ordeal of watching Ally re-dump her ex’s.  Quite a few, like the magician, the fat one and even the gay politician (Anthony Mackie) are hardly funny at all as are a few of the comedic set-ups like moving a heavy table in a quiet library.  To be fair, the moments of genuine hilarity as in the part she makes love to a puppeteer.  But when the script relies too often on the words ‘penis’ and ‘vagina’, one knows that the film is getting desperate for laughs.  The film’s biggest torture is watching the two play strip basketball.

Evans and Faris make up a believable couple.  The film contains a few cameos but most like Martin Freeman as Ally’s British ex have nothing much to do.  When the two have pints at the bar, Ally spouts a Brit accent using Brit terms which gets hilariously, progressively worse, but the script misses the term ‘round’ when she says she have another round instead of another shout.

Any comedy that ends with a wedding has difficulty with a good hilarious climax.  WHAT’S YOUR NUMBER falls into the same trap.  While BRIDESMAIDS solved the problem with a good musical rendering of a song performed by Tyson, WHAT’S YOUR NUMBER copies the same with a black singer crooning two popular songs, though with lesser effect.  The script then has Ally leave the wedding to search for another wedding that Colin is at.  At one point, Ally mutters: “Why don’t I just wait for him to return to the apartment?”  How true!

WHAT’S YOUR NUMBER turns out to be a fairly acceptable funny comedy with erratic laughs if one can forgive the predictable plot, countless clichés and silly subplots.

 

BEST BETS OF THE WEEK:

Best Film Opening This Week:  Poetry

Best Film Playing: Attack the Block and Poetry
Best Comedy: Bridesmaids
Best Family: Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2
Best Documentary: Chasing Madoff
Best Foreign: Poetry

Avoid:  Abduction

 

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