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This Week's Film Reviews (Apr 13, 2012)

13 Apr 2012

THE THREE STOOGES and THE CABIN IN THE WOODS open this week.

Two films by famous Canadian directors HARD CORE LOGO 2 and KEYHOLE also make their debut this week.

THE CABIN IN THE WOODS (USA 2011) **

Directed by Drew Goddard


The premise for CABIN IN THE WOODS is 5 friends, all teens, getting hacked to death in a cabin.  But the SCREAM type film has more up its sleeve than one expects.

The beginning looks odd with two executive types (Richard Jenkins and Bradley Whitford) organizing their workers together for the company in a mysterious type project.  The screen shows a cabin in the woods.  Employees place their bets with the executive types, who appear to be doing this job countless times.  Director Goddard loves to keep the audience at bay on what is going on. In fact, the audience is trying to guess the plot during more than half the running time of the movie.  And it is not easy to guess the plot either, due to its sheer outrageousness (the segment in which Jules makes love to the stuffed wolf).

Goddard piques the audience’s anticipation factor from the very start, which is the best of what this film offers.  “This road does not register on the G.P.S,” says one character.  And the bird that is electrocuted through an invisible fence are good examples that something is amiss.

Blending in horror (different types like haunted house, SCREAM type, zombie, torture), sci-fi and a few other genres, the only problem is that the genres do not blend in smoothly.  The whole exercise looks as if it has been put together haphazardly and the film is often all over the place.  The blend of comedy and torture gore do not work well either.

To Goddard’s credit, he always keeps the audience on their toes with inventiveness – be it in surprise in plot or variation in killings.  It is one above the average horror flick in terms of performances (the impressive cast includes teen heart throbs like Chris Hemsworth and Anna Hutchison), surprises and camera work.  But there is just too many things going on this film that does not integrate together.

THE DEEP BLUE SEA (UK 2011) ****
Directed by Terence Davies



The title of the new Terence Davies film comes from the English phrase ‘between the devil and the deep blue sea’ which refers to two undesirable situations, in this case for Lady Collyer (Rachel Weisz), wife of Sir William, a respected London judge (Simon Russell Beale).

She, Hester is caught in a self-destructive love affair with a Royal Air Force pilot, Freddie (Tom Hidddleston last seen in WARHORSE) and a marriage to one she does not want to continue in.  When Freddie learns of her attempted suicide, she is spurned and rejected while she refuses to return to the drab life with the still loving and forgiving judge.  The first 30 minutes of Davies’ film is a bit over self indulgent with Davies’ use of an overloud score and long takes but the film finally gets a good grip once Davies decides to get into the business of Terence Rattigan’s (THE WINSLOW BOY) play on hand. Rattigan writes the best plays and his words are carefully chosen as his dramatic set-ups.

The film is set in London around 1950. It begins with a tracking shot of a local street with the camera moving left then up a house and then left to a window where the image of Lady Collyer can be observed. At the same time, the music evolves to sounds to audible recognizable movements within the room that Collyer rents. The drama then unfolds that she has attempted suicide but is saved by her landlady. Her story is then told via flashbacks as she stares out the window.

The film also ends with the reverse motion of the camera tracking as observed at the start with the camera leaving the upstairs room window.

Amidst all this is a very erotic love making scene between Weisz and Hiddleston.  This sex is absolutely necessary to illustrate the passion and overall love that Lady Collyer has for her lover. 

This is cinema as its purest form, a story told with the strong imprint of one of the Best living directors today – British Terence Davies. His film technique here is recognizable from his previous two successes, THE LONG DAY CLOSES (with haunting American melodies and long tracking shots) and DISTANT VOICES, STILL LIVES (with its violence and prison atmosphere within a family).

With Davies oldies American score and long takes combined with Rattigan’s pros not to mention the great set design and wardrobe, the result is a one of the finest entertainment in the old British tradition.  Weisz is excellent. The best scenes are the ones where Hester and Sir Williams sit down with Sir William’s mother.

GIRL MODEL (USA 2011) **

Directed by Ashley Sabin and David Redmon


GIRL MODEL is a documentary that shows the bleak side of modeling in the fashion industry.  It does this primarily through the experience of Nadya, a 13-year old (hence the title GIRL MODEL, singular).

But Nadja is not the only subject in the study.  The other sad candidate is Medlin.  These two innocent girls, very young with no experience in the world are sent by the sharks in the modeling industry to a totally foreign country – Tokyo.  How can two pre-teens who only speak Russian survive in Japan?  The person Medlin is supposed to meet at Tokyo station never shows up and she is lost. (In Japan a subway station has as many as 6 different exits, and all the signs are in Japanese characters.  So, even English will not help).  The directors appear fond of following Nadja and Medlin showing their hardship and tears during the filming.  Finally Medlin leaves and Nadja eventually is sent home as well, both in debt.

GIRL MODEL fails as a documentary because it does not show the complete side of the subjects touched in the film.  The most glaring feature here is the character of Ashley, the successful model turned talent scout, who discovers Nadja.  She lies to the teeth to the upcoming models that every new model going to Japan has been successful.  The directors never question her on her lie, perhaps afraid that she will not corporate with information provided with the movie.    The directors also allow the agency owner to bullsh*t about how much good he is doing for the girls, especially by bringing them to reality by taking them to the morgue to look at dead bodies.  This person needs to be re-educated.

It appears that Sabin and Redmon avoids confrontation and allow their film the easy way out.  The girl models are followed more closely probably because they let them.   The tacked on happy ending for Nadia also looks like a cop-out.

But one realistic aspect and important lesson about the film is the price of success.  It does not come easy.  A similar film MISS BALA of how the life of a pageant beauty queen went sour treads similar waters.

The film also moves at a noticeably slow pace.  But the girls are interesting enough that they hold the audience’s attention.  GIRL MODEL could have been more expose that this shallow deal.

HAPPY PEOPLE: A YEAR IN THE TAIGA (Germany 2010) ****
Directed by Werner Herzog and Dmitry Vasyukov


German Master director Herzog has recently turned into making documentaries in recent years.  His latest HAPPY PEOPLE: A YEAR IN THE TAIGA is another yet fascinating piece about people that are strange to the normal world.

HAPPY PEOPLE: A YEAR IN THE TAIGA is a mesmerizing documentary that centres on fur trappers who live in Bakhtia, a village of 300 in the remote Siberian Taiga, accessible only by boat or helicopter.  With no phones, taxes or radio, the residents are self-reliant, in tune with the space and silence of the land.

Directors Herzog and Vasyukov take the audiences a full cycle of life style starting from spring and ending with the winter of a year in the life of one trapper. They let their subjects speak for themselves in their own language.  The dialogue is softened and repeated or narrated in English by Herzog, seconds in delay after they speak.  This way, the authenticity and timeliness of the dialogue are maintained. 

Here in the wilderness, the weather is extreme, with winter dipping to minus 50 and summer bringing 20 hours of daylight.  Spanning four seasons, the film covers the year-round activities of the trappers – building huts, setting traps, netting pike.  Come winter, each trapper heads out for months alone – with only his dog for company – to catch sable, the trapper’s source of livelihood.

The film includes many special moments of lifestyle never imagined.  One man turns birch bark into an insect repellent.  Another makes wooden skis that will out-run the store-bought kind.  A dog races 150 kilometres along the frozen river.  Daily routines have barely changed over the centuries.  If the human civilization were destroyed, these villagers would survive, thanks to the knowledge of their forefathers.

The film is easy to watch and undemanding though captivating in its subject matter.  The audience can basically sit back and relax and let the education be taken in.  What more can one ask for?

Herzog’s docs like GRIZZLY MAN, CAVE OF FORGOTTEN DREAMS and INTO THE ABYSS are the best that docs have to offer.  Though originally made for television and edited into a 90 minute feature length film for theatres, HAPPY PEOPLE: A YEAR IN THE TAIGA is a welcome edition to his finest best and should be scene if not for the film’s content but for his visuals (the Yenisei River with its ice breaking up into chunks and flowing north; the vast openness of white) set in a land seldom scene.

HARD CORE LOGO 2 (Canada 2011) ***

Directed by Bruce McDonald

It is hard to take a director seriously when he announces after winning a prize for his first feature, that he would spend it buying pot.  In HARD CORE LOGO 2, true to form McDonald pokes fun at sequels as much as HRD CORE LOGO 1 did for documentaries.

In numero uno, the protagonist, Joe Dick blew his brains out on camera.  Now, Bruce is living the Hollywood life in Laurel Canyon, doing a successful series called THE PILGRIM.  But its star, Rufus Mellon (Adrian Duvall) gets into mega trouble as so does Bruce for reasons better not to be revealed here.

So, the series is cancelled and the only gig offered him is a doc for Wiccan TV about a singer, Care Failure (played by real life musician of the same name), who claims she’s been possessed by Joe Dick, the leader of the punk band Hard Core Logo and the guy that blew his brains out.  The focus here is the filmmaking process, but the film also poses questions about the unavoidably invasive role of the documentary filmmaker -- and, more significantly, friendship and betrayal within the film world.  Care leads to the meeting of Die Mannequin, who claims she channeled Hard Core Logo’s late front man Joe Dick while writing songs for her new album.  As things get more confusing, when Bruce arrives at the Saskatchewan dance hall where a recording session is to hap­pen, Bruce is treated to a surprise: Die Mannequin’s new producer is Bucky Haight (Julian Richings), Joe Dick’s idol and former mentor who was a pivotal character in Hard Core Logo. As Bucky, the band’s control-freak manager Mr. Butterscotch, and Bruce battle it out to see who will be top dog, Care’s behaviour grows increasingly erratic.

If all this plotting appears Hard to follow, McDonald’s quirky film moves along quite smoothly without many hitches.  Anything can happen can this film and McDonald never fails to have another one up his sleeve.  He is rather stoic playing himself on camera, but actors Duvall, Care Failure and especially Julian Richings deliver solid performances.

Famous directors have made films about the making of films.  Federico Fellini directed his masterpiece 81/2 while Francois Truffaut mesmerized audiences with LA NUIT AMERICAINE (DAY FOR NIGHT).  HARD CORE LOGO 2 is not great film, but the film contains McDonald’s quirky stamp and is entertaining enough.

THE HUNTER (Australia 2011) ***
Directed by Daniel Nettheim



Adapted from Julia Leigh’s novel of the same name, the story centres on Martin (Willem Dafoe), a mercenary hired by Red Leaf, an international biotech company to track and kill an animal long thought extinct to extract its paralyzing poison. The Tasmanian tiger — has recently become the subject of rumoured sightings around the remote community

Martin arrives cloaked in a false identity and heads for the hills. Trudging through the spectacular, almost impenetrable landscape, he sets traps and lays in wait for days at a time.· But Martin is distracted by the woman he rents his room from, and her 2 children.· Her deceased husband apparently was also hired by Red Leaf to do the same job.· More distractions in the plot involve loggers fighting environmentalists and his guilt for hunting an endangered species.

Nettheim’s film captures both the ruggedness and beauty (Cinematographer Robert Humphreys) of Tasmania.· Dafoe looks particularly rugged and dishevelled as the hunter.· But Nettheim’s film takes too long to settle down to its business at hand, which is the Martin’s internal struggle of man vs. environment.

The ending act might be a spectacular feat on Martin’s part (won’t be mentioned in the review) but it makes no sense at all.

KEYHOLE (Cananda 2011) ***

Directed by Guy Madden


From the nightmarish imaginative mind of writer/director Guy Madden (ARCHANGEL, TALES OF THE GIMLI HOSPITAL) comes another confusing tale shot in black and white.

After a long absence, gangster and father Ulysses Pick (Jason Patric) arrives home to a house haunted with memories, towing the body of a teenaged girl and a bound and gagged young man. His gang waits inside his house, having shot their way past police. There is friction in the ranks. Ulysses, however, is focused on one thing: journeying through the house, room by room, and reaching his wife Hyacinth (Isabella Rossellini) in her bedroom upstairs. The equilibrium of the house has been disturbed and his odyssey eventually becomes an emotional tour, as the strange nooks and crannies of the house reveal more about the mysterious Pick family.

If the story above makes sense, the film does not.  Madden’s film are never meant to be.  However, the audience is either required to give the film his or her fill attention or just sit back and enjoy the images, most enjoyable (and occasionally especially hilarious) under the influence of some substance.

But Madden’s film is stunningly shot in black and white – the images memorable and suited to a film with a haunted house theme.  The humour is Madden style – absurd though no less hilarious.  One can learn a lesson such as what to do in order to have sexual intercourse with a ghost.  This film is more violent and sexually graphic that his other works.

Just a warning not to take the film too seriously as the narrative of a Madden film, is as usual, muddled and all over the place.

LOCKOUT (France 2012) ***
Directed by James Mather, Stephen St. Leger


LOCKOUT is Luc Besson’s movie all the way – from his involvement and the film’s look.  The film is produced and co-written (together with the 2 directors) and based on his original idea.

The fact that the idea is original is highly laughable because this film is derivative of quite a number of films from John Carpenter’s ESCAPE FROM NEW YORK (convicted sent to do a rescue), FORTRESS (space prison), DIE HARD films (the Bruce Willis character) to MINORITY REPORT (the bike chase) and even in look to Besson’s own FIFTH ELEMENT.   Still for Besson’s fans, this film delivers all the action, high-tech sci-fi style (this one set in the future of 2079) with all the pyro-techniques, smart one-liners and gory violence.                                                                                                            A man, Snow (Guy Pearce) wrongly convicted of conspiracy to commit espionage against the U.S. is offered his freedom if he can rescue the president''s daughter, Emilie (Maggie Grace) from an outer space prison taken over by violent inmates.

There are actually two stories in one – the first dealing with the rescue and the second, the clearing of his name.  The script surprisingly, blends the two neatly into a solid conclusion.

Pearce is suitably stoic in the Bruce Willis’ role, dishing out one-liners as well as he is able to absorb punches for being the smart-as* he is.  The romantic interest, in the form of the President’s daughter he is supposed to rescue, naturally goes against his character.  She is a do-gooder fighting for in the inmates’ rights though all Snow wants is to get the job done… screw the rest.  Needless to say, they fall in love all the same. Joseph Gilgun deserves mention for his memorable role as the nastiest, psychotic scumbag ever seen to be seen on the screen this year.  If you are wondering the reason the leader of the convict revolt does not do away with the trouble-making scumbag, the occasionally clever script provides the perfect reason – they are brothers.

Action fans should be satisfied with this time waster, as Besson does not waste time with anything else that gets into the way this sci-fi actioner.

STREETDANCE 2 (UK 2012) **
Directed Max Giwa, Diana Pasquini


The cinema has already had its fill with dance competition movies from BRING IT UP, YOU GOT SERVED, STREETDANCE, FLASHDANCE and FOOTLOOSE, just to name a few.  So what makes the British production STREETDANCE 2 any different?

The filmmakers attempt three things.  First, the dancers have to work with Spanish dance and come up with a fusion of streetdance and say salsa or tango.  Secondly, this dance film is shot in 3D (as shoddy as it turns out) and lastly, STREETDANCE takes place in Paris, the City of Lights.

The plot is nothing really out of the ordinary but a rehash of the first STREETDANCE film in which the dancers had to work with ballet dancers to earn rehearsal space.  In 2, after suffering humiliation by the crew Invincible, street dancer Ash (Falk Hentschel) looks to gather the best dancers from around the world for a rematch.  Ash meets Eva (Sofia Boutella) at a club and with his right-hand man, Eddie(George Sampson, the only actor that appeared in both films) enter the competition using the fusion of Latino and Street dance.  Of course, Ash falls in love with Eva, much to the chagrin of Eva’s uncle (What is Tom Conti sporting a French accent doing in this film?) and their team eventually wins, surprise! Surprise!

The fusion dance is incorporated quite well into the choreography but the dances are more alive without the fusion.  So, the fusion of streetdance, be it with ballet or Latino is just a silly gimmick that never worked in the first place.  As for the 3D, nothing really extraordinary in the film really requires 3D.  The hats and miscellaneous props get thrown out at the audience during various routines.  As for the City of Lights, Paris never looked more stunning.  Too bad the romantic angle of the film is a silly sham that runs into clichéd territory.  Consider the line: “Dance with your heart, not with your head!” or the ridiculous segment in which Ash has to dance blindfolded in order to trust his dance partner.

The choreography of STREETDANCE 2 is stunning, as would be expected for a film with dance as a theme.  The main lead Hentschel is as wooden as they come, revealing his lack of aptitude for comedy in the segment in which he eats many chillies.  Actor George Sampson who has appeared in Britain Got Talent and in the first STREETDANCE film has enough enthusiasm.  But for everyone else, the entire exercise is a complete bore with routines and dramatic setups that have been seen in already too many movies.

The film also contains too many plot flaws to mention – such as how a broke troupe ever got to Paris in the first place or what ever happened to Eva’s dance partner, Lucien who was supposed to be in the show.  But the filmmakers were probably given limited material to work with in the first place.  But still this is no excuse for such a shoddy dance movie!

THE THREE STOOGES (USA 2012) ***

Directed by The Farrelly Brothers


Everyone knows the three stooges.  Almost every boy loves their stupid antics while most girls hate the trio with a passion.  But the film attempts to sweeten the story to include the females in their target market and to the filmmaker’s credit this film deserves 5 stars for attempt.  The film also shows how difficult it is to make a good comedy.                  The three stooges are an icon not to be messed with.  Making a movie of the three is a formidable task and the most important criterion is of course, to have the three lead actors  resemble the characters Moe, Joe and Curly as much as possible.  And their antics also need to be duplicated to the finest detail.  These, the film succeeds admirably.  Chris Diamantopoulos, Sean Hayes and Will Sasso make the perfect Moe, Larry and Curly – no kidding.  Who would be more adept than The Farrelly Brothers, Peter and Bobby, the personification of DUMB AND DUMBER to write (with Mke Cerrone) and direct the movie.

The plot is decent and silly enough.  Don’t expect masterpiece art theatre here.  In fact, certain aspects of filmmaking are thrown out the window, like continuity.  It is 25 years later in the story when the 3 have grown up from infants, but the nuns at the orphanage do not look a day older.

The stooges are dumped off in an orphanage where they grow into adults.  But the orphanage is in dire straits and need $830,000 or close, which means all the children will be put on the street.  So, the three stooges leave for the city in order to make the money to save the day.  This is where they run into crooks Lydia (Sofia Vergara) and her lover (Craig Bierko) who exploit them.  All this allows the stooges to get into mega trouble, high-jinx style with hitting each other 3-stooges style all the way.

Those who love the three stooges will never get tired of their antics (violent as they are; imagine being hit on the head with a hammer) – me being one of them.  Their 10 minute episodes on television are priceless but their full length feature excursions (such as THE OUTLAWS IS COMING) just barely make it as watchable.

It is hard to pinpoint the reason this film is not a 4 star comedy.  The leads are priceless, the plot sufficiently hilarious, the homage respected and the film does contain sufficient laugh-out loud segments.  Perhaps what is lacking here is unseen ingenuity.  Still, THE THREE STOOGES is bright and clever enough entertainment for those familiar and those new to the three famous and talented stooges.

 

BEST BETS OF THE WEEK:

Best Film Opening: The Deep Blue Sea 

Best Film Playing: The Deep Blue Sea
Best Action: Mission Impossible 4: Ghost Protocol
Best Drama: The Deep Blue Sea
Best Foreign: A Separation
Best Comedy: 21 Juimp Street
Best Family: Dr Seuss’ The Lorax
Best Documentary: Happy People: A Year in the Taiga

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