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This Week's Film Reviews (Nov 11, 2011)

11 Nov 2011

Oscar buzz movie J. EDGAR opens this week amidst Adam Sandler’s JACK AND JILL and IMMORTALS.

THE MYSTERIES OF LISBON begins a special run at TIFF Bell Lightbox.

LE HAVRE (Finland 2011) ***** Top 10

Directed by Aki Kaurismaki

LE HAVRE is the name of the Normandie port in Northern France.  Dirty, lost in time and decrepit, the port is the perfect venue of a Kaurismaki movie.  Kaurismaki’s characters are similar losers, determined often to etch a better living but always kind souls with not a mean bone in their bodies.

In LENINGRAD COWBOYS GO AMERICA, the band leaves Russia to find fame and fortune in the U.S.  In DRIFTING CLOUDS, the work redundant protagonist opens a restaurant.  But in LE HAVRE, aging bohemian artist Marcel Marx (André Wilms) seems to have given up on life.  He spends the rest of his days working as a shoeshine man.  His loving wife (Kati Outinen) is diagnosed with cancer.  When the hospital doctor assures her that there is always hope and miracles do happen, her answer is:  But not in my neighbourhood.

But things take a turn when Marcel befriends Idrissa, a young African immigrant hoping to make his way to England in a shipping container with other illegals. Marcel is determined to extend a helping hand to the wide-eyed boy, but the law, in the form of Inspector Monet (Jean- Pierre Darroussin), is equally determined to stand in his way.  An intricate dance of hide-and-seek ensues.

But the good deed results in something like manna falling from heaven.  The boulanger helps Marcel shield the boy as does the brasserie owner.  The neighbours, who were at each others throats now unite with a common purpose.  They even donate their earnings to help the boy unite with his mother.  Surprsingly, Inspector Monet turns out not to be that bad a guy after all.

Karausmaki’s film takes a while to get its footing.  But once there, LE HAVRE is pure Kaurismaki pleasure.  Audiences familiar with his deadpan style humour will not be disappointed as the humour abounds from start to finish.  For example, one character donating money says that he will offer the money he had saved for his daughter’s bicycle as she can wait.  As she is only two week old!

LE HAVRE is a film that shows that there is always a little good to be found in everyone.  The only character that is totally bad is the honest neighbour (played by Jean Pierre Leaud (from I HIRED A CONTRACT KILLER and the Antoine Daniel in the Truffaut films) who rats to the cops on Idrissa.  But it is this apparent not too pretty little city and its inhabitants that are the shining stars of this movie.  Yes, and miracles do happen in this neighbourhood.

Kausrismaki injects his spill on the immigrant issue.  But his is one of concerned with humanity.  He is not outraged by lost jobs or unrest caused by the issue but rather the re of families and the fact that every human being deserves a right to a better life.  LE HAVRE is the best feel good little movie of the year and Kaurismaki’s most disciplined and best film to date!

IMMORTALS (USA 2011) **

Directed by Tarsem Singh


If an all action, CGI effect, 3D, fight per minute film is your cup of tea (like 300), then Tarsem Singh’s (THE CELL, THE FALL) is the one that might likely blow your mind.

But be forewarned that IMMORTALS has a predictable plot, zero character development, cardboard heroes and villain and uninspired dialogue.  The script by Charley and Vlas Parlapanides contains no cheesy lines or inane dialogue because the writers don’t even bother.  At least this would have elevated the film over its over boring status of the fights only scenario.  The fight scenes are stylized copied from the Matrix films (slow combined with fast motion) and not exciting at all as anyone can tell who will win each fight.  But there is plenty of blood and gore, dismembered body parts and severed heads.

The story is familiar.  It is always a fight of the Gods and their enemies that have existed since the beginning of mankind.  In the film, the Gods have won their mythic struggle against the Titans and a new evil threatens the land.  Mad with power, King Hyperion (Mickey Rourke, grovelling rather than acting) has declared war against humanity.  Amassing a bloodthirsty army of soldiers disfigured by his own hand, Hyperion has scorched Greece in search of the legendary Epirus Bow, a weapon of unimaginable power forged in the heavens by Ares.  Only he who possesses this bow can unleash the Titans, who have been imprisoned deep within the walls of Mount Tartaros since the dawn of time and thirst for revenge. In the king''s hands, the bow would rain destruction upon mankind and annihilate the Gods. But ancient law dictates the Gods must not intervene in man''s conflict.  Enter peasant named Theseus (Henry Cavill) who saves the day.   Secretly chosen by Zeus, Theseus must save his people from Hyperion and his hordes.

The actors must have been chosen (Rouke excepted) for their great beauty and physique.  Almost everyone on screen would pass the supermodel test.  The golden wardrobe of the gods led by Zeus (the quite the looker Luke Evans of CLASDH OF THE TITANS and THE THREE MUSKETEERS) is quite impressive, haute couture stuff that reveal sufficient sexy parts of the body.

The film has an ending right out of FELLINI’S SATYRICON in which the characters become etched in stone carvings.  But of course, Tarsem takes the film one step further to suggest a possible sequel.

J. EDGAR (USA 2011) **
Directed by Clint Eastwood


There are obviously too many things going on here in Clint Eastwood’s biopic of John Edgar Hoover, the much revered FBI during many Presidential reigns.  And too many things that go wrong too in the film.

J. Edgar, the film explores the public and private life of one of the most powerful, controversial and enigmatic figures of the 20th century – J. Edgar Hoover.  As the face of law enforcement in America heading the FBI for almost fifty years.  The film shows authentically, the incidents resulting in Hoover (Oscar nominee Leonardo DiCaprio) feared and admired, reviled and revered.   But also revealed are the secrets behind closed doors that would have destroyed his image, his career and his life.

The script by MILK’s Oscar winning Dustin Lance Black has a muddled, weak narrative that is made worse by Eastwood’s decision to shoot the film in a nonlinear chronological sequence.  We have for example, one shot of Hoover and buddy Tolson sitting in the races stands in their youth and in the next instant standing in the same place during their ageing years.  The film purposes to tell the story of the man who built up the FBU agency while compromising his scruples but the subplots like the kidnapping investigation, mother/son relationship and his sexual orientation confuses the story.  Worst still, 10 minutes towards the film end, the whole exercise seems to be geared towards the relationship between Hoover and Tolson changing the entire context of the film into a love story, the same way he did to MILLION DOLLAR BABY.

Eastwood has a scene that shows Hoover arresting the guilty kidnapper.  In actuality, Hoover never made the arrest but lied about it in his report.  It is puzzling why Eastwood included this scene of the arrest in the film.  Hitchcock once shot a flashback which included a lie (an incident that did not happen) which his fans never forgave him for.

DiCaprio delivers an Oscar worthy performance in an otherwise awful film.  It is a waste as everything from the sets, art direction, wardrobe and score are excellent.

But the film drags on with extended length scenes making repetitive points as in the film’s last 10 minutes.  J EDGAR runs a lengthy 2 and a quarter hours or so making it a boring unfocused exercise with too many unnecessary details.

THE MILL AND THE CROSS (Poland/Sweden 2011) ***
Directed by Lech Majewski


THE MILL AND THE CROSS is more an enactment of an interpretation of a Flanders painting than typical movie entertainment.  The film is lush, artistic, beautiful, educational and occasionally disturbing but not the average teenagers’ cup of tea.

The star of the film is the 1954 painting called The Way to Calvary by Pieter Bruegel, a Flanders elder.  Lech Majewski’s film begins with the set up of the painting.  500 or so characters are dressed up and placed in a country landscape while the artist takes to his canvas.  The camera moves back to show the splendour of the sight while Bruegel paints.  As he does the film then focuses on a select dozen or so of the characters in the painting.

What transpires is also based the Michael Francis Gibson book THE MILL AND THE CROSS, and hence the film’s title.  The daily routine of one family is captured on film from the waking up of the parents, pushing each other out of bed to the children, half a dozen or so sharing the same bed, but getting up to play almost immediately with whatever they have on hand, like their armpits.  Director Lech Majewski injects dead-pan humour in what would otherwise be a rather flat film whenever he can.

The film also contains certain unwatchable violent scenes.  The one in which a local man is beaten, kicked and then hung up on a pole by Spanish solders for no solid reason to have crows peck right in full sight of his screaming girlfriend is quite disturbing.

The film benefits from the contribution of three stars, Rutger Hauer (as Pieter Bruegel), Charlotte Rampling and Michael York as a Flanders leader.

Though it cost only $1 million to make, THE MILL AND THE CROSS is stunning to look at, cinematohraphy by the director and Adam Sikora.  Watching the film feels like a dream as if one has entered the painting.

 

MYSTERIES OF LISBON (MISTERIOS DE LISBOA) (Portugal/Fr 2011) ****

Directed by Raul Ruiz

 

(Please note that this review is based only on the viewing of the first half of the movie.  Prior commitments prevented me from viewing the entire film.  My apologies!)

Originally made for European television, the 8 hour MYSTERIES OF LISBON has been edited to a fine 4 hours of so of pure literary cinematic delight.  This was supposed to be veteran Portuguese (born in Chile) director’s last film.  But he has survived liver cancer surgery.

The film is based on a Charles Dickens or Victor Hugo type classic by Portuguese author Camilo Castelo Branco.  The film begins with the tale of a young bastard, Joao, 14-year old boy in search of his mother and the truth surrounding his birth.  The initial part of the film is narrated and told from Joao’s point of view.  The kind priest that looks after the boy takes the mother in, but he himself has a big secret to hide.  He reveals his long story to the boy.  This, the fates of several characters connect in this sprawling period tale of life, love and suffering among the aristocratic class.

Ruiz lets his tale unfold at a moderately slow pace. The script is by Carlos Saboga.  Ruiz allows the genius of the story come forth on its own without hurriedness or cheap melodramatics.  The characters are captivating and the story endearing and the film compelling.

Twice during the film, a character mentions that he has a long story to reveal.  Though true, this statement generated laughs from the screening as those present were aware of the length of the film.

The wardrobe and sets especially the architecture of the drawing rooms of the estates are elegantly shot.  The period atmosphere is authentically revoked and the camera work masterful and fluid.

All this makes an excellent 4 hours of good solid entertainment in the classic sense.

BEST BETS OF THE WEEK:


Best Film Opening This Week:  The Mysteries of Lisbon
Best Film Playing: Le Havre
Best Comedy: Tower Heist
Best Documentary: Revenge of the Electric Car
Best Foreign: Le Havre

Avoid:  Abduction

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