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This Week's Film Reviews (Oct 21, 2011)

21 Oct 2011

Opening this week are THE THREE MUSKETEERS in 3D, JOHNNY ENGLISH REBORN and PARANORMAL ACTIVITY 3.

French film THE WOMEN ON THE 6TH FLOOR makes its debut.

BUCK (USA 2011) ***1/2

Directed by Cindy Meehl

A documentary is often as interesting as its subject.  In BUCK, director Cindy Meehl has chosen quite the man as her subject.  She had been fascinated when she met Buck 8 years back at his horse clinic.  Buck is the God gifted man who can break any horse.

Buck Brannaman – master horseman, is the Hollywood legend who worked on the set and inspired Robert Redford’s film THE HORSE WHISPERER.  Buck travels the country sharing his knowledge during the clinics he holds most of the year round.

Meehl’s film is two parts.  One part is his horse training and the other his personal life, particularly his troubled childhood.

Meehl’s films more than one session in which a rough colt is broken.  It is in these segments that we see the astonishing talent of Buck, as well as his kindness and insight in horse training.  What might seem an impossible task is achieved within a few hours.  Horse and ranch owners attest to his craft.  Robert Redford testifies to this man’s worth on his film.

The other and equally interesting part is Buck’s life.  Meehl is very thorough assembling quite the number of people involved with childhood past.  Buck was saved fro a violent father and sent to a loving foster family.  The deputy sheriff who rescued Bick and his brother, the foster mother and childhood friend all contribute their say as interviewees.  His wife and daughter contribute their say about Buck.  But the audience learns most about Buck through his training sessions.  His teaching, rejecting the use of fear, cruelty and intimidation of the horses is indeed moving.

Meehl’s interweaving of the two parts paints a vivid picture of her subject.  For a first feature, she has done quite the job with a film that also looks stunning.

For the ending, Meehl chooses to display Buck’s dancing of his horse around as he rides him.  This is quite the magnificent sight substituting for the film’s climax.

 

LES FEMMES DU 6E ETAGE (France 2010) ***
Directed by Patrick Le Guay

The first half of the French comedy THE WOMEN ON THE  6TH FLOOR is so utterly charming and delightful, full of humour and insight that one wishes the film would never end.  But alas, co-writer Patrick Le Guay’s film turns into a romantic comedy during the second half that spoils it all.

The film, set in the 60’s reflects the look and the times.  The Spanish civil war is still fresh in the minds of the characters and serves the story well.  The class differences between the French and Spaniards are played for laughs without being offensive.

The story centres on Jean-Louis Joubert (Fabruce Luchini) a serious but uptight stockbroker, married to Suzanne (Sandrine Kiberlain), a starchy class-conscious woman and father of two arrogant teenage boys, currently in a boarding school. The affluent man lives a steady yet boring life in Paris.  When the current Bretonne maid of 25 years quits, Maria (Nalaia Verbeke), a newly arrived Spaniard takes the job as new maid.  Jean-Louis discovers the servants'' quarter on the sixth floor of the luxury building he owns and lives in. There lives a crowd of lively Spanish maids who will help Jean-Louis to open to a new civilization and a new approach of life.   This is where the film works best.  Jean-Louis pities them and goes out of his way to help them.  He becomes their saint. Goodness rules!  Jean-Louis discovers that he has become a newer, nicer man.

A clever point involves Suzanne getting jealous over one of Jean-Louis client’s the ultra rich Bettina de Brossolette (Audrey Fleurot). The irony is that Jean-Louis has absolutely no interest in Bettina but is instead starting to fall for the maid, for which Suzanne never suspects.

Once Jean-Louis sleeps with Maria, the film starts to fall apart.  The comedy screeches to an abrupt halt and seriousness steps in.  It does not help that Jean- Louis is much older that Maria and looks it.  It does not help either that wife Suzanne is willing to take Jean-Louis back in.  The audience is supposed to believe that this man would give up his entire family after one night with Maria.  The scene with Jean-Louis and Maria in bed looks awkward and unbelievable.

At times, THE WOMEN ON THE 6TH FLOOR feels like an upbeat version of THE HELP French style.  Still despite its flaws, Le Guay’s film is still well worth a viewing.

JOHNNY ENGLISH REBORN (UK 2011) **
Directed by Oliver Parker

Though directed by Oliver Parker JOHNNY ENGLISH REBORN the sequel to JOHNNY ENGLISH is primarily a Rowan Atkinson/Mr. Bean movie.  One can hardly imagine another comedian in the role of Johnny English with his bumbling stupidity and clumsy antics.

The plot of the movie can be summarized in one line. Johnny English (Atkinson) goes up against international assassins hunting down the Chinese premier.  Sub plots involve a love interest with Pamela (Gillian Anderson) who has the penchant of showing up at the oddest of times.  English’s other agent, Ambrose (Dominic West) turns out to be a traitor and his boss Pegasus seems to always find English bumbling about.

As a James Bond spoof, the film is a mixed Mr. Bean Austin Powers variety.  For the Mr. Bean type comedy, Johnny English mumbles along.  In fact, English never had much to say except that he is Johnny English, in deep seriousness as Sean Connery used to say that he is Bond – James Bond!  For the other, Mike Myers has done better with Austin Powers as Jean Dujardin has in the OSS 117 spy spoofs.

Be warned that the film is extremely stupid – that it is – and one should leave all intelligence at home to enjoy this movie.  Still, this exercise in silliness is not as hilarious as the other Atkinson films.  I found myself laughing out loud a couple of times, but these moments are too few and far between.

Funniest moments have English jumping around in a corpse bag, doing monastery training or doing stupid dance moves while under mind control.  Unfunny ones involve him jumping through a rubbish chute or making out with Pamela.  Uncertainly funny ones have him bashing the Queen mistaking her to be a white haired lady assassin (Pik Sen Lim) or pretending to be a Master Spy.  Surprisingly, a lot of laughs are derived from an unknown actor, Daniel Kaluuya as Agent Tucker, English’s understudy.

One can more often hear scattered laughter in the theatre rather than loud laughter in unison.  That said, JOHNNY ENGLISH REBORN remains a silly sequel at most, but not in the hilarious sense.

THE THREE MUSKETEERS (USA 2011) **

Directed by Paul W.S. Anderson

The umpteen film adaptation of the famous Alexander Dumas novel, Paul W.S. Anderson’s version no doubt will be considered by many die hard fans of the novel as the worst of the lot.

This is the result of hiring the director and the main actress (Milla Jovovich) of the RESIDENT EVIL films to do a 17th Century swashbuckler.  The film concentrates on her character of Milady, as if she is the sexiest lady on the planet.  She is able to do stunts like fall from a dozen stories or escape detection of invisible wires not to mention fence with all her enemies.  She strips down to the barest when uncalled for and has the sauciest dialogue lines in the film.  When her presence is not felt, the action sequences feel more like those appearing from THE MATRIX films, a combination of fast and slow motion.  Though elegant to look at, the feel of the classic period swashbuckler is sorely lost.  Never mind the flying airships and the cannon battles in mid-air.

The plot involves the heroes preventing a war between France and England by the retrieval of the diamonds.  But the diamonds are recovered and the film ends with the angry Duke sending his warships to France.  So, nothing is achieved in the movie.  The script should have at least emphasized the saving of the Queen’s honour by the retrieval.  As it goes, the queen’s a tart and no one cares.  Nothing in the story is mentioned of D’Artagnan’s (Logan Lerman) wish to become a musketeer, which in the book he does become as the fourth musketeer.

The actors playing the musketeers, Matthew Macfadyen, Like Evans and Ray Stevenson are not relatively well known stars.  It is likely that the cost of the salaries be spent instead on the special effects, CGI, costumes and sets.  The tactic pays off as the film looks stunning as a period piece adventure.  The climatic fight with A’Artagnan fighting his foe on the rooftops is the best segment of the film.

Most audiences might remember the last major THREE MUSKETEERS film adaptation directed by Brit Richard Lester.  He treated it more of a comedy with THE THREE MUSKETEERS and THE FOUR MUSKETEERS made together.  Nothing can be compared to that cast which included the big stars of the day and no one can forget the cat fight between Faye Dunaway as Milady and Raquel Welch at the end of the movie.  This 2011 3D version will be remembered for the ridiculous air ship battles or better still not be remembered at all.  But judging form the ending with England’s ships sailing to attack France, a sequel is likely on its way.

THE WAY (USA 2010) ***

Directed by Emilio Estevez

A father and son effort between Martin Sheen and Emilio Estevez (what happened to Charlie?), THE WAY is a well-intentioned film supposed to bring goodness and happy feelings to those watching it – though occasionally too manipulatively.  The film promotes pilgrimage and honours Camino de Santiago in Galicia, Spain.

Tom (Sheen) is an American doctor who goes to France following the death of his adult son (Estevez, who shows up as an apparition several spots throughout the film).  Retrieving his son’s ashes, in a combination of grief and homage to his son, Tom decides to walk the same ancient spiritual trail where his son died in order to understand his son better. While walking The Camino (also called the Way of St. James), Tom meets others from around the world (three in particular).  The three are spiritually broken and looking for greater meaning in their lives.

Of course, Tom is the one in the film who is always right.  His cause is the most worthy since it is one involving death.  The causes of the other 3 like Jack’s (James Nesbitt) to write a travel book, Joost’s (Yorick van Wageningen) to lose weight and Sarah’s (Deborah Kara Unger) to give up smoking are less worthy.  The three serve to irritate and annoy Tom as well as provide the audience with drama and a bit of comedy to the pilgrimage.

All this works well in Estevez’s low budget little film.  A subplot involving the local gypsies (a boy stealing Tom’s backpack and forced to return it to save the gypsy’s honour) serves the film even better.

Estevez’s film looks authentic enough.  The actors really did walk the walk.  The segment in which Tom dives into a river with really strong currents to retrieve his backpack is particularly chilling.

The film was originally suggested as a documentary with real characters going on their pilgrimages.  But Estevez wanted something bigger which resulted in fictionalized characters.  Still, the difference between “the life we live and the life we choose” comes clear as the message in this entertaining little film.

BEST BETS OF THE WEEK:


Best Film Opening This Week:  Buck
Best Film Playing: The Ides of March
Best Comedy: Bridesmaids
Best Family: Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2
Best Documentary: Revenge of the Electric Car 

Best Foreign: Poetry

Avoid:  Abduction

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