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This Week's Film Reviews (Mar 2, 2012)

01 Mar 2012

Hollywood films opening include the party film PROJECT X and the family animated DR’ SEUSS THE LORAX


The Cannes sensation from Turkey ONCE UPON A TIME IN ANATOLIA also debuts.

DR SEUSS’ THE LORAX (USA 2012) ****

Directed by Chris Renaud and Kyle Balda

 

From the makers of DESPICABLE ME comes the latest addition to cutesy animation in the form of DR. SEUSS’ THE LORAX.  The Lorax, himself is a furry orange creature with a yellow hair is cute enough to dazzle little children.

The story concerns a 12-year-old boy, Ted (Zac Efron) searching for the one thing that will enable him to win the affection of the girl of his dreams a growing tree.  In his town of Thneedsville, all the trees are manufactured.  All the real ones on the planet have been destroyed by industry, thus angering the Lorax (Danny de Vito), the keeper of the trees.   To find it he must discover the story of the Lorax, the grumpy yet charming creature who fights to protect his world.   Betty White as Granny Norma steals the show.

The minions of DESPICABLE ME are replaced in this movie by other cute creatures like a grandfather snail, humming fish and the Lorax himself.  The goofiness factor is added in.  The combination of cutesy and goofy works well to make the LORAX totally a fun picture.  Despite the film’s rather bleak theme of a world depleted of trees, the film is always bright and cheerful right from the happy song opening.

The writers added a romantic element to the original Dr. Seuss story.  The romance element is, however dwarfed by Tim’s strife to plant trees again on the planet from a lost seed.  There is a chase sequence for the seed, reminiscent of finding the last ship model in THE ADVENTURES OF TINTIN.  The message element in the movie is upped several notches.  The environment is in danger and all must do their part to save the world.

DR SEUSS’ THE LORAX is a vastly entertaining animated 3D feature with a message.  It should satisfy the majority of audiences, young and old.

FAMILY PORTRAIT IN BLACK AND WHITE (Canada 2011) ****
Directed by Julie Ivanova


FAMILY PORTRAIT IN BLACK AND WHITE begins with a skinhead speaking to the camera saying that one need not look like a skinhead to be one.  One then says that the result of the birth of a white and a subhuman is an imbecile.

So, the audience is offered the racist view of the Ukraine.  But the angel in the country is a woman by the name of Olga Nenya who takes in 20 or so orphaned children, irrespective of colour.  The neighbours are apprehensive but tolerant.  The film is a portrait of this foster mother and her extended family – their daily chores, thoughts, ambitions, troubles and tribulations.  Needless to say, this is an extremely moving story that will move one to tears.

The doc suffers from a strong narrative.  Ivanova dwells on too many children instead of just a few and she fails to establish a strong character background for the foster mother Olga Nenya (who plays herself).  How did she get to adopt the children?  Where did she get them?  Many questions are left unanswered. But she does includes a state inspection of her home to the authorities.

But to her credit, Ivanova covers the two highly differing sides of the story very well.

What can one do when there is too much love?  Olga loves her children too much that she suffocates them to death.  She makes them cook, feed the goats and tend the garden.  “A village is a place where humans, pigs and goats work together,” a child quips.  When the children return after summer from Europe spending time with sponsoring European families, many of the children want to be adopted and not live in the Ukraine where there is hardly any hope.  Who can blame them?  Olga will not release them for adoption till they reach the legal edge of 18.  But who can blame her as she sacrifices all for these orphans.  One girl escapes to Italy while another boy (Kiril) pines for his Italian summer foster parents.  In Italy the man is forbidden to adopt as well as he is single.  (One wonders if he is half of a gay couple, as there is another male shown in almost every shot with the child.)

But despite the problems, Ivanova includes and in fact the film ends with a shot of the children running to hug Olga when she returns to her home with all the groceries.  But Olga cares 100% for her children, as is evident when she cries when one of them, Audrey is punished physically in an institution after put there from a boarding school without her knowledge.

FAMILY PORTRAIT IN BLACK AND WHITE is not a perfect documentary.  But one cannot forgive writer/director Ivanova for giving audiences a look at a seldom seen subject in a film brimming with love.  We wish her and her documentary family all the luck in the world in winning the Genie for Best Documentary Feature at the Genies this coming Tuesday March the 8th.

(Limited run at the Royal Cinema beginning March 2nd for a week!)

NORWEGIAN WOOD (Japan 2010) **
Directed by Tran Anh Hung

NORWEGIANWOOD, directed by Vietnamese sensation of SCENT OF GREEN PAPAYA Tran Anh Hung, is a Japanese drama about youth, love and loss based on the popular Japanese novel of the same name by Haruki Murakami.

The film is set in the Tokyo of the 1960’s where political unrest forms the background of the film’s story.  The characters seem detached from what is going on around them.  One could argue that this could be the fault of director Anh Hung being non-Japanese and not dedicated enough to Japanese causes but to be fair to her, the characters may be too caught up in their world to worry about what goes on around them.

Anh Hung’s film leaves lots of unanswered questions.  As I have not read the book, I wonder whether it is the book’s fault that it does not delve into the origin of many of the characters problems.  The central character is Toru Watanabe (popular young Japanese actor Kenichi Matsuyama).  He hangs around his best friend Kizuki (Kengo Kora) who is seeing Naoki (Rinko Kikuchi). Without reason and into 10 minutes from the film’s start, Kizuki gases himself in the garage and dies from carbon monoxide inhalation.  Coping with the loss, Watanabe moves to Tokyo while girlfriend Naoko spirals into a deep depression bordering on madness.

Besides the reason of the suicide being unexplained, most of what occurs is explained by voiceover than shown by incidents.  Voiceover tells of Watanabe’s move because he wants to forget as well as his and Naoko’s chance meeting in a remote forest near Kyoto.  (How convenient!)

Though the film stretches to 133 minutes, the only other main incident is Watanabe’ meeting with a totally different girl, Midori (Kiko Mizuhara) who falls in love with him.  The rest of the film’s running time is spent primarily on Wanatabe’s contemplation on which girl he should love (or sleep with) rather than what he should do to carry on with his life.  All this might be more interesting if director Hung paid more attention to her characters rather than shooting the surroundings like the green hills, river and waterfalls though these do look stunning.  Her film is beautifully shot at the expense of her characters becoming detached.

NORWEGIAN WOOD is the title of the song that reminds Watanabe of Naoki.  This is assumed and not deliberately stated in the film.  One can only wish that director Anh Tran would have brought an intriguing female or cultural perspective on NORWEGIAN WOOD, basically a male oriented study but sadly she did not.

ONCE UPON A TIME IN ANATOLIA (Turkey, Bosnia and Herzegovina) *****
Directed by Nuri Bilge Ceylon

ONCE UPON A TIME IN ANATOLIA, Cannes Palme d’Or winner, is Nuri Bilge Ceylon latest art film, but one so stark and beautiful that many critics have placed on their Best Films list of the year.

Like an art film lover’s fairy tale, once upon a time in a land far away, called Anatolia. a story takes place in the dead of night, where a group of men - including a police commissioner, a prosecutor, a doctor and a murder suspect (all played by unknowns) - drive through the tenebrous Anatolian countryside, the serpentine roads and rolling hills.  They are searching for a corpse, the victim of a brutal murder. The suspect, who claims he was drunk, cannot remember where he buried the body. As the night draws on, details about the murder emerge and the investigators'' own secrets and hypocrisies come to light.  In the Anatolian steppes, nothing is what it seems; and when the body is found, the real questions begin

For a film running over 150 minutes that takes more than the first hour for a police crew to discover a  buried corpse (in a Hollywood film, this identical process would likely take no longer than 5 minutes), ONCE UPON A TIME IN ANATOLIA is surprisingly watchable and never boring.  Though not much transpires in terms of plot, the film unfolds many revelations in terms of characterizations, country background, tradition, living and surroundings.  The film does not really force the viewer to think, but rather reflect on what Ceylon is putting out thee, on the screen, from his authentic dialogue to the stark images.

And these images are more than stunning!  Ceylon’s night cinematography is revealing while at the same time, forcing the viewer to strain their eyes to observe the bare facts on screen.  The three cars driving in the darkest of night in the countryside can only be seen by their headlights.  As the car drives past the landscape, the viewer is reminded of the flat field, the round tree and ploughed field that the arrested men (Firat Taris) described where they think they buried the corpse.  Has the car past the buried corpse, is the question on audience’s minds as Ceylon moves his film through the film’s first half.  Ceylon also teases with a fallen apple rolling down the field and floasting down a stream as if it will end where the body is buried.

One of the best parts of the film is hot in a remote village where most of the young villagers have left.  The village is ageing and the elected Mukhtar (Ercan Kesal), still proud of the local honey and lamb feeds the welcome visitors.  It is sad to see rich culture being lost in the same way, that Hollywood audiences slowly lose their taste for slower, beautiful films like this one.  Yet, the film is not without emotions.  The shot of a vengeful boy’s face after throws and hits his father’s murderer’s head is both sad and unforgettable.

ONCE UPON A TIME IN ANATOLIA has been praised by many as Ceylon’s best film and a minor masterpiece.  But without doubt, this is a definite must-see film for all Ceylon’s thoughtfulness, cinematographic splendour and cinematic mastery.

PROJECT X (USA 2012) ****
Directed by Nima Nourizadeh

PROJECT X is a combination of semi-documentary (PARANORMAL ACTIVITY, BLAIR WITCH PROJECT), epic ultimate house party (ANIMAL HOUSE) and nonprofessional actors type teen comedy.  Produced by director Todd Phillips of THE HANGOVER, the film delivers on all three counts.

Be forewarned that PROJECT X is not the average cinemagoer’s type of film.  For one, do not sit within the first rows of the theatre unless you want to risk getting a headache with the shaky camera and buff scenes, but director Nima Nourizadeh’s debut feature is a spirited, gross out and amusing movie.

The plot is simple.  Three friends (Thomas Mann, Oliver Cooper, Jonathan Daniel Brown) plan to throw the ultimate party and make a name for themselves. As the guests keep arriving however, the party descends into total chaos.

The parents are away for their wedding anniversary.  The father says: “Do not touch my car!”, “No more than 5 guests are allowed in the house”, and “Answer every one of my telephone calls.”  Naturally, the car ends up in the swimming pool, the whole party thrashes the house which ends up burnt and no phone call is answered.  And it gets worse!  The party spills into the street with the cops arriving in helicopter and cruises unable to stop the partying.

The party shots are great depicting kissing with tongue, erotic teen sex scenes and barffing scenes.  As the party involves kids pre-college, the drinking, dancing (the party has 2 dj’s) and house thrashing are emphasized, especially antics jumping into the pool.  There is naturally, lots of nudity.  The drugs are minimal with not hard stuff like cocaine, just ecstasy and pot.

Director Nourizadeh knows how to throw the party movie.  He ups the angst in a film well paced, building to a wild climax.  Thankfully, the love interest is kept to a minimum.  He does away with any silly message in a film that should not contain any message except that an epic party should be memorable at all costs.

The nonprofessional actors are winning and they capture the camaraderie of the three friends.  The party music is awesome with both R&B, hip hop and dance music.  The camerawork is impressive with lots of varied including overhead shots, alongside the handheld camera.

Everyone should have a chance to attend a party like this one.  The message could be that just don’t be the one to organise it at your own place!

TIM AND ERIC’S BILLION DOLLAR MOVIE (USA 2011) *

Directed by Tim and Eric

This supposedly wicked comedy begins with a movie within a movie.  This movie within a movie lasts 3 minutes and stars a fake Johnny Depp as Jim Diamond.  It is a terrible, terrible movie and the Slaag Corporation that gave one billion dollars to Tim and Eric for financing wants their money back or else kill Tim and Eric.  Irony is that this movie is just as terrible as the 3 minute film.

With their lives at stake, Tim and Eric (Tim Heidecker and Eric Wareheim) skip town and take up the offer of a billion dollars to turn a bankrupt mall around.  The story allows Tim and Eric to deal with an assortment of odd characters from a recycling toilet paper store owner to the girl in the adult love store.

Tim and Eric must be given ‘credit’ for intercutting two of the grossest segments to be found in a film this year.  One involves a sick Eric being cleansed in a bath tub by the sh** of five kids who according to their father, have been fed soft meat to produce the soft faeces.  The other is a disgusting love making scene between pudgy Tim and equally unappealing Katie (Twink Kaplan).  But the trouble is that both segments are totally unfunny.  But, disgusting, yes!

But the film contains lots of screaming, crying and other nonsensical antics.  Tim and Eric also push their film to the limit.  The subplot of the bonding of Tim and a little boy found in the mall borders on paedophile.  It looks like the directors are looking for trouble rather than laughs.

The impressive list of guests that includes Will Ferrell, Reilly, Zack Galifiankis, Will Forte and Robert Loggia does not help either.  The script and film is so marred down with the brown stuff nothing can save it.

As far as laugh content goes, this film is not funny at all despite the effort put in by the troupe.  It all goes to show either - how difficult it is to do comedy or no matter how funny material is, untalented comedians will waste it.  In the case of TIM AND ERIC’s BILLION DOLLAR MOVIE, both are true.  The only person that turned out remotely funny is John C. Reilly as the backward Taquito.  I only laughed twice during his high jinx and not at all during the rest of the film.  The film lasts 105 minutes and for just two laughs, that is just as bad an investment as giving two clowns a billion dollars to make a movie.

For Tim and Eric fans, please note that this film is completely different from their TV show.  So their fans will also be disappointed!

 

 

UNDEFEATED (USA 2011) **
Directed by Dan Lindsay and T.J. Martin

A documentary that follows the Manassas football team called the Tigers, a severely underfunded and underprivileged football during the 2009 football season -- who were before, hired out as a practice team for more successful schools -- as they reverse their fortunes thanks to Coach Bill Courtney.

While UNDEFEATED is a well intentioned documentary relatively well made, one cannot help but complain that all this have been seen before - the struggles of an underdog sports team inspired by a sacrificing coach to reach unimaginable heights.  The film HOOP DREAMS immediately come t mind even though it is a fictional film on basketball.  The plot is similar.

Though there is little narration in UNDEFEATED, Coach Bill Courtney, the hero of the film talks often enough to the camera to take over the role of narrator.  He puts the film into perspective informing the audience of the importance of each game, where the team stands and where the problems lie.  The film centres on him and 3 other players, O.J., Money and Clevis each with their unique set of problems.

The film contains a few worthy observations.  Though the coach is white and the team all black, the racial issue though never coming to play does rear its head once when Bill shouts to a frustrated player: “You won’t come to sit in the car with a white man?”  The neglect of Bill for his family is mentioned by him but never seen on screen.  His wife, who says a few words to the camera seem s content that her husband is receiving his acknowledgment for his hard work.  Ironically, the Tigers also get to play one of the successful schools that had hired them in the past for practice.

But Dan Lindsay and T.J. Martin’s film is overlong with too many games and too much preaching.  The film contains too many scenes with Coach Bill nagging his team to wake up and play the pointers he had taught them – too many that he gets as tiresome to hear as probably his team finds him.

UNDEFEATED the film could have well be re-named DEFEATED as the first game the Tigers win occurs only after the first half of the game and the Tigers also lose the last crucial game (their first playoff game) in the film.  But Coach Bill fails to emphasize, the players have won in other ways than playing the game!  He does mention however that the Team has won many achievements in other areas such as improvement in the players’ academic scores.

UNDEFEATED went on to win this year’s Oscar for Best Documentary Feature.

BEST BETS OF THE WEEK

Best Film Opening: Once Upon a Time in Anatolia
Best Film Playing: We Need to Talk About Kevin
Best Action: Mission Impossible 4: Ghost Protocol
Best Drama: Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy
Best Foreign: Once Upon a Time in Anatolia
Best Comedy: The Artist
Best Family: The Adventures of Tin Tin

 

Best Documentary: Family Portrait in Black and White

Avoid: Tim and Eric’s Billion Dollar Movie

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