This Week's Film Reviews (Dec 9, 2011)

09 Dec 2011

Big films opening this week are THE SITTER and NEW YEAR’S EVE, two comedies. Also opening is the Cannes Festival hit THE ARTIST.

THE ARTIST (France 2011) ***1/2

Directed by Michael Hazanavicius

THE ARTIST is a mostly silent black and white film centering on fading silent star George Valentin (George Dujardin) while focusing on the rise of actress Peppy Miller (director’s wife Berenice Bejo,). Director Hazanavicius has said that he always admired the silent film directors and always wanted to make a silent film. He finally got his wish after the success of his OSS 117 comedies.

The film is a musical melodrama about an actor who fails to make it into the talking era of movies. As he opens his mouth, nothing comes out – not a syllable. Before, he is a cocky, over-confident but still likeable character. George meets Peppy by accident during a red carpet event, and makes her a start and his romantic interest. The story is plain, which is understandable as the film would have required substantial inter-titles otherwise. Hazanavicius makes sure the film is easy to follow and he turns up a feel good film, more comedy than drama even though the plot involves the dramatic fall of a star actor.

Everything works out for the best! The tap song and dance number in the climatic scene is pure delight and Dujardin and Bejo display both confidence and expertise in their routine. If ever a prize should be given for a best supporting actor, the dog played by Uggie deserves one. Uggie, George’s well trained canine in the film is the best and most adorable thing about the movie. The film also co-stars Americans John Goodman (as the studio boss) and John Cromwell (as the chauffeur) since no French dialogue needs be spoken. With all the hullabaloo at Cannes with this film, I expected much more from the film.

THE ARTIST turns out more of a reprisal of Hazanavicius’s OSS 117 films. Dujardin won the Cannes prize for Best actor but his role in the OSS 117 films as the over-confident spy is quite the same character as Valentine’s. As these films were also directed by Hazanavicius, THE ARTIST feels replayed. But still, THE ARTIST is a winning film filled with entertaining numbers and the audience will no doubt come out of the theatre with a good feeling. Recommended highly for the season of good cheer!

THE EYE OF THE STORM (Australia 2011) **

Directed by Fred Schepisi

Acting honours go to the three lead actors who do really well in a very bad film in which a dying mother (Charlotte Rampling) summons her two children (Judy Davis and Geoffrey Rush) to her side for the main purpose of giving them a last hard time before she dies. Judy Davis is the best to watch! The children are not the best reared either. Daughter is a failed French princess from a marriage and son is a London west-end actor looking for good material. She speaks French whenever it suits her, annoying the hell of those around her including the audience. Son is busy bedding the ladies including mummy’s nurse. It can hardly be called entertaining or believable the way the three go at each other’s throats as well as bring up past horrid secrets.

As it turns out, all this presents good fodder for son’s new successful play! And the plot about the honest and faithful barrister who sacrifices his share of the estate for the undeserving children just does not cut it. Rampling alternates between looking sorely old and weary and young in white during storms. These three leads have done better separately in separate films. The ending with the son performing the play in West End to great applause is just too much self praise on the scriptwriter’s part!

INTO THE ABYSS (Germany/Canada 2011) ***1/2

Directed by Werner Herzog

INTO THE ABYSS is a thought provoking while disturbing documentary that deals with the subject of death and why people kill. A great deal of the film involves interviews of the killers and the victims of a ridiculous crime. Michael Perry and Jason Burkett are the two men convicted of a triple homicide. Jason will be eligible for parole in 2041 and Michael is up for execution by lethal injection 8 days after director Herzog interviewed him. The two men murdered three human beings in order to steal a red Chevy Camero. And as if it is God’s joke, a tree has grown through the chassis of the car which had been impounded in the police lot.

The most interesting parts of the film are the interviews with Jason and Michael. Both blame each other for the murders and both claim innocence, being at the wrong place and wrong time. It is up to the audience to figure out who is lying, if not both of them. At the film’s start, the director, who does all the interviews (though his face is never seen on screen) makes it clear that he is against capital punishment though he may not like any of the murderers. Jason even claims a third person present at the scene of the crime. Michael claims to be Christian and that he will look after his mother from heaven.

The statement against capital punishment is made loud and clear. Herzog includes the interview of one of the victim’s family who says that she is still against State killing despite what had happened, emphasizing that Michael looks very much like a boy on death row. The head of the staff involving the lethal injections is shown to quit his job despite losing his pension. But the most effective argument for the debate comes from the testimony of Jason’s father. Jason’s father’s testimony saved Jason from the gallows. He blamed himself during the trail, crying his eyes out while pleading for his son’s life. He claims the two jurors he saw cry were the ones who voted against Jason’s capital punishment. Especially weird is the love affair between Jason and his wife, the two meeting while Jason was already in prison.

She loves him unconditionally and also believes his innocence. She is impregnated by him, which means that they managed to do something illegal and the State let pass. So much for the world being f***ed up! So, the final question after all this is who are the most f***ed up of the human race? The two convicted murderers, one of which has already been put to death? The victims (including the unfortunate one who has lost everyone in the last 6 months)? The State for still legalizing capital punishment or audiences like us who are titillated by macabre documentaries of this nature?

NEW YEAR’S EVE (USA 2011) *1/2

Directed by Garry Marshall

The lives of several couples and singles in New York City intertwine over the course of New Year''s Eve in the film NEW YEAR’S EVE. Though not the most original of premises for a movie, one would expect some spark in at least a few of the stories. No such luck! Not one of the too many stories included in this embarrassing feel-good entry is remotely novel. Or funny – the worst being the winning of prize hospital money for delivering on New Year’s Day. Every single one of the New Year’s Eve’s stories is clichéd and used before in some film or other. The problems are those no one really cares about.

The father/daughter re, the meeting of lovers at the stroke of midnight, the daughter/mother strained relationship or the find your life and quit your job story are examples. Most of the vignettes are too short to make an impact and no one wants these stories lengthened either. Director Marshall functions like a traffic cop directing very, very slow traffic. If the feel goodness is not drowned enough on the audience, the story contains numerous messages. Silly lines like “Follow Your Heart” are uttered by bike courier Zac Efron to out-of-charm Michelle Pfeiffer. The limit comes with a voiceover at the end of the film (whose voice is this that suddenly appears on the soundtrack anyway?) advising the audience to look to their hearts. What ever happened to subtlety?

Though one must give credit to the filmmakers for assembling such an impressive cast, the only ones that come across unscathed by the awful film are John Bon Jovi and Zac Efron who both dance their way oblivious of what else is happening on screen. The worst performances come from Robert De Niro, Sarah Jessica Parker, Pfeiffer, Katherine Heigl and the Queen of the lot Hilary Swank. Swank is so bad she should return her two Oscars after this performance. Director Marshall likely went with this project after the similar VALENTINE’S DAY made a big hit at the box-office. Marshall is not known for his ingenuity, the best thing he’s done being THE PRINCESS DIARY films and PRETTY WOMAN, the rest of his 28 films forgettable. The film also shamelessly contains ads for the VALENETINE’S DAY DVD and Warner Brother’s upcoming SHERLOCK HOLME films. How low can one get even after directing this waste of a movie?


Directed by Jonathan Lee

Who is Pail Goodman? Has he changed my life? These are the questions that director Jonathan Lee proposes to answer in his documentary about Paul Goodman, clearly a man he admires. Born in New York City in 1911, Goodman laboured in obscurity as a writer and freelance intellectual until 1960 when the publication of Growing Up Absurd made him famous and a significant moral force of the times. His unabashed frankness about his bisexuality was costly to his career and reputation, yet it won him the admiration of some of the activists who created the modern gay rights movement.

Director Lee utilizes archival footage of interviews with Paul’s family (wife and daughters), friends, peers and activists to piece together a comprehensive portrait of the man and his thoughts. Goodman’s picture is flashed on the screen, mostly the image of him in his later years, with pipe, ruffled hair and glasses to effectuate a strong narrative. Lee’s film is interesting enough, even if one hardly familiar with Paul Goodman. Lee lets the events and interviews affect his audience.

The question is why a film about Goodman took so long to be made. He died in 1972 and a film made during his living years would certainly have more impact. He is still remembered as the author of “Growing Up Absurd”. But what passes as common knowledge in the fields of education, politics, psychology, urban planning, civil rights, and sexual politics was first posited by him nearly half a century. (Limited run of engagement at the Royal Cinema, College Street, Toronto from December the 9th, 2011)

THE SITTER (USA 2011) **

Directed David Gordon Green

The 2-minute THE SITTER trailer is hilariously funny. One would expect an extremely funny film from the director of the very funny and successful PINEAPPLE EXPRESS. Unfortunately, THE SITTER is one of the ‘all the best jokes are in the trailer’ kind of movie and the movie in reality is not really funny at all. THE SITTER is an example of how difficult it is to make a good comedy. THE SITTER has a good director, a sure fire comedian with perfect timing, Jonah Hill starring and many, many inspired comedic set-ups.

So what went wrong?

The major problem is most of what transpires on screen has been done before. ADVENTURES IN BABYSITTING, RISKY BUSINESS and NICK AND NORAH’S INFINITE PLAYLIST are similar films that have dealt with THE SITTER’s premise of nightmare babysitting adventures or adventures taking place in the dead of night. The only novel thing about the SITTER is its positive gangster and gay slants. Jonah Hill speaks rap well. But these can only go on for so long before they become repetitive.

The messages in the film (you don’t need to use makeup to prove yourself et al) are clichéd and tedious. Noah is coaxed by his mother to babysit three kids so that she can go on a date. Noah tells the youngest girl: “I''m more of a ''sit on the couch, do what I say or I''ll kill you'' type of babysitter.” As it turns out, the three are more than Noah can handle. When Noah borrows the family minivan to score gear for his so-called girlfriend, misadventures lead up to the chief dealer (Sam Rockwell) chasing him for $10,000, one of the kids accidentally steals from the lair.

The loose narrative and simple plot allows jokes and comedic set-ups to be inserted randomly and wherever, but the problem is that the film is poorly paced with a lot of material that is not funny enough. By the time Noah gets the kids home on time, the kids have learnt important lessons while Noah has grown up a little. And the audience learns once again never to judge a film by its trailer.

SLEEPING BEAUTY (Australia 2011) ***

Directed by Julia Leigh

The Australian erotic drama SLEEPING BEAUTY that created quite the stir at Cannes this year is not the well known Grimm’s fairy tale but a nightmare that has befallen on a teenage girl eager to etch out a decent living lifestyle. Alternating between university classes, odd jobs, an unfriendly home and a high class prostitution stint, Lucy (Emily Browning) tires her best to survive. When Lucy is not busy taking notes during class, she is either working a dead end office job in an unfriendly environment or cleaning tables in a friendly eating establishment.

Her mother’s boyfriend is a thwart, who kick her out of the family house. But Lucy can afford to live in luxurious hotel with the money she makes. Lucy makes the most cash working for Clara (Rachel Blake). Clara operates a high class brothel where Lucy is one of her valued employees. Lucy takes a sleeping drug which forces her to pass out for a few hours. During that time, clients can do anything with her except penetration. Hence, the title SLEEPING BEAUTY of the film! Lucy is revealed as a likeable, polite creature from the very start. She is never rude, even to those that belittle her. The audience can sympathize with a hard worker like Lucy.

The film is thus compelling to watch when the audience cares for the main character and what could happen to her – especially when she is helplessly asleep when the clients have a chance to abuse her. (A few do.) Director Leigh wrings some genuine suspense from a few of these scenes. SLEEPING BEAUTY is a brave and somewhat successful collaboration between director Leigh who also wrote the screenplay and actress Browning. The message is delivered on screen, both confidently and creatively with originality and tact. The added bonus is that the film is also beautifully shot with the nudity more sensual than sexual.

SLEEPING BEAUTY has an artsy feel due to its open ending and the fact that Leigh refuses to show the events directly. She leaves a lot to the interpretation of her audience. In this way, SLEEPING BEAUTY comes across as smart and an accomplished work of art from a first time director. BEST BETS OF THE WEEK: Best Film Opening This Week: The Artist Best Film Playing: Margin Call Best Comedy: Tower Heist Best Family: Arthur Christmas Best Documentary: Into the Abyss Best Foreign: The Skin I Live In (Almodovar) Avoid: New Year’s Eve

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