This Week''s Film Reviews (Mar 30, 2012)

29 Mar 2012

Big films opening this week are MIRROR, MIRROR and WRATH OF THE TITANS.

The French film festival, Cinefranco continues in Toronto.  The John Greyson retrospective starts at the TIFF Bell Lightbox.

THE FORGIVENESS OF BLOOD (USA/Albania/Denmark/Italy 2011) ***
Directed by Joshua Martsen

This is the second film in a month that tells the tragedy surrounding the Albanian tribal code, the Kanun in dealing with feuds.  The first film dealt with the topic with vigour in an episode in Jennifer Baichawal’s PAYBACK – the film still screening – a film discussing paybacks that cannot be made with cash.

Director Joshua Marsten’s (MARIA FULL OF GRACE) is a full feature on the same topic.  Though based on the real code but a fictional film, the material allows a more complete treatment of the subject and tragedy of adopting the Kanun.  Here, the audience is treated a story from the beginning to the end (solution) be it in favour of both feuding parties or not.

The code involves feuding families.  The suspect family is confined to their property until the matter is resolved to the satisfaction by the other.  The protagonist of the film is a youngish high schooler, Nik (a terrific controlled performance by Tristan Halilaj).  When the film begins, Nik’s father and uncle kill the main man of the other family over an argument over the land.  Nik and family are confined to the house until Nik goes crazy.  The father (Refet Abazi) makes secret visits to the house but he is eventually arrested by the police.  But he is released and a confrontation between father and son occurs as the father’s release means that negotiations between the families cannot continue and Nik and family will be confined again to the property.

Besides the issue of the Kunan, Marsten’s film also deals with other issues such as familial duty and sexual sand seniority dominance.  The male is dominant so Nik cannot leave the house as he might be targeted to be killed by the wronged family.  The males and elders make all the important decisions for the family.  But the females are allowed a little leeway.  Nik’s sister, Rudina (Sindi Lacej in an equally moving performance) is allowed to leave the place to deliver bread to provide an income.  The other family is not allowed to prevent this.

Marsten also contrasts the old and new world of the village.  The bread is delivered by Rudina in a horse buggy and by her competitor in a Mercedes.  Cell phones are in use, but the users go about using it in the old ways, counting the minutes and paying by the minutes.

Though Marsten’s film moves along at a seemingly slow pace, there is a lot going on in his film that meets the eye.  The result is a truly intriguing film that illustrates the prisons human beings create for themselves and the almost impossibility of getting out of these prisons.


Directed by Corrina Belz

Corrina Belz’s documentary, GERHARD RICHTER PAINTING is about Germany’s Gerhard Richter (aged 80) – one of the world’s most important living contemporary artists – and the creative process behind his famous abstracts.  And a very simple one at that!

The film documents the artist at work, his interaction with his assistants and given speeches at a few of his shows.  It is difficult to fault this documentary as it hardly tries anything.  It is easier to find fault with a complicated film that a very simple made film.  And Belz’s film is just that.

She does not bother to explain Richter’s rise to fame, the influences on his work, his contemporaries or where this forging type of art is leading to or has developed from.  The only thing we are told about Richter was that he fled from East to West as a political refugee.  When Richter reworks and rejects some of his work, only to begin anew, he says” “the paintings do what they want.”  Apparently his attitude has rubbed off on director Belz. True, it is interesting to watch Richter at work, but one wishes more could have been provided by Blez in her tribute to this artist.

The result is a rather bland portrait in which the audience has not learnt anything much about forged paintings or given any insight into this work of art.

THE GUANTANAMO TRAP (Germ/Canada/Switz 2011) ****
Directed by Thomas Sellim Wallner

After the harrowing documentary TAXI TO THE DARK SIDE, this no less riveting doc deals once gain what has been the disgrace and embarrassment to the U.S. – the Guantanamo Bay Detention Prison in Cuba where torture takes place in the name of justice.

THE GUANTANAMO TRAP begins with U.S. President Obama promising to close down Guantanamo Bay within a year.  Two years have now past and the Centre is still in opewration.

The film has an unusually strong narrative as it ties closely the lives of 4 people that are linked together with one case of notable injustice.  The first is Murat Kurnaz, a German of Turkish heritage, spent five years at the US military prison in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. He was released in 2006 without trial, after suffering years of torture. In the same year, Matthew Diaz, Judge Advocate for the US Navy, was sentenced to six months’ imprisonment after releasing the names of detainees. His colleague, Diane Beaver, gained notoriety as the author of a legal document better known as “the torture memo”. Tying these characters together is Gonzalo Boye, a Spanish lawyer driven to hold power to account.

Director Wallner builds up his film to an excruciating climax, bringing out the anger of the audience at what has happened.  He deals with the principles, beliefs and consciences of each of his 4 characters.  Never laying blame directly at any one, though it is obvious that the audience is going to take sides, he allows each, especially Diane Beaver to speak out to defend themselves.  To humanize each character, he shoots segments of each of their 4 among their family members, often at a party or family gathering.  Unlike TAXI TO THE DARK SIDE, this film does not contain that many torture scenes.

Still, director Wallner holds the highest respect (as is evident in all the scenes this character is in) the Spanish lawyer Boye, who has sworn that it is personal duty and purpose in this life to bring to justice the American lawyers who have let all this injustice occur.  But for the audience, it is also this director Wallner and many of his kind who has so bravely fought to show to the world in documentaries the awful truth that is happening around the world.  The film deservedly won the Special Jury Prize for Best Canadian Feature at the Hot Docs Festival in 2011.


Directed by Tarsem Singh

MIRROR MIRROR is a film with a slightly different take on the classic fairy tale SNOW WHITE AND THE SEVEN DWARFS.  Here the princess takes control and fights the evil queen with the help of her 7 noble soldiers, the politically correct term for the 7 dwarfs.

This sounds likely an excellent idea for a film, especially how seeing how the successful and highly entertaining SHREK films and other films like HAPPILY EVER AFTER have done.  But despite a very talented cast and gorgeous fairly tale light sets and beautiful wardrobe, MIRROR MIRROR falls flat as an entertaining feature.  The film turns out as bland as Snow White’s skin.  The film is similar to director Tarsem Singh’s last action flick IMMORTALS.   His two films are the most gorgeously looking boring films.

The film starts with the narration of the evil queen (Julia Roberts in deliciously wicked mode).  She says that everyone in the Kingdom is happy – dancing and singing, mentioning that none of them have any jobs to do.  The bits of sarcasm are amusing enough but last only 15 minutes through the film.  Her evil is not apparent at the very start and it is to the script’s credit (the Grimms) that her evil comes forth as the plot progresses.  Roberts and Nathan Lane (as her official bootlicker, as she claims) are the best things about the film.  The outrageous costumes are also impressive.  Everything else sucks.

There is no chemistry between the Prince (Armie Hammer) and Princess (Lily Collins).  Armie Hammer was so good as both the twins in THE SOCIAL NETWORK that the TFCS (Toronto Film Critics Association) awarded him the best supporting Prize for the year.  But he is just plain awful in the film – made more apparent when he needed to behave like a puppy after the queen casts a spell on him.  When Collins shouts for the 7 soldiers to fight, that line indicates how unbelievable she is.

There is one terribly unfunny scene in the film in which each dwarf tries his way to remove the spell from the Prince.  The Princess says, “Anyone else has any other ideas?”  It seems that a spell had been cast over the entertainment of this film and no one seems to have a clue to remove this spell.

The film has poor pacing and director Tarsem seems to be a director who has no comedic timing.

MIRROR MIRROR is one film that audiences should leave before the end credits.  I am normally a staunch believer that one should sit right through the last credit but this film takes the cake.  The film ends with the clichéd bits of what happened to the each of the film’s characters years after.  Not that one really cares what happened to each of the 7 dwarfs.  But there is a song and dance Bollywood style that is totally out of sync with the entire film.

SERVITUDE (Canada 2011) ***
Directed by Warren P. Sonoda

A simple Canadian comedy about a group of frustrated waiters at the Country Steakhouse who cannot take it anymore!  They, under the instruction of Josh (Joe Dinicol) take over the restaurant and give it back to their horrible customers.

Sonoda’s comedy of ill manners that could alternatively be called HORRIBLR CUSTOMERS takes a while before getting into gear.  This is not the first film based on this premise, the recent WAITER RANT follows the same footsteps.  The first half of the film which introduces the characters, restaurant and setting is not funny at all though the comedians try hard enough.  Shouting the lines does not necessarily translate into humour as is clearly evident in the movie.

But the second half of the film picks up once Josh and the waiters take control.  The film has many moments in which all the right buttons are pushed.  The best is the family of noisy kids being told off.

The full assortment of nasty customers is there from the obnoxious young men, the old couple, the cheap women, the lady with the plastic surgery and of course the family with the noisy kids.  All of them give Josh and company a terribly hard time, so that when they get their due, the audience is all in cheer mode.

Of all the characters, Linda Kash as the motherly mouthy waitress Barb steals the show.  To make matters worse, the night is worsened by the visitation of one of the German owners, Frankz (Enrico Colantoni). The waiters lock him into the store room where the Schnapps are kept.  When you lock a German with bottles and bottles of Schnapps, that is just asking for trouble!

SERVITUDE works as light entertainment that serves up sufficient laughs.  Just don’t expect too much.  At least the message and the romance bits of the movie are kept in check.

Directed by Jonathan Libesman

As unimaginative as the film’s title, the sequel to WRATH OF THE TITANS has a story that is as bland as it gets.  But the few of the action sequences should still satisfy action fans.

A decade after his heroic defeat of the monstrous Kraken, Perseus-the demigod (Sam Worthington) son of Zeus (Liam Neeson) is attempting to live a quieter life as a village fisherman and the sole parent to his 10-year old son, Helius (John Bell).

Meanwhile, a struggle for supremacy rages between the gods and the Titans. Dangerously weakened by humanity''s lack of devotion, the gods are losing control of the imprisoned Titans and their ferocious leader, Kronos, father of the long-ruling brothers Zeus, Hades (Ralph Fiennes) and Poseidon (Danny Huston).  Perseus cannot ignore his true calling when Hades, along with Zeus'' godly son, Ares (Edgar Ramírez), switch loyalty and make a deal with Kronos to capture Zeus. The Titans'' strength grows stronger as Zeus'' remaining godly powers are siphoned.

As with films with a weak narrative and little character development, the result of course, is a film that plods on nits way.  The first action sequence with Perseus fighting the a two headed fire breathing dragon is the most exciting and cannot be topped, even by the ridiculously special effected battle with the gigantic Hades at the film’s climax.  The latter is a true example of special effects gone out of control.

For films of this nature, a balance of camp, action and fun form a good mix.  Director Libesman (BATTLE: LOS ANGELES) and Dan Mazeau’s script takes the material too seriously.  Sam Worthington makes an ok lead but one wishes for more voluptuous leads like Harry Hamlin (CLASH OF THE TITANS 1981) or Raquel Welsh (ONE MILLION YEARS B.C.)  Worthington and Rosamund Pike need more meat on their bones.

WRATH OF THE TITANS will not likely topple THE HUNGER GAMES at the box-office.  It barely succeeds as disposable entertainment.


Best Film Opening: The Guantanamo Trap 

Best Film Playing: We Need to Talk About Kevin
Best Action: Mission Impossible 4: Ghost Protocol
Best Drama: Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy
Best Foreign: A Separation
Best Comedy: Casa de mi Padre
Best Family: Dr Seuss’ The Lorax
Best Documentary: The Guantanamo Trap

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